The Coming Battle of Category Killers?

Post Covid, there are so many things to look for in the evolution of outdoor retailing. Will the shopping trends of the pandemic continue after the vaccine? Will there be a pent-up demand for outdoor gear and clothing? Will the digital transformation continue at an accelerated pace? Will adventure travel change?

One thing I am really curious about is the potential battle of outdoor retailing “category killers.”

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A nice finish

Post originally appeared in The Observant Customer 8/8/2016

I stopped at the local Outlet Mall the other day to do some shopping and some observation.  It was a warm and sunny day and may of the stores had their doors open to deal with the heat.

Being a fan of the brand and a citizen of the PNW, I stopped by the Columbia Sportswear Outlet where they had a great sale going on.  I quickly found several items that I was shopping for so I headed to the registers where there were a number of waiting cashiers.

“I can help you right here,” came a greeting from the nearest cashier.

During the transaction, I noticed that a name tag affixed to his jacket.  I thought it odd with the stores so warm that a cashier would be wearing outerwear.  So, I asked him if he was warm.

“No, actually I am quite comfortable,” he replied as he handed me my change.  I thought that would be the end of our conversation but he continued apparently excited to talk about the jacket. “The jacket is made of Omni-Shield™ and it is really comfortable,” he said as he carefully folded and bagged my purchases.

Nice finish.

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The poor backpack

Not the poor backpack
Not the poor backpack

The post originally appeared in The Observant Customer 9/8/2016

There it sat, right in the middle of the aisle, the poor backpack. It had fallen from an overstocked fixture and now it sat in the middle of the main aisle circling the store. I am not sure how long it had been there when I spotted it.

Being small, the pack did not block traffic and was easy enough to walk around or step over. I figured that if it was still on the floor when I got to it, I would put it back on the fixture.

As I stood watching, I noticed two employees walking up the aisle towards the backpack. Ah, I thought, I won’t have to pick up the pack, surely one of these two employees will.  I was wrong.  In fact, one actually stepped over the pack and continued up the aisle.

I was a bit dumbfounded.  How could these employees step over product that was in middle of the aisle posing a tripping hazard? The store was not very busy and there was plenty of staff visible throughout the store.  Why had no one picked up the pack?

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I sent him away

Post originally appeared in The Observant Customer 4/20/2017

He was timid, reserved and soft-spoken.  We have all run across this type of customer before.  It’s challenging to get them to warm up to you, they can be slow to offer information and they can even be hard to hear.

I greeted him and asked him what brought him into the store today.  A rather defensive “I just came in to look” was his response.  So I told him to look around and that I would check back in a few minutes if he ran across any questions and then I set off to help others who had just entered the store.

As I circled back to him after a few minutes, it was clear to me that he that he truly was looking for something specific as he studied the hang tags and pulled garments off racks to look at. It seems that he had needed some time to decompress and check things out on his own terms when he first entered our store.  I re-approached him.

“Looks like you have run across some questions, how can I help?”

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The Ledge and Yeti’s Lair

Post originally appeared in The Observant Customer 4/28/2017

One of the joys of a good road trip is getting well away from the interstates and onto the blue highways of William Least-Heat Moon fame. It is on just such roads that my wife and I found ourselves on a recent trip to Death Valley.

Klamath Grill (highly recommended for breakfast or lunch)
Klamath Grill (highly recommended for breakfast or lunch)

As we drove through southern Oregon, the clock was approaching lunchtime and we were beginning to feel a bit hungry when we heard a radio ad for the Klamath Grill on Main Street in Klamath Falls.  The ad made it sound like a great local place to stop for lunch. We were not disappointed.

This breakfast and lunch spot serves up a nice variety of diner favorites along with some chef specialities such as Swedish Pancakes, Dutch Babies and a Cranberry Club Sandwich.

Waiting for my Huevos con Chorizo to arrive, I picked up a table topper to read.  Anyone who has eaten at a small town diner might recognize these simple booklets with local history, bad jokes, trivia and area advertisements to read while waiting for your food.

As I was reading through the booklet, I ran across a reference to the “only solar-powered outdoor store in the US”, The Ledge.  Checking my phone, I discovered the store was only several blocks from the diner. So we decided we would walk over to the store and take a look around before heading on to Tule Lake and Susanville.

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Did they hear you?

Post originally appeared in The Observant Customer 2/23/2016

Version 2

Getting two flat tires on the commute home is a rare occurrence but that is what happened to my wife recently. The current tires had given her many miles of good service and were due to be replaced so she asked me if I wanted to go with her to our neighborhood bike shop to pick up some new tires. We both headed out since I rarely pass up a chance to check out the latest bike equipment.

We knew the store stocks a particular tire she likes since we have bought them their before.  She really loves the tires because they have reflective sidewalls, important for early morning commuters. In fact, reflective sidewalls have become so important to her that they have become the standard for any commuter bike tires.

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Is it coaching?

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Originally posted in The Observant Customer 6/21/2017

I was straightening up my workspace this morning and ran across a sample of a coaching log.  The log had been developed by an experienced and talented store manager working for the company I worked at many years.

It was well produced with 50 pages to record when a manager coached an employee. I really liked the playbook and I hope that it improved coaching for the managers and their employees.  Perhaps it lead to better sales, improved service or more effective and efficient employees.

This was not the only coaching log that I saw while I working  in retail management and training.  In fact, I probably saw 50 different versions over the years.  But this one was a good one.

The reason why I bring this up is that it has been my experience that there is no correlation between good coaching  and the use of a coaching log.

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A whole mess of strikes

Post originally appeared in The Observant Customer 3/14/2016

Version 2

My wife and I went to our local bike shop to do some browsing. (Yes, some customers do just want to look around.) Entering the shop, we walked right into the middle of a very excited conversation with one voice louder than all others. Looking around, I discovered the voice belonged to an overly friendly employee that had obviously trapped a helpless customer. With his purchases clasped tightly in his hand and his bike lights already blazing and flashing, the customer was trying to inch towards the door while the employee continued to regale him with wild tales of his own recent bicycling adventures. The employee was talking so loudly; it appeared he missed the day in kindergarten when they teach about the difference between your indoor and outdoor voice as his carried clearly throughout the relatively small store.

My wife and I glanced at each other as we hurried past hoping that he would not engage us. Safely in the store, my wife commented about his excessive volume and his overly familiar behaviors.  Neither of which are characteristics we appreciate in a salesperson.

As my wife and I commenced our browsing, another couple walked through the doorway. Seeing his chance for escape, the trapped customer scurried through the open doors and into the night. Unfortunately, the couple walked right into the line of fire of the Loud, Eager And Friendly clerk. Let’s just call him LEAF. As a student of retail, I figured this was a customer interaction worth watching.

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