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3 ways to grow your run specialty business in 2019

8 minute read


At least half your customers have never shopped with you before. The key to growth is to reach these people before they come to your store and cultivate memory structures that make you top of mind the moment they think to purchase running gear. The three top ways to accomplish this include:

  • Get smart, strategic and persistent with digital advertising.
  • Use offline marketing channels proven to work for small business.
  • Continue to do great things – but with an eye toward pushing your brand and solidifying memory banks.

Grow a Run Store Business by Capturing New Customers

In any given month, what proportion of your customers are shopping for the very first time?

The data shows that it is anywhere between 40% and 60%. Let’s assume half – 50% -- of your customers are brand new. The other 50% are repeat shoppers. Maybe this number does not surprise you – you’ve already observed it, or intuitively you just know it to be true. But how do you use this insight to steer business strategy?

Repeat shoppers are the overwhelming focus of almost any conversation about retail customers. The only topic in these discussions is how to get your repeat customers to buy even more. Of course, the idea itself isn’t bad – in fact, it’s fantastic if you retail a high-turnover product like yogurt in a grocery store, but in run specialty, a typical customer may come in only once or twice a year. Definitely not the cadence of yogurt! Besides, you will never get a chance to turn a customer into repeat business unless the conveyer belt of new customers keeps rolling -- delivering new opportunities to your store.

Coaching how-to’s for top-shelf new customer experiences (once in-store) is a topic you can readily find in any internet search.

However, almost no how-to’s exist for getting them to enter your store!

Most (and by most, we mean 75%-85%) of your customers come in only once a year. These are, by definition, light shoppers. Between light shoppers and new shoppers, you are looking at people who aren’t routinely visiting a running store. Their backstory is simple: A need for running gear arises. There is no habitual place to shop – they hardly ever need running gear. Instead, they go somewhere familiar, or at least to a store where they remember that has the type of items they need.

Build Memory Structures That Make Your Store Memorable

The strategy starts with a realistic, clear-eyed understanding of the goal of communications to these segments of your market. There is no magic dust that converts them instantly into paying customers. The goal is to get stuck in their head, fixed in their memory. If you were a song, it would be an ear-worm. If you were an image it would be instantly recognized (think Mona Lisa?). You are neither a song, nor an image. You are a store that sells gear. You want them to immediately think of you the moment they want or need anything associated to running. It’s all about building these memory structures.

The key things to get fixed in their heads:

How you do it is easier than you might think. In the old days, small business relied on people to “let their fingers do the walking.” Yesterday’s Yellow Pages have morphed into today’s Google search. What would have been exclusively print advertising 30 years ago, is now replaced with digital ad placements.

Below are the three strategic priorities you can implement that will definitely grow your business in 2019 and beyond. These are proven techniques that we have seen measurable results in the form of increases in sales with the retailers that we have worked with. The keys to success are execution with patience, persistence and regularity over time. One-shot, or sporadic attempts will not provide the results you need.

1. Create a Solid Digital Strategy

Digital is the gift of modern technology to the small business marketer. By 2022 it is estimated that all digital advertising will be as much as 1.7 times the spend on TV. The reason why is because it works and can be less expensive, as compared to other advertising mediums, and generates better results. SEO, placements and paid search are the core elements. Notice that email is absent. Not because you should stop doing it, but because it’s better use is to communicate with existing customers. SEO is the key to making it easy for people to find you. Never assume that all your market knows you exist. The intelligent application of Paid Search gives you the opportunity to “own” certain words and phrases and intercept people who start shopping online. Placements allow you to tell your story through compelling imagery among audiences you find via Google or Facebook, making sure your brand is memorable.

2. Use Offline to Make Sure Your Neighborhood Knows Your Name

When people eventually look up from their phones, can they find a sign, a flyer, doorhanger, bus stop bench . . . anything -- with your logo, web or physical address? Think for a moment why personal injury lawyers are unavoidable on billboards, bus stops and newspaper boxes. A person may need a lawyer only once in their lives, but when they do – the memory of Law Firm “X “is already there. Make it a goal that anyone who lives within a 1-mile radius of your store should at the very least know you exist. When is the last time you tried direct mail? Ironically, with all the new emphasis on digital, direct mail is making a comeback because it has actually become memorable. What makes this type of radius strategy exciting is that there are also digital tools that can reinforce the messaging.

3. Do Great Things

Continue doing great things you already do – but be guided by an informed marketing strategy. For races, maybe this means borrowing from the stadium, arena, and bowl game branding strategists and actually putting your name in the names of the races you produce: “Turkey Trot” becomes “The [XX Running] Turkey Trot. Don’t assume all the racers figure out who you are simply because your store logo is in the group of sponsors shown on the back of the souvenir t-shirt. If you work with high school cross country and track teams, then you could elevate your name with the athletic boosters to get visibility among other sports (game programs, food/beverage sales, etc.).

Stay With It, Don’t Panic

The goal is to get your name out there. Take as many bites at the apple as you can. Be seen. Be remembered. For some customers it takes 2 impressions to get fixed in memory. Others may need 20. There is no set formula, only that the basic principle is: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.

You can’t predict exactly when people will come in. But if you are top-of-mind, they always do.


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