Buckling Retail Walls

Retail promotions through an iPad.

When was the last time you went into a retail store, and an associate smiled at you or thanked you for your business at the retail checkout aisle? 

Colossal disruption of retail-brick business models is buckling porous falling walls to price comparisons, unprecedented hyper-change in the ability to win inside and outside of their local trading area. By trading area, I refer to the 3 to 5-mile radius each physical store serves inside local communities. Accelerating online investments is a standard requirement for omnichannel survival. However, it sure seems both small and large retailers alike have very little focus on accelerating, on owning their local 5-mile radius marketplace for competitive market ownership (click this link for a detailed example regarding Toys R Us, and the local market lost opportunities).

During this dire and consumer frightening pandemic, we are experiencing vast retail store closures, businesses of all flavors, in all corners of America, feeling the unyielding impact in revenue and profit. Last week the Commerce Department stated “retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online, fell a seasonally adjusted 16.4% in April from a month earlier (March drop was an 8.3% drop). We are facing 20% plus unemployment across our nation while at the same time The Federal Reserve states Industrial Production dropped a whopping 11.2% with factories shutting down: massive disruption to supply chain sanity. And with social distancing, it is clear that local retail stores, when reopened, will have to work harder, smarter, more creatively with more personal care to attract and keep consumer attention and loyalty.

Even before this dismal coronavirus changed our shopping lives, a multitude of big and small retailers was already in deep financial trouble, including Neiman Marcus, JC Penney, Macy’s, Foot Locker, Abercrombie & Finch, J Crew, etc. And small, financially fragile businesses across the nation, hopefully effectively helped by government loans, have been struck with recessional blows challenging to recover from (dependent on the area of business and or trade). Of course, the incredible amazon retail cloud machine has effectively penetrated and taken from all retailers across our nation within each of their “coveted” 5-mile trading area of business. Imagine a consumer right across the street from your retail store orders from amazon, not from you. Ever wonder why? Here’s why! To many brick retailers do an incredible job of ignoring their local consumers within their 5-mile trading area. Building formidable relationships with consumers inside your local community build an electric, effective, profit reflective growth fence against e-commerce providers, against hungry competitors. 

What’s the fix? What’s the fixed reality for brick store owners big or small? It’s the same fix I have personally promulgated for years that few in physical retail actively pursue. With the economy of language and purpose, I offer simple words: “retailers need to own their local trading areas.” And here are six ways to ensure your intentions, your dreams, your costs and tolls for operating a brick retail store will be successful:

  1. Include Your Fan Base’s Centers of Influence. – For example, any child-centric retailer must identify, focus, and core down on their audience with every local school from grammar school to high school. These retailers are responsible for building an unshakeable, unyieldingly happy, and prosperous relationship with each faculty member. Imagine having every school teacher registered with their local toy store for in-school programs, including toy fairs, school donations, and special events. The local impact that would result would be so significant that communities across the nation would be inspired to build a similar program. Community relevancy and relationships are the original keys to any physical retail stores. It is critical for retailers like to take part in local initiatives through sponsoring sports uniforms for public schools in their local 8-mile trading communities. The stronger the relevant physical relationship is for a retailer in its community, the stronger the corresponding buying relationship will also be, smartly in kind.
  2. Create an Exceptional Retail Experience for both the Customer and Your Base. – An excellent retail experience is not established overnight. It requires hard work and diligence to accomplish. When you boost your brand’s short and long term value through an exceptional in-store experience, competitive dominance, and market demand, you boost overall earnings. As I like to say repeatedly, “a brand is a promise.” Your brand currency needs to be shined, primped, pruned and protracted every day competitively. I urge you to require your in-store employees to smile, to be happy, to over-service and support for competitive advantage, because every employee across all departments, products, services, and customer support represents and fuels your brand muscle in the market. Please create a smiling, happy, energizing, joyful, and exciting in-store and online atmosphere as your smartest boomerang for traffic. If you treat your customers with excellence in support and care, your team and company shall be rewarded with more business and higher profitability. Your brand mantle, your brand promise, your employee promise must be the same: cheerful, friendly, exciting, joyful, and dynamic. Happiness and smiles are highly relevant in the language of competitive advantage. These in-store attributes and emotional capital will drive fiduciary wealth your way, prevent store closures, and create a higher demand for new stores from other communities
  3. Give a Big Heart to Your Retail’s Brand Identity. – Creating a strong brand identity in the marketplace is no simple task. You must strategize and explore what appeals best to your customers and your base to succeed. A company, their brand precise strategic direction should be viewed as the most critical reservoir of shared knowledge, and the most crucial leadership mettle for all employees. For years, I implored retailers like Toys-R-us to bring a friendlier voice and demeanor to their identity, to the point when children, teachers, parents – even the competition – sees, hears, and dreams Geoffrey, the giraffe. Make your brand identity highly desired, loved, and the foundation for your competition to follow.
  4. Create Business Collateral for Both the Customer and Your Base. – You must seek to inspire others, enable others, model others, energize others’ hearts, and encourage others through customer engagement and excitement. Customer engagement can be elevated through employee engagement; at each cash register, after a transaction, require each associate to say, “Thank you for shopping with us and please come back to see us again real soon.” This action could be followed by an incentive sponsored and paid for by various manufacturers, or a coupon encouraging customers to visit again for a discount. These are merely relevant relationship-building paid for by manufacturer brands. Limited-edition giveaways are an excellent sales and marketing strategy to launch a new line of products and engage your base.

