Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Feature Retailer: Adam Haines of Bicycle Garage Indy

When did you first know you were on the right path in the specialty retail industry?
I knew I was on the right path in specialty retail when I was hired at Bicycle Garage Indy/BGI Fitness. I literally woke up every day and was exited to go to work. Not only to work, but connect with the customer.  I had worked in everything from landscaping/lawn care to the GAP and nothing really exited me in those jobs. I started working at Bicycle Garage and I went from this is a "job" to I want to do this for my career.  I just was so exited to help people get on bikes and enjoy the outdoors.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of working in specialty is selling an experience over a product. There are so few industries out there where you can directly have a positive impact on a person like you can in selling a bicycle and helping them have all the tools to enjoy the total cycling experience. Then when they come back in and tell you what cool and exciting things they have done with their new purchase, that is the cherry on top!

What’s the most valuable lesson you learned through Mann U?
Wow, it is tough to narrow down to one particular lesson that I learned at MANN U! For me, learning to communicate well as a manager was the biggest take away. I have been a sales consultant for 10+ years at BGI, so a lot of the transitions were pretty easy to sales manager. The one thing I had little experience in was dealing with other employees on a one-on-one basis as a manager. The teaching and the putting into action of the lessons by role playing were great for me.

Give us one pointer for developing a genuine relationship with your customers. 
 The biggest thing for me when developing a genuine and long-lasting relationship is to be positive and honest. I like to ask questions and then really listen to the response. From those responses, I like to give real life examples on how the products can help them achieve their goals. Whether that is doing an Ironman, commuting to work by bike, or just cruising around the neighborhood with their children. I feel like as whole our industry can be a little "elitist" when it comes to selling bikes and how we communicate with our customers. I love selling a $10K road or full-suspension road bike as much as anyone, but selling someone a hybrid when they have not had a bike in 20 years can be way more fun and rewarding. I try my best to treat every customer equally and with a positive, can-do attitude.

Your bumper sticker would read, “I’d rather be… ___.”
"I would rather be outside!" Whether it is riding, running, hiking or just playing with my kids in the backyard. I want to be outside.

What was your favorite part of working with the Mann Group?  
My favorite part about working with the Mann Group was learning with people from so many different positions in the specialty industry. It was really exciting to hear how they handle various situations and find solutions to problems. Like I said earlier, the role playing with my peers and Dan himself was a great tool that really helped me lay out the groundwork for a successful run at my new position. Although the close proximity to all of that beer and downtown Asheville was pretty nice as well!

Monday, January 16, 2017

It's a New Year. Learn How Gazelle Sports Creates Their Own Destiny

It’s a New Year, and that means “new” everything. New goals, new dreams, new plans. Retailers across the country begin the year with these big ideas—ideas that can be overwhelming, to say the least.

The first step is the most important: Define Your Vision. Gather all those scattered thoughts and dreams and find a cohesive thought that unites them. What is your vision for your business? Find it, and make it attainable.

Not that that last part is easy. Attaining your vision is a process. The best plan of attack for most retailers is a concise strategic plan. But again, narrowing and deciding the various objectives of a strategic plan can be intimidating.

When it comes to defining visions and strategic plans in the specialty retail community, there’s no business quite like Gazelle Sports. For co-founder Chris Lampen-Crowell and his team, it’s an annual practice that guarantees success for their company. Their vision and strategic plan, crafted at the start of each year and amended throughout, serves as their guide for their daily, weekly and monthly actions.

Your vision, Lampen-Crowell points out, should be the driving force behind everything your business does—and it shouldn’t be small. “Gazelle Sports identifies our vision using what Jim Collins refers to as a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal),” Lampen-Crowell says. That means your vision can be something as big as “turning every person in town into an avid runner.” Just because it’s outrageous doesn’t mean it can’t be your vision. If it inspires you and your company, it’s working. “It is what gets us up in the morning, knowing that we are here to serve a greater purpose than just selling shoes and apparel (although we have fun doing that),” Lampen-Crowell points out. “The vision is completely idealistic, but serves as a north star.”

At Gazelle Sports, their vision is defined by ownership, a collaborative effort between the three partners, then dispersed among their stores and employees. Your vision is the guiding light for everything that happens in your business, which means it has to come from above. It’s also not necessarily comprehensive (that’s what your strategic plan is for). “Our vision does not define practical tactics or financial discipline, yet it remains a light that directs us,” says Lampen-Crowell. Your vision is a clear and engaging dream that’s meant to inspire you and your employees. “Go big with what you want and expect of yourself, your business, the customers you serve, the products you sell, and the impact you would like to have over a long period. Write it down—and then rewrite it. This is your vision and you own it.”

So you’ve defined your vision—now how to enact it? That’s where the strategic plan comes in, arguably the most important part of your business. What steps are you going to take to make your vision a reality, and what are your goals along the way?

Your strategic plan should be a more collaborative effort, incorporating the various sectors of the business to ensure all aspects of the employee and customer experience are their best and constantly improving.

Creating and implementing a strategic plan is where Gazelle Sports shines. “We develop a strategic map (one page) each year with our leadership team of 25 management and administrative staff who are in critical positions in our company,” Lampen-Crowell explains. “We determine our central challenge, strategic objectives and priorities. We appoint a leader to each priority and they use staff to develop an action plan. We hold strategic update meetings/calls once a month for each priority that highlights what has been accomplished the past 30 days and what will be done the next 30 days.”

Lampen-Crowell’s approach isn’t just organized, it’s implementable. It takes the oft-intimidating idea of a strategic plan and makes it completely approachable. It’s also adaptable. The folks at Gazelle Sports are constantly reevaluating their goals and plan to be realistic and successful. “We don't always get it right, but we are always willing to adapt the plan with new information,” he says.

It’s also important that your strategic plan and vision are communicated constantly throughout your company. Many businesses make the mistake of creating a strategic plan at the start of the year, setting big goals, then letting them lie fallow. If you don’t remind your employees of what they’re working for, they get lost in the daily grind, and suddenly your vision seems unattainable once again. “Communicate the vision throughout you company. Use it in training and meetings. It should inspire and create a sense of pride in the business,” Lampen-Crowell explains. Remind your employees of the strategic plan and how their daily actions make those goals realities.

Lampen-Crowell still realizes that actually implementing a strategic plan can be difficult; these big goals easily get lost in the hubbub of running a business. “The implementation of strategic priorities can get sidetracked as daily operations and crisis needs attention,” Lampen-Crowell says. But he and his team still recognize that their strategic plan and vision are the true priorities, and that’s where that adaptability comes in. “Strategic effectiveness is critical and we attempt to implement our tactics in a ‘good enough’ state instead of waiting until we have processed a ‘perfect plan.’”

This is the key. Part of what makes strategic plans so intimidating is the general perception that they require a perfect plan and, as we all know, there’s no such thing as “perfect.” It’s integral that you devise these goals and just do what you can to make them a reality. It’s not always pretty and it never takes the path you’d expect, but it’s effective.

Chris Lampen-Crowell’s Guide to Strategic Planning
Lampen-Crowell and the folks at Gazelle are clearly experts in the art of strategic planning and defining your vision. He offers five quick tips for making yours effective, too.

1.     Use an outside facilitator.
2.     Set reasonable priorities (no more than four or five).
3.     Implement "good enough" tactics.
4.     Measure outcomes.
5.     Review and adjust on an at least monthly basis.
6.     Communicate the strategic plan with the entire company.