Talking Shop

Wonder what makes shoppers tick? 5 retail superstars reveal how to please customers and, more important, how to keep them coming back for more.

Is it a trend or a fad? Will it sell or wind up on the clearance rack? Will it turn my customers on or off? These are questions retailers face every day. Make the wrong decision, and witness a sales dive. Make the right decision, and become a retail hero.

Assembled here are a diverse group of retailers: ESPN Zone, Hot Topic, Starbucks, Anthropologieand Build-A-Bear Workshop. Each one is succeeding because it has discovered an innovative solution to a unique retail problem. Read closely to find out how to target a fickle customer, develop an enduring brand, create a destination, sell a lifestyle and build a relationship with your clientele.

ESPN Zone: The Power of the Brand
When you step foot into any of ESPN Zone's eight locations, you know you've entered a place like no other. Huge HDTV screens broadcast nonstop sports, an enormous glacier wall tempts you to climb to the top, and interactive sports games urge you to compete.

This is a world where the ESPN brand is king, and you never forget it. From live ESPN TV and radio broadcasts from the restaurant to its aptly named Season Ticket Holder frequent dining card, the establishment is a veritable shrine to the sports-frenzied fan.

ESPN Zone understands the connection it has with its core audience of males between the ages of 25 and 39. Its menu boasts the ESPN Burger, the Zone Cheesesteak and a full pound of chicken wings. Visitors, of course, have ample opportunity to purchase branded merchandise, allowing them to become walking billboards.

In essence, ESPN and ESPN Zone are one, or, as George Whalin, a retail expert with Retail Management Consultantsin San Marcos, California, explains, "ESPN Zone has created great synergy between the franchises."

If the ultimate goal of branding is to create an emotional relationship with your customers, then ESPN Zone has succeeded admirably. It presents a case study of how you, too, can create a retail environment where your brand is reinforced through all five of the senses: Ensure that within all lines of sight your brand name and colors are prominently displayed, choose music appropriate for your target demographics, tempt your customers to touch the merchandise, encourage sampling in a food-based establishment and (if applicable) infuse the environment with a compelling scent.

The never-ending sports coverage at ESPN Zone "[keeps] the wallpaper changing every day," says John Pierce, the company's director of marketing and creative content. "Our coverage gives customers something new to talk about every day." The entire experience encourages diners to linger an average of about 90 minutes. And the longer they stay, the more they spend.

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This article was originally published in the September 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Talking Shop.

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