The mastermind behind Hallmark’s successful reinvention as destination stores shares tips to help lighting showrooms stand out.
Business consultant Jon Schallert, president of The Schallert Group in Colorado, knows a thing or two about driving foot traffic into a narrowly focused retail venue. In his case, the challenge was to entice people to visit a card store – namely Hallmark, where he was able to exponentially increase one its notoriously under-performing sales territories by creating unique marketing strategies that were adapted company-wide.
Some of the obstacles that a niche store like a Hallmark faces are similar to what lighting showrooms have been battling. A popular speaker at a past American Lighting Association (ALA) Conference, Schallert returned to this year’s gathering to share his expertise on how lighting showrooms can attract customers from greater distances than the typical 15-minute radius that most stores draw from.
“Sometimes doing something that defies conventional retailing will lead to success,” he explained. “You’ve got to make a consumer think, ‘This is the place for me!’” Very often, accomplishing this goal means reinventing your business first. “Do all businesses need to be reinvented? No, but sooner or later they all will be – either by their own volition or by force from outside circumstances,” Schallert stated. “If you feel like a hamster running on the wheel, it’s time to reinvent. Reinvention has to happen when what you’ve been doing is no longer working.”
What many business owners fail to realize is that reinvention is a continual process. Differentiation is the key, according to Schallert. “If you focus on making your business one-of-a-kind [in consumers’ minds], you will be on the way to reinventing your business,” he remarked. In a nod to a quote attributed to the legendary Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, Schallert added,“You don’t want to be the best of the best – you want to be the only one who does what you do.”
Although he has served as a consultant to large corporations – such as Kellogg’s, KitchenAid, Jiffy Lube, Ace Hardware, Anheuser Busch, and Hunter Douglas – Schallert has found that there are common fundamentals for establishing brand recognition regardless of company size.
One of his key tips is for the owner or management team to come up with a Unique Positioning Statement. “It should be something that makes me want to [travel to] see your place,” Schallert offered. “Come up with two to four paragraphs that explain how your business is different from your competitors – and you’ll need a killer first sentence. However, don’t confuse the first sentence with a tagline. For example, Lowe’s tagline is ‘Let’s Build Something Together.’ The tagline does not say what the company is; it reinforces the message,” he explained.
Stumped? Don’t be. Schallert advised, “Be specific about how your company is superior. Don’t make generalities like ‘we offer good service, low prices, and high quality’ – you can be those things, just don’t use it as your statement. Whatever you come up with as your statement should impact you, your customers, your employees, and the media.”
Magnify certain parts of your business that make it one-of-a-kind. “Destination stores create their own traffic,”Schallert noted. Recalling an advertisement for a store that boasted “the largest selection of hiking boots in the Northwest,” he asked, “Wouldn’t that be the first place you’d go to shop for hiking boots? Now how many of you can say that your store has the largest selection of ceiling fans or light bulbs, or some other category? Or perhaps you have a signature item – a product line that you have expanded in-depth. That could become your Unique Positioning Statement! Even a generic item can become a ‘signature’ when it appears to be uniquely yours.”
How Far Is Far?
For many chain stores, the appeal is convenience. “No one says, ‘I’ll drive 50 miles out of my way to buy a burger at one specific McDonald’s,” he remarked. Statistics show that every business pulls in customers who live within a 15-minute drive of the store. “Fifteen minutes is a low investment [proposition] for them to come to see you, but for them to drive two or more hours – that’s an investment,” he noted. Schallert pointed to a series of circles, delineating the distance customers are from your store. He called them “time zones” and they were comprised of: 15 minutes as the smallest, then larger circles of 15-60 minutes, 60-120 minutes, 2-3 hours, and 3+ hours. “How many of you have customers who travel from more than three hours away?” Schallert asked the ALA-member audience. At least five people raised their hands. “The question is, ‘How different do I have to be that someone living three hours away wants to come to my store?,” he stated.
