When Good is Just Not Enough, Seek Retail Greatness

America is built on small businesses, but competition from the masses is growing every day. For many independent retailers across America, failure is not an option. Itโ€™s a personal and profound mission to make a difference in the health of our communities. With increased competition comes greater demands on store management, and being good at something is no longer enough. You must be great.

When speaking to independent retailers nationwide, I often ask, โ€œWhat differentiates you from your competitors?โ€ The first response is always the same: โ€œWe have an educated staff that consults with consumers on their health.โ€

I always follow up with one more question, โ€œIf Iโ€™m driving down the street and I see your store, having never been inside before, will I know that?โ€

You can guess the answer. Most often, the room goes silent as retailers nervously look at each other and realize that theyโ€™ve failed to market their one biggest differentiator to the world. If you had the same reaction, itโ€™s okay. Youโ€™re not alone.

When we get busy, even the things we do well fall flat because not enough work is done to share these offerings with our customers. Look at what differentiates you and make sure you are sharing it with the world in a big way. Amplify it in every possible way.

For example, if you do or offer something unique, it should be visible from the street, in store, your social media, newsletters, etc.

A phenomenal book on business strategy is Good to Great by Jim Collins. This book is a study on a series of companies that, compared to their peers, had an equal chance of success, beat the game and achieved greatness. If you havenโ€™t read it, I highly recommend it. In fact, for many years, every executive where I work at Enzymedica received a copy on their first day on the job.

A core idea in Good to Great is the โ€œhedgehog concept.โ€

The hedgehog concept is based on an ancient Greek story: โ€œThe fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.โ€ When it comes to your store, ask yourself, โ€œAre you a hedgehog or a fox?โ€

In Good to Great, almost all great companies had a well-defined hedgehog concept. With just a little bit of work, you can, too.

To define your hedgehog, you need to ask yourself three questions:

1. What are you deeply passionate about?
2. What can you be the best in your community at?
3. What drives your economic engine?

Considering these questions, be cautious of your ego, bravado, aspirations and plans. Itโ€™s not about that. This is genuinely about gaining an understanding of your business. Sometimes that also means having authentic conversations with your customers to understand how they perceive your business.

You are very good at and passionate about many things, which may be seductive to invest more in. But these things only sometimes drive the financial success of your business.

It is the intersection of these three questions that will help you achieve success. Consider what you can do, and not just be good at but great at, that differentiates you.

Letโ€™s use this idea of leveraging the expertise of your staff to coach your customers.

Iโ€™ve met very few retailers who are not passionate about education and making a difference, so we can take passion for granted in this scenario.

Because of the years of investments youโ€™ve already made in staff education and the failure of most retailers to build structured programs around it, it may very well be a whitespace opportunity for you. In other words, a goal of being the best at educating consumers about natural health and wellness in your community is certainly within reach.

Finally, we know that education drives conversion to purchase and customer loyalty, thus fueling the economics of your store.

Now, take this concept and execute it.

Build plans on developing programs and raising customer visibility in your store.

My world is most often natural digestive health. If I owned a store, Iโ€™d build a program like this:

First, Iโ€™d create bold signage for down at the street and in my primary window at the front of the store with something like โ€œexpert staff available to help you find a natural occasional heartburn solution.โ€

Iโ€™d choose heartburn because it is a massive consumer need. The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) establishes occasional heartburn differently from frequent heartburn for regulatory consideration, and it is fair game to talk about with some reasonable guardrails to keep my staff from diagnosing, treating or curing a disease. After all, occasional heartburn is most often caused by diet and lifestyle.

It is also the second largest mass litigation in the USA (proton pump inhibitors), with more than 70 percent of consumers seeking a natural solution, so Iโ€™d have many interested in the program.

Iโ€™d also build social media posts, print ads, and other marketing material to share this offering with my community. In-store, Iโ€™d have a series of small signs by not only my occasional heartburn supplements but also by the organic salsa, jalapeรฑo peppers, coffee and wine. If I was really ambitious, maybe even the bathroom too! Then, in-store, Iโ€™d have a dedicated coaching spot. It could be a card table and two chairs. Iโ€™d put a big sign, โ€œNatural Health Expert Coaching,โ€ over this area that can be seen from every corner of the store. Have fun with this. Decorate it. Embrace the personality of your team and the culture of your store.