  1. Be a Part of Your Community. – I encourage you to stop thinking of relationships as business-to-consumer. With physical stores in local communities, please think of every avenue of business, let it be business-to-consumer, business-to-business, and business-to-the-individual. Make it a requirement that store managers take the initiative to visit centers of influence in the local community personally. You must determine your consumer and corporation targets: alter your thought process, focus, and celerity (speed) to increase local store sales year-over-year, month-over-month, day-over-day. You must build relevant relationships in local communities, and people will reward you by more regularly visiting your store, by showing loyalty to the products you sell and by providing an unfair share of the physical store and e-commerce sales to you. Create a B2ME direct program for various community clubs and organizations as a handshake to your local community
  2. Give Back to Your Community. – In business, it is okay to have a heart for the innocent, a center for your team members, for your brand, your products, and especially for your customers. You cannot forget to give back to your local community-centric charities and fundraisers. The more you give, the more you show up and participate, the more you will receive from the local community. It is true, for any retailer, “it is better to give than to receive… and when you do give, trust me, you will get back.” Having a giving and caring spirit of generosity through your store, and instilling a sense of self-sacrifice in your employees while uniting around a cause of market acceleration designed to make or take a market is, in itself, the spirit of team generosity focused on a united purpose.

Never compare your business to pure-play e-commerce retailers, searching for a sliver of advice relevant to your physical stores. They have all profitably prospered from the lack of retailers’ local in-market focus, lack of in-physical-store associates’ happiness or excitement to serve, to help to support consumers. Online-only retailers do not need to concern themselves with in-store associates smiling face-to-face in the physical aisle of consumer care.

Consumers have been trained to cherish their cloud experiences over physical store engagements because of the widespread popularity of mobile apps, simple accessibility through their Internet browser, and minimal human interaction service or support. Of course, now more than ever, as we all slowly troll through this pernicious pandemic. The e-consumer journey starts and ends with a robot-smile and a big “thank you for your order” and “thank you for your returned order.” These e-commerce giants acknowledge who their consumer is and show gratitude for their purchase. Imagine if a physical store like Toys-R-Us did all we suggest here for decades in localization within a five-to-eight-mile radius of each store, how prosperous they would be today. How easily a retailer could fend off both e-commerce and retail competitors. How happy the local community who grew up with these stores would be to bring their family in to visit for generations.

There are many cloud and physical paths to business success, and there is no one righteous or solitary path. However, uniting a caring and sharing vision causes and ensures positive dents, positive, lasting value for all business stakeholders, all customers in the language of opportunity in physical and cloud-based stores. Local market relevancy and relationships with joyful hearts, energy, and excitement are what “we the consumers” hope will be our in-store experience. My view: if you are a physical store retailer and do not administer smartly as outlined above within your local 5 to 7-mile consumer trading area, you may inevitably and sadly wind up with the largest museum of failed intentions, failed dreams. 

Ricardo Montalbán as the mysterious Mr. Roarke along with Hervé Villechaize as his assistant Tattoo demanded from their retail sales island team to start each consumer experience on Fantasy Island with “smiles everyone, smiles” for our wonderful consumers. When was the last time you went into a retail store, and an associate smiled or thanked you? 

Peter Weedfald is the author of Green Reign Leadership, a book designed to articulate the art of the possible towards leading dreams into market reality.

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