The National Retail Federation reports that today there are some 3,793,621 retail establishments in the United States, and nearly 99 percent of them count as small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Unlike the 1 percent big retailers at the top, the 99 percenters don’t have legions of MBAs to guide their businesses, and few have dedicated marketing, merchandising, or technology departments. Owners of those 99 percent of small retail businesses have a wide span of control, but often are hampered by not having enough time, discipline-specific expertise, or money to invest in the many parts of the business that need attention in today’s rapidly evolving retail world.
At the start of a new year we look back at what went wrong during the past year in order to resolve to correct those areas that need improvement and set us on a path of greater success in the future. To help the nation’s 99 percent of retail businesses prosper in 2018, here are the essential six resolutions you need to make:

#1 PEOPLE BEFORE PRODUCT

Retailers have long been schooled on the 4Ps of marketing — Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement. But in the 4Ps model the most important P is missing: People — and that is where the 99 percenters can win.
The new retail paradigm has shifted from a focus on product to people. It means you must put people, not product, at the center of your business. Retailers are competing in a marketplace where consumers’ expectations of the shoppingResolve to try new things and test new ideas.experience are elevated far beyond simply finding and buying a product or service.

Certainly, product remains part of the mix, but it’s been eclipsed by the service side of retail, especially for the 99 percenters. The human element in retail is the most important factor in attracting customers and driving sales. That’s why people — both the people you serve (customers) and the people who do the serving (staff) — are the two most critical factors in retail success today.
To put people first at retail means everyone in the store, and you especially, needs to spend time on the front line, meeting, greeting, and learning about the customers. Caring and personal customer service greatly enhances customers’ satisfaction, resulting in a greatly enhanced likelihood that customers will return for their next wash or detail experience and talk about your store to their friends.
And because the people in the store now take precedence, both the customers and staff, you need to evaluate all your staff members on their most critical personal skills. Way too many retailers have people in their employ that don’t have those skills and so shouldn’t have customer-facing responsibilities. If you’ve got one, two, or more of those skill-less people on staff, get them away from customer contact and find others to replace them.
This year resolve to make people your number one priority in business.

#2 MERCHANDISE WITH STORIES ATTACHED

With people, not product, the focus of the retail store, the function of merchandising the store has changed. In merchandising your store, you must evolve from merely selecting new products and services to add to the menu into being a curator who selects products to go with other products that tell stories for the customers. It’s those stories, not individual products, that will fire the imagination of the customer and get them to buy.
The evolving role of the retailer is to tell the story. The story is what will capture the imagination of the customer and compel them to buy. In doing that, your store will become a place where people engage in experiences of discovery and delight where the product, a clean, dry, and shiny car, is the reward they take home.
This year resolve to bring in new products and services that have a story attached and to continuously set up storytelling product displays in your store. And, of course, train your staff in how to tell stories to sell the products and services.

#3 BE ACTIVE IN YOUR COMMUNITY

An important part of what people value in patronizing small businesses is the sense of community and belonging they find there. People crave to belong and be part of a community. The local wash on Main Street where the owner knows their name is a place where they can find that sense of belonging.
American Express, through its Small Business Saturday initiative, has brought much needed recognition to the vital role retailers and other small businesses play in their communities. Owners of small business should resolve to become more active in their local communities in 2018. Join with other local businesses in local community initiatives. Becoming a member of the local chamber of commerce or merchant’s association is a place to start, but owners can look further to other local non-profit and charitable organizations in need of support, such as a homeless shelter, food bank, pet shelter, or other charitable group. And such support should go beyond the financial to leadership by attending meetings and volunteering to take a more active role in the group.

#4 GET MORE TECH-SAVVY

The critical need to market effectively online is a particular pain point for most small businesses. Keeping up with the technical challenges of digital marketing, not to mention maintaining an active presence on all the different social media platforms, takes an enormous amount of effort and time. Many are not equipped for it and feel overwhelmed.

Yet business owners know that most customers start on their path to purchase online, so being there is critical to attract customers and get them engaged. I have written a short white paper, How to Power Internet Marketing, that asks seven questions that help businesses assess their Internet marketing prowess and provides tips on how to implement Internet marketing best practices.
Once you understand where you stand with Internet marketing today, you can resolve to do it better in 2018. And while there are numerous digital marketing agencies that can provide technical advice and support, retailers can do it better themselves. DIY-Internet marketing will ultimately save money, save time, and be more effective, since you know your customer and what hooks engage them better than anyone from an outside agency.

#5 EXERT FINANCIAL DISCIPLINE

In an oft-cited study by Jessie Hagen of U.S. Bank, poor financial discipline, in particular weak cash flow, was identified as the number one reason why small businesses fail. The study found that 82 percent of the time, poor cash-flow management or a poor understanding of cash flow contributes to the failure of a small business. Not far behind are owners being overly optimistic about achievable sales goals, money required, and not understanding what needs to be done to be successful, identified by 73 percent as the cause of business failure.

For 2018 you need to resolve to dig into your numbers and really understand the financial basis on which your business operates. First and foremost, you must understand your income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statements to assess your current financial situation and predict where you may be headed.
Also you must identify the key performance indicators or KPIs that measure how well you are meeting your business performance objectives. KPIs are a quick way to monitor the viability and health of your business.

#6 CHANGE, TEST, TRY

And finally, make this the year that you resolve to try new things and continually test new ideas and approaches. Change is hard for everyone, but if you haven’t learned already, your customers are changing at light speed, and you must change with them to stay relevant and keep them engaged.

The 12-month calendar gives you the schedule to layout a plan for continuous change. If a monthly promotion worked well last year, try to do it better this year. If an initiative failed last year, analyze the problem. Maybe it was ahead of its time or simply too new to attract attention. Maybe it can be reworked to get attention this year.

Draw inspiration to change everywhere, from other local businesses, from your customers, from your vendors, from your travels to trade shows, from your kids. But don’t just do the same things you’ve always done. 2018 is the year when you can do it better, and the only way to make that happen is to try new things.

Pamela N. Danziger is an internationally recognized speaker, author, and market researcher. She founded Unity Marketing in 1992 and leads with research to provide brands with actionable insights into the minds of their most profitable customers. As a partner in Retail Rescue, she focuses on marketing, merchandising, in-store, and online strategies for retailers. Pam is a contributing columnist to The Robin Report and Forbes.com. You can read her whitepaper on how to power Internet marketing at https://unitymarketingonline.com/shop/online-shopping/power-internet-marketing/