Growing up I remember my parents would stick with particular brands. They had a comfort knowing the reputation of a product, and with fewer choices there wasn’t much reason for them to change once they found something they liked. This also applied to the stores they frequented. If you found a local hardware store with a knowledgeable staff you could trust, there would be no reason to go elsewhere and you didn’t feel the need to become an expert on something before making a purchase.
Today’s shopping environment is quite different. Brand and store loyalty, especially with younger shoppers, is very low. Mattresses are viewed as a commodity to be purchased during national holidays when they are at “huge” markdowns. Marketing and Internet campaigns create buzz instead of focusing on the actual product quality. I even had an industry insider tell me at market that most brick-and-mortar stores are already out of business – they just didn’t know it yet.
Well, I call BS on that. Granted, if you’re going to try and out-Mega the Mega Mattress Store chain by offering the same stuff and at the same discounts in the same borax ads, you might as well call it a day. You don’t have their resources and they can scream louder and longer than you. However, work on differentiating yourself and you’ll find there are still great opportunities for specialized sleep shops to turn loyalty for a brand into loyalty toward a store.
Perceived or real, people want to think they’re purchasing something of quality. Even when people shop online, driven strictly by price where they can’t be bothered for more than five minutes to make a shopping decision, they still need validation. Why do you think so many online sites have a star rating system? These ratings are hardly objective, but there’s a strong psychology behind people wanting something that they identify as exclusive, that they’re part of a group, and that the product will perform.
Here is where a sleep shop can really shine and make itself a unique destination. Most of us can’t put cinemas or petting zoos in the middle of our stores, but we can offer products that are of higher quality than the typical fare. Over time the actual durability of what you offer will speak louder than any television, newspaper, or Internet ad. Reputations like this take time to build but they have staying power.
More importantly, differentiate yourself as a store offering expert advice. Again, don’t do what everyone else does and say that your salespeople are “factory trained experts.” How many of those people have ever been within 20 miles of a mattress factory? Instead, actually learn about springs, foams, assembly, anatomy, and sleep ergonomics. Let people know when they walk in the door you are there to assist them with their restoration and to find a product that best suits their needs, as opposed to selling them that ADV $299 pillowtop.
Shine where others don’t and be what others aren’t; knowledgeable, honest, caring - a purveyor of quality products at an honest price. People shouldn’t feel the need to become “experts” before entering your store. Have them visit and rely upon your background to help them find the product that best suits their needs. Build a body of work that allows others to trust your recommendations.
In the end, the quality of your advice and products will be enduring. What about the people who shop for weeks and weeks to save a few dollars? It’s nice to have their business but that shouldn’t be your focus. Buying a piece of junk for a low price is like chewing Fruit Stripe gum - it tastes great for about 30 seconds and then you’re disappointed. But being educated and buying a good product at a fair price? That’s like an Everlasting Gobstopper, and the satisfaction of getting good rest is reaffirmed night after night.
And thus you’ve created your own, and unique, brand loyalty.