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|Wednesday 26th September 2018, 14:29||#1|
Join Date: May 2012
Interviews with Retailers: Ben Lizdas of Redstart Birding
Welcome to this, the third of 4, possibly 5, interviews: 2 from the USA, one from the UK and one, possibly two from continental Europe.
Who am I?
Ben Lizdas of Redstart Birding, Ohio, USA, formerly of Eagle Optics.
As many of your members know I began my work in bird watching and in sport optics, at Eagle Optics in the US. Eagle Optics was founded in 1986 and I worked there from 2000 – 2016. My role there was as sales and marketing manager. This was a role with a pretty diverse job description, but essentially I oversaw all aspects of sales including website content, staff training and management, working with purchasing and our suppliers, advertising, trade shows, etc. In addition to these managerial duties, I would also spend time each day talking with customers on the phone or in person about birding optics. Working with birders and helping them choose the right gear was perhaps the most gratifying part of this job for me (my staff at Eagle Optics also made this job particularly fun). Over the years I’ve worked with Nikon, Leupold, Opticron, Vortex, Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski, Kowa, Bushnell, Meopta, Celestron, Kite, Kahles, Canon, and Swift.
In 2016 I joined the staff of Bird Watcher’s Digest where I am the sales director and so much more. In addition to working with our advertisers, I co-lead birding tours for our readership, I produce a podcast called Out There With The Birds with Bill Thompson III, and most relevant to this discussion, I helped to develop an online retail operation for BWD with a focus on birding optics, called Redstart Birding. My roles at Redstart Birding mirror those from my days at Eagle Optics and my experiences and expertise from those 16 years at EO greatly influence the culture and management we are putting in place at Redstart.
Our Customers and How We Do Business
Customers generally fall in two camps, either they are calling for advice on their first pair of good birding binoculars or they are calling for advice on candidates for an upgrade. The first step in the process of helping either of these types of customer is to ask a few questions so we can quickly narrow down the field of optics for consideration. I will always begin with two questions which are “What size binocular will best suit your needs?” and “What type of budget should we be considering?” If I can work with customers to understand their feelings on these two questions, we can generally narrow down the potential choice of qualifying binoculars to around half a dozen or less. After that, we can go over the merits of specifications like field-of-view, warranty, construction quality, quality of the accessories, etc.… There can be a lot of subjectivity involved in that part of the conversation which is ok. Of course we also talk about optical performance and perceived differences in resolution, colour, contrast, brightness, etc.….
They usually aren’t very technically knowledgeable about binoculars, although many know the basics of how binoculars work but don’t necessarily understand how all the various specifications impact one another, or how those specifications affect the way binocular works in the field. For example, many customers don’t intuitively know that higher magnification binoculars will have a narrower field of view, which may make finding mobile birds in dense habitat a bit more challenging. The reason they are contacting someone like me is to give them a good snapshot of how to weigh decisions when choosing a binocular so that they can buy what they need and get on with a hobby that is so much more fun than purchasing binoculars, and that’s getting outdoors and finding/enjoying the birds. Many of the BirdForum regulars stand apart from this generalization. For many of the enthusiasts on BF I suspect that purchasing binoculars might be just as much fun, or even more fun, that birding with them!
I have found that bird watchers tend to be one of the most pleasant consumer groups I have ever had the privilege to work with. I find birders to be overwhelmingly kind, honest, appreciative of my expertise, insightful, and genuinely inquisitive. I think it’s the nature of the hobby that attracts this type of person. Of course this is a generalization and there are always exceptions, but working with birdwatchers was a major influence of my decision to keep working in this business after I left Eagle Optics.
Our customers are mainly birders and I’d guess are around 55 years of age, maybe a little older, and this has been the case for at least the last 5 years or so. Probably around 60% are female and this has steadily grown over the last 18 years. I would hazard a guess that 40% of customers are active scope users.
Our Products and Sales
At Redstart we currently stock models form Zeiss, Swarovski, Leica, Vortex, Celestron, Opticron, Nikon, and Kowa.
8X magnification is our biggest seller and I’m guessing 10x are about 65% of that.
8.5x comes in third place, but 7x binos are no more than 2% if that.
Overall, our top selling size is 42mm, with 30/32mm in second place at 80% of the 42s, but having said that, with some makes and models the 32mm binoculars are becoming better sellers. Personally, I love the 8x32 configuration, particularly with the top of the line models where you can have something that is both relatively compact and yet still performs well in low light. When I look back at 18 years of selling optics, the popularity of 8x42’s seem to be a pretty consistent factor but I do see consumers considering high-end 8x32’s more than ever.
Relationships with Our Suppliers
Some suppliers keep decent stocks and can offer short delivery times but not all of them. This doesn’t apply to all our suppliers, but I’d like to see more inventory readily available at a shorter notice. Having an 18-year history with our suppliers has fostered a lot of cooperation. We know each other well at this point and there is a lot of trust, confidence, and integrity in the work we do which has facilitated these relationships greatly. At the end of the day, we are offering a commitment to serve our customers’ needs first and foremost, which generates trust and customer loyalty. Suppliers will always value retailers with a strong customer following. That, combined with being a good and honest business partner, can generally open up doors for retailers when it comes to enhancing these business to business relationships
Point of Sale Support from Brands
Our suppliers do provide decent point of sales materials for use in our store
This varies between suppliers. Most of the suppliers Redstart chooses to work with do well with dealer service however, which is a critical attribute we consider when deciding whose products to feature. We also count on our suppliers to either provide great service to our customers or to give us the tools to provide great customer service on their products.
Currently, my biggest challenge is spreading the word about Redstart Birding. Our business was launched in February of this year and generating a customer base always takes time when you’re starting from scratch. Fortunately, I have a long history and reputation in optics retail and my colleague Bill Thompson III is well known in the US birding market through his books, magazines, podcasts, and appearances at birding events throughout the U.S.
While working at Eagle Optics I came to understand that having a strong retail operation was greatly enhanced by having the ability to produce media such as website content, videos, print ads, digital ads etc., all of which is currently being done for Redstart by the team at BWD. Being primarily an eCommerce business, we need to put our best foot forward to accurately represent ourselves online and providing strong media content is the most effective way to do this. Having said that, my favourite way to sell optics has always been either in person with someone or by having a conversation on the phone.
A big thank you to Ben for taking the time to give Birdforum members an insight into optics retailing. Ben’s details are given below:
149 Acme St
Marietta, OH 45750
|Wednesday 26th September 2018, 14:53||#2|
Join Date: Apr 2015
Location: SE La
Great to see Lee cover your optical career success and business ventures! I know of no other sales\marketing expert that has the patience, people skills, knowledge base and honest customer interest to create a consistent high level of consumer satisfaction!!
Thanks for the wonderful write up, Lee!
Seeing is Believing ...Believing without Seeing is...FAITH!
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|Wednesday 26th September 2018, 15:04||#4|
New York correspondent
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: New York, USA
Rather different from Cameraland but I suspect the Doug has more hunters and perhaps a few more stargazers.
I wonder how Redstart's sales of 8x32 compare to 8x42.
Happy bird watching,
Bread is not enough. Give us circuses!
|Wednesday 26th September 2018, 17:20||#5|
Join Date: May 2012
Here is what Ben said in the interview: "Overall, our top selling size is 42mm, with 30/32mm in second place at 80% of the 42s, but having said that, with some makes and models the 32mm binoculars are becoming better sellers."
|Monday 17th June 2019, 01:17||#6|
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Ben is one of the really good guys in the Birding retail world and I’m happy to see him settled again after EO closed. Best of luck to him at Redstart!
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