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Profiting From Retail As "Theater"

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Profiting From Retail As (GIFTBEAT)

If all the world's a stage, retail has the role of leading lady! According to Chris Hite, principal of Texas-based HITE advertising and brand consulting, a store's promotional calendar is its script, while visual merchandising sets the stage, the store owner and associates serve as cast members and customers make up the audience. With that in mind, read on to learn how to earn a round of applause for your store's dramatic efforts.

Q. Why should retailers understand the term "theater of retail"?

A. When I worked in advertising and customer loyalty at Neiman Marcus, Stanley Marcus always said that retail was theater. The longer I've been [in the industry], the more I understand why Mr. Marcus believed that way. Customers want to be entertained. Their buying experience is very emotional and sensory. Think about the history of the general store—it was an experience to have goods that were already made and flour that was already processed!

The theater of retail is what sets retailers apart from their competition. It's not just about product, but about the entire customer experience. Actors have fun acting, and you should have fun selling in your store. Get excited—it's like throwing a party and casting a play every single day in your store!

Q. You say that the "theater of retail" should include a script, stage, cast and audience. How can our readers "write" a great script?

A. Your script is your store's sales promotional calendar. Most mom-and-pops are busy on the floor selling, and become reactionary rather than proactive in the way they market their stores. It's about planning. [Marketing] is difficult to do on a consistent basis. Develop a six- or 12-week plan with an Excel spreadsheet or on paper. Include events, promotions, display schedules, e-mail blasts, direct mail and advertising. This gives you a format to share with your sales associates, instead of them having to pick information out of your brain.

Once you've thought through the plan, adjust it as needed. Personalized touches are part of the script and should include simple one liners, like calling 10 customers who've recently purchased from you, signing postcards or letters by hand, and sending birthday cards to customers, staff and vendors. You have to have good relations between you and your vendors, especially in today's climate.

Q. How can retailers design an impressive stage for their stores?

A. The stage is how you visually merchandise your store. Some [retailers] get the stage set, are proud of it and let it sit that way for some time. [But] the action of the stage is to move merchandise around often…and create new ways to lead customers through your store. The frequency needs to be adjusted according to store traffic patterns and how frequently customers shop. Some merchandise categories need to be moved weekly. Most customer traffic patterns move to the right in your store. Make sure that that real estate changes most frequently. Also, change window displays more frequently, especially if they're in a heavy traffic area. If your merchandise is not working in one area, move it so you, your customer and your staff keep a fresh perspective on your stage.

Tell color stories and product stories. Have space for focus categories and trend statements. Here, go back to your sales promotional calendar. One of my clients created an eco-friendly month that was [promoted] in the window and in an e-mail blast.

Store signage is also important. It educates customers about what's happening in your store while they're browsing. A lot of customers have not been in your store before and may not want to engage with a sales associate. Tell them what an item is, how to use it and the name of the vendor. You can't assume customers are as familiar with product brands as you are. Tell customers what makes an item eco-friendly. Another example is to incorporate a cocktail recipe into your display of barware. If you are savvy with desktop publishing, you can customize signage in an efficient manner.

Remember housekeeping. There's no excuse not to have a clean store. Cleaning the store every day is absolutely imperative. Fingerprints on a glass door should probably be cleaned twice a day. You may not sweep the floor every day, but make sure the store is neat and orderly. Think of your store as your home. You wouldn't throw a dinner party without making sure things are in order.

Q. What tips do you have for a store's "casting" call?

A. The cast is you and your associates. In his book Hug Your People, Jack Mitchell says to "hire great people, not just ones who are competent. Look for those with genuine passion." [If you don't], it would be like going to a gardening store, asking for a recommendation about a plant and having a sales associate say, "Oh, I don't ever plant flowers" or "I kill everything I own!"

Remember employees' wardrobes. Make sure your associates dress appropriately for your environment. If you're in a trendy home furnishings boutique, they need to look the part. Have some sort of dress code that's part of hiring. Or coach employees on how they can improve their wardrobes to improve their sales.

Q. What role does the audience play in a retail environment?

A. Your customers are your audience. People buy from people they like. A store is not just about location, location, location. I believe the three most important factors are location, product and people. I challenge retailers to take themselves out of the store and think like a customer. Think about how well you know your customers. Do you know what they're passionate about, what they buy, where they vacationed and their dogs' names? You want to engage customers beyond what they're in your store for. Listen, look and ask questions! If they're in tennis clothes, ask, "How often do you play tennis?" When you show genuine interest in customers' lives, not just how much they buy, you will reap the rewards. Be sure to capture [customer] data, whether it's on an index card or in a database.

Q. Please discuss marketing collateral including e-mail blasts and blogs.

A. Retailers can use or similar email management software as a cost-effective way that makes it easy to send weekly email messages, [called] blasts. Messages don't have to just be about "Here's this product, and here's what it is." Think outside the box. It's about presenting ideas in a more creative manner. That's what customers expect when they go into your store.

Talk about how to use products in a different way, or how to throw a good dinner party using your tabletop items. I have a home decor client with a fun blog, who talks about designs that inspire her customers. She also gives tips for designing their homes that relate back to what she's doing in her store.

Be genuine with the content in your marketing collateral. People will see through the fluff right now. Create cohesiveness of content [by referring to] your sales promotional calendar. National retailers do a great job of delivering consistent content. You can learn from their email blasts. I get 10 different retailers' blasts on a daily basis. Remember, we all learn [about marketing] every day. It's a lifetime learning process.

Note: Hite can be reached at

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