Ragbrai has a huge expo before the week long ride happens (ragbrai.com). We usually go to this event and sell our skirts; it’s a long drive out there but worth it to raise several thousand in revenue. Each night they allow vendors to follow the riders and set up shop, but it is very expensive as each town charges what they want for the right to do sales. We opt out of that and just sell the first day!
Only eight to ten bike shops are “authorized/approved” to be on the route, and once you get that right you never give it up. 10,000 week-long riders, 5,000 day or two day riders and another 15,000 in support/family. We had a small bike shop come to us last year and ask to sell our skirts at each of the stops along the way, and of course we said ”yes!” They sold about $2,000 in skirts.
This year we did a little test. Our SAG driver was one of my managers, who went and helped sell our skirts in their booth for a couple of hours each night. We made two changes to their set-up from the previous year: added a mirror so women could see themselves in the skirt and put the skirts flat on a round pink table (right out of the MANN book of retail).
Before I tell you how much they sold this year in the seven days compared to last year, I want to set the scene. Scorching hot days with ten bike shops crammed next to each other in quaint little Iowa towns. This particular company had four 10×10 tents, none of which matched, sitting side by side. With cellular being such a problem, they had a very old school method of ringing people up. (It’s so old school it would take me another 500 words just to describe it, so I will leave it for another day.) The wonderful store owner is a gal who’s just past middle age; her arthritis in her hands is so bad she doesn’t have the ability to snap the skirts onto the customers. Her only other help is her rather gruff and large husband, son and grandson. As you can imagine, in perfect bike shop fashion, the products sit on tables at the edge of the booth for customers to walk up to and purchase. The employees sit on stools or chairs waiting until someone actually decides to buy something and then, and only then, do they get up and begin the old school process of checking out. I can’t believe they sold a thing! Our skirts were bright and colorful and they had a sign on an a frame board that showed the covered uncovered butt in the skirt. It said, “Cover your sweet spot with a Sweet Spot® Skirt!” Women would walk by and say things like, “Hey, there are those skirts.” The employees continued to sit on their stools.
When my manager showed up each evening, she began to “actively” sell. She would do our regular song and dance: “Have you seen our skirts before?” A question that quickly engages the customer and makes them give you an answer. “They fit a size 2 through 14,” she’d say while pulling the snaps apart and showing the reversibility. We’d then step towards the customer in an effort to begin the process of putting them in the skirt (another page from the Mann book “if you get the customer engaged and in the product and it fits, they will probably buy it”). In a non-verbal yes, the customer usually raises their hands and makes room for you to put the skirt on them. At this point we say, “It fits on the hips and is long enough to cover, but short enough to stay out of the way.” At this point, we send the customer to the mirror for a look. Basically, three statements, a quick wrap to get the skirt on and BOOM it is sold.
One of the nights, after a short day of riding (50 miles), I showed up with my manager to help sell. In 30 minutes we sold 15 skirts. The week’s grand total was about $8,000 in skirts for this small bike store traveling show. That’s what, a 400% increase?
Bike and running shops could create more distribution channels by participating in events. They could also bring in products that cater to women, which is something Dan told me years ago: “Men will walk to the sale rack, grab what they need, never try it on and walk to the register to buy it. Women want and expect to look, try it on and purchase more than one item to create an outfit. These women also hold the checkbook and have the discretionary cash to spend.” Events can bring in some much-needed revenue if you do it correctly. We have seen as much as $18,000 in a weekend by selling one or two women-specific products. The key to success is active selling. Can you imagine a bike or running shop taking a 10×10 tent to a local event and creating $5,000 in revenue in one day?
This whole story begs me to commend you on a job well done. I have been taking your classes for years and gleaned as much as I could in the short time. Because of you, Sweet Spot Skirts has a very interactive selling technique and a store/event booth that reeks of Mann Group excellence. If we could only get this information out to all the bike/running shops, they too could have an increase of sales in the 400% range. Most of my managers have been to your Mann U in Vegas and we utilize your knowledge and influence though out the year.
As a small shop with about seven people to keep trained, I can relate to all the other small businesses. It is super difficult with turnover and scheduling to provide updated selling knowledge and skills to each of our salespeople. I have gathered all of your info, added some of our own and luckily have three key managers that can teach our selling strategies. I bet if you sat through a training, you would see it is 75% Mann U from five years of teachings.
I believe this is the year of the takeover. With the big box chains getting out of the biking business, you have a window of opportunity to lock in new customers. REI is moving toward mountain biking, Sports Authority has closed 460 stores and we lost 20 million square feet of our retail landscape. Sports Chalet closed 47 stores. Eastern Mountain Sports shut down 16 stores and filed bankruptcy in April. Finish Line shut down 160 stores, crushing the mall scene. Even though these are not all in the biking industry they are in our outdoor industry. Scheels All Sports has a small bike presence. Dick’s, Target and Walmart all have products that are entry-level and mass-produced for the Huffy buyer. You look at Sports Authority, they carried North Face, Columbia, Under Armour and Nike—pretty much the same stuff you find everywhere. They didn’t connect to the local market or to local producers. They lost sight of their customer and what that customer wanted. Customer service went away and look what they were left with: bankruptcy. The good news is that if small bike/running/outdoor shops do a few things differently, they could take over the lost share of the market.
The modern customer’s demands and expectations are at an all-time high. For retailers to remain relevant and succeed in this new year, it is vital to provide amazing customer service experiences. Specialty retailers who can name their top 200 customers will succeed. We are changing the way we do business for 2017.
Our industry landscape has drastically changed in the last 6 months and the small brands and small businesses can capitalize on it, but they must wake up. Keep preaching! It has worked for us.