The best way to not only survive but also to thrive in the retail world is to make sure people want to come to your store because you’ve built a personal relationship with them. My customers come to my store because of my team, not in spite of them.
As the industry benchmark in our area, we have more than 50 Google reviews. We carry seven of the eight major product lines in our industry; we offer the best programs at fair prices; and we voraciously promote the “dive lifestyle.” But at the end of the day, what really sets us apart is, well, us.
Customers want to come in; they want to bring others, and they want to be part of our family. They do this because we want them to be here and we work every day to make them feel like a welcome and valuable part of our crew.
The easiest way to reap this benefit in your own organization is by empowering your team to get to know your customers. I pay my team members for half a day if they want to go diving with customers. The team member gets a break from the store, the customers get a professional guide for their dive and, best of all, they get to know each other and continue building that relationship.
Our customers are comfortable with the relationship that has formed and the trust that’s been built, and actively participate in maintaining both. These same customers (now family members) keep coming back to my store because of that relationship. Even with the expected employee turnover in my industry, these customers accept the “replacement” team member with open arms and take it upon themselves to welcome the new person to our clan.
You may think this all sounds great, but your business doesn’t provide opportunities to meet up with customers on personally guided half-day adventures like mine. No problem.
The best thing about relationship building is that all you need to begin are two people – that’s it.
It doesn’t matter if you run a hair salon, an oil-change shop or are in the top one percent of the Fortune 500. You can always invite people to a BBQ at your home, a group bowling night, a movie premiere or anything that puts people in the mix together. Building genuine relationships is actually easier outside the store or office, especially if you always have a few things cooking that make it is easy to get people interested and talking. People want to do fun things, but many claim they don’t have the time to make the arrangements, so make the arrangements for them and have fun together.
People appreciate familiarity and a true, honest interest in them and their lives – beyond the sale. This is no easy task, so if you can’t be honestly interested in other people, this advice may not work for you. As for your team, with the right environment, a little bit of empowerment and the freedom to be themselves, the majority of them will do a great job building relationships away from the office, and will enjoy doing it along the way.
I love what I do — I get paid to teach; I get paid to dive; I get paid to take people on incredible adventures all over the world and motivate them to try new things.
Most of all, I love what I do because of the things I don’t get paid for.
These fringe benefits include making new friends, building unforgettable memories and getting the chance to make a meaningful impact on someone else’s life simply by being there, enjoying our time together and being a part of their experience.
For the cynical Debbie-Downers – yes, there are some people who are a pain in the ass, but the good news is, I actually can’t tell you their names because they were forgotten – quickly. I can however, tell you all about my buddy who retired from two branches of the military that I dive the Straits of Mackinac with, the friend who secretly sailed the world in nuclear submarines that I dove Little Cayman Island with, my pilot buddy who taught me to fly to keep me busy during my divorce and his entire family that got certified at my store, or maybe I should mention all the people who just stop in to say hi, get a hug and check up on me, my team members, my wife, my soon-to-be-daughter and the ever-famous shop canines Elvis and Tommy?
My list of friends continues to grow and if it isn’t blatantly obvious – I can’t wait to add your name soon.
Running a retail business has never been easy, but historically some people found their niche and learned how to make a stable, sometimes lucrative, living that was not overly difficult to maintain. The digital marketplace has changed that game forever. If you can’t offer more than just a building to get an identical item, people will continue to use you as a fitting room only, will continue to buy online, and ultimately you won’t survive.
Service, experience and emotional connections all have incredible value and need to be the focus for every retailer who wants to stay in business.
Amazon may or may not be the devil, but they have forced us to improve the retail experience for every customer, every day.
This doesn’t have to be an overwhelming undertaking. Improve the retail experience you offer one bite at a time and one person at a time. Make it personal, keep it personal, and add as many people as you can to the family. Before you know it, you’ll be swinging from the branches in your own Amazon jungle looking for the next elephant to eat.*
*No elephants were harmed or eaten in the making of these episodes.
Want to get added to my list of friends? stop in next time you are in Ann Arbor (GO BLUE!) and ask for Brian, Katie, Lakin or Joe and if we aren’t available, I bet my customers will help make you comfortable until we are!