This little teddy ……
My first Bear Factory shop was just opposite the Warner Brothers shop in Liffey Valley shopping centre, outside Dublin - yes, I will leave it to you to decide whether you think that was a gutsy move or sheer madness opening under the noses of an international competitor! Whatever you think, it brings me onto how the idea that inspired SurveyMe became an absolute necessity for a small business like ours to first compete and, later, punch well above our weight.
For our launch and indeed for about a month afterwards, the Bear Factory shop at Liffey Valley was absolutely full from the moment we opened to the last thing at night. Then, almost as quickly as the crowds had first arrived, they stopped. Having allowed myself some self-congratulatory indulgences and plaudits I was equally stunned about the immediate fall-off in trade. Bear Factory wasn’t anything special and this kind of thing can happen to any business. As it happens, after 9 months trading we worked out there was a simple enough answer to the immediate fall-off in sales – usually because term had started and children had returned to school. Nevertheless, the first time it happened it was an early reminder that we would have to work hard for our success and that we should never take our eyes off the game or stop listening to our customers. That first rude awakening made me sit up and ensure we had a process of engaging with our customers embedded within our culture at Bear Factory. My team actively listened to our customers’ ideas and then we not exactly gave them what they wanted, but we gave them what they needed. That culture ultimately saw us triumph over the Warner Bros shop and watch it close down 18 months later. Here’s a couple of charming anecdotes about how that happened and why I realised that SurveyMe was very much needed in the world…
Red or green heart …..?
One day a young girl called Jessie, came into our store in Jervis Street, Dublin. She had copious amounts of fervent patriotism for her nine years of age. Part of our process for ‘bringing a bear to life’ was for the customer to insert a piece of heart-shaped material in to the bear before it was sewn together. The hearts we used were the traditional red colour. But Jessie asked, if she was Irish because she had a green heart through and through (or so her dad told her), then why couldn’t her bear be ‘Irish’ too? Within a few weeks we were able to give our customers the choice of red or green hearts for their bears. The green hearts became more than simply a response to Jessie’s curiosity. In fact, we could legitimately lay claim to being the only company in Ireland to sell ‘Irish’ bears! You will understand that there are only three ways to grow your business:
1. Increase your customer base;
2. Increase the amount of times they spend with you;
3. Increase their average spend.
So you will understand then why what started with Jessie’s patriotic curiosity and ended up with ‘live teddy bear heart transplants’ (i.e switching red hearts for green hearts!) ended up boosting our sales significantly. All because we listened to our customers as part of our culture and we nimbly reacted to their idea. At the time when Jessie first came to visit I had two shops in Dublin and I would regularly visit both.
A year later we had 5 shops, including locations like Galway and Belfast. As much as I loved to spend time with our team and our customers while working in each shop, now with 100 employees, I was spending less time on the sales floor and more time dealing with the humdrum of business. I also realised that sales were considerably slowing once again – and this time it wasn’t school holidays – so something was wrong. When I finally worked it out, it wasn’t that customers had stopped giving us feedback, it wasn’t that our team had stopped listening, it was that I wasn’t around as much as before to convert the ideas into actions. And yet, I’d lie awake at night wondering how to redress the apparent fall in sales. In short, what I needed was a tool that I could ask simple questions of our customers that I wanted to know the answers to. And for them to give me the answers (plus more if they felt like it) so that I could access when I had time out to think about my business, usually outside of trading hours. What I was actually looking for was a way to get lots of validations for small value propositions in the same way as when I spent time in St Stephen’s Green before I opened my first shop.
And this little Teddy has dry feet!
It took a 6-year old girl called Mary visiting our store in Galway to revive our fortunes a little. Galway, as you may know, is a very wet place due to the copious rain that falls there. Mary wanted to know if the wellington boots we sold as accessories for our teddy bears were because Galway was so wet? This idea arrived four weeks after Mary’s first visit, and would have been completely missed had it not come up as a trivial footnote in a conversation over coffee. I then asked our team in Galway, on every rainy day, to put a pair of wellies on each bear when no clothes were purchased with the bear. You guessed it, who ever thought of a naked bear wearing wellies – ridiculous, yes?!? Yes, absolutely so our customers always bought a small outfit for the naked bear with wellies! Yet, it took a further month testing the idea before we could invest and roll it out across our other shops. Had I had SurveyMe, we could have validated the idea far quicker with customers and rolled it out thus improving our fortunes quicker. We quickly ran out of wellies for our bears and the idea developed into ‘Ruby Shoes-day’ – where every bear sold on a Tuesday without clothes, got a free pair of shoes. It had the same effect. In this instance, what having a tool like SurveyMe would have done is validate the idea in a day and therefore improve our sales within weeks as opposed to over 5 months, which is what it took, allowing for the delivery of new wellies and shoes from China.
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