Retail Success is, anything but Beige

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Retail Success is, anything but Beige

By John Stanley Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian often jokes about his obsession with �beige� people, people without character who are quite literally beige in their outlook and views on life. Billy�s perspective on people could equally be applied to retail business. Retailing has developed into the hourglass environment, with the �beige� business being squeezed in the middle. Being �beige� in retailing is a recipe for failure. Retailing growth and development today is occurring at both ends of the hourglass. At one end is the commodity retailer, the category killer, box store retailer and Supermarket environs. At the other end are the niche specialists providing a unique experience for the consumer. The �beige� retailers are stuck in the middle with no clear direction of where they are now or where they should position their business in the next five years. Price or Experience Consumers today are asking for the best deal or the best experience and every retailer has to analyse where they want to be when it comes to being the best. In today�s competitive market, the best price can only be achieved by one retailer. That retailer in most sectors often has a global network and is able to purchase high quality product at exceptionally competitive prices from Asia. This means for the rest of the retailers in the same sector they have no choice but to play the experience game. To do this successfully, you really need to know and understand your consumers and your customers. Basic Questions, Difficult Answers I recently worked with a client where I had the supervisors together to brainstorm ideas on the business. I asked if they were the �best� at what they did within their catchment area. I had a resounding �Of Course� response from the group. I asked why they said that, they looked puzzled and said �because we are�. I reassured them I was not challenging their answer, I was asking them for evidence; from a consumers perspective on why they would say they were the best. Hence, my first basic question. �What does the best mean in your consumer�s eyes?� Consumers are people who use what you sell, they may not be your customers, they may buy what you sell from your competition. A non �beige� business would have a clear strategy on what they believe makes them the best. It may include product range, added value services, product knowledge offered, extra consumer experiences, customer service or a mix of the above, but they need to be tangible and measurable. The challenge is can your team qualify how your business is the best, or is it just a business mantra that is quoted without any real substance to it from a consumers perspective. Having answered that question, it�s time for the next one. �What does the customer expect from your business and how do you exceed their expectations?� Again a simple question, but one that needs thinking about. Plus, remember that exceeding expectations has to constantly vary with the same consumer, but at the same time be consistent. This may sound contradictive, but think about it. You need to consistently exceed the customer�s expectations and if you don�t you�re likely to lose that customer. How do businesses exceed expectations, I have come across the following non �beige� business operations: Airlines that offer a bottle of champagne if you fly on your birthday Travel agents who gifts in luggage trolley coinage in the currency of your destination Car repair companies who have left bunches of flowers on the passenger seat when you pick the car up Shoe retailer who gives you a chocolate with your change Bed supplier who offers complimentary coffee while the consumers makes a purchase decision Travel retailers who offer complimentary upgrades Thank you cards offering complimentary meals sent out by retailers one week after you have purchased an item Fighting �Beige� is a real challenge It is easy to fall into the trap of being a �beige� retailer, the challenge is how to avoid the trap. I believe it is down to owner vision and team empowerment. The owner of the business must have the vision of where they want to take the business and must be able to share that vision with the team. The team must then be given the responsibility and accountability to put that vision into action. Successful businesses have an empowerment policy. I recently had the opportunity to visit one the newly opened Cabelas stores in Texas, USA. Cabelas is an outdoor lifestyle retail experience. I was taking a party of American retailers to look at their merchandising and display which is awesome. We were to meet the operations manager on site, but when we arrived we were advised that he was unavailable and Emily would look after us. Emily joined us in the conference room. She introduced herself as a new team member and told us she was 25. I, along with my group, felt we�d been cheated as we wanted to ask some searching questions. Emily started by providing a history of the business, then the mission statement, she continued to provide benchmark figures and why they did what they did. This was no script, it came from her. When we congratulated her, she said that our group meeting had been mentioned at the daily group session and she volunteered to take our group around as she thought it would be fun. Now that�s empowerment. How many retail businesses would that happen in? As we left, I met the Operations Manager who asked how Emily had got on. I was full of praise. The Challenge With retail businesses having to reinvent themselves every four years to ensure they maintain consumer loyalty, we live in a time where throwing money at the problem, won�t solve the problem. Businesses need to be vibrant, empowering and challenging��.not beige. John Stanley is a conference speaker and retail consultant with over 25 years experience in 15 countries. John works with retailers around the world assisting them with their merchandising, staff and management training, customer flow, customer service and image. www.johnstanley.cc