First Impressions and New Looks

[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]e all know the old saying, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” Of course, it’s true as far as it goes — most old sayings are, I suppose.

First impressions can be tough in the retail industry. If you’re the owner, you’re largely in control of that first impression. You control the look of the store, its layout, its inventory, much of the pricing and who works for you. But unless you’re there all day every day, you can’t control the impression that every first-time customer gets when he or she walks through the door.

I’ll never forget walking into a shop in South Florida several years ago. I was there to cover a bass tournament and saw a nice-looking tackle store on my way back from launch. I swung into the parking lot and walked inside.

There was a couch and a few chairs off to the right, not far from the register. A young man — maybe early 20s; he was less than half my age — was reclining on the sofa and holding court amidst a few anglers. I smiled and nodded to them as I walked by and went to look through the aisles.

As I was checking out some local baits about halfway back in the large store, the young man yelled to me, “Hey Bubba! If you need any help you just let me know, OK?”

“I’ll do it,” I said, but at the same moment I decided I wouldn’t be buying anything. That little exchange — absolutely inconsequential to some — soured me on the place … maybe forever.

Yes, I probably look like a Bubba (I’m Southern and could certainly stand to lose a few pounds). I may have even looked like I had no clue what I was doing there, but as a customer I felt I deserved better treatment than that. I wanted a little respect.

A lot of things went through my head. I thought, “I’ve forgotten more about bass fishing than that kid knows.” I thought, “If he had any idea who I work with (Rick Clunn, Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens) or who I know (Ray Scott, Bill Dance, Roland Martin), I bet he’d have a different tone.” (Yes, I can get quite pompous when irritated even reverting to name-dropping.)

I thought, “If the owner knew how this guy was taking care of his business, he wouldn’t be happy.”

After another minute or so, I headed for the door. He was still on the couch, but paused his monologue just long enough to say, “Don’t catch ’em all!” and chuckle. I kept on walking.

This isn’t a column about employee training. I’ll save that for another time. This one’s about impressions — first, second or even much later.

What impression do area anglers (and aspiring anglers) have about your store? Is it a friendly place where they can find what they want and need? Is it a place where they can get advice … and do they know that? Is it a place where they can hang out and enjoy a friendly atmosphere with like-minded people?

Or is it a place where a beginner might feel intimidated — where the staff talks over his or her head? Is it a cliquish place where you have to be part of some “in crowd” to feel welcome? Is it somewhere you won’t be treated with respect?

One thing I’ve never seen in a tackle shop is a proprietor who walks up to a first time customer, introduces himself, shakes hands, gives the shopper a business card — maybe even a discount card for 10 percent off the first purchase — and asks if there’s any way he can help. I’ve been into hundreds and hundreds of tackle stores over more than 40 years, and it’s never happened to me.

Do you know how hard it would be to leave that experience without buying something? For me it would be nearly impossible. I may be the perfect tackle customer because I rarely visit a store without reaching for my wallet, but if given that kind of experience I’d certainly be looking to spend money — a few baits, a T-shirt, a cold drink … anything!

And I doubt I’m alone. Others must be like that, too. We stop for a reason — either because we’re looking for something specific or we want to browse in a store that feeds our passion. Meet us halfway and we’ll rarely drive past without stopping.

If the impressions people have of your store are positive, you’re probably doing pretty well. If not, maybe it’s time for some changes.

Some shops are so poisonous there’s almost no turning back. They’ve made the fishing and tackle experience (yes, it’s an “experience”) so uncomfortable they’ve lost more customers than they’ve gained.

For them, it’s not enough to instill a new philosophy, hire a new staff or repaint the building. They need to change the name and look of the shop to get another chance in their market.

Where do you fit in the mix? Do you have a healthy clientele of new customers and beginners coming in?

How would a beginner know that you’re ready and able to help? Is your shop inviting from the outside? Take a hard look around or enlist some fresh eyes to do it for you. Does your shop reflect your tastes and needs or the needs and wants of your customers and potential customers?

These are not a bunch of rhetorical questions. I’d love to get some feedback here. I want to hear from you and start a dialogue so we can all get better. Remember, when one good retailer helps to bring a new person into our sport, other retailers eventually benefit, too.

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” That’s another old axiom that’s as true today as it ever was.