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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.

Reaching the Unreachable

I was asked an interesting question yesterday morning at a Breakfast Business Boot Camp I’m doing in Oxford, MI. “How do you get past the moniker of this being a ‘business’ program to reach people who could use what you’re teaching but don’t see themselves as a ‘business’?”

The question was asked by a minister who saw value in the marketing & advertising series I am doing in Oxford this month. She has found great value in the first two classes but hasn’t yet convinced other churches of the value of attending these “business” classes (even though they are free and you get fed).

Image result for out of reachThat is a universal problem with all of us. How do we convince people who we know would benefit from our products but don’t identify themselves as a typical customer of our business to become customers?

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” -Benjamin Franklin

There are two ways to reach those people who don’t identify as your typical customer and convince them to shop with you.

The first is through your Core Values. When your business is transparently consistent with your Core Values through your actions, products, and services, and your website, advertising, marketing, social media, etc. reflect those values as well, people who share those values will perk up and take notice.

They still might not believe you have a product or service they need, but they will think of you first when the time arrives that they might need something you offer.

This is the backbone of all branding and relation-building advertising.

Just understand that not everyone will relate to your core values, whether they could use your services or not. That’s okay. You couldn’t service 100% of the population even if you wanted to. Your best customers will be the ones who share your values. Speak to them. Don’t worry about the rest. There are plenty of people in your market who share your values. If you can convince that crowd, you’ll have plenty of customers to keep you busy.

The second way is through Word-of-Mouth. Only when their friends tell them about your business might they even consider becoming a customer of yours.

To answer the minister’s question, first, there will always be people who need what I’m offering but won’t ever see themselves as my “customer.” Second, part of my business model (and yours, too) is to understand that you can’t reach everyone, but if you surprise and delight your current customers, they will help you reach the unreachable. Some of those unreachable will become customers. I am hoping I have done that with this minister and that she will bring some friends to next Wednesday’s presentation.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you are in the Holly, MI area and would love to get some free ideas, tips, and techniques to drive traffic through your door, into your store, onto your site, or sitting in your pews, I am doing the same presentation at noon today at the Holly Village offices (Marketing and Advertising on a Shoestring Budget) I did yesterday morning in Oxford. Next week I’ll show you how to Make Your Ads More Effective (Oxford on Wednesday at 8am, Holly on Thursday at noon.)

PPS Yes, this post is as much about Market Share and Customer Service as it is about Advertising. You got that, right?

Are You Managing or Leading?

It dawned on me yesterday as I was writing the post on when to bend the rules, that you first need to be able to teach the rules and why the rules exist. It is that “why” that makes all the difference. It is that “why” that allows your staff to know when the “why” doesn’t apply.

If you go to Google Images and type in “leader versus manager” you’ll get dozens of graphics that all say similar things. One of those things they say is …

“Managers do things the right way. Leaders do the right things.”

I will tell you that not only do you want to be a leader, you want to lead your team to be leaders. You want everyone to do the right things by your customers all the time—even if that means bending the rules.

Especially when that means bending the rules!

Related imageTo do that, you need to do three things.

First, empower them to make decisions on the floor. Give them authority to bend rules as they see fit. Give them the ability to make the call so that they don’t have to constantly go “ask a manager.” Let them say Yes to the customer’s request and then figure out how to do it.

Second, train them to be able to make those decisions. Everyone on your team needs to know the rules, but also the purpose behind the rule and situations when the rule doesn’t apply (because it no longer serves the purpose). If you hire sheep, they’ll follow all the rules and could even be “manager material”, but if you hire compassionate problem solvers who love to help other people, they’ll be leaders once you arm them with the knowledge to know when and how to serve.

Third, encourage them every time they step out and lead. The first time your employee bends a rule to surprise and delight a customer she will be scared. Did she do the right thing? Was that what you wanted? Is she going to get yelled at? Those are normal reactions. How you react makes the difference between whether she bends another rule ever again.

Here is where your leadership comes into play. Chances are pretty good that her first bending of the rules won’t be perfect in your eyes. It won’t be how you would have handled the situation. But if you lead with, “That’s not how I would have done it,” I can promise you she won’t bend any more rules in the future. If, however, you lead with, “That was great to see you making that call! You made a difference for that customer. I might have done it a little different. The next time you do that, keep in mind …”

That second approach not only encourages her to do more, it green lights her to do more because you said, “The next time you do that …” She’ll be so excited, she’ll be looking for the next chance to surprise and delight a customer.

