Hardware Retailing and Winter Chills

Winter means many things to different people, but have you ever considered the impact of driving rain, freezing winds and muddy floors on your business?

While many hardware retailers change their stock selections in tune with changing seasons, few make additional provisions to entice customers into their stores.

The most common attitude to winter is: “Well, it’s the off season — we may as well accept lower sales returns.” All too often, retailers assume that freezing winds not only chill the bones, but also lock the clasps of wallets and purses. It ain’t necessarily so!

The impacts of poor weather on retailing have been well studied throughout many parts of the world. In France, for example, the financial exchange Euronext and the meteorological bureau Météo-France have entered into a partnership to examine the effects of climate on broad financial markets. In a recent newsletter, Euronext declared that 80% of all businesses are affected directly or indirectly by weather changes. “It is estimated that energy consumption increases 2%–5% for every 1°C drop in winter temperature,” the newsletter states, highlighting a slow-down in farming, leisure, tourism and healthcare markets. Such economic factors, in combination with consumer preferences to stay indoors on cold days, have the potential to affect retail sales severely.

There are tactics, however, that can help reverse wintry sales declines.

Some warm advice
Customers enjoy comfort; they like to browse in warm surroundings and do not appreciate having to “flee” a store in search of a cosier environment.

If your store is drafty or cold, why not use some of the heaters on display to warm up more popular parts of the premises? This may not be practical in a huge outlet, but localised heating around top-end departments or near “Help Desks” might help put customers at ease.

If your store has a bare shopfront, consider the erection of a verandah or overhang so rain-soaked customers can settle themselves before entering the store. Place ample mats outside and inside the entrance to prevent unwanted sludge and water from ruining the clean appearance of the floor, and don’t be afraid to place coat racks or stands near counters (for the sake of security) for the convenience of customers. Runners placed strategically along busy aisles can aid surefootedness in wet conditions and make premises more appealing. Even small enhancements like fresh rubber seals on doors and windows can reduce electricity costs and reduce the “icebox effect”.

Umbrellas, offered either as courtesy items or goods for sale, are also valuable in improving the comfort of clients. If the floor is quiet, why not advise sales staff to assist customers by helping to carry goods to cars?

Furthermore, in an age when larger stores have in-store coffee lounges, make sure the menu fits the needs of people who want to sit down and warm up quickly.

It is both impractical and expensive to transform a mid-winter store into a summery paradise, but small steps designed to enhance comfort and convenience can go a long way towards enhancing customers’ shopping experiences.

Such measures can make winter shopping a pleasurable task rather than a chore, and hopefully encourage repeat business in spite of inclement weather.

By John Power