Why are some stores booming and others going out of business?  So often we hear “The internet is killing our business.”  However, if that is truly the case, why are some specialty stores absolutely booming?    Some say, “It’s their location” and/or “It’s their product mix.”  While these certainly factor into a specialty store’s success, they are not enough on their own.   We’ve seen stores with great locations close and it is getting harder and harder to have a product mix that isn’t available elsewhere.

What does make the difference?

Innovation:    There are so many opportunities to connect with current customers and potential new customers in this day and age.  Stores that understand this and use as many of these opportunities as possible are thriving.   Touch points include innovations you can use right inside your store as well as outside the store.  We always think of social media, websites and loyalty programs, but what about other innovations to touch customers both outside and inside your store?  Investigate and embrace how technology can be used to pinpoint what your customers find most interesting.

Window display at Air Traffic Kits and Games in Burnsville, MN

Excitement:  If you are simply open as a place for consumers to buy something, then you haven’t offered them anything that they cannot get through ordering online (other than the ability to have it immediately in-hand).  What would drive them into your store and actually buy when they are there?

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Create excitement – excitement in the environment you create, excitement from your staff and excitement about the products!  The huge salt water fish tank, the giant tree in the middle of the store, the play tables for kids of all ages to play with your products, the marble maze running across the ceiling that customers can interact with, classes and make and take events,  the model train that runs around the upper perimeter of the store, the black light room where glow in the dark items are displayed, the full size puppet theater where kids bring story time to life and even fun bathrooms… these make for excitement and make your store the “talk of the town.”  When a store captures the heart of the beholder, the sales follow.

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Passion:  Ever notice that new store owners are super excited, energetic, and determined to make a difference in their communities and the lives of the kids and parents that walk through their doors?  For all the years I was a sales rep, I worked with many new stores .  The new stores all seemed to thrive while those that had been around a while, without any real changes, seemed to stall and even lose business.  The difference?  Passion.  Can an owner maintain passion over the years?  Absolutely!!  Is it easy to feel jaded, tired and disillusioned?  Of course.  The negative emotions are real and understandable, but will set the tone for the entire store as they are picked up by the staff and then the customers.

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What’s the answer?  Find ways to keep the passion!  Focus on all the good things that happen – the grins on the faces of the kids as they walk through your door, the comments from parents that love bringing their kids to your events, and make sure you hire staff that loves to work with kids, parents, and toys.  Allow your staff to play!  Allow yourself to play!  Allow your customers to play!  Try new things.  Venture out of your comfort level!  Gather ideas with your colleagues so you can rekindle your passion.   Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Post in the comments below and share your passion. It is contagious, and combined with innovation and excitement, it can make all the difference!

WarfieldBIO1Sue Warfield is the Director of Member Relations at ASTRA. With more than 30 years of experience in the retail and toy business, Sue offers insight into industry trends and tips and works to connect the retailers, sales representatives, manufacturers and affiliates in the specialty toy retailing arena. Contact Sue at swarfield@astratoy.org.