What do boxes of family photos, old purses, bags of old clothing, antique dishes and hardware have in common?
They’re all for sale every Tuesday and Saturday at Feira da Ladra in Lisbon, Portugal. Feira da Ladra is a flea market where people go to buy and sell second-hand items at low prices.
I wandered through the rows of merchant booths, which contained card tables covered with clutter and blankets where sellers laid out products. I began to notice home improvement items sprinkled among the old video cameras, books and TV remote controllers.
“There are home improvement stores all over this city,” I thought. “Why would someone come here to buy a drill or a set of tools?”
As I chatted with a Portuguese man at the market and walked the flea market from beginning to end, I learned some of the reasons why residents of Lisbon enjoy the Feira da Ladra. The market offers a few retail lessons, as well.
A One-on-One Experience
When I approached a vendor at the market and took interest in an item, the seller was quick to provide me with any information I asked for. He or she explained how the item was made, where it came from, how old it was and/or what the asking price was. In an overwhelming sea of items, the individualized attention was helpful for making purchasing decisions.
In retail, superior customer service is often what sets independents apart. Take a few moments each week to refresh your staff with quick training sessions. Training can help boost your employees’ confidence so they can provide more helpful and individualized attention to customers.
Touch Before You Buy
When you see something you like at the market, you can touch it. You can inspect every inch and even try it out. This can be a crucial step in the decision-making process because it allows customers to see exactly what they’re paying for.
You, too, can thoughtfully organize your products in ways that encourage customers to touch and possibly experience the items they’re interested in buying. When you consider what products to stock, think about how those items are packaged and what signage and other elements you can use to make shopping an interactive experience.
A Little of Everything
If you can name it, it’s for sale at Lisbon’s flea market. When your list includes books, a piece of art, jeans, new door knobs and a hammer, and you’re on a $30 budget, the flea market is the ideal place for you.
Home improvement retailers can’t have something for everyone. But you can offer a diverse product mix to make sure you can satisfy every need on your customer’s hardware store shopping list.
Going for the Experience
People venturing through Feira da Ladra don’t necessarily carry shopping lists. Many walk the market simply for the experience and to say hello to neighbors and friends.
Making your store a destination with space for socializing creates an experience, not just an average shopping trip, that may help you drive foot traffic. Maybe you offer complimentary coffee and doughnuts in the morning. Maybe you’ve created displays of historic photos throughout your store. Regardless of which tactics best suit your community, think through and implement ways to provide unique in-store experiences.
A Treasure Hunt
I went to the flea market looking for a unique piece of jewelry. As I browsed, I considered buying a handmade postcard, an old school map and a vintage jacket before deciding on a cork watch and a pair of Moroccan-style pants. Many items at the market fascinated me, and I couldn’t walk away with nothing.
At your store, consider adding new niches or unique product lines to intrigue your customers. Filling a hole in your local marketplace is one way to keep your customers coming back for more than home improvement needs. Offering unexpected items such as giftware, locally made products or sports team merchandise like T-shirts can make your store a go-to spot for buying more than hardware.
Check out a few photos of the home improvement items I found at Feira da Ladra in Lisbon:
Where in the World Is Hilary?
North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) staffer Hilary Welter is spending 12 months traveling with Remote Year, living, working and getting in touch with retail in different parts of the world. She’s currently working from Lisbon, Portugal. To see more NRHA Abroad posts from Welter, click here. For a look at what it’s like to travel, work and live abroad, check out her personal blog.