How to properly greet customers and keep them coming back was among the advice offered Monday during a free marketing seminar for Philadelphia businesses, which was met with enthusiasm by veteran and new business owners alike.

About 30 people attended the "Winning Strategies" seminar, which was led by Margie Johnson, who has more than 30 years of experience as an owner/entrepreneur in the retail world.

Philadelphia is among three communities chosen by Mississippi Main Street for the seminar in partnership with the Mississippi Press Association and locally The Neshoba Democrat and Philadelphia Main Street to promote economic development and aid retailers in a challenging economic environment.

Reaction to the seminar was overwhelmingly positive with many like M&S Furniture owner Mike Skinner saying the tips were information they already knew but "needed to be reminded of" again.

"It's a lot like going to church, you've heard it before but you needed to be reminded," he said.

Skinner noted that the tip on how a little paint goes a long way resonated with him.

Similarly, Steve Wilkerson of Steve's on the Square described the seminar as rejuvenating.

While he had attended several similar sessions in the past where you are told "what you already know," Wilkerson said it's always "a great rejuvenation" that makes you feel pumped up.

"No matter how long you've been in business, you can always learn something at these seminars," he said.

Wilkerson expressed a desire to see the return of the mystery shopper program in Philadelphia.

Richard Goldman of the Neshoba County Co-op was very impressed with the seminar.

"I was very pleased and the information will benefit us in the future," he said.

One of the main points for Goldman was the attitude/gratitude lesson.

"You go in and everyone is frowning," he said. "It's not a fun place to shop. It's something we lack sometimes."

Goldman was so impressed with the seminar that he hopes to attend similar events in the future.

"She [Johnson] was a very good speaker and out of the ones I've heard before she's at the top of the list," he said.

Johnson's "customer-centered" approach to solving business problems supports organizations in growing their businesses in today's competitive environment.

One of the main points of the seminar was what Johnson called the "12 Winning Strategies:"

•Look at your core business.

•Your team is part of the solution.

•Connect with customers.

•Create an engaging and enticing environment.

•Be aware of competitors and their advantages.

•Make business accessible in the physical and virtual worlds.

•Solicit feedback.

•Approach vendors with a partners mentality.

•Work the numbers, be vigilant about cost cutting in the right places.

•Take a hard look at your debt service.

•The presence of management is an essential success ingredient.

Johnson noted that this is the time for resurgence in small town business and her tips would help.

"Don't wait for business to happen," she said, "You want to create memories for your customers, the ultimate customer experience."

She said that many small town businesses across the country have benefitted from social media.

She noted that larger stores, like Wal-Mart, have started opening smaller express stores to draw in customers looking for a quicker experience.

"More space does not equal more sales," she said.

Another main point was the change in the type of consumer in the world.

She noted the rise of the millennials, those born between 1977 and 2000, and Generation Z, those born after 2000, as the type of consumer retailers should market towards.

"They are a fickle, discerning consumer," she said, noting these generations are technology reliant and very adaptable to change.

She pointed to the rise of Internet purchases and using social media to draw in customers with deals and specials.

The rest of the meeting discussed more traditional tips for improving business.

Increasing customer service through better communication with employees and customers, creating customer loyalty, be hospitable, not hostile with customers, reasons for losing sales, pro-active, no pressure solution-oriented selling, preventing shrinkage (i.e. stealing) through good customer service, visual merchandising, bettering the store image, turning browsers into buyers, using colors to entice customers and various "guerrilla" marketing ideas.

"I urge each business owner to select a few of these strategies that they most need to focus on at this time," she said. "Be thoughtful and thorough in your approach. The mantra for a successful year is 'To Make Business Happen - Not Wait for It to Happen.'"

She noted that 14 percent of customers judge a business by one bad encounter and 68 percent by rudeness, indifference and lack of service.

Another point was that when someone has a bad experience, they would tell 12 to 14 people. But when someone has a good one, they only tell only three to four, calling it the "impact of the silent majority."

The seminar itself was not just a classroom session. Johnson used visual exercises to illustrate points.

Jeff Stewart, local musician and restaurateur, was asked to walk around the room holding a sign with "Make my feel special" on it. This is what customers really want when they look for a positive experience, Johnson said.

Paper smiles were passed out to show that happy employees would make for happy customers and positive experiences.

The seminar ended with Johnson reiterating the theme of thinking outside the box and revitalizing small town business.

"You don't need to ignore local dollars," she said. "Some places advertise outside their town too much."