When my dad retired in 2005 his biggest concern for me was what was my plan. He’s a football fan just like I am. We’ve heard coaches time and time again talk about their Game Plan for beating their opponent. We had a new opponent that had just opened in Jackson named Walmart. How was I going to beat them?
The newspaper had asked me a similar question when Walmart announced the opening of their super center in Jackson. “How will you compete with them?”
My answer to both was the pretty much the same. “We have over five times the selection of toys as Walmart and several services they don’t offer, not to mention the smartest staff in town. The better question is, How are they going to compete with us?”
Sure there was some hubris involved. You can be a little confident when you do have a plan.
Our Game Plan was simple.
- Increase our levels of customer service.
- Offer more in-store activities and events.
- Create more memorable moments.
- Set up more demonstrations and hands-on displays.
- Write more powerful messages for our advertising and marketing.
We were going to take our competitive strengths and put them on steroids.
Even with Walmart opening that summer, in 2005 we had our largest Christmas season ever. Two years later we surpassed every record in top line sales. 2008 was looking to be another record-breaker, only falling short at the last moment. (I think the housing bubble burst had something to do with that.) 2009 was the most profitable year in the 60-year history of the store. Even when we decided to close seven years later, our share of our shrinking market was still holding steady, even with Amazon’s growth into toys.
The key to a successful Game Plan is two-fold.
First you have to get the strategic part right. I knew we couldn’t compete with Walmart on price. I also knew they couldn’t compete with me on service. If a football team has a great player no one can tackle, you keep feeding him the ball until they stop him. I was going to keep improving my customer service and in-store experience until no one could match it.
Second, you have to have concrete steps to achieve each point of your strategy. I created year-long training schedules to transform my staff, focusing on small, incremental improvements each month to reach our goals of better engagement with customers and better selling skills. As a team we evaluated our current event offerings and came up with new ideas to make sure we had something special going on every month. My buyers were instructed to look for more toy demo options from our vendors.
Believe it our not but our Birthday Bell—one of our customer’s favorite activities—didn’t come into existence until 2010 as we were trying to come up with ways to offer more memorable moments. (Nostalgia is one of our Core Values.) That bell is now at a local museum.
Here are the steps you need to take to develop your Game Plan.
- Identify your Core Values. The most effective Game Plans must fit within and accentuate your Core Values. If they don’t, they won’t last.
- Evaluate both yours and your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Be brutally honest. Figure out where you have the competitive advantage and where you don’t. Highlight and exploit where you are already better and concede (or at least don’t waste valuable resources) on the areas where you cannot win.
- Develop concrete actions you can take to increase your competitive advantage that also fits within your Core Values.
- Play the long game. If you already own the competitive advantage in an area of your business, growing it slowly and incrementally helps your gains stick better with your staff and customers. Every bit of growth is positive, no matter how small because everything you do builds on what you have already done.
Having a Game Plan gives you two other benefits.
First, it makes working “on” your business easy. You have the blueprint right in front of you at all times. You have your marching orders for what to do next. Your Game Plan determines the kind of people you hire and the kind of services you offer. It guides your decisions and makes those decisions easier. You even have the tools for measuring your progress.
Second, it keeps you from chasing after every new fad that comes down the pike. You and I both know how often we get bombarded by some salesperson with the “next great thing” that will transform retail. When you have a solid Game Plan you can determine much more easily if the next new fad fits for you or doesn’t. You can also see whether it will affect your competitive advantage or not.
Any coach can tell you that talent alone doesn’t win games. It takes a solid Game Plan that plays up your competitive advantage and solid execution of that Plan to seize the day. If you want to win in retail you need to schedule part of every week for working on your Game Plan.
PS If you don’t have a competitive advantage, then you need a major disruption. You need to do something huge and wild and spectacular that sets you apart from your competition. Offer a brand new service no one else would ever think of doing (like Amazon did with drone delivery). Change up your product selection to get into a niche no one else is touching. Think of it as the trick play in football. No one saw it coming. Then build on the momentum it gives you.
PPS Not sure where your strengths and weaknesses lie? Check with your local business agencies. Some of them offer SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) at low or no cost. Sometimes an extra set of eyes is all you need to see what you missed.