Inspiring Outdoor Love in the Next Generation

It can be challenging for retailers to grow their youth business. Shelley O’Neill, manager of Tooth of Time Traders at Philmont Scout Ranch and winner of the 2011 SNEWS “Retailer of the Year”* (ROTY) award for “Growth of Outdoor Sports” and 2012 SNEWS “Retailer of the Year for Youth Involvement” shares a few simple ideas that we all can use.

Tooth of Time Traders has a slight advantage to reaching the 14-18 year old consumers because they are no ordinary retailer. They cater to thousands of Boy Scouts (BSA) who visit the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Owned by the BSA, the 137,000 acre ranch hosts ten-day backpacking trips for Scouts and adventurers.

“We know the youth are like any other specialty consumer. They want information and service. They may not always be the one paying for the product but they certainly have the power of influence over their parents buying decisions and they are the consumers of the future,” states Shelley O’Neill.

Tooth of Time Traders’ simple secrets for selling to youth:

Speak directly. This might seem simple, but just like adults, youth want to be spoken to, not at. They don’t want sales people speaking down to them. These are digitally savvy kids with a global outlook and a lot of knowledge at their fingertips—literally. Treat them with respect and educate them on what products are best for them, their specific expedition and why.

Remember, it’s an investment. Many youth are involved in numerous activities and sports, which need some sort of initial and on-going investment in order to participate. Many parents flinch at the upstart costs of hiking and camping expeditions. Remind your staff (and the parents) that any activity takes an investment whether it’s time, money or both. For instance, during football season you might have to buy new pads or basketball season might require a new pair of sneakers. Backpacking and camping are similar, but the investment needn’t be as extreme as buying a $400 tent. There are easier and more practical entry points to investing in outdoor adventure. Make sure your staff and the consumers understand these points. If a consumer (young or old) is not comfortable with their equipment they will not have a good experience, which means there is little likelihood they will go on an outdoor adventure a second time and you will lose your consumer.

Brand and product transparency. Tooth of Time Traders knows that youth look at the whole message of a brand and product. They want to understand everything about a product, from its function to the materials to how it’s made and what the brand is all about. Kids are information hungry and socially and environmentally aware. It all matters to them. The internet and social media greatly influence their decision-making process. The store staff must be up to the task of understanding the product function and fit but also the brand message and companies behind the product. Understanding the details of a brand is the key to selling it.

Train your staff. Tooth of Time Traders has 50 to 60 new seasonal employees every year, so they know that training staff on the products and brands they sell is important. Since most of the youth coming into the store are new to hiking and camping, they focus on customer service and making sure these kids have the right product, especially footwear. They have even come up with a system to serve the kids on the trail who have blown out their boots. They have a series of questions they ask their customers to determine what will be the most appropriate boots, and then they deliver the boots to the trail within 24 hours if a blowout should occur.

No matter if you are selling to youth or a seasoned veteran, we all want to know what we’re buying, and that requires a knowledgeable sales person. Make sure to arm your team with that knowledge. Ask you sales reps to do a clinic and/or use an on-line educational tool  like 3 Point 5.

Tooth of Time Traders understands that the special ingredients in successful specialty retail are carrying the right brands and employing knowledgeable customer service superstars that have the education and tools necessary to provide exceptional customer service. We do our best to go above and beyond in our customer service to make sure these kids have the best experience possible so they learn to love the outdoors and return to them long after they leave Philmont Scout Ranch” comments Shelley O’Neill.

*The ROTY award recognizes the outstanding contributions of a specialty outdoor retailer to his or her community and the outdoor industry. The recipient of the award is an integral part of the community that his or her business serves and visionary in terms of leading the market rather than following it. Recipients are known for their community involvement, customer loyalty, employee training and retention, long-term commitments in the areas of supporting green and sustainable business practices and exceptional merchandising skills. The winner of this award embodies the true spirit of entrepreneurship, sustainable business models, and community service and is recognized as a shining example of what every retailer should aspire to be in the specialty outdoor retail industry.