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Author: Phil Wrzesinski

Newly Redesigned PhilsForum.com Website

I told you I was working on a new version of my PhilsForum.com website.

It just went live a few minutes ago.

Everything is up and running except this blog (which should be migrated over by late Thursday).

In an effort to make it more search engine friendly, some of the pages you’re used to seeing have new names.

  • Freebies is now Free Resources and still includes links to free pdf’s you can download on a variety of topics
  • Speaker for Hire is now Hire Me to Speak and focuses on the top programs I am most often hired to do
  • Products is now Phil’s Books and focuses on my two books, Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel and Welcome to the Club Daddy
  • Media is now About Phil and yes, it is about me

You’ll also find a few fun things hidden here and there on the site including a page of radio ads I have run for Toy House and Baby Too.

Check it out and let me know if there are any issues with the site (tell me what browser/platform/device you’re using, please).

Every time an independent retailer grows, we all grow.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Supposedly all email subscribers will be migrated over, but I will be looking into it directly. You may get an email from me asking you to resubscribe to the new blog site. Just giving you a heads up.

Two New Social Media Platforms and How You Could Use Them

(Note: this post has been edited)
Video is HUGE. Go look at your news feed in Facebook and count what percentage of posts are videos.

Pretty high, isn’t it?

If you aren’t using videos – Vine, YouTube, iPhone videos loaded to Facebook, etc. – then you might not be reaching all the people you want to reach.

There are two new video services – Periscope and Blab – that might have some benefit to indie retailers. Here is a look at the two and how you can use them…


Periscope was launched by Twitter and is live, streaming video you do that allows for people to comment on your video as you’re streaming and send you love through the form of little hearts that float up your screen. The video can then be replayed for up to 24 hours before it disappears.

The upside… This is an easy way for you to do timely videos of things happening in your store in an interactive way. Simply send out a notice through your other social media channels (especially Twitter) that you’ll be doing a Periscope in a few minutes, then grab your phone and go live. Anyone watching you can post comments and questions that show up on your screen. It is kinda like having a FaceTime call with dozens of people at once.

One of the best applications I can see for this medium is behind-the-scenes looks at your business. People love to go behind the curtain. They love to see what is happening there. Best of all, they feel more attached to your store and more likely to share what they know when they feel like they got a peek into something not everyone else gets to see.

You could do Periscopes on products that have just come in.
You could do Periscopes on staff meetings.
You could do Periscopes on the process you go through to ship out an item.
You could do Periscopes on the prep work you put into having a big event at your store.

The downside… The videos are only up for a day. You might do some great footage, but you have to keep doing great footage to grow your presence. In fact, best practices in the early stages of this medium show that you should post something daily, even if it is only a 30-second post each day that says you’ll be back on Friday with a longer video. (Note: they do have ways for you to save the videos, but you do have to jump through a few extra hoops.)


Unlike Periscope where only you talk and everyone else comments by typing, Blab is another live streaming video that allows for four people to be in the conversation at once. It kinda looks like Hollywood Squares with four boxes on the screen showing you and the three people you invited to sit in the conversation.

The upside… First, by having a true conversation, you can now invite experts into your social media world. Maybe you might interview a sales rep or one of your favorite vendors. Maybe you might use it to introduce new staff. Maybe you might use it to talk to someone who can talk more about your industry. For instance, since I sell toys, I could talk to a therapist about the value of play in a child’s life. Even better, you could invite your own fans to join in and talk about their experiences in your store.

Just like Periscope, people can type in comments and show you real-time love by tapping the icon on the screen. You can respond to those comments and have a real, live conversation about your store with other people watching. The videos stay up longer than Periscope, too, and can even be uploaded to your YouTube channel.

The downside… This medium is more of a sitting-at-your-laptop-chatting medium than a wander-around-the-store-with-a-smartphone medium, which makes it more difficult to show off products, etc. It is more of a two-way conversation than a one-way talk with you picking and choosing which questions or comments to answer. It becomes less scripted, which can make it more fun and original (and less sales/preachy), but can also go in directions you never intended.

Both Periscope and Blab have some interesting applications. Whether they are right for your business is up to you. Just remember the most important thing about all social media – it is about connecting and creating networks more than it is about selling or pushing your message across.

