Froth

Final bracket.

Bam. Mainstream now. In 1996, I remember working at a specialty paddlesports store and showing off some of the first recreational kayaks to customers that I had seen. Of course, versions were around but it wasn’t mainstream at all. Seats were hard plastic and the kayaks themselves were featureless. But, one could now get into the experience of paddling at lower prices. Slowly, these boats evolved and larger retail operations joined in the offering to their customers. In comparison, this same process took paddlesports all of 2 years before the likes of Costco, Home Depot and JC Pennys decided to offer SUP boards!

This year, Walmart has stepped up their game into paddlesports. They have always had an offering but not like this! (click pic for caption)

Now, why would Walmart do this? Why get in the seasonal, low-margin (especially at their pricing) game of paddlesports. One word: Amazon. Amazon is eating their lunch on items you don’t need to touch and feel (auto accessories, toys, electronics, etc). One thing Amazon can’t do…free freight on kayaks. So, these above models are on Amazon at higher prices. Same reason Walmart just purchased Moosejaw.com (specialty online outdoor retailer) for $15mil. They need ways to distinguish their offering and get product and pricing favorability over Amazon. Patagonia, Arcteryx, NorthFace…Moosejaw.com gives them access to these lines and some of the distribution of these type of product lines is more limited on Amazon’s death star.

Walmart is trying to squeeze Amazon. Cheaper in their stores and higher-end products on sites that they own that already have a built in customer base and product reputation (Jet.com, Moosejaw.com, Zappos.com). In the Amazon corner, we are hearing about the first opening of Amazon retail store fronts. To do what? Show-room products that customers want to touch first (ie. appliances). These items are then shipped to your home when you order them in the Amazon Showroom. Read this: http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/amazon-s-big-retail-plans-furniture-appliances-more-n739041

We all will be affected by this in the short term. However, I believe there is a silver lining. Good customer service is becoming that much more of a premium. I know this sounds cliche but I think I’m finally really feeling it. Real world information and perspective is a serious currency. Just last week in Sacramento I witnessed this first hand. Four groups of customers all remarked how refreshing it was to get real service, information and “Care for their best interests”! They loved feeling like they were treated like family. Now, this isn’t a new concept for specialty retailers. But, the fact that it is more rare to find and juxtaposed by complete Idiocracy  elsewhere online/box store/other day-day experiences means that your “touch” is more important than ever. Folks are starting to realize that they are voting with their wallet. Moreover, in a world where it is entirely possible that our online Avatars (FB, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat) are more active than our actual Selves, the human being is starting to really crave the relationship! We might not voice it but our true souls are feeling the imprisonment by our self created online Avatars! Get it? Making a relationship with a specialty store’s “family” is one way for folks to shed their online persona skin and actually look someone in the eyes and shake a hand (vs poke an avatar). People are waking up. And for the ones that aren’t? Well, they don’t seem to be crowding my local put in. They are just virtually paddling around in circles online. Trying to “feel” adventure. Let’s rescue them so they can watch the Box Store death match with a humored twinkle in our eyes. Knowing that these operations miss what it is all about. The moment we hit the water and go “ahhhh”.

Here’s a tune for ya’ll!

I have been listening to a lot of Hendrix lately (again). Guitar and vocals moving together. I remember reading that Hendrix had more hours of recording than bands like the Beatles. Jimi basically just hung out in a studio whenever he had free time. Sounds like a good idea to me. I’m losing interest in performing live music but having a ton of fun hanging w/ myself and recording a few instruments. I finally dialed in the home studio for quick hits. Here’s a real quick one that I mixed the other day.

Oh Crap. Now, stores don’t need sales clerks.

