"Bridging the Gap": Don't Forget Your Core Customers!

Jul 19


Donna Schwartz Mills

Donna Schwartz Mills

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The big news in the business sector last month was ... of Millard Drexler as CEO of The Gap. The ... retail chain has hit hard times, losing money inthe last four quarters and sl


The big news in the business sector last month was the
resignation of Millard Drexler as CEO of The Gap. The once
highflying retail chain has hit hard times,"Bridging the Gap": Don't Forget Your Core Customers! Articles losing money in
the last four quarters and slipping disastrously close to

Retail fashion is a notoriously fickle business, with
yesterday's hot trends marked down today like so many
Pokemon toys. But for years, the Gap had been impervious to
fashion ups and downs by being the favorite supplier of the
favorite clothes of the Baby Boomers: Denim jeans, khaki
trousers and basic shirts.

But as the Boomers hit middle age, the Gap made the decision
to go after the youth market. Gone were the comfortable fit
jeans its customers loved, replaced by hip huggers and
belly shirts that could not be worn by someone carrying 20
years of cellulite. And that was the beginning of their

As the owner of a home business, I found this puzzling.
After all, the Gap had always identified the youth market as
its own and was just carrying out the course it set for
itself back in 1969, when it was a single store in San
Francisco. But as their young customers grew, so did the
chain, resulting in a clientele that stayed loyal for 30
years. By shifting gears to appeal to *today's* teenagers,
they alienated millions of loyal customers who moved on to
discounters like Target (which manages to evoke an image of
"cheap chic") and newer outlets like J.Jill and Chicco,
which proudly display relax-fit clothes that are stylish,
comfortable and hide a multitude of middle-aged sins.

In the meantime, the young people Gap so desperately
courted could not get over their image of the chain as a
place frequented by their parents. These kids flock to their
own trendy stores like Hot Topic, and had little interest in
what the Gap had to offer. It was a "lose-lose" all the way

The lesson for home business owners is a reminder that it's
never safe to *assume* you know what your customers want.
Research is an essential tool in your business, no matter
what its size, and it doesn't have to be elaborate or
expensive. Those of you doing business online have access
to several methods, including some tools you may already
have but are not using for this purpose.

Marketer Karon Thackston of http://www.KTAMarketing.com
is a big believer in research and providing her customers
with information they can use to make good marketing
decisions. And like the rest of us, she loves finding quick,
easy and inexpensive ways to gather that information. Karon
recently discovered that her website's free search engine
gave her a window into what her customers were looking for
at her site. The engine she uses gives her access to reports
on the most popular search terms. By checking these reports
on a monthly basis, she can fine tune the content of her
site, make advertising decisions, and create new products to
fill their particular needs. Read the rest of Karon's
article here:

At my website, http://ParentPreneurClub.com , I have
other tools I use to assess my visitors' interests and
needs. One is our weblog, which offers detailed reports on
which pages are the most popular and how long visitors view

Another is our library of 100 free eBooks. By logging the
ones which are downloaded the most often, I've gleaned a
wealth of information on the interests of my visitors.

Up until I started tracking, I assumed that our business
offerings would be the most popular with my audience of work
at home parents (mostly moms). However, *the* most popular
eBook in the Library has nothing to do with making money or
running a home business: It's called "Healthy Living for a
Busy Family" and it's been downloaded about three times as
often as my most popular business eBook. Those stats led me
to add more family and lifestyle topics to the library, as
well as a couple of new cooking pages -- because managing a
household and raising healthy kids is as much a concern
for my visitors as making a solid profit.

Finally, nothing is as good as actually *asking* your
customers what they want. Surveys are an extremely useful
tool and several companies offer versions you can place
on your website for free. The one we've used is located

Millard Drexler -- whose vision helped make the Gap the
nation's number one apparel retailer -- is staying on with
the company until a replacement is found. In the meantime,
the Gap's new old strategy of selling basics (jeans, khakis
and white shirts) combined with an ad campaign that includes
Boomer icon Dennis Hopper, appears to be working. It's just
too bad these guys didn't ask their customers what they
wanted before changing their course. Let's hope we home
business folk don't make the same mistake!