At Toy Fair, ASTRA staff were energized with the excitement we felt from our members who stopped by the booth – from talking with the new ASTRA members who joined (welcome!) to those who registered to join us at ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy in June, we all felt the energy that comes from face-to-face interaction. In the business world, this human connection  still trumps everything else despite what we hear about “omni-channel selling” and “digital is king.”

I am reading a new book written by Richard Shapiro titled “The Endangered Customer:  8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business.”  Richard begins with this introduction: If any part of your business enterprise relies on your relationship with consumers, beware of the ‘Age of Endangerment’.  At no point in history history has your customer base been more vulnerable to poaching than it is today.  What a heavy statement – and one which I am sure many of us can relate to and understand.

However, there is a very positive flip side to this.  While consumers can shop at all hours of the day and night and have products delivered anywhere they choose, there is a big difference in a consumer that simply wants goods at the least price and the true customer who will return to a specific place based on the relationship they have built with the retailer and the good “feelings” they get from the overall transaction.

With technology and online shopping, the human connection is becoming more and more rare.  What this means to the in-person shopping experience is that the personal touch is all the more valuable.  In Shapiro’s book he notes the following eight key steps that guarantee repeat business – all of which relate to making a human connection. Here are the eight steps:

  1. Make me feel welcome (hope)
  2. Give me your full attention (control)
  3. Answer more than my question (connect)
  4. Know your stuff (trust)
  5. Don’t tell me no (frustration) – you may not be able to say yes to everything, but you don’t have to say the word “no”
  6. Invite me to return (feel wanted)
  7. Show me I matter (caring)
  8. Surprise me in good ways (feel special)

These steps may seem too basic.  However, stop and think about your business, your experiences when shopping, your everyday routine, your work environment, and your personal relationships.  Aren’t the things listed above what you are looking for and value?  Aren’t these the things that will make your day (or not given and felt, can almost ruin your day)?

One of our ASTRA retail members, Cynthia Compton of 4 Kids Books & Toys (Zionsville, IN) recently posted this on her Facebook page:

I’ve told you all about my corner convenience store/gas station before – the one I stop at on the way to the shop most mornings. It’s not cute, or charming, or local in any way – it serves coffee out of those big 10 gallon urns that you reach by stepping around the dried mud clumps on the floor from all the workman’s boots, and it’s filled with packaged processed snacks, machine made donuts, and the smell of yesterday’s fried chicken strips and pizza. The display of lottery ticket options is only exceeded in height by the cigarette cartons behind the counter, and you can buy beer both in six packs and individual cans, all day and all night long.But I’ve never, ever opened the door for myself there. There’s always someone ahead of me in Carhartts with a big smile at the entrance, and the staff at the checkout call everyone “sweetheart” or “honey” (you can pick your line) and there’s a custom of taking two lids for your coffee cup when it’s your turn – and then you separate them and hand one to the person behind you. It’s Lent in a tank of gas and a big styrofoam cup. When you look past the extras, the frills and the make up we put on our lives, you can focus on the real, the true, and the good. And there’s a lot of good in keeping people fed, and warm, and ready to start the day with kindness.

The power of people.  There is nothing that can replace it.  Use it wisely and it will make all the difference!


Sue 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.
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