If used right, both of these channels can grow your network and strengthen your relationships.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I am looking at both of them as ways to grow both Toy House and Phil’s Forum. Right now I currently use my Twitter handle @philtoyhouse purely for sharing this blog and Toy House newsletters. Since you use your Twitter account to sign in to both of these services, I am considering setting up separate Twitter accounts and using @philtoyhouse for just Toy House activity going forward. I’ll let you know soon what my new Twitter handle for this blog will be.

Preparing Your Staff for Life

One of my talented regulars on my staff just put in her two-week notice. She is leaving me for a new full-time job teaching art.


As much as I love my job and my business and the difference we make in other peoples’ lives, I know where Retail Sales Clerk sits on the hierarchy of employment. Unless you’re in management or ownership, it is a job, not a career.

When my employee told me what she would be doing next, I gave her a standing ovation. I could not be happier for her. It is a huge step up for her in many ways. Sure, I will miss her and I’ll have to find a way to replace her. But in the long run this is a great opportunity for her and a chance for me to bring in some new blood with new energy and ideas, too.

The only real question I had was more internal… Had I helped to prepare her for this next step?

Had I helped her hone and practice skills that would be helpful working with others? Had I helped her hone and practice skills for teaching? (Education is one of our Core Values). Had I helped her hone and practice skills for dealing with conflict? Had I helped her hone and practice skills for finding creative solutions to all kinds of problems?

I believe it is my responsibility as an employer to help my employees prepare not just for working specifically at my store but also for what may come next. Maybe it is a management job. Maybe it is a new career. Maybe it is a new role. Maybe it is to stay home and raise a family. Maybe it is simply to be better than they were last week, last month, or last year. Personal growth is not just an idea. It is part of the culture.


Some retailers look at their employees as their biggest expense. But when Customer Service is your one true advantage over your competitors, your employees are instead your biggest asset. Properly invested, that asset can give you incredible growth.

Training – whether it is done in group settings, one-on-one, by videos or online – is the most valuable and least utilized tool you have in your Retail Tool Kit.

Bob Negen of Whizbang Training is a big fan of videos. Short, simple, raw videos of your best teacher (you?) teaching one technique or skill at a time. No fancy production necessary. Just someone with a smartphone taping you being you.

I’m a big fan of the monthly Staff Meeting. I choose a grand theme and goal for each year and plan step-by-step trainings to reach that goal.

Maybe you do your best work one-on-one or your staff size is such that anything else wouldn’t make sense. That’s great. Just take the time and keep investing.

Remember, though, that you aren’t just preparing them for the job. You are preparing them for life. Take that approach and it changes the way you invest and the rewards you reap.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Here is one of the rewards you might not think about. When employees move on from my store, my reputation goes with them. If they lack the skills, it reflects poorly on me. But when they rock the house, it makes me look like a star, too, and raises the esteem people have of our business.

Free or Gift With Purchase?

You just got some free merchandise from one of your favorite vendors. It was a low cost item that you didn’t sell anyway. You want to give them away to your customers.

Do you give them away free, no strings attached, or do you only give them away free with a qualifying purchase?


The upside to simply giving them away is that you will surprise and delight your customers in an unexpected way. They will be talking about your generosity to their friends.

The downside is that you likely won’t garner any extra sales and you may end up giving them to people who don’t need them.


The upside for GWP is that you are using the freebie to help close the sale of a related product. Plus, you are getting the freebie into the hands of someone most likely to use it.

The downside is that the only word of mouth it generates is them talking about the good deal they got (that others might not be so lucky to get).

Here are some questions to ask…

  • Do you want them to talk about your generosity or the deal they got?
  • Do you want to put them only into the hands of people who will use them?
  • Do you want to surprise & delight or close the sale?

Ask the right questions and you’ll get the right answer.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Door #3 is that we just sell them at a discounted price, take the profit and run. The only question is whether you can get more profit using the freebies as a marketing tool than you would by simply selling a low-cost item you didn’t want in the first place. My guess is marketing tool pays more dividends in the long run.

