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Author: Phil Wrzesinski

Phil Wrzesinski is a Retailer, Speaker, Author, Golfer, Singer/Songwriter, and Klutz Kid who enjoys anything to do with the water (including drinking it fermented with hops and barley), anything to do with helping local independent businesses thrive, and anything that sounds like fun.

A Case Study From Yesterday

A couple nights ago as I was climbing into bed I got an email from my friend, Phil. He owns the brewpub where I frequently play guitar. He was sent a script proposal for a television ad and wanted my opinion. I read it and told him not to run that ad, and that I would respond more fully the next day. He has given me permission to publish here what I wrote in reply …

Hi Phil,

I looked over the ad script you sent me. It is typical of what I see from ad salespeople who were never given proper training into how to use their media best. It’s not their fault. They just end up writing ads that look and sound like every other boring, bland ad they have ever heard or seen. The thought process is, “If everyone else is doing it, it must work, right?” Wrong.

The script they gave you violates all the principles of the most effective ads.

To recap, they wrote this …

Spend your weekend nights at the Poison Frog Brewery, always offering a great atmosphere! Featuring great entertainment, wonderful inhouse brews, custom made glass mugs, and real poisonous frogs, The Poison Frog Brewery has it all. Overflow parking is across the street! The Poison Frog Brewery, come have a hopping good time!

The ad sounds like everyone else, doesn’t tell a story or speak to the heart, tries to make too many points, and is all about you instead of your customers. It doesn’t speak to the craft beer crowd, the live entertainment crowd, or the people who share your core values of Curious, Resourceful, Persevering, or Affectionate. None of that is going to garner any attention, let alone convince anyone to visit your brewery.

If you want to be noticed, remembered, and visited, you need an ad that speaks to the heart of your customer, makes only one point, and is interesting enough to get people to sit up and take notice.

The Poison Frog Brewery on Horton Road in Jackson

In the copy above, the ad tries to make the points of:

  • Great entertainment
  • Wonderful inhouse brews
  • Custom made glass mugs
  • Real poisonous frogs
  • Overflow parking

That’s too much information for one ad. The average viewer is lucky to remember one thing. The more you try to cram into the ad, the less likely he or she will remember anything at all. You’re better off choosing one of those points and crafting an ad around that while also tying in your core values.

For instance …

You’ve driven past this bright yellow building several times. You’ve even seen it before the frogs were painted on the wall. You know it’s a local brewery and pub, but the small parking lot doesn’t give the proper impression of what you’ll find inside … like master craft beers and meads brewed in house. When you drink one from your own custom-made mug, you’ll be glad you finally pulled in. Poison Frog Brewery. It’s hopping inside!

This speaks to the curious beer lover who hasn’t tried you yet. It gets all your info in, but under the guise of curiosity. The true point is that your place is worth the visit.

Here is another one, more aimed at the entertainment crowd.

You’ve been to bars with live entertainment. Not all are the same. In some, the band is too loud for you to hear the person across the table from you. In others, you have to hope you get a table close enough to see the singer. At Poison Frog Brewery, you’re always in view of the musicians, you’ll always be able to hear them and everyone who came with you, and with the talent we have in Jackson, you’ll always be entertained. Looking for a hopping good time? Check out Poison Frog Brewery.

Or you could take this more story-like approach …

A singer, a guitar, a microphone, and a stage. All the hours of practice and now his success depends on you. If you clap, sing along, or even just smile, you’ll make his night. In return he’ll rock your world. At Poison Frog Brewery, the musicians you see every Friday and Saturday night are there for one thing, to make sure you have a hopping good time.

Here is an ad approach using Perseverance and your overflow parking as the base …

You’ve always wanted to stop in, but the parking lot is small and often full. Fortunately there is extra parking across the street – and plenty of seating inside. Once inside you see why the lot is full You order one of our hand-crafted beers, you partner wants to try a mead. Ahhh … Worth the trip. Poison Frog Brewery. When the lot is full, it’s hopping inside!

