Encouraging shoppers to handle merchandise is an easy and highly effective way to involve them in what your store has to offer. At R/C Country Hobbies, a Sacramento, California, hobby store that sells remote-control planes and cars, model-building kits and other toys, customers can test a collector train on display or ask an employee to build a model so they can see and feel it. They can even fly a model airplane using a computer program that simulates the event.
"A customer can feel what it's like to turn the airplane, give it power and crash it. This way, the crash is cheaper," says Terrie Van Scyoc, co-owner of the store with her husband, Chet, both 37. The rationale behind the couple's hands-on customer policy: "This is something our biggest competitors, mail order catalogs, can't give them," says Terrie.
The Van Scyocs offer shoppers other interactive experiences mail order catalogs can't, such as firsthand advice from experienced R/C Country Hobbies employees on building or repairing model toys. Shoppers are invited to display their finished airplane and glider models from the store's rafters; the Van Scyocs then sell these toys on consignment. Other customers test their skills at yo-yo demonstrations staged by R/C Country Hobbies employees or race their miniracers on an 80-foot track at monthly exhibitions in the store's parking lot.
"Most of our customers are men. By nature, if they can see, feel and touch it, we're closer to getting the item sold," says Terrie. "A built-out model [on display] gives them the inspiration to buy a kit, take it home and make it themselves."
R/C Country Hobbies' hands-on marketing boosted revenues from $1 million in 1996 to $1.2 million in 1997. The Van Scyocs have also cultivated a particularly loyal customer following. When the couple moved its business from cramped quarters into a 2,600-square-foot building two years ago, many customers worked three 10-hour days to help renovate the building and move merchandise. Says Terrie, "We've developed lasting ties with many of our customers."