Shop or showroom?

Just the other day I had an impulsive moment to pull over and go check out a local bike shop I’ve been driving past for years. I entered full of excitement to look at what’s new and hope something might catch my eye for an early Christmas-present-to-me opportunity. However, the moment never came and before I knew it, I was reversing back out of my handy parking space. I was in there a mere 180 seconds and I didn’t stop during my brief tour of their 2,000 square foot shop. Honestly, will that shop still be there in six months? I doubt it…

What’s apparent is that small IBD retailers cannot possibly be expected to carry huge amounts of stock and provide the broad range of choice that many picky cyclists are wanting to select from – that’s where the internet is king and impossible to beat. Take another struggling consumer category – bookshops have all but disappeared due to  Amazon’s ‘browse and buy’ convenience.

However, there are now some interesting exceptions emerging and a good example is Waterstones, which was in full survival mode, but has now managed to stave off the landlord’s threats by reinventing itself as a community space. It has realised that the joy Of reading can unite a community to share and enjoy the precious moments that we generally want to keep in today’s modern, hectic and antisocial society.

At Waterstones, you can now share views in book clubs, partake in readings by its authors while having lunch or even sign up for a dance class amongst a literary world of paper and cardboard – all the while hosted by Waterstones, the expert bookseller.

As a retail store designer working among a wide variety of consumer categories I am now focused on helping retail brands within the ‘lifestyle’ sector, as they will become the town centre showrooms where consumers will choose to spend much of their deserved leisure time. Local authorities across the country now recognise the urgency to adapt their town centres to ensure it has a role to play in today’s electronic culture, and my vision is that this central zone will once again become a community focused shopping experience where hospitality meets brand awareness. I believe that cycling can play a big part in the retail reinvention/revolution.

As one of the most popular forms of leisure activity and efficient transportation solutions, the cyclist can start to take control of the town centre. I was recently visiting Copenhagen and it was overwhelmingly apparent that the bike dominates their society and the positive lifestyle attributes are very clear to see. With this rational acceptance that an urban cycling strategy works, the inner cities are able to develop their retail commerce with clearer vision.

So how does the traditional bike shop fit into this equation? The answer lies within the customer experience expectation. In retail design, we approach all new concepts with a golden rule. The store format needs to be layered: Front – Attract, Centre – Engage, Rear – Capture.

Take the recent experience I had with my lacklustre visit to an IBD. What can it do to optimise its presence and make its very existence relevant? With a small and limited product range, there is always a story to be told about who you are and why you’re different to your competitors. Every retailer needs a buying strategy to align with the company ethos and target customer – it is absolutely essential to know what these two things are before you can consider your presentation concept. No matter how many products you have, you need to construct a compelling showcase that make the items stand-out and come alive. Clearly not every product can be showcased as it would become just visual noise and the whole experience would be counter-productive. Pick out seasonal categories or brands that can be rotated throughout the year to keep the store looking fresh and interesting. Cyclists, in general, are information hungry types so it’s really important to provide them with the knowledge on a self-help basis – always asking staff questions is an expensive tool!

Product information can easily be created and printed at a low cost in many ways, but it’s most important that as the retailer you are the author and editor providing your opinion and reasons why you respect and sell this item, range or brand.

So what else can alert the senses and heighten the experience? I know it’s an old cliché in selling a house, but the smell of coffee is always a good way to retain a customer’s attention. Earlier this year I wandered into a motorcycle dealership to carry out a secret shopper mission – I was no more than one step off the doormat when I heard someone shout ‘coffee mate?’. I was spotted by a salesman who knew that most of their customers are very grateful of a hot drink to warm up, a friendly simple touch to get their attention. Effective lighting is another essential part to get right as the colour and detail in most cycling products is so important to see properly. LED has completely reinvented lighting design technology and manufacturing, so not only are they inexpensive to buy they are also very effective and energy efficient.

Customers today are very fickle and they are always on the hunt for the next best thing available to them. The challenge that every retailer has is to reach out and try to get their loyalty. Typically, consumers can easily search for their items online at their preferred location and then be patient as they await its delivery. This works fine when a product is already known and is not required immediately.Many shoppers, however, are impatient and need to see the item first before making a decision – these ones are yours and for the taking!

If they’ve been attracted by your incredible window displays and have taken the decision to enter your store, then you need to make sure they receive a memorable experience. Even if you don’t convert an immediate sale they will love the way you do things differently and will return on a specific mission.

In the news, all we ever hear is that more and more shops are closing down, either the big chains are shutting half their estate or small independents are insolvent and unable to trade any longer. On the other hand, the majority of premium and luxury label brands are thriving and this situation is mainly due to the in-store customer experience that all of these retailers provide. Whilst cycling should certainly not be viewed as exclusive, the high-end products do carry those price tags and with baskets sometimes brimming over £10,000, how do you look after those customers?

Clearly, there’s no one-size-fits-all scenario here, but common business sense should resonate with most retailers, that easy quick wins can be achieved at minimal cost to help communicate a revitalised message to their existing and new customers that something behind this door is different to before and well worth checking out.

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By Kate Allan, Compete PR This piece first appeared in the September edition of BikeBiz …