Finally, here is the beer ad …

You drink craft beer because of the taste. You’re looking for the nuance, the little notes that excite your palate. As a master brewer, my job is to give you something exciting and pleasing to the palate. Did we always get it right? No. But the beers you’ll find today have been carefully honed to give you the perfect blend of flavor in every sip. It’s time you hop into Poison Frog Brewery.

This ad uses a little of the “downside” and speaks to those who have tried your brews in the past, before you had everything perfected. There are a lot of craft beer hounds who have either had a bad beer in the past or have heard about others having a bad beer. This admits that flaw and lets them know you’ve corrected it. Powerful language to gain their trust.

Notice how all the ads use the word “you”. Make your ads about the customer, not about yourself, and they’ll pay far more attention. Tell a story and they’ll remember. Speak to their heart, their values, and their needs and they’ll take action.

I know this is different from the script they gave you. They’ll have to be a little more creative with the video they shoot for the ad, but a good videographer can use these scripts to craft an amazing television ad that will move the needle.

Keep me posted on what you decide to do.



-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I publish this because many of you get the same bland, boring scripts from your ad salespeople. I want you to see the difference between the template-type, boiler-plate ads that are all about you and ads that speak to the heart of your customers. Unfortunately I only had about an hour to put that reply together so those scripts aren’t as tight as I would like them, but they are a far cry better than where he started. I’ll have more time to craft something powerful for his next ad. I’ll share it with you when I do. By the way, he went with the curious one and the perseverance one.

How Long Do You Want to Be in Business?

I don’t think my grandfather ever envisioned Toy House being open for 67 year, 7 months, and 1 day. I’ve looked through all his notes and never found anything that stated how long he planned the store to be open. I know from an interview I did with him about twelve years ago that he knew he wouldn’t be in retail all his life.

“Retail is a young man’s game.” -Phil Conley

Phil Conley, working the register in 1958 at age 39.

You can argue all you want about that last statement. I know a lot of people who either started in retail at a later point in life or worked retail late into their lives. But that was my grandfather’s view.

At the same time, my grandfather had one other point he liked to drive home with his kids and grandkids.

“Plan for success.” -Phil Conley

When he founded Toy House, he did it on a rock solid set of Core Values and business principles. (His core values of Fun, Helpful, Educational, and Nostalgic matched mine perfectly!) He set the business up to succeed not just today but every day long into the future. In fact, there was only one “mistake” he felt he made in setting up Toy House for the long run.

“If I had only placed the building twelve feet farther north on the property, there would have been eight or ten more front parking spaces.” -Phil Conley

I bring this up because over the next few weeks we’re going to discuss advertising. There are two main types of advertising.

  • Short-term (Events and Sales)
  • Long-term (Branding and Awareness)

Too many businesses think that a string of short-term advertised events and sales is a “campaign.” It isn’t. It is an addiction.

You run a series of ads highlighting a sale. You get a lot of traffic for the sale. Everyone feels good. The ads and sale end. The traffic ends. Everyone feels bad. You run another sale.

You take a hit of a drug. It feels good. The drug wears off. It feels bad. You want another hit of the drug.

See the similarity?

Branding campaigns are different. First, they are long-term. It doesn’t matter when you start (to paraphrase a Chinese proverb, the best time to start a branding campaign is twenty years ago, the second best time is today) as long as you start and keep at it. You change the ads, just not the underlying message. The goal of this campaign is to make sure you are the first place someone thinks of when they finally need your service.

The beauty of such a campaign is the long-term effect. The longer you run the campaign, the more residual effect it has on people’s memory. It’s kinda like when your car runs out of gas. You put your shoulder into it and it barely budges. Eventually it starts to roll. The longer you push it (as long as you aren’t trying to go up a steep hill), the easier it gets until you barely have to put any effort into it at all.

These two campaigns are completely different, so it is important to know which campaign you are running. Some media are better suited for one more than the other. Some can do both, but you plan it differently.

My grandfather planned for success by building a business that would outlast him. His timeline was longer than he planned to be around. You make different decisions when you think like that. I know he did. When it comes to your advertising, you need to be thinking long-term there, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Some people call it playing the long game, knowing that what you do today is positioning yourself for something farther down the road. Amazon is playing that game. All those “profits” they didn’t show for many years was because of the money they reinvested into the company for R&D and infrastructure. Unfortunately, many publicly traded companies look no further than next quarter’s results. If you want to be in retail for the long run, play the long game. You’ll be surprised how effective it can be even in the short-term.

Yes I Have Heard About Toys R Us

I was tagged seventeen times on Facebook last week about Toys R Us pending liquidation, wondering if I had seen the news.

Friends, I write a blog about retail. I do workshops for retailers. I am a presenter at the upcoming American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA). I subscribe to three news digests specifically about retail. I subscribe to two national news digests. I belong to two retail groups on Facebook and one on LinkedIn.

I appreciate you checking with me to see if I have heard the new. Thanks. I have heard the news.

With that said, I do appreciate the links to articles. Most of the articles reiterate the same info. Barring a last-second deal, TRU is likely to go into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which means liquidation of all assets.

What I have found interesting has been the comments after each article. Most of the people commenting have no clue what happened to Toys R Us. Most of them get it dead wrong, blaming Amazon for their demise.

Here is what really happened …

The decline of Toys R Us started in 1992 when Walmart surpassed them in total toy sales. TRU took the wrong road and tried to beat Walmart at Walmart’s game—lower prices. TRU lost big time. So did the entire toy industry because “toys” were now considered a commodity instead of the tool they truly are.

While TRU was floundering, big money venture capitalists came in and bought the chain, primarily because of their real estate value. The second misstep happened here. In simplistic terms, the VC’s leveraged TRU and saddled them with so much debt that they didn’t have the capital to change with the tide as other big chains were going online, updating infrastructure, investing in better technology, etc.

At the same time, the toy industry went into decline. Parents were buying more electronics and spending less on traditional toys. While TRU was able to get into electronics, they also were getting into a lower profit margin item with more big competitors, which also didn’t help their bottom line.

Shortly after that the economy tanked. While the economy has recovered, not all segments have recovered the same.

Amazon was more the straw on the camel’s back than the cause. The decision to play Walmart’s game was the real cause. It gave away TRU’s one true advantage over Walmart, Target, Dollar General, and even Amazon—being the trusted resource for the quality toys that encourage imagination and creativity in children, true tools that required careful thought and selection. Once that was lost, TRU was in trouble.

Losing capital because of the debt was the second factor because the one playing card left for TRU was to be the destination store parents wanted to take their children. But without cash, they cut back on staffing,they cut back on updating their store and creating an experience. TRU was nothing more than a big-box discounter without the groceries, hardware, and home accessories.

One article asked the question where the TRU shoppers were going to go once TRU was gone. The comments on that one made me laugh out loud. Several said that the people had already chosen, since TRU was in bankruptcy and closing. Friends, TRU did $11 billion dollars in sales last year. That’s billion with a “B”! The average ticket in toys is around $40, in electronics it is much higher, but even at $100/transaction, that’s 110 million customers! That’s a lot of traffic. They weren’t doing everything wrong. They just didn’t have the cash to do everything right.

You can blame their demise on three things.

  • Allowing their largest competitor to name the terms
  • Not updating the infrastructure and staying on the cutting edge
  • Not having the cash to transform the store into one that can compete in the new retail landscape

Your lesson in all of this is simple.

  • Define the retail game not by what your competitors do, but by what you do.
  • Stay current and up with the times.
  • Keep some money in reserve.

More importantly, do the one thing you can do better than all the big guys out there. Take better care of your customers than they expect and make a visit to your store an exhilarating experience.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Where do I think that $11 billion is going to go? Some of it will go to Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc. Some of it will go to Best Buy and Apple Stores. But there is a big part of TRU’s base that still believed in the shopping experience. Face it, a large in-store selection and the fun of being in that kind of store was the one card they had left. Amazon cannot duplicate that. Neither can the other big guys. Heck, even Barnes & Noble struggled with it. The independent toy stores in towns with closing TRU’s better be on the ball. If they can demonstrate their ability to give shoppers a great experience while touting their well-curated selection and convenient, friendly services, there is a lot of money left on the table.

The Myth of the Call to Action

I took a little walk down memory lane. Started reading some of the old radio ad copy I wrote back in the 90’s. My goal today was to talk to you about the pros and cons of the different media options you have for advertising. Sometimes, however, you pull on a thread and it unravels in a whole different way than you expected.

Image result for radioHere is an ad I used on the radio twenty-two years ago …

Ad Copy Winter 1996

Hi, this is Phil Wrzesinski from the Toy House in downtown Jackson. You’ve heard me talk about the many wonderful toys we sell here at the Toy House. I’d like to remind you that we’re more than just a great toy store. Our hobby department has everything you need for your trains, planes, rockets or models. Plus, our staff are experts able to answer your questions and make sure you get exactly what you need. Our baby department has all of the new, safe, quality products for infants including everything from cribs that convert into beds, car seats & strollers, and over 100 different bedding patterns. We offer baby registry, special orders, and a ten-month layaway on infant items. If you’re working on a project for school, check out our craft and science departments. And, if you need a new bike, we’ll assemble it for free and inspect it after 30 riding days. You see, at the Toy House we want to make your shopping as easy as we can by offering free giftwrapping, layaway, delivery, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. So come visit us at the Toy House on Mechanic Street in downtown Jackson.

Looking back at this ad through the lens of the six principles that make an ad more effective, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Sure, this violated the Make Only One Point principle big time. It didn’t Tell a Story or Speak to the Heart, or Speak to My Tribe.

But even in an ad all about “me”, I used the word “you” quite often. Considering I had zero training and zero understanding of how ads worked, seeing this ad made me happy.

Don’t get me wrong. This ad sucked. About the only thing going for it was the conversational tone that didn’t sound like all the hype ads of that day, plus the frequent use of the word “you”. It also told you specific actions you could expect (“we’ll assemble it for free and inspect it after 30 riding days.”)

Contrast that ad with this one fifteen years later …

The Promised Land November 2011
She almost fell out of the pew. Her pastor actually called Toy House the Promised Land for kids. Right there in front of a packed church.
The lady on her left leaned over and said, “You work there, don’t you?”
She nodded.
The lady on her left leaned in again, “I love that place.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Me too,” she whispered back.
It’s the promised land for kids and adults. Just ask the lady sitting on your left.
Toy House and Baby Too in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

It certainly doesn’t sound like an ad. It tells a story and speaks to the heart. It speaks to the tribe. You’re smiling in agreement if you’re already a fan of the store. It only made one point, and it wasn’t about “me”.

The one thing many pundits will tell you it is missing is the Call to Action. The first ad said, “So come visit us …” Without a call to action, how can you measure the results of the ad? About the closest thing to a call to action in the 2011 ad is to, “ask the lady sitting on your left.”

I started running ads like this in 2005. That same year I hired a statistics class at a local university to do a survey for me. One of the questions the students asked was, “Name all of the places in Jackson that sell toys.” We were named about 66% of the time. Two-thirds. One-third of the population did not think about us as a place to buy toys—even though we were one of the largest independent toy stores in America and had been around for 56 years.

In 2007 we did the same survey. Our name recall had jumped to 74%. More interestingly, 88% of the people who named us as a store that sold toys named us first (compared to only 69% in the first study). Not only were we more top-of-mind, we were more top-of-heart. That’s how I measured the results of ads like that one.

I wasn’t in business just for today. I was in business for the long run. I didn’t want a call to action that got you in today, only to forget about us tomorrow. I wanted to win your heart and be not only the first place you think of, but the first place you wanted to visit.

Knowing that distinction changes the way you advertise.

Some media work better for immediate calls to action. Some work differently for sales than they do for branding. Before we start exploring the different media, I thought that concept might be worth visiting.

