LAS VEGAS — The packed house at this year’s NSRA Conference at the Tuscany Suites in Las Vegas spoke volumes about the difficult retail environment — roughly 275 independents came to seek tips on how to survive the recession.
“When times are difficult, peer-to-peer interaction is extremely important,” said NSRA President Chuck Schuyler. “Quite a few attendees in that room haven’t seen serious downturns before, and they can gain a lot by networking with those who have.”
Store owners started the day’s conference on a positive note.
“Let’s look forward with optimism to the times ahead,” conference chair Todd Lews, director and treasurer of Tyrone, Pa.-based Shoe Fly Shoes, said in his opening remarks, and the rest of the program followed a similar theme.
Titled “Retail Makeover: In Tough Times, It’s Time to Make Changes,” the conference featured a keynote by Scott Deming, CEO and founder of the RCI marketing and advertising company. Deming urged store owners to focus on customer service and creating a solid in-store experience to motivate spending.
“Consumers can get your product anywhere,” Deming told the crowd. “They’ll come to your store because they like you and the way they were treated. And if they have a bad experience, they’ll tell everyone they know.”
The day’s breakout sessions included presentations on how to develop a loyal clientele and improve the customer’s first impression.
One of the most popular presentations was about how to make low-budget changes that can result in high-impact rewards. Lyn Faulk, president of Thiensville, Wis.-based Retailworks, told retailers to think about curbing store renovation plans and instead make small changes, such as reupholstering chairs and switching out old fixtures for newer ones.
“Small changes, such as having a piece of conversation art in the store or unique signage, can bring people in and engage them, which can lead to spending,” said Faulk.
At the lunch break, some retailers attended the “Next Generation” workshop for up-and-coming store owners, while others sat in on a financial discussion, which revealed that retailers in some areas of the country have been faring better than others.
“Alaska tends to lag the U.S. [in economic trends] slightly, so we really haven’t felt it,” said Sydney Mitchell of Shoefly in Juneau, Alaska. “We were up 40 percent last year.”
But many retailers are seeing the toughest business climate yet, including Bob Schwartz of Eneslow comfort shoe stores in Little Neck, N.Y., and Manhattan. Schwartz told attendees that his stores are down almost 40 percent in revenue this year.