What I've Learned in 15 Years of Retail

What I've Learned in 15 Years of Retail

I’m not a genius or a business guru, but I do have the ability to learn my lessons…sometimes the hard way. My business degree is a Masters of Architecture Degree from the University of Kansas.

Many of these listed items are what I call “the ancient rules of retail”, most likely observed by olive merchants in Mesopotamia in 1600 BC…these were certainly not “invented” by me.

So, in no particular order, this is what I’ve learned since starting 718 Cyclery in 2008

  1. You have to be a student of your books. For many years, I didn’t take this seriously enough, and it almost sunk us. I spend 20-30 minutes in Quickbooks over coffee every morning
  2. A person is more likely to spend $100 on an experience than a thing. Young couples getting married spend that $4000 on a trip to Peru rather than on a ring.
  3. You have to know your inventory…there is no inverse to this statement.
  4. At any and every time, the shop must be “squared away”. This means all work areas, retail areas and bathrooms are clean and presentable. A clean and organized business sends the message I want to send. You know that feeling when you get an accidental/inadvertent peak into a restaurant’’s dirty kitchen…
  5. “Eye level is buy level” (Alfred W.) This describes the placement of items for sale.
  6. “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean” (also Alfred)
  7. “Everything needs a price tag” (Ben’s 1st Rule of Business)
  8. “Things don’t sell well in the basement” (Ben’s 2nd Rule of Business)
  9. The music that you play on the shop speakers ISNT for you or the employees, it is for that customer who comes in the door.
  10. Don’t ever mess with the state when it comes to taxes (sales tax, corporate tax, workman’s comp, disability insurance, etc.)…they will hunt you don’t to the ends of the earth and until your dying day (or so I am told)
  11. “Get off your losers” (Greg). If an idea isn’t working, or an item isn’t selling…get rid of it fast. Make decisions that are easy to reverse course and get out from under if they are bad decisions. Buying 100 unicycles would be a decision that would be hard to get out form under.
  12. “Make every trade” (also Greg). This alludes to making sure every in-store interaction, phone call and email is the best it can be. You never know where the next $3500 bike sale is coming from!
  13. Make 1 more good decisions than bad ones and you’ll be ahead of the game
  14. Assume that everyone who walks in to the shop near to another person is NOT with that person. Once you ask everyone if they have any questions, people will usually reveal that they are with the other shopper in the store.
  15. A well-written chalk sandwich-board on the sidewalk is worth 10k likes on social media
  16. If it takes extra time to set up a social media photo, you’re doing it wrong
  17. Its easy to run a business when everything is going well. A true test of a business is how they operate when things go sideways
  18. Don’t respond to online/Yelp negative reviews
  19. If you do respond to negative reviews, keep in mind the reply isn’t for the person who wrote the review, its for the 1000’s of folks who will subsequently view it. Its your chance to show people how you handle issues (see #17)
  20. You simply cannot pay employees enough to care about your business as much as you do. You can have great employees who care a ton, but they aren’t waking up at 2am because they forgot to special order something. This is not their fault.
  21. The times when the shop has had financial issues are times when I thought I had more $$/buying power than I did. Act with the tenacity of thinking you have $50 in the bank
  22. Listen to that little voice in your head...its usually telling you the truth you don’t want to hear (ESPECIALLY mechanically)
  23. As soon as you think to yourself, “I think I’ve figured this out..”, you haven’t. (Don’t listen to THAT little voice)
  24. Just saying “hello” to every visitor to your business will beat 90% of other businesses from the start. Do good honest work and be kind and you’ll kill it…but start with that 90% boost!
  25. Realize that people have made time in their busy day in your hectic city to come and visit YOUR business…although you are there all day, this is a special trip for someone
  26. I decide what is sold in my shop, not my vendors
  27. A vendor relationship is a 2-way street, and has to be sustainable for both parties.
  28. What I don’t do is more important that what I do do…learn the power of saying “no”
  29. We waste so much energy trying to be good at too many things. Find what you are good, and be great at it. Check out the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths”. When I was an architect, this book changed my life.
  30. I see this business as the confluence between:

    1. what I like to do
    2. what I am good at
    3. what I can make money doing
  31. Honor everyone (and their bike). Ask how long they’ve owned it, how they use it, etc.
  32. “Its a listening game” (Colin). Meaning that customer will tell you exactly what they have come to you for, if you listen.
  33. 1 part talking, 5 parts listening
  34. The person in front of you in the shop is more important than the ringing phone, which in turn is more important that that email. I generally tell people on the phone to call back if a customer comes into the shop.
  35. I tell people “no” all day ( in terms of the work that I chose to pull in). I try not to make the visit a negative. I give them a recommendation as to a place they can go…so they are leaving with a positive
  36. People “thank” me all day…I turn that back around by saying (something to the effect of) “it is me who is to be thanking you” (I never say “you’re welcome”).
  37. When people come into the shop…after greeting them, I say “let me know if you have any questions”…this allows someone to browse in peace if that’s what they want.
  38. People tell me they are sorry to be “wasting my time” if we strike up a longer conversation. I tell them that its the job (the listening part).
  39. When people leave, I usually say “thanks for coming in, have a good rest of the day”
  40. I build custom bikes, go on camping trips, and sell gear. That’s it. I live 800 feet from the shop and am home less than 2 minutes after I close. I remind myself every day that I am living the dream, and don’t ever take it for granted.
  41. In my opinion, there is a lot more to be gained by being a morning person as opposed to being a night owl
  42. 90% of life is showing up (I think that’s a Ferris Bueller quote)
  43. Answer every phone call like its the first one of the day, and greet every customer like they are the first one you’ve ever seen
  44. Even if people don’t buy anything, I thank them for taking the time to stop by…my goal is that they “leave with a positive”
  45. It takes a fraction of a second to put that tool back in its place as opposed to leaving it on the workbench. That organized wall of tools makes a huge impression (as does a clean work surface).
  46. The cheaper the bike, the more people want you to install the reflectors
  47. Bad things happen in groups or clusters…better that than spreading them out over weeks
  48. I wish I had learned how to type. My #1 time waster is going through every sentence with a spell checkr.
  49. Most of this job (as is life) is simply remembering where you put things (inventory, digital files)..have a system!
  50. Its100% about the people (not the stuff)
  51. When people tell me "you have a nice store", I tell them "thank you, that's nice to hear".
  52. This may sound dumb, but treat everyone as you'd like to be treated when you walk into a store.  We've all been there
  53. Let people use the bathroom...again, we've all been there.
  54. When people either call or stop by, and we don't have what they are looking for...I tell them "thanks for checking with us".
  55. Never ever ever sh%t talk other shops...ever!

This list is “in-progress”, as I remember more things to add!

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1 comment

Great. Great. Great. Sharing with my crew.



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