How to stay 'retail ready' throughout the season

June 13, 2011
Written by By John Stanley
June 13, 2011 - The challenge in retailing is there are always opportunities and the top retailers ensure that they make the most of every opportunity. They accept that traffic flow will vary throughout the year, but that when the customer comes in, whatever the season, they are "retail ready."
June 13, 2011 - My father introduced me to retailing when I was a child.  He was the manager of a drug store or pharmacy in Birmingham in the UK. He taught me some of the basics I still use today as a retail consultant.  One of those basics was that the retail year was made up of at least four seasons and often more if you include Christmas, Mothers Day, Easter , Valentine’s Day and other events as seasons as far as retailing is concerned.

You may call this "common sense", but over the last few months working with retailers I have found that those gems of wisdom have not always been passed on to all retailers today. I recently attended a conference for the gardening industry where one supplier to the industry as a conference speaker announced that gardening in the USA was a seven week industry and that this was the only period where money could be made. I was astounded, especially as the consumer would argue, depending on the climate zone, that it is a three or four season activity. I then visited some retailers and found this approach to be true.  Whilst some retailers in the garden sector were working at making the sale, others were taking the attitude that it was not worth the effort to retail professionally in the quieter season as there were not enough consumers to justify the effort.

The Retailing Challenge

The challenge in retailing is there are always opportunities and the top retailers always ensure that they make the most of every opportunity. They accept that traffic flow will vary throughout the year, but that when the customer comes in, whatever the season, they are "retail ready".

Stores that are not "retail ready" during the quiet season will be remembered.  When the busy season arrives those stores will often be ignored by the consumer who will remember what they looked like when it was quiet.  The consumer will then focus on a store that impressed them in the quiet season.

One simple test to see if your store is "retail ready" all year round is to look at the average sale per customer.

In a successful business during the busy period the customer count goes up, but the average sale per customer often goes down. In the quiet season the customer count goes down, but the average sale goes up. If this is not happening you should be taking a very close look at your business and identifying why this is so.

The reason the average sale should go up is that your team have more time to build exciting 'WOW' displays in the quiet period, plus, they have more quality time to spend with consumers and can offer the best advice available.

The entrepreneurial retailer is always going to look for opportunities, for example, in early February in the UK, it was Nesting Box week. Consumers were encouraged to go to their local hardware store, farmers market or garden centre to buy a nesting box. I was in the UK working during that week and visited numerous stores. I came across one garden centre, Cadbury Garden Centre in Somerset and one farmers market, Gonalston Farm Shop in Nottinghamshire who were celebrating the promotion and engaging the customer. The rest did not even promote the event. When challenged, some of them were not aware of the event while others told me it was not worth the effort as it was winter.

Celebrate the Seasons

The challenge is we should celebrate every seasonal opportunity we can get with the consumer. Consumers enjoy going to retailers who change merchandising events based on the retail season.

Every week can be a season and an opportunity to join in the celebrations with the consumer. This is more important than it has ever been. Consumer research indicates customers are more disillusioned with shopping than they have ever been, that must be an opportunity for the entrepreneurial retailer to make a difference.

Brainstorm with the Team and Engage the Customer

For me the lesson was that the winning retailers are engaging with the team and encouraging them to look at the seasonal marketing opportunities and how these can be developed in the store, plus they are recognizing that a customer that comes into the store in the quiet time is very likely going to be a big spender and they need to be engaged with by team members.

As consumers we tend to be very understanding and if we are not approached by a team member in your quiet time we are less tolerant than when we are ignored in a busy period.

It is time to relook at the seasons as retailers and to build on the opportunities that are available. 

John Stanley (CSP) is one of the top 10% of speakers in the world today, an acclaimed retail consultant and WA Entrepreneur of the Year 2009.  The author of several marketing, customer service and retail books including the best seller “Just About Everything a Retail Manager Needs to Know”, his company is WA Small Business Champion 2009 – Educational Services.

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