Mrs. Hinkley Brought Me Doughnuts

I was unloading our delivery van when a car pulled up to side of the store. A window rolled down and a familiar face said, “Hey Phil, I brought you a little something.”

It wasn’t a “little something”. It was Hinkley Doughnuts!! The number one rated doughnut in Michigan!!! Mrs. Hinkley herself was hand-delivering a few leftovers as she called them (a box of my favorites as I called them).

Jackson isn’t a small town. We’re a city of over 30,000 people and a community of over 150,000 people. It is easy to be an anonymous business owner here. But it pays better to not be so anonymous.

Sure, I’m a regular customer at Hinkley’s Bakery. In fact, I never plan big morning events unless it is a day Hinkley’s is open (they are only open Wed-Sat). I regularly buy a box for the break room at work. But I’m just one of hundreds of their regulars.

So why a box filled with all my favorites for free?

It is the relationship we have built over the years. I am crazy about shopping local and building relationships with my fellow local business owners. We talk and laugh and share stories and ideas. We get to know each other and each other’s families. We help each other out. We send business each other’s ways.

If you want to market yourself, the best place to start is to build a network among your fellow local independents. Introduce yourself every time you visit (and visit them often). Get to know them and they will get to know it you. Be generous with your time and resources. Send them business and they will send some your way, too.

It pays. (Excuse me while I go finish my doughnut.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I am getting really chummy with the owner of the downtown brewery right now, too. Yeah, that’s how I roll (pun intended).

Media Versus Network?

Social media is where it is at!
Social media is DEAD!
Social media is FREE!
Social media has NO ROI!
Businesses are expanding because of social media!
Businesses are wasting their money on social media!

SOCIAL MEDIA, social media, social media, BLAH blah blah.

Everyone has an opinion on whether Social Media is helping businesses grow or is just a waste of money. And everyone is wrong.

Why? They have the word wrong. Chances are, you do, too.


What happens if we changed the word media to the word network?

Media = an avenue through which you broadcast content and advertising
Network = a connection of people who can help each other out

Which word more accurately describes Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, et al? A network of connected people sharing with each other or a medium with people waiting to be told what to do or think?

Would you use Social differently if you saw it as a networking avenue instead of a medium onto which you broadcast your message?

Would you use Social differently if you were trying to connect to people and connect them to resources and other people instead of just telling your story?

Would you use Social differently if you saw it as a way to have two-way conversations and see how others could help you, rather than just a platform to tell them what you’re going to do?

Would you use Social differently if you were trying to help instead of just trying to sell?

Change the word and you’ll change your focus. Change your focus and you’ll change your effectiveness.

Social Media is DEAD. But the Social Network is alive and kicking!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The best way to grow your Network is TRUST. When you engage without selling, when you help and share without financial gain, when you ask more than you tell, when you show that you are listening, when you are real and genuine and not always “on message” then you will gain the trust of your network.

The Ideal Employee

I was digging through some old staff newsletters and came across this article. At one of our staff trainings I asked the staff to create what they called The Ideal Employee…

(reprinted from the August 2002 Team News)

Here is the composite of what you identified as the “Ideal Employee”…

Attitude—The Ideal Employee will have a positive attitude at all times, whether it is dealing with
customers or with other employees. He or she will use a friendly voice and have a helpful demeanor in all interactions with others.

Appearance—The Ideal Employee will dress appropriately in a conservative, business-casual outfit.  The Ideal Employee will not have his or her midriff exposed (or other body parts that should not be seen). The Ideal Employee will wear appropriate footwear—no sandals or open-toed shoes. The Ideal Employee will have his or her hair combed neatly and a general appearance of cleanliness. Finally, the Ideal Employee will always “wear” a smile.

Knowledge—The Ideal Employee will know and understand…

  • How to run a cash register
  • How to answer phones and take phone orders
  • Our policies of our many services such as gift wrapping, layaway, delivery and assembly.
  • How to measure packages for UPS shipping
  • The products that we sell
  • The hours of our operation and how to give directions to get here
  • Where to go or who to talk to for any information he or she doesn’t know
  • His or her schedule so that he or she will always be on time

Commitment—The Ideal Employee will be committed to helping the customer, or when unable, finding another person to help the customer. The Ideal Employee will be committed to assisting other employees with scheduling conflicts. The Ideal Employee will be committed to helping out in areas that are not his or her responsibility when no one else is available.  The Ideal Employee will be committed to making sure that all customers are being helped, and that all customers and other employees are treated with respect.  The Ideal Employee will be committed to protecting the store from theft.

