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Expert Spotlight: 3 Big Ideas from My Interview with The Retail Doctor

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Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor, is an outspoken retail consultant with a massive audience. With a LinkedIn audience of 375K, Bob Phibbs is known for helping retailers create exceptional customer experiences to move merchandise. His SalesRX program is an online resource with quick and simple lessons that teach selling and people skills to store teams.

Bob Phibbs The Retail Doctor
Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor

We sat down with Bob to discuss how he got to where he is today and where he sees retail heading in 2020 and beyond. Here’s what we learned.

 

He garnered acclaim by successfully championing the underdog.

To start, I put myself through college selling shoes. When I graduated and wanted to pursue a degree in conducting, I took a job in a Western store and ultimately ended up not pursuing the degree. Instead, I built that company to the largest chain of Western stores in the US—about 55 at the time—before deciding that if I could do this for them, I could do it for anybody.

After I quit, I went to a Tony Robbins seminar and Tony said, “You better come up with something only you can do, and no one can do it better.” And I trademarked The Retail Doctor that day. So, I did a little business makeover and took on a new client—a little guy fighting against two Starbucks stores that were competing with his coffee shop.

When he started working with me, his business went up 40%, and then 30% the next year. And I just called up the New York Times and I said, “Would you be interested in how the little guy beat the big guy?” They did a profile on me and on the business and it was at the top of the business section at 1999.

That launched the business of my book and my speaking. Then the LA Times asked me to coach for them and since that pretty much my client list is the who’s who, everything from the highest luxury all the way down to smaller brands.

 

It all comes down to training.

“Everything comes down to training. Either you train your store staff or you don’t. So many retailers are so enamored with technology that they’re not able to use it properly. You know, just being able to have an iPad to say, ‘Oh, we don’t have a nine in the stockroom,’ really doesn’t help you. Ultimately, you’re there to get the sale.

I cut my teeth selling shoes to put myself through college. So, if I went in the back and I didn’t have a nine in the style my customer wanted, then I had to come up with at least two other similar choices to bring out because otherwise I wouldn’t make the sale. While things have changed, you can’t rely on technology to do the job. You still have to be able to engage a stranger, discover why they’re there, and then ultimately get them to want to buy something from you.

I always go back to that because yes, you can have an omni-channel market. But the more you have your stores picking orders from online, you’re really just a warehouse. And I don’t think that sells anything. You know, people come into your store to buy and browse, to try things on. They go online when they know exactly what they want. That’s the thing that you’ve got to remember—that people who are willing to drive through traffic, they’re willing to go through and roll the dice and open the door to your store and hope they have a nice encounter. That’s where your money is. So, spend more time looking at the customers who actually make that drive, or take that subway, or go out of their way to visit you and then deliver an exceptional experience.

The retailers who get it make customers feel like they matter. People who feel they matter buy more—it’s that simple. And if you don’t make people feel they matter, they aren’t going to return. You’ve got to find a way to make it feel like they matter. And that comes down to training.

 

To win in retail in 2020 and beyond, know who you are and be the best at it.

“Just to be very clear, it’s fine to try different technologies. But I think being brilliant on the basics is far more important than trying to be everything to everyone; you have to know who you are and who you aren’t, who your customer is and who they aren’t.

In the near future, we’re certainly going to have less retailers who are winners than losers. There’s no two ways about it. We’re going to find that the oldest retailers will have smaller stores. Malls will come back within 10 years, just as mixed-use developments.

I think more of the boutique world will still be the retail that’ll be standing out, because you don’t have to be, a J. Crew or Gap anymore and need stores around the world. You can just be Jane’s of Omaha, and be happy to have one or three stores and that’ll be enough for a new crop of retailers – provided they overdeliver a more human experience in those stores.

In terms of retail chains, Restoration Hardware (who now goes by RH) is doing an amazing job. If you haven’t seen their new store in the Meatpacking District, it’s amazing. My old nemesis Starbucks and their Roastery is also down there and they’re doing an amazing job of experiential retail. Dick’s Sporting Goods is doing an awful lot right in-store and also with their social messaging. I think they’re right on point. They know who they are, they know who their customer is.

There’s a lot of retailers out there that are successful, but they’re also not trying to be successful based on discounts and being cheaper than the other guy. Ultimately that’s the big key.”

To keep up with The Retail Doctor’s insights on how to take your stores to the next level in today’s ever-evolving market, follow him on Twitter @TheRetailDoctor or learn more at www.retaildoc.com.

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