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The trends, the issues, and productive business strategies.

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We Need Hog Wild Crazy Customers

They're our best customers, but they morph into not-so-good customers.

by Rob Bostick, JudiKins (October 23,  2006)

Memory Trends was a slow show and I am sure that there were many reasons for it. The last few months of $3+ gas didn't help; neither has the switch to digital cameras (see my article in Scrapbook Insider February, 2004); and "not another show in Las Vegas" all played their part. But the trend that keeps me up at night is one that is affecting all small retailers and it has serious implications for our industry.

My first inkling of trouble came from scrapbook storeowners. I kept hearing reports of new customers coming in looking for specific products (many of which weren't even on the market yet), and if the store didn't have them, they would leave without buying anything. At first I dismissed these reports thinking "These stores just don't know how to sell."

I know about selling. I ran stores in the early 90's. At one point we had four. They were stamp stores and all located in high-traffic malls. We found that our customers went through three distinct phases. These were the Beginner, the Hog Wild Crazy (HWC), and the Expert.

The Beginners didn't buy much but could be converted into the HWCs. That was where the money was, and it was the focus of our stores to try to convert the Beginners into HWCs as they would buy anything you put in front of them.

At some point after many classes and much buying, a HWC customer got to a point where she came in knowing everything and looking for specific items. At this point she had moved into the Expert phase. Experts, while they were our best customers in the past, weren't buying as much and their requests often tended to be too specific and time consuming to fill.

Most of my HWC customers thought we made all the stamps ourselves. Even if they found the company name on the side of the stamp, there was no way back then to look up a company if you didn't know the city it was in. When you knew, you would still need to look up the area code in a phone book, then call information for that city, and call again to speak to someone who may or may not be able to help you and most likely wouldn't let you buy direct.

While we in the store had all the information, we never held any of it back. I instructed the staff to always answer truthfully and give out more information than the customer asked for. I remember a customer who casually asked why we carried three types of brush markers. After she glazed over from my long explanation on the advantages and drawbacks of each type, I watched incredulously as she bought handfuls of all three. Information was our best selling strategy. Our customers were hungry for it and as long as we supplied it honestly and liberally they kept coming back.

Today all this has changed. You walk into a store, see something you like, see who makes it, and then look them up on the web. I know this happens; I find myself doing it. Often the URL is right on the product. Of course the information from manufacturers is often slanted toward their products. Often it comes well ahead of what's available in the stores. Then there are chat rooms. Don't even get me started on them on the misinformation there.

The theory: This easy access to information, combined with our self-service culture, has shortened or eliminated the HWC phase in our customers. Consumers armed with a wealth of informational resources have become skeptical of the information they receive from their local store. This is making the running of small stores increasingly difficult.

My fear is that as our small retailers close, we will lose all of our evangelists. If all craft sales move to the Internet and/or the big boxes, who will be introducing the potential crafter to their new hobby? You can't ask Google to "find me a new hobby."

Mike Hartnett Comments.

Years ago I had an ad director, George Bartman, whose experience with running parallels Rob's description of how a consumer changes. When George was a Beginner he visited a local running store. When he discovered how much he liked running, he became a Hog Wild Crazy. (Anyone who runs marathons is hog wild crazy, in my opinion.) He bought the shoes, clothes, and books that the independent retailer recommend. But then he moved into the Expert phase. He knew which brand of shoes and clothes he liked best, and shopped for the best price often not in the independent's store.

The independent who uncovered George's love of running eventually lost him as a customer. So what's the key? Keep attracting the Beginners, enjoy them when they become Hog Wild Crazy, and realize you may not sell much to the Expert.

That's ok as long as a store continues to attract Beginners. More than 20 years ago, one of the industry's pioneers, Aleene, said, "The key to an independent's success is to introduce the store to 50 new consumers a week."

(Note: Agree with Rob? Disagree? If Rob's concerns are valid, what should be done about it and who should do it? Email your thoughts to CLN to mike@clnonline.com. To read previous Memory, Paper & Stamps articles, click on the headlines in the right-hand column.)

xxx

 

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