At Eklund’s, a Business Makeover Story of Astonishing Retail Transformation
By Bob Phibbs
“Have you ever done a business makeover for an equipment dealer like this before?” my client asked.
“No,” I answered, “but I am product agnostic – it shouldn’t matter,” I said before seeing the store.
Then I saw the store… well really more of a huge corrugated steel shed. We started a complete business makeover and transformation last fall.
And if you’re thinking right now what does this have to do with me, let me tell you why it is totally about you.
You probably think of me as the retail selling guru, so trust me when I say that your retail store is an integral part of your selling process.
While this story is not about your store, the steps I give you and the reveal at the end should convince you to look at the environment your shoppers enter with an analytical eye.
Is your retail space doing everything it needs to do, in the best way possible, to make your shoppers comfortable enough to open their wallets?
Back to the story...
Billy Eklund and his family have been dairy farmers and their farm equipment store has been the go-to place for agricultural equipment in rural upstate New York since the 50’s.
As I spoke to Billy, he acknowledged there was a new customer he was seeing more and more of, the urban dweller who used his equipment on the weekends to make a pond or bushwhack through an overgrown area. He still had commercial clients who came to him for parts and repairs, but he felt the time was right to make more of a retail store.
The trouble was this new customer had to look past all the years of parts and tools that had accumulated in the shed...store.
And Billy had a loyal following – at one of his events he has been known to sell nearly 100 new tractors. This operation was successful.
When brand recognition is at a high level, a business makeover may seem simple—but this is only an illusion.
Because I hadn’t been on or purchased a tractor before in my life, I had to immerse myself to truly understand the Eklund brand and their rural shoppers’ specifics.
There probably couldn’t be two more different worlds coming together than a city boy like me and a rural farm operator like Billy. And yet we aren’t that different when it comes right down to it.
The goal was to make Billy’s store work as hard as he did.
The First Meeting
When you first approached the store, you saw large wooden boxes under his eaves; they were outdoor signs being stored for a friend. As you stepped in the doors, you discovered a dark store.
There was a dirty red carpet that led your eyes right to the huge counter and underneath it were old brake shoes in boxes crushed from guys having kicked them while sitting on the stools.
To the right were shelf units that towered over your head with all manner of parts.
To the left were drums of oil and collections of more dusty parts and supplies covering an unused desk.
In talking to Billy, he was open to everything. “Just tell me what to do, I’m in,” he said.
As we discussed his challenges, it became clear that when customers came in looking to buy a tractor, first they had to climb down a hill to where the tractors were all set out and then climb back up the hill.
While Billy or the other salesmen were gone down the hill for 20-40 minutes, new shoppers waiting for him had to just stand around inside the store. We needed to find a way to keep those shoppers occupied and learning about the equipment while they waited.
Billy also wanted to have his five best-selling tractors inside, so he didn’t have to worry about rain.
He also wanted a sales office for himself where he could finish a sale and talk about finances without having to use a shared space with the rest of his family.
Finally, customers always asked for toys and shirts but since he had no place to display them, he didn’t sell them.
Billy knew if he was going to tap into the new market of second-home owners and get them to rave to their friends, he had to make bold changes.
The challenge: how to make a corrugated steel shed into a welcoming environment for homeowners without alienating his loyal commercial customers. Both of these groups deserved better.
We came up with a new design for his store that effectively split the store into homeowner world on the right and commercial world on the left.
Gone would be the old, dirty merchandising units. In homeowner world, would be new, red display gondolas; in commercial world they would be grey.
The main counter would be split in two and pulled back, so we could reclaim more sales floorspace for the tractors.
We would build two new offices where he could finalize sales away from the rest of the backend operations.
He would get new front doors so he could get the larger tractors inside, and we designed a new customer flow.
The sides of the interior would be plastered with iconic images of agricultural images and machinery.
We’d tell Billy’s story and mission in signage and double the lighting.
One thing we knew, this couldn’t look too slick.
The store needed to feel as authentic and engaging as Billy and his family.
One catch though, the store would need to remain open during all of the construction.
The whole process took about six months with Billy and his crew staying late, arriving early and continually having to remember where everything that had been on the floor for years were housed temporarily. Even his kids helped clean the walls.
The results could not be more stunning, but don’t take my word for it – see and hear it from Billy direct himself. See the before, during the process, and the after in this three-minute video:
Eklund’s customers responded to the new store immediately, Billy reported a 27% increase in tractor sales the first quarter. That’s the bottom line.
For years major malls have required tenants to strip their stores to the studs and remake their interiors. Why?
Because retail exists to answer one question from consumers, “What’s new?”
The pressure is on for retailers to deliver a remarkable in-store experience from the store design, to the way the product is merchandised, and to the way those retailers relentlessly train their staff how to create an exceptional experience – one that stands out as much as the store itself.
That’s how you become remarkable.
You may not have $100,000 for a business makeover down to the studs, but the need is still there to present a new and fresh environment for your customers to explore and discover items they may not have come in looking for.
While I am a motivational speaker, sales trainer - both in-person and virtual - my consulting business has led me to do business makeovers for all sorts of businesses and various degrees of involvement. Maybe you could use one as well.
As this business makeover challenge shows, it doesn’t matter what you sell as long as you create a great vision, have the dedication to see it through, and begin the process by knowing your customer.
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