A Tale of Two Retailers

This is the fifth in our series based on Challenges of the
Future: The Rebirth of Small Independent Retail in America
, a 64 page white paper by Jack Stanyon, underwritten by the George H. Baum
Community Charitable Trust, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and the
National Retail Federation Foundation.  Today’s topic is Competition.

Here’s a story of two retailers. I’ll call them A and B. What they sell really isn’t important to the
story except that they both sell roughly the same kind of merchandise. They are truly specialty stores in that
neither one sells anything that anyone really needs. If you were going to buy something in either
store, it would be because the item caught your eye, or because someone sold it to

Dealer A and B are both located in a busy tourist area with
lots of specialty shops and restaurants. It’s the kind of place you might go spend a Saturday afternoon which is
exactly what my wife and I did this past weekend. The two stores are no more than a block

Store A was busy. There were at least four people working
there. There was music playing and the
atmosphere was very conducive to buying something, which I did. I’ve been in this particular store many times. It’s always busy and I don’t recall ever
leaving there empty-handed.

Store B was a different story. When we walked in, there were no customers in
the store. The only person working
there, who appeared to be the owner, was talking on the phone.  She was talking (quite loudly) to someone
about how bad business is. She blamed
gas prices, interest rates, the President, the stock market, chain stores, Al-Kaida,
the bird flu, global warming, you name it. Listening to her side of the conversation, and it was impossible not to
in the otherwise quiet store, you would think that we’re on the brink of
another Great Depression.

While we were there several other people came into the
store, looked around, and left. In that
entire time, she continued her doom and gloom conversation, never once acknowledging
any of her potential customers. When we
left she was again alone in the store, continuing her conversation.

I would be willing to bet that at some point she told her
phone friend that several people had just come into the store and left withoug buying
anything, proving her point that the economy is in a mess.

I could go on about what store A did
right and what store B did wrong, but you already know that. It all comes down to making your store an
inviting, customer friendly place to shop. Store A is far from perfect. In
all the times I’ve been there, no one has ever asked for my email address. No one has ever tried to up sell me or to
suggest additional merchandise. But, it’s
a pleasant place to shop. The people are
friendly. The atmosphere makes it hard
not to buy something. Store A is good
with the potential to be great.

I feel sorry for the owner of store B. Remember, neither of these stores sells
anything necessary. But, if store B were
selling bread and milk, most people would still stay away. The atmosphere wasn’t inviting. Anyone who overheard and believed what the
owner was saying would be just as likely to run home and bury their money in
the back yard as they would be to buy something.  For the owner to not even say "hello" as people entered the store is inexcusable.   Store B reminded me of the
auto parts store in an earlier post (Waiting for Things to Get Better).

When we consider our competition in the retail business, we’re
likely to think first about the big box stores. They’re the ones with the big ad budgets and the huge buying power.  We seem to see their ads every time we pick up
the newspaper or turn on the TV. It’s natural to think about them when sales
aren’t what we think they should be.

But, face it, there are a lot of consumers who just aren’t
our customers. They’re only concerned
with price and we’ll probably never have a chance at their business.  They keep the Marts and the Depots in

Our target customer, the one who makes buying decisions
based on value rather than price, is going to buy from us, or from someone like
us. Our competition for that business is
the store down the street, or across town, who’s also an independent retailer. That competitor has the same problems that we
do. He or she is trying to tell the same
value story that we are.

If we’re going to consistently win the business, it’s
critical that we provide our customers with a pleasant, fun place to shop.  The difference between an independent retailer and Wally World is obvious.  The difference between two independents may be more subtle. 

Qustion, "What are you doing to make your store customer friendly?"

One Response

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