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Finding the Puck

Establishing where the customer is in the marketplace

A sports writer was interviewing Wayne Gretzky, the legendary hockey player. The question asked of Gretzky was, "How is it that you are always around the puck?"

To which Gretzky responded, "I never skated to the puck. I skated to where the puck was going to be."

As this philosophy worked for the man considered to be the greatest hockey player ever, it can also be a working strategy for your business.

Before we start, take a look about your shop. It may be a display of camouflage jackets, the area where you keep the shells, or any other area of your sales floor. What has changed about the sales floor in the past month? The past six months? The past year, or maybe the past five years? Now take a look at your customers. What has changed about them during that same time period? Surely they have been exposed to hundreds of new products by way of the various consumer hunting magazines.

Have they changed what they hunt for? Then again, haven't the actual hunters changed? Some have moved away; new ones have moved into the area; fishermen have been transformed into hunters and vice versa.

The question we ask again is what has changed about your business? This is where the analogy of Gretzky comes into place. If your business is the same business it has always been, you are likely fulfilling what Gretzky referred to as he was compared to those who skate to where the puck is. Your customer is not the same customer living in the same house as they were years ago.

By being where the customer is today, you are simply selling merchandise. This type of advertising is the type where you decide what will be in the ad by walking the aisles to see what you have plenty of. Some folks even look at merchandise and when they believe the amount on hand is marginal, will consider raising the sale price so that in selling the item they will have enough on hand.

They are probably designing the ad on a Monday that will run in the Thursday newspaper. Thus there is not enough time to order additional inventory. Customers may be seen walking into the business asking for something they have seen in one of the trade magazines. Of course the dealer is only able to tell the customer they will ask for the item when the sales representatives from the various wholesalers are next in.

Years ago, this was a strategy that was acceptable - not only to the dealer but to the customer. They would ask their favorite dealer for the item. Then they would wait until the dealer got the item in, and would purchase it the next time they were in the shop. Even though in those days the customer was expected to be, and was, fairly loyal to that particular store.

In today's market, this strategy does not work. To begin with, today's customer is not as loyal. Research has shown that the number one thing on a customer's list is for the business to have on hand what the customer wants.

The second point is that the customer shops in fewer businesses than they used to. Again, research has shown that the average customer will shop at 1.2 places. This indicates that when they find what they are looking for, they are more likely to purchase it. Time, more than price, is the major concern.

Again what comes into play is the comment by Gretzky. He was great because he went to where the puck was going to go. If Gretzky was a shop owner or manager, he would be great because he was anticipating what his customer would be needing and making it available to them. He would be attending a trade show and asking the sales representatives that called on him what they saw as the newest and greatest items coming on the market.

As he ordered the merchandise, he also made sure to order support material from the vendor - signage, samples, displays and anything else that could possibly make it easier for him to sell the new item. When the new item arrived at his store, it would get a prominent place where customers would most likely see it. He might even offer a cash bonus to each of his staff as they introduced and sold the new item to their customers.

They may be sending a postcard to the customers telling of the new item, and most definitely they are contacting their favorite customers by phone to tell them to come see the new item. They also have taken the pages from the consumer magazines where the customer first saw the item, and added it to the display showing the customer that the store does have the newest items.

This is an opportune moment to again mention the sales floor. If everything still looks the same as it did five years ago, what would draw the customer into the shop? Think of it by answering this question; how often would you like a customer to return to your shop? If you would like each and every customer to visit your shop every week (or every month), what is drawing them there? If the shop looks the same this week as it did last week (and each of the previous 51 weeks), what is there to attract them to return week after week?

Merchandise that remains in the same place quickly becomes a part of the fixtures and is seen only by those who are looking for it. This means there will not be any impulse sales.

Wayne Gretzky became great by anticipating what was going to happen next. He was great at finding where the puck was going. Do you know where your customer is going?

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179