COMMENT: Lacklustre marketing

The majority of independents rely on 'word of mouth advertising'. Mark Sutton argues that's dangerous...
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ALARM BELLS ARE ringing this month. Reflecting on the numerous articles in the mainstream press about cycling becoming accessible and attractive to the masses, I had the notion that we might not be ready. By we, I’m siding with the independent stores, for which many find business often challenging and complicated, especially in comparison to those discounters who get an easy ride with the uneducated newbie.

Why do I feel independents to be vulnerable to letting what could be a huge opportunity for growth slide? Largely, it’s down to indications of lacklustre marketing techniques by the smaller store. It could be argued that this is a resource issue. Some stores may not have the budget for the latest ‘do it all’ EPoS kit that email blasts customers on a regular basis. In fact, the response to our retail survey – targeting solely independent stores – suggests only around 28 per cent of IBDs utilise email as a marketing device.

More worrying than that statistic is the fact that 81 per cent of those asked about their advertising tactics stated that they relied on ‘word of mouth’. The thing about word of mouth is it relies on others to create a message to be relayed. Essentially, that’s like playing Chinese Whispers, beginning with a handful of fortune cookies. Not every message that gets out will be positive, for starters. And those that sing your praises can easily become distorted if your message is not in your hands throughout.

A unanimous conclusion was reached on the BikeBiz forum that the Yellow Pages are dead and buried. When reading the thread I was ready to defend the directory. That was until I realised its been several years since a copy has been in my hands.

The next best thing then, surely, is Google? Correct, but you’d be surprised how much information is listed incorrectly here. Mystery Shopper encountered the problem twice on his travels this month alone. Time was wasted. Virtual customers got irate and gave bad reviews on page 18. I can imagine a typical customer would generate some negative word of mouth on the back of a wasted journey.

All of this is, of course, avoidable with two minutes spent updating the world’s largest free-of-charge directory. Can your customers find you? And, will a newbie want to...

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