If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve likely heard us talk about how specialty retail is the original influencer. Before social media, before blogs, there was that incredibly knowledgeable retailer who could help you find the best camping gear, clothing, footwear, album…or whatever. They could give advice on specific features and explain their benefits for what you wanted to accomplish. And, perhaps most importantly, they could fill in the gaps in your knowledge that you didn’t even know where there. In short, you could have a conversation with them, they could help you out, and you trusted them.
Through all of our writing about these original influencers, we’ve encouraged brands to recognize the value of these retailers by working with them and giving them the tools they need to sell their products. What we wanted to do with this post, however, was to give an incredible original influencer a chance to tell us about what they do.
DeAnn Echols is a co-owner of Great Outdoor Store in Sioux Falls, SD, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about brands, working with customers, and inviting brand reps to store events. Our conversation is below.
What are some of the ways you’ve helped a shopper in your store recently in terms of a recommendation or education?
We have a pretty robust travel business and I love helping customers get ready for trips.
We talk a lot about packing light, having key pieces that will serve multiple purposes and getting them the right luggage and packing accessories to make their trip stress free. I recently helped a couple that will be going to Norway in the late fall. We talked a lot about the importance of layers, the wonders of wool and compressible jackets.
One of the unique opportunities we have as a specialty retailer, something you don’t get out of an online or big box experience, is to educate our customers. We live this gear every day, at work and at play. So we have a ton of knowledge on the different brands - as well as tips, tricks, and best practices. It’s our job to figure out what the customer wants to do, set them up with the right product, and then educate them on the how and why.
And the customer trusts our recommendation. The gear we put together for them might make or break their trip. That’s a huge responsibility, and we take it seriously. That means getting to know them a bit, and learning what their goals and intentions are for the gear they need, then putting together a reliable, quality solution for them.
What are some of your favorite new brands or products that are really connecting with your shoppers right now?
Cotopaxi is really great for us recently. Customers love the Del Dia collection and the one of a kind, recycled aspect of the line. It’s just something really fun.
We have also been doing really great with a purse line called Joy Susan. They offer a ton of styles and colors to pick from and the prices and margins are really great.
When choosing brands to bring into the shop we like to look at what we think will be a good fit with our mission and what our customers are looking for. We look at what the brand is doing in our market place, what their online strategy is, and other factors to determine if we partner with them.
Do you have any upcoming events that brands are participating in?
We try to highlight brands on most of our events. We have a big “Whiskey and Wool” Trunk Show event coming up in October with Filson that we are excited about.
We also have a Travel Expo each February where we partner with several of our travel brands such as Eagle Creek, ExOfficio, PacSafe and others where we set us stations throughout the store that offer travel tips, how-to’s, and such. In the Spring we have our Gear and Beer event out on our lawn. We showcase our gear, invite our gear reps to come and talk with our customers about their products. We have seminars throughout the day. It’s a lot of fun and we always get a great turn out. We are fortunate that most of our brands are more than happy to help with our events by offering products for give away, reps attending, or marketing dollars.
Have you experienced growth in your business in the past year and, if so, how’d you do it?
We have enjoyed modest growth this year. We recently began working with Retail Orbit to help us with our buying categories and budgets and working on getting our KPI’s and inventory in line. So far, even though it’s been a wild weather pattern this year, we are seeing good progress and look forward to continuing on this path.
Since working with Retail Orbit, we have had to have conversations with our brands about our buying strategy going forward. We found that they were very understanding and helpful. They want us to be successful so they understand that some buys might be down from previous years, but that we are putting ourselves in a better position for the future. This is good for them and for us in the end. We have also been putting more focus on our sales staff by defining management duties and responsibilities and making sure our part-time staff is well trained not just in product knowledge, but in general sales knowledge and how to engage and treat our customers in a positive way. We want to continue to grow and succeed, and that means keeping on top of trends, watching our bottom line and making sure we are making good decisions in everything we do.
Thanks to DeAnn for taking the time to chat with us! Specialty retailers are the lifeblood of the outdoor industry, offering unique shopping experiences and valuable knowledge to enthusiasts around the world, in a way that can’t be found elsewhere.
If you have any questions or would like more information about our Original Influencers, please get in touch!