Omega Sports’ approach to overcoming the challenge of national, big-box retailers in its markets is simple. “Our philosophy is that our company exists because the community allows us to exist,” says Thom Rock, co-owner of the Greensboro, N.C.-based retailer. “We’re very customer-centric: As long as we listen to the desires of our customers, we’ll be just fine.”
For the company, this means stocking items most in demand by customers and offering personalized service at a level not often seen in larger competitors. “We still put people on our floors offering customer service,” Rock says. “It’s the opposite of the big boxes, which take people off their floor but put a lot of products out there. We focus on helping each individual customer, and that’s how we’ve been able to survive the big-box explosion.”
All of Omega Sports’ sales associates have a thorough understanding of each of the sports – running, walking, soccer, baseball, swimming, softball and tennis – the stores specialize in, making them qualified to help meet the needs of any customer. A series of “tech tests” are given to associates about each of the sports, with pay increases given to employees for each successful test. “The more an employee knows, the more valuable they are to us,” Rock adds. “We understand what the customers coming into our stores want.”
Many of Omega Sports’ customers are parents of young athletes, a demographic Rock says is underserved by its big-box competitors. Omega caters to parents and children by carrying youth sizes in shoes and apparel, and measuring every young customer for the best fit. The stores also pursue product close-outs and other savings opportunities. “We are always looking for the best value for our customers; we know that the economy, while better than it was a few years ago, is still not that great, so we’re trying to save families money,” Rock says.
The stores also serve their target audience of families through the way they merchandise products. Products are arranged by sport, with each department of the store clearly visible from the front door. This allows parents and others to quickly find all the items they need for a particular sport, Rock notes.
Six of Omega Sports’ 16 locations have been remodeled in recent years, with the rest planned for refreshes in the near future. In addition to changing the floor plans of their stores, Rock and other Omega Sports management recently upgraded the company’s stock replenishing and inventory systems.
Other technology investments include updating Omega Sports’ website. “We don’t yet sell online, but we are investigating that,” Rock says. “When we’re ready to sell online, we want to make sure we get it exactly right.”
Much of the company’s marketing is already done electronically, as it regularly sends e-blasts and text messages to customers. These electronic communications serve as a loyalty program, as they contain coupons and other special offers for regular customers.
Additional marketing efforts include television spots specifically geared toward its target audience. Television ads are typically placed during sports-related programming as well as through kid-friendly shows, Rock adds.
Omega Sports’ focus on customer service enabled it to reach a major milestone in 2013, when it celebrated its 35th anniversary. Many of the company’s executives and managers have been there for much of its history. “We have a lot of experience in this building, and have kept people who have been here for more than 20 or 25 years who understand our retail concept and what we do and are able to pass that through the company from top to bottom,” Rock says.
All of the company’s senior management team started on the sales floor. “We are a big proponent of promoting from within; the more experience someone has on the floor, the more experience they can bring to our central office,” he adds. “Our managers and the people on our buying staff have all been on the floor.
“We’re not transplants from another industry; we all understand sporting goods really well,” Rock says. “It’s a big advantage to us to know what the people on our floor are going through.”
Rock and other top management maintain an “open door” policy with employees. “We want to hear what they’re experiencing, because we’ve all been there,” he says.
Omega Sports’ management and employees also share a competitive spirit befitting the products they sell. “They first thing we look at every day is sales and how we can do better,” Rock says. “We’re very focused on beating last year’s figures, moving forward and staying up on the competition.”