“If they can’t see it, you can’t sell it”…I can’t remember just when I first heard those words, but I do know they came from an experienced VM-er. How can you touch or try something you aren’t able to see? D’oh! I mean isn’t that the clear advantage of bricks-and-mortar?
So, in recognition of the back-to-school selling season, here’s a lesson to file under “Retail 101.”
Weeks ago, I had a chance to introduce the concept of “See it, Sell it” to my nephew, who part-times at an independently owned bike shop.
Jack has spent summers and after-school hours, when he’s not racing or training, at Element Cycles. Element sells high-end and mostly hand-built European and U.S. bikes (Cyfac, Colnago, Civia, Pinarello and Cincinnati’s own Lundbeck, whose base frames start at $1,750, plus Pashley from England, favored by commuters). Element also handles helmets, wheels, seats, clothing, shoes, shades and energy snacks, in addition to repair and fit services.
Element has a high-visibility location with two large show windows in an upscale neighborhood on a main thoroughfare with foot, bike and auto traffic. Canvas awnings with a simple logo call attention from the street, so I knew just where to meet Jack. My first visit there was to assist him with some retail “consulting”—I’d promised for months. I found a well organized, tidy and clean selling environment.
There’s little in the way of vendor logos and marks, instead vintage Tour de France posters from the mid-century contribute to the minimal gallery effect. Framed racing team jerseys belonging to the young owner, who left an earlier career to open the shop, lent the right personal touch.
Bikes lined the front room, though they were not easily visible from the windows due to the awning’s overhang. To the rear, there’s a semi-private fit room, but products perfect for up-selling were merchandised elsewhere.
Hmmm. What’s an amateur consultant to do? Ask questions, of course. I learned what sells well (energy snacks), what they wish would sell better (for one, some pricey cycling apparel from a Portland, Ore.-based company deemed “way cool,” but possibly just too costly and now marked down). And products with the healthiest margins? Among those would be its own design and highly covetable T-shirt (with the words “air. earth. fire. water. bike.”), as well as bikes, shoes and helmets.
With that, I began to make suggestions and pronouncements—Jack asked me to stop so he could grab a notebook (now that’s what I call heartwarming). At that point, we turned talking into doing, including implementing a number of ideas Jack had been thinking of previously. Here’s a snippet of what we did:
We brought the entire boxed helmet back stock from behind the cashwrap and arranged them stair-step style where customers could see them. This display signaled we have your size and style, but also allowed customers to find it on their own. On the cashwrap counter where folks tend to congregate, we moved all the energy snacks, formerly on the apparel wall, which we gave a once over. We also debated relocating the illuminated Oakley-supplied sunglasses fixture to the cashwrap for its beacon qualities, but abandoned due to lack of an outlet. We turned bikes into mannequins by ensembling them with water bottles, packs and cycling gloves, so customers could easily see a range of products the store carried.
In the fit room, we moved items consistent with what riders need for a perfect fit—think seats and wheels—thereby increasing the probability of additional sales, since there’s nothing like a captive customer. Just outside the fit room, we made sure all shoes, socks and gloves were organized by size, style and color. Again, the idea was making it easy for employees and customers alike to scan stock. When items are easy to find arguably, customer service (or the perception of it) also increases.
Finally, we moved cycles into the windows. In the left hand window is a sleek racing bike and in the right hand one is a $1,600 retro-styled commuter bike, so any non-racing cyclist could see something for himself.
So, what about outcomes? For one, Jack says more folks are stopping in because of the windows. Once inside, he tells me they’re discovering more on their own, which has increased sales in a number of categories. And, Jack tells me energy snack sales are through the roof! Overall, Element’s owner was pleased with all of the other tweaks. Professional store designers and VM-ers can debate the smallish changes we made, but I earned some cred with Jack and that was priceless.
So, what’s your take on See it, sell it? Share your Retail 101 tales in the comments section. No letter grades, we promise.