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Differentiation holds key to success

Andrea Lillo, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, January 21, 2002

Though success for a retailer with only a handful of locations may be daunting when faced with nationwide giants such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Gap stores, it can and has been done, George Whalin, president, Retail Management Consultants, told attendees at the NRF's "Retail Success" conference here.

Retailers that distinguish themselves from everything around them in very clear ways will do well, he said, naming such retailers as ABC Carpet & Home, based here; Robbins Bros., a California jewelry retailer; Abt, an appliance and electronics retailer in Chicago; and the Ron Jon Surf Shop, with five locations nationwide. "If not, why would the customer give you money?"

One way to differentiate is to offer merchandise and services not available elsewhere, he said, noting Las Vegas golf shop In Celebration of Golf which offers gift-wrapping year-round and sells exclusive items signed by golf pros.

Whalin said that a retailer needs to ask retrospectively, "Why should a customer buy from our store?" And the answer should become the retailer's marketing message.

The atmosphere is just as important as the merchandise, and motivated, cheerful associates that know about the merchandise they sell will make the store an inviting environment. Wal-Mart's "greeter," for example, who is posted by the entrance, may seem "corny" to some, he said, but that person "sets the stage" for the customer, and "changes the dynamics of the store."

Retailers also need to address what Whalin called the 100 percent solution, which included such questions as, "What percentage of your customers are warmly greeted?" "What percentage have had all of their questions answered?" "What percentage generally have a pleasant, satisfying shopping experience?"

He ended with, "Be the best, it's the only marketplace that's not crowded."

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