We are a family of 4 and our best memories are usually made outdoors, adventuring in kayaks, on skis, hiking or cycling on nature trails. It is important to us to have the right gear and be properly prepared when we finally get the chance for some leisure time together. Time is precious. There’s nothing worse that introducing children (or a significant other) to a new activity, being ill-prepared, resulting in a bad experience. They will not want to try it again. It wasn’t fun the first time. I have seen it countless times when my children’s friends have tried skiing wearing inadequate winter clothing. They simply cannot enjoy themselves wearing little granny-knit mittens with the wind whipping right through them. They are put off the sport immediately and have no desire to repeat the experience.
The importance the retailer plays in the customer’s purchasing decisions
This brings me to the importance the retailer plays when buying our gear. I want to use an independent outdoor retailer as an example. I’m going to use a store called ‘Sojourn’ to illustrate. “Big-Box” retail chains which did not exist in their infancy now surround them. Without question, I could go to one of the discounters to purchase a cheaper kayak, hiking boots, etc. However, from my experience, I know that the employees at Sojourn participate in the same outdoor pursuits that interest my family. This speciality store has been in business for 23 years. Some of the staff are paddling instructors; all of them are outdoor enthusiasts. This interaction adds a lot of value to my purchase. The staff can offer their personal recommendations for products as well as rivers and trails to try. The store offers guided hikes, snowshoeing, and canoe and kayak lessons. There are even ski and tent ‘demos’ where customers can try before they buy. These opportunities add even more value if I don’t have the confidence to go it alone.
Building customer loyalty by offering far better service…. it’s not JUST about price!
Sojourn has built loyal customers by offering more. And then even more. The store’s website offers inspiring videos, local nature club links, details of their loyalty program and a subscription service for newsletters. These things all take a lot of time and effort for the retailer but set them far and away from the Big Box retailer. If I head to the Big Box to save a few bucks, I need to know exactly what I’m looking for. I may or may not find it. They are not equipped to spend time with the customers. Help is usually difficult to find at all. I probably won’t get everything on my list. Depending the on the quality of products in the store, I may not get the kind of warranties I would from a specialty shop. And if I’m forgetting something, nobody at the Big Box is there to remind me to pick up a waterproof floating case for my mobile phone or camera to take on my river trip. That’s the sort of thing I’d think about as I’m putting the kayak in, and realize it’s too late. An experienced paddler at Sojourn would have gone through a checklist with me to make sure that didn’t happen. Their experience saves me time and hassle. They want me to have a great time, return again and again, and tell all my friends what great service they offer. That is the beauty of independent retailers. I may pay a bit more but it is 100% worth it to ensure a positive experience.
Customers will pay a premium for a service they can trust…
Similarly my husband enjoys road biking. He works long hours during the week and treasures the time on weekends when he can get out for bike rides. Road bikes are expensive and need regular maintenance to optimize their performance. Although it would be cheaper and closer to home to take his bike to a large general sporting goods chain for tune-ups, there are several reasons he’d rather pay a much higher price and drive further to have the work done at an independent store, specializing in road bikes. First of all, what care are the technicians taking with the bicycle? In the large store, the bike is just one among many bikes built for leisure riding, mountain biking, downhill, BMX, etc. The specialty retailer, like the outdoor store, is full enthusiasts. Enthusiasts for road biking. They admire and appreciate one another’s bikes and are careful not to bump or scratch the frames while in for service. The personal interactions in the store, as well as online, add value to the shopping experience. On his most recent visit, the technician asked my husband if he was interested in doing some training rides with a local group. He was informed about some upcoming spring charity rides. He appreciated this extra information and enjoyed dealing with a person with the same passion and enthusiasm for cycling as he has.
Independent retailers really do lead on service and experience
Some people think independent retail operations simply cannot survive in this age of bigger selection and cheaper prices but I truly believe consumers, like our family, who are enthusiasts for a particular activity, will continue to appreciate and support independent retailers for their time, effort and expertise which cannot be matched.
This blog was written by Valerie Powell @mountainstyleCA
I am Valerie Powell, the Blogger behind Mountain Style. My blog celebrates the marriage of technical outdoor clothing and fashion for an active mountain lifestyle. Before becoming a full-time blogger, I worked as a buyer for 3 of Canada’s top independent outdoor and ski retailers, Sporting Life, Hiker’s Haven and Skiis & Biikes.
Twitter: @mountainstyleCA – Facebook: Mountain Style (personal blog) – Blog: mountainstyle.tumblr.com