A few months ago I was leading a workshop for a group of independent shoe retailers. We were listing what they do in their stores to differentiate themselves from their competition. We listed some of the standards like greet and give good customer service. We even had a couple of store owners report that they send out thank you cards. Yes, that brought a smile to my face.
We were almost done with the list when Bill Beck raised his hand and said, "We always measure the other foot." Not being a shoe guy I wasn't sure exactly what he was talking about. Bill went on to explain that in almost all shoe stores the sales people only measure the right foot, but since not everyone's feet are the same size that often results in a poor fit. Bill said his family's stores always measure both feet not only to make the proper fit but to clearly demonstrate their expertise compared to their competitors.
I figure Bill knows what he's talking about because he grew up in the shoe business. Bill's father Ole started a shoe repair shop in 1919 that branched into selling shoes. Bill started working there at an early age and eventually took over the business with his two brothers. In 1959 Bill opened his first shoe store and the rest, as they say, is history. Beck's Shoes now has eight stores in the Bay area operated by Bill's son Blain and many more Beck family members. (Here's a good story about the Becks)
A few weeks after that event I found myself shopping for some shoes at our local mall. And sure enough, nobody measured the other foot. Most of the salespeople didn't even bother to measure one foot but just asked me my size. I had learned from Bill that even though people may know the size they've been buying that doesn't mean it's the right size. As I went from store to store I kept thinking to myself, "You're clearly not an expert because you're not measuring the other foot. You, sir, are no Bill Beck!"
Every specialty retailer should "measure the other foot," In other words, engage the customer in a manner that positions you and your staff as experts or delivers a higher level of service, both of which will differentiate them from the competition. One of the most successful examples of this is Apple's genius bar. Before Apple, "service" was a hidden away cost center. Now it's a profit center that's showcased.
Years ago at Bose, our way to measure the other foot was to draw out a customer's room and show them where to properly place their products. With today's technology I suspect that's probably way too low tech. Nowadays it probably requires a tablet PC and custom CAD software.
Here are three essentials to differentiating a store with a key building block of the customer experience:
1. It should be visibly occurring with every customer. Bill didn't say that they put the customer in the correct shoe or helped customers make fashion decisions; he said they always measured the left foot. It could just as easily be that they shake every customer's hand or goose every customer on the way out. (Although I don't recommend that last one. Not all differentiation is good.)
2. It should position your store as one staffed by experts or as a great place to shop. A cellular phone store could show every customer how to set up their new phone or they could instead choose to give every customer a bottle of water, since these are appropriate expert or experience positioning. But if they decided to call every customer "Bubba" it would not be likely to differentiate the store in a good way
3. It needs be done by every employee and to happen with almost every customer. I'm sure that at Beck's Shoes they don't insist that a customer get his feet measured before buying a pair of socks but they do insist that every customer buying a pair of shoes have both feet measured. The bottom line is that to effectively differentiate a store with an engagement element it must be consistently executed, not just be aspirational.
So let me ask, how do you "measure the other foot" in your store(s) and do you and your team execute it with practically every customer?
By the way, I ended up buying shoes at a local shoe store where the salesman did indeed measure the other foot.