Once again it’s time to tear yourselves away from your iPad POS system and have a think about the decisions you are making for your business.

As part of our ongoing involvement with the Small Business Breakthrough initiative, we’re throwing the spotlight on one of our favorite ShopKeep POS merchants and asking them for their perspective on all things small business.

Sparky’s Balloons brings cheer to the streets, parties, and street parties of San Francisco and the whole Bay Area. They offer a plentiful supply of balloons and party wares for birthdays, bachelorette parties and baby showers. What’s more, business is booming! They have two locations and a thriving delivery business. We picked the brains of co-founder, Sal to find out his tips and tricks for staying ahead of the game.

On Customer Service

Sal is clear about the importance of putting the customer first, “It sounds obvious, but providing quality products and customer service at a great price is the key to great word-of-mouth. Simply put, happy customers make great, free salespeople.” So don’t be shy about asking for that review – if customers are well-treated they are normally happy to return the favor with a good Yelp review.

On Online Marketing

Guest blogger Megan Webb-Morgan recently outlined some of the basic steps required to manage an online presence, including building social media profiles and managing online reviews. Sal and his business partner are, however, taking things to the next level, “We’re targeting online search traffic to build awareness and drive sales. I know Search Engine Marketing (SEM) doesn’t tend to be the first thing an average brick and mortar merchant thinks about when planning for growth, but it can be really beneficial.”

Sparky’s Balloons is using Google Adwords to ensure potential customers are finding about their service when they are ready to make a decision. Sal says, “By appearing prominently when users search for certain ‘keywords’, we are able to put our products in front of people at the exact time they are looking for them. That’s so important.”

Sal acknowledges that a lot of people don’t really know where to get started with keywords, “I actually trawled through our Yelp reviews to get an idea of how our customers perceived us. It’s only by doing stuff like this that you can learn whether ‘San Francisco Birthday Supplies’ might be a better bet than ‘San Francisco Party Supplies’. After that, it’s really a question of trial and error. Give lots of different keywords a try until you find the ones that are resulting in lots of click throughs to your website.”

Sal’s last bit of SEM advice:  “Be location specific: Use the settings to ensure your ad only appears to customers in your location and use location specific keywords, so, for example, if a user searches ‘San Francisco Party Supplies’, an ad for Sparky’s Balloons appears and if a user searches ‘Los Angeles Party Supplies’, it doesn’t. I get the feeling party supplies in Los Angeles probably means something completely different anyway…”

On Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

“You are not the first person to open a store in your neighborhood. In fact, you may not even be first person to open a balloon store in your neighborhood, so it’s crazy not to take advantage of the knowledge that’s out there. My partner and I have joined several merchants associations, things like the Golden Gate Business Association or Richmond’s Merchant Association. They are great places for learning and networking.”

On Using Your Time Well

Sal has a full time job alongside his store, working for Wells Fargo, and he is a big believer in making the most of whatever time he has. “My business partner and I opened the store when I was on a hiatus from work. Now that I am back full-time in a demanding job, I have had to get pretty good at multi-tasking. You’ve really got to take advantage of any tools that help you get more done on your terms. For example, I love how the ShopKeep iPhone app let’s me check in on things when I’m on the move.”

If you’ve got any hints and tips you’d like to share, we have a dedicated space for merchants to exchange ideas, the ShopKeep POS Community Forum.

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate who uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.