2020 Staying in contact.
Simon Mason, Managing Director, Mercian Sports Company
So, article one and an open book on subject matter – at least that’s what the Editor said! Given the year that we have had there are so many things to reflect on, domestic retail shutdowns, the impact of outdoor activity on mental and physical health, global shipping prices going through the roof, if you furlough someone, can you ask them to do anything at all? The list is endless and the spectrum so very wide.
So to end (or begin) the year depending on when you read this, my most valued takeaway is that of the concept of creating a win-win, collaboration and sharing the pain and the gain. Whether we sit working at home, in a shop, behind a desk in an office or in a warehouse, the uncertainties that we have been presented with have created a pressure all of their own. What’s coming next? What sport can people play? Will we be open next week? Sports philosophy has identified that fear is created by uncertainty, the negative feelings of anxiousness and associated stresses all then appear overbearing. We (Mercian) have found that the one over-riding positive factor is the generally upbeat nature of the sports trade, the cliché of ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ being so true.
It is very easy to become focussed on yourself, create digital promotions about the business, bombard people with emails. But none of that increases the positive emotional contact that we all need. The answer for us has been to try and create more meaningful contacts, pick up the phone, arrange a zoom call, understand the pressures of a colleague or even a competitor and share a story. Whilst we know that everyone is facing pressures it is easy to assume that our own are worse or unique, but a conversation can often reveal that they are actually very similar and in identifying that similarity you can often then explore a solution. As a brand do we have a stock item that the retailer needs and we can come to an agreement on a price so that everyone wins a bit? Is our customer overstocked in a certain area and we can do a stock swap? Can we, the brand, offer a direct despatch service to enhance the retailer’s customer service proposition? There may be a slightly increased cost, but it minimises retail risk and still services the consumer. By exploring the needs of our retailers we have been able to improve the relationships that exist, add to our knowledge of our customer base and then also (directly or indirectly) increase sales.
Of course, if you have a customer base of thousands as a retailer then calling them all isn’t possible. But again, to identify with the sports analogy that improvement is about the tiny percentages, the small incremental benefits, should we focus on the small contacts as well as the big programmes? It certainly makes you feel better to have a real conversation, to pick up the phone and share a thought. With the internet seemingly ever fuller of strong opinions, contrary thoughts and negative commentary, should we seek out the direct positive contact with people in our own marketplace? if someone will take your call, it’s likely that a positive outcome will be the end result and that isn’t necessarily about pounds right now, it could just be a warm and fuzzy feeling! For those of us old enough to remember it, someone once said ‘it’s good to talk!’…