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Please don't showroom Richmond Hill

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POSTED: June 12, 2014 12:00 p.m.

You are an avid (insert sport here). You have invested countless hours into it, and you plan to take it to another level. You believe your sport is evolving, and you participate in local events where you can test your ability.
There are vast amounts of gear, clothing and gadgets available and many different brands to choose from. You are a wise consumer who researches products, reads consumer reviews and checks prices before purchases. There are a few local stores that stock the gear you normally use and provide the necessary services to help consumers make the best decisions for their purchases.
You have been reading about a new product in the industry publications. It seems to have plenty of buzz. However, there are few reviews to guide you in the decision process. The product also is much more expensive than similar products in the sport, so you really need some advice. The website of the company that makes the product says it’s the next best thing since shrimp and grits. You need to touch it, feel it, try it on and get some more information before spending the money.
The local shop usually has the latest tech in house. Some of the staff participate in the same events that you do and seem to know what works well. You head to the store and tell the clerk what you’re looking for, and she takes you to the item and says that “we have sold quite a few lately.”
You ask several questions about the tech, fit and what people are saying about it.  She also used it and in her last event and “reduced her time by two minutes.” Its price is competitive to what you have seen elsewhere, but you know you may find it cheaper on the web if you do some more searching. You are convinced that you need it, however. You thank the clerk and tell them that “you are going to think about it” as you leave the store. A day later, you see the item online for 10 percent off with free shipping, and you decide to purchase it. Congratulations! You are well on your way to your next PR.  
The name of the process you just performed is called showrooming. You go to a local store, get all the info you need, leave the store and buy it online to save a few bucks or taxes. For the online “retailer,” it is called free riding. The online retailer gets to operate on a lower overhead since it doesn’t have to employ people to offer the services you just experienced at the local shop. Showrooming is a big reason thousands of local shops that specialize in sport-specific equipment are closing yearly. The consumer performing this process has given little thought to what could end up happening to the mom and pop business because of their decision.
Also, the consumer usually is not looking down the road at how their decision could impact their sport locally and globally. Think about what happens when the local shop closes. Now you have to drive much farther for a specialized service like a repair, a fit or advice. Look on the back of a local running, triathlon or cycling event. Count how many local businesses sponsor it. I looked on the back of several of mine and found quite a few. If enough showrooming occurs in the other local businesses, those shops may have to close as well.
Those local shops also provide jobs. Perhaps your child has grown to the age where they have to work to pay for their car. Likely, the local business being showroomed employs high-school-aged kids. Suppose you’re concerned about the tax rates creeping up as the years go by.
The local business you just showroomed helps broaden the tax base. They likely support various athletics in your school system as well. Think about your hobby globally and how important it is to have a constant flow of new people getting into it.
Since the local shops around you have closed, the only convenient location that new people can buy the gear needed for the sport is at the mass merchant, which could be miles away in a different city. We will call it Mart Shop, for example. Mart Shop has various lower-priced gear that also is lower tech and quality. They have many other items across many other activities. They also sell food items, various basic household items, hardware basics and outdoor supplies. They don’t have a trained staff in your sport. You went there a time or two in an attempt to save money. You purchased an item and a few weeks later, it fell apart. You promised you would not go back to Mart Shop for any of the needs in your sport. Now apply that same experience to the “newbies” who are coming into your passion. They become discouraged by the experience Mart Shop provides and the quality of gear. They decide to do something else. Without specialized shops, you lose the tech, service, quality and local-event support that makes your sport worth it. At least you saved 10 percent online, though.  
The local store does not escape responsibility to meet your needs and expectations. The brands they carry need to be on trend, and they should stock the popular sizes. They need to have competitive prices to what you find in nearby cities or on the web. Bottom line is that you should expect great service and great prices.
They need to be friendly and non-judgmental when a “newbie” comes in as well. Getting into a sport can be intimidating and expensive. A store owner who gets it will figure out how to get them into the sport the most practical way. If your local shop has decent products, OK service and prices that are much higher than what you can get in the next city or on the web, I don’t blame you for shopping elsewhere. Some local businesses I have shopped at think that just because they are local, you should accept lower-level service and be willing to pay 30 percent more for the exact item you can get a few miles away.
I also have experienced local businesses that go above and beyond to make sure you know you are special. They take the time to make sure you are comfortable with your purchase and act like you are more than just a number. If your local shop offers great brands, the latest tech, great service and competitive prices, why would you showroom their business?
“But John, what if the brand or item you are researching is not offered at the local shop?” If they don’t offer the brand you are looking for, ask them if they can get it. Recently, I started experimenting with a new brand of shoe. The brand was counter-trend at the time, and the only place I could find it across many states was online. I approached the local store and told the owner about the new brand. She had not heard of the brand yet. She spent more time researching the brand, and the next time I visited her store, the brand was on her shelves. I just purchased my next pair from my local store. The price was spot on.  No showrooming needed!  
“But John, the web has a sale for 20 percent off.” Let the owner know of the sale and give them the opportunity to match it. If they don’t or can’t, then at least you tried. I would bet that the owner would try to figure something out for you. Give your local businesses a chance — if they don’t go for it, at least you tried.
Please don’t showroom a local business. They provide jobs to your neighbors. They support local organizations and events. They broaden the tax base. They dine at your local restaurants, shop at your local grocery stores and bank at your local bank. They support your community. We all like the convenience of having local businesses, and I truly believe everybody would rather shop locally. We all want to save a few bucks, so give your local shop a chance to help you do just that.
Granted, you will have to travel into (insert major city here) to make some purchases. Having lived in a large metropolitan statistical area, I enjoyed having all of the national stores within a few miles of my house. Since moving to Richmond Hill, it is refreshing to see local shops that still do business with a handshake and a smile. We love the small-town feel but also believe it is important to support our local tax base. A business can’t sustain itself when consumers showroom their shops, and then go buy from Deals Online “where consumers who avoid shopping locally help us invest in our community instead of theirs.”
If we all do our part to support our local businesses, we will maintain our tranquil pace, our top-notch schools and that community feel that you don’t find in major cities or on the web.

John Cameron is a local triathlete.

 

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