By Chris Bucholtz
I love my hobby. I build scale models. Y’know – those plastic kits we used to hammer out in an afternoon as pre-teens. Of course, as an adult builder, a model requires research, expenditures on books and aftermarket details, and hours of work. Like other hobbies, it’s gone a bit upscale.
The good news is that, in some cases at least, the hobby’s retained some of its customer relationship magic. Brick-and-mortar hobby shops are up against the same pressures a lot of businesses face; competition from e-commerce is tough, and staying alive in a fairly low-margin business has always been difficult. How do shops survive? By the application of CRM.
I’m not talking about the technology here. One thing I keep asserting is that CRM is not software – it’s a discipline that can scale with the use of software. Bring in the technology when the need to scale emerges, but until then, keep working on the discipline.
Take last night. There’s a clerk there who I enjoy talking to. He’s an early-20’s guy with long hair; he originally came to the shop because of the gaming section, but he’s developed an interest in real history since coming to work there, so he’s getting into models of aircraft. He’s been asking me for advice for building his models, and he gives me heads-ups on just-arrived products when I come in – without an CRM application, he’s building a solid customer relationship.
Last night, as I was checking out (with a copy of Scale Aviation Modeler International magazine and the new 1:72 scale British Long Range Desert Group Truck manufactured by Dragon, if you must know), there was a new, even younger clerk on duty. As I stepped up, the other clerk quickly darted behind the register.
He introduced the new clerk to me, and was very specific in his next statement: “Chris always gets a 10 percent discount. He’s been shopping here for a long time and he and his friends do a lot to introduce new people to the hobby.”
He then pointed out several other shoppers who fell into that category – Randy, Greg, Laramie. “Remember the discount – and if you get stuck on a question about models, you can always ask them.”
That’s CRM: knowing the customers, building loyalty with the customers, trusting the customers. Only the local hobby shop does it without the technology.
Could a CRM application help the hobby shop out? Probably – although the word of mouth transmission of the ideas from employee to employee is probably just as important in maintaining a customer-centric view as any piece of technology you could implement.
The point here is this: even as you decide on when the time is right for a CRM application, or when it’s time to upgrade to a better system, the time is always right to work on the discipline of CRM. These are the soft skills that the technology tries to scale up – but, if they don’t exist yet in your company, you’re never going to gain them by implementing new software.