Retail Excellence: Schaefer’s: Setting the Experience Benchmark

Before the term ever became popular, “interactive” was a byword at Schaefer’s, a 66-year-old family-owned electronics/appliance dealer in Lincoln, Neb.

“It’s all about creating a unique Schaefer’s experience,” said Jeannette Howe, executive director of Specialty Electronics Nationwide, the store’s buying group partner. “Their customers can touch and feel, play with and enjoy.”

What started out as a drugstore that also sold radios and TVs, is now a CE retailer that is often considered a benchmark of interior store design, product choice and display, and industry involvement.

“We are definitely in the experience,” said Ron Romero, who leads the store, along with Ronnie Romero, director of sales, and Roxie Romero, director of operations. “We want the customer to experience everything.”

An 800-square-foot home within the store lets customers sample what Schaefer’s has to offer. There are also 12 kitchen vignettes, most of which are “live,” where a home economist gives cooking lessons on weekends. There are also 16 working dishwashers. “People can come in and see how they clean,” Ron said. “You go to a box store and see a row, and a salesperson can tell you, ‘Yeah, that one’s quiet, but this one’s quieter.’ Well, how quiet is quiet? We can show it to customers,” Ronnie added. “It’s not just sitting there on the showroom floor, not plugged into anything.”

Devoting that much space to live demos is worth it to the Romeros. But they also constantly re-think their floor plan to make the most of every inch. They’ve never hesitated to reallocate real estate. In the case of the 15-to-32-inch LCD TV area, where there are fewer brands and models available, consolidation was in order. “We moved them over to one wall, which allowed us to knock out a couple of walls and really open the back of the store up,” Ronnie said.

The redesign of the newly opened-up area is in process and it is expected to draw more customers into the mini home and to the audio room, which was difficult to see from the front area. “It will also open up our floor for adding more furniture SKUs. We’ve started having some real good luck with furniture pieces like recliners and home theater seating.”

In other cases, space dedicated to dying categories has been replaced by hot up-and-comers, such as bedding. An area once devoted to multiple DLP TVs was cleared last May, and models of the sole DLP brand still carried, Mitsubishi, were moved to another corner for showcasing, in order to accommodate a professionally designed bedding gallery of 17 Serta mattresses; the results are increased foot traffic and sales.

“Serta had told us to expect three years to pass before you really know you’re in the bedding business,” Ron said. “But we’ve started hearing [requests] more and more in the store for mattresses. Serta told us we’re at where they projected we’d be in three years in just the first year.”

Schaefer’s also reallocated some of its print, email, Internet, radio and TV marketing funds to billboards and social media. Ronnie has taken this new marketing avenue very seriously. “He has been very successful using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to reach new clients, and his messaging has resonated with the 24-to-35-year-old crowd while retaining their existing ‘boomer’ clientele,” Howe said.

The goal, Ronnie said, is to reach a new demographic that fits his personal profile. “I’m an advertiser’s worst dream. I don’t open a physical newspaper, I get my news online, I listen to satellite radio, and I watch DVR’ed programs and fast-forward the commercials,” he said. “That’s becoming the norm. How do we reach people like me?” The point is to make sure prospects regularly see the Schaefer’s name and message in two or three places at once. “I’d be kidding myself if I said Twitter is the only way we can reach people, but it is the only way we can reach some people,” he said. “As long as we have a good mix, we’re covering all the bases.”

To keep the brand front and center, Schaefer’s has made its 500 product-review and tech-tip videos widely accessible through an on-demand channel provided by Time Warner Cable.

Another initiative is the liberal use of QR codes at each in-store display, as well as online and print ads. “You can walk up to any TV and get a virtual sales pitch,” Ronnie said. “They can see our own salespeople in the video and hear about the model from us rather than corporate spokespeople reading a Teleprompter.”

Schaefer’s has also found marketing success in the use of its animated mascot, Bolt, who appears on store vehicles and in commercials, in-store cutouts and print media. A plush Bolt toy is in the works.

Of course, tried-and-true event marketing, such as Christmas in July and weekend events, still works. “All of our [marketing efforts] have really set us above the curve,” Ron said. “We always like to strive a little higher than expectations.”

Editor in chief of Dealerscope
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