Universal Truths About Retail

Just as we are celebrating Belardi Wong’s 20th anniversary, I am also staring down 21 years in retail, having started at Eddie Bauer in the late 90s before joining Williams-Sonoma, Inc. Here are a few of the universal truths that stand the test of time.

1.     Product is king. Always.

2.     Don’t throw good money after bad. If your customers are not responding, then prospects won’t either. Spending more marketing dollars against a weak assortment will not drive more sales, and the same goes for under-performing stores.

3.     Emotions matter, and people want to be inspired. Time and time again, we know smiling, happy models sell more product. Remember that your models represent your brand – if they are aloof and cold, so is your brand.

4.     Stores are also still king. About 85% of retail sales are still in stores. The old adage “be where your customers are” is still as true as ever. This does not mean open 100 stores and push into B markets. Perhaps the right balance is 30 stores in A markets.

5.     Your marketing mix is critical to growth. Repetition and frequency across channels is key to driving response rates for both customers and prospects. Each marketing channel- online and offline- drives a different purpose. Plan accordingly.

6.     Listen to your customers. Listen on the phones. Read customer service emails. Read what they have to say about you on your social platforms.

7.     Test, test, and then test again. We are fortunate to have visibility into several high growth brands, and one thing is always true: they are systematically focused on testing every single marketing channel to understand the best path for success. They leave no stone unturned.

8.     Data is nothing without business intelligence. Time and time again, we see clients with mass amounts of data and spreadsheets and little interpretation. Identify the 10 or so critical business questions to answer and monitor monthly, such as: is customer productivity increasing? Are we acquiring enough new customers to offset attrition? Is our marketing effectiveness increasing or decreasing as we add channels?

9.     Be evangelical. If you believe the brand’s value, and your team members believe it, then customers will too.

10.  Always think scale. If you have a narrow product line, will it appeal to a lot of people? Or, do you have a lot of product targeting a niche market? But, targeting a small market with a narrow assortment will not deliver scale.

I have often said that the great thing about this job is that it is learning on steroids. As always, we are happy to talk about any one of these areas with you, or anything else you have on your plate. Hope you are having a great summer!