Death by Commonplace

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September 20, 2017

Death by Commonplace


By Robbie Brown

There are big changes taking place in the chain grocery store business, particularly in the greater Chicago area. For years the market was dominated by long-established names that sort of “owned the business.” Their prices were not cheap, but okay. Their stores looked nice, but there was nothing exciting about them. But within the last several years, the chain that “owned the Chicago market” was forced to close all of its greater Chicago-area stores. What happened?

I think they “died by commonplace” and failure to recognize the changing market, and that the needs/wants of their clientele had changed as well.

The new competition in town catered more to customers who demanded better and larger assortments of fresh fruits and vegetables, inclusive of lower prices. These newer chains appealed more to the varied ethnic communities throughout the region. But the former “king of the hill’s” fate was sealed when a new entrepreneur began opening large, exciting stores in the area.

This new competitor got it right—and it stole the show! Its stores were large, beautiful, spacious and featured a large selection of ethnic foods, hot and cold prepared foods (for take-out or consumption within the store). The store also offered a pharmacy, large liquor department, a bakery, a salad bar, a hot foods bar and quite a mix of various kiosks selling cheeses, gelato, juices, pastries, sushi and other goodies.

This new competitor properly appealed to the families where both spouses worked and, thus, it offered large selections of prepared foods of high quality at very reasonable prices. If that wasn’t enough, it also offered a plethora of free food samples throughout the store. And amazingly it had sales staff throughout the store answering questions and directing customers to their needs.

Whereas the old guard was okay and mediocre, the new competitor was impressive!

So how does grocery shopping relate to the shooting and range business? The message is rather simple and straight forward: If you are operating a gun store that’s “just okay” relative to your competitors (present or future), you are likely to become a casualty at some point in time.

Success in retailing is often a matter of positive differentiation from your competitors. What defines your store vis-à-vis your competition? Unless you have a far better location, a larger product selection, sharper prices, more and knowledgeable staff, exciting creative displays or some combination of all of the above, then you have not risen above the commonplace group. And if you are to survive, win, grow and enjoy enriched profits, then your store/s need to stand well above the pack.

How do you do this? Start by taking a hard, impartial look in the mirror at your operation relative to all the other guys in the marketplace. Take it a step further and get others outside your business to compare your store relative to the other shopping choices, inclusive of online competitors.

Set up a consumer panel, which, for gift certificates, will do impartial comparisons of your store versus the competition. What you want is the brutal truth—and then be willing to act upon that information.

The next step is to really get creative. Take the mundane and turn it into the exciting. Discover new and innovative ways to present and sell certain product groups. Get your customers, staff, vendors and sales reps involved. Be prepared to borrow new concepts from your competitors and/or retailers in other industries. Also devote more time to engage in wild and crazy merchandising and promotional experiments. Consider offering rewards to your staff for the adoption of new creative concepts.

I would also encourage you to spend more time outside your store by regularly visiting large competitors and retailers in all specialties, regardless their relevance to shooting or hunting. The world has a cornucopia of ideas to present to you. You need only to go out and look—and then be willing to incorporate these exciting ideas into action.

Last, recognize that some experiments will not succeed. The danger is not in failing, but rather it is in failing to try! Your ultimate objective should be to discover and implement those marketing techniques that will make your operation a stand out standout from the rest.

Remember that sales are driven by demand, and demand is a byproduct of innovations in product mix, merchandising and promotion. Step out of the category of commonplace and into the world of retailing excellence!

NSSF has numerous business and compliance resources for its retailer and range members, including webinars, research papers and access to our Compliance and Security Consultant Team Members. Learn how our memberships can benefit your firearms business.