Thanks for joining me on memory lane. You never know where it might lead.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I used a lot of radio. Not because it is the most effective form of advertising, but because it was the best fit for my market, my budget, my talent, and my goals. What will work best for you may be completely different based on all those factors.

All Advertising Works (And All Advertising Doesn’t)

“Who are you trying to reach?”

That’s pretty much the opening salvo in every advertising salesperson’s repertoire. Give them your answer and voila! “That’s exactly our listeners/viewers/readers!” Then they show you some study that “proves” their advertising works.

Westwood One, a major radio company with stations across the US, commissioned a study to show the ROI of radio advertising. Of course the results were quite promising. Are you surprised that a study by a radio company would show that radio advertising works?

“The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself.” -Winston Churchill

My Yellow Pages salesperson showed me a similar result that when asked where they would go to search for a new business, 87% of the people surveyed said, “The Yellow Pages.” Granted, this was when the Internet was still in its infancy. But it was still false because it asked the question, “What would you do?” instead of, “What did you do?”

Here is the funny thing about advertising …

The advertising salespeople are asking you a question to which you invariably give the wrong answer, yet their response is still accurate.

“Who are you trying to reach?” The right answer is …

People who share my Core Values and believe what I believe.

“That’s exactly our listeners/viewers/readers!”

Of course, all the other media reach those people, too. They also reach a bunch of people who don’t share your Core Values or believe what you believe. You need to target your message, not your media choice, to reach the “right” people.

Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, says time and time again that he has never seen an ad campaign fail because it didn’t reach the right people, but he has seen many fail because they didn’t say the right thing.

Although your advertising salesperson doesn’t know he is asking the wrong question (or, frankly, an irrelevant one), that question is not what will derail the success of your advertising campaign. It is the second question he asks (or sometimes fails to ask) that is the real crux of the matter.

“What do you want to say?”

If you cannot answer that question, he’ll put together some template of an ad that sounds like everyone else’s ads and you’ll be lost in the shuffle, unremarkable and unremembered. (You should read Roy’s post on Template Advertising. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

How you answer the second question is the biggest difference between a successful campaign and a waste of time and money. Every form of advertising works and every form of advertising doesn’t work. It is all in how you use them.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS How you answer the second question isn’t the only difference between success and failure. Each media has its strengths and weaknesses. We’ll explore some of those in the coming days.

Three Examples of Doing a Little More

I was in Houston a few weeks ago doing a staff training for a fellow toy store owner’s team. After the training three of us (two former toy store owners and one current toy store owner) took a nice long walk. I got to see some of the places where the floods from last summer’s hurricane had left their mark. It was mind-blowing trying to imagine just how high the water got compared to its level that day.

We also walked through a little neighborhood shopping area. I was immediately drawn to the sign that said “Free Beer”. Yeah, we went inside.

The store sold beachwear and was in between last year’s fashions that were severely depleted and this year’s fashions that had yet to come in. If their regular stock levels were the highest point of the flood, their current stock levels were below the lowest point in the water table. They barely had anything to make you think they were in business.

That’s me on the left with my, um, hat?

They did, however, have a cooler full of beer and a Tiki Toss game on the wall (you know the game—the ring on a string that you swing to try to land it on the hook on the wall). They were throwing a party inside the store to celebrate. They weren’t celebrating the clearance of the old lineup. They weren’t celebrating the arrival of the new lineup (it hadn’t yet arrived). They were simply celebrating the customers.

I walked in and got a free beer. I also got a coozie sleeve for that beer. I also played Tiki Toss, and when I got a ringer they gave me a free foam, um, hat? I don’t know what it was for sure, or what it was for, but I packed it in my luggage and brought it home.

Even with nothing to sell, that store was doing what all great retailers do—building the relationship with the customer. That was their way to beat the first quarter blues—have a party!

They definitely exceeded my expectations.

Here are three more examples of how to give your customer more than he or she desires, needs, or expects.


