Just this morning we completed on online session with a client who has been using the TUO platform for about 6 months with great success. At the conclusion of the session she stated..."I'm sure glad I now have Online Stores to offer to my customers." When asked why, the answer came back..."BSN is all over our territory. In fact, they just took two Reps from one of my local competitors and now he is lost. Offering Online Stores has helped me compete against even the giants like BSN. Local service coupled with advanced online ordering is a great one-two punch!"
BSN is only one of MANY relatively new businesses / models / disruptors that are out to steal your clients. Many of the Brands you offer are behind closed doors planning their long-term strategies for the disintermediation of (at least) the lowest-performing Dealers in their network. In fact, certain technology providers who pose as your partner are also planning to disintermediate YOU! Their secret? Use the data they've amassed from you to begin the process of picking off YOUR prime accounts, slowly and methodically at first. Rest assured, with the expected returns they must meet to justify the outside money they took from investors, their pace will only escalate. There are high expectations and high-target financial milestones that must be met.
This movement is commonly called "Direct-To-Team." It's a discussion that's been taking place for decades across a wide swath of stakeholders in this industry. Lately the volume around this topic is getting louder and louder. So what's driving this upswing in talk, focus and intensity? It's simple, really: 1. Logistics. A basic expression of this being...eliminating any / all wasteful steps (money / time / roles) that do not add commensurate value between any product and the end-customer who buys that product. Nike has coined their initiative Consumer Direct; 2. The continued advancement of technology offerings, and the movement to automate everything to achieve this goal; 3. Rapidly-changing consumer behavior and preferences to buy everything online. Thank you Amazon!
The technology challenges alone can be daunting for any small business. Now you have to constantly be looking over your shoulder every minute of every day? And question whether the very partner you trust could be plotting to cut you out? Sounds like an episode of The Sopranos. So what's a Dealer to do?
Take a deep breath. The good news is, people inherently want to work directly with partners they've come to know and trust. But they also expect their providers to be on-top of their changing needs and deliver the convenience, quality and value they demand. That's where the window of opportunity remains wide open for you. However, it is IMPERATIVE you put the stick in the window jam to ensure that window stays open.
Here are a few tips and suggestions for staying one step ahead of your competition:
1. Get Your Business Online. NOW!
This is not self-serving advice. Instead, it's truly a matter of survival. The online ordering genie is out of the bottle, and there's no putting it back. Experts predict that, within the next 5 years, a whopping 75% of uniforms, sports gear and company apparel will be purchased online. People have embraced the convenience and ease with which they can order their "stuff" online...from the comfort of their couch while watching TV, or on their smartphones while they're out and about. There is no choice but to be where your customers are, and are going.
2. Excel at SERVICE!
No technology on Earth (yet) can replace that feeling any customer has that you have their back. But there is more to it than a personal handshake or being a "YES" woman / man. In today's environment, it's all about SERVICE. And not talking about it, but walking 30 miles to prove it! Each and every day! Any team's reputation to serve and support their clients is as weak as the weakest member of the their team. Providing the best service is NOT an individual pursuit. Instead, it's a top-down strategic commitment that leaves no room for interpretation. And technology increasingly plays an important role in providing the necessary tools to "always be available to serve."
3. Upgrade Your IT Quotient.
Let's be frank. As technology totally transforms the entirety of the sports industry (and every industry, for that matter), it is IMPERATIVE that the skills and knowledge of your team keep pace. Yes, we are aware of the "we've always done it this way" mindset. Try to distribute paper order forms to a large school looking at BSN and let us know how that works out for you. Truth is, too many of our clients try to work around the obvious--that too many members of their team loathe technology and excuse it away. Today, and moving forward, if you have employees that are not comfortable using computers, laptops, iPads or even basic software programs (Excel being the most basic), it's time to look in the mirror and recognize: a) they are setting the standard for the rest of your team for what's acceptable, and that standard will hold you back; b) it's only a matter of time, but you will get hammered by the competition. Elevate "tech savviness" to one of the most important skill areas to look for when hiring and you will raise the standard of your business. Make it a core foundation of who you are, how you work, and what makes you stand apart. You can never go wrong by having a team of tech-knowledgeable workers.
4. Don't Try to Compete on Price.
Bottom line (pun intended) is this--leading with PRICE as your key differentiator will kill your business. Why is that? It's simple, really. You do not (and will not ever) have the buying power nor operational efficiencies to maintain a "best price" strategy. Besides, with all of the advanced search engine tools and apps, along with the power of Amazon marketplaces, your customer can quickly compare whether you're offering the best prices in just a few clicks. It's a treadmill to lead with Price, and you will eventually run out of steam. Instead, package and sell the "service" components to your business. Emphasize the local, personal service you can offer. Match that with the leading convenience technologies you offer (including custom, online stores, of course) and never look back. You will not win them all. Conversely, the lowest Price deals are almost always not worth winning. Instead, you will quickly earn the reputation of NOT being the lowest-priced provider, and of being the BEST provider in your area. Bottom line (#2)...your customers and prospects seek convenience first and will always be willing to pay more for the added benefits you offer--as long as you clearly communicate what they are.
5. Be VERY Careful to Select the Right Partner!
Ask the tough questions of ANYONE with whom you decide to partner, especially your tech providers. The tech community is littered with fraudsters, posers, or pseudo-experts trying to make money off your technology ignorance. Your Uncle Bob's nephew who built his own website is likely not going to have the experience and wisdom to tackle the important challenges for your business. And be absolutely SURE to not jump in bed with a partner that is looking to leverage YOUR data and use it to benefit the growth of their own business. We will provide more insights on this topic in future posts.