Remember, when it comes to rules …

  • Bend the rules when it will surprise and delight the customer
  • Break the rules if they aren’t customer-centric in the first place.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Most retail chain stores no longer do any serious training for their employees. Oh, they have a sixteen-page manual for how to do things right (especially when it comes to sexual harassment or anything else that might embarrass the company), but nothing about how to surprise and delight a customer. Just because they do it that way doesn’t make it right. If you want to be better than your competition you have to do things differently than the competition. Lead your team and turn even your part-time sales clerks into leaders. Don’t manage them into managers. Not only will your team perform better, you’ll make the world a better place.

PPS The big question is always, “But what happens if I spend all that time training them and they leave?” The better question is, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

When to Bend the Rules, When to Break Them

When I was writing my new book Most Ads Suck I had a long internal debate about the word “Rules” versus the word “Principles.” There are six elements that the great ads incorporate to make them more effective. You don’t have to incorporate all six, but the more you use, the more powerful your ad can be. My question was whether to call these six elements “rules” or “principles” to follow.

I chose the word “principle” for the book because of one phrase. “Rules are made to be broken.”

If I had called them “rules” some of you rebels would have broken them just on principle alone (you know who you are.) Others would have believed you need to follow all six to be effective. You also know who you are. Principles are guides to help you be better. Rules are made to be broken.

Image result for rules made to be brokenIn this world there are the Rule-Followers and the Rule-Breakers. We need a third category. We also need Rule-Benders. These are the people who are smart enough to know when a rule just doesn’t apply to a specific situation, and are willing to make exceptions to the rule without throwing the rule completely out the window.

Here is an example …

I was in Athens, GA last weekend. We had a party of five and called a local restaurant on Saturday mid-day to see about getting a reservation for that evening. The hostess said, “I’m sorry. We don’t make same-day reservations. You have to call in advance to make a reservation.” (The Rule)

Then the hostess said, “But it’s the summer and with the students gone, we aren’t very busy, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting a table.”

“… we aren’t very busy …”

If you aren’t very busy, wouldn’t you want to make all the reservations you could to get more business?

With a reservation, we tell everyone in our party, “The reservation is at 6pm. See you then.” Without a reservation, someone in our party might say, “Hey, maybe we should try that other restaurant down the street.”

I don’t know enough about restaurants to know why they have such a rule in the first place. Maybe it was designed to show off their exclusiveness? Maybe it was designed to encourage people to plan earlier? Maybe it was designed because the hostess isn’t trained for fitting new reservations into the grid of existing reservations? If you take both reservations and walk-in traffic, it seems like a rule that needs to be broken and even eliminated. But I will give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt that the rule exists for valid reason.

With that said, I do know that if your hostess is saying, “We aren’t very busy,” she needs more training. The proper response would have been, “We’d love to see you tonight! What time would you like your reservation?” That would be a bending of the rule that would greatly benefit both the restaurant and our party of five.

In every type of retail there are rules in place. Usually those rules are created by the owner or manager to make it easier to train and set boundaries for employees. While I understand how this makes life simpler for the employee and manager, it also robs the employee of being able to do what you hired her to do—to surprise and delight your customers. if your rules are for these purposes, empower your employees to bend those rules when the opportunity arises to make a difference for a customer.

And when they do bend the rules, always applaud them for doing so, even if they bent the rules more than you would have liked. Otherwise you’ll stifle their desire to bend rules in the future. (Say, “Great job!! Now, next time…”)

Sometimes those rules are set to protect the business from the unscrupulous customers who might try to take advantage of the retailer, or simply to give the business control over the customer. If you have rules like that, those need to be broken.

  • Bend the rules when it will surprise and delight the customer
  • Break the rules if they aren’t customer-centric in the first place.

Got it?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you hire people who are compassionate problem-solvers, you’ll have some rule-benders on your team already. Explain to them why the rule exists and they’ll know when to bend them to make a difference.

Pay Yourself a Salary

Twice a month I teach a class for expectant fathers at Henry Ford Allegiance Health W.A. Foote Hospital. Fifteen years ago there was a guy at the hospital who pitched the idea of a class for new dads to show them how to change a diaper among other parenting skills. The hospital scheduled the class and then that guy took a job out of town. They called me because I was teaching classes on baby products at the store and because I had two young boys, both whom had interesting paths into this world.

This two-hour class is now one of my favorite activities each month.

I always start each class with introductions and I remind the guys sitting around the table that I am NOT a medical professional, nor have I ever played one on television. I just happen to be the father of a couple wonderful boys who has an interesting perspective on becoming a dad.

So let me preface this blog post … I am NOT an accountant, tax attorney, or payroll specialist, nor have I ever played those characters on television. I’m just an entrepreneur who has owned several small businesses and tried several different practices to see what worked best.

