Despite the worries specialty retailers have about competition with big-box and mass merchants, sports and fitness enthusiasts will chose independents over sporting goods in nearly every case.
A study by Leisure Trends in the spring found that the most active consumers it polls said they have a positive opinion of independent specialty stores not only because of the authentic product they carry, but also because of the generally caring and trusted staff.
Reassuringly, this means that the specialty channel is not dead. What this does mean, however, is an extra weight on specialty stores to continue to offer the best service and most interesting brands.
"Specialty is where the lifeblood is," said Julia Day, marketing manager for Leisure Trends. "Yes, consumers find you valuable, but you need to culture that and tell them what makes you special."
Leisure Trends (www.leisuretrends.com), in three decades of LeisureTrak reports, has found that for a category to be healthy, 45 percent of units sold and 60 percent of dollars spent must be through specialty channels.
And that's where a specialty store must make sure it has and keeps it enthusiast customers since they are nearly twice as likely to buy during the year as a general buyer, the study found. Fifty-six percent of sports enthusiasts will buy recreation and fitness products from specialty retail chain stores, compared to 25 percent of general consumers; 46 percent will buy from independent specialty compared to 32 percent of general consumers. Of course, 60 percent will still buy from sporting goods chains but compare that to 56 percent of general consumers who will.
Why do they choose specialty? For quality merchandise, a superior shopping environment, and new brands and innovative products they can't find someplace else, Leisure Trends found.
"A Rice University study found that if we simply thank our customers for buying our products, they are three times more likely to buy again and 60 percent less likely to go somewhere else," said Jim Spring of Leisure Trends. "Just imagine, if we treat them with TLC by asking their opinions, introducing them to our pro staff or offering them an incentive to buy, how they might react?"
Advice from the group is to nourish these customers by forging a relationship, for example by starting a loyalty program; making it easy for your target market to find you; and being "the smartest person in town" about what you carry so customers feel they are getting their money's worth.
Respondents to the survey said this about independent specialty stores, how they define them and their expectations:
>> It is not part of a chain and it specializes in a certain type of product.
>> It's nice to shop at a local store, owned by people you get to know. It's nice that the money will stay in the community, instead of being sent out of state or even out of the country to some big corporation.
>>A store that is not owned by a conglomerate.
>> Sells specific items not always available at sporting goods stores.
>> An independent store would be one that is locally owned, and may have a few stores in the area. It is not a giant store, typically 5,000 to 10,000 square feet in size. The owners/employees typically are familiar with the equipment and may specialize in various areas of sports.
>> A store that carries a special stock of goods such as camping gear, bicycles, etc.
>> Sport specific equipment with a knowledgeable sales staff.
>> Not a chain store; independently owned by local people who are into the activities that they sell products for.
And, last but definitely not least:
>> A knowledgeable staff who is more concerned about making sure the customer is getting the right product for them rather than just about making the sale.
The complete LeisureTrak report is available by contacting Day at Leisure Trends, 888-732-7272, ext. 107, or firstname.lastname@example.org.