Having spent the majority of my adult life engaged in retailing, I have observed that many store owners and managers have given a great deal of thought as to what results they want to see their respective businesses achieve. They can tell you what products they wish to sell. They know how much margin they wish to gain from the sale and even when they would like to sell them. They decide how they would like their store displays arranged, how the staff should dress and what music they would like to hear playing in the background. They say that they want to sell better quality goods than in the past. They feel that they have properly planned for favorable business results from each customer sale.
While this may appear to be impressive, and certainly beats failing to plan at all, I find this “store centered” business philosophy to be somewhat flawed. Why? Because no one bothered to ask the customer if any of this was relevant to their decision making process. Have you ever asked your customers what are truly the most important elements of a sale to them? What is it that turns ordinary product into extraordinary fashion in the customer’s eyes? Should you do so, my opinion is that the majority of the time their answer would focus on a proper service and installation experience.
I have found that a profitable use of time is to tour businesses successfully specializing in fashionable products not sold in our industry. These businesses may be selling anything from clothing to home décor, kitchen ware to eye wear. They do have one common goal – to make the customer’s buying experience fun and fulfilling. There are lessons to be learned at every turn. These merchants have learned that customers will gladly pay more for products and services that are unique, well designed, innovative and well displayed. They have learned that their targeted customer places a high value on their time and will not allow it to be wasted. These merchants understand that there are “category killers” or “big boxes” in virtually every phase of retail that will appeal to a certain percentage of potential customers.
What they also understand is that there is also a healthy percentage of potential customers that are turned off by the promise of mass retailing. This customer wants to see product in a comfortable setting with correct lighting. They want to hear relaxing background music – not a public address system with frequent ads mixed into the rotation. They want to work with a sales professional that is professionally dressed and groomed – not by someone wearing an apron with a collection of service pins attached to it to prove that they are “trained”. They want to have their purchase properly handled and placed into the car for them – not be forced to use a self-service kiosk “for their convenience”! They want to feel that what they have to say matters and that their business is valued. They are getting this feeling from their other favorite stores. Would they get the same feelings from yours?
As the saying goes, “when they say that one size fits all – what they really mean is that one size fits nobody!” The mass marketers have adapted a “one size fits all” philosophy. A customer at their store must comply with their systems and policies. While this works for these retailers at their scale, don’t mistakenly think that it will work for you as well. What works well for commodity products will not work well for fashionable ones.
Don’t apologize for great service priced appropriately. This customer is used to paying for a customized experience. They will not be disappointed with a properly explained legitimate price quote, but rather by the perception that they didn’t get what they were willing to pay for at the agreed upon time.
Remember that they don’t care if one size fits everyone else, their size is the only one that matters to them, and it has to fit perfectly! The odds of finding this level of service at a mass merchant are remote, giving independent retailers a great opportunity to prosper. Spend less time worrying about what these national stores do, and more time focusing on the things that a fashion driven customer desires – things that these giant merchants typically don’t do well. Find what your customer wants and then strive tirelessly to see that they get it. When you place your primary focus on making a more discriminating customer happy, their favorable reviews and continued patronage will likely return great dividends!