Image result for salaryToday I want to talk to you about the emotional and practical sides of why you, as a small business owner, should pay yourself a salary.

PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS

When you put yourself on the payroll, it legitimizes your business in the sense that you are working for money. It is no longer just a hobby. Sometimes that move alone will spark a renewed enthusiasm for you to work on growing the business. Sometimes that move will be what the bank needs to see before they loan you money. They want to know whether this is a hobby or a business.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Pay yourself what you would have to pay a manager, knowing that you can also take owner withdrawals from the profits. The top CEO’s at big corporations make a decent salary, but the bulk of those golden parachute deals is in stock options.

BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR FINANCIALS

When you put yourself on the payroll, you have a far better understanding of your costs. It helps you compare your business to industry benchmarks. It helps you understand just how much money you need to make to be successful.

At the end of the day it is an expense. If you’re on the payroll, it is easier to track that expense.

PEACE OF MIND

There is some peace of mind for getting a check every two weeks (or however often you pay). It helps your personal finances and takes some burden off the financial stresses at home.

MOTIVATION

At the same time there is also some new financial stress at work now because you have to make enough money each month to cover that new expense. This helps you dig down a little deeper to sell more, run a tighter ship or a tighter inventory, or just run a smarter business in general. When you know your expenses, you work a little harder to cover them. When you are only taking a withdrawal if there is profit, you might let a month or two slide.

SOCIAL SECURITY

The federal government does require you to pay into social security to receive social security when you retire. If you have only worked for yourself you might not have enough quarters of paying into the system to be eligible to receive from the system. Talk to your accountant or tax attorney for better advice on this.

PROFIT SHARING

If you are offering any profit-sharing with your employees, but your only source of income is the profit, you’ll be taking a much larger share of that profit than they get, which could cause some grumbling or misconceptions among the staff. If you take a salary, then your share of the profit, while still larger than theirs, won’t seem so astronomically large.

YOU GET PAID

At the end of the day, the main reason for paying yourself a salary is so that you get paid. You deserve to get paid. You’re working your tail off. If you don’t pay yourself a salary, it is easy to also not take a withdrawal because you’re worried about some bills coming up, or construction that just started, or some new equipment you want to purchase, or whether you are reinvesting enough profit back into the business, or, or, or …

There is always something that needs money. You are one of those somethings. You deserve to get paid. When you put yourself on the payroll, that happens. Plus, you find the ways to make all those other payments.

OWNER CONTRIBUTION

Sometimes you will need to give that money back because you don’t have the sales to cover the expense or you need to make that big inventory purchase, or you do have some new equipment you want to buy. Still pay yourself, then make an Owner Contribution back to the business. Talk to your accountant about the pros and cons of doing that.

DISCIPLINE

If you don’t have the discipline to make your quarterly tax payments, or keep solid records of your withdrawals, or keep money saved for taxes, putting yourself on payroll can also help with those issues. I know some people who gladly give more in taxes for the big refund check in April because, even though it isn’t the best use of that money, they know they are no good at saving it.

The bottom line is that you need to pay yourself one way or another. There are some distinct advantages for putting yourself on the payroll and paying yourself a salary each pay period. But like I said, I’m not an accountant or tax attorney. Talk to yours and figure out what will work best for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have had several doctors take my Daddy Class over the years. They have given me incredible feedback to make sure what I teach is medically accurate. I would love your feedback from your accountant if they believe anything I have said here is patently false or harmful. Thanks.

PPS Like I said yesterday, you should be making as much or more than your landlord. If rent is around 12%, shoot for at least a 6-7% salary and take the rest through owner withdrawal from profits. If you can get net profits around 10%, then you’ll have plenty to pay yourself and also reinvest in the business.

Self-Employed or Working for the Landlord?

When Toys R Us closed their Times Square store at the end of 2015—the one with the giant T-Rex and the three-story Ferris wheel—the biggest reason given was the landlords raising the rent from $12 million a year to over $52 million a year.

Image result for toys r us times squareYeah, that would be a hard expense for any retailer to cover, let alone one that was already struggling.

While the financial model is certainly different for big-box stores than it is for indie retailers, one thing that is universally true is that there is only so much profit margin you can spend on rent and expect to run a successful business.

For the typical indie toy retailer, occupancy costs (rent/mortgage and common area fees) need to be around 10-12% of gross sales for the store to be able to safely cover those costs. In fact, for a lot of businesses where keystone pricing is the norm, that number tends to hold true.

