Turn occasional customers into a loyal following by offering expertise.

As many of the game bird hunters among your customers can attest, success can often be measured in the ability to anticipate. Wall Street traders and military strategists may have the same advice. Know where your target is headed and then get there first, with your bead, your investment or your troops.

For the rural lifestyle dealer, there may be no more elusive target than the occasional shopper, the customer who appears only now and then and has no particular loyalties to hobby, brand, equipment, Main Street or big box store.

But to survive  and thrive in today’s marketplace, rural lifestyle dealers must anticipate, target and capture the occasional shopper. You can do it. It’s all in the approach you take.

Convert Impulse Shoppers

In recent years, equipment dealers have expanded their audiences by focusing on women. For example, John Deere dealerships have added pink items to go with the trademark green.

Strategies like this take up floor space. However, many of these items are high-margin and high-impulse purchases and appeal to casual shoppers. According to analyst MediaScope, 90% of people say they make impulse buys.

The occasional shopper who wanders into your store likely won’t make impulse purchases of a high-dollar piece of equipment. However, they may wander into your store and purchase repair parts or accessories, especially if you effectively explain the advantages of buying from your dealership and how it will help them.

This conversion from walk-in to impulse purchaser is your first step to capturing the occasional customer.

Specialize in Special

As a rural lifestyle dealer, you’re already specialized. While random chance or the product may bring people in the door, it is you who keeps them and brings them back. This is more true for the occasional shopper than regulars, enthusiasts who may know as much about your products as you.

It becomes your job to play host and mentor, to make your occasional customers feel special enough to feel like a regular. If you do, they’ll hop back in when the time is right.

The key to occasional customers, as with any customer, is communication. You have to go beyond explaining the product’s advantages in terms that someone unfamiliar or only passingly familiar with it will understand. You have to explain it so they understand, “Why should I buy it here of all places?”

Seeing the Value

Conveying the expertise behind your specialty to the occasional shopper isn’t nearly as easy as it is important. Occasional shoppers may be new to the rural lifestyle or simply to your area. Or maybe they’re advanced enough that the gear and expertise offered by box stores simply isn’t enough. That’s truer now that the Internet gives people the ability to research.

In fact, Internet research capabilities may be both one of the biggest threats and proponents of a rural lifestyle dealership. According to Forrester’s, 82% of Americans now research products online before purchasing. This gives them information that helps them feel better informed and may drive them from box stores to specialty stores. It may also make them feel more qualified to challenge pricing or quality.

Advise, Don’t Judge

Think about the brands and types of equipment you carry. Your product lines likely differ from the chain stores in quality, selection and breadth.

Consider how well your staff knows the operation and maintenance of each product. Then consider how well the part-time employee at the chain store can advise a customer on a given product.

The difference is immeasurable and invaluable. It’s your key selling point.

Newbies Welcome

Sometimes, novices choose inferior products because they are insecure about their knowledge level. Maybe someone wants to purchase a new chainsaw, but is too intimidated to speak to someone or afraid they’ll ask the wrong question.

You should always be outgoing with customers. When you see a new customer entering your store, you need to be extra welcoming.

However, there’s a fine line between overenthusiastic and perfectly knowledgeable. Straddle that line and you can turn that occasional customer into a returning customer.