“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion” –  Alexander the Great

Last week I attended a client’s focus group to understand what really mattered to these people. Interestingly I didn’t hear focus group participants talk about omni-channel, multi-channel, customer experience, predictive analytics or any of that “big end of town” nomenclature when describing retail.

Actually what they talked about was shopping.  The plain old everyday simple uncomplicated word that their parents used.

I actually didn’t hear anyone say that they were off to do some “omni-channel” shopping or self-rating their customer experience.

They just wanted the best product, price, service and experience, actually generally wanted to stay loyal and just wanted essentially to deal with the best retailer that they could (or as we say : the fittest).

So what did they tell us they wanted of retailers?

 1. Keep growing physical retail shops. The fittest retailers maintained and even grew store numbers, or increased floor space, The physical shops are the dominant channel to market – there is no doubt that reducing the physical number of shops and relying on online to make up the difference is very risky – the shopper is not known as the “person on the street” for nothing.

 2. They have a solid brand differentiation. You cannot be in the business of retail without a solid product or service differentiation and a plan of how you will market this to your employees and your customer base.  The fittest retailers continually audit their brand consistency at every touch point – both internally and externally – and articulate their vision and mission with absolute clarity.

3. They concentrate on controlling all aspects of their operations. With a focus on being the best they can be, the fittest retailers stop worrying about the financial markets, interest rate decisions and turn their attention internally to ensure these areas are fit for business:

  • Supply chain efficiency and speed to market.
  • Omni-channel distribution model.
  • Product ranging, profile depth, quality and design.
  • The utilisation of technology to derive ‘fitter’ business decisions.
  • The culture of their business- “the way we do things around here.”
  • The leadership of their people, creating a motivating goals-driven sales environment.
  • The selling performance of their people and customer service fitness.
  • The measurement of their vital business ‘health signs’ (KPIs).
  • Operating expense ratio.
  • The retail economics/cash flow and planning.

4. They understand their customers. With implicit knowledge of their consumer segments, the fittest retailers understand how and, importantly, why they buy. Highly tailored, relevant experiences along every touchpoint connect with them, building loyalty and advocacy.

Knowing their customers in intimate detail is where the smart money is being spent. From cutting edge customer relationship management (CRM) to increased customer service training (and all in between)

It was Warren Buffet who once said, “Rule No. 1: never lose money; Rule No. 2: Don’t forget Rule No. 1.”  It’s about spending on the down and saving on the up. And that’s why “fit” retailers reign.

Happy fit retailing!

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of retail consulting company, Retail Doctor Group. He specialises in the development and implementation of retail and franchise strategies. 

First published on SmartCompany on the 25th of August 2015