Retailer Strikes a Balance between Customer Advocacy and Responsible Outdoor Sporting
Can success come from an open door to the restrooms? I wondered if it was possible as I considered the meaning of customer advocacy. We know retailers are the heart of every local community they serve, but often they do more than we realize, empowering us as they transform the way we live, work and play.
Anyone who has ever traveled to the Atlantic Beach area knows Neuse Sport Shop as the place for bathroom breaks, buying T-shirts, and picking up whatever was left at home during the vacation rush. While gas tanks get filled and fishing supplies are purchased, kids can watch minnows swimming and crickets jumping in their buckets. They can also grab a bite at the grill that serves good ‘ol country cooking.
“Situated on the Hwy 70 bypass around Kinston, the Neuse Sport Shop is a 62-year-old tradition that has grown up with Kinston. President and CEO Russell Rhodes credits his store’s success to its agility and being able to adapt to meet the interests of his customers. Widely known for its traveler’s welcome, the retailer is an engine for local and state commerce.”
Over time, the store became a licensing agent as Rhodes began to meet a lot of the people he served as customers. He wanted to give customers a way to see enforcement officers in a positive light, doing good things for North Carolina. Now the retailer benefits from a variety of partnerships with the NC Wildlife Commission that also support the state’s economy.
“If we truly represent our customers’ interests, they will become our best advocates,” says Rhodes. “If we ingratiate ourselves to them and look for their challenges, they will reward us.”
This is the idea behind customer advocacy because it underpins the growth that a retailer can achieve. Customer advocacy is related to trust and lifetime value, envisioning a future relationship with the customer. Rhodes says it’s a simple as making people feel welcome in the store.
His open restroom policy provides the first opportunity to interact. Customers then reciprocate with trust, asking for advice that leads to a purchase.
Through the years, this duality in advocacy has lead to sustainable relationships now successfully intertwined with partners like the NC Wildlife Commission. Together they support wildlife preservation and encourage responsible recreation adventures, and the result is an enduring customer loyalty. These partnerships show us how retail can not only serve the local community but ultimately change the way we work and play.
The Catch of a Lifetime
Every May, Neuse Sports Shop partners with the NC Wildlife Commission to support more than 30 family fishing events during National Fishing and Boating Week. The thrill of catching a fish for the first time brings young anglers to try their luck at reeling in freshwater fish, stocked with trout from the mountains and channel catfish from the Piedmont and Coastal regions. It gives youth a respect for the outdoors and increases their awareness of the environment and natural resources.
“The goal is to introduce wildlife stewardship and conservation while we support fishing adventures,” said Rhodes. “We know childhood participation can lead to lifelong interest and this can translate into lifelong customers.”
Neuse Sport Shop donates fishing-related prizes like tackle boxes, rod-and-reel combos and fishing line. And last year, Rhodes donated a lifetime sportsman license. An eight-year-old boy from Clemmons reeled in the catch of a lifetime, valued at $450, giving him statewide fishing privileges from the mountains to coast, as well as hunting privileges for big game, hunting on game lands, and waterfowl hunting.
“When we decided to be a sponsor, we thought instead of just donating a fishing license, we’d use this opportunity to give away a full sportsman license,” said Rhodes. “This gives us a way to communicate with the community in a positive way alongside a state agency that promotes responsible sportsmanship and education.”
An Innovative Revenue Stream
The retailer also partners with the Commission to design a T-shirt for anyone who loves to hunt, fish, bird watch or just do their part to help wildlife biodiversity. The shirt debuts at the State Fair and all sales go towards maintaining self-sustaining populations of wildlife in North Carolina.
Last year, Neuse Sport Shop donated 700 shirts with a unique Tundra Swan design. Sales generate matching funds that help the Commission access federal aid for conservation of needy species and their habitats, according to Allen Boynton, the Commission’s Wildlife Diversity Program coordinator.
“Every $1 from the T-shirt sales brings $2.85 in additional federal grant money,” said Boynton. “This helps biologists monitor and survey wildlife such as sea turtles, golden eagles, northern flying squirrels and freshwater mussels. The funds also support habitat-enhancing projects like dredging islands for breeding colonial waterbirds and longleaf pine forests for gopher frogs and pine snakes.”
For Rhodes, it’s another way to create an association for Neuse Sport Shop connected to the heart of his business.
“We want people to buy the shirts and support wildlife diversity, and at the same time see our logo and remember us when it’s time to purchase supplies for their next outdoor adventure.”
New Pathway for Discovering the Water
Neuse Sports Shop is located in Lenoir County, one of four counties that navigate waters into North Carolina. For years, fisherman have used private ramps to access water, but that changed last spring thanks to the work of Russell Rhodes, another partnership with the Wildlife Resources Commission, and the city of Kinston.
In 2010, Rhodes initiated public access to the Neuse River and worked with the state agency to find a good place with road access. Four years later, the Commission celebrated the opening of a five-acre site, located at 963 Hwy 11-55 in Kinston.
“This is a good example of a local community working with the Wildlife Resources Commission to provide access to a great public resource, the Neuse River,” said Erik Christofferson, Chief of the Commission’s Division of Engineering Services and Land Management. “The construction of this boating access truly demonstrates the user-pay, user-benefit system.”
The Commission designed and constructed the site which was funded through motorboat receipts. A floating dock and two launch ramps now give fisherman access to catfish, largemouth bass, sunfishes and crappie throughout the year.
“Now is the perfect time to use the new access,” said Rhodes. “The ramp gives small craft access for safe fishing, and this is one of the most intensely fished seasons.”
The economic ripple effect is also significant because anglers spend money in pursuit of their favorite fish, and this can add up to big bucks. When a fisherman drives from Morehead City to use the ramp, he spends money on bait casting and fishing lure, plus the gasoline to run his boat. But there can be lots of other trip-related spending, and these dollars get spent in local hotels, restaurants, gas stations and retail outlets.
It’s plain and simple: access for users will increase North Carolina tourism and recreational-boat spending, which is currently estimated at $130.5 million annually.
Yes, maybe a retailer’s success can start with an open door to the restrooms. Russell Rhodes with the Neuse Sport Shop represents a pretty extraordinary example of customer advocacy, but Rhodes says it’s possible if a retailer stays focused on the customer.
“Anyone you come in contact with is your customer,” said Rhodes. “If you welcome people, they will reward you.”
I know I’ll be stopping in to see Russell the next time I travel home to Morehead City. The shop has helped a community grow and prosper.
This is Retail in North Carolina.