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Dont just sit there – get out and about to bring in new customers

One of the best pieces of advice for retailers that I’ve ever heard was this: “don’t just sit next to the till waiting for customers to come to you. You’ve got to get out there and find them”.

At first that surprised me because it’s not how retail works, is it? No, but it should be.  Consider how many times you hear those disappointing words, “Oh I didn’t know you were here”.

This is despite your good central location and 20 years trading on the site. Sports retailers have some distinct advantages over other retailers in this respect.

In particular you know where sportsmen and women gather on a regular basis – at sports clubs.

That enables you to take the store to them at least in part. Which bumps us up against a couple of problems First, plenty of retailers feel like a fish out of water if asked to sell away from their store.

They also feel that they don’t have the necessary skills to sell in a different environment. They may possibly be right but I doubt it. More than that how do you go about getting access to all those potential customers?

You can’t just pitch up at the local tennis club with a bagful of rackets and start selling. You’d be asked to leave, and right speedily.

However, you have a number of good reasons on your side to justify why clubs should agree to give you a platform.

As an expert you can give advice – advice that’s far better than they’ll get from fellow club members. (From personal experience that is often something akin to ‘buy the brand with the biggest advertising budget’). The members get the opportunity to trial products in the best environment. They meet you personally and establish rapport. That’s a pretty good rationale for inviting you along.

I strongly recommend going about achieving that invitation in as professional a way as possible. In practice that means finding out the name of the club secretary and writing to him or her. I would definitely suggest that far ahead of just turning up or phoning. ‘Writing to’ can come in various forms. The good old fashioned letter is professional and in this wired world, people get far fewer of them than they used to. So they get more attention.

You may, however, prefer to use email. It’s modern, it’s easy and it’s free. Those factors are as much a problem as a virtue – everybody else uses it with the effect of filling the recipient’s inbox. But it’s very tempting. A third option is to print a mailer. That is definitely professional and it need not be expensive.

If you plan to sell to a lot of clubs (probably after an initial trial via email) this is certainly worth considering. I have used a very effective mailer, known as the Boost bar mailer. Predictably it’s got a Boost bar stuck to it. Nobody minds being sent chocolate and they all remember it when you do your telephone follow-up.

In the same vein as the Boost bar mailer, here are some other ideas I’ve seen used or would suggest. Aimed at women is the Valentine mailer. It’s a paste engagement ring with the message “I have a proposal for you.”

If you are targeting women (a fast growing sector of the market) I’m sure this would deliver results.

A cotton handkerchief with a knot at one corner and the message printed on it “remember (or don’t forget) to buy new club kit for the season during our summer sale”. They might throw that in the bin, but I doubt it.

Before the British Lions tour to New Zealand you could send the Lion bar mailer (same principle as above Boost bar mailer) to rugby clubs.

Pick the right clubs, get your timing right and I reckon you’d sell plenty of replica shirts in a couple of post-match hours, simply for turning up with the product in a full variety of sizes.

This could work especially well on a Sunday morning when mini rugby is being played. You decide when you choose to do this. If you have a loyalty card scheme, you can say, “we’ll help fund the club”. Any club members who sign up can commit their points to the club. The club can encourage members to do that. Quite soon you would become the go-to store for many of the members. Again, this would work especially well with junior teams or clubs.

You may feel that much of this is costly. Certainly, it’s not free. But it’s a route to finding customers in their dozens, perhaps hundreds, people who actually spend money on sports products.

It’s tightly targeted to active sports people. In essence you would be spending your time and money reaching your core customers.

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