The Cult of Personality

[dropcap size=small]L[/dropcap]ast week I wrote about the importance of creating a good first impression as a tackle retailer. This week I want to comment on something that’s just as critical to long-term success: your shop’s personality.

Now, you might not think of retail outlets as places with personalities, but I assure you that your customers think about them that way, even if they don’t do it consciously. And if you’re feeling challenged like never before — maybe by a big box store up the road or by another shop in your area … or by an economy that’s challenging us all — that personality can be your path to salvation or extinction.

Evaluating store personalities is strangely like looking at personalities in people. In fact, most of the fishermen I know value the same qualities in a tackle store that they do in their friends. This means that the first thing they think of when sizing up a tackle shop is not how well it’s stocked or how low the prices are, but more human characteristics like honesty, intelligence, helpfulness, friendliness, generosity, loyalty and even sense of humor.

If you think I’m anthropomorphizing your shop, you’re right. (Actually, I just wanted to use the word “anthropomorphizing.” Eighteen letters — I can type it, but I have trouble saying it.) If your store shows the same qualities that you’d look for in a friend, you’re on the right path.

But if people think the store is moody, unpredictable, uniformed and too frivolous or too serious, you probably don’t need to look any further to figure out why business isn’t good.

I’m operating under a couple of pretty big assumptions here: (a) that your shop is reasonably well stocked with the products anglers in your area want and need and (b) that your prices are competitive with other outlets in the area. Those are the bare basics — Retail 101.

For a lot of retailers — perhaps most — the store takes on the personality of the owner. This can be good, bad or somewhere in between. If you think your store has your personality, take a good hard look not at the qualities you bring to the table, but at the qualities others see in you. We all think we’re smart, funny and good-looking, but too often that’s not the truth. And since perception is reality, you may need to talk with family, friends and even a few people who aren’t crazy about you to get a clearer picture.

Are you renowned for your honesty and fair dealings or is there a dark shadow in that area? Do you give back to the angling community or do others think you’re just in it for a buck? Are you recognized as one of the go-to authorities on fishing in your area or as just another business owner hawking his wares?

These things — the things that make up your store’s personality — are critical.

They set the tone for your business and go a long way to determining what others think of it.

Once you’ve taken a brutally honest look at your business personality, make a list of the good and bad qualities you found. If the store was a person, would you want to be friends or would you stay away?

Once you’ve found the areas for improvement, get to work. If the store’s not friendly enough, put a bigger emphasis on customer service with your next hire. If it’s struggling in the generosity category, consider sponsoring a youth or veteran event. If the store’s not known as the local fount of knowledge, get yourself up to speed and hire some recognized experts.

And don’t expect the community to take notice overnight. Just as it takes time to break bad habits or to develop good ones, it’s going to take a while to realize that your shop has changed for the better. Stick with it. Don’t settle for less.

And be the shop you’d want as a friend.