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The Big Show

Dave Ratner//January 29, 2015//

The Big Show

Dave Ratner //January 29, 2015//

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As I write this, I just got back from the National Retail Federation Big Show (a retailer trade show) in New York. Going to the show is a mind-boggling experience and you really should attend it. The show takes up the entire Javits Center in New York, which dwarfs the venues at Global Pet Expo or SuperZoo. The exhibit halls feature every product or service that retailers use. From POS systems and add-on software and hardware to marketing companies and logistics companies and fixture companies and on and on and on. There were several thousand exhibitors and over 35,000 attendees in the three days of the show.

The things I like best about this show are the hundreds of different speakers and the case studies of things individual retailers have done well (and not so well). Many of the sessions and exhibitors focused on the big boys but there was plenty for the indie retailer to learn.

By the time you read this, we will have upgraded our POS system to the latest and greatest Counterpoint system. It has been a slow, painful and very expensive process that included deposits on two systems that we ended up not using because they ended up not doing what we needed.

In the end, the counterpoint was as close as we could get to what we need. Here’s my advice to you: Before you invest in a new or a first POS system, find a consultant who can help you articulate your “must haves” in the new system. Naturally, yours truly didn’t do that.

We did find a compatible piece of software called flexReceipts. It will allow us to email receipts to customers and put targeted coupons on those receipts. The best part is the folks from that company are very savvy tech people who are ahead of the curve with mobile payments, emails, etc.

We also looked at payroll, time and attendance software, mobile payment software, and some cool monitors that you can program through a computer to play or demo anything you have in your store. They are basically televisions that you program.

This was also my fourth year as presenter at the National Retail Federation Big Show. We had more than 850 people in the session, which was “Twelve Very Doable Marketing Strategies.” For me, the best part of the show is always talking to other retailers. You learn so much more by listening than talking. I hung out with the CMO of Sheels All Sports, which is a chain of 22 amazingly well run stores. The stores are world class, industry-leading destination stops. They range in size from about 100,000 sq. ft. to 220,000 sq. ft. They do zillions of dollars and have a wonderful way of doing business.

Firstly, each store is a shopping experience like no other. They understand whoever has the store that is the most fun, wins. They sell, sporting goods, all kinds of apparel, hunting equipment and pet food—including lots of locally made stuff. But what really sets the company apart from the competition is the people who work there and the training that goes into every single employee.

Most retailers don’t invest nearly enough in product training, customer service skill training, management training, etc. But Sheels does. The employees at Sheels are paid very well with great benefits but a lot is expected of those employees. The management sets high expectations but they give the crew the tools they need to meet them.

Listening to my new buddy talk about the culture at Sheels reminded me exactly of how Mindy Grossman runs her company Home Shopping Network. They demonstrate that an owner needs to give the employees tools and opportunities to shine and grow. A company can’t grow without great people.

I went back to my hotel room thinking of ways to run my company like they do. I am so much smaller than they are, how can I possibly do it? Then I realized Mr. Sheels started with one store and a clearly defined vision of how he wanted to run his business. We can all learn from his example.

Here is what I think we can look forward to. Free shipping on pet food will not be here forever. Once investors insist on companies making money, free shipping will go away. Just don’t hold your breath. I also think you and I will have to let our customers order online and pick up at the store or we will have to deliver orders. The companies that are easiest to do business with will win.

Things are changing so fast that indies like us will face challenges staying ahead of the curve. Please take this advice about delivery even if your business is great. Start making a plan to get into the delivery business now and get ahead of the curve.