For Toys R Us, that would mean doing $100-$120 million in sales at the Times Square location. I can see that as a realistic number. But to pay $52 million, they would need to do half-a-billion in sales, over $24,000/sq ft. Even Apple couldn’t do that much in that space.

The 10-12% occupancy cost is a benchmark I use when talking to retailers about locations. Yes, you might pay a little more for a better location, but you should expect a little more in traffic and better clientele. Yes you can find locations cheaper, but you might have to pay a little more in advertising to draw traffic to your store.

But occupancy cost is only half of the equation. Here is one other number I want you to look at.

How much are you paying yourself?

Take your salary (you are paying yourself a salary, right?) and your net profit for the year. Add those two numbers together. Who made more, you or your landlord?

If you made more than your landlord (or even the same), pat yourself on the back. You are self-employed and running a smart business (as long as you’re paying yourself something, and not just reinvesting every dollar back into the business.)

If your landlord made more than you, something needs to change. You aren’t working for yourself. You’re working for him. Better for you to close shop, buy the building, and rent it to some other poor sap willing to pay you to keep their hobby afloat.

I know that sounds harsh, but it is a reality of business. If you aren’t making as much as your landlord, something needs to change. You need to sell more. You need to increase margins. You need to find a cheaper location. Something.

Or you can just accept that your business is simply a hobby and treat it as such.

I want you to make money. That’s the only reason I bring this up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Before you go lambasting me because your numbers don’t match, I fully understand that your industry may be completely different. If you belong to a trade organization, see if they have done any benchmark surveys to give you an accurate picture for your industry. Before you waste your breath on all the reasons why you aren’t making as much as the landlord (the only valid one being you are still in start-up phase), this isn’t about me. It is about you. I want you to be successfully self-employed. The landlords are already making too much. You should, too.

PPS I’ll put my thoughts why you should pay yourself a salary and whether it is better to own or rent in future posts.

Self-Checkout – The Best, Worst Thing About Retail

I hate the self-checkout. When Kroger first introduced it in Jackson I had a couple of the most frustrating checkout experiences of my life. I swore I would never go back to Kroger again. (I already hated the narrow aisles and the not-so-intuitive location of everything in our Kroger store. This was the icing on the cake!) On top of my own frustrations with using it, the self-checkout was eliminating workers. One employee could now service six checkout lanes at once. I didn’t like that, either.

My argument against the self-checkout isn’t just because of my own incompetence at using them or the employee issue. I see them as a wasted moment in the store for an employee to surprise and delight the customer one last time. It is the last impression you make on your customer and, at best, a self-checkout station can only be neutral.

The closest a self-checkout ever came to surprise and delight for me was the first time I went through one without a hassle. Unfortunately, that instantly raised the bar of expectation, at which the self-checkout has fallen miserably below on several occasions.

I do use them—especially in big-box stores—for a couple reasons. First, when you only have a small load, they are often the only “express lane” options now, and no one wants to be stuck behind a couple full grocery carts for families of six. Second—and this is the reason so many customers actually “like” self-checkout—most stores have poorly trained, horrible service at the checkout. There is no surprise and delight because no one has taught them how to surprise and delight. Neutral beats poor every time.

THE CUSTOMER’S EXPECTATION

To understand how to surprise and delight a customer at the checkout, you first have to understand what a customer expects. Customers at checkout are far different from customers who are shopping.

Time is mostly immaterial to a shopper. She will take all the time she needs to hunt for solutions, compare options, and make a decision to buy. But once that decision is made, time is now of the essence. She wants to check out quickly, accurately, and with as little hassle as possible.

Speed, Competence, and Attitude are the three attributes you need to be great at the checkout.

Unfortunately, you rarely get all three. More often than not, you only get one of those attributes in a cashier. I have been in lines where none of the three attributes were shown. Those stores are killing their customers, driving them to the self-checkout lanes, and more importantly, driving customers away for good. Since self-checkout can never be more than neutral, it can’t make up for all the horrible encounters a customer has had with a live cashier.

I understand why the big box stores do it, though. It isn’t just the cost-savings. They know that neutral is better than their cashiers can perform on average, so they’ll take the trade-off.

For your store, however, the checkout is your chance to make a positive lasting impression and cement the trust, loyalty and word-of-mouth that comes with surprise and delight. You just need Speed, Competence, and Attitude.

SPEED

A customer at checkout doesn’t want a sloth. You put your energetic people at the register who move quickly, whether running things through a scanner, typing in numbers on a screen, or handwriting a receipt. The customer recognizes people who move slowly and that gets them feeling impatient. Evaluate your checkout process to see where you can speed it up and where your cashiers can give the impression of speed through energy and enthusiasm.