On a typical Saturday morning we will see a parent in our store with a child. They aren’t there to shop. They are just there to browse and play. Sometimes it is Saturday afternoon and they have a couple hours to kill between the wedding and the reception. Sometimes it is a dad who is looking for an inexpensive way to have some fun with his child.

Whatever it is, the expectation is that the parent is hoping to kill some time, let the child have some fun looking at all the cool toys, and maybe play with a sample toy or two.

In one instance a dad brought his daughter in to play. We had just received some new magnetic blocks. I made it a big deal to pull out the blocks and allow her to be the first kid in Jackson to play with this new toy. She squealed with excitement. No, he didn’t buy those blocks … that day. He bought them on Monday. That little girl is in college now and we got to watch her grow up.


Another common Saturday visitor is on her way to a birthday party, often running late. One of my staff related this Smile Story at a staff meeting …

“She called the store, said she was on her way to a birthday party for a six-year old boy. Could we pick a LEGO set out for around $25 and have it wrapped so that she could run in and get it quickly? So I got her item, wrapped it, and then attached a blue helium balloon to it. She was so thrilled! She was the gal who came in last week with a tray of cookies. She said, ‘Not only do the kids always go for the packages wrapped in Toy House paper first, when you have a helium balloon attached, you’re the first of the first!'”

Think about that one for a moment. This customer already had a pretty high bar of expectation if she felt she could call ahead and have us pick the right gift and have it wrapped. Yet my staff still found a way to exceed that.


This is one of my favorite stories. I even wrote a radio ad about it. One of our regular customers came in asking for help. She had three grandkids visiting for five days and wanted a new toy for each day of their visit. Not only did my staff pick out fifteen great toys, they wrapped each one, labeled them with the child’s name and the date to open. When she came back into the store, she said, “Phil, your staff is the best! My grandson thinks I am the best toy picker ever. He said, ‘These toys are better than if I picked them out myself!’ Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I use these stories to illustrate that you don’t need to do a whole lot to exceed your customer’s expectations. You just have to first know what those expectations are. In all three instances we didn’t give away the farm. In fact, we didn’t use discounts or deals to win the hearts of these customers. We just found out what they wanted, and gave them a little more.

You can do that, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The first step in giving your customer more than she desires, needs, or expects is to eliminate the phrase, “No, we don’t do that,” from your vocabulary. If your customer is asking if you do something, then she expects it is something you would do. If it isn’t too crazy, do it. What have you got to lose (except another customer)?

Indie Retailers Best Poised for New Retail Model

A few years ago I went to lunch with a fellow toy store owner. I had wanted to see his store, so we made plans for me to visit and then go get lunch. Since we were in his town, I left it up to him to pick a place for lunch. What he said next I still cannot believe.

“Well, my favorite lunch place is out because I went there yesterday. A couple of our city council members stopped by and took me to lunch to ask me if there was more they could be doing for my business.”

Jaw meet floor.

That kind of respect for a local independent business is a rare bird in the world of government. Instead we see communities falling all over themselves to throw money at Amazon, not realizing that even if they don’t get an Amazon HQ or DC, they are still “giving money” to Amazon as local tax revenues are lost while local independent businesses struggle to survive.

For most indie retailers, even the government is slanted against us. You pretty much have to be a chain store or opening a mega-store for government to throw you any kind of bone.

In spite of all that, local independent retailers are starting to see a surge.

In a recent article discussing the problems plaguing Walmart, the author said, “Selling products to strangers doesn’t cut it anymore. To succeed in retail today you need to start with the customer, not the product.”

The article went on to talk about how several eCommerce sites are expanding into brick & mortar to better serve the customers.

Do you know who is best-suited to take advantage of this it’s-about-the-customers-more-than-the-products era of retail? You guessed it! Local independent retailers.

Believe it or not, it hasn’t been about the products for indie retailers for over a decade. It used to be that if you invented a new product you had to pitch that product to existing vendors or go into manufacturing yourself and pitch it to a handful of indie retailers to get started. Then, after the product gained traction and had sales history, bigger vendors might take interest. Once the bigger vendors got their hands on it, the product could make its way to the masses.

