Having pioneered kayak fishing off the southeastern coast of Louisiana, the folks at Buffalo Peak Outfitters in Jackson, Miss., know a thing or two about this emerging sport. So, when we learned that a member of our Mystery Shopper team was going to be in the Magnolia State, we dispatched him to Buffalo Peak to go undercover and shop for a boat.
No longer a brand new activity in the realm of outdoor specialty stores, kayak fishing has had time to evolve, and we were curious to see what approach retailers were taking in selling boats and equipment. It wasn't just a question of what types of boats they'd push; kayak fishers are big-time gear heads, and there is an amazing array of accessories that can be attached to a boat. Would the salespeople encourage our undercover man to go whole hog, or counsel him to not bite off more than necessary?
As we always like to point out: Our goal with these Mystery Shoppers is not to pick on one person or one store -- or to praise one particular store or person -- but to point out what went right and what, if anything, went wrong and, hopefully, offer a learning experience. Each and every shopping experience can be widely different, even at any one store or with any one person. Don't forget to visit our Training Center (www.snewsnet.com/salestools) to see our entire lineup of past Mystery Shoppers.
Our Mystery Shopper, codename Jake, pulled into a Jackson shopping center right around noon on an unseasonably warm winter day. He swung open glass doors at a mall entrance and strolled down a hallway that mimicked a village lane with park benches and plants along the way. He wound past a few shop windows and soon arrived at the entrance to Buffalo Peak.
He walked into a nicely appointed main room with sportswear to the left and right. Three employees stood talking at the long cash/wrap counter, and Jake turned right to explore a separate room, noting along the way kayaks from Wilderness Systems and Native Watercraft mounted high, near the ceiling.
Footwear and packs filled the adjoining room, and Jake eyed more boats hanging high on the walls, while a Native 14.5 boat sat at the base of the pack wall. Product was spaced nicely throughout the shop, but there was little room to put boats within reach of customers. (As our Mystery Shopper would learn later, the store brings more boats down onto the floor in spring when demand is higher.)
After browsing for a few moments, Jake returned to the front room and a young saleswoman approached and asked if she could help him find something.
"Yeah, I'm looking for a boat for kayak fishing, and I was looking at a couple of your boats and wondering if you would recommend one over the other," said Jake, motioning to a Native Manta Ray and Native Ultimate 12.
She told Jake that it would depend on what kind of fishing he'd be doing. He responded that he had recently joined his friends fishing for redfish and thought that's what he'd likely do in the future.
It was immediately obvious that the salesperson was not thoroughly prepared to sell these boats. She pointed out that the Manta Ray was an option, but did not go into any detail about technical features and made no real attempt to ask questions that would move the sale along. But she did a smart thing. She quickly got the attention of another employee and asked if he could help.
Jake was introduced to a young man named Chuck who had short, dark hair, appeared to be in his 20s and wore a down sweater. Chuck asked Jake what type of boat he was interested in, and Jake said that he was just getting into kayak fishing and would be getting his first boat. The salesperson immediately directed him to the Ultimate 12.
"It's a real stable boat," said Chuck. "You can stand up and cast and not tip it over. The Manta Ray is stable, but it's not going to be as stable as this," he said pointing out the hull design of the Ultimate 12.
The salesperson spoke confidently and seemed to know his stuff. And he correctly identified that the stability of the boat was a primary concern of a new paddler. It also helped that he used this aspect to point out a key difference between the boats, so Jake could begin to narrow his choice.
Our Mystery Shopper noticed a Wilderness Systems Tarpon boat suspended high on the wall, and said, "What about that boat? I think that's the kind I used when I went with some friends. Is that the Tarpon?"
"Yeah, that's another kind of fishing boat," the salesman replied. "I don't think we have any right now, but we'll get a shipment in the spring," he said.
"What's the difference between that and the Ultimate 12?" Jake asked.
"Well, the Ultimate 12 is a kayak, but it's considered to be more like a canoe," the salesman replied.
"Oh, you mean in the way that it handles?" Jake asked.
"Yeah, it's way more stable than the Manta Ray or the Tarpon. But I've paddled probably five or six different boats we have, and the Tarpon is one of my favorites. It cuts water well, it's fast and it's a real stable boat. I sat in it and rocked it pretty hard to get it to turn over. I got it pretty far, but never turned it over."