COMPETENCE

Your cashiers have to know their registers inside and out. They have to know how to handle and fix problems quickly and easily. They have to know how to handle themselves whenever a surprise does happen to show that they are completely in charge of the situation. I understand that bigger stores often don’t trust their cashiers, so they limit what problems the cashiers can solve without a manager’s authorization. You need to authorize all your cashiers to be able to fix all problems, solve all issues, and make changes at the register right away. With the size of your staff, if you don’t trust your employees that much, don’t put them on the register (or maybe you shouldn’t put them on the schedule at all). 

Nothing derails a checkout like a cashier who doesn’t know what he’s doing or constantly needs help to fix problems. If you’re going to do your cash register training on the floor, there better be a competent person standing right over the trainee’s shoulder at all times to keep the register humming.

ATTITUDE

I’ve had cashiers with speed and competency, but the attitude of a dead fish. It didn’t leave me all warm and fuzzy. Cashiers need to be happy people, especially because if someone is checking out, that means bills can get paid. Cashiers need to be engaging and friendly. They need to say Hello. They need to be observant. If the customer has just placed all their items on your cashwrap and is standing there holding her wallet, please don’t ask, “Are you ready to check out?”

I actually had a cashier at Kmart ask me that question as my items were rolling down her conveyor belt. In my best Bill Engvall Here’s Your Sign impression I said, “Nope, these items just looked bored. Thought I’d give them a ride.”

Another dangerous question to ask at checkout is, “Did you find everything?”

The typical response from a customer will be, “Yes.” First, she doesn’t want to hold up the line by saying no and having you or someone else go search for her item. Second, she is secretly afraid that if she says no, nothing will happen, which would be even worse. Third, she may not have found everything because she discovered you don’t carry something she wants, but she doesn’t want to rehash that whole conversation out a second time. So when you ask that question, you’re potentially putting your customer in the position of having to tell a little white lie. That isn’t surprise and delight.

Your cashier has to be observant. Your cashier cannot ask, “Did you find everything?” but she can ask, “Do you need (fill in the blank) to go with (something the customer already has)?” In fact, that is the one area where your cashier can stand tall is in making sure no customer leaves without having everything she needs to Complete the Sale.

Another thing your cashier can do is Praise the Purchase with phrases like, “Oh, you’re going to love using that,” and “I had one of those, it was great!” and “Those are really neat.” They must be sincere phrases (which is why you always want to encourage your employees to use the products you sell), but when used properly make your customer feel smart and confident and happy about her purchases. You’ve validated her and she will remember that. She’ll love coming to your store because it makes her feel smart.

Along with Praise, a great cashier will Give Out Tips for better usage of the product. “That’s a great stroller you’ve chosen. Did the salesperson show you how the wheels snap off easily so that you can clean them when they start to squeak? I recommend a silicone spray. It works better on the plastic.” Not only does the tip make the purchase more enjoyable, it gives the customer confidence in the purchase and eliminates one potential negative (a squeaky wheel) that might cause the customer to be disappointed in the purchase later on.

The cash register is also a place to make sure people are signed up for your email newsletters or loyalty programs or Birthday Club or any other services like that. It isn’t the most ideal place because it takes time (and speed is of the essence), but if your register process isn’t the fastest, it can be a good way to occupy the customer while you’re ringing things up.

Finally, there are two other questions your cashiers might ask …

  • “Do you need help getting those items out to your car?”
  • “Do you have more shopping to do today?”

The first question applies in certain situations, but is an easy (and under-utilized) service to offer when most of your customers are in your own parking lot. The second one is especially important for downtown shops. You can often steer customers to another local store if they have more shopping to do, or to a local eatery if food is next on their agenda. You can even offer to hold their purchases while they go next door for a sandwich (if possible). That would certainly surprise and delight a customer.

To recap, a great cashier will …

  • Complete the Sale
  • Praise the Purchase
  • Offer Tips for Better Usage
  • Sign the Customer Up
  • Help the Customer Out the Door and on with her day

A self-serve checkout cannot do any of those five. That’s why it can never be more than neutral, and often simply a convenient nuisance that saves us from something worse.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yeah, that’s a lot of training you may need to do to make your cashiers great. Then again, if you hire helpful, friendly, confident people in the first place, all you really need to teach them is how to run the register and what your products do (which you should be teaching to everyone on the team anyway). They’ll take to the rest quite easily.

PPS Attitude trumps the other two attributes. A positive, friendly, engaging attitude keeps the customer occupied so that they often don’t notice that you aren’t that fast at the checkout. Similarly, a can-do, I’m-in-charge, attitude gives customers confidence even when mistakes are made and need to be fixed. “Hold on a second, let me get this straightened out,” imparts far more confidence than, “Oh my god, oh my god, what do I do now?” Confidence breeds Trust. Trust leads to loyalty.

Ask Your Customers What They Want

The one “service” my biggest competitor had that I didn’t was a Birthday Club. I wanted one for my customers. I already knew one thing I would do differently. That was the big Birthday Bell you got to ring when you came in to celebrate your birthday. What you probably don’t know was that I actually wanted a bigger bell than the 32-pound brass bell we ended up getting.

Phil holding the Birthday Bell

I wanted to run a hole through the ceiling and put a little steeple on top of the store with bronze church bell inside. That way, when you rang the bell, not only would everyone in the store know you were celebrating your birthday, so would everyone outside the store.

Unfortunately that would be a potential violation of the noise ordinance, so we went with the indoor bell.

The two parts of the Birthday Club I wasn’t sure about were the offer and the age limit. So I asked my fans on Facebook.

I first asked what people got from other birthday clubs for kids. Most birthday clubs offered a small coupon good on a larger purchase with a limited time frame to redeem. The general sentiment was that $2 and $3 coupons, especially when they came with strings attached such as a limited window to redeem and a minimum purchase, were of little interest to the child and often not enough to even garner a visit to the store. That was useful information. I knew I had to go big or go home.

With this knowledge, I sent out a postcard that was a $10 gift certificate—no strings attached. Well, okay, we had one string attached. It could only be used by the birthday person. Period. How that person used it was up to the individual. The postcard never expired. The postcard didn’t have to be used with anything else. There was no minimum purchase (although you didn’t get change back if the purchase was less than $10).

A lot of people gave us the postcard and 59 cents for their birthday purchase ($9.99 plus 60 cents for MI sales tax).

A lot of people spent way more.

Our average ticket for the birthday postcard was just under $30, which meant we made a profit (albeit a small one) on those transactions. More importantly, the postcards drove traffic. Over the last couple years we averaged over 300 postcards a month. That’s over 10 per day. Imagine ten happy customers ringing a bell and having fun spending their free money. Not only did it create excitement in the store and drive traffic, it drove word-of-mouth advertising. Everyone took pictures and video of their kids ringing the birthday bell that they posted on social media. On top of that, it created lifelong memories. I have had several customers come up to me since we closed saying that was the one thing they miss the most!

I had one more question to ask … “How long should the Birthday Club last?” Some stores aged you out at 10 years old, some at 12 years old. I wondered what my customers thought.

When I asked that question of my fans on Facebook one mom answered, “40?”

I didn’t need any more answers (although I got several that echoed her sentiment). I knew right then and there our Birthday Club would have no age limit. Sure, some of the parents and grandparents used their postcards to buy gifts for the little ones. Some, however, bought stuff for themselves. One young lady celebrated her 96th birthday by ringing the bell and buying two new decks of cards.

Without asking my customers, I might have structured the Birthday Club quite differently and it wouldn’t have been the successful program it was.

Toy House Birthday Bell

Find out what your customers want. Give them that and a little more.

We only had the Birthday Club and the Birthday Bell in the last decade of our operations, but it quickly became the highlight and focal point of a visit to Toy House. The bell was engraved and now rests in the capable hands of Ella Sharp Museum where they pull it out for special displays of Jackson’s history.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The Birthday Club worked on a variety of different levels. The ringing of the larger-than-life, 32-pound brass bell was about creating memories and spreading the word through social media posts. Rarely a day went by that we weren’t tagged in a photo or video somewhere. The $10 gift certificate was an act of generosity that outshone our competitors and positioned us as being more customer-centric than they were with all the strings attached. The no expiration on the postcard allowed customers flexibility for using it whenever it worked best for them. One family saved them all up and made a family trip in for everyone to spend their cards on one special day. One family was always traveling around their daughter’s birthday so they appreciated not having to “use-it-or-lose-it.” Another family held it for their son to celebrate his December birthday in July. Any time you can delight your customers, you should.

PPS If Goodyear had asked its dealers (its customers), I’m sure they could have helped create an even better system that would surprise and delight the end-users more than the frustrations they caused yesterday.

Good Idea, Poor Execution (Revisited)

I got my tires! My car is happy. I am, too.

From the previous post, here is what I learned …

I wasn’t the only one screwed over that day. One gal dropped her car off at 8am when the shop opened—right after finishing her overnight shift—only to find her tires weren’t in. Her car was finally getting tires as I was leaving. She has another overnight shift starting in a few hours.

Image result for goodyear assurance tripletredFortunately, the store makes their normal margin on the tire sale through the Goodyear website. I’m happy about that. The manager said as frustrating as it is, and even his franchise owners have bugged Goodyear about it, it does drive a lot of traffic to their shop, many of whom become regular customers.

The other three people in the waiting room all swore by this shop and have used them several times. We got into an interesting discussion about a regional chain tire store that has the most ubiquitous advertising always touting their low, low prices. No one in the waiting room liked or trusted that other shop (or found their prices to always be the lowest). Curious.

All in all, I waited about 65 minutes in a comfortable waiting area with friendly people, got my tires and got on my way. The manager was pleasant and helpful and apologetic for the hassle. He was also willing to answer my questions. He’s building my trust. Just watching his team in action, they all engaged with customers and did what they could to help out no matter how big or small the request.

I can see how people become regulars.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Well done, Budget Tire on Lansing Ave!

Good Idea, Poor Execution

I need new tires for my vehicle. I’ve been through this process before. It used to be easy. I had a downtown Goodyear Tire place. I went there. Supported my fellow downtown business. They always took care of me. Knew me on a first-name basis. It was only two blocks from Toy House. No worries.

They’re closed now.

Image result for goodyear assurance tripletred all-seasonSo I did what a lot of people do these days. I went online.

Let’s face it. Tires are scary. There are so many different makes and models. Each vehicle has its own requirements. Without trust between buyer and seller, it is easy to feel afraid of being ripped off. I wanted to know more about tires before I set foot in a store. I wanted to research different models, check prices (last time I got tires there was a $250 difference between the tires I got and a couple other places offering the same tire), and be prepared.

I’ve always been a fan of Goodyear, probably because of the Goodyear store downtown, probably because there used to be a Goodyear plant in Jackson that spent a lot of money at Toy House both as a company and the individuals that worked there. I found myself on the Goodyear website comparing different models the right size and style for my vehicle.

The website was good. It had side-by-side comparisons, reviews and ratings, plus all the specs like warranty, fuel-efficiency, season, comfort, etc. I narrowed it down to a couple choices and felt a whole lot smarter.

GOOD IDEA

Then the website took it a step farther. I had the ability right then and there to purchase the tires online and have them installed locally. Before I clicked, however, I went to a few local tire place websites to compare prices. No one had the tire I wanted as an offering, but their pricing on the other Goodyear tires was similar to the Goodyear site. I felt a little more confident that I was getting a fair deal.

The good idea at Goodyear was to get the purchase right away. Don’t let me go to a local shop and have them sell me on some other brand. When I clicked on the purchase button, it then gave me a choice of shops in the area where I could get those tires installed. Even better! I knew most of them, but didn’t have a relationship with any of them, so I chose the place closest to my home.

Then the Goodyear site let me choose an appointment time. It had to be two days or more later. That made sense to me, since the shop might not have the tires in stock. I chose two days later at 10am, paid for my tires, and got my confirmation email.

I will be willing to bet this website drives a lot of traffic to these tire shops because of people like me shopping online.

POOR EXECUTION

This morning I arrived for my appointment. No tires. The delivery truck doesn’t arrive until the afternoon. Plus, even if the tires were there, the shop had already booked all their bays for the morning. The shop had only received the email from Goodyear about the shipment and appointment this morning.

The guy at the shop was quite apologetic. He said he has this problem with Goodyear all the time, even though he has called them several times trying to get minor changes to their program like scheduling out three days instead of two so that he was sure he would have the tires on time and be able schedule installers. They tell him, “Sorry, that’s the way we do it.”

Fortunately for this shop, and for me, I have a wide open schedule this afternoon. So does the shop. As soon as the tires land I’ll be back and they’ll be able to get me right in. But just imagine the person who had to work their whole schedule around this appointment.

Maybe you had to drop off the car before work and find someone to take you to work, then pick you up after. Maybe you had to get a babysitter because you didn’t want to take your two-year old to sit in the waiting room of a tire shop. Maybe you had a business meeting out of town in the afternoon and really wanted those new tires before making a two-hour drive. Maybe you were leaving on vacation and were waiting on another paycheck to afford the tires, scheduled the purchase as soon as possible, but now had to delay your entire vacation a day because of this fiasco?

Can you imagine any of those people being completely upset and irate? Can you imagine any of those people taking their frustrations out on a tire shop manager for something that was totally out of his control? Can you imagine any of those people writing bad reviews of the tire shop on Yelp?

VENDORS ARE PARTNERS

As a retailer, I understand the flow of products. If I had called this shop directly, placed the order, and made the appointment, only to find that morning that they didn’t have my tires, that would have been one thing. But these guys were at the mercy of Goodyear (and, by my guess, the mercy of Goodyear’s web guys not knowing how to add holidays into their calendar).

