Knowledgeable staff with passion for their product enhance the retail experience by @mountainstyleCA

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

valerie powell


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:

About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email
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