To run a successful maple retail outlet, make sure you give the customer many options to spend money. The bullet approach – bottles or tins of home-produced syrup – usually will hit the target.
However, the shotgun approach – which still maintains a tight pattern around the maple concept while scattering other offerings to all corners of the target – can pay handsome rewards.
That’s the approach that Rob and Jean Lamothe take at Lamothe’s Sugar House in Burlington, Connecticut. Their showroom is decent sized – 14 by 14 feet – and is full of interesting items for visitors to discover.
The marketing emphasis is on letting guests find things themselves. The Lamothes know that the typical American shopper is bombarded with annoying, high-pressure advertising. That is contrary to everything the Lamothes represent.
“We know we are out in the sticks. If people travel all the way out here, they probably came specifically for a reason. We want our customers’ shopping experience to be different than anything else they do,” Rob said. “We are never high pressure.”
Lamothe’s Sugar House offers a variety of products. Customers can purchase goods that anyone would associate with maple syrup – pancake mix, candies or maple-based spices. There are other pure farm products like honey as well as bee pollen. The shop also offers items such as jellies and jams and marinara sauce.
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Their spice collection includes a rub for pork, chicken and beef, as well as a rub marketed as a replacement for vanilla.
While they also sell maple syrup equipment to producers in the spring – which is not a typical storefront retail business – Rob said they are not interested in getting bigger. “We’re just trying to support ourselves,” he said.
What you won’t find at the Sugar House is a pushy salesperson. “We have a different approach,” he said. Many of their customers represent repeat business and they have come to know them by name. “We ask them how their family is doing.”
Many of the items sold in the shop are based on the diversified production at Lamothe’s. In addition to the sugar bush and apiary, they produce hogs. The goal is to increase the amount spent per customer-visitor without being pushy.
“Women like to browse. Jean will order in some pottery. It generates more sales,” Rob said. “It’s not like I’m looking to expand.” However, he won’t walk away from an opportunity to build sales.
With nearly 5,000 people visiting each year, business tends to be slow and steady. Yet they avoid high-pressure tactics at all costs.
“We want their shopping experience to be different than every other experience they’ve had. It is low pressure. We let them buy what they want to buy. Everyone is free to look around. If they ask about the grades of syrup, we’ll definitely take the time to explain them,” he said.
“We’re humble people,” he said. “I remember when we had no money at all.” So when he sees someone who appears to be out for a lark in the countryside, his strategy is to make them feel welcome and to help them enjoy their day. An apothecary jar is filled with free lollipops for the children. And a free sample of maple drop candy will go a long way toward improving the guest experience.
“We never suggest in our presentation that anyone buy anything,” he said. That is because they recall their days as a young family when entertainment meant seeking out the free attractions like the nearby clock museum and making an inexpensive outing of it.
“We didn’t buy anything!” he said.
Conventional wisdom says that traffic coming into a store will, instinctively, turn right. That has major implications for marketing and for placement of impulse items.
Since the cash register is actually straight ahead at Lamothe’s, Jean Lamothe said she would presume the traffic would follow the traditional route to the right or at least be fairly balanced. Not so.
“Here, people go to the left,” she said. And she has seen it happen time and again. “People follow the unorthodox path perhaps it is because the syrup and books are to the left.”
At the risk of starting World War III, the conversation turns to spending patterns. Do women really spend more?
Rob said he has observed women come into the store and look at the jellies and other merchandise. “Women like to browse,” he said.
Read more: Maple syrup: pride of place, pride of taste
“My husband says women buy more stuff,” Jean said. “But sometimes I think the men spend more.” She has noticed that men have a proclivity to buying clothing.
The sweatshirts, ball caps and other soft goods offered at the Sugar House are an outgrowth of her embroidery business, which started when Jean made workshirts with the logo for the staff at the sugar bush.
“People will ask whether they can get a Lamothe Sugar House sweatshirt,” Rob said. “They want to feel connected to the farm operation.”
Now, Jean has a shop set up in the old sugar house, where she produces a variety of high-quality embroidered products.
Looking around is the major activity for customers in the Sugar House showroom.
“We don’t try to encourage people to buy more than they might be able to afford. The economy is still rebuilding slowly,” Rob said. “People have only so much disposable income.”
The formula works. Both the customers and the Lamothes are happy with the shopping experience. “I’m not trying to expand into new markets,” he said. “Right now, we have all we can handle.”
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