Distance factors into your advertising plan. “For the first two time zones, I’d recommend using newspaper and radio ads. To go beyond that area, you’ll need direct mail, eblasts, and the Internet,” Schallert said. “With online advertising, you can reach anyone, anywhere.”
For most lighting retailers, the “sweet spot” is going to be one to two hours away. “That’s close enough that a journalist from a large city newspaper will write about you, but yet far enough way to not be seen as ‘too local,’” he estimated. “Start thinking of your store as the center of the lighting universe. Whether you are or not isn’t as important as thinking that way. [Imagine] your reach like a map and draw it out.”
Send the Right Message
All people – no matter how much income they may have – do not want to waste money. As such, your marketing message should convince people that they will be making a mistake by not coming to you to buy lighting. At the same time, you could raise doubt about your competitor by pointing out some differences (i.e. “Yes, it’s possible to buy a five-light vanity fixture at Home Depot, but they usually just stock the two- and three-light versions so you might have to place an order and wait for it to ship…although come to think of it, they might not have a finish that closely matches the rest of your hardware or offer interchangeable glass choices, but maybe you’ll like the one they have…”)
“It really is that easy,” Schallert said. Your message should convey, “If you go there, you’ll waste time and money; if you come to us, you’ll get the right product for the job plus product knowledge.”
Toot Your Horn
Many lighting retailers told Schallert that they regularly experience consumers coming into their store to fix or return a ceiling fan or lighting fixture that they bought online. “After helping that person who didn’t buy from you with their problem, why not ask if they’d be willing to write a testimonial,” he noted. “If they don’t know how to start, help them out. Suggest something like, ‘I made a mistake buying my ceiling fan/lighting online. I should have bought it here in the first place.’”
According to Schallert, a consumer forms an impression of your store within the first seven seconds of entering it. “Do you know that every business has a dominant wall? That’s the first wall the consumer sees when they walk in your door. Seven out of 10 times, your dominant wall is going to be about 12 to 20 feet on the right-hand side. This is based on statistics that show when people walk into a store, they typically look to the right,” he explained.
“How many of you have won an award of some kind? Where is it – in a back office or in the hallway leading to the restrooms or warehouse? Put it on your dominant wall so consumers actually see it,” he advised. “In addition, put a sign in your window that states that you won the award, but don’t put the year [so that it never appears out of date]. If you are celebrating a landmark anniversary, make a sign and put that out front.”
“I’ve been in quite a few lighting showrooms and you do residential beautiful projects, but you don’t promote that,” he added. “Take really good photos of the installations you have done and enlarge hose images to, say, 5 ft. x 5 ft. to create a Customer Hall of Fame.”
If your store has been in the community for several generations and many years, promote that fact. “In a family business, you can display old family photos in the same manner as the installations. Maybe you have a photo of an aunt, uncle, or parent in bell bottoms or long hair. Show those embarrassing old photos – it causes an emotional connection with people,” Schallert quipped.
Be Easy to Find
In the Internet age, there is no excuse not to have a Web page for your store. “Every page on your Web site should have your address, phone number, and your hours of operation,” he said. Have a photo of the exterior of your business on the home page so people will be able to easily recognize it.
“Provide directions from a destination prospective,” Schallert advised, stating that he saw a Web page for a Colorado business providing directions from Phoenix. “Immediately you stop and think, ‘Wow, people are coming from several states away to shop here? They must be really good at what they do!”
If you have several testimonials from customers, post them on your Web site. Schallert also suggested creating a “Media Page” that highlights your store’s area of expertise along with the products and services you offer. Very often local “media” are looking for retail stores to profile and having a designated Media Page makes it very convenient for them.
Above all else, being successful involves a concentrated effort in positioning your store as the source and the expert in the eyes of the customer. “You must have a consumer hook – something that is so compelling that people want to keep coming back,” he concluded.