An Open Letter (on Apparel) to Specialty Running Store Owners…
Dear Owners of American Run Shops,
Many of you have asked me how to sell more apparel. Rather than get back to each of you individually, I’m blasting off this form letter with my thoughts on an ever-present topic of frustration in specialty run.
Forgive my generalizations and take my comments with a grain of salt. Fact is, nothing anyone tells you about selling apparel is sure-fire. Not even if it comes from folks who sell loads on the regular. Face it, you’re actually going to need to do most of this work on your own. In a way that fits best into your world.
[Side note: if you’re the sort of person who obsesses on internet competition, you need to get over it. E-commerce is a reality that’s not going away. If you weren’t whining so much, you might realize there is still a contingent of customers who will always be loyal. Always! And still others who’ll check you out hoping for a great customer experience. Stick to sweating the things you can control. Wipe away your tears and get back in the damn game.]
Below are a few ways to reframe apparel as a specialty run category. Take what you can, chuck what you want. It’s all good. And in case you’re wondering, the list is in no particular order. Mostly just how it came to mind this morning while drinking a kick-ass americano.
- Stop Making Excuses: Selling apparel is no different than selling anything else. If you sell the hell out of footwear but can’t move sportswear at a similar rate, the problem isn’t the category. More than likely the issue is a lack of interest. You probably love shoes, but your relationship with apparel is less enthusiastic. No bueno.
- Celebrate the Category: You need to successfully un-pigeonhole your store as a shoe store. Sure, it’s your anchor. Always will be. But anyone with a brain knows you carry shoes. Why make a big deal out of it? Since the industry has evolved to create this automatic association with feet, it’s up to you to rebrand the channel as an apparel force. If all run stores started talking about apparel as much as shoes, everyone’s sales would benefit.
- Know the Story, Know the Need: You need to get to know customers before making assumptions about selling products. If a story deems shoes necessary, you sell shoes, right? Same for accessories and apparel, people. Odds are the current story you tell is weighed-down by the shoe-fitting process. The perfect solution-providing experience balances all the customer’s needs. Skimp in one category and you miss a sale. Worse than that, the customer will fill that bucket elsewhere.
- Assume the End Result: You’ll benefit from believing that customers are going home with apparel. This belief will influence your overall presence and makes your voice, verbiage, body language, and vibe far more attractive than a question like, “Are you interested in some apparel today?” Shoot, that sounds like an up-sell. You wouldn’t ask this question to a shoe customer, would you?
- Highlight Your Fitting Rooms: Retail design tucks fitting rooms into a corner and assumes customers will find them. Which is part of why apparel gets dusted more than rung. You need to over-communicate where fitting rooms are. Use in-store signage, bright colors, photos on your website/blog, etc. Do whatever you can to highlight fitting rooms as a hub. You’ve got to get customers inside! Because that’s where they decide what to buy, not if they are going to buy.
- Hire Pros: I’m no longer down with hiring passionate people simply because they are passionate. You need professionals to turn your inventory. These days I seek out people who love problem-solving and exude a desire to help improve others’’ lives. It’s a bonus if they are passionate—but absolutely not mandatory. You think a manure salesperson is passionate about poop? Doubtful. But they get a thrill out of improving lives.
- Alter Expectations: Since eventually you’ll be discussing apparel as much as you discuss footwear, you need to build apparel into employee assessments. Which means you fully expect all staffers to sell such-and-such amount per week/month, and their longevity is based on achieving these goals. Would you keep a staffer who only sells one pair of shoes per day? Hell no! So why is it OK with apparel?
Moving more apparel is, first and foremost, a mindset shift. And only after you’ve rededicated your store’s vision to fully include it can you capitalize on the category. In all reality, you’ll probably need to cull the herd. But just as well, because the next chapter of your existence—the sell the shit out of apparel era—cannot accommodate status quo staffers. Shoot, it cannot accommodate a status quo you, either.
So hit reset, tweak your apparel story a bit, and turn your shoe store into a clothing store.
Looking forward to seeing you soon.
Tom Griffen is a highly sought after presenter whose message transcends industries. He’ll help you alter your narrative in a way that adds joy, satisfaction, and overall success to your life, while also ramping up your sales and UPT. Contact him to make a change.
Coming soon…No Plan B, Tom’s book on altering the customer service story you’ve been telling for years.