I had lunch with an old retail friend and colleague recently. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Joe. Our conversation touched on a variety of challenges facing sporting goods retailers today. We talked about product trends, real estate, competition, etc. Eventually, we started to talk about the customer experience within the retail store. We talked about what constituted a good experience. When we started to talk about how we could measure that experience and potentially improve on it, Joe asked me, “Do you play hockey?” “A little, as a kid,” I replied, “but not anymore.”
“OK, if you’re a hockey player, then you have Your Guy. Your Guy is the person you trust to sharpen your skates. You’ll drive an extra mile, wait a little longer, and even pay a little more to know the job is done right,” said Joe.
“Come on,” I responded. “I understand that it is important to keep your skates sharp, but surely the closest, cheapest place must be a pretty attractive option for someone that’s on the ice a few times a week.”
“You would think that, but if you’re a hockey player, your skates are the most fundamental piece of equipment you own. You get the wrong edge, and it’s going to have a negative impact on your game immediately. The challenge for a hockey player is to find someone you can trust with your skates. Most pro shops teach their associates through osmosis. Nothing formal, just picking up some pointers from the people around you. Once you find someone who knows what they’re doing you stick with them.”
“OK, first question,” I responded. “All of your stores have pro shops inside them. How do you make sure your associates become the Guy we’re talking about? All sports equipment that can be fitted or adjusted is equal parts science and art. How do you train associates for that? Second question,” I continued, “you need to sharpen a lot of skates to equal the amount of revenue you could make selling a pair of top of the line skates. Why even bother with a pro shop in the first place?”
“To answer your first question, we invest in our associate training, rather than the old learn on the job training many retailers rely on so heavily. There is a very definable process for sharpening skates, and you need to follow each step in sequence to do the job correctly. With an investment in training and tools, an associate can learn those steps, and master each one of them. We also make sure we show the customer that we’ve done the job right by inspecting the skate blade with them using tools to demonstrate the edge has been applied perfectly. That’s the science. To address the art, we hire hockey fanatics, people with passion and experience that can speak knowledgably to their fellow hockey players.”
“I can answer your second question with a few statistics,” Joe continued. “A hockey player will sharpen their skates after 15 or 30 hours of ice time depending on their position and the rinks they are playing at. That’s an extra trip to the pro shop once or twice a month if you’re playing regularly. Typically, sharpening skates correctly could take 20 to 40 minutes depending on how busy the store is. Imagine, a hockey fanatic coming by your store a couple of times a month and browsing for 40 minutes while he or she waits for their skates to get sharpened? If you trust me with your skates, then there is a very real chance you’ll want my recommendation on a new stick, or pads when the time comes. After all, I’m Your Guy.”
Talking with Joe, about the Your Guy concept, illustrates the risk and reward of developing an experience that is consistent with your brand and, perhaps more important, something that customers will value. My take-aways are: