I was visiting a good friend and toy store owner in Lawrence, KS (The Toy Store – you should visit if you’re ever in the area) and she asked me, “Does visiting stores like mine make you miss being on the retail side?”
My answer was an immediate and definitive No.
Oh, I get inspired when I see fabulous stores done well like The Toy Store. I love walking through a store thinking, “I could have done that at Toy House.” But while visiting great stores and thinking about what I could have done is something that happens all the time, it isn’t the good stores that make me miss being a retailer.
It is the bad ones that get me going.
The game I play the most is inspired by the famous Dr. Seuss book, If I Ran the Zoo. When I walk through a bad retail store my mind quickly goes to, “If I ran this store, the first thing I would do is …”
It takes a lot of hubris to play a game like this. First, to call a retailer “bad” that is still open in today’s retail climate is fairly judgmental. Second, to think I could make it better takes another level of arrogance. Yet, it is a game and an arrogance I would actually encourage you to have.
It will only help your own business.
First, if you’re playing this game, you’re judging retailers against a standard—your own. Since we all think our store is pretty good, we measure all other stores against what we are doing. So it causes you to truly evaluate your own standards and find ways to raise your own bar.
Second, as you think about what you would do first with someone else’s business, you’re reinforcing what is working for your business. You’re most often going to focus on your own strengths, the things you do that set you apart. Keep that in mind the next time you’re putting together a marketing message. It is the things you do differently that will resonate most with potential new customers.
Third, even though it takes an arrogance to think you can make someone else’s business better, it also lends itself to humility because you get into a mindset of improvement. You get into a mindset of looking for things that can get better. You look more critically at your own business.
I encourage you to play this game. Get someone else to play it with you. Take your manager to visit a few stores to play this game. Then, in the middle of your discussion, change the name of the store you’re discussing to your store, and see how the ideas flow.
The good stores like The Toy Store are fun to visit. The stores that need some work, however, are the ones that get my juices flowing. They’ll get yours flowing, too, when you play this game.
PS There is value from visiting great stores, too. I wrote a post about it here. Your best lessons come from the best and worst retailers you visit. Average stores can only teach you how to be like everyone else. Visit the best and worst retailers out there. Then apply what you learn. The desire to get better will keep you humble and grounded even as your store starts to rise.