This topic is near and dear to my heart. Before I went back to school
to study design, I was a partner in a couple of large bicycle stores.
For over five years, I sold thousands of high end bicycles, and ran two
multi-million dollar stores. So it’s only natural that I start this
series with specialty retail.
I’m going to use the example of a bike shop, but you could substitute
that for an antique dealer, a flower store, or any other retailer who
specializes in a particular product.
Blogs are such a natural choice for retailers. We
live in a world where the difference between products in a given channel
is incredibly small. A bike is a bike is a bike. A mid priced mountain
bike sells for about a thousand dollars. Take every manufacturer’s
thousand dollar model and do a feature by feature comparison; what
you’ll find is that they are remarkably similar.
The same is true for bike stores – at least for high end bike stores.
They’re clean, they’re well laid out, they have parking, and lots of
inventory. What really separates one store from another is the knowledge
of their staff, the depth of their soft-goods inventory, and their
ability to service the customer’s needs.
Specialty retail is usually a pretty low margin business. Ad budgets
are tiny, and there isn’t a lot of room for experimentation. The margin,
where it does exist, is on soft goods and service.
So how do you, as a store owner, do an effective job of a) showing
your potential audience the expertise of your staff, b) highlight
specific inventory items, and c) increase your soft goods and service
Enter the blog.
If I were back in retail, I’d start writing a blog immediately. I’d use it to:
- tell my customers about exciting new inventory.
- write articles about how and why cycle-specific clothing is such a necessary investment.
- give tips on proper maintenance.
- promote club rides and post race results.
- offer reviews of trails, and conduct interviews with local celebrities.
- give notice of sales and other events.
- describe why certain helmets cost $50, and others $250.
- show how to properly size a bike.
- review the latest bike videos.
- etc, etc, ad infinitum…
I’d give my readers as much information as I could.
What’s more, I’d get my staff involved in writing the blog. I’d get
them to tell their stories. I’d get them to write about their bike
buying tips, about their favorite rides, and their favorite accessory.
I’d go even further and take pictures of customers picking up their
new bikes, and include a ton of testimonials. I’d take my camera on
group rides and post the pictures as soon as I was back in the office.
I’d arrange my site archives so that my site becomes a useful tool
that builds itself over time. Imagine if all your trail reviews could be
easily accessed and printed. What about a collection of all your
maintenance tips? As time progresses, the value of your blog increases
What does all this do?
It makes me an authority. It gives me credibility. It increases
customer loyalty. It gives me an opportunity to educate my customers
about the finer points of buying a bike before they even walk through my
door. It helps me show why premium soft-goods are worth it. It
demonstrates the knowledge and skill of my staff. It gives existing
customers a compelling reason to continue to visit the site even after
their initial purchase, thereby reducing the amount of time until their
next purchase. It gives my store top-of-mind name recognition to my
target audience. It gives my employees a sense of ownership in the
And it does it simply and quickly.
Bike stores have been struggling for years trying to figure out how
to use the internet to help their sales. Supplier agreements restrict
the ability to sell most inventory online. A blog can tell a compelling
story. It starts the sales process before the customer’s stepped through
Some folks may be concerned that this does nothing to actually close
sales. The argument I’ve heard is “They can still go to my competitors.
I’ve done all this work, and they still go for price.” You know what?
You’re right. But so what? You weren’t going to make any profit from
those customers anyways.
I encourage all specialty retailers to blog. The barrier to entry is
very low, and the potential rewards are significant. If you decide to
take the leap into blogging, do yourself a favor, and invest in the
services of a professional blog designer or consultant. There are a
number of mistakes we can help you avoid, and can get your site traffic
up much more quickly. Blogging is not easy, and its not cheap; it takes a
significant amount of time and effort. Blogs done badly can cause far
more damage than a blog not done at all. So do your homework, email me, and get ready to have far more fun than one should have at work!——-