The Make Believe of Retailing – Stop being a Retailer and become a Story Teller

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The Make Believe of Retailing – Stop being a Retailer and become a Story Teller

By John Stanley Are you in the retail business or are you in the story telling business? I know most of you will say you are in retailing, but is this the right approach to growing sales in your business in a rapidly changing world? I have just finished reading Seth Godin�s latest book, �All Marketers Are Liars� {Penguin Books ISBN 978-0-141-02502-5}. This book starts by encouraging those in marketing, which includes retailers, to become liars if they are to succeed in business. I found this a fascinating book and it encourages you to look at retailing in a different way. The world over the last few years has been dominated by the global retailer and as a result many products have simply become commodity products that are sold on price. When we have reached that level of retailing loyalty tends to disappear as the consumer starts shopping around for the cheapest price. Do non price led retailers have a future? Of course they do as long as they are storytellers. Consumers will spend more if they can buy into the story. It is the story they are prepared to spend more money on in most situations not the product. I was recently in ‘Just As Nature Intended’ an organic retail store in the Balham suburb of London. I have watched this store develop with interest over the last few years. It is located between three commodity food retailers, a Sainsbury�s, a Waitrose and a Tesco, yet it has grown from strength to strength by selling more expensive food. I accept that the food junkies would be prepared to pay more, but this store has grown sales by getting the mainstream of consumers in the neighbourhood to spend more on their food. How have they done this is, by becoming story tellers. There are a number of techniques that can be used by the storyteller to grab the imagination of the consumer. ‘Just As Nature Intended’ produce a quarterly magazine that is free to its consumers in there three store locations around the south of the city. This is a full colour magazine that tells stories about the products they sell. I love their story telling, for example, ‘Spot The Difference’ is an article that compares supermarket produce to the stores own produce. The story tellers are the products themselves. For example a supermarket prawn talks via a speaking bubble, it tells the story that it was freshly frozen as it was caught from the sea, but was then defrost again due to the long sea journey on the boat and the processing procedure when it was in the factory, this affected both its flavour and texture. It excuses itself for being a bit plump, this is because it has been pumped up with 45% water for which the consumer pays for. The ‘Just As Nature Intended’ prawn also talks to the consumer, this one informs the consumer that he is a bit cold as he is from Greenland and that he was caught, peeled, cooked and frozen all on the same day . That he is a firm prawn and very tasty. He encourages the consumer to get hooked on him. Other talking products in the article include olives and eggs. Produce as story tellers create a unique view for the consumer and most retailers have the potential to create a story telling product. Sell Dreams in Your Stories Let us keep with the food industry for a minute, although the idea can be used for all products in retailing. People love to day dream and therefore as a retailer you can do there day dreaming for them. Fattoria Mose Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes from Italy. The story used to sell the oil in store goes as follows � ‘Fattoria Mose has produced oil for over six hundred years. We have rare and ancient varietals and some modern groves. Some of the trees are four to five hundred years old and contribute to the concentrated flavour and aroma for which the oil is known. The estate is near Agrigento�s Valley of the Temples and can be visited for holidays. The estate is family owned and organically grown by Chiara Agnello …. ‘ Try competing with this dream on price when the product is offered on a dreary weather day in London. If you can build a dream for the customer then you are half way to selling the product. Dreams work for garden centres, home improvement stores, fashion stores and almost any form of retailing. The challenge to all retailers is that the sales team have to buy into the process otherwise the consumer may look on this as a marketing gimmick, which without team buy in it is. I was recently working with a hardware retailer who believed people should come to his store because he was the expert in home improvement in the district. The store had 17,000 S.K.U�s on offer to the consumer at any one time. When I asked about the team and how they found out the stories about the products they sold I was informed that he expected the team to take the information home and learn it at home. When I talked to the team you can imagine the reaction I got. Yes, we will tell the boss we take literature home to learn about product, but in practice no homework was carried out. If you want to have story tellers then you need to ensure that time is allocated for product knowledge sessions within the working day. The investment in training far out ways the loss of income whilst those team members are being trained up to be storytellers. Having said you need story tellers, it is Pete Luckett of Pete�s Frootique in Nova Scotia, Canada who is the ultimate story teller. Not only is he the best, but he ensures he has a team of storytellers. His approach is that you recruit people with personality and then train them in product knowledge to enable them to tell stories with confidence. In my experience the worst story tellers are those that are experts in the technical side of their field. An enthusiastic person who is passionate about telling the customer the stories will be far more valuable to the business. Get Your Customers to tell Stories The ultimate story teller is the one Seth Godin talks about in his book, it is the consumer as they are the one buying into the story in the first place. The stories they tell have a huge affect on your business and we all tell stories every day about business. As Seth says, they are often lies, but are believed by the story teller. The challenge is who and how do you get people to tell stories and where is the best place for those stories to get told. In my conference presentations I often talk about ladies hairdressers as being some of the most powerful story tellers. They have a captured audience who expects them to tell stories. The challenge is how do you get them to tell stories about your business? The answer is quite simple, invite them to your store and give them a cup of coffee and tell them your stories. Before you reject this idea, I have one client in the hardware industry who recently did just that, 40 local hairdressers turned up and his ladies night training sessions are now the most popular sessions that he holds for consumers. Stories told by consumers to consumers are more powerful and give you more credibility. If you can initiate the process the grape vine will do the rest. The key to success in a changing market place is to become the story teller. You will not win the commodity game, but you can become the best story teller in town, plus the added bonus is that you do not have to spend any capital to achieve this accolade, you just need the commitment to be the best in town and then you can own the market as the experts in the consumers mind.