Five ways to avoid the retail ‘apocalypse’

July 10, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Austad’s Golf.

In 2017, nearly 7,000 retail stores shuttered their doors in the United States.

The glut of retail square footage was marginally filled, with just 3,000 store openings. A drive around the west side of The Empire Mall, a facility that historically has performed much better than most, reveals a changing dynamic in the retail world.

Toys R Us is closed, and Younkers and Sears are on their way out. Old Chicago is gone just across the street from the former Sioux Falls Ford site. Stores are closing inside the mall as well as consumers change their buying and entertainment habits. One can’t help but feel that these are dark days for retail — that is if you don’t adapt to survive the retail apocalypse.

With a myriad of examples of how not to adapt to the changing retail world, we don’t have to leave our own backyard for an example of how retail can work in the modern era. Austad’s Golf, a staple in Sioux Falls since 1963, has constantly evolved over its 55-year history.

“I remember when catalog sales represented 10 percent of total commerce in the United States, which is coincidentally about what e-commerce sales are today,” said Austad’s CEO Dave Austad. “The prevailing thought was that catalogs would destroy retail.

“The best retailers adapt to add value. It’s no different today,” he added. “In our 55-year history, we’ve been at least five different companies.”

In the 1970s, Austad’s sold exclusively private-label products. The late ’70s saw a transition to all sporting goods. The 1980s saw a boom in the catalog business with name-brand products. The 1990s brought large retail expansion in major markets. Austad’s was the first golf company to partner with Amazon in the early 2000s. Today, Austad’s operates as a chain of dedicated golf fitting studios and retail locations.

“We have five simple rules that have helped us evolve and thrive in an ever-changing environment,” Austad said. Here are the company’s five ways to avoid the retail apocalypse:

1. Use the internet as a tool, not a competitor. 

Yes, Amazon impacts nearly all retailers. However, creating a website that enhances your brand, allows for e-commerce sales and emphasizes what makes you unique is a powerful tool. Austad’s leverages its website to highlight premium custom fittings. “Our website is our primary marketing tool,” Austad said. “Over 90 percent of our customers visit our website before shopping with us. We emphasize custom fitting, something Amazon cannot compete on.” You can even schedule a fitting at any location here.

2. Hire and develop world-class people.

Even the most beautiful retail shop will struggle without great people supporting it. Consumers can find a wealth of information at their leisure on the internet. Cashiers won’t cut it. Neither will product experts. Today’s retail environment requires employees who can take their in-depth knowledge of products and apply it to each individual’s unique situation to add real value. Austad’s uses a behavioral talent assessment to hire employees who are wired to do just that. “Our people sell, but they aren’t salespeople; they are advisers and educators,” Austad said. “We are paid to truly help people play better golf.” Here is a best practice example of a world-class employee.

3. View change as an opportunity, not an evil necessity.

Change is uncomfortable. Most people avoid change until the moment it is forced upon them. Retailers must embrace change. Try various concepts; it won’t all stick, but it will keep you from becoming stagnant in the consumer’s mind. “We don’t view failure as a negative,” Austad said. “Many of our ideas haven’t worked, but developing a culture of change and innovation has allowed us to survive 55 years while most our competitors have gone under.” His father, company founder Oscar Austad, wasn’t a fan of retail back in the early 1980s. In fact, he made Dave sign a notarized document saying if  the business didn’t make money in the first year with its new Chicago store, he could never mention the word “retail” to him again. “Luckily, we made money. Had we not diversified from our catalog business into brick and mortar, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

4. Create a unique experience.

Amazon is convenient. It is often cheap. Retailers likely won’t compete and win purely on convenience and price in today’s environment. That said, retailers can create unique value adding experiences that Amazon cannot compete with. “Omni-channel retailing is the future,” Austad said. “Unlike Amazon, we can create a cohesive experience on our website, on social media and in store. We are finding the combination of technology, great people, expertise and custom products has strong demand.”

A perfect example: Austad’s conducts weekly Facebook live videos educating customers on a product or service. Customers can then click through to, learn about that product or service and either buy immediately or schedule an appointment to speak with a master fitter. The appointment with the master fitter includes world-class technology, which provides the fitter the data necessary to build a custom product that will help the golfer play better and ultimately have more fun. “It’s all about the experience across channels.  Our kicker is that we do that at the industry’s low price,” Austad said. “Create the experience, add value, and do so at the best price, and you’ll make a lot of friends.” Follow Austad’s on Facebook here.

5. Create relationships based on trust, value and fun!

Human beings will always crave real connections with one another. They may interact while leveraging different platforms like social media, but they will still interact. The challenge for retailers is to meet consumers where they’re at. In person or online, we must create authentic relationships that go beyond an individual transaction. “At Austad’s, we start with fun,” Austad said. “Golf is a game that is meant to be enjoyed. Our customers should have the time of their lives shopping for a golf product that helps them play and look better. That’s why our store is interactive. We want you to hit balls, putt on the putting green, try on shoes and clothes. We share the same passion as you – golf! That common passion allows us to begin relationships that often last a lifetime.”

Reading about the most recent retail bankruptcy may have you running to grab your proverbial retail pitchforks. Austad’s will leave the pitchforks in the garage next to that old set of RAM irons they once sold in the late 1960s. One thing is for certain, Austad’s looks forward to the next 55 years of change to serve you!

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Five ways to avoid the retail ‘apocalypse’

Austad’s Golf is a great example of adjusting with a changing industry. Here’s an inside look at how they’ve done it.

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