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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.

Case Study: Taking Care of the Customer Science Safari Style

My buddy, Sean, owns a toy store in Cary, North Carolina called Science Safari. I am sharing his story as he posted it on FB …

Image result for science safari north carolina“Weird occurrence… It’s happened twice in the last week. I certainly don’t mind, but I’ve never seen it in 30 years of retail nor ever thought of doing it as a parent…

“I had two people print up their own (unauthorized/counterfeit) Science Safari Gift Certificates and give them to their child. One for a class and one for $10 from the Tooth Fairy (side note, what kind of Tooth Fairy hands out $10 notes?!?). 

“The parents made good on them, giving me the money on the sly.

“Strange, but I’ll take your money.”

Yes, two different parents had the idea to print up unauthorized gift certificates to his store and give them to their kids. What would your first thought be if a customer handed you an unauthorized gift certificate?

Then the parents paid him on the sly for those “gift certificates” and the kids got to use them in the store.

Three thoughts come to mind.

First, Sean should be honored that parents, when trying to come up with a cool last-minute gift, thought of his store first. That’s when you know you’re already playing the customer service game right.

Second, here are a couple of parents who need to work on their planning ahead skills.

Third, and most importantly, as strange as this occurrence was, Sean and his team didn’t hesitate one second to allow it to happen. “Strange, but I’ll take your money.” Sean served those customers the way they wanted to be served. Sean made those last-second-forgot-to-plan-ahead customers look like heroes to their kids. Sean said, “Yeah, we’ll take care of you.”

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”

That, my friends, is what winning the customer service game looks like.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Making your customers feel like, look like, or be the hero is always the right thing to do. Always.

PPS If you live anywhere near Cary, NC, put Science Safari on your radar. It is definitely a store worth visiting.

Don’t Get Stuck in Irons

As I tell my sailors every morning, we cannot control the wind, but we can control the direction of our boat and the trim of our sails. Time and time again we talk about how sailboats cannot sail directly into the wind, only at angles to the wind. When your boat is pointing directly into the wind, it is called being in “irons” because you feel shackled and cannot move forward.

Image result for sailboat in ironsYoung sailors learn quickly, however, that they have to turn the boat through irons to get from one angle to another to go upwind. To turn successfully, they have to fully commit to the turn. Make a gradual or wishy-washy turn and they risk getting stuck in a position where they cannot move forward.

In fact, one of the commands we shout during turning is, “Hard to the lee!” which means the helmsman must push the tiller hard to the leeward side of the boat to make the boat turn. We don’t say, “Easy to the lee,” or, “Gradually to the lee.” The command is “Hard!” Commit fully to the turn and do it hard and fast.

That lesson applies to your business as well. If you need to change your business—maybe change the way you are advertising, or change the way you are hiring, or change the way you are pricing, or change the way you service your customers—the best way to make that change is hard and fast. Commit fully to the change and get it done.

When sailboats turn fast, they do tip a little. Smart sailors are prepared for this and use it to their advantage to keep their boat speed up. When you make hard, fast changes, your business will tip a little. If you have prepared well for the change, you’ll be back up to speed quickly.

If you try to make a gradual change, however, you’ll get stuck halfway between the old way and the new way. You’ll give the employees and customers who hate change (no matter how necessary) more time to build up their defenses against it. You’ll be stuck in irons, unable to complete the change and move forward.

You cannot control the economy, but you can control the direction your business is facing and how you operate it. When it comes time to make a change, pick a direction and go there hard and fast.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Change is not easy. Even in sailing I teach my kids to first commit hard to one direction and don’t change directions until necessary. We also plan our changes well in advance. Take all the time you need to plan your change so that when you start the change, you can make it hard and fast. The better you plan, the more smoothly it will happen. I spent most of 2005 and part of 2006 planning a new layout for our store. We were able to move every single product and every single shelving unit in a 30,000 sq ft store including the location of our six cash registers in just three days. In other words … Plan Slow and Change Fast. That’s how you keep a sailboat and a business humming along.

PPS Sometimes the wind changes directions and you find your boat stuck in irons without warning. The faster you notice, the easier it is to adjust your boat and get unstuck. Sometimes the economy or the industry or the traffic changes. The faster you notice, the easier it is to adjust your business and get unstuck.

The Fine Line Between Chaos and Just Plain Messy

Chaos: noun /’kā-äs/ : behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions (thank you, Google)

Chaos is a system too complex for the average observer to see any order.

I hated to file things away. Just not my thing. I would let stacks of papers and catalogs grow to the point of toppling over before biting the bullet and putting them away where they belong.

Most people called my desk messy. But in reality it was more chaotic than messy because I knew exactly what was in each of the piles. I knew there was a system and order. it was just too complex for the average person to see.

They called it messy. And they were right. Why?

Because perception trumps reality. I could argue about my “system” until the cows come home, but you and everyone with you would just see a hot mess.

Image result for kohls mens departmentThat’s how customers often feel about your merchandising. