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How To Thrive In Specialty Retail

People always ask me, “How can a retail franchise like Batteries Plus Bulbs be successful selling only batteries and light bulbs?” It’s a good question, and I understand the curiosity.

There’s no debating that specialty retail is a tricky business to be in, especially with increased competition from big-box stores, discount chains, wholesale clubs and online retailers like Amazon. Consumers are becoming increasingly fragmented — they’re shopping online, in store or on-the-go using their mobile device. They’re also becoming savvier in researching products, prices and reviews, often via social media, before making their purchase.

The challenge for niche-concept retailers is to quickly translate market trends and evolving consumer behaviors into useful and actionable information that can be leveraged for growing the business. Here are three ways to create new opportunities in this retail space:

1. Identify and Capitalize on Market Trends

Specialty stores must stay ahead of the curve by identifying buyer patterns and anticipating what products or services customers will want next. Recognizing consumer demands and the direction of changing market dynamics should dictate future strategies.

For example, with the proliferation of mobile devices driving the demand for the assortment of batteries needed to power them, along with rapid advancements in light bulb technology, like LEDs, our business relies on adapting to constantly changing industry trends. When the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 began phasing out the production of the traditional incandescent light bulbs in favor of energy-efficient solutions, we saw an opportunity in the expanding $17 billion U.S. lighting market and added light bulbs to our product line in 2010 and rebranded to Batteries Plus Bulbs in 2013.

If we weren’t adaptable, we would easily get left behind. That’s why it’s important for specialty retailers to continue innovating and evolving through new partnerships, products and services.

2. Continuously Improve Customer Service and Product Expertise

The overarching goal is to be the consumer’s preferred, most reliable and most knowledgeable destination for the products and services they’re looking for. This can be achieved by offering unmatched customer service and superior product knowledge which are what differentiates a specialty retailer from competitors.

However, consumer shopping patterns and expectations have changed. Regardless of whether customers are shopping in-store or online, they always expect and deserve a positive experience with the highest quality of service. Retailers need to provide convenience to customers, allowing them to purchase and receive products however they wish.

Besides working toward implementing an omnichannel experience for our retail and business customers, we’ve expanded store hours, increased our training programs and developed a comprehensive business to business account program that includes online ordering and delivery. These methods afford us more opportunities to provide our customers with the helpful advice that they have come to trust from us, allowing them to make the most informed purchase decision possible.

3. Broaden Product Assortment and Create On-Demand Availability

Compared to online retailers and big box stores, a specialty retailer’s value proposition is its breadth and depth of category-specific, in-stock inventory, providing consumers with instant gratification. We know that customers can’t wait for a new battery to be shipped for their smartphone, laptop or car, so we need to have what they need when they need it.

For example, just 15 years ago Batteries Plus Bulbs carried less than 20 different types of cellphone batteries. Today, with the massive proliferation of mobile devices in the marketplace and the increasing consumer demand for the batteries needed to power them, we now stock around 200 and have access to thousands more. 

 In conclusion, it’s important for a specialty retailer to avoid chasing the bright, shiny object or jumping into the trendy stuff that a lot of larger competitors do. It’s more effective to keep a streamlined focus on improving the products and services that are already working for them and expanding upon them when the time is right. 

Russ Reynolds is CEO of Batteries Plus Bulbs, the nation’s largest, fastest-growing battery and light bulb franchise with over 625 locations in 47 states and Puerto Rico.