Turning Off the Core Customer


Yesterday, my wife visited a multi-product line specialty store for some greeting cards. May is one of those months for us – lots of birthdays and, of course, Mother’s day. She wanted some special cards with reflective, inspirational messaging.

When she got to the store she found many card pockets empty and a very poor selection. This is a specialty retailer and you’d think they would carry a broad selection and be in stock — after all that’s why you drive to the specialty retailer when gasoline is almost $3 a gallon, right?

When she paid for the two cards she finally did find (out of the ten she went there to purchase) the clerk asked her if she found everything she needed. When my wife explained that she found empty card pockets and she was disappointed, the clerk responded, “You should go to Hallmark, they have wonderful cards.”

Specialty retailers have a role to fill in the marketplace. The good ones bring expertise, shopping experience and a good inventory mix to customers with needs in their area of strength. Look at grocer Trader Joes as it only has 2,500 items but competes every day with superstores because Trader Joes has a tremendous atmosphere, wonderful selection, good pricing and industry-leading customer service.

No business can afford to turn away core customers. Specialty retail stores in particular cannot afford to lose the very people they claim they want to serve. If they are to survive in this highly competitive retail environment they must give the customer something special in experience, pricing, service, convenience or products (either inventory breadth or items not found at the super stores).

Therefore, if you are a specialty retailer make sure you focus on one of the above five things. Find out from your best customers which one they expect from you, develop a strategy to deliver it and “just do it”. If it is price, then be the price leader, if it’s service, be the best customer service organization around, if it’s convenience develop a store layout and design and location that makes it easy. If it’s experience create a unique, fun and stimulating environment your core customers will enjoy. If it’s product be in stock and find unusual items.

Second, find a number two focus. According to Ryan Matthews in his book The Myth of Excellence you can be world class on one initiative and also develop a second focus, not world class but clearly above average. Take these two principles make them special and watch your core customers return and tell others about you. Also watch your sales report grow.

Unfortunately my wife will go to Hallmark for the balance of her purchase and future purchases. She won’t trust this specialty retailer again. But it’s not too late for you to make the changes necessary to attract and keep your core customer.


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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