That’s what my staff came up with 13 years ago. I’m curious what they will create this year.
-Phil Wrzesinski
PS Although this is a good blueprint for any retail staff, you should have your own staff create what they believe to be the Ideal Employee. You’ll get better buy-in from them that way.

Three Questions That Have All the Answers

(Note: I submitted this to Wizard Academy for a project where they asked business leaders what our two to three secrets are that have helped us succeed. My three secrets are these three questions…)

I have been told that I have an uncanny knack for taking difficult ideas & concepts and breaking them down so that they are easy to understand. Others call it a God-given talent. The true secret is in three simple questions.

I was twenty-three when I learned about the power of these three questions. I was working at YMCA Storer Camps teaching Team Building through Wilderness and Experiential Education programs when John Foster and Phil DeLong taught me all about, “What? So What? Now What?” as a way to process learning.

It looks like this…

WHAT? What happened? What did we do? What worked? What didn’t work? Where did we start? Where did we end?

These are questions that talk about the CONCRETE. These are the questions that help us identify the task we attempted, the action we took. When working with a group doing a team building exercise, the first step is to make sure we are all on the same page with what actually happened. So we ask the What? questions. We ask them to relive the experience and talk through what they did.

SO WHAT? So what did we learn? So what can we infer from our results? So what does that show us? So what will we do differently next time?

These are the questions that talk about the ABSTRACT. After we identify what we did, we have to learn from it. We have to extract the lessons. When working with a group on a team building exercise, if we don’t learn from what we did, then we are merely playing. The So What? questions draw out that lesson or idea. The So What? questions give the activity meaning.

(Note: if you don’t establish the What? first, you’ll have a hard time drawing out the So What? lessons. So What? questions can only be asked after the What? has been firmly established.)

NOW WHAT? Now what will we do with this new understanding? Now what do we do with what we’ve learned? Now what is the next step? Now what will we do when we get back to the office?

These are the questions that talk about the APPLICATION. Now what do we do with what we’ve learned? A good team builder not only helps a group learn the lesson from their activity, but also how to apply that lesson to other parts of their life. It is one thing to learn about proper communication while crossing a swamp with a string of tire swings. It is something else to learn how to apply straight-forward, no-mincing of words, chain-of-command communications to the office to keep everyone safe and swinging in harmony, too.

(Note: if you don’t establish the So What? lesson first, you’ll have a hard time drawing out the Now What? applications. Now What? questions can only be asked after the So What? lesson has been firmly understood.)


Even though I spend more time running a retail toy store and teaching classes to fellow retailers than I do team building, I find that I am using What? So What? Now What? most every single day.

I use it training my staff… What did we do for this training activity? We asked questions, had to listen to the response, and then repeat the response back to the other team member. What were some of the problems? Trying to remember what was said. Why was that a problem? Because we weren’t used to repeating back, only responding. What was in your way? Not listening properly. How did repeating back what they said help? It forced us to listen better and helped us be more accurate. Why would this be important? The better we listen and be accurate with what a customer says, the better we can solve their problem.

I use it interviewing for new employees… Tell me about a time when you received Great Customer Service (concrete). So what made that so special? (abstract). How would you apply that to you working here? (application).

It is especially effective when I teach classes and do workshops. Just a few weeks ago I did a one-hour class on Inventory Management for pet store owners. This class involves a lot more math and fewer jokes than other workshops and classes I teach. The feedback and vibe from the audience during this class is the lowest of any class I offer. The only real way I can evaluate how things are going is from the questions the participants ask during Q&A. If they are asking What? questions then I failed miserably. They didn’t understand the math I want them to do. If they are asking So What? questions then I still failed miserably. They understood the math but don’t get why they need it. But if they are asking Now What? questions then I know I got the point across and they just want to apply it to their own situation. At last week’s class, all the questions were of Application.

