By Colin Rees, sales trainer to the cycling business
This series is looking at ways a High Street bike shop can compete with the loss of sales from Internet buyers, especially the really irritating ones who come in suggesting they wish to purchase from you, capture all the technical information they need, check out the bike, then sit in the car park and order it online. Nothing is designed to stimulate a fiercer reaction from bike shop staff, but in fairness, it happens everywhere, to all retailers, all the time. It needs to stop, here’s how.
In the third quarter print magazine we looked at creating a customer care environment to compete in an area the Internet cannot; and how an owner needs to think carefully about his own attitude to change. We talked already about staff, but they are a subject in their own right because the pinnacle of management success in a retail environment, in my opinion, is teamwork.
I recall telling someone once, the only problems I ever had when I started my business was the day I took on my first member of staff. I quickly realized why. They were not me. This means they did not work, or think, the way I did and so in my mind, they were not as effective as I was. Many years later, I learned, reluctantly, we are actually all different. That was the day It clicked on to the critical importance of training, more like psychological persuasion, actually, but by discussing and communicating, I reached a place in my own mind I found it is possible to change attitudes.
Recruitment is key. Do bike shop owners look for people who love bikes or people who can sell them? Is the best combination a chap with an appealing personality who is willing to accept his knowledge of bikes might be lacking? The first step is to establish what you need, not what is available. Building a good team demands waiting for the right people and this makes recruitment an on-going activity which, hard though it might be, becomes refinement in a successful business.
When interviewing, would the average bike shop owner give applicants more than one interview? My word, what they reveal the second time around you did not pick up the first time can be mind blowing; well worth the time. Do you have a list of skills or attributes in front of you and mark each applicant out of ten for each personality factor? Successful recruitment is all about planning.
In traveling around the UK, I find it is rare to see businesses that ran the way I ran mine when I was employed as a Branch Manager in a retail situation. Opening time was 9.00 am. At 8.00am everyone was there, it was someone’s turn to make coffee for the team and it was a daily gathering. We took turns to be chairman; we had a typed agenda in front of us with action points from yesterday. We went through them first to see what might have been missed and we did not criticize, we were all busy, we prioritized tasks. Integral was discussing the day to day bits we needed to know and thinking strategically. Then there would be 10 minutes of training, deciding what we would all strive to do that day in terms of technique discussing weaknesses openly. Nobody minded weakness, we were a cohesive team. My job title was Branch Manager but I was just one of the team that planned, guided and helped, working as hard as everyone else because, like all of us, I was only interested in one thing – my bonus and how close we were to achieving it. That was the same for us all. We were all paid a bonus for meeting target and 20% of anything over the target, we shared.
Every single month we broke the target however high it was set. We held the top branch of 200 the entire time the team was together. They had to get extra staff in the accounts department to open all the cheques and when the boss sold the business, he became around the 150th wealthiest UK businessman. I went off and started on my own.
So constant communication is vital, every single day, to build the team, to get ideas, to look at targets, to solve problems together, hear suggestions, make decisions and ensure day to day customer experiences were always at the top. Training reminders are also important. These elements really cannot be done ‘on the job’. Training does not have to be done by professionals although clearly, they are specialists. Training is the leader’s job and a daily session serves to remind people who are motivated, who, like all of us, forget, when daily routines interrupt mental progress.
The silent salesman, the store, is also critical. Is it time for a repaint? If I come to you and have a good experience, do I know where I’ve been? Is your logo and strapline predominant? Is the place exciting, colourful, cheerful, warm, welcoming or like many bike shops I have trained in, is it freezing to save cost and the same as it has always been? How often does your window change? Is it a challenge or an opportunity?
Supermarkets are at the cutting edge of modern retailing. Every time I walk round one, I see an idea that could be used in a bike shop. But in any retail space, your representatives, your staff, are the difference between the store ‘jogging’ or ‘prospering’. I was on top of a bus when I saw a big sign in a bike shop window saying; 0% finance. Located in a run down area, that guy had exactly the right idea to reassure people a purchase could be within their reach.
So, how confident are your staff? Do sales staff hide behind the counter where it is safe, as they do everywhere? One shop I went to threw it out after I left. The place for a sales person is among the product, cleaning, polishing, stacking, fixing accessories onto show bikes – why do we never see accessories on bikes for sale? That puts your people close to customers entering, not to pounce, but to welcome, engage or allow to wander.
These are basics we need to examine in detail; what is the customer experience we provide. We need to be cheerful and polite. Other things often missed but go without saying; we need to look clean and professional and above all, we need to focus on how to help every customer who comes in, not how much we can sell them, that’s a fallacy. Changing the atmosphere surrounding sales and selling, targets etc to helping to ‘give customers the best riding experience they can have’, illustrates the change of attitude needed. The customer sees that, comes back and turnover goes up.