Think about the Apple Storeโ€™s โ€œGenius Barโ€ or Best Buyโ€™s โ€œGeek Squad.โ€ Every customer in those stores knows that expert advice is just a few steps away. It also works equally well in a smaller and larger format retail environments. So, your team may be gurus, ninjas, wizards, geeks, coaches or mentors. Call them what you fancy; ensure youโ€™re being honest with your customers and not insinuating credentials your team may not have.

Iโ€™d have a signup form at the checkout register. On this form, Iโ€™d have a series of 10-minute time slots, and Iโ€™d train my staff to ask every customer as they pay if theyโ€™d like to schedule a consultation later that week.

Why not do the consult on the spot? Every retailer on the planet cares about foot traffic and basket size. If I can get the customer to come back a second time later in the week, I can boost my foot traffic considerably. When you consider that many of your customers only come in once a month, getting them back again is a huge win.

Also, with an increased frequency of visits, the customer becomes acclimated to coming to the store on a more regular basis and is more likely to do so on their own in the future. Youโ€™re building rapport and comfort with your customers.

During the coaching session, Iโ€™d train a staff member to ask specific questions about consumer diet and lifestyle (remember, weโ€™re not trying to cure disease here) to help customers find a protocol that helps them. Part of this training would include giving a script to ensure regulatory compliance.

In the case of occasional heartburn, this might include something like DGL gummies, an alginate-based heartburn liquid or chewable, a digestive enzyme and zinc carnosine. It would also include a third-party handout with diet and lifestyle tips.

At the end of the experience, that staff member would tell the customer, โ€œI want to make sure you are progressing and doing well. Can we schedule a follow-up in two weeks to talk again?โ€

I learned this trick from my chiropractor. During my regular visits, as I listened to them consult with other patients, an expectation is set with every individual regarding when they are expected to return. Maybe youโ€™ve experienced this, too. It works just as well in an independent retail store.

Through this initial experience, I built a basket, took a customer who was coming once a month and got them to go in three times, made an absolute difference in their life, and created a loyalist who will share with their friends and family how great my store is.

The referral card I give them at the end of their session will encourage them to talk about the experience with an online Google review of my store, giving them a discount on their next purchase when they show me their review. The message here is this: Take your hedgehog concept and build programs around it. Combine what you are passionate about and what you are the best at and find a way to derive revenue from it.

Then, once you know what works, scale it. When youโ€™ve got heartburn down, add a program for food intolerances. Lactase, for example, is one of the fastest-growing ingredients in our industry right now due to increasing consumer awareness.

When January approaches, consider offering a โ€œNew Year, New Youโ€ program where you start customers on a protocol with an enzyme, probiotic, fish oil, and multivitamin. Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother capsules or Berberine Phytosome could be an upsell.

If youโ€™re really successful in this, offer group classes and experiences. Encourage supplement brands to โ€œsponsorโ€ your protocols with coupons and other incentives. If youโ€™re consistently getting a lot of consumers in these programs, theyโ€™ll beg to be part of it.

There is one final part of this, which is often the hardest. There are plenty of things we are good at that may not bring us revenue or even passion. Those things need to be limited to give you and your staff time to really focus on what you can do best.

Be a hedgehog, not a fox.VR

Ryan Sensenbrenner leads marketing at Enzymedica, Inc. His expertise spans a range of marketing fields, from retail to ecommerce, and he maintains a special emphasis in branding and customer centricity. He has worked with retailers across the country to help them better market the strengths of their businesses, driving increased revenue and brand recognition within their communities. In addition to his role at Enzymedica, Sensenbrenner serves on SENPAโ€™s Board of Directors, and is currently completing the Chief Marketing Officer certification program at Northwestern Universityโ€™s Kellogg School of Business.

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