Before we get into branding tips for bike shops let's start with a definition of branding from Entrepreneur dot-com:
"Your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitor's. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be."
Customers interact with stores through touch points. Some of these touch points are inside physical stores but quite a few of them exist out in the wild. If a customer has a conversation with a shop employee at a local race about getting their bike repaired that's an example of a touch point. Social media is an important touch point for most people these days. Email marketing and traditional marketing are also touch points for a store’s brand. Touch points give retailers brief and valuable opportunities to build their brand.
Smart retailers make it easy to interact with their stores through interactive websites complete with real-time inventory, reviews and a shopping cart accessible from almost anywhere, including their competitors' stores. Given the ease of access to the website as a touch point, local businesses are competing with multinational chains whether they want to or not. Big box retailers understand branding and invest heavily in it. The end result is that businesses like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Amazon, eBay and REI are very well recognized and differentiated.
The good news is that local retailers have an ace in the hole when leveraged in the right way, which is local availability, personalized customer service and product selections fine-tuned for their market. All which are difficult for big box store's to replicate and can give you a significant competitive advantage.
Read on for 3 ways to build your brand by defining what it is, how it's differentiated and how you can consistently execute your brand to leverage what makes you different.
As a quick tip, it's helpful to keep up on how consumer behavior is changing. For example, after or even during interactions with the touch points that build your brand, consumers visit websites to get additional information. Google calls this ZMOT or Zero Moment of Truth and if you haven’t had a chance to look into this concept it’s worth checking out. Just Google ZMOT.
A good brand encompasses a competitive advantage and helps you communicate that to customers. This doesn’t mean that it can help you be something that you're not. If you promise expert repairs, the actual customer experience should back that up. Branding should leverage some of the store’s competitive advantages that would make consumers want to shop there over the competition.
One way stores can differentiate themselves is with product selection. For instance, if your focus is on commuters the store environment, the website and product selection should all line up with that focus. The staff you hire should use bikes to get to work and speak the commuter language. All these things are part of your store’s brand and help you stand out from the competition.
University Bicycles in Boulder has really built an exceptionally branded in-store experience which is an important part of their local brand. A funky atmosphere, strong emphasis on customer service and a well thought out product selection, all contribute to the makeup of their brand and are executed in a way that makes their store brand unique.
2. Defining your brand
It’s worth taking some time to write down a few things that make up your brand, given that it will be necessary to communicate this to staff and other partners while building your business. The brand image should be clear in places like the store website, its interior environment, advertising and even the qualities you look for in employees.
You’ll want to think about things like colors, logo and font as well as the kind of images that really paint a picture of what your store’s all about. Other elements like voice are important too, as it will influence your sales process and written communication.
Here’s a worksheet that QBP put together for a branding seminar at this past Frostbike. Filling it out will help you on your way to having a well-defined brand. Remember, you can’t fake a good brand. Your values have to run deep in every aspect of your organization.
3. Executing your brand consistently
While defining the brand is a great first step, the key to standing out from the competition lies in consistently executing on it. Much like in the restaurant business where consistently delivering good food and service can make or break you, the customer experience in a retail store can have the same effect.
Regular staff training and coaching are ways to help get this consistency. As part of training for new staff it's a good idea for them to have a conversation with the owner to learn what the store is all about.
Solid business practices like a good ordering system, and solid inventory managment, come into play for consistency. Can customers come in and expect to find core items in stock time and time again? And can they shop for those items on the store website? Remember that customers interact with retail stores via touch points, so consistency with what’s in stock on the store website and what’s in stock in the store is crucial. I’ll back this up with a recent study from Forrester Research that found that 71% of consumers expect to see in-store inventory, online.
Consistency across touch points also includes look and feel, voice and the imagery used to communicate the brand. When it comes to the website the in-store experience should match the online experience. Online-only retailers have known for a while that their website’s functionality is an important aspect of their brand. A lengthy checkout process, poor catalog structure, or broken links leave people with a bad impression. Much of this comes down to the customer experience and the ability of the business owner (you) to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, which is no small feat.
You can do it! These ideas and tips may seem like too much work, but just look at them as continuing your steps to improvement. Think about your store, your brand and the competitive advantages you already have. You know what these things are. Next, consider new ways to leverage that advantage to build your brand and your business.
For example, if your store has built up a great product selection around Downhill and Enduro riding, focus your brand building and marketing dollars on that crowd and you're on your way. Hold in-store events aimed at this target market, sponsor a trail workday on the local DH run or invest in a few Enduro and DH demo bikes and watch your shop and brand benefit.