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Business Issues: Some Sweet Ideas on Customer Service

November 22, 2017  By John Stanley

Fannie May is known for its effective signage.

December 2017 – This past August, I spent a week in Chicago where I was the keynote speaker at the IGC (Independent Garden Center) Show. I enjoy Chicago. A walk down Michigan Avenue is, for me, a “must-thing-to-do” to see what is happening to retailing in the U.S. and to possibly identify global trends.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the demise of retailing in this part of the world as online retailers continue to take market share.

I can understand this when looking at the more traditional retail outlets, as many of them look the same as they did two years ago and I am sure the customer is getting bored with them.


The one sector that really shines, however, is confectionary retailing, which is starting to lead retail innovation in this part of the world and offer lessons for the rest of us.

It is not only on Michigan Avenue where innovation is appearing. Companies such as Lolli & Pops, with 38 stores in 17 states, are among retailers leading the way.

Have a clear brand strategy: Lolli & Pops has a business strategy to “Delight People.” This is summarized by three key messages that they believe in – hospitality, generosity and thoughtfulness. In practice, this means the general manager of the store has the role of greeter. They are called the “Chief Purveyors” and the team members are the “Magic Makers.” They have the authority to open any product and share it with the consumer. They believe the act of sharing the product is a great way of getting a human connection. They promote their brand to their fans “one taste at a time.”

Have a conversation with your customer via your signage: Fannie May on Michigan Avenue is a wonderful store where they have provided ample “Gathering” space for the customer and communicate and inspire the customer via their signage. I love the simple, but inspiring words they use to communicate with the consumer.

Inspire the customer with your merchandising: Dylan’s, a store just a few blocks away from Fannie May, is a Disneyland for confectionary. Once you enter their store you cannot help but buy. The way the retail theatre has been put together is an excellent example of showing how you are different.

I came away from my walk down Michigan Avenue with the message that “bricks” retailing is thriving as long as you inspire the customer with the way you get the message out about the product you sell. The same message applies to food retailers, hardware stores and garden centres. I suggest that currently it is to the confectionary stores that we need to look at for ideas and inspiration.

John Stanley is a retail business coach, consultant, speaker and author. His expertise is in customer-focused layout, merchandising, marketing and branding, and customer-focused selling and service. Visit his website at

Stanley’s most recent book, “Food Tourism,” is a practical marketing guide. “Looking at food tourism from the proprietor’s perspective, this book reviews strategies for making a food-based business into a tourism enterprise, including how to understand and engage with the consumer, inventive ideas for marketing and retailing and how to incorporate the tourist at a level that suits the existing business. From garden centres and farmers markets to the more involved options of taste tours, agri-entertainment, glamping restaurant and farm shops, this book provides an overall direction to the development of food tourism.”

Contributors include David Weaver from Griffin University (Australia) and Stephen Smith (University of Waterloo).

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