That model is gone. Now if you have an idea, you crowdfund it and launch it online until the big guys swoop in and buy you out.

Local indie retailers have had to build relationships with customers and offer them curated selections of great items they’ve likely never seen before to succeed. Fortunately, that model works. According to the article, that’s the new model of retail. According to me, that’s also the old model of retail.

Fostering relationships with your customers and building loyalty through something other than a frequent purchase discount never goes out of style. 

The simplest way to do that is:

  1. Figure out what she desires, needs, and expects.
  2. Give her more than she desires, needs, and expects.

I call that the Simplest Business Success Formula Ever. This is what the companies in that article are doing.

This is how you compete in today’s retail environment. You can’t control what product fads will be hot. You can’t control what vendors will stab you in the back (pro tip: every year at least one vendor goes back on his word about a product or product line he promised to keep exclusive to the indie channel.) You can’t control what products you will actually get shipped. On top of that, you can’t control what happens to the local, state or national economy. Nor can you control Mother Nature.

But you can control the experience someone has in your store. You can control the type of people you hire and the training they receive to be able to figure out those expectations and exceed them regularly. Do that and you’ll control your destiny as well.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Your local government would do well to understand the formula, too. If they would create an environment where the needs and expectations of indie retailers were met (and exceeded), they would see tax revenues begin to rise. Indie retailers typically have more staff and a higher payroll per sale than the chains. Indie retailers typically use less land and less local services (police/fire etc.) than the big chains. They also create character, draw outside traffic, and give local communities their charm. Yet, in the last twenty-five years, that opening story is the only time I have heard firsthand about a government trying to exceed the expectations of their most profitable “customers”.

How to Use Humor in Your Advertising the Right Way

I can count on one hand the times I have tried something new because of a television ad and I would still have several fingers leftover.

I tried Sam Adams Light Beer after they ran a commercial talking about how they took their Sam Adams Light to a beer festival in Germany and won first prize … even though there wasn’t a “light beer” category. (It was easily the best light beer I have tasted, but not necessarily the best beer I have tasted, not to mention difficult to find in stores.)

I bought two flavors of Pringles a couple weeks ago. Just like the Super Bowl commercial showed me, I put the two flavors together to make a new flavor. Barbecue and Jalapeno pair up fabulously. That helped get me home on a long, tired drive from up north. I had forgotten that ad when I talked about the 2018 Super Bowl Ads, but it obviously struck a chord with me since I recalled it the moment I was standing in front of the Pringles display contemplating which flavor to buy. I give them a thumbs up because they taught me to buy two flavors instead of one. I bet they have seen a spike in sales since that ad, especially if they are still running it.

Now I am seriously contemplating buying some Duluth Trading Bullpen Underwear. Here is the ad that caught my eye …


This ad (and most of their campaign) is a homerun!

  1. It doesn’t look or sound like anyone else’s ads.
  2. It makes only one point in a clever and unexpected way.
  3. It tells a story, one that men know all too well.
  4. It speaks to the heart by talking about a felt need and getting you to laugh, too.
  5. It speaks to the tribe of men. (A female companion told me she hated that ad. Like magnets, the ability of an ad to attract is equal to its ability to repel.)
  6. It makes “you” the star.

“Keep your boys where they belong.”

Yes, it hits on all six of the principles that make an ad more effective.

The best part of Duluth Trading’s campaign is the humor. Unlike Doritos, Dr. Pepper and Progressive Insurance, Duluth trading has found a way to tie their humor directly into the benefits of the product. The humor isn’t gratuitous.

The humor is used to drive home a point.

Progressive is running an ad right now that has a guy talking about how he and co-worker look exactly alike (spoiler alert: they don’t) and how he knows they look alike because he is good at comparisons. Unfortunately, the message I get is that Progressive must NOT be good at comparisons because this guy sucks at them.

Time and time again I see really funny or moving ads, but the funny or touching part has nothing to do with the company or product the ad is supposedly pitching. People remember the funny but forget the company or product. In Duluth Trading’s ads, you won’t ever have that problem. The humor is tied directly to the benefits.

If you want to use humor in your ads, do what Duluth Trading does and use the punchline to drive home the one point you are trying to make.

I’m looking forward to a new pair of underwear. (There’s a phrase you won’t often hear.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Duluth Trading is doing a few other things well.

First, they are running a campaign, not an ad, with a distinct and unique style. All of their ads use similar cartoon art, the same voice-over, and the same unexpected humor. Those three elements combined have a residual effect. You liked some of their early ads because of how fresh and surprising they were, so you perk up when a new ad comes on.

Second, they are speaking to the felt needs of their tribe. One easy way to speak to the heart and speak to your tribe at they same time is to identify a problem common among your tribe, and then show how you solve that problem. I’m looking at adding their ballroom jeans to my shopping list after ripping the crotch in my jeans while loading and unloading a moving van yesterday.

What to Do With the First Quarter Blues

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.

The Final Word on Meetings

I’ve had the pleasure to serve on a few different boards of directors for both non-profit and for-profit organizations. All the meetings start the same. Someone will call the meeting to order, take a roll call, and then ask for approval of last month’s minutes.

At this point everyone reaches for the minutes that were printed and laid out on the table. Some of us had printed a copy of the minutes we got in our email the night before. We quickly scan those minutes for errors and corrections, while trying to remember what was discussed and assigned at the last meeting.

I’ve read these last-second minutes on occasion only to find I had agreed at the previous meeting to do something but never wrote myself a note. Talk about embarrassing.

I don’t blame the secretaries of these boards. As I said, I’ve served on several boards that work this way. They all would have the secretary send out an agenda and the minutes from the previous meeting the night before the next meeting. Everyone did it this way so it must be the right way, right?

Unfortunately it is the wrong way.

We’ve already discussed the three reasons for having a meeting

  • To share information with the team
  • To collect information from the team
  • To teach the team something new

I’ve shared with you how to share information, how to collect information, and how to teach something new.

There is one more critical element for making your meeting a true success. It is what you do immediately after the meeting has ended.


You can call it the Minutes or the Summary or the Recap or the Assignment Page or the To Do List. The most important thing you can do after your meeting ends is type up everything that was discussed including all the assignments everyone was given and all the action steps everyone is to take and immediately post it and send it to your team.


While it is still fresh.

Before there are any questions about who said what or who agreed to do what.
Before anyone starts doing something wrong because they heard it wrong in the meeting.
Before anyone forgets what was just discussed.
Before anyone sinks back into the bad habits you just tried to correct.
Before you look at your own email or return that phone call that came in while you were meeting.

You need to think of this step as being a part of the meeting. Even though the assembly is gone, the meeting hasn’t ended until you’ve posted these notes.

This is a revelation I came to later in life. I wish I had thought of this earlier. It would have saved some embarrassing moments for several members on the boards I served (including myself). It would have reinforced lessons I was teaching in our meetings. It would have given those who learn better by reading than by seeing or hearing, another opportunity to fully understand the lesson. It would hold people accountable for the tasks they were assigned to do.

When you plan your next meeting, plan an extra fifteen uninterrupted minutes after you have dismissed the team to write and post your recap. Include in your recap:

  • What was learned
  • Why it was important
  • When and where it happens
  • How it applies to the job
  • Who is responsible for what

Heck, if you plan your meetings well, you can write up half of this beforehand.

Do this one thing and you’ll see the effectiveness of your meetings increase exponentially.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I only served on one team where the minutes were distributed immediately after the meeting. Looking back, that team was one of the more fun and functioning teams on which I have served. Everyone was involved. Everyone was prepared. Everything else worked roughly the same as any other board or team. The difference was the follow-through. We were all on the same page, the printed page that we got about an hour after the meeting.

PPS Here is the Staff Meeting Planner I used for creating our meetings. When you look at the check box of things to do on the right, that last box says “Action List Completed”. Make that your favorite box to check and you’ll turn your team into rock stars.