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Pro Shop Pros...Plus!

By Patricia Glynn

In this month’s edition of CBI magazine, in the roundtable feature ‘Riding Out the Recession: Five Pro Shop Experts Share the Secrets that Ensure Success,’ I reported that retail spending, at the onset of 2010, had finally begun to recover. Happily, the trend has continued—and with seemingly no end in sight: according to Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research for Thomson Reuters, the Manhattan-based information company, the retail industry is “definitely showing an upward trend.” For January, the company accounts, same-store sales rose a robust 3.3%; then, for March and April collectively, sales grew even further, ending at roughly 4.8%. “Consumers,” Martis told the New York Times, “are spending.” Finally!

On that upbeat note, I’d like to share with you some additional insight provided by our five accomplished Pro Shop pros. As a reminder, our panel consisted of: Lara Price, retail buyer for the Coop, the 800-square-foot shop within the Cooper Fitness Center at Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas; Bonnie Patrick Mattalian, president of The Club Synergy Group, a consultancy in River Edge, New Jersey; Eric Ricard, national director of spas at five SportsClub/LA locations, which are under the direction of Boston-based Millennium Partners Sports Club Management LLC; Lynda Reis, manager of the 800-square-foot pro shop at Chicago’s Midtown Tennis Club; and William Banos, vice president/COO of Gold’s Gym Los Angeles, part of the international chain of clubs.

CBI: When hiring for a retail position, what traits and skills are most desirable in a potential associate? And throughout employment, what sort of training/educational protocol will help staffers reach their utmost potential?

Lara Price: Personality is a key factor. You can easily teach someone to run a cash register and tag clothing, but you can’t teach personality. When hiring, we look for an outgoing, friendly person who will genuinely enjoy being a customer’s personal shopper. We try to find a person who we feel customers will connect with, someone they’ll enjoy just stopping into the shop and chatting with. Because great service is one of our core values, each of our staff members participates in extensive customer-service training. We work to ensure that they’re motivated, continually, and that they’re able to please the customer. Ultimately, we want to help them deliver what is, in the end, a great shopping experience.

Bonnie Patrick Mattalian: The size of your shop will determine whether you need a dedicated full-time employee. As for the best person, they ought to be impeccably organized and very charismatic. They should be comfortable talking to anyone, at anytime. Conversely, they’ll also know when it’s best to just step back and allow the customer to browse. With regard to training, vendors should provide onsite instruction or, at the very least, a Webinar demo. Additionally, beyond basic product information, ongoing sales training is necessary. Staff should be instructed in varying selling techniques: how to identify customer needs; how to offer solutions in the form of product; and how to up-sell. This sort of education needs to be continually managed and updated regularly. Consistency translates into success.

Eric Ricard: We focus on hiring individuals who have sales experience coupled with a customer service background. And to ensure that our staff reach their potential, we offer extensive, comprehensive training in multiple areas, including sales, merchandise, and customer service.

Lynda Reis: Our associates are really vital to our success, particularly in terms of repeat business. We’re constantly striving to find ways to both improve our customers’ experience and to set ourselves apart from the competition. With that goal in mind, our employees all participate in a training program called “beREMARKABLE.” The goal is to teach staff how to build relationships with clients and how to make the shopping experience truly exceptional. A primary element is role-playing. Staff will act out different scenarios and, in the process, learn how to positively resolve a variety of situations. Overall, the program helps keep our associates engaged and motivated, while also educating them on best industry practices. As an adjunct, we also partner with equipment manufacturers who provide educational seminars. It’s ideal, as it keeps staff up to date with the latest industry information.

William Banos: We’ve put into place an entire orientation program designed to prepare our staff in all areas of retail service. One component of our education involves visits to high-end establishments in the area. By observing the typically outstanding techniques they employ, we then learn how to better serve our clients.

CBI: How do you determine which products to stock?

Lara Price: Learning what the latest and greatest trends are requires observation. Be attentive and proactive. In particular, be aware of what’s going on in your own club—get to know the members and find out what they need, what they prefer. It can be a bit of a trial-and-error exercise at first. But you’ll soon come to know what your clientele will prefer. I know now, for instance, that the color green, for this location, does not sell. In general, we tend to bring in clothing that works both for workouts and for when a member leaves to run errands—items that are functional yet stylish. Also, people recognize our company name, which is quite helpful; they come in looking for Dr. Cooper’s vitamins and books.

Bonnie Patrick Mattalian: You’ll want to pay attention to trends (eco-friendly “green” items, for instance, are very big right now) and make it your job to know what’s out there, what’s new. Also, be aware of the demographic you’re serving. Ideally, you ought to stay current and change product at least six times per year. Of course, in general, you’ll want to offer necessities, such as towels and locker locks. Other products to consider include gift baskets, body care items, pedometers, apparel, etc. Branded items are always good—T-shirts, water bottles, bags. Selling these items will promote your business when members utilize them out in the community. Tie-ins, too, can determine product; you may offer a stress-relief clinic and then sell related products, such as books, CDs, aromatherapy items, supplements, and such. And, when selecting a vendor, be sure to ask lots of questions, such as what their minimum order is and what the return policy is.

Eric Ricard: We seek to carry a variety of health and fitness products and it’s a team effort as far as determining what the next “hot” item is. Also, since we have clubs throughout the country, what we sell in a particular location depends on the needs of the people in that particular market. To figure out what will sell, we listen to the client—listening to customers’ needs is crucial.

Lynda Reis: We work to keep our apparel current and to feature the latest technology in racquets and shoes. Also, we’ll gladly fill special orders if there’s something we don’t carry. Customers really appreciate when we go that extra mile. When deciding what inventory to stock, I depend a great deal on feedback from both associates and customers. I think having a good eye is helpful, but what’s particularly important is utilizing current market data to determine future decisions. By analyzing past trends, we gain a better understanding of how to proceed.

William Banos: We have a dedicated retail director who handles product selection. She pays attention to prior sales—what sold, what didn’t. Additionally, she’ll visit trade shows to see what’s new and what’s available. Finally, she’ll keep in contact with members, listening to them, finding out what they want to buy. Also, we have our logo products—these are always very popular among both members and non-members alike. People will come in just to buy Gold’s Gym branded items. Then, along with specialty products, which maybe aren’t readily found elsewhere, we stock all the essentials and items that members may have forgotten at home. 

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