Be a store-y teller

It’s time to take your flyer beyond dollars and cents and tell customers what makes your store special

I love a good story and one of my favourite storytellers is a man named Leonard Lee. Don't bother searching for his books between D. H. Lawrence and Jack London at the library. Leonard Lee isn't a novelist. He's a retailer whose stores you might even have shopped at: Lee Valley Tools.

There are 15 Lee Valley stores sprinkled from Victoria to Halifax, but a lot of Lee's business is done through his catalogues. And it's in those catalogues that Lee told some wonderful stories. When Leonard Lee wrote about the tools, gardening implements and eclectic assortment of hardware for sale in his catalogues, he didn't just give his customers a barebones description and the price. He'd explain how he had discovered some wonderful new item in Europe and brought it to Canada. Inevitably, he would let customers know that an ordinary looking spade he'd found wasn't just high quality, it was "the best spade for gardeners we've ever come across." Period. His catalogue write-ups, short and to the point, could be funny too. "The design of this axe lets you grip the handle directly behind the cutting edge to make shavings for a quick fire...or even to skin dinner," was the description for a belt axe.

I found myself thinking of Lee's prose a few weeks ago while going through a stack of supermarket flyers. They were all about price. There was nothing about great food or gourmet meals or why these stores were a fabulous place to shop.

Now, Canadians are voracious flyer readers. Eighty-five per cent use retail flyers and 60 per cent who read them do so often, according to a survey by KubasPrimedia, a research firm. Only a small number of Canadians have switched purely to online flyers (six per cent). So flyers delivered to the mailbox are vital to draw traffic to your store, and flyer readers certainly expect to see a lot of deals advertised.

Since flyers are so well read, they are probably the most important way you communicate with customers (apart from one-on-one conversations in the aisles). Low prices should, of course, be their main focus. But you should devote some space, perhaps a bit of the first and third pages, to saying something more about your business. A few examples:

In a recent flyer, Thrifty Foods gave a sizable space to promote a concert by the Victoria Symphony, sponsored by the B.C. grocery chain. And a nice write-up in a flyer by Meijer, a Michigan-based chain, told of Russell Costanza Farms, a family farming operation in Sodus, Mich., that has been supplying Meijer stores with vegetables for 23 years. Talk about bringing a local product strategy closer to home! Another option is to highlight superior service. Publix Supermarkets recently reminded shoppers (on page 3 of its flyer) that it always strives to ensure there are enough baggers to make the checkout as fast as possible.

Then there's food. Colemans in Newfoundland seems to always throw in a great recipe for its readers to try. For the summer, Overwaitea's flyer had an easy-step recipe for kids' fruit pops by the retailer's consumer advisor, whose picture ran with it, putting a face behind this healthy idea.

There is even room in your flyer to talk about pricing. I found a great example in May from New York's Wegmans chain, in a signed article about rising food prices by its vicepresident of consumer affairs, Mary Ellen Burris. On the back page of the flyer, she explained how commodity food prices fluctuate. And while some prices had gone up as a result, she pointed out that Wegmans aggressively price shops the competition and that it had just instituted a price freeze on 40 core items families buy most.

Just like Leonard Lee, your store, and your products, have a great story. Let your customers know.

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