Copyright (c) 2012 Ted Hurlbut
The very best specialty retailing has always been built around the customer's lifestyle, aspirations and passions.
These have been challenging times for retailers of all shapes and sizes, but the challenges for smaller retailers have been particularly acute. Many built their businesses around quality, service, and fashion, rather than price. The ground seemingly has shifted, however, as every retailer has felt extraordinary pressure on both price points and margins. Customers haven't stopped spending, but they've certainly become more discriminating about how they do spend their money.
Nevertheless, there remain enormous opportunities for energized, innovative entrepreneurs to fill those specialized niches that the retail behemoths simply cannot. For smaller retailers this will require an even greater emphasis on those qualities which makes them unique and distinctive. Rather than adopt price-driven strategic approaches borrowed from the world of corporate retail, what's needed is an approach that further leverages the greatest competitive asset that smaller retailers have; their relationships with their customers.
The very best specialty retailing has always been built around the customer's lifestyle, aspirations and passions. The current environment, however, requires a subtle, but essential shift in approach. Traditionally, retailers have started with products and categories, and then sought to build a customer base for that merchandise. Going forward, the equation must start first with customers, and only then seek to build compelling assortments that appeal to those customers.
The organizing principle is shared passions, and a passionate engagement with customers. Rather than starting with stuff, this approach starts with people and their passions. It's a business model that emphasizes relationships and building a community of interest. Beyond industry buzzwords such as customer-centric retailing and experience-based retailing, it is an approach that is personal, authentic, enthusiastic and connected. Call it passionate retailing.
Passionate retailing starts with the entrepreneur; with you and your own lifestyle, aspirations and passions. Your passion must become the life-force of your business. From this starting point, you will need to rethink your relationships with your customers, the role and skillset of your employees, your concept of what makes a store compelling, your merchandising strategy, even your mission statement. It requires an intensity of focus that will define as well as differentiate you.
Your employees form the critical link between you and your customers. It's no longer enough that they are knowledgeable and dependable, they must have the passion themselves. Rather than following any structured selling strategy, their approach to customers must be open and intuitive, enthusiastic and genuine. They need get to know their customers by name, learn their preferences, and continually nurture their relationships.
These relationships will drive your growth organically. Your best customers will lead you to your next customers. Your most productive marketing initiatives will energize your best customers to bring their network of friends into the fold, through referral programs, trunk shows and invitation-only special events. The intent is not on building a broad customers base, it's on nurturing a passionate customer base.
Store design and layout takes on added significance, for it's not just where you sell stuff, it's the setting for the relationships you are building. Just as your home is a personal reflection of who you are, so must your store. Fixturing and displays need to meld seamlessly into the layout and décor. From the moment a customer enters, the space needs to engage the senses in a way that's familiar, casual, warm and inviting.
Your customers will also guide your merchandising decisions far more than before. Rather than defining yourself by fixed programs and categories, the assortments you carry will evolve organically as your customer's passions evolve. While destination items will remain the foundation of the product mix, unexpected treasures, captivating discoveries and irresistible enticements need to become the hallmark of your store.
There are numerous other implications of this approach. There are, for instance, real limits to scalability. It still requires sound judgment and solid business acumen. But at its heart, passionate retailing seeks to form a genuine bond between retailer and customer. From a smaller retailer's perspective, it engenders greater customer loyalty, significantly reduces the importance of price in the customer's buying decision, and lessens the impact of the economic ebb and flow. And, quite frankly, it's also a personally more rewarding way of doing business.
Ted Hurlbut is a retail consultant, coach and speaker who helps independent retailers increase sales, profitability and cash flow by leveraging his deep expertise and proven retail know-how, Get his FREE report The 16 Essential Elements of a WINNING Independent Retail Strategy Visit: http://www.hurlbutassociates.com/get-the-16-essential-elements-of-a-winning-independent-retail-strategy/