Consider Going ‘Old School Retail’ This Holiday Season

Integrators with private appointment-only showrooms should open on Black Friday with retail-style hours with about a dozen sale items like wireless multiroom speakers, soundbars, subwoofers, programmable thermostats, security cams, alarms and smart door locks. Here are 6 tips to succeed.


I started getting emails before Columbus Day this year, the earliest ever. I’m over six weeks away from doing anything that resembles Christmas shopping but I opened them anyway.

I suspect hundreds of thousands of folks far more serious about shopping than I have opened the emails as well. If you believe TLC’s cable TV special, “Extreme Couponing: Black Friday Blitz,” there are shoppers out there planning military-style retail assaults as you’re reading this.

Honestly… do any of you old school retailers who have turned totally custom miss that over-the-counter action even a teensy-weensy bit? And for those who have never operated a retail environment, have you ever wondered what it actually feels like to ask “Cash or credit card?” to another human (no one uses checks anymore) while you put a product in a bag and watch the customer leave your premises with it?

While I was researching the inductees for the 2015 class of CE Pro Masters, I was inspired by one integrator who still owns a retail shop that is open to the great unwashed public six days a week and has an online shopping cart for individual purchases that may or may not result in custom work. I looked at a many others randomly from coast-to-coast and regrettably very few are doing the same.

Let me be real clear: I think you’re leaving money on the table — maybe no more than the equivalent of a few Sonos hook-ups and flat screen hangs — but real money nonetheless.

Those of you in the Northeast, remember last winter? How many billable man hours did you lose because of the horrible weather? How much overtime pay did you incur to catch up when spring finally arrived? Those of you in other regions of the country likely have had no income weather days for any number of inclement reasons.

Planning a small and focused retail (the “R” word) event over what is still the greatest shopping weekend of the year could provide a nice little cash cushion for any unforeseen rainy day. The CEA is predicting 65 percent of all shoppers will buy something techie this season. You in for a chunk of that?

If you are, don’t plan to take on Walmart, Target, Best Buy or Amazon, but you must be competitive with them price-wise. Pick a dozen or so items that you regularly use and/or recommend to put on sale. Some suggestions include wireless multiroom speakers and soundbars, subwoofers, programmable thermostats, security cams, alarms and smart door locks. All stuff that can be wrapped and put under a tree. (If someone can assemble a tricycle and get it under a tree, they can surely handle a sub.)

Take a tip from the automotive electronics specialty stores who for years have sold remote car starters with reduced install costs during sale periods over the holiday selling season. The box gets opened Christmas morning and is installed at a scheduled appointment after the holidays. And you have all the money upfront … isn’t that novel?

Here are six other ideas to sprinkle into your mix.

Work with Distributors: Find a local or national distributor who will sell you the hot headphone SKUs, fitness trackers and other small CE items on a guaranteed sale basis. The distributors need business too and may just work with you. If you only get a credit towards future purchases for any post holiday return, there’s no risk.

The big boys will sell millions of these gadget type items this season. Get your share. The type of customer you covet would rather make this kind of purchase from a specialist like you than pull it off a peg on an end cap in a mall store. But remember, competitive pricing. You’re looking at plus dollars here and you can’t appear overpriced.

Create Gift Cards: Have gift certificates ready for any undecided customers who may come for a visit. These are really inexpensive to make. You can do them yourself with free online templates or buy them from Staples or Vistaprint among others. You could do custom plastic gift cards from companies online but they have fees, minimums and such even though they look a lot more 21st Century. Your call.

Set up eCommerce on your Website: If your website lacks an e-commerce component, get one set up now. Make sure all the items that you’re going to advertise, including gifts certificates/cards are available to be put in the cart all the way through Cyber Monday.

Focus on Small Business Saturday: Another option might be to follow in the path of national sporting goods retailer and tree hugging co-op REI with their recent decision to close not only on Thanksgiving Day but Black Friday as well. And make a big conservative “Chick-fil-A” deal out of it in your print and online advertising. Let your current and potential customers know much you think of your employees during the holidays.

Plan your campaign to open on the increasingly more important and nationally hyped “Small Business Saturday,” conceived by American Express and now in its sixth year. AMEX has a thorough website dedicated solely to this great idea filled with all kinds of clever marketing ideas. You can even see what sellers in your area are doing and band together. Opening the next day … Sunday … might work too if you’re in an area with strong foot traffic.

Make It a Staff Party Atmosphere: Bring in your whole crew including even your family to work this. No retail experience necessary. Make it an event for them. Buy lunch. Pay bonuses. Maybe even commission and/or profit sharing for their time. Hey, it’s Christmas!

And on that ho-ho-ho note, hire a Santa Claus so your customers can get their free Santa pictures with the kids. These can cost anywhere from $20 to $40 at the mall. Or ask for a small charitable donation for a community cause. Good guaranteed Santas from an agency run between $125 and $150 an hour and are worth the investment. Stuffing a pillow in Uncle Joe’s cheap Santa suit, let alone allowing him to wear a fake beard and hair, will turn off more customers than not.

Promote It: Advertise, advertise, advertise. Tell your old customers via both e-mail announcements and even direct snail mail if you have the time and budget.

Consider a small ad in your local daily newspaper. Put it in the sports section, not run-of-paper (ROP) which gives the paper full control over your ad’s placement. With ROP you will more likely than not get lost in a sea of small ads. And even if you’ve never advertised before, do not pay the open rate. You should get at least an ad agency discount of 15 percent even if the paper composes your ad from scratch. Newspapers need the business too, but be sure to heed their deadlines for the best deal. The same rule all hold true for traditional terrestrial (AM or FM) radio.

Follow all this up with a promotion on the social coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. Again, the car electronics guys are doing this with car starters, back-up cameras and other stuff that is as cool as yours. Run this promotion through Super Bowl Sunday. These sites are struggling a bit so deals can be made.

If your foray into retail on Black Friday weekend shows promise, consider doing it again on the last shopping weekend before Christmas as well as the week after Christmas into New Year’s Eve to get some generic gift card action.

Who knows? You might grow to like this retail thing and become the next Crazy Eddie—hopefully without the fraud conviction.

About the Author

Chuck Schneider
Chuck Schneider:

Chuck Schneider is a freelance writer with a long history in consumer electronics. He started and restarted his award-winning manufacturer’s representative firm - Value Added Marketing - and was also a vice president and general merchandise manager for a multi-regional CE chain, as well as a buyer for Lechmere's (a division of Target). Today, he is a freelance writer.