Sunday, June 22, 2008

Live from the ASTRA Convention

So, I drove up to Foxwoods, Connecticut today to attend the ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailer Association) Convention. We've been members for several years now, but I'd never made it to one of the conventions. It's being held in the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Casino - which is a incredibly gaudy complex located in rural Connecticut. It's a massive facility, holding at least three casinos, hotels, restaurants, night clubs and more. I have to say, it seems like a pretty incongruous place to hold a convention that's aimed at generally small retailers. Plus, I'm not a gambler, so the whole casino thing seems kinda dopey to begin with. Oddly enough, there seem to be tons of families here. What do the kids do when mommy and daddy are working their way through the college fund?

Anyhow, I digress.

I drove up from Wilmington, Delaware today. I left around 3:45 am and got here just after 8, in time to attend the opening of the show, which featured a seminar by Rick Segal.

In the opening comments by ASTRA President Kathleen McHugh, she stressed that, despite the economy, this is their biggest ASTRA convention ever – with more registrations than ever as well as more retailers having registered than ever before. It leads me to believe that there is a demand for locally owned specialty toy stores in America.

The first session was with Rick Segal. Rick comes from a retail background, having worked in his family’s business for over 25 years before persuing his current career path as a speaker. He has written eight books on retailing and has achieved the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation – apparently only 7% of the members of National Speakers Association have qualified to be recognized as CPS speakers.

Rick speaks fast and covered a lot of material. He gave a good speech – titled 7 Essentials for Successful Retailing. His speech was directly mainly at the retailers in the audience, as he speaks from a retail point of view. Like his books, Rick stressed differentiation. The need for your business to differentiate from it’s competitors. What is your store known for? Is it known for anything? Stress it, in your advertising, your communications, your store image.

What are the seven essentials?

According to Rick, they are:
1 – Shopping
In order to be a good buyer for your store, you have to shop. Shop your competitors, shop stores that are not competitors, shop online. See what others are doing, how they are doing it, whether it works for them.
2 – The Why of the Buy – the Picker, the Buyer and the Price
What kinds of merchandise to stock and why
3 – People
It is easier to get good customer than it is to get good people.
4 – Advertising and Promotions
Where and how to do it. 87% of customers come through word-of-mouth advertising.
5 – Selling and Service
Selling is Service and service is selling.
6 – Ecommerce
According to Rick, “This is the most lucrative time for small business to succeed than any other time in history”
7 – Knowing the numbers through Point of Sale.
Do your homework. Track your sales, How much does each customer spend? How many items do they purchase? Which days are your busiest, which are the slowest. It’s all in yoru POS Info.

I’ve read his book – The Retail Kit for Dummies, and it’s good. I would encourage any retailer to check it out.

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