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Reinventing The Storefront: How 3 Tenacious Retailers Are Doing It

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

What do dog toys, chamomile tea and used elliptical machines have in common, other than qualifying as scavenger hunt objects? When everything is done right, they are the fruits of happy in-store experiences.

Online retail sales may be rising — 10% in the 12-month period ended June 30 — but people still like to root around in physical stores for pet supplies, exercise equipment and many other things. Nearly two-thirds of consumers, 65%, prefer to shop in stores, research shows.

But why? In part it’s because shoppers like to see and touch products before buying them, but it’s also because they relish the opportunity to have gratifying experiences. It’s this second reason that presents an ongoing challenge for retailers trying to remain relevant among their rivals. But a retailer does not have to be as big and deep-pocketed as Amazon or Macy’s to accomplish this.

Executives from the national retail chains Pet Supplies Plus, with more than 400 locations; The Spice & Tea Exchange, in 26 states; and Winmark Corp., franchiser of Plato’s Closet, Once Upon A Child, Music Go Round, Play It Again Sports and Style Encore, shared their highly instructive yet practical strategies for keeping the storefront kicking. This edited Q&A, submitted by the sources, reveals how they are keeping their stores relevant with shoppers.

Q: How have your sales benefitted from the experiential initiatives in your stores?

Chris Rowland, CEO, Pet Supplies Plus: Over the past five years, we’ve been focusing on what we call neighbor engagement. We compare same-age stores and look at their total engagement scores, which are generated by a third-party survey company. We look at the stores with the higher scores, and the stores with consistently high engagement numbers are also seeing consistent 1% to 3% comp sales increases. A common thread is these stores are hiring team members focused on connecting with the neighbors who enter the store, and especially neighbors with pets. These are stores where neighbors consistently report the service is always positive.

Martin Amschler, executive vice president of franchise development and operations, The Spice & Tea Exchange: All of our stores participate in product and recipe sampling, cooking classes and in-store events. We also provide our teas to breweries and benefit specific charities. Our franchisees have the ability to create their own experiential initiatives depending either on what they are passionate about or what is in their particular skill sets. Overall, we believe that these initiatives play a big part in our comparable stores being in the high single digits, year-to-date (as of July).

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