I love those signs that say, “Be yourself. Unless you can be a Unicorn. Then be a Unicorn.” (Substitute Batman for Unicorn for those who identify that way.)
Be yourself is the best advice I could ever give to any business owner. Know your Core Values, what drives you in your life, and be them so clearly and proudly that everyone knows exactly who you are.
Those who share your values will become lifelong fans and evangelists of your business. You’ll always have a core of supporters.
To truly stand out in retail, however, you also have to be a Unicorn. You have to be so different from every other retailer that people believe you to be magical.
I say this in light of the article that came out last month stating that the Retail Apocalypse is still upon us with over 5800 stores closing in 2019 alone (and that’s only through March!)
Before you panic, 2,500 of those stores are Payless Shoes. Another 390 are Family Dollar stores closing after Dollar Tree bought them out. Other big chains with big closures include The Gap, JC Penney’s, Chico’s, and Gymboree.
None of those stores were Unicorns.
The Gap was the closest, but no one under forty remembers when they made their splash on the retail scene. Their horn fell off decades ago.
The culprit most often blamed is Amazon, followed closely by Millennials. While Millennials probably had a lot to do with Victoria Secret closings (Hey, VS, have you noticed society has mostly shifted away from your idea of sexy lingerie?), they and Amazon are more symptoms than causes of retail store closures.
The real culprit is the stores themselves.
Chain stores are dropping like flies and they only have themselves to blame.
First, we are over-saturated with retail to begin with. Too many chains competing for not enough dollars. The chain stores work on the premise that the more stores they have, the more revenue they would be able to collect to “make it up with volume” which led to rapid growth and expansion well beyond what the market could bear.
Second, these stores invest next to nothing in training for their managers and staff. A couple of my former employees went to work for chain stores and showed me their employee handbooks. Sixteen pages on how to use the time clock and what will happen if you get caught breaking a policy, but not one word on how to create a relationship with a customer or even how to sell.
Third, there is little to differentiate one chain from the next. They all have the same merchandise from the same manufacturers. They all have the same lack of service that begins at the top with poorly trained managers who know nothing about team building, HR, or how to teach and motivate others, let alone how to merchandise and run a customer-centric store. They all fail to grasp how much of the population has moved on from the materialism in the 80’s and 90’s to more sustainable approaches to life. They all think big discounts = loyalty. They all chase the shiny new baubles like omni-channel, big-data, BOPIS, and social media, thinking those will be the big fixes that will help their businesses.
Nothing about any of these stores is or was unique, exciting or magical.
The downside for you is that all of these lousy experiences in other stores are driving customers online and making online shopping more prevalent and convenient.
The upside for you is that it is much easier to become a Unicorn of a store than ever before.
The bar is so low now that stores that care about their customers through their actions and policies stand out like lighthouse beacons on a desolate ocean of crappy retail.
Toys R Us is the only chain store closing where I actually heard customers lamenting the loss. No one is lamenting Payless going away. No one will even remember Charlotte Russ stores once they’re gone (if you even knew they were there). Heck, most people thought JCP was already closed!
Be yourself. But be the most Unicorny version of yourself you possibly can. Amazon is the default when you don’t give your customers a reason to believe in the magic.
PS If one of your Core Values is Nostalgia, celebrate those nostalgic moments in your customers’ lives with gusto. Ring a 32-pound brass bell on their birthdays and put their picture up on your wall. If one of your Core Values is Education, hit the road and do Free Classes on how to better use the products you sell. If one of your Core Values is Helpful, have a high school kid with a golf umbrella escort customers out to their cars on a rainy day.
PPS If you aren’t well-versed in Team Building, hire someone to help you build your team. (Note: check your local YMCA or Y-Camp.) If you aren’t well-versed in motivating your employees, I suggest you read Drive by Daniel H. Pink or Maestro by Roger Nierenberg. If you aren’t as good at teaching the sales process as you’d like, check out my Free Resources – The Meet-and-Greet, Close the Sale, and How to Push for Yes. The resources are out there to help you grow your horn.