Retailing 113: Playing ‘Customer Tennis’
In specialty retailing, it’s no longer about being “product experts” — you need to be focused on the consumer.
Specialty tennis retailers generally do an excellent job of establishing themselves as the “product experts” in their communities. However, the consumer has changed — Americans are aging, the economic recession and slow recovery have hit hard, and technology is changing how we buy. The result is that there are newly empowered consumers across three generations, with evolving and different buying habits.
Still, the reality today is that many tennis specialty retailers are product-centric, and product-focused stores are less effective in differentiating themselves from their competition. Also, a product-focused store in a highly competitive market invites price comparison and competitive shopping.
For a specialty tennis retailer, becoming consumer-centric means catching up to change that is already happening. According to “Retail 2020,” a joint project between IBM and New York University Stern School of Business, “In order to succeed, retailers will have to rethink their strategies and their points of differentiation; the customers of 2020 will require it.”
The good news is that all retailers — large, small, brick-and-mortar, online — will have to rethink their strategies and points of differentiation. If specialty tennis retailers embrace change now, it will become your best friend!
Being consumer-centric requires changing everything — from your go-to-market strategy to your store’s systems and organizational structure. It requires changing where and how your marketing dollars are spent, how you communicate with customers and consumers, and how you and your staff are measured and rewarded.
Significantly, the consumer-centric retail store operating model is knowledge-driven and multichannel — meaning knowledge about your customers, the generations you serve, and the consumers you want to attract to your specialty tennis retail business and your community.
What does it mean to be consumer-centric? If you are measuring your success by the sales gain generated from individual customers, you’re consumer-centric!
Being product-centric no longer works in a marketplace where consumers are in total charge, because they have instant access to all the knowledge they will probably ever need about a product. Digital technology also empowers them by making it possible to order what they want, when they want it. If you remain product-centric, you’re simply inviting price comparisons and show-rooming right into your store.
To offset the knowledge-based advantage of consumers, you need to develop more knowledge about your customers’ wants and needs and their likes and dislikes than they have about you and the products you sell. You’ll continue to need basic data, such as customers’ addresses, phone numbers and e-mails, to facilitate communications and ongoing relationships.
However, what you need to focus on is the development over the next five to six years of a more detailed and total knowledge about individual customers’ transactions with your store — and what their tennis wants, needs, likes and dislikes are. This additional knowledge will allow you and your staff to craft individual tennis lifestyle solutions for customers — and completely differentiate your store from competitors, including online retailers.
Consumer-centric knowledge about customers is the difference between the information you have before each individual retail shopping experience and after each individual retail shopping experience.
The first step to becoming more consumer-centric is to change your store’s operating system, through acquisition or upgrading. No matter how small your business may be, you need a point-of-sale (POS) system capable of capturing consumer information and transactional data. Investigate affordable solutions from providers that offer hosted POS as a service on the cloud.
Becoming multichannel means you will need to position your website and your related use of social media to be on the same level as your brick-and-mortar store. For most specialty tennis retailers, this means redefining the role of both your store and your website. Whether or not your website is commerce-enabled is a strategic decision, but it is essential over the next five to six years that you transform your specialty tennis store into a seamless multichannel retail business where customers can get what they want from you when they want it.
The cost of a top-quality website has come down dramatically over the last decade. Consult with your web service or local web providers to map out your plan for becoming a multichannel specialty retailer within your budget before 2020.
Here are other tips you should include in your transition plan to becoming a consumer-centric specialty tennis retailer:
- Find ways to appeal to the three most important generations to your business: 1) You want to hang on to all the Baby Boomer customers, ages 48 to 67, you can, 2) while appealing to 28- to 47-year-old Generation X’ers, and 3) finding ways to appeal to Generation Y — the 8- to 27-year-olds that are your future.
- Develop and maintain a strong and compelling store brand.
- Make it easy to shop your specialty retail tennis business anytime, 24-7.
- Use your store and technology to create an extraordinary retail shopping experience.
- Use lifestyle “bundles” of products and services, for instance packaging a racquet and bag with lessons all under one store-generated bar code and pricing to differentiate and deflect price comparisons.
- Invest in you and your staff becoming tennis lifestyle problem-solvers and the source of individual customer solutions — and part of the reason your customers shop your multichannel store.
Sign up for the TIA Retail Webinar “Best Practices: Digital & Email Marketing,” on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Visit tennisindustry.org/webinars.
This is part of a series of retail tips presented by the Tennis Industry Association and written by the Gluskin Townley Group (gluskintownleygroup.com).
Apparel Retailing: Fit for the Court
What should you consider when helping your customers find the right tennis clothes?
By Cynthia Sherman
With the proliferation of apparel manufacturers, clothing styles, and fabrications for court sports, it’s important for retailers to outfit their customers with the right style and fit for their fashion preferences and body type.
Here’s where knowing your customer base comes in handy. If your customers are a genuine cross-section of ages and body types, you have to stock a variety of styles and sizes, including plus sizes if you have a segment of shoppers who fit that category. Manufacturers that make tighter fitting apparel will appeal to the more fit and trim segment of your customers, and the youth segment. (Keep in mind, tighter fitting clothing may run small.)
For those women who want and need a more “classic” fit, you’ll also want to keep longer dresses, skirts and looser fitting tops in stock. For men, the fit choices are more clear-cut, though traditionally minded players may prefer shorts that are slightly shorter and shirts that are looser and less fitted.
Ease of Movement
Remember that when players are looking for tennis tops, ease of movement is a key; fashion is one thing, but players shouldn’t feel their movement is being restricted. Fabrication also is important — pick fabrications that are lightweight, wick moisture away, and are breathable.
Find out if your customers run a lot on the court — this may indicate how bulky or restrictive they like their shorts and skirts. Also, especially for men, stock shorts with front pockets that hold tennis balls, and importantly, pockets that are easy for a player to take a ball from.
For skirts and dresses, make sure they fit your buyer’s frame. What looks good on one person may not look good on another. And this brings up another important — and sometimes touchy — point: If necessary, you may need to try to re-orient your customers’ mind-set from finding something they think makes them look like a rock star to something that truly does look nice and is comfortable, so they can enjoy the game and play with confidence.
Keep It Personal
Personal service also makes a huge difference. Familiarizing yourself with sizing charts for each company is not only smart, but it will make shopping time more efficient for your customers, who will appreciate not only the personal attention, but also the fact that their time won’t be wasted.
Have your customers try things on and encourage them to move around in the outfit to make sure they can move freely. Suggest that they “swing” a racquet, trying a variety of strokes while trying on the clothes.
The more comfortable your customers feel and the better they look, then the more confidence they’ll display on the court. You want that positive take-away — when you can help your customers look good and feel good, you’ll help ensure that they’ll come back to your store.
Tips for Fitting Apparel
- Know your customer base and stock the apparel that will best appeal to what they like, want and need.
- Stock a variety of sizes and styles — if you have space limitations, stick to this within your best selling brand.
- Always encourage customers to try things on.
- Personal service and attention is essential to help your customer find the best fit and style for their body type and playing style.