Retail Power: Directing the Customer Experience
Bob Cole is a rare breed of retailer: a specialty AV dealer who has managed to successfully straddle the line between being a customizer and at the same time a wizard at e-commerce. It’s a feat that many of his retailing peers have been hesitant to attempt, in view of the experiences of others who have tried it and missed the mark.
Cole, president and COO of Montgomeryville, Pa.-based World Wide Stereo, partly attributes his success at e-commerce to his ability to recognize the Internet as an enemy, early on: “It was a pain for all of us brick-and-mortar stores. But I saw the reality and I embraced it. I learned to be like my enemy.” But from the distinct angle of a service-oriented retailer, that is. He says that his Internet philosophy is informed by the same philosophy that’s infused his storefront business for its 36 years.
“I am the director of the customer experience,” he explains. “I think it’s our positive attitude; that’s our secret sauce. It’s totally working for me. Customers feel it on the Internet. They feel it in the stores and in my custom department. But also, my staff, my people, feel it. If you’re going to buy something and you know that salesperson is grateful for you even talking to them for your potential business, you feel much better about dealing with that person, if it’s for a prescription, a pocketbook, or a car. If you sense this guy’s just trying to make money off you, you’re a lot less inclined.”
When Cole got started with the Internet, for him, that meant being all in, from Square One. “First of all, I made the financial commitment,” he says, adding that he had a fully staffed IT department early on. “I don’t think anybody had that. I saw a lot of other dealers putting stuff up on Amazon and having a site with no infrastructure. And that just can’t work. You have to be professional about it. I wanted to do it right and wanted to have my vendors make money as well as me.”