By C. Ainsley Beeman
Recently, I spoke with an acquaintance who has worked in outdoor retail sales for some time. After recapping the previous hunting season, our discussion shifted to industry trends and statistics. We agreed in an industry susceptible to challenges in recent years, a positive trend had emerged with the increase of female outdoor enthusiasts. This recent shift prompted a few thoughts; one in particular centered on the crucial role of the retailer to facilitate and nurture sustained participation from women in the outdoor world. If you’re reading this, chances are good you’re serious about taking a vested interest in building your customer base. Here’s a little womanly insight on how you can initiate and secure our patronage.
1. Establish Rapport
As with most things in life, relationships are key. The outdoor retailer is no exception. In fact when it comes to women especially, the rapport you have (or have not) established is a crucial factor in whether they return to your store a second time. Take an authentic interest in your customers. Introduce yourself and casually ask for their name. Get to know who they are beyond merely what they’re shopping for. A genuine smile and sincere greeting goes much further than the often-generic inquiry of “How can I help you?” Generate conversation and give them the opportunity to feel comfortable enough to tell you what you can help them locate or select. Pressuring a woman seldom leads to the sale — and it creates an unpleasant shopping experience, resulting in a likely one-time customer.
As a young woman who has purchased a substantial amount of outdoor gear at stores like yours, I already know where I’ll take my business. It’s the store where they know my name, ask about my parents, work and vice versa. It’s the store I can call and recognize the voice of the person on the other end or ask for someone by name. This rapport is achieved by a quality salesperson I know will put my needs before the sale.
2. Cultivate Confidence
I’ll put all of my eggs in one basket by saying respect garners much appreciation among women. It also eases apprehension, which could otherwise impede a sales transaction should she feel less than confident in a typically male-dominated environment. Respect has shaped me in my journey, as I learned to navigate in the outdoors, shoot a firearm and hone my skills as an archer with confidence because my dad showed me a great deal of it in the process. He never talked to me as if I was inferior or clueless. Instead, he pulled up a chair to include me in the conversation. He talked to me in a manner that wasn’t belittling; he made me believe I deserved to have a seat at the table. The same needs to be true when a woman walks into your store.
Don’t assume anything other than cordial assistance may be needed. For all one knows, she can outshoot everyone in the room and can score a whitetail faster than you can string an arrow. Refer back to establishing a relationship: Ask questions in a way to make for comfortable conversation. Save yourself the embarrassment of awkward eye glances and whispers. It can be insulting to any woman, not just those who have knowledge of the outdoors. I’ve experienced condescending attitudes firsthand and, no, they didn’t get my business — nor will they likely ever. Treat your customer with respect, educate her and cultivate confidence. It will establish a comfort zone generating repeat customers, especially among women!
With a few adjustments, your store can become a “go-to” for women in your area —
whether they’re looking to pursue their interests in firearms or archery.
3. Focus On Functional
On a lighter note (yet, equally serious in my view) be aware “one size” rarely fits all — whether it’s apparel or stereotypes in general. As an example, just because I’m a female doesn’t mean I want everything coated in pink! Yes, there are women that love it, but believe it or not some of us like wearing black, olive green and drab brown — and cringe at the thought of stepping out in public (or into the woods) with fluorescent fashion, only to confirm gender and recreational interest. Focus less on colors and more on fit and functionality. Convey to your customer you want them to have the best product on the market for the most enjoyable experience. No two women are alike so have a good variety and avoid directing women to the smallest pink T-shirt with a popular hunting emblem plastered on the front or suggesting a pistol with a bedazzled grip.
4. Simplify Layout
Few things frustrate a woman more than shopping in a cluttered environment. If I’m in a store, I’m there with the intent to shop and purchase something, not dig or search through other assorted merchandise. Make shopping easy and set up a good flow for guests to navigate and browse throughout your store.
As the owner of a marketing firm, I can tell you promoting your business is key. Know your audience and figure out ways to capitalize on that information. One of my favorite things about Bowie Outfitters in Baton Rouge, La., is they know their audience, and I can count on them to specifically tailor events and sales for me as an outdoorswoman. Every year I watch as hundreds of women pour into the store for their annual Ladies’ Night Out event. Whether they’re shopping for a gift, for themselves or family, or for the season at hand or ones to come, I believe the success of this event is a great reflection of a business exemplifying all the above points.
Savvy retailers will realize how the potential impact of female participation will enable our outdoor heritage to continue to thrive. This basic insight into a woman’s perspective as she shops for outdoor gear scratches the surface of ways to include this vital customer base into your sales strategy. As a woman who frequents stores much like yours, I can tell you your part in this equation is crucial and greatly appreciated!