Retail Observer

May 2017

The Retail Observer is an industry leading magazine for INDEPENDENT RETAILERS in Major Appliances, Consumer Electronics and Home Furnishings

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RETAILOBSERVER.COM MAY 2017 40 W hat makes things sustainable? Why are some things — fashion fads, color palettes, brands, musical genres, vacation destinations, neighborhoods and yes, stores — always in style, always hip and always in demand, while others grow stale and fade away? I just spent an evening with friends at a sold-out Peter Yarrow concert. For those who don't recognize the name that's the Peter in Peter, Paul and Mary, the great folk group from the '60s and '70s. Mary Travers passed away in 2008, but Peter and Noel Paul Stookey still perform together. This night, though, his son Christopher — also an accomplished musician, accompanied Peter. Even with the growth of electronic dance music and big successful tours by all the current big acts — Bruce Springsteen's River Tour was the highest grossing in 2016 — the music and the stories Yarrow told still rang true more than fifty years after their 1963 start at the March on Washington. The parallels between then and now were significant — the song Deportee written by Woody Guthrie in 1948 to memorialize the Los Gatos, CA plane crash which killed migrant workers on their way back to Mexico now parallels the new immigration policies in place. The struggles alluded to in early folk music now mirror the current social battles against "the other." The Vietnam War has given way to battles against ISIS and other extremist groups. The thing that makes the music timeless is relevance. In contrast, many consumers are declaring traditional retailing irrelevant. Relevance is one of the key drivers to sustainability. The Pew Research Center found that nearly 80% of Americans do at least some shopping on the Internet. In 2000, only 22% of respondents shopped online. But not all consumers prefer buying on the internet. Fully 65% of respondents said they prefer to buy in brick and mortar stores. In the fourth quarter of 2016, with all the hoopla about online shopping, only 11% of purchases were bought on the Internet. Price and product availability are the most critical drivers in online shopping. Nearly 3000 retail outlets are projected to close this year including 138 J. C. Penney stores, 68 Macy's, 88 HH Gregg and 150 Sears and Kmart outlets. Stores like Wet Seal, CVS, BCBG, Guess, GameStop, RadioShack, American Apparel, Crocs, The Limited and Abercrombie & Fitch are also casualties. There is no question that America has become over-stored. Low interest rates have encouraged commercial development and over- expansion, but many of these store closings have come because the stores have become irrelevant. They don't offer unique products or experiences and perhaps don't know enough about their customers to provide what the consumer thinks is a great shopping experience. With two-thirds of customers still wanting brick and mortar shopping options, traditional retailing is not going away. Those who continue to focus on their customer — not solely on their products — will be sustainable. With the contraction of major outlets like HH Gregg and Sears, suppliers will still need a solid base of dealers to move their product to the market. There is market share available to those who boldly grab for it. Several ways to make your business relevant to today's shopper are: • Create unique in-store experiences. Bring in guest chefs; have amateur bake-offs or chili cook-offs; challenge your customers to bring in their biggest laundry loads to see which brand holds the most. • Acknowledge your customers. Send birthday cards. Send thank- you notes. Keep a wish list of next purchases for your customers — contact them when you have specials on those items. Personal attention goes a long way today. • Become web savvy. Collect email addresses! Write a blog. Send email newsletters with spring-cleaning tips, holiday recipes, and new product features. Have a Facebook page to show all the fun activities going on in your store — your parties, barbecues, and designer events. Recognize customers on social media. • Get out in the community. Put a pop-up kiosk in a mall parking lot to demonstrate your wide selection of outdoor kitchen products. Pay your staff members to volunteer if they wear company apparel. It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that to sustain your business, your store must be accessible, spotless, well appointed, and appropriately lit and decorated. Your team members must be knowledgeable, well groomed, and need to know how to solve their prospects' problems. You need to replicate the Apple and Starbucks experience for your customers. There are great opportunities ahead for creative, passionate, and forward-looking dealers. Make your business relevant and it will be sustainable. Elly Valas is an author, speaker and retail consultant. She can be reached at or 303-316-7568. Elly Valas Retail Views RO SUSTAINABLE RETAIL

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