Why Specialized Spinoffs Are The New Big Box Stores

Costumer service or convenience? With Dick’s Sporting Goods' strategy to spin off specialty retailers under their big box umbrella, a sign of retail's future.

When you think about amazing shopping experiences, I’m guessing big box retail doesn’t usually come to mind.

Sure, the convenience of having every possible product from soup to nuts all under one roof is nice, but that’s almost immediately outweighed by long lines at the checkout, limited (if any) staffing with even more limited (if any) product knowledge, and questionable (if any) customer service.

As consumers increasingly become more knowledgeable about their purchases and products continue to become more and more sophisticated thanks to emerging technology, brick and mortar retail can’t continue to be a catch-all. Whether you’re shopping for a pair of running shoes for a marathon or your first 5K, or you’re looking for expert advice to find the perfect fishing rod--the more specialized the products, the more likely you’re going to want specialized service.

With outdoor product sales accounting for more than $670 million and likely to keep growing, one retailer is hoping to appeal to this niche audience by continuing to grow a number of niche specialty retail concepts. Dick’s Sporting Goods, the largest full-line sporting goods retailer nationwide with 511 stores, which previously acquired Golf Galaxy, the first and only interactive golf store, and introduced True Runner, a specialty running store, is gearing up for an August launch of their latest (and possibly greatest) spinoff. Based on the classic outdoors brand, Field & Stream will cater to hunting, fishing, and camping.

Which brings me back to the state of big box retail. What I find most interesting about Dick’s Sporting Goods' strategic decision to introduce another specialized retail concept is what it could mean for the way we shop for products. At a time when consumers are craving more customized shopping experiences and continuing to flock online to make their purchases, mega stores with mega product assortments just don’t seem like they’re going to be able to continue to cut it. Just because I can buy a pair of shoes at the same place I can buy motor oil, doesn’t mean I necessarily should.

By focusing on a more specialized (and often smaller) assortment of products, there’s a better chance Dick’s and other retailers will be able to better train their staff, which should result in a better customer experience--something other retailers in the space such as REI and Lands' End have tried to capitalize on.

Back to the shoe shopping example, you’d be hard-pressed to even find a Brannock Device foot-measuring instrument (the name of that silver contraption used to measure your shoe size) let alone get someone to actually use it. Now compare that to the complimentary arch and treadmill gait analysis offered by True Runner, where your running style is evaluated by an associate to help you find the best shoe for your feet and your body’s running mechanics. Which one would you choose when shopping for a pair of shoes for the big race? I’m guessing it would be a no-brainer.

Any benefits big box retail added with convenience seem to be almost immediately replaced by questionable customer service. Is the Dick’s strategy to spin off specialty retailers under their big box umbrella a sign of things to come? My feet and my experiences as a shopper are definitely hoping that’s the case.

[Shopping: Mj007 via Shutterstock]

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