Monday, July 6, 2009
The fall 2009 football season started early in Lincoln, Neb., this year -- in July, with a preseason game in the aisles of Scheels All Sports.
I went shopping last week for wide-receiver gloves for my son Jake, an incoming high school sophomore and soon-to-be member of the Lincoln East football team. Our first, and only, stop was the local Scheels at SouthPointe Pavilion, an open-air lifestyle center owned by RED Development.
The glove aisle was overwhelming -- a full wall, top to bottom, of hand-gear for every offensive and defensive position. Within seconds of our arrival, however, a Scheels associate headed over to offer his assistance.
I’d say he was in his late teens, maybe early 20’s. He clearly had played football, and knew more than enough about the glove selection and the types/brands Jake needed to try out.
My son is not a fast shopper. He ponders and waffles until I want to scream. (My husband and I used to draw straws for who would take Jake to the toy store to spend his allowance -- the loser accompanied him to Toys “R” Us.) But the associate never batted an eye, staying by Jake’s side through the entire pondering and waffling process. When my son finally narrowed his choices down to two pairs of gloves, the associate trotted to the football aisle, grabbed a high-school game ball and tossed it to my son.
Trading back and forth between the two pairs of receiver gloves, my son caught passes from the associate. The two began expanding the distance between them until the football sailed from one end of the aisle to the other, with me caught in the middle and running for cover.
I have no idea if this is standard operating procedure at Scheels, but no one looked askance at a couple of guys playing football in the store. And the impromptu game allowed my son to test out the gloves and make an informed decision, which made the $45 purchase that much easier for me to swallow.
Yesterday, my husband took Jake back to Scheels for football cleats. The two came home raving about the young woman in the shoe department -- a former college basketball player who knew as much about football shoes as she did about shooting hoops. While Jake didn’t run sprints through the store, he was able to jog around the department in a dozen pairs of shoes until he found exactly the right pair.
Scheels is based in Fargo, N.D., with 23 stores in eight mostly Midwestern and upper-Midwestern states. The retailer’s largest store to-date opened late last year at the Legends at Sparks Marina, another RED Development project that debuted near Reno, Nev. The 295,000-sq.-ft. store features some pretty wild attractions -- an electric trolley traverses the parking lot, and a Ferris Wheel and a 35-ft. Wildlife Mountain offer in-store entertainment. But most significant? The store advertises that “each shop is staffed with experts who are focused on their passions.” I believe it, and I’ll return to our local store to leverage that expertise toward making the right gear and apparel purchases for my family.
I know a few companies, such as Home Depot, that could take a page out of Scheels’ book. The privately held sporting goods retailer has set an example of how to maintain its core service values even during an economic downturn.
-- Katherine Field