At the recent eTail West conference, Dave Ratner gave a terrific presentation on how small retailers can win against big chains — real world examples from somebody who worked his way up from the bottom.
First, a little background: Mr. Ratner is the owner of Dave's Soda & Pet City, a seven-store chain based in Agawam, Massachusetts. Ninety-eight percent of the business is pet and two percent is soda. (You can watch the video below or read the transcript to find out why.) Starting in 1975, Mr. Ratner has built a customer-first business, and here are a few tips he offers other retailers:
- When there is a problem, make it no problem. Make returns easy, solve customer problems in a nanosecond, and enable your employees to say, "What can we do to make it right?"
- Connect with your customers — it's all about storytelling.
- It's not about transactions. Develop emotional ties with your customers. Dave's gives gift cards to pet shelters who refer customers, for example, and publicizes it.
- It's not about metrics — it's about being nice. At Dave's, if you aren't nice, you can't work there. Dave writes personal thank you notes on many occasions.
- Do best what your competition does worst. Dave's focuses on having minimal out of stocks because its biggest competitor, Petco, has plenty of those.
- Personalize everything you do. Dave's has its own brand of dog food, and on the back of the can is a message from Mr. Ratner: "Thanks for trusting me with the health of the creature you love more than anything in the world."
- Be an expert resource for your customers.
- Make sure all employees are working as a team. It's like a car with eight cylinders. If they are all good, everything is fine, but just one being down causes a big problem, and too much attention gets paid to that cylinder.
Bottom line: Treat your customers right — and it's never the customer's fault. Mr. Ratner told a story about a six-year-old's turtle dying and an associate telling the child it was his fault. The associate was told he could work the overnight shift, but was not to have any further contact with customers — because it is not the customer's fault, even if it is.