A New Year’s Resolution


Create Meaningful Experiences for Customers in Your Store

We are very fortunate to work in an industry that serves creative people – people who are searching for a safe oasis, a sense of belonging, and friends who “get” them for who they are. We understand their quest to express themselves, and the role art plays in everyone’s lives. Retailers have the ability to help and support those who are just starting to find their creative side, and also those who cannot go a day without sketching something. We can make a difference in the lives of people who are searching to find their voice, their peace, their anger, their beauty … the list is as endless as the kinds of art they create.

But doing this as owners and operators of brick-and-mortar art stores is becoming our biggest challenge. From what I hear, consumers want to spend their money on experiences more than they want to spend it on “things.” Great! Art materials stores can excel at highlighting creative tools that excite individual imagination. How can we enhance customer interaction in 2017, to turn ordinary shopping into an interactive experience? Here are some techniques and resources you can use right now.

Acknowledge and encourage the good work of your staff

Employees are the front line to your cash registers and growth. It’s that simple. Is your sales team happy? What are they telling you they need? What would inspire them to create experiences that keep customers coming back – the kind that your store’s shoppers will rave about on social media?

Not only do you want employees to be knowledgeable and helpful, you also want them to be comfortable suggesting add-on sales. The ability to customize a sales purchase to match the buyer’s personal style is unique to the in-store experience. Add-on sales make everyone happy, especially the person making the purchase. Recognize those employees who understand which items complement each other, and acknowledge that they took the time to familiarize themselves with different manufacturers and their products.

At the end of the day, the greatest gift for staffers is showing them that they matter to your business. No matter where an employee is on the organizational chart, he or she needs to feel self-satisfaction in a job well done. Good employees are hard to find; a sincere compliment multiplies in so many positive ways.

Give employees the gift of knowledge 

Stores offer all kinds of classes for customers, but then exclude the very people who could close a sale every day based on the information presented. Often the store staff are unable to take advantage of product demonstrations shared just a room away.

This year, let your staff feel the love, too. Give them positive feedback and encourage them to promote new ideas. Make sure they know interesting facts they can share about the products in your store. If your reps have samples, ask them to spend a few minutes showing your staff new techniques for using the lines they represent.

Use your store’s data in a proactive, forward-thinking way

Compile a list of what you bought in 2016 and examine it like a snapshot. Are there any obvious holes? Are you selling things that go together (big tubes need big brushes on big surfaces …)? What goes with what? What’s new? What categories have dropped off?

What are the upcoming challenges our industry’s manufacturers face? How might some breaks in old alliances change what you offer on your shelves? What’s important to your customers – are you listening to what they’re saying?

Examine the 2016 purchase reports from your suppliers, then create some new strategies for 2017. Start by asking yourself (and your staff) these simple, but important questions.

1. Who are my customers? What are they buying? What can’t we seem to keep in stock? What are my customers asking for – do I know?

2. Now make a list, in ascending order from the least purchased items to the most purchased, and notice the vendors at the top. Why haven’t you been ordering those lines? Are they still selling?

3. If some lines simply aren’t selling, it may be time to part with them. Look at the amount of space they take up in your store – can someone bring you a tape measure? Remember: Art Materials World presents an exhibit hall full of products each year, and it’s coming up soon.

Today is a good day to do some forward thinking

So this is the challenge to all of us this year, together in this industry, at every level: provide customers with quality time spent in our stores. Yes, you sell products, but you need to also sell experiences. Lucky for us, the unique experiences we sell are filled with color and texture, knowledge and renewal.

How can we hold our ground in the world of retail experience? By putting our stores’ best feet forward with helpful, well-trained employees who enjoy helping customers.

Shoppers need to feel that their experience in your store was valuable, worthy, enlightening, fun. They should earnestly want to spread the word to their friends. There it is; the single most important challenge this year. 2017 could be the best yet!

Since moving to California in 2000, Lynn Sauter has been an independent rep for a few distributors and has sold multiple manufacturers’ products. She has been with SLS Arts since 2007. Prior to her move to the west coast, Lynn was the outside sales representative for The Art Store in Des Moines, Iowa, for 20 years.

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