I went to visit a fellow toy store owner in Cleveland. At that time Michael had three stores in the area. The store I visited was on the opposite spectrum of mine in terms of size. He had about 1,100 square feet of selling space. I had 16,000 square feet of selling space. Yet we were both successful toy store owners in our markets. I love seeing stores like his and discovering the creative ways they show off all the wonderful and unique products they carry. I often saw many of the same brands we carried.
We got to talking about the different challenges of running small versus large stores and one of those challenges was buying product to fill the shelves, especially something as simple and common as jigsaw puzzles. Michael had about 4 feet of space dedicated to jigsaw puzzles. I had about 44 feet of space.
Michael said, “It must be hard for you to buy puzzles to fill up all that space.”
“Are you kidding? It’s easy, I just go through the catalog and buy them all and let the customers decide which ones I should reorder. I think it would be way tougher trying to narrow it down to only four feet.”
That was the big selection difference between our stores—Curation versus Saturation.
Both methods have their pros. Both have their cons. Both can be used as your calling card to advertise to potential customers the advantages of your “Selection.” (As I said in a previous post, the customers you can most easily steal from your competitors are customers who shop the category killer in your industry for the Experience and the Selection.)
Saturation is when you give your customer all the possible (or likely) options for any given product category. I found it was much easier, when buying jigsaw puzzles, to pick the ones I didn’t want than to pick the ones I did want. I often heard myself telling the rep, “I’ll take everything from that collection except this one.”
In a store of my size, Saturation wasn’t only easy, it was necessary. We needed a lot of product to fill our shelves and make our store look full. We used that method of stocking for many different departments and categories. We also played up the strengths of Saturation by pointing out that we carried more toys from more vendors than any other toy store in America—even Toys R Us! We bragged how we were the largest toy store in America because of it. (He who has the most toys wins!)
The downside to Saturation was twofold.
First, we had a lot of products that didn’t sell well. We had more than our fair share of slow movers. I solved that problem by having an annual clearance sale every July to get rid of the merchandise that didn’t move. Our inventory turns, however, were lower than the average for indie toy stores.
Second, sometimes we overwhelmed our customer with too many option. Analysis Paralysis. To overcome that I needed to have a staff that knew our products inside and out. We spent a lot of time training the staff to curate the selection after the customer explained what she needed.
Your Category Killers built their entire business models around Saturation. Saturation appeals to the customer who wants to browse and sort through the options. Saturation appeals to the customer who doesn’t know what she wants. Saturation makes you look like the expert. Bigger, better, bestest.
When these stores first opened up they were amazing. Nowadays, however, that saturation (especially without a knowledgeable sales staff) seems overwhelming or simply a waste of time and space. Many of these same stores are now building smaller footprints because they realized they don’t have the payroll to staff such a huge store properly.
The other side of the coin is Curation—when you pick only the best items or options to offer your customers so that they don’t have to make any tough decisions.
Curation is great because it streamlines the process for the customer. It is attractive to that same customer who didn’t know what she wanted because it takes some of the guesswork out of the equation for her.
A carefully curated product selection can also send your customers the message that you are the experts in your category … As long as you have first earned their trust.
Curation without Trust is just a “poor selection”.
Here is how you win their Trust with your Curation:
- Make sure you have the best solution available, no matter what it costs. If one of your competitors offers a better solution, you didn’t curate well. Be ready to defend why it is the best option. (PS You don’t have to sell a lot of that option, but you do need to have it.)
- Make sure your selection is neat, clean, organized, and well-merchandised. If it looks like you don’t care about your products, no one will trust your Curation.
- Make sure your sales team knows every product inside and out including how each item is used and the difference between the Best, Better, and Good options.
- When you show a customer your options, ALWAYS lead with the Best.
- If you don’t carry the “most popular” item in that category have a simple and understandable explanation why. (“We can’t get it,” or “It sucks.” are not good answers. Try “It is an exclusive to … but we prefer …” or “It doesn’t work as well as this option because …”)
- Make sure you are never out of stock of the best selling option.
If you have a carefully Curated collection of merchandise, you can win the Selection crowd just as easily as if you have a Saturation of products. You do it by advertising that you’ve taken all the guesswork out of the equation.
Both methods can help you steal customers away from your competitors, but only when you do them right and with purpose.
PS One big discussion taking place in the indie toy world right now is whether indie stores should pick up more of the mass market lines Toys R Us used to sell to try to win over those customers. The answer to that is Yes and No. Yes, if the product is both one of the best options to have in your Curated selection and also one that you can be profitable selling. No if it doesn’t meet those two criteria. More often than not the Category Killer had the “most popular” item. More often than not, that item was not one of the best options. As long as you can answer why you don’t carry the most popular item in a solid way, you’ll win over customers.
PPS Of the two methods for product selection, Saturation takes more money, Curation takes more time. If you have the resources (space and money), go for Saturation and combine it with a killer trained staff. You’ll be well on your way to becoming a Category Killer.
PPPS There is a Third Option. Curation with special order. The newer, smaller Category Killer store formats are using their distribution centers to order in the products they don’t keep in stock in the stores. They don’t want a customer walking out the door empty-handed. While this is the ultimate situation where you can get anything a customer wants in a day or two, it is built for the customer who knows exactly what she wants. Until your vendors can support you in that manner, make sure you have the right solutions and a staff that knows what you sell.