Ya gotta know that RF (radio frequency) tags are going to change the game. Walk into a store. Your phone identifies you to the store’s network. They know who you are and your phone’s payment system (apple pay, google pay, amazon, etc) is active. You grab products (that have RF tags on them) and walk out the door. Charged. No clerks. The front door may not even open until you are “identified” and your payment system is active. This is coming and now Amazon has the patent:

http://recode.net/2015/03/30/we-may-have-just-uncovered-amazons-vision-for-a-new-kind-of-retail-store/

RF tags could change your inventory burdens too. A rep could walk into your store with their phone and ZAPPPP…We have your complete inventory of all of the products we work together on. Stock outs quickly filled.

Or, what I believe will be the future of online shopping… A regional system can RF scan your store’s inventory and enter it into a regional online shopping platform. Me, the consumer at home is looking for a pair of guitar strings… Wham, Online  “Local” Commerce Site tells me where the product is and then a local bike delivery system brings it to my lazy-bones consumer hands.

RF Tags will change our ability to live stream inventory and therefore, a local online sales/delivery service becomes more available. I wonder what Amazon’s licensing fee will be?!

Beat the Box

I hear how the box store is destroying the world of paddlesports specialty retail. I disagree. Our challenge for paddlesports is simply a small user base. If everyone that had a bike in their garage also had a kayak/sup/canoe, we’d all be looking for tax havens. We need more paddlers. And, I think the box does press the button of “hey, maybe I should try that sport”. The argument that consumers won’t know how good paddling could be because they bought a kayak for $299 doesn’t fly with me either. My 3 year old told me the difference between a carbon paddle and an aluminum import shovel (I mean paddle). Getting what you pay for is an American commandment in this day of cheap goods available everywhere. There is a reason that iPads crush the Android tablet market. If you show someone the value, they will get it. Or they won’t and you will see them back down the road.

So, you have a big box store in your marketplace and you want to know how to get a competitive advantage? Here are some strategies that I have seen work brilliantly every day by dealers who aren’t scared to fight Goliath:

  1. Packaged Deals. Give your customer the value that they will get everything they need with their purchase. Package a free rental with the purchase of a kayak so they can take a friend (ie. your next customer). With a package, you isolate your price point in the market.
  2. Take a picture of every customer that purchases a watercraft from you. Tell them that when they return for replacement or accessory parts, they get a discount by purchasing their boat from you when they go through the photo album and point out themselves. Also, because they bought their first boat from you, you’ll gladly give them a upgrade credit toward their next purchase. Or, you will allow them to trade in for their next purchase. Plus, the picture of 100s of customers that you eventually amass is just cool on so many levels.
  3. Create a club that is exclusive to the customers that purchase from you. Offer perks like 2-for-1 rentals on less demanding days, movie nights, discount on trips/tours. These discounts may seem expensive but every tour and additional rental you can make will translate into new customers.
  4. Make Opportunity Purchases!!! You have to keep a slush fund in your budget to buy items that you can throw in for added value when confronted with a “will you match” scenario. Opportunity buys for your store are the great equalizer. If you offer guys like me hard cash upon delivery, you’ll be able to get a better price too!
  5. Stock deeper in the non-traditional months. My warehouse gets really busy in August/September/Winter Holidays. There are always birthdays year round. The box doesn’t advertise or offer specials in these off months and they are usually purged of inventory.
  6. Don’t ignore the category. I had one dealer that would say, “we don’t even want that kind of customer”. This year, they changed that philosophy and have sold over 100 entry level kayaks that they did not sell the year prior and they didn’t discount. Quite frankly, depth=sales when it comes to price point. Plus, your margins and freight rates jump, making the category worthwhile.
  7. Find the unique within the category. Even the price point products out there are not universally sold across the line. There are unique colors, models, etc that you can purchase to not offer the same products as Goliath.
  8. Customize. This is my personal favorite because no one can compete with a shop that does custom angler installs, added seat pads (which are only $12 cost), skid plates, floatation (also $12) in open rec boats/canoes, etc. You are making your customer more comfortable, safe and unique! You can truly say “oh, you can buy it there but in deep water the boat isn’t safe”….”with our version, you have built in floatbags and a more comfortable seat”

