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Monday, July 20, 2009

Retail Outward Not Inward: Time To Refocus

network originally uploaded by dsevilla.
network"Leave your blog!" says Mack Collier when asked for advice on how to grow a blog. The same principle applies to the offline retail experience. Hence the subject of this post: retail outward not inward!

In a time of plenty, consumers readily walk into retail stores. You can depend on them -- perhaps more on certain days or times of day than others -- and you schedule your floor coverage accordingly. They come.

Nowadays, they don't. And, salespeople stand around, looking bored, with nothing to do. They're waiting within the store, inwardly focused, for customers to come to them.

And, nothing much happens. Well, maybe sales associates have their hours reduced or are let go. Perhaps store hours are shortened. Or, product replenishment ceases... Maybe phone calls to past or pending customers happen less frequently. That's retail inward. Sounds like a downward spiral.

Imagine instead refocusing outward, looking outside the immediate retail environment to discover ideas and explore serendipitous interests that eventually draw customers into the store. It's the equivalent of 'leave your blog.'

It allows you to interact with others and create connections beyond your store. The interactions are based, not on your store, but rather on what others are interested in and the connections you have to those interests. It's certainly a more meaningful way to develop authentic relationships, don't you think?

Then, it's a matter of maintaining those connections... perhaps using some of the new digital and social tools available, or email or an e-Newsletter to continue that retail outward focus on people, on visitors, on customers, and what matters to them and how you can bring them value and stay connected!

Certainly a different model from the one we're used to. More appropriate for today's environment, yet also strangely reminiscent of how business used to be done. No?

We need to go back to to going outside our comfort area, beyond our personal turf, to where others are so we can establish those meaningful relationships which might lead to business.

Makes sense to me, although we're out of practice. I've come across some good examples, though, to get you started.

Take Lisbeth Calandrino and her recent TalkFloor interview series.

She recommends that retail owners think creatively about how to generate business, how to network outside of the store. Consider all of the suppliers and community organizations you've done business with -- business insurance provider, realtors and similar resources -- can you present at their meetings about your products and services? Can you get referrals from them?

Retail salespeople need to be out in the community, networking with potential customers. They, too, might be making presentations at the local Chamber of Commerce, or interacting with folks on Facebook. Please note, thought, that this has nothing to do with cold calling [i.e., otherwise known as interruption based marketing].

Facebook allows retailers to connect with customers, by building an online community, inviting customers to connect and interacting around common interests. Lis mentioned a retailer who was passionate about horses, who shared that passion with customers. The result: a strong horse related community from which many new customers came.

She also shares the story of new client Greg Zorian from Sim's Barbershop, a barber in the Albany area with 5-6 barbershops, whom she met while doing a presentation at the Albany Chamber of Commerce. Greg's challenge was how to bring his high end barbering/shaving services and experience to a new audience. The solution was retail outward and get into the community. He partnered with a local country club, brought in barber chairs during a cigar night/whisky tasting, and offered cuts and shaves. During St. Patrick's day, at a ski resort in the Berkshires, he did another 40 shaves. These events drive word of mouth and connections in the community.

The equivalent in floorcovering? Do an in-store party, a girl's night out to which you invite several vendors [e.g., jewelry, purse party, wine tasting]. It takes place in your store, introduces people to your store, they get to know you, feel comfortable, and, when ready to buy, they think of you.

Patricia Harmon in the July 6/13, 2009 issue of Floor Covering News' Clean Sweep [reg. requ'd] says "Too often we become complacent and forget the value a fresh perspective can bring to our marketing efforts, sales or daily operations." She suggests that you:

+ Spend time away from the business.
+ Take time to network.
+ Get more involved in your trade association.
+ Attend a class related to work, but offers a new take on the information.
+ Don't forget to have some fun.

This Washington Post article titled "Pearls Before Breakfast" offers another -extreme- example of Retail Outward. Imagine what even the most talented and proficient musician can learn from performing outside of his normal venue.

Finally, think how Fiskars now embraces the principle of outward focus with its Fiskateers [see Fiskars: 360 Years Young & Innovating with Customers].

So, what are you waiting for? Take a walk outside your store; go be inspired by another retail environment. Go talk to someone; ask him or her questions; get to know that person better and figure out how you might offer value. Connect with each on his/her turf and terms.

Because, you have to leave your store. You have to retail outward, not inward. It's time to refocus.

Once you do, what do you think will happen?

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Lewis Green said...


Excellent post! With my clients, I am constantly brainstorming with them on ways to reach out to their community. If the store is on a crowded sidewalk, it can be as simple as simple as having an outdoor presence--giving away samples or simply just saying hi to them as they walk by. And of course your suggestions are all must dos. Whatever we decide as business people, we need to get out where they are an interact.

Ted Hurlbut said...

Absolutely! The old, passive model doesn't work anymore. I speak to my clients about extending their existing community of customers, and to think of themselves as community organizers. This is work that by definition starts within the store but then has to take you out of the store, extending the community, extending the brand.

CB Whittemore said...

Lewis, thanks for your feedback. I once heard a flooring retailer say that the most successful program he had was to stand outside his store and offer passersby [with children] balloons. You just reminded me of that. You are absolutely right about how critical it is to get out and interact.

CB Whittemore said...

Ted, what a great way to characterize the new role. "Community Organizer." That is truly fantastic. Thanks so very much for sharing your experiences.

Promotional Products said...

This is a great way to think about this situation. This definitely is a more meaningful way to build or rebuild customer relations, and I think customers will thank you for this. They will appreciate this extra attention and remember this for the future and tell others the care and service they received.

CB Whittemore said...

Promotional Products, I'm glad you see the benefit to retail outward. It's a powerful way to generate conversations, which lead to building meaningful relationships. Thanks for stopping by.

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