[Column] Fleur Willemijn van Beinum: What big brands can learn from a small retailer
Aim to make the best better and invite your customer in your process. How a local retail shop thrives in a very competitive market
It is rare that I am blown away by pure passion and craftsmanship. Once in awhile this stumbles upon your path, embrace it and interview him. Done, done and done. Meeting Pete in his amazing thriving Pete’s sport shop in the small Austrian mountain village Sankt Anton was a connection from the first moment.
Aim to make the best better
’Talk to the customer every day. Selling is not a one-way game’ Pete tells me. ‘We advise our customers and our customers advise us. We learn from each other’. Often claimed, seldom brought in practice as Pete does. ‘We aim to make the best better, and in the meantime put a smile on our customers’ face’, he shines while he explains his passion.
Of course, in the end, it is always about sales and generating revenue. Yet there are big differences in how to close the sale, time over time again. Given the fact Pete’s sports shop is open for over 30 years in a very competitive and sales aggressive-Austrian-by-few-families-owned-market, says enough.
Online one-way communication
‘In digital, it is one-way communication. Brands do claim they listen to their customers, yet they listen to reply. Not to understand. The key fact for the online sales in technical gear is that there is an 80% miscommunication between what the brands produce and what the customers want.
When the customer needs and the clothes get technical, online will not reach that level of connection and advice the customer needs to get the most out of those technical specs of the jackets or pants.’
Sure, there are online reviews and recommendations by influencers. Yet, ‘this is crazy’ Pete explains. ‘These are all N=1’s. In a store, you can connect, via the staff, to hundred of customers and peers instead of the few reviews online or the paid influencer.’
‘For a lot of brands in retail, the practical knowledge base of the designers is missing.’ ‘The (design) world gets better if the people who create the products, actually wear and use them in all circumstances.’ He adds ‘step down, talk to the people and your customers, involve them. Use that valuable feedback in your design process.’ Pete only sells brands that embrace and live this mindset, therefore you will not find the big commercial brands in his shop.
Pete’s advice for premium brands ‘Go out there. Talk to your end-customers and ask them for their needs. Do this personally and locally. Come back, and use that knowledge.’ ‘The costs of the management or designers of a brand going into a retail store and collecting input are low, and the output is priceless.’
‘All you need is some effort and a little budget to spend on traveling. Keep an open view and get input from all the customers, also from other brands. Be openminded, it is about the needs of your customer and not the needs of the brand. Then follow up and continue. Collecting input from the direct source is not a one-off. You should do this once every season.’
Retail versus online
Online is an evolution. With e-commerce, customers are more flexible and have more opportunities. Yet, for retail (like us) everything happens in the building. ‘As a retailer, to run an e-shop, that costs about as much as having the bricks and mortar store’ Pete explains.
‘As a retailer, you will never reach the level you are able to reach as a brand.’ For example, Icebreaker made merino fabric big. Ortovox took a part of that wool story and build their own brand around it. Super smart. ‘We retailers cannot compete with the big brands in manpower, budget nor time. We do not have the margins the brand DTC shops have.’ ‘Hence we compete on a different level. We compete on knowledge, service and, for us, also on the footprint.’
Service and footprint as advertising
‘If you like us, you will come back’ Pete explains. ‘We have service as advertising. Don’t buy a new jacket if you don’t need one. And we also don’t want to cross or up-sell you. There is no need to sell some new ski thermo underwear if the customer can wear his e.g. running thermo gear. Be aware of what you buy and your footprint.’
Next to that, ‘we want to keep garments in the loop. We prefer to repair your gear than to sell you a new jacket. Why throw away something that still can be used? This also goes for items that are not bought in our shop.’ Sounds a bit like Patagonia, doesn’t it? With their footprint awareness behavior, they want to inspire their customers. And besides, it authentically sets them apart from the other shops.
If you buy a high-end technical jacket or pants in the Pete’s store, they give you a voucher for € 50 repair, to be used whenever from wherever. This is a mindset. For the customer to take better care of his product and don’t throw it away. For Pete’s sport shop to drive an honest and low footprint business with a long term strategic thinking of serving the customer in the best way possible.
Customers do return to the shop, even after 10 or 20 years. Amongst them, myself. Why I return to the bricks and mortar and not to buy online? I prefer to spend my money with them than any other shop. Even if I maybe pay full price. Excellent advice, superb service and never ever had the feeling I ‘needed’ to buy something there, like being ‘forced’ by the staff.
Just before our interview, I drop by in the shop. Pete is seated behind his sewing machine, repairing a gore-tex jacket at the side seams. ‘Since recently, people started to carry their skis in a different way. Not on the shoulders anymore, but in the hand, like some grocery bags.’ ‘This causes damage at the seams, the manufacturers were not aware yet of this new behavior. Yet, if we tell them, we hope to get enhanced seams in next years’ collection.’ The ‘them’ in this story are brands like Patagonia, Peak Performance, Arcteryx, State of Elevenate and Hestra to name a few of the wanna have high-end high tech outdoor brands.
What big brands can learn
If you are a big brand or a small local store, the behavior of the customer is always the same. It is about excitement. It is about passion. And if you can add a smile on your customers’ faces, they will return for more.
Go from ‘listen to customer’ to ‘invite your customer’. ‘Invite them to your process.’ Small costs, priceless output, and insights on the desired details that create your distinctiveness. ‘If these details are not done in the right way, you will not close the sale.’ Dare to do listen, to invite and to implement this as a brand.
Visit Pete when you are in St. Anton or go to sportpete.com
Fleur Willemijn van Beinum is an experienced Content and Social Media Strategist with a proven track record for over 35 top notch clients.
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