Yesterday was one of those precious few Sept. New England days where the sun is bright and the temperature balmy. So at lunch I skipped out of the office and went to Newport, RI for a walk on the beach and a tour of the shops.
The beach was great and Newport’s downtown was jammed because a huge Bermuda-bound cruise ship was stuck in the harbor, forced to stick around due to impending bad weather. What a boon for retailers, who have had a poor sales season due to the rainy, cool summer. Yet I think some of these retailers may be struggling for other reasons.
Here are some observations and marketing advice for retailers at a resort location like Newport:
Be open: many shops were dark, with ‘closed for Monday and Tuesday’ signs on the doors. When the weather is good and a cruise ship with thousands of people are in town, open the doors and make some money. Cash flow is king. In another six weeks the tourist traffic is going to dry up. Catch up on your rest then.
Be different: so many stores looked the same, carrying similar merchandise, having similar looks and feels. The bland and blander tourist tee shirt storefronts, hippy clothing stores and pizza shops made it easy for me to just skip past them. One store caught my attention because of its name, “Gossip: a boutique to talk about.” Alas, it was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Stand outs, however were Tyler Boe, with a unique collection of cashmere-cotton sweaters in unique colors. But Tyler Boe has no web site. I want to give some positive word of mouth marketing but the store makes it hard for me to do so. No Web site is being different, but not a smart marketing strategy.
Be interested: one of the biggest challenges for any retailer is staff. Too many stores had help that looked bored to death, probably lamenting the departure of their hip friends and cool summer people, left to wait on cruise ship patrons whose taste looked more J.C. Penney than J. Crew. Disinterested staff dampens the shopping vibe. Perhaps it’s wiser for owners to work the floor more themselves or pay more to get better help.
Be helpful: conversely the stores with friendly, helpful people were great shopping experiences that earned my word of mouth recommendations. I walked into Sovereign Bank to ask for change so I could feed the parking meter. I fully expected them to say they didn’t do that, as I had already seen signs in stores saying this. Instead, the teller was delightful and gave me my quarters and a few insider tips about what’s going on in Newport. I might even change my bank account if that’s what every Sovereign branch is like. Similarly the owner of RoyalMale on Bannister Wharf and Spring St. was an example of superb customer service, providing suggestions, pulling out sweaters not on the floor that she thought might look good on me. No wonder that the store was doing a brisk business even though the items had a relatively high price point.
Be ready: Running a retail business in a resort is unpredictable, but that’s no reason not to be ready to take advantage of happy surprises, like a cruise ship pumping thousands of people through the town on a typically “off” day. Have a back up plan to get more help into your store when lucky breaks happen. The Rockport shop on Thames street was jammed, but staffed by just one person. What a shame to see people come in and leave empty handed because they couldn’t get help.