I applaud Goodyear for taking the steps to offer this service online. That’s what a good partner does—drives traffic into your stores.

I chide Goodyear, though, for not understanding the levels of frustration and complaint they also cause their retailers because they don’t listen and adjust the system to fit the retailers. I hope the tire shop makes their full margin on these tires, if nothing else but for the hassle of having to work around Goodyear’s “system.”

In fact, I’m going to ask if that’s the case so that next time I need tires, I can find a way to make sure my local stores get what they deserve.

If you have a vendor who is truly your partner, driving traffic into your store, thank them and support them!

If you have a vendor who is causing your customers to hate you because of things out of your control, send them this blog post. 

If you are a vendor, recognize that you can do just as much damage as good, especially when you don’t listen to your retailers.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Just a cautionary tale for vendors … I have known several vendors over the years who have offered programs to try to drive traffic into stores, but either didn’t consult the retailers first, or ignored their suggestions. The programs always fell flat and often turned the retailers off from buying their products. Many of those vendors are now out of business.

PPS This goes for retailers, too. You are a partner with your customer. Before you start offering something you think is good for the customer, you might want to first ask your customer exactly what she wants. I’ll tell you a tale tomorrow about what I learned when I asked my customers questions.

The Internet Isn’t Winning

You’re losing.

Case Study #1

Image result for a5 scooterMy son wanted to buy a scooter for getting around campus. Not an electric scooter, mind you, but a simple two-wheeled scooter similar to the one he had as a child but with higher handlebars and a larger weight limit. He is a college student with Amazon Prime. He researched it online as do most kids his age. He could have bought it and had it in two days. Instead, since the website said Walmart had it, he asked if I would take him to Walmart.

Two stores later, no scooter, no sign of that scooter having ever been in either store. Guess where he’s going?

Case Study #2

A friend needed a specific type of blood sugar test strips for the machine she got. The store where she used to get them had an empty slot on the shelf for over a week. Two other stores she tried didn’t have that style. Another store had them but for over double the price.

Guess where she went?

Case Study #3

I went shopping with my other son. He has particular tastes when it comes to pants. The last style that he liked has been discontinued. After trying several stores and pants we finally found another style he liked at REI. They had one pair—in one color—in stock in his size.

“You can get more colors and sizes online,” said the clerk.

Case Study #4

Another friend was in Dick’s Sporting Goods. She found a pair of shorts she liked but not her size. The clerk, after telling her they didn’t have her size, didn’t even offer for her to go online where she not only found her size, but also found they were on clearance, even though no one had bothered to mark them as such in the store.

Case Study #5

Another friend told me she stopped shopping at Younkers because the prices at the register never matched the prices on the shelves. Sometimes the prices were higher, which meant she had to get someone to go look at the shelf tags while customers lined up at the register behind her, and then fight for the right price. Sometimes the prices were lower, which, had she known, she would have bought more than one. Either way, each trip to the checkout was fraught with anxiety and stress.

I could go on and on about several times the customer service was so poor, the selection so lacking, or the experience so frustrating, that the best solution is to avoid going shopping in brick & mortar stores at all.

When I moved back to Jackson in 1993 the Jackson YMCA was transforming one of its squash courts into a rock climbing gym. Because I had led rock climbing trips before, they hired me to supervise it. When I met with my new staff for their first day of training I explained to them that there were NO regulations guiding how rock climbing gyms should be run, mainly because these gyms were relatively new and there hadn’t been enough injuries or accidents or insurance claims to force those regulations.

I told the staff that we would NOT be the cause of any such regulations. Our gym would be run at the highest standards of safety. We only had two incident reports in eight years and no major injuries.

Today you need to have the same conversation with your staff.

Your store will not be the cause of driving anyone to the Internet to do their shopping.

  • Your store will have the must-haves in stock.
  • Your store will have the merchandise properly displayed, priced, sorted, and available.
  • Your store will have a staff that knows the products inside and out including not only what you sell, but the most popular products you don’t sell (and why you don’t sell them).
  • Your store will be the store that offers solutions to problems.
  • Your store will be the store that makes checkout a breeze.

That’s what keeps people in the store and off the Internet. That’s what winning in the store looks like.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My son is living proof that even today’s youth still want to shop in a store. The stores just aren’t doing their job of making it worthwhile. Worse yet, each poor brick & mortar experience reflects poorly on all brick & mortar stores, especially when it happens at an indie store that is supposed to be the pinnacle for customer service.
Don’t be that store that brings everyone else down.