I once sat in a sporting good box store’s kayak department with 6 $100 bills on the ground in front of me. The store’s name rhymes with Rick’s Sporting Goods. My stopwatch went for 28 minutes before I got bored of waiting for a sales clerk to help me. The reality of any fast growing commodity is that there will be big players trying to get a sniff of the roses. They will get their sales to be sure but walking away from competition is only possible by moving to another nation and making your own outpost where people have never heard of paddling. Make your community, offer numerous incentives to be part of your shop’s commerce and culture and treat cost-conscious and well-to-dos with the same attention and respect. Or do you just vote that way?

Counter the Counter

I’m certainly not the first person to have a powerful lesson taught to them by their own kids. My 4 and 2 year old routinely “take me to school”– I stand in the kitchen behind the counter and try to maintain control of the food fight at the table just 3 feet on the other side of the counter. “Stop That”! No results…

So I come out from behind the counter. Sit at the table and engage them. Food fight done. The counter was a barrier to intimacy and connection. Behind that counter I just wasn’t part of their experience. Sound familiar?

Haven’t we all been at a store where the staff hides behind the protective barrier called “the counter”. It was designed to be the center of business at the specialty store. The storage zone for vendor files, printers, rental forms, paper clips, phones, brochures, low cost impulse buys and items that get stolen if left out on the floor.

Instead, these counters are a barrier to engagement. They are a land mine in every store that the newly arrived customer immediately steers clear of when they walk through the doors.  I walk into a store, see the counter and think “they take your money over there and that staff member is going to be the one to do it”. So, when they ask “can I help you” from the behind  the counter, I am not fooled by their act of courtesy. If I ask them to come out from behind the counter we are now “dating” and I better not be a “tease”. Now I have to buy. It sets me up to be guarded. You’ve been there right? Why have that barrier in the first place? Why swim upstream right off the starting line?

The counter is a square footage thief in your store. The prickly thorns of the counter often extend multiple feet outside of the structure. People don’t browse all the cool toys on your counter. Those croakie racks, sunscreen and knives under the glass are “fixtures” and “decorations” that are not often discovered until one asks “where are your river knives?”.

Even worse these days is the counter that has become the e-commerce, facebook, email hub for staff and owners. I’m the customer that drove to your store to see its glory and when I get there the staff looks up and says hi and looks back down at their computer in a rush to get out the next social media blitz. The staff is too busy adjusting their “Avatar” to bother with inspiring me in person. So the guy shopping on your website is more important than the guy in your store? Facebook updates, groupon offers, web pollination and sales can wait until the doors close.

Fast food restaurants need counters. The DMV and airlines need counters (probably for personal protection).  I can take your credit card with my phone these days. An iPad can hold every catalog and dealer workbook in your file cabinet. When a customer walks in the door I can be dusting paddles or boats. Outfitting a fishing kayak–“how ya doin’? Wanna see this anchor system I’m working on?”  Engagement and Excitement.

If you really need your counter, buy an espresso machine and make lattes behind the counter. Take the stool you are sitting on and put it on the other side. The shop owner sits while I stand? They have coffee and I don’t?! Ah, but you say you don’t want customers hanging out at the counter all day. Then set a good example and “Kill Your Counter”. I know this isn’t a new idea (Apple, REI, etc) but outdoor stores are hanging to the counter with well chalked fingers.

Seems people are more than willing to buy without a counter. They tell their friends how cool of an experience it was to not have to line-up at the counter like a Starbucks.

Kiosks and Payment Stations are more than enough. A place to do business with your customer is a must. Does it really need to be 20 x 20 ft? If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. Even if I’m totally wrong (quite possible), maybe changing it up would be a fun experiment and give your store a different vibe for awhile. Then, you can replace your old counter with a new one with stools on both sides and we can all just take a chill pill.