Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]
|Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2014 5:20 pm Post subject: Managing a Martial Arts Retail Store: It's the Little Things
|Not every school of the martial arts provides retail sales for both their students as well as the general public. I see nothing wrong with having or not having one. It is often dependent on financial costs and/or personal preference. However, adding a retail store to one's own school requires a lot of planning and tweaking, as well as some luck and paying attention to the smallest details.
At first, I had nothing to offer my students in the form of martial arts supplies. My dojo was there, in my humble opinion, to provide Shindokan and nothing more. Then, in 1982, I started to offer my students martial arts supplies exclusively from Century Martial Arts Supply. However, they had to select what they wanted out of the most current Century Martial Arts Supply catalog that I kept right next to the class sign-in sheet, pay for the item(s) in full before said item(s) were ordered, and when their order arrived, I'd give them those items whenever I saw them at their next class.
In 1985, I turned the lobby into a full blown retail store, but I added the retail space in such a way so that neither "spaces" dominated over another. Firstly, one space was for students and/or parents and/or visitors to gather before and after each class. Secondly, another space was for the retail store. Finally, another space was for the dojo. I had to do some minor remodeling in order to accommodate all three spaces without one dominating, but I had to achieve all of that within the same given area. The tricky part was maintaining that same consistent atmosphere in spaces that are so proximate to one another.
In time, I had martial arts supplies in abundance for every martial arts enthusiast, both students and/or the general public alike. My inventory was full to the max. If it was martial arts related, I tried my best to carry it within my inventory. However, it took me just over a year to fine tune into a working on-demand inventory that drove the bottom line respectfully and positively. I had to consider the demographics within my immediate area, however, seeing that I was smack in the middle of Southern California's San Fernando Valley, my dojo was located at the corner of Sherman Way and White Oak, so in that my demographics really reached into every compass point of the valley.
In this article, I want to talk about the small things that I believe most dojo based retail stores overlook for one reason or another, not just of the martial arts genre, but things in general. These small things aren't only forgotten in the small box retailers, but they are also forgotten in the big box retailers. Things that shouldn't be overlooked, and, if ignored all together, those things will start affecting ones bottom line, whereas in business, red and black are the only colors that matter.
You've only one chance to make that lasting impression, so make it a good one!!
Everything must have a price. EVERYTHING. Each item must be priced either on that item or in a planogrammed area that plainly denotes a price. Nothing frustrates the consumer more than not knowing the price up front. Don't let your customer ask you and, if they do ask you, be nice. Police your out-front inventory to spot where a price tag has been forgotten or has fallen off. Price changes must be addressed immediately. If an item has a price increase, and the signage denotes the old price, by law, that price must be honored. When receiving inventory, adjust your on-hand figures, put price labels upon them, and then get them out onto the sales floor immediately.
If there's a discounted item, then mark the discount on that item. Whether it's been discounted by a percentage or if it's been discounted by its new low price, you want to attract consumers to it. I never used a discounted bin or shelf because I didn't want them to miss the other related item(s) found in their normal places. Don't let your imagination get away from you when doing discounts because if you discount a great deal of your inventory, then you've only a minimum of an idea as to what you're doing concerning inventory replenishing/ordering procedure(s).
If items are not moving, discount them reasonably so that you receive some sort of profit, if at all possible. Breaking even is a far sight better than losing the house. Discounts will be generated by your customers whenever they start to lose and/or have already lost valued interest in any said item(s). In order to minimize discounts as well as to maximize profits across the board, watch your P&L (profit and loss) statements closely.
Brand management is everything here. Put your brand everywhere, but don't drown an area to the point that the consumers can't see the trees because of the forest. Your name on the most minuscule item(s) will help in getting your name out in the public eye. Place your brand on as many of your "freebies" as you can, like pencils, small calendars, business cards and soda can holders, to name just a few. Walk around a major big box one day to see just how they do their brand management; their logo is tastefully everywhere.
As far as an outside sign is concerned, you don't need a gigantic outside sign, just one that's an attention getter, yet easy for the public to remember. Also, your outside sign needs to meet city ordinances while at the same time making it easy for the public to find amongst the sea of signs.
For high priced items, one needs to keep these display types under lock and key so they don't walk away. In general, your entire inventory should be locked up as well. If you can afford it, get security tags for everything in your inventory, or at least for your high priced items. Shoplifting will happen, and you need to be proactive in keeping the thieves away. The biggest thing you can do to deter shoplifting is to not stay behind the counter. Offer assistance, but don't be intrusive while they're shopping. Eliminate all blind spots by using big spot mirrors in key places or, at least, don't put any tempting inventory in harder to monitor areas. Instead, put a plant, a decorative vase or a dressed up mannequin in those trouble spots.
A well lit store, in and out, is attractive to everyone; staff/you and the general public, and not so attractive to a thief, because they don't like to be noticed. When a light bulb goes out, replace it immediately. Don't blind them with lights so bright that their retinas are burned out. Experiment with different light hues throughout the sales floor to attract customers to any given area. However, the main overhead lights probably need to remain white florescent bulbs.
