The airlines do it with their “Frequent Flyer” programmess. Rental car agencies do it, too. Top-notch mainstream retailers do it with their “Preferred Customer” benefits.
Restaurants, video rental stores, dry cleaners, book stores, hair salons, car washes, printers, even juice shops are now offering special values, gift certificates and “buy 10 get one free” benefits to their repeat customers.
Why not take the cue from all of these large -- and small -- modern merchants and set up a “Frequent Customer” programme for your bicycle store? If you already have one, could you make it even better?
An effective programme is easy to execute, promote and maintain, and, bottom line, can really help you build the purchasing loyalty you need in today’s competitive retail environment. After all, it costs five times as much to sell to a new customer as to a current one, notes Murray and Neil Raphel in their book, Up the Loyalty Ladder.
Rewarding customer loyalty is not a new concept in retailing. Many bike retailers have had success with offering their regular customers - tracked through a mailing list maintained and updated regularly with purchasing history - for decades. But now, with all the advertising and “great value opportunities” of all kinds competing for your regular customers’ disposable income, you need to perhaps go beyond the postcard announcing a 10 percent discount on all new merchandise that you might be sending out occasionally to your mailing list.
Hey, please don’t assume I’m belittling those post cards you might send out to regulars offering discounts. They are a simple and excellent method of announcing that you give special value to your repeat customers. What I am suggesting is that you go beyond those post cards and set up a more sophisticated programme to complement and build on your post card mailings. More sophisticated, yes. But also easy to set up and maintain.
Astute retailers already send out announcement flyers, post cards or emails when they want to entice previous customers to come back in and pick up accessories, get their bike serviced, or buy a second bike at a special discount. This practice goes a long way to promote the shop, its new products and service capabilities. It does bring in customers.
Why not go a step further and issue a “Preferred Customer” card? US bike retailing expert Randy Kirk has been suggesting this for years. For a reasonable price, your back-street printer can print up some real nice-looking cards that you can issue as you make a sale or mail out to all customers that have made a recent purchase from you.
On the back of the preferred customer card, you can note the “Rights and Privileges” of a preferred customer, which might include a percentage off on all future purchases, or selected purchases over a certain amount, a percentage off on all labor for service, and/or a special annual service fee not to exceed £50 per year instead of the regular £79.95 annual service policy. You might offer special additional discounts for card holders which will be announced by regular mail and email, and guaranteed trade-in on their bicycle.
Once the card is set up, and you’ve accumulated your list of previous purchasers, mail the “Preferred Customer” card out with a covering letter. The covering letter should thank the customer for making a purchase, encourage them to come in for any future product or service needs, promote any special values and discounts now available to them, and promise to keep them informed of special sales and values that preferred customers will be able to take advantage of.
Develop and maintain this preferred customer list. It is the key to repeat sales for you. If you are computerized, and you can track your customers by sales volume, you’re well ahead of the game. If you’re not set up on the computer, you’ll have to do it all by hand.
You might even consider issuing a one page newsletter (print and email versions) to keep your preferred customer informed on what developments are taking shape in your bike store: new products available after the bike trade shows, discounts you’re offering on bikes, accessories and service, rides and events, and special values available to preferred, previous customers.
With your computer hardware and software, you should be able to print out a list of those customers who have spent the most with you over one year’s time. If you’re able to identify your top 50 or top 100 purchasers, you could offer them additional savings beyond the discounts offered on their “Frequent Customer” cards. If not, you’ll have to do it by memory or in an analysis of sales receipts. However, when you finally accumulate a list of your best customers, you should begin to cater to them as your best potential resource for future sales.
“Hard benefits” are the key...those that involve genuine savings. “Soft benefits,” such as preferred treatment, special service rates and “extra” attention when they visit your store are harder to sell, but they do work.
Customers really value tokens of appreciation. Even if you don’t issue a “Preferred Customer” card, perhaps you can continue to capture their loyalty with special coupons you might issue that can be redeemed in your bike store? For example, if a customer buys a bicycle, they can be issued a certificate, which can be printed very economically, that will give them 10 percent off on the purchase of a helmet or lock or clothing ensemble. Also, think about sending out mail and email thank you notes, reminders of special events, birthday cards, and tickler cards mentioning an accessory that would complement a recently purchased item.
The mass merchants offer special savings for customers who give them repeat business; in many ways they are sophisticated and geared toward increasing sales of their merchandise beyond the regular purchases their customers might make as bike retailers. You too can take advantage of the trend to honour regular customers, by providing your regular clientele with preferential treatment, with special savings and discount opportunities, and special pricing available to only those customers that, by your sales receipts, indicate they can be on going and repeat customers…people that will purchase your bike products again and again.
Herb Wetenkamp is president of Info Net Publishing, which publishes the books, Principles of Bicycle Retailing by Randy W. Kirk, and The Complete Guide to Bicycle Store Operations by Ed Benjamin. He is former editor and publisher of Bicycle Dealer Showcase Magazine and an associate publisher of Bicycle Business Journal. A co-founder of the Interbike Expo, Wetenkamp has also consulted with bicycle companies and websites.
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