I even use this with advertising. If I want to make a factual point (concrete) then I have to explain why it is an important point (abstract) and what to do with that point (application). More importantly, if I make an abstract point, I better back it up with concrete facts if I want people to apply it.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this model of questioning, but once I did, it made facilitating and leading others much easier. Whenever a discussion bogs down, I simply drop back a level of questioning and make sure we have established the previous level before moving on. This gets everyone back onto the same page. This is my simple little secret for making difficult ideas understandable.

  • What did we do?
  • So what did we learn?
  • Now what will we do with that knowledge?

Learn to use it in your life. It will make a difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It even works with children. I use it with my boys all the time. They get a lot of Aha! moments through these questions.

What I’ve Been Working On

Here’s what I’ve been working on (and why I haven’t posted in a while)…



Our old website wasn’t mobile-friendly and needed a few upgrades to make it responsive to different platforms (computers, phones and tablets). Google is telling people that non-responsive sites are going to get knocked down in the search rankings soon.

Since we don’t sell online, I also wanted to focus the site more on making people to want to visit the store. More pictures of what you’ll find when you visit. More descriptions of the in-store services and events. More content telling you how much fun you’ll have when you get to the store.

To get the most out of your website, you have to know what you want your website to do. 

Finally, I wanted a website that I can change and update regularly. I spent the last several months learning how to use WordPress and built the site using their system.

The new site is up and working. The early returns have been promising. More tweaks including video are coming soon.


This one isn’t done yet. Originally, I thought that after building the new Toy House site this one would be easy. I was wrong.

One of the key elements of building a website is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). With the Toy House site that was fairly easy. My goal was to make sure you find us in any search related to toys and Jackson, MI. Go ahead and search “toys Jackson” and see where you find us.

But PhilsForum.com is a different beast playing in a different sandbox.

If you search on such terms as…


…you won’t find me on the first two to three pages in Google.

One of everyone’s favorite pages from my current site is the Freebies page. Yet if you search on RETAILER FREEBIES, you get fourteen pages of coupons before you find all the articles and notes I’ve uploaded for you.

If you search on RETAIL SPEAKER you won’t find me until page four behind a number of sites that won’t even get you a top-level, in-the-trenches retail speaker that routinely gets high praise for the talks he does.

Before I can build the new site, I have a lot of SEO work to do including coming up with a new name for the Freebies – something based on the words you would likely use to search for that information.

Some of those Freebies are ready for an upgrade, too. Stay posted and I’ll let you know here when the new site goes live (and where you can find the new Freebies).


Back in the spring I asked for your submissions for a new book I planned to write this summer. I didn’t get as many submissions as I hoped, but I did get enough to put the book together, albeit in a slightly different format than originally planned. (You can still submit your business for inclusion.)

As soon as I get the new PhilsForum.com site up and running, I’ll tackle this project. (Believe me, I’ve already been formatting chapters in my head on this and am getting excited at how the finished product is going to turn out.)

I’ll be back to blogging soon. In the meantime, start asking yourself these questions…

  • What do you want to accomplish in the next twelve months?
  • What is holding you back?
  • What are your competitors doing better than you?

Those are the questions I hope to explore with you this fall.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS When the new PhilsForum.com site is done, this blogspot blog will go away. I’ll archive all the old blogs onto the new site so the content will still be there. If you’re a subscriber, don’t worry. I’m already looking at how to seamlessly transfer you over to the new blog so that you continue to get this info in your inbox. But if you’re getting this through your RSS feed, I’ll let you know when it is time to change over to the new feed.

PPS Also get ready for a discussion about your online presence. I’ve learned a ton over the last few months building new websites that I look forward to sharing with you.

Always Have a Second Pair of Eyes

I came across this sign while delivering some baby furniture the other day.

Three lessons…

  • Never let your high school drop out make your signs. 
  • Always have an educated person proof read your signs before you put them up. 
  • Don’t trust spell-check.

Enjoy your weekend smile.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Had the flavor been Spinach Souffle, I might have thought they had done that sign on purpose. A little humor can go a long way. But humor is like nitro glycerin. It can blow up in your face if handled poorly.