Everything in a place, and a place for everything. Dust. Tidy up shelves. Re-merchandise. Sweep it, vacuum it, mop it and/or wipe it up. Clean the bathroom(s), besides, thieves/burglars/rapists have been known to hide in the bathroom(s). Clean the windows. Clean glass counter tops/sides. Pick up any and all trash immediately. Empty all trash containers. Place all purchases into shopping bags as the sale is rung up on your cash register. Clean window glass fronts as well as the front door. Sweep outside. Straighten up behind the counter. Everything I have mentioned in this paragraph should be done frequently.
Keeping your store neat and in order takes a lot of elbow grease, but the reward will shine through. If one doesn't tend to the store's appearance, then the dojo will suffer. A dirty and disgusting retail store will give the overall impression that areas beyond the store are more than likely just as awful.
Impulse buying helps to drive the bottom line. Children aren't the only ones that are drawn to these impulse areas; adults are impulse buyers as well. Anything that's small and will fit comfortably on the counter, place it there and rotate what's going to be there often. Don't bury the counter for many obvious reasons. Your customers will buy things a lot of the time on impulse, not just what's on the counter. Try putting impulse item(s) on the sales floor. Remove empty impulse strip(s) immediately until you're able to replenish them, in fact, as the impulse strip(s) starts to thin out, consolidate them onto other strips or place them on the counter.
A trained employee is an educated employee. Not all of your staff has to know anything about the martial arts, but they need to know about everything within your store. Not every customer that enters your door is a martial artist because many times, items are purchased for gifts to someone they know that is a martial artist. Those same types of customers that might only have a minimum idea of what they want, and that'll be time to suggest items to them for their consideration. They might only be able to describe what it is that they have seen on TV or a magazine advertisement. Give your staff thorough training when they're hired and when new item(s) arrive.
Of course, customer service is vital. So much so, that it deserves its own section.
This simple idea is sorely missing across the U.S.A. This concept is missing from the small box all the way to the big box. Rudeness is worn like a badge of honor, all the way from the boss to the lowest level of employee. The customer doesn't need the business, but every business needs customers. When a business treats a customer ungratefully, it is appalling.
Answer the Phone
This means answer the phone in three rings. Don't let the phone customer wait on hold long, and don't let the customer that's shopping wait on you while you're on the phone; it's a delicate balance. Be proactive when working the phone because the goal of the phone call is to get the customer from their home to your store, and this starts with great customer service.
Don't Make Promises You Can't/Won't Keep
Don't lie to any customer; there's no reason to. Credibility is paramount in customer service; therefore, it shouldn't be taken lightly at anytime. If there's a problem that's beyond your control, like with a shipper, simply explain that to your customer, and then reassure that customer that their desired item(s) will be available to them and on what date/time. Follow up by calling them when the item(s) arrive.
Listen to Your Customers
Don't pretend that you're listening, either; that'll backfire quickly. Keep sincere eye contact with the customer. Listen, and then summarize what you've been told so that the customer knows that you're listening, and then resolve their need. I'm not saying to give the customer whatever they want because the customer isn't always right; this too is a difficult thing to balance.
Deal with Complaints in the Speediest Manner
Don't fall into one of the biggest traps laid out by the shrewdest of customers; arguing. Arguing to the point where the artery in the side of your neck is bulging isn't helpful and/or healthy for all concerned. Once you understand the customers' complaint, solve it as quickly as possible. It shouldn't take more than a few days at the most to resolve the complaint(s) depending on the severity of the situation.
Be Helpful Even if There's No Profit
Once, I replaced the connecting cords of a nunchaku. The customer asked me what he owed, and I informed him that he didn't owe me anything. He was pleasantly surprised and thankful all at the same time. Did the cord cost me? Sure it did, but with that simple gesture, I earned him as a loyal customer and then some; he recommended me to his fellow martial artists, which led to more business.
Train Staff to Be Nice Across the Board
Being nice doesn't cost anything and it's required of your staff if they want to still be employed. It's required of you if you still want to have a viable business. Your customers' leading complaint will be your staff not being nice and you'll have to deal with that complaint immediately once all of the facts are available. Blatant rudeness might require immediate firing of said employee(s). Constantly observe your employee's interactions with customers and the like, and then reward them, and that might just be you acknowledging their great customer service. However, you might observe an employee not being nice with a customer, and that might require counseling/retraining or showing them the door
Take the Extra Step
It drives me absolutely crazy when I go into a store and I ask for some assistance to find something only to be told, "it's over there somewhere" while pointing here and there. Get off the chair, and actively show the customer exactly where the item can be found. Then offer any help needed, and then thank the customer. "That isn't my department" is bad customer service. So is, "Well, do you see that thing over there by the stuffed animal display - well, that's not it - but turn right there and go about half way down, and then look down around your knees, well, that's where they are."
Give Something Away
Give coupons, give advice on how to put something together, open the door for the customer, help carry their purchases to their car for them, greet them and thank them genuinely, and/or just give them something. It doesn't have to be a large something, but at least show your appreciation for them shopping at your store. I know of an auto parts store that gives away a free tube of hand cleaner with every purchase.
In closing, whether you are thinking about opening a martial arts retail store or not or you've already started one; I hope that I've been of some small help in pointing out some of the things that are needlessly overlooked. After all, it's the little things that can make or break any business.
**Proof is on the floor!!!