I recently spent a week with my 8-year-old grandson Bart, an avid football fan. Unfortunately, my son Ben has brainwashed Bart to believe the Pittsburgh Steelers are the best team. And while my grandson does enjoy following players on other NFL teams, he lacks respect for my Green Bay Packers.
The highlight of Bart’s week with us was when we loaded Grams into the car and drove to Latrobe, Pa., to take in the Steelers’ training camp. We arrived with Bart knowing most players on the roster, lamenting some who recently left, and anxious about newcomers he hoped would pan out. We also plotted how to get autographs from Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Lamar Woodley, Brett Keisel and as many other players as possible.
During the first afternoon, we stood along a fenced path the players walk to practice. Cheers from those uphill alerted us as players migrated from their locker room to the practice fields. We watched as many players signed a few autographs, talked a bit, posed for pictures, and smiled and waved as they made their way down the path. Nearly all the players slapped five with fans, and many reached out to the youngest fans, like Bart, whose head and shoulders barely topped the fence.
Suddenly, in the midst of this stream of black- and gold-clad heroes, there was Ben Roethlisberger. Looking neither left nor right, he walked quickly and purposefully down the path and onto the practice field without so much as a wave, smile, smirk or nod. For Bart, it was over fast, but he watched Big Ben’s entire entrance intently. I could see from his face that he was forming an opinion.
The next day we awoke early at our hotel, discussed the depth chart, and looked online to see where all the greats from Bart’s favorite college team, Alabama, were drafted and how they were doing. Later in the morning, as luck would have it, we noticed Troy Polamalu leave a room near ours and we followed him to see if we could land an autograph. Unfortunately, we stepped outside as a pickup truck with dark windows was backing out, so Bart stopped, stood quietly by the exit door, and assumed we missed our chance. To our surprise, the pickup rolled slowly to the door and the window rolled down to reveal the smiling face of Mr. Polamalu. Bart stood smiling back until Polamalu waved him forward. Bart was speechless except for a “thank you, sir” when Polamalu signed his football, patted his head and thanked him for being so polite.
Those football-camp experiences were a microcosm of the week I spent with my grandson. I saw the world through Bart’s eyes, and listened as he shared his impressions of all the players we encountered. For 8-year-olds, life is pretty simple. He noticed the behavior, demeanor and body language of the players, and drew definitive conclusions about their character and value to the team. Like most kids his age, he isn’t privy to much of anything people say, and many players never spoke to him directly. However, Bart wasn’t shy about sharing with me what he felt and thought – and you can pretty well guess that Polamalu went to the top of his list while Roethlisberger fell to the bottom.
As I reflect on that experience, I wonder how many kids have been in archery shops and formed opinions about archery based on their observations of store staff. We documented a growing interest in archery nationwide during 2012, and more tweens, teens and young adults likely visited archery shops because of it. Did they leave excited about archery and eager to return? Or did they feel like the shop staff didn’t see them as a customer, or as anyone who mattered? Would their experience motivate them to come back? Did they feel welcomed? Or, if they didn't hunt, did they feel like they were in the wrong place?
In the year ahead, the ATA will keep working to boost this newfound interest in archery by engaging people and driving them into retail stores. Our primary target is youngsters, and I’m convinced we can steer them through pro-shop doors. What will they think when entering shops? Will staff welcome them? Will they feel acknowledged? And most important, will the enthusiasm they brought to the shop be boosted and hook them into returning?
Retailing is still very much a people business and when potential first time customers get up the nerve to visit your business, store staff hold all the cards in forming lasting impressions. What Bart teaches us is that someone is always watching.