Power Players' Lounge: Creating a stellar customer experience

Becoming a retail destination people seek out, enjoy, and value is critical to a retailer’s success in the long term. In this economic environment it is easy to think “I’d better lower my prices” and neglect what proves, over time, to be of real importance to your success. Rock-bottom prices will appeal to some consumers, no doubt; however, this is typically not sustainable for most specialty retailers, and it is proving to not be what our primary consumers really value....
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In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry's first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).

"Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times," SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. "Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors." To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry. Today, the 2009 SNEWS Power Players' Lounge opens in SNEWS.

Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players' Lounge. It's intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business -- especially important during these challenging economic times. We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players' Lounge, and it's our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion. Power Players' Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis, and Sally Grimes.

This column was written by Jennifer Mull, CEO of Backwoods. (jmull@backwoods.com).

Becoming a retail destination people seek out, enjoy, and value is critical to a retailer’s success in the long term. In this economic environment it is easy to think “I’d better lower my prices” and neglect what proves, over time, to be of real importance to your success. Rock-bottom prices will appeal to some consumers, no doubt; however, this is typically not sustainable for most specialty retailers, and it is proving to not be what our primary consumers really value.

The quality and value of our products, and the experience the consumer has when they walk through our doors prove time and time again to be more important than price point alone. Since the beginning of the recent economic crisis, I have received emails, letters, and phone calls from customers reinforcing this fact. Expressions of gratitude for continued great experiences in the stores, for being a place “they can escape” and for the knowledge the sales staff members possess, have confirmed in my mind that specialty retailers have a significant role to play in any market and can be successful in 2009.

What can a “small” retailer focus on to achieve this success?

1. One of the most crucial investments we made is in professional sales training of our staff. We gave them the tools and education to do their jobs and they report being more comfortable on the floor and more at ease in their positions. In the beginning, there was concern that we would get “too sales focused” and lose the culture, the fun, and the laid-back atmosphere. What we found is that with deliberate, professional sales training, the staff is having more fun and is more comfortable, thus more able to create and foster a positive environment and stellar customer experiences. And yes, significant sales increases have followed!

2. Secondly, we outlined very specific expectations for the experience we want each customer to have when they walk in our doors. We want customers be treated well, respected, informed, and assisted by our staff in a manner that makes them feel terrific! To accomplish this, we have developed specific guidelines for the staff regarding customer interactions. And while we have these specifics, we have worked with each staff person to personalize these guidelines to their own personality and style. Some staff use humor, some staff use their amazing technical knowledge, others are simply friendly and easy to talk to. And the customer leaves with a smile on their face and the products that will make their outdoor experience a success!

3. Thirdly, we added to our outreach efforts, our in-store events, and our communications to our consumers. We diverted dollars from other areas to make certain our relationship-building increased. It is easy to cut dollars in this area, but I would strongly encourage retailers not to make this mistake. Providing interesting events, uplifting reading, and opportunities to get involved with you will create a bond where consumers will say “I’ll shop here because I want you to be around.”

4. Next, creating your store as an oasis for people can translate into long-term relationships and support beyond your wildest dreams. If your store is a fun, inspiring place where a consumer can dream about travel, the outdoors, hiking, boating, fun apparel, have a cup of coffee, or sit and read a book…and escape the barrage of negative news “out there,” they will thank you for a lifetime. If they walk in the store and are greeted with happy, familiar faces, and are encouraged to dream a little, they may not walk out your door that day with a sack in their hand, but they will be back and they will support you over time.

5. Lastly, an inspired staff translates into a great store. Keeping the staff excited, happy, enjoying what they do, and encouraging them to do the things they love will make the environment inside your four walls amazing. A little goes along way so “on the spot” bonuses for a job well done, a few extra hours off, contests with prizes, asking their input on projects, “use the gear” days are just a few, but important ways to keep staff motivated and inspired on the floor.

We have made this article accessible to the public to ensure all can read it. If you like what you are reading, and want to be able to fully participate in the discussions and view articles and expert corner columns in our archives, you’ll need your own SNEWS® subscription-- and we’ve made getting one really easy with the SNEWS Freebie subscription. Click here  to activate your own SNEWS access today and become part of the strongest and most interactive outdoor and fitness industry community on the web today.

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