Q&A with The Retail Doctor Bob Phibbs

The Retail Doctor Bob Phibbs shares his prescription for retail marketing success with Metro Commercial Real Estate

Bob Phibbs, aka the Retail Doctor, has spent the past 30 years advising some of the biggest brands, including Omega, Yamaha, Vera Bradley, and Paul Mitchell, on how to increase sales, build better teams, and create “exceptional retail shopping experiences.”

Metro Commercial checked in with Bob to get his thoughts on how retailers can market themselves on social media, mistakes they make in choosing locations, and how to keep your retail brand top of mind for consumers. Here’s what he had to say.

METRO COMMERCIAL: What are the key considerations when developing a retail marketing plan?

Bob Phibbs: Know who you are and what’s important to your customer. So many retailers revert to the same old tactic: discounts. “It’s 20 percent off, come on in.” That doesn’t attract the right people. The people who are going to build your business will buy full price because they like your concept, the way you merchandise it, your people, and the way that you stand out from competitors.

Constantly remind people you’re there. There’s a big difference between being a Yamaha motorcycle dealer and a Harley Davidson dealer. People aren’t tattooing themselves with the Yamaha logo. The big retailers all have name recognition, but if you remind people of the positive experience they had and remind them you’re there, you can keep your brand top of mind.

METRO COMMERCIAL: What role does social media play in marketing a brand’s location?

Phibbs: You have to know how your customer likes to talk to you because while you might want to be on every platform, you can’t do it all. Have a presence on Instagram if your customers are young women ages 16 to 22. If your customers are generally Baby Boomers, however, Facebook or even traditional snail mail may be the way to go.

If you’re moving or adding new locations, use Facebook Live to show customers how easy you are to find — record yourself going from your old location to your new one, the best place to park, and so on.

METRO COMMERCIAL: Besides digital marketing, what other marketing tactics are useful for retailers?

Phibbs: The most effective tactic is getting at least a name and an email from existing customers. Second, have people check in through Facebook to use your Wi-Fi when they come in so it shows up in their feed that they’re at your store.

It can also be simple. I know one retailer who was having trouble getting people in the door. She has these really colorful shopping bags, and she and her assistant started handing them out to passersby with a bottle of water in it. That was brilliant because it made everybody going down the street wonder what was going on in that store.

METRO COMMERCIAL: How should marketing efforts differ between shopping centers and standalone stores?

Phibbs: At a shopping center, you’re trying to say, “we have everything you need, you never have to leave.”

A strip center is trying to market a symbiotic relationship. If you have a dry cleaner, a hair salon, a restaurant, and maybe an office supply store, you’re trying to unify all that — it’s about saving time and getting everything done in the same place.

For an individual store, it’s making sure people understand that you’re their shop. They might shop on Amazon, they might go to Target, but you’re their shop. You want people to feel like they’re shopping at their friend’s closet.

METRO COMMERCIAL: What are some key elements for retailers to consider when choosing a location?

Phibbs: You never want to be 100 feet from success.

I used to advise coffee chains that they should be on this side of the street, with ingress and egress in the parking lot on the way to the freeway. And they would say, “Oh, it’s so expensive.” Yep, it sure is. They’d want to go around the corner thinking they’d be just fine — maybe they’d sell a third less, but their costs would be a third less. Maybe Starbucks can get away with that. These companies were not Starbucks.

You have to be willing to pay more than you think you should for a location that has visibility and compatible businesses around you.

It’s not just a matter of traffic count either, but traffic patterns. If 200,000 cars come down the street a day, but they have to make a U-turn to get to your store, how many would realistically do that? If you’re on a road with 55 mph traffic, it’s no good setting up an apparel store with a lot of windows because no one’s looking in. But it might be just right for fast food since you don’t have to look inside a McDonald’s or Burger King. Put the apparel store in a 25 mph zone, or somewhere with pedestrians.

One trick I learned during the Great Recession was to go around the neighborhood you’re considering, and look for trash cans. If the trash is out, you can assume people live there. Sometimes you see a new development with million-dollar homes, but if only 20 percent are putting out the trash, it’s not a functioning neighborhood. That’s especially important in some hotspots like Las Vegas or California.

METRO COMMERCIAL: How can retailers maximize the benefits of the live-work-play mix that’s so prevalent today?

Phibbs: It’s definitely the way forward. A lot of malls are trying to figure this out, and the danger comes from stores that aren’t changing. They don’t realize that a bad customer experience spreads even faster in a mixed-use development — all it takes is one person who doesn’t have an exceptional retail experience to spread the word to others in the neighboring apartments. And since people only move every four to six years, that can be costly.

METRO COMMERCIAL: Any other advice for retailers? 

Phibbs: A lot of people say brick and mortar is dead or dying, but the majority of customers still want to come into a brick-and-mortar store. What they won’t put up with is bad customer service. Baby Boomers are still driving most of the purchases and they expect great service — they want to be greeted with a smile and a hello.

No matter what you sell, you have to hire people that can build rapport, discover the shopper, and make the customer. You have to create a brand experience.

Thanks for your insight Bob!


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