BOSTON (MainStreet) — Little things can mean a lot.
The business world is filled with "why didn't I think of that" examples of straightforward product and service additions that have pumped sales and pleased patrons.
Two of McDonald's' (Stock Quote: MCD) best-selling items -- the Egg McMuffin and Big Mac -- were the brainchild of single franchisees looking to spice up their menus. Perhaps the single greatest thing ever to happen to Subway is the modest price promotion a Miami franchise launched that became the omnipresent "$5 footlong" phenomenon.
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The notion of selling breakfast was hardly a radical idea when McDonald's looked to extend their sales day in the 1970s, but it was a novel one that has paid off. Today, breakfast sales account for roughly 25% of all revenue for the chain and its competitors -- including, recently, Subway and Taco Bell (Stock Quote: YUM) - are stepping up their morning efforts. About 60% of restaurant traffic growth during the past five years has come from breakfast sales, according to analysts at NPD Group, a leading market research company.
Improving coffee offerings has also been a small improvement that has paid off big for McDonald's. Its so-called McCafe locations average about 15% more in revenue because of those selections.
When Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX) pulled the word "coffee" from its signs, some wondered what it was up to and whether it signaled a move toward an expanded menu. Among the simple changes driving increased revenues: juice. Last year it bought juice maker Evolution Fresh in a $30 million deal intended to make itself more attractive to non-coffee drinkers.
Analysts at IBISWorld, the world's largest independent publisher of U.S. industry research, offered us a variety of relatively simple ways companies can increase sales, be more effective and/or satisfy customers.
Among them: More retailers should offer in-store returns to attract online purchases from consumers who would otherwise withhold a purchase if they dread mailing back an item; using social media instead of focus groups for branding initiatives (Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) uploads potential commercials to YouTube and decides which will run based on user response); fitness clubs could move away from long-term contracts and to month-to-month memberships; point of sale/on the floor checkout, as practiced by Apple (Stock Quote: APPL) and Nordstrom (Stock Quote: JWN), should be adopted by more retailers; more stores could take a cue from the success Kmart had offering layaway during the holidays.
It isn't always as easy as it might sound to enact even a simple change in strategy or product offering, says Stephen Baker, NPD's primary hardware analyst.
"It is hard to see that there could be any real low-hanging fruit out there, something that is so obvious that somebody else wouldn't have already plucked it," he says. "I really think we are at a point in the maturity of the business where it's just not that easy. We know the things that consumers are going to want going forward, and they aren't easy things to do. They are higher fruit. They are not devices, they are much more likely to be services or support or something else to make people's lives easier."
That said, he does agree there can be strokes of genius.
"I was an original employee at Staples (Stock Quote: SPLS)," he says. "I sat down and listened to people tell me what they were going to do, and I was like, 'Why hasn't anybody ever thought of this before? This is a great idea.' Founder Thomas G. Stemberg is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and deserves every penny of it for being able to think up, and follow through with, that kind of a great idea, one so obvious and so simple that it seems like somebody else would have thought of it. His alternate go-to-market plan was to do a pet superstore. So not only did he have one great idea, he had two great ideas."
They may not be as grandiose as the business model for office-supplies giant Staples or PetSmart (Stock Quote: PETM), but we took a look at 10 simple -- perhaps even "no-brainer" -- ideas that could help various companies increase sales, accrue revenue and keep customers happy: