A challenge faced by specialty retailers in all markets is to provide compelling reasons for customers to visit their stores instead of those of a mass merchandiser who also has some of the same items. We all know the drill: The selection is not great, in terms of brands or items, and the staff knowledge of the products is hit or miss (at best). But the products are at places that shoppers already visit, so there may be a convenience factor, and given that these retailers do not have any real knowledge of what they are selling, they may handle these items like they do everything else, by selling them cheap.
Convenient and cheap are two things that are hard for a specialty retailer to overcome.
Even so, the same scenario is played out daily in many industries. We see it in the natural and organic market. Books, toys, hobbies, crafts, clothing and many dozens of others also deal with this challenge.
Two standout ideas to borrow
Reading the newspaper the other day, I happened across two ideas that illustrate ways to chip away at mass merchandisers’ encroachment into specialty products.
The first was an example from the Shirt Box, a men’s clothing store in Michigan. (How many places sell dress shirts these days?) While they do giveaways, like free cufflinks if you buy a shirt with French cuffs, they also provide education. Education about shirts? Well, sort of. They give lessons on how to tie bow ties. That is something that you will not find in a mall! They also do bourbon tastings. After all, if you are going to wear a nice shirt, you might as well have some sophistication about the finer things. Are you doing cooking classes, meal planning, and the like? How about a session helping folks prepare for cold and flu season or seasonal allergies? Maybe a class on natural child care?
The second was an app. It is called Drop Inc. This is an app that is used to send messages and share photos, but it only gives the full message when the recipient is in a specific location. It could be used for example, to give a coupon, but only when the user is in your store. It could be used for a great variety of similar things. How about doing a promotion with a local, independent bookstore that you give out a coupon for your store when the shopper is in the bookstore or vice versa? This app has a lot of potential, but probably will appeal most to your younger, more technologically focused customers.
The lesson from these two ideas is that the way to overcome convenient and cheap is found outside the box. Keeping thinking and watching what others, even in other markets, are doing.