State of Retail: The Most – and Least – Effective Things for Engaging Customers?

A version of this feature was published in the July issue of BRAIN.

BOULDER, Colorado (BRAIN) — For the July edition of our magazine, we asked members of our State of Retail panel: What are the most – and least – effective things you’ve done to interact with customers and keep them riding?

CINCINNATI: David Bordewisch, Manager Biowheels

We love all types of bike racing. This year, our owner is back as race director for his hometown criterium; however, partnering with bicycle racing teams proved highly ineffective in generating sales and leads, as it effectively promoted, encouraged, and fostered a discount culture. The abuse, added accounting, and legacy “rebates” he created were a net negative. You’re in a lose-lose situation when you have to explain why two guys riding together don’t pay the same price.

The most effective thing to keep customers engaged has been to have inventory. The demand for products in stock and immediate availability has increased. When ordering Zipp wheels, we made a mistake and ordered 10 axles instead of five. In less than four months, we will have sold. Today’s post-pandemic customer knows the industry has supply chain issues. Having inventory in stock is crucial, as is having parts for repairs so people can get their bikes serviced and out to ride. If you have it, they will buy it.

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CA: Linda Coburn, co-owner Pedego 101 Electric Bikes

Linda Coburn

During the first two years of COVID, we were severely limited in our ability to reach customers through events such as group rides and bike rentals. Fortunately, this happened when business was so intense that we really didn’t need to do this sort of thing. Now that we are resuming group events, attendance seems to be a little lighter. E-bike demographics tend to favor older riders who also tend to be more cautious about exposure to the virus.

We don’t think social media is a great way to draw attention to us. Maybe it’s our older demographics or the more regional nature of the product. We publish a monthly newsletter which has a fairly good opening rate. We run a monthly group ride that allows new customers to meet other e-bikers in the community, and we try to run other special ride events so people can connect more fully. We are also sending more direct text messages to customers, as emails often end up in spam folders.

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.: Francisco Cornelio, Director

Francois Cornelio

During COVID, blue-collar, bike-dependent cyclists became our biggest customer and also had the best attitude. We have also seen growth in the soccer mom customer segment. These groups have kept us very busy and honest. We have noticed that our more affluent customers tend to complain about the smallest details as if they were going to the Tour de France. We spend an awful lot of time with this segment, earning little money and no profit.

ALTO, Georgia: Joe Elam, owner Habersham Bikes

Joe Elam

Customer engagement has evolved in recent years. COVID has created a bustling retail environment, where we have done our best to reflect each customer’s personal behavior and meet them on their own terms. Now that the demands on our time have subsided a bit, we’ve tried restarting our monthly email sends that highlight a particular product or category and share information about local events. We also use the Promoboxx digital marketing service with our main brands. We rarely use these tools to manage sales or the like.

I’ve never been able to measure effective returns with traditional advertising, like radio, print, or TV. Facebook and other social media platforms are the norm in marketing today, and I’m very weak in those areas as well. This is where the Promoboxx service helps, but I feel I need to be more active in that regard.

FOLSOM, CA: Erin Gorrell, owner Folsom Bike

Erin Gorrel

Customer engagement has changed since COVID in the sense that online sales continue to be a steady stream of activity. In-person sales have returned to normal with heavy foot traffic. We’ve kept customers engaged with a weekly e-blast that provides them with new routes to ride, across all riding disciplines. Plus, we’ve brought back our weekly rides and monthly “Challenge Rides” which take our customers out of their comfort zone and expose them to new routes. Finally, we always try to include educational pieces in our e-blast depending on seasonality such as “how to hydrate in the heat” or “5 tips to recover”. Compiling all of these things along with new product information has proven to be effective in keeping our customers engaged and driven. For us, the least effective engagement strategies were hosting guest speakers and after-hours events..

PORTLAND, Oregon: Tom Martin, sole proprietor TomCat Bikes

Tom Martin

COVID gave me the opportunity to refine customer engagement, tailoring service work to what customers wanted and needed. Scheduling drop-offs and consultations seemed totally weird when I first set this up. Eventually, all the stores did, which created expectations in the whole market. Nobody picks up the phone or checks voicemail, so I’ve found that a quick email and text updates are 99% of my contact style.

On top of that, the most effective things our store has done to engage with customers, educate them, and get them rolling has been being honest with them about their bikes, where they are in terms of experience. and what are their expectations. at every step of the engagement process: online booking, in-person consultation and in-depth service writing. We are not afraid to say no to certain jobs. You can’t specialize in everything.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. : Jannie Fitzgerald, co-founder of Buddy Pegs Family Ride

Jannie Fitzgerald

Our store opened in the fall of 2020, and at that time supply was down. Therefore, we cannot compare with when the COVID shopping craze happened in Spring/Summer 2020. However, as a primarily kids’ bike retail store with extensive bike programs for children, we continue to see an increase in engagement.

Word of mouth marketing for our children’s programs and hosting family events have been our most effective tools. We are not a transactional store. We are experiential. As kids learn to ride and graduate from our ATV programs, we find we are attracting parents who are new to the sport. Our staff are great at talking to families and providing them with the tools and information they need to grow as a cycling family.

HATTIESBURG, Mississippi: Jenny Moore, Co-Owner/Manager Moore’s Bike Shop

Jenny Moore

I keep saying that when things slow down a bit, I’ll get back to social media advertising and engagement, clinics, and organizing group walks. Before COVID, I was more creative in finding ways to attract new customers to our store.

We recently made the decision to close on Mondays to better serve our customers and have the day off. With our full staff, we are better able to educate customers inside the store and spend more time with them outside on our bike test track. The better the customer experience, the higher our win rate, and the more positive vibes those customers send to their friends about Moore’s. Our customers have been surprisingly understanding about the new schedule.

The most effective way to gain customer engagement is through personal experiences in the store. Building relationships with new and established clients has been more successful than any advertising/marketing we have tried in the past.

CHAMPLIN, Minnesota: Pam Sayler, owner Cycling to the trailhead

Pam Sayler

Like every other outdoor recreation business, we have been through the rush and demand for all things “outdoors”. Customer engagement during COVID has become very transactional, and it was important to stay positive and friendly even though we were exhausted and wanted someone to walk through the door and buy the bike shop. We are now returning to a more consultative style of engagement. Consumers are looking for product and lifestyle information, and we have spent time educating all of our staff on consumer engagement. We all need to participate in their experience. The return of classes and group outings helps to meet the need for engagement of our customers.

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