A Three-Step Plan For Staying In Business
You've heard the the saying: "Everyone can't be wrong." That's how I frequently feel when I engage in conversation with folks about independent retailers in the sportfishing industry. The sense you get is that people have thrown up their hands and written off the entire lot as beyond salvage.
Some days, to be candid, I include myself in that group.
As someone who's been involved in the sportfishing industry for well over a decade, and who's spent a significant portion of that time working with independent retailers, I know firsthand their struggles – the big-boxes, or lack of business experience, ailing sales or a declining client base. But I also know that many of the most pressing issues for independents are the result of self-inflicted wounds.
For example, I can't think of a single business that, on the whole, has worse customer service "ratings." Nope, there's no agency to track such things in this industry, but the evidence against independents can be piled a mile high and two miles wide. What makes that reality so sad is that (a) customer service is the lifeblood of small business, and (b) failure to adhere to some basic standards of courtesy is just plain dumb.
An example is in order here. Two weeks ago, I got a call from a good friend of mine who resides in the Southwest who asked how involved my company is with independent retailers. I shared with him that they're not the core of my business, but before I could continue he interrupted:
"I walked into an independent here in my area 2 days ago – a small outfit that does decent business from what I hear," my friend told me. "I stood at the counter for several minutes. No one said a word. I walked around the store, passing two employees, not one of them said anything. I finally went back to the counter, and the gentleman sitting there accepted a phone call as I stood in front of him. I left. That's sad, Ronell. Here's a business that I'd gone to, passing (other big-box sporting-goods retailers on the way) and they basically refused to take my money. I hear about this all the time. But I saw it with my own eyes this time."
Hopefully, this retailer's actions don't mirror your own. But if you're lacking in the customer-service arena, here are three simple fixes:
1. Smile and say "hello." It really is that simple. No one wants to do business with someone who refuses to greet them upon entering, or who has a grimace on their face. If you want to prevent folks from walking out, money in hand, smile, say "hello" and ask them how you can be of help. You'll be amazed at the results.
2. Sell them, but don't oversell them. A chief complaint I regularly get regarding independents is that many times staffers try a little too hard to push the products they want to sell, not the products clients are most interested in. If a client comes in looking for lures for a certain fishery, by all means point them in the right direction, even if doing so means they're exposed to something they weren't prepared for. However, don't use your knowledge to push expensive or unneeded items on them simply based on their ability to pay for such items. Your goal is for the customer to have a positive experience on the lake, so that he or she returns to your store, then possibly becomes a loyal client. Don't drive them away.
3. Listen a lot, speak a little. As a diehard angler, it pains me to say this: We can be annoying know-it-alls. I'm certain we weren't all born this way, but we're not shy about sharing our knowledge of how to catch fish. Keep in mind that a percentage of your customer base won't be highly skilled anglers, and with that being the case, you'll need to listen intently to where they fish, how they fish and which bait and tackle items they have the most confidence in. Your enthusiasm could be construed as talking down to them, which isn't what you want.
(Image courtesy of reinvented)