IBD Focus: The competitive edge

We deal with thousands of IBDs from around the world including the UK and Ireland, and we see first-hand how and what the stand-out leaders do to remain ahead of the pack. We’ve cherry-picked these insights from some of the best in the business. So if you’re heading into spring with a little more time on your hands and space in your head, here are some ideas, in no particular order, that can hopefully lay additional foundations for a strong spring and boom summer. 

If you can’t beat them, join them
I support the #buyonlinefitlocal concept. Reassure the public that you’re not going to look down on them if they come in with a part purchased elsewhere, especially online. Provide the service, and you have started a relationship. You’ve probably also been able to upsell them whilst they’ve been in-store. See the revenue your maintenance, fitting, repairs and hire can offer and break down barriers.

Furthermore, if you can’t beat on price, then beat on value adding. Provide free service for X months, throw in some store kit socks as a courtesy gift, invite them along to the store bunch ride, and follow up the invite with an email or call. Wow them in other ways and win their loyalty.

…But still get online

• Buyers research before they purchase
Assuming your market is predominantly local and that you therefore don’t need a presence online is laying the foundations to fail in this new buyer’s world. Depending on your source, anywhere from 76 per cent to upwards of 90 per cent of UK consumers research or get inspiration online before they buy.

Unless these same people are literally walking past your shopfront on a regular basis, then that research will expose them to any of your competitors who are making an investment online. You won’t be part of the buyer’s plans. Once-upon-a-time presence online cost a small fortune and seemed like entering a maze, it’s been simplified and streamlined so this is no longer a daunting step forward.

• Don’t hide your products from the online audience
Online is a virtual representation, not a shadow, of your store. Strong retailers don’t just put up hero items online, nor dead stock. It’s no different to the real world – if only your hero items sit in the window and everything else is in the storeroom, then how does that passerby know you’ve got what they want? Take Nick for example: “I bought about £200 of tools from one store over another because the one store had a Shimano XT M8000 shifter cover (maybe £2), which was the part I actually needed, and it made sense to just order all at once.” True story and yes, probably not one that happens every day. But it does happen.

In our roles here we have over time been fortunate enough to see millions of pounds of product sell online through our marketplaces, and sometimes even we are baffled by the types of purchases made. Take for example a very popular brand of road helmet, current year, in black and size medium. It sold for the RRP 2,000 plus miles from the buyer. It could have been easily purchased in-store but clearly that customer was after the convenience that comes with clicking.

• Join the online marketplace
At the risk of this sounding like a plug, I can’t omit referencing online marketplaces here. For IBDs in particular strength in numbers is not a cliche, it’s a reality

If you’re niche, get scale
A bespoke offering doesn’t have to speak to a small, select geographical audience. If you stock a brand that is not readily available elsewhere, grow awareness further afield online. We have anecdotal evidence of consumers driving from literally one side of the country to another to get the product they’re after.

A quality EPOS doesn’t just improve POS, it can amplify efficiencies, streamline resourcing, enhance existing processes and basically help create a better version of a business. Moreover, EPOS’ have the ability to plug into APIs that can, in turn, expose new revenue resources at next-to-no effort and, depending on the provider, at no extra cost. A major portion of our work now provides no-cost, in most cases, APIs with EPOS’ so that our IBDs can flush their retail accounts with adverts that reflect real-time stock levels. It’s not uncommon to turn an account live and see it filled with 600+ adverts within 24 hours, and continue to build in days and weeks coming. These were formerly manual builds. EPOS is helping us all get our lives back!

Partnerships as opposed to just sponsorships
Partnering with like-minded initiatives, community groups or organisations can have some great spin-offs. I know a store that opens up at night so select community groups can gather. The owner derives personal fulfilment from helping his community and his local guests become passive store ambassadors. Invite a local yogi to conduct stretch classes for cyclists in your store after hours. Bring in a sports dietitian to provide a free night of information. Get the local micro-brewer in to make a shop brew that becomes a gift for VIPs. Stage a cycling/outdoor adventure film night, or a Tour de France warm-up party. It’s a win-win.

Some stand-out retailers get their edge not from their store alone, but because they’ve become the hub of their cycling community and culture. Are shop rides a weekly part of your work culture? Align with a club or start your own. Provide the branded gear, offer discounts to all members, set up a members-only social media page/Strava group, take a pic of every happy customer with their brand new purchase and post it online, provided they agree. Give customers a reason to want to come into your store whenever they can. Coffees, a chill-out area, a monthly themed event, think Belgie Ride, Night Ride, Pancake Tuesday Spin. It’s all working towards making you a destination for what money can’t buy.

It’s not what you sell it for, but what you buy it for
Your store alone may not have the muscle to cut the best possible deal with a distributor, but who else is stocking what you have, and doesn’t cross over into your primary market? Buying syndicates can be a powerful way to strengthen relationships, save on costs and maximise your return.

Respond as soon as you can
This is a world whereby I can jump online and immediately be greeted by a virtual customer service assistant willing to help me instantly. That is evidently not viable for most brick and mortar retailers, and consumers understand this. But they don’t tolerate tardiness. Even if you don’t have the answer, or don’t have the time to provide the full answer, just respond: “Hi, thanks for your email, great to hear from you. I am pretty much in grease-monkey mode servicing a bike right now, but I am onto your enquiry and am going to get back to you ASAP. I look forward to helping you out with this.”

Personable ‘template’ responses can be created around inquiries that fall into similar themes, so in most cases it’s just a quick cut, paste and send. The customer hears from a real-life person, knows they’re going to get a response, and suddenly they’re OK to wait a little longer.

This extends to post-purchase as well. Get that product ordered online or purchased over the phone dispatched ASAP after a sale. Don’t transact and then leave a customer waiting. It’s unlikely you’ll hear from them again. Moreover, free shipping and/or delivery within X days is a key selling point for many businesses these days. Were they happy with the service? Then encourage them to respond – get them to post their thoughts on your social media page, or provide a review.

The data game
Understanding the customer journey is key to business decisions. Strong retailers ask questions. How did they find you? Online, word-of-mouth, at an event? Answers to these questions show strengths but equally expose opportunities to grow. How are they coming into contact with you? Are they purchasing online and coming into the store? Calling over the phone with a credit card? Finding you online but transacting in-store? Customer data insights will help make calculated decisions. But you won’t find out unless you do the research and ask customers the questions.

This data research extends to stock. Dead stock is a killer, so why not report on it, drive a monthly sale and reinvest it into something that will sell at a better margin? Don’t leave it sitting there waiting for someone to convert, it’s taking up valuable space, and making the place look dated.

The youth hold the future
This isn’t much of an innovation, but its an idea that can provide a competitive edge in myriad ways. Find a young gun looking for casual work. They can get your online and social campaign underway and for a reasonable cost outlay, you can broaden their skills base and experience, and help them to become a valued and hopefully long-term member of the team.

Make sure the basics and fundamentals are on-point
A retail space that is clean, organised, well-lit, has products clearly labelled with prices, this is the low-hanging fruit that can be easily executed. And no matter what, customer service should always be paramount. Make their life convenient – help them easily and quickly find what they’re after. Give them a quality product delivered with a positive temperament – that old adage of service with a smile will never go stale.

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