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A New Perspective On Tapping Retail Potential

Walter Loeb Contributor

Leslie Zane, CEO of Triggers Growth in Armonk, New York, is a growth strategist. She has a unique philosophy—that every brand has untapped growth potential. Her work over the past 25 years demonstrates that even mature retailers can experience new waves of topline growth. However, in order to do that, they must manage consumers’ instinctive choices. Approximately 95% of purchase decisions are made in the subconscious mind—on instinct.

Zane explains that the key to accelerating growth is to grow a brand’s positive associations and become the dominant instinctive choice. According to Zane, a brand’s associations, both conscious and subconscious, are much more easily influenced than any of us imagine. “If you think about it,” she explains, “retail growth doesn’t really take place on the internet or on store shelves. It takes place in the subconscious mind of prospective customers. That’s where the battle for brand dominance really occurs.”

Lululemon store. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Lululemon store. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images) Getty

I met Zane for lunch to learn more. She was very emphatic about the role department stores can play in developing a stronger franchise with higher growth. She sees every department store company as a brand. The key to revitalizing a brand is to be crystal clear about the company’s expertise. For instance, Lululemon’s expertise is evident: athletic wear that’s fashionable enough to be streetwear. A focus on this enabled them to achieve 26% revenue growth in the quarter ending early February 2019 and a 15% stock price gain since late March.

Bass Pro Shops, another retailer reaping the benefits of double-digit growth through a precise expertise, is the authority in gear for the outdoor enthusiast. In a cross between Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the American Museum of Natural History, Bass’s dramatic murals and dioramas bring the outside in. Bass Pro Shops knows exactly what its “brand world” is, puts it front and center, and displays its expertise in store. This serves two important purposes: It lures customers into its stores instinctively and creates a desire to get out there and use its gear.

Any retailer—even mature department stores like Macy’s—can accelerate its growth by determining the precise role they play in customers lives and then executing against it. Simply shifting sales to the internet does not constitute a revitalization. Zane went on to say that if a retailer has flat sales, multiple store closings and a double-digit increase in e-commerce, that’s a good sign that the company doesn’t have a strategy to rebuild the business. Change must come in store, but it all starts with honing in on what you do better than anyone else and shaping the customer experience around that.

Costco is one company that has a distinct reason for being that keeps customers coming back. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Costco is one company that has a distinct reason for being that keeps customers coming back. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg © 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

Zane listed Walmart, Costco and Best Buy as companies that have a distinct reason for being that keeps customers coming back. They keep up with the constant lifestyle changes of their customers, and always have the most up-to-date items. Leslie is less enthusiastic about Kohl’s because she believes it is overly focused on current customers age 35-plus, with rewards and loyalty programs, instead of understanding the needs of prospective customers 18 to 34 and bringing them into the franchise.

Amazon’s success may have originally stemmed from its fast delivery and tremendous range of choices, but, she now thinks Amazon has become a habit and the first place consumers think of for a wider and wider shopping list of items. But it doesn’t have to be that way. According to Zane, any retailer can interrupt this automatic selection with the right branding, merchandise, and in store experience.

Zane recommends three areas of focus to revitalize retail growth:

  • Prioritize prospective customers over core customers as she believes a penetration strategy will always yield higher growth.
  • Determine your company’s expertise very precisely and deliver against that in everything you do.
  • Create a destination that people want to come to. Retailers have an ability to create an engaging customer experience in a way that direct-to-customer companies can’t. Bring the brand world to life both in store and in digital.

The key to accelerating penetration and growth for retailers lies in making your brand the “go to” choice. The secret lies in the subconscious mind of prospective customers.

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