Another solid move by the salesman. He was not only differentiating between the performance aspects of the boats, but also sharing his personal experiences, which gave him credibility. Plus, his assessment of the boats was accurate.
Jake noticed that the boats displayed on the walls were stripped down and did not carry a great number of accessories. However, the Native 14.5 boat that sat at the base of the pack wall was outfitted with a motor and a number of other outfitting options. Our Mystery Shopper was curious as to whether Buffalo Peak would try to sell him on extras, so he looked at the Ultimate 12 boat and asked the salesman if it included any attachments.
Without hesitation, Chuck said that the boat came with the seat and foot braces and added, "We do sell paddle holders, anchors, cup holders, all those things."
"I'd just put that stuff on myself?" our Mystery Shopper asked.
"Yeah, or we can put it on if you want us to," he replied.
To his credit, the salesperson was not putting on the hard sale, but being thorough in presenting options for the customer.
"What do you think I would need to start out with? I figured I could get rod holders," Jake said.
"Really, you don't need that much," Chuck said. "I mean, you could get rod holders and maybe an anchor, and get a bilge pump just in case you flip it and get water in the boat. Other than that, you just need the paddle and the life jacket, and that's it."
"I don't think I used an anchor last time," our Mystery Shopper said.
"Yeah, you don't have to, but it kind of depends on where you are. If you're on a river, you might want to anchor. But if you're on a lake or a pond where the water is still, you shouldn't really have a problem with moving around."
Jake was impressed that Chuck seemed to understand an important point: Often, it's more important to simply introduce a person to an activity than to complicate matters and overwhelm the customer with unnecessary extras.
Jake gestured toward the trolling motor on the Native 14.5 and asked if that was something he should consider.
"That kind of defeats the purpose of a kayak to me, having a trolling motor," the salesman said, "I mean, it's a wonderful thing to use, but you can do the same thing with paddling. It'll just take a little longer to get there."
Hey, whether or not you agree with Chuck's opinion on motors, you have to appreciate his honesty. Is it possible that his comment could have turned off a certain type of person, like someone coming from the traditional boating market? Maybe. But you could also argue that a customer is looking for honesty and is likely to feel comfortable knowing that he's dealing with a straight shooter.
Jake continued to look the Native boat up and down, and the salesman picked up on his continued curiosity. "If you find anything on their website that we don't have here, we can order it for you," he said. "You can go to NativeWatercraft.com and it shows you all their accessories and gives you details on all the boats -- the specs, weight, capacity it'll hold."
Their discussion briefly turned back to the Ultimate 12, and the salesman said that the boat was constructed with Tegris, and pointed out that it was not only durable but also extremely lightweight. But, he really scored points with his next comment.
The salesman told Jake that the store holds demo day events in the spring, and he would be welcome to try out a variety of boats, which was a good thing to do before buying. He added that the demo events would also have boats on sale, and Jake might get the Ultimate 12 for a lower price.
Jake thanked the salesman for the suggestion and said that he'd like to attend a demo before making a decision. Completely satisfied with his experience, he browsed the store a bit more and walked out in search of a Cajun restaurant he'd passed by earlier, and possibly redfish.
SNEWS® View: One of the most important moves a salesperson can do is to seek help when necessary. This sale could have ended before it began, but the first salesperson Jake encountered made the right move in turning to Chuck for assistance. At this point, things were firmly on track, as Chuck proceeded quickly and efficiently, identifying an important selling point -- stability -- and calling out differences between two possible boats. He got big points for product knowledge, conveying his personal paddling experiences, and for not trying to shower the customer with outfitting options. "Keep it simple" seemed to be the salesperson's motto, and it worked nicely. We also appreciated that the salesperson was confident enough to voice his opinion. Hey, that's why people go to a specialty store: to seek expert opinions. Also, Chuck went a step further by directing the customer to a manufacturer's website and, more importantly, inviting him to the spring boat demo. It was just one of the many steps this salesperson took to let the customer know that Buffalo Peak was interested in a long-term relationship, and not just a quick sale.