Going Retail: Creating a Real Store


This story originally appeared in the Dealernews December 2009 issue.

Dictionary.com gives the following definition for the word retail: “The sale of goods to ultimate consumers, usually in small quantities.”

But of course we all know what retail stores are — they’re the ones in the mall, the Banana Republics, the Nordstroms, the Apple stores. They’re all retailers, right? What about your store? When was the last time you considered your motorcycle shop a retail store? You sell goods to consumers, often in small quantities. That pretty much qualifies you.

Since I started at Dealernews, I’ve had the “retail” conversation with countless people — dealer principals, OEM employees, sales reps, folks from the big distributors — and we almost always come to the conclusion that too many powersports dealers and dealer employees see themselves as running bike shops and not retail stores. As such, concepts inherent to retail like merchandising and marketing are placed on the back burner.

This is not necessarily a good thing. You’re competing for customer dollars against the Banana Republics and Best Buys of the world, large retailers that spend millions of dollars each year on in-store merchandizing and marketing programs built around seasonal and promotional changes. Often these promotions and efforts are backed by studies of consumer behavior and specifically target buying habits.

As the products change in these large stores, so does the retail landscape. How often do your apparel displays change? Is your P&A departmentmodular so that you can change things up a bit to keep it fresh? A bigger question is, do you know what your competition is doing to attract customers? And I’m not talking about the dealership down the street; I’m talking about what the local electronics store and fashion retailer are doing.

One of those conversations I had about the r-word was with Mercedes Ross, who used to write a column on merchandising for the dearly departed Big Twin Dealer. Ross is the owner of Merchandising Werks!, a company that does just what it’s name implies. If I remember correctly, she suggested that dealers and dealer management ignore the other dealers in town and go shop the local malls and check out how they’re presenting their current products.

Ross even offered this great definition and suggested all dealers and their staff remember it and apply it to all products: Merchandising is the strategic placement of product so the consumer with little or no effort can become attracted to and purchase that product. She stressed that the key words are with little or no effort.

It’s the big stores, especially the chains that have merchandising down to a science. Have a look for yourself.

The holidays are the perfect time of year to do this. With retailers in the fight of their lives to get enough consumer dollars to end the gift-buying season in the black, they’re pulling out all the stops. Beyond the seasonal sales, this is the time of the year when many products are given center stage.

Take photos of what they’re doing. Steal ideas. In addition to seeing how they’re merchandising their products, try to figure out why they’re doing it that way. If it’s being done in a big chain store, it’s likely being done for a reason.

I was recently in a dealership near my house that had come a long, long way since being taken over by a new owner a couple of years ago. Before this, I stopped by this store only as a last resort. Surly employees. Dusty shelves. Lack of product. The whole deal. Not anymore. The parts and apparel areas looked as if they came right out of, say, a real retail store. Women’s casual apparel was prominently displayed. Riding gear was arranged attractively and easy to access. Even the tire section was laid out in a user-friendly display. It’s just a beautiful environment and not a bit sterile or soulless.

So if you’re not already doing so, maybe it’s time to turn your thinking around. Yes, the small, greasy bike shops of yore had character and grit and were a place to hang out. But is that old image attractive to today’s consumer who’s used to a more professional retail environment? Probably not.

Dennis Johnson

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