Customers are not disposable!
Last month, I attended a meeting of billiard dealers from around the country. The group was comprised of over a dozen dealers ranging from small family owned stores to large franchised chains. The meeting was to see new product, introduce container specials and discuss MAP pricing. However, during an informal visit after the meeting - my eyes were opened to the theory behind the "fast talking - today's special" sales technique.
In order to understand some of the difficulties that the billiard industry faces, I must first explain that we generally work with very small margins of profit. Billiards is not like the furniture industry which can run sales for 30-50-70% off. If we did that, we'd be selling for well under our costs. Additionally, we are competing with technology for the limited funds that is available in today's economy and selling a product that is not considered a necessity. And unfortunately, with the internet, the cards are stacked against the brick and mortar stores. Our strength is that customers can come in and touch, feel and smell products in a store. They can get experienced information from someone they can look in the eyes and tell if they know what they are talking about. Customers can rest assured that when their table is delivered, that it will be correct and exactly what was ordered. In short, you are more likely to be able to trust an actual store than you can a website.
This particular conversation centered around ways to get people into our stores. We all agreed that internet advertising had taken the lead from radio and TV but the type of advertising became an issue. One of the larger dealers with multiple stores explained that he advertised a $1299 pool table which brought many people to his store. However, once they were in - he would explain to them that he doesn't stock it because it is a crappy table. He would offer to order it for them, but it would take several weeks and he would proceed to show them more expensive tables that he has in stock, ready to deliver. Another advertising gimmick he uses is that he advertises 0% interest but it's only available on limited stock with short finance periods. His trick is that he posts the monthly payment on tables but doesn't explain the financing plan. He actually bragged that a person, seeing that they can get a nicer table for $100 per month doesn't realize that they are paying $6000 over 6 years for a $4000 table.
Another dealer and I objected to his methods. We explained that it was unethical to play shell games or to bait and switch. We said that being honest was the way to attract and retain customers. We also mentioned that we don't increase our pricing so that we can offer discounts to force people to "buy today". We quickly learned that this big chain salesman thought that we were throwing away sales. He said that we were naive to think that people valued honesty over a "good deal". He said the way to make sales was to get them in there and don't let them leave without getting their money. We argued that we felt our reputations for fair pricing and customer service were more important and that we knew that it worked because we had generational customers.
And then we learned his core belief. 'Why do you care if they like you? They will only buy one pool table in their lifetime and they aren't likely to find out they got screwed. You don't need them to come back once you have their money.' And with that, I understood why our competition is so good at closing sales.
While walking back to our hotel rooms, I and the other small dealer decided the following:
1. That we understood the necessity to have a cheaper table, even if it wasn't as good of quality as the rest of our tables - but we MUST have it in stock.
2. We still hold firm that pricing shouldn't fluctuate between days or customers.
3. and most importantly - hell would freeze over before we considered our customers disposable.
Previously, I had felt that we just didn't have the right personalities to close every sale immediately. Now I know that it's a matter of ethics not competence.