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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

We have customers that ask us to stock products. So we do, then they don't want them. Or we were asked to start a skate group, and I started one. Every year, I try to revive it and everyone flakes. How do I find out what my customers really want? We are listening, but they're changing the game.

We have an inline business and we have to cater to so many categories -- beginners, children, aggressive skaters, hockey, fitness. How do we target in?

Answer from our Guest Expert Kent Capener of Capener Consulting

Michelle:

It seems you're searching for the answer to an age-old question: How do we please all the people, all the time? Or, are we ordering a full course meal or a la carte? Do you have dinners for two? For four? Do we get egg rolls with the special?

Market Demographic Menu

Platitudes aside, the first thing to do is think of your diverse markets in their natural groupings. You mention several categories, one by age, and the rest by their skill level or activity. So, research the natural grouping of products for each category. For example, how many "packages" could be tailored for children? If by price, is a budget package, a moderate package, or a "surf & turf" package enough? Get to know what each category buys and trends that'll affect their purchases. Try not to think of your customers as one big group; rather, smaller, more specific groups with unique needs and desires.

This leads you to market demographics -- a must-have for any thriving biz. Do you know your market demographics? What about psychographics and buying habits? Here are some questions to consider that'll help you "target in" your customers:

  • How many people who start out with beginner skates ultimately buy the top-of-the-line skates?
  • How many customers start with a package deal and buy upscale replacements?
  • Is the same true about accessories, pads, and helmets?

Once you get a feel for buying habits, industry trends, and income levels of your various target markets, you'll be better able to anticipate and react to their demands for certain products and activities. If you stock your store to "cater" to the primary natural groupings, you'll have covered most of the bases.

Blue Plate Special Vs. Pheasant Under Glass

Face it, Michelle, we all make menu choices for different reasons at different times. If junior has been saving a year for a pair of Batman SuperWizard inline skates, he won't want the blue plate special. But when Billy's dad brings him in to get started, the blue plate special might be the place dad starts. And then, there's always the older brother who shows up because he's worn out the third set of wheels in the last month. Do you sell him another set that'll wear out that quick, or upgrade him to the next level that'll last for months?

For the products that appeal to only certain people who've attained a certain level of expertise or who participate in certain inline activities, your market should help you determine how much of these products to carry. For example, if hockey players need replacement wheels twice as fast as normal aggressive skaters, is that an opportunity for you? Maybe your package to hockey players would be a set of skates and 50% off on replacement wheels? And if a brand of skate isn't selling well -- take it off the shelf.

Keep Customers Out of Your Biz Kitchen

Don't let your customers sway your stocking habits. Instead, strike a balance between letting your customer's whims and idiosyncrasies determine your inventory and offering them your own special products menu. Obviously, bringing in an item that someone has asked for and putting it on the shelf to gather dust does neither you or your customer any good.

Inventory control and stocking what sells is an on-going process in any retail establishment. If you've done a good job of determining what you should have in stock, the fewer "white elephants" you're left with for the blue plate specials.

Sweeten the Pot Around the Store

People commit to things and then flake out because they either can't do what they said they could do, or they don't get enough out of it to maintain their interest. I'm reminded of the concept of teaching to the lowest common denominator. For instance, if my personality would make me an aggressive skater, but my skill level is a beginner, my interest in skating with other beginners would only last until I got my "skates under me". So, make sure you keep interest and enthusiasm going with various sales, promotions, and special events.

The Fine Art of Catering

Michelle, there's gold in those special orders! Some on the surface and some unseen.Turn customer requests into a positive for them and your bottom line.

You could accommodate those seeking specific products you don't have by offering to order it for them, with their deposit, of course. They may come in and ask you to stock something and not come back because the competition did or because they catered more to their needs.

I want to emphasize when people look for an item -- unless the first place that doesn't have it offers to get it -- they will order it from the second place that doesn't have it. If an item is ordered often enough, then stock it. Don't hesitate about offering good pricing on special orders too, because the unseen gold is what that customer will say about your store. Your customer remains your customer because you go to the trouble to cater to their needs. And that, after all, is what makes a success of any business -- meeting the customer's needs.

Hope this Helps!

Kent Capener

Capener Consulting

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