The Continuum

I like continuums. They tell a story. At one extreme you have “this.” At the other, there’s “that.” Usually—but not always—the best approach is somewhere in the middle.

At one end of the Continuum of Customer Service in the brick-and-mortar retail tackle industry, you have no contact with your customers except to ring them up before they leave the store. We’ll call them the “DIY” retailers.

At the other end, the retailer hovers over his customers like they’re about to steal him blind. We’ll call them the “Big Brother” retailers.

As with most things in life, it’s tough sledding at the extremes. They’re no man’s land.

Which is why it’s shocking to me that so many retailers take those approaches. In my experience, a full 40 percent are DIY. They barely welcome customers into the store. They don’t ask if the customer needs assistance; at best they say, “If you need help, let me know.”

For the record, there’s a big difference between “If you need help, let me know” and “How can I help you?” The first is an invitation to be interrupted. The second is an offer of help. Which is more welcoming? If you don’t think it’s the latter, you need to think again.

Is there any place quieter than a retail shop on a slow day?

Without some music or a fishing video on a loop or a radio or television news program in the background, it’s easy for a customer to feel like he and the shopkeeper are the last two people on the planet. What kind of shopping environment is that? It’s certainly not conducive to looking around and buying stuff.

The DIY approach continues until the shop keeper looks up from whatever he’s doing to ring up the purchase—if any—or watch the customer exit the store empty-handed.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Big Brother types. From the moment the customer enters, a salesperson is never more than 10 feet away. That might be OK on a car lot (though I doubt it), but in a tackle shop it’s overbearing. Who’s going to browse and make spontaneous purchases when they’re towing a salesperson around like a ball and chain? Not me, and I’m the king of spontaneous fishing purchases!

I’ve never been to a tackle shop that didn’t have stuff I wanted. But if you hover over me, I’m gone.

I’ll bet that Big Brother approach represents 5 to 10 percent of the retail tackle operations out there. Add that to the DIY group and you’ve got about half the market staking out territory on the continuum that hurts their business.

But worse than the fact that these tactics don’t work for most customers is that they forfeit an opportunity to learn about your customers and to better fulfill their wants and needs (a.k.a., helping them spend more money in your store).

When you find your way to the middle ground, you can strike up a casual conversation, find out what species your customer is targeting, where he fishes and whether or not he’s seen or heard about the new ABC Lure from XYZ Bait Company.

It doesn’t need to be a constant volley like a tennis match—just a relaxed back and forth that informs and enlightens. As a retailer, everything you say or ask can have an ulterior motive … just as long as it looks casual and appears helpful.

Most of your customers are looking for a friendly escape from the “real” world. Are you giving them that?

A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.