Reawaken Retail

Retail is dead.


It is time to breathe life back into commerce.  


Two separate situations. Similar experiences.  


I was the camp host at a state park this past March, and although it was rainy season, I didn’t pack rain gear. Not my smartest move, but in my defense, I was rushed to pack and my motto is: if I don’t have what I need, I can buy it when I get there.  


Of course, we were driving in a rainstorm the day Dan and I left for the campground, so the need for rain gear was even more urgent. As we drove along, we decided to stop at Great Outdoor Provisions in Greenville, North Carolina. Great Outdoor Provisions (GOP) is not an easy store to find, but it is MASSIVE on the inside. GOP does a great job with layout and merchandising in their stores so I quickly located the raincoats for women, and Dan had the same experience. Due to their visual merchandising, I found a few other things I didn’t know I needed…


I am unsure how many people were working that day, but one person was behind the cash wrap being very coquettish with a customer. The feeling must have been mutual because when Dan and I approached to pay, they didn’t take a breath. The connection was evident. When we were finally noticed, the room went cold, habit took over the staff member, and we were checked out. 


$650 later, we were not thanked or handed our bags. We departed the experience feeling flat. 


Interesting and consistent.  


Following that experience, I was in Lexington, KY, visiting my sister Em, and her son’s birthday was approaching. Em said he needed athletic shorts, so I knew exactly the brand I wanted to introduce him to. When I looked up who carried the brand in the area, it was J & H Outfitters, a GOA member I had been to on previous visits.  


J & H Outfitters is another great store with a lot of room, great size runs, and a TON of inventory, giving market vibes. Because I knew what I wanted when asked if I needed help, I kindly said no. I grabbed all the different styles and sizes I wanted and went to the cash wrap. I was asked if I was in their “.... program”  I didn’t understand through the mumbling. I responded that I was not in the program and was visiting from out of town.  


The staff member checked me out without a word or eye contact. 


$450 later I had a birthday gift for my nephew and a void in my being.


Fast forward to May 6th, the first Monday in May, which happens to be one of the largest fundraisers, fashion, art, and music events of the year; The Met Gala. The theme this year was “Sleeping Beauties: Reawaken Fashion.” The ticket to attend is $75,000. Last year, the event raised 22 million dollars, pushing the limits in fashion, creativity, and fundraising. 


Spending money is not dead.


What I have always been fascinated by is the bar set for this event is beyond human capacity to understand. You can watch the documentary, “First Monday in May,” to see it for yourself.  


Specialty retail is SPECIAL — I get it. And I shop it. I also love supporting the hard work that goes into being a retailer. But specialty retail is dead. The product is alive, even the floor layouts provide life and ignite curiosity. But our ability to connect with customers is dead. When left to chance, a warm body would rather take selfies behind the cash wrap than connect with the person who made an effort to come into your store. Although your staff, when excited, certainly can drum up the skills to flirt.


While I know this is not EVERY store, can we admit that this is an epidemic that is killing the soul of commerce? It is not that people are not coming into your store or that a product isn’t good. These are excuses that feed the epidemic rather than get to the root cause.


And while I understand the Met Gala is a “wonder” event there are plenty of examples of good commerce.


Publix. When you are checking out at Publix or in the produce section you are always engaged, whether it is a question about what you are doing for the weekend, or if you need help finding something—a connection is made. 


Chick-fil-A has taught their staff to connect with everyone who is ordering. Coming back from my trip to Lexington, I stopped in and as I was walking back to my car I noticed a pep in my step because I felt special for stopping in. 


If we want to breathe life back into retail, we have to understand our why. Part of our reason is to teach life skills to the staff we hire. What a privilege it would be for your staff to say that my first job at GOP or J&H taught me more than I ever learned in college. I learned true life skills from working at _________________ (fill in your company's name). Yeah but, that is not my job. “Yeah but…” is another lead into an excuse.  


We must invest in our staff to improve their customer relationship skills. I had a run retailer ask “How do we train our staff when they don’t even have basic human skills?” I feel like I am their parent, they mentioned. This sentiment has truth to it. Retail is an entry-level position, we do hire children. It isn’t right or wrong, good or bad — it is the reality. And it makes sense that we hear these stories because children aren’t taught how to interact as adults in a highly technical environment. The bridge from standardized training to true human connection is not as easy as looking both ways before you cross.  


I am not saying this is the ONLY thing wrong in specialty retail. Yes, traffic count is down, how we buy is messed up, the list goes on and on… and yet, at the core, our bar needs to rise. What is the Michelin Star for retail?


Buying is emotional first and emotions are created on a human-to-human level. We must rise to the next level of retail. If you are stuck, unsure of how to get there, or need to breathe new life into your own why—we have a solution.


Over the years, The Mann Group has created many Mastermind groups from P2 in the bike industry, to C2 for the run industry, to Engage in the outdoor industry, and more in the fly-fishing and furniture industries.  We have seen the impact when like minds gather, as well as the influence it has on their industries. We believe bringing all specialty retailers together CAN and WILL disrupt specialty retail positively.  


We want to create a new bar for how we look at specialty retail. If you are interested in challenging yourself, your habits, your business, and an industry, then you will want to consider this new way of connecting. This is a cross-pollinated mastermind that will be holding retailers in ALL industries to new standards. And brands this is for you too. If you are up for the challenge email me at [email protected]. Let’s reawaken retail together and create life back into the one experience that started our country… commerce.  


From the wise words of Hamilton, “If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?”


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