3012896104_74edc03879_bI popped into my local bike shop recently to pick up some spare inner tubes. It’s a great place, very friendly, lots of expert advice and free coffee. It’s the kind of place you want to hang out and enjoy the company of other like-minded people almost as much as you enjoy the retail experience. If you excuse the pun, they really are something of a “hub” in the local cycling community. I often think, this is how “real world” retail should be in the digital age.

However, one of the main reasons I like this shop so much is their loyalty program, where regular customers can save 10% on all purchases simply by registering an email address with them. Cycling can be an expensive hobby, and discounts like this (along with great service) can go a long way to keep customers like me coming back time and time again and not rushing to the Internet looking for bargains.

I hadn’t been in the shop for a while and was keen to catch up with the store manager and learn about his recent cycling vacation in Tenerife – something I’ve been planning for some time.

As we talked, he told me that he was surprised he’d not seen me on a recent charity ride the store was involved with. Turns out he was rather disappointed with the general level of attendance at the event and couldn’t understand why it was so low.

There were posters in the shop, he’d added the event to his Facebook page and even got coverage in the local paper, but numbers were still disappointing.

I asked why he didn’t send an email to his customer loyalty program members like me, and he told me, “Well, I thought about it, but people don’t really like emails, do they?”

Erm – yes they do.

And then he said: “And we don’t like spamming people.”

People Don’t Like Spam But They Do Love Email

The thing is, an email promoting a local cycling event to local cyclists who had surrendered their email address to join a local cycling store’s loyalty program would be as far removed from spam as my chances of winning the Tour de France.

Yes – people (me included) do hate spam. But we also really love emails that are well targeted and useful – as this would have been.

I never read the local newspaper (who wants to read yesterday’s news?), and Facebook is more miss than hit when you are trying to get a message out via a company page (unless you pay to boost it). As for the posters in the shop, well, it had been months since I was last there.

Email was the only chance I had to learn about the event, and I was disappointed I missed out on such an opportunity.

Email is not just a commercial tool, it’s a community builder. And when you build a community around your business, commerce is sure to follow. The charity bike ride set off from the store and would have undoubtedly (had numbers been greater) dramatically increased the sales of energy gels and other cycling accessories prior to the ride and maybe even prompted the future sale of new bikes. Failure to send a timely email resulted in the bike store, the charity and the community missing out – which was a real shame.

Are your customers’ contact details languishing in a CRM system or an under-employed email marketing tool? It’s like keeping your bike in the shed. You won’t see any benefit to your business (or your health) unless you take them/it out for a ride every now and again.

This abridged post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.

Photo: rossbeane