In the scramble to find the right influencer to plug their product, online brands are missing an opportunity to personally educate their consumers about the latest products to fit their needs. However, the #originalinfluencers, specialty retailers, know that producing successful seasons comes from aligning with brands and working together to educate their shoppers.
Specialty retailers can be a brand’s most effective partner in finding success. The folks in the outdoor stores, the ski shops, and the surf shacks that have a loyal, captive audience built from trust and shared passions – these are the influencers that brands want to be courting.
Envoy has sat down with specialty retailers around the nation in a blog series to learn how they have aligned and worked together with their brands. In this article, we are focusing on why educating the shopper is extremely important and how one company is living out educating their clients.
We recently had the opportunity to chat about the importance of brand education to customers with Bob Wade of UTE Mountaineer in Aspen, Colorado. Bob helped found UTE in 1978, and ever since the store has lived up to its mission to share its passion for the outdoors, becoming a staple of the outdoor community in Aspen.
The Importance of Educating Shoppers:
“We must listen to what the customer is saying or asking for. It’s a bit like detective work,” stated Wade. “Knowing what they need, or their perceived need gives us the information we use to begin the process of connecting them with the right piece of gear.”
Educating shoppers is one of the most important things a brand and a retailer can work on together. When you educate your customers, it’s a win-win-win situation. Your customer wins because they receive a product that fits their needs. The retailer wins because they make the sale and gain a happy customer. And the brand wins because their product is being sold by a trusted retailer.
“At UTE, we combine our product training and depth of outdoor experience to get our shoppers the right item that will make them happy,” explained Wade. “I tell our staff that the worst thing we can do is ‘talk someone into a purchase’ and have them scratching their heads as to why they ended up with another item to live in their closet indefinitely.”
Making sure brands provide their retailers with adequate education on their products better helps the retailer make the sale and keep a happy customer. Not only does this keep the customer coming back to the retailer’s store but it also creates trust between the consumer and the brand because of the knowledge about the brand that the consumer now has.
“Bottom line… our expertise, particularly our knowledge of local venues and conditions, is a powerful tool for getting the right product in our customer’s hands,” Wade concluded.
Educating Customers through Latest Products and 3 Brands Doing it Right:
One way that retailers and brands can continuously educate their shoppers is through providing the latest products.
“It is so important for us to lead our customers in new directions rather than taking the easy path of what has sold well the previous cycle. If we don’t put a new, fresh product in front of our clientele we will become predictable and boring,” explained Wade.
This is where the brand’s responsibility comes into play to provide the latest, upcoming products for their retailers to sell, but to also provide the education behind why this is the latest product.
However, both retailers and brands should be consistently challenged to create new reasons for customers to come back looking for “what’s new.” Working together to hold brands accountable to create the latest items, then, as a retailer, being educated on these new items to sell them, will leave customers wanting more from both the retailer and the brand each season.
As for UTE, here are a few brands they are finding success with this season:
On the hard goods side, they are having fun with On Running shoes. “On Running shoes’ cloud cell technology challenges traditional foam midsole construction. The extra cushioning and energy return are resonating with our runners and light hikers,” said Wade.
He also explained that True Grit for men and Dylan for women are strong entries into the apparel market for them as they offer great new designs in familiar casual silhouettes.
The last brand Wade mentioned was Cotopaxi, a colorful brand with a great environmental story that outdoor customers are particularly concerned about. The brand’s message also aligns well with the Ute’s values.
Having solid background information on the latest products available allows retailers to educate their consumers on the products that will work best for them during that season. Staying up on supplying the latest products is what will keep the customer coming back for more.
Educating Customers through Events:
Another way that brands can align with retailers is through retailer-hosted events. For brands and retailers alike, this is a great way to get their name out there and get their shoppers involved with both the brands and the retailer.
To accomplish this, for many years, UTE has held a “Pro Night” that pulls together guides, mountain rescue volunteers, and ski patrollers.
“At the event, shoppers can flex the skis, talk with reps, and try on the boots and clothing rather than lurking in the shadows concerning their pro purchases. We invite them in and make it a partnership between us,” explained Wade.
At their most recent Pro Night, many of their ski hard-good vendors like Atomic, Kastle, Scarpa, and Tecnica/Blizzard participated along with a selection of clothing vendors including Outdoor Research, Smartwool, and Ortovox.
Wade went on to further explain that these events also help the vendors by consolidating pro orders so that they do not have to process them one at a time.
“The reps are a key part of the evening and their travel, hard work, and product knowledge are really appreciated,” said Wade.
UTE also does a customer-facing event every January called the “Cross Country Ski Extravaganza.” Folks get to eat foods from local restaurants, try out cross country ski gear, receive ski instructions, and get their personal skis waxed – all for free! This past year, Fischer, Madshus, Salomon, and Swix all sent reps and product support.
Ultimately, these events become an educational and friendly connection with the store and the products it sells.
Continued Growth through Education:
Being a 44-year-old business can present challenges when it comes to growing a great deal year to year. However, even though UTE has not chosen to participate in e-commerce as a growth strategy, they have still seen an uptick in both hard and soft-goods sold.
Whereas product categories are always ebbing and flowing in strength, working with brands to aligning together to provide education to their shoppers in-store and through events has made a huge difference in their success.
Specialty retailers are the lifeblood of the outdoor industry. They are the key to building strong communities around a shared passion for the outdoors, and getting the next generation excited about adventuring in the outdoors. And when customers are educated, not only do they win, but the brand and retailer wins as well.
Stay tuned for our next #orginalinfluencer interview coming up soon and follow our Blog to stay up to date!