That's Entertainment

If the Shoe Fits...

Just for Feet, a Birmingham, Alabama, athletic-shoe retailer, is walking all over its competition, thanks to its innovative approach to selling shoes. Sales from its chain of 84 superstores nationwide hit $500 million last year, a far cry from the $23 million the firm grossed when it went public in 1993, and even further from its first-year revenues of $200,000 in 1977.

Founder and CEO Harold Ruttenberg, 56, attributes Just for Feet's runaway success to its perfect blend of entertainment and retailing. "We take our cue from Walt Disney, a master at making people smile," says Ruttenberg. "We've created that same synergy at Just for Feet."

Ruttenberg has created that synergy by presenting each superstore as a giant playground for adults and kids alike. Stores feature an indoor basketball court, a wall of video screens, laser light shows, a hot dog restaurant and athletic event viewings.

"During Wimbledon, we invited the public to watch the matches on the big screen, and we served them doughnuts and coffee," says Ruttenberg. "That was 10 years ago. Now we have our own restaurants [in the stores]."

Ruttenberg's three-ring approach to selling athletic shoes is driven by a simple goal: Get shoppers to smile. "When they walk in, they're not happy. They're about to give you their money. But when they leave Just for Feet, they're smiling," he explains. "It's the total atmosphere that's important--music playing, basketballs being shot, the cash register ringing. It's just organized chaos, and I love it."

Don't have room for a basketball court in your store, much less the budget to build one? No problem. While high-profile accouterments suit some retailers, others are opting for concepts that work in low-profile, traditional retail environments. Entertailing isn't a totally developed concept, according to Stanley Eichelbaum, president of Marketing Developments Inc. "It's in transition and open to interpretation," he says. "Everyone is trying to find a way to do it that works for their business and their customers."

Food for Thought

HomeChef, a chain of eight cooking schools/kitchen stores in California, has found an entertailing strategy that works. Shoppers know that pots, pans and electric mixers are cheapest at the large discount retailers. But at HomeChef, buying them is much more fun.

Customers sip hot spiced cider and nibble on freshly baked biscotti as they shop or get answers to their cooking questions. At free one-hour cooking demonstrations, trained chefs show shoppers how to make perfect strawberry crepes at home. On any given day, founder and chairperson Judith Ets-Hokin, dressed in her chef's whites, walks through the stores to chat with customers and swap cooking experiences.

"We romance everything at HomeChef. You see it in the way we talk about buying a soufflé dish, selecting fresh herbs, putting together an intimate dinner party," says Ets-Hokin, who got her start 20 years ago in the kitchen of her San Francisco home, teaching friends how to cook simple, delicious meals. "We're not just selling merchandise; we're selling the cooking experience, which we believe should be pleasurable and memorable."

HomeChef's high-sensory sales approach is complemented by well-orchestrated marketing and customer service programs. Customer mailings announce merchandise specials, new products and an ever-changing lineup of cooking classes.

Sales associates must complete HomeChef's most popular offering: the 12-week Essential Cooking series. "We want them to be knowledgeable about food and talk in the same language as the people taking our cooking classes," explains Ets-Hokin. Likewise, chefs are handpicked for their ability to relate to HomeChef's market niche: working couples and moms who want to sharpen their cooking skills.

The company's biggest customer service day is Thanksgiving, when chefs and sales associates man toll-free phone lines to talk customers through the trials of cooking the perfect holiday turkey. "People need to cook," says Ets-Hokin, "so we want to help them make it fun, creative and delicious." And make no bones about it; last year, HomeChef made cooking fun, creative and delicious to the tune of more than $14 million in sales.

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This article was originally published in the December 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: That's Entertainment.

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