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How Do You Win Customers?

Over the years, we have all made decisions about our businesses that have allowed us to be more competitive. We have taken our brick and mortar stores online, allowing us to win customers on a much larger stage. We have gone from traditional marketing strategies like direct mail to social media marketing. We have transitioned from trophy dealers to personalization retailers.

How Do You Win Customers?

Try New Strategies To Avoid Losing Business To Tough Customers

Fran Carville, CRM

Over the years, we have all made decisions about our businesses that have allowed us to be more competitive. We have taken our brick and mortar stores online, allowing us to win customers on a much larger stage. We have gone from traditional marketing strategies like direct mail to social media marketing. We have transitioned from trophy dealers to personalization retailers.

We have expanded our product selections to include crystal, gifts, promotional products, and silk-screened items. We have kept ahead of the curve by attending trade shows, participating in seminars and webinars, and creating a presence not only in our local communities, but with online consumer communities. Yes, we have worked very hard to stay competitive in the marketplace.

It’s a good thing we have worked so hard! Even as the number of awards retailers has decreased in the past 15 years, the number of unconventional competitors continues to increase. We have always competed successfully against local jewelry stores and gift shops. But now, in addition to competing with every awards retailer online, we find competition in unexpected places. Now big box companies like Walmart sell trophies on their website. Consumers involved in sports can purchase awards from the sport’s governing association’s online store. Many professional organizations offer awards to their local chapters. We compete against sorority and fraternity member stores and the online shops of religious and civic associations. That’s a lot of competition. So how do you win new customers?


As I recall, the DIY consumers really became a force during the recession several years ago. “Spend less, do it yourself, cut out the retailer.”

For our store, it started with customers making their own custom certificates. Years ago, many awards retailers did a lot of custom certificates. A lot! But with color printers in every office and school, customers realized they could produce their own certificates in-house. These certificates did not look as professional as the ones we produced, but many felt they were good enough and saved money. For us, it meant lost revenue and a lost category of merchandise sales. What could we do? We have been able to recoup a percentage of this business as consumers realized just how much time and effort they waste producing these awards in-house—but much of the custom certificate business is gone forever. How do you win these DIY customers?

We took our list of custom certificate customers and did a marketing campaign aimed at making their DIY certificates more professional by using our certificate plaques and frames to display and present their certificates. And guess what? Many of these former certificate customers now bring their DIY certificates to us, and we sell them the frames and plaques to complete the award. We actually have increased sales by losing the custom certificate business to the DIY crowd.

What category of business have you seen decline in recent years? How can you connect in a different way with DIY consumers? Many times, rather than lose a group of customers, we can find ways to convert them to customers that now purchase from your business in a different way. However …

A couple of years ago, a loyal customer of ours got a new representative. This group typically ordered 150 trophies a year. But the new representative decided she could save the group money by purchasing our least expensive medals and making the neck ribbons herself. It caused a drop in sales for us, but we kept the business and a chance to eventually return to the more expensive trophies. And then, last year the representative teamed up with a “DIYer” and we completely lost the customer. They decided to make 150 “medals” out of paper plates. That’s right. Eight-inch paper plates, spray-painted gold on a handmade ribbon drape. They even “engraved” the back with an ink pen. How does one compete against a paper plate!? I have not figured that one out yet. Our company will continue to market quality awards and new, innovative products to this group. Paper plates?????


There are consumers in every marketplace who truly believe they deserve a deal. Not their job to ensure your success. Not their job to care if you can afford employee raises. Not their job to expand your business. No, their only job when doing business with your company is to get a good deal. Many retailers will write off the thrifty crowd without even trying to make a sale. And while I agree that this group of consumers may never be your most loyal, it might be in your best interest to find ways to successfully sell to these shoppers.

Many retailers believe that the only way to make a sale with someone looking for a deal is to offer them a discount. Not so! Several years ago, a long-time customer spent time telling us that she needed to get a better price for her awards, because she had just hosted a very expensive party. Grrr. It might have been easy just to have given her a discount on the same awards, but that is not our store policy. Instead, we showed her awards that were available in her new budget. She was a happy camper; she spent less and still got nice—though smaller—awards. We were happy because we kept our profit margins and satisfied the customer.

The point is a thrifty customer will normally be excited to see a display of awards with signage stating “budget busters” or “affordable elegance.” There is no reason that your lowestpriced awards can’t look great and be appealing to the budgetminded customers. Over the years, some product lines have become too expensive for the thrifty crowd. This happened in our store with inexpensive wine glasses. The unit cost of the glass combined with the freight costs put this once inexpensive product out of reach for many customers.

Did we lose this business? Yes and no. Now we refer customers looking for the least expensive glass to one of the dollar store chains, where the same wine glass sells for less than a dollar. The customer purchases the glasses and brings them to us for personalization. These customers don’t seem to mind paying for our regularly priced services. We carry no inventory, and we make a much higher profit on personalization. The thrifty customer is delighted that we helped them get a deal on the glasses and love that our store makes their under-a-dollar items look special. Win-win!

How can you help your customers save money without sacrificing profits? Thrifty customers can be a good source of additional revenue if you take the time to develop a game plan for working effectively with this group.


Every year, it seems that more and more customers give us less and less lead time to produce quality awards. Our choices are to keep our turnaround time on track and walk these customers or find ways to meet the customers’ deadlines. Sometimes a request will be impossible to achieve, but we must always remember that when we say no, the customer may never be back to give you another chance. There will be a competitor out there that will do whatever is necessary to satisfy the customer. Saying no probably means waving goodbye to the customer’s money forever. Instead of walking business, let’s find ways to accommodate these last-minute customers while maintaining our production schedules.

Many suppliers offer specific products for quick turnaround. As retailers, we can do the same thing. Identify awards that you can produce quickly and always keep in stock. Label these products in your showroom so the lastminute crowd can see their options. A trophy customer might have resins and medals to choose from rather than traditional component trophies that are more labor intensive. Try to offer a nice variety in each category of awards so that these customers have good options and don’t feel that you are trying to get rid of slow-moving inventory.

The number of last-minute customers has really increased during busy season at our store. This has created real problems—and opportunities—for our business. Without enough hours to complete the end-of-school orders placed in advance, how do you take care of the last-minute crowd? For the past 3 years, we have set up an area in our showroom marked “Cash & Carry.” Customers that need to take awards with them have a nice selection of prebuilt trophies; medals with red, white, and blue neck drapes; stock ribbons; and chenille pins. Our signage states that no engraving or customization is available on cash & carry items. We sell our regular merchandise at full price, and the customers are absolutely thrilled to be able to have awards immediately. Many come back early the following year and place their full orders.

Times have changed, and many customers will no longer tolerate lengthy waits. If you think about it, we are one of a few industries that doesn’t make it possible for a customer to just pick merchandise off of the shelf and take it with them. Consider a cash & carry display for holiday gifts to increase your sales and satisfy the last-minute crowd.


No one in the awards industry would discount the importance of a presence on the Internet. The fact is that more than 60% of today’s consumers would not consider becoming a new customer of a company with no online presence. Yet I am always amazed when a potential customer is excited when I tell them that we have a virtual store.

Most consumers that shop online would prefer to shop with a local company, but somehow the dots are not always connected. It is our job to let consumers know that they can shop in our virtual store the same way they would shop in any online store. As important as your online store is, having an online presence aside from your website is also important to win over the virtual crowd. Using social media to build your business includes having current customers post photos of their awards ceremonies and asking nonprofits to promote their fundraisers with you. Giving online consumers reasons to return to your sites over and over is a great way to market your business and grow your customer base with the virtual crowd.


Competing with other businesses is hard, but competing against yourself may be the hardest thing you will ever do. Are you better today than you were yesterday? Do you have an achievable plan to be better tomorrow? Competing to win customers keeps us on our toes, always looking for ways to better serve our customers. And that’s a good thing, because we will never be bored or complacent. We will spend every day working to win customers.

Fran Carville, CRM, is an Awards and Personalization Association past president, educational speaker, 2008 Speaker of the Year, a member of the Hall of Fame, and winner of an Award of Excellence from the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Fran and her husband, Tom Carville, CRM, own Carco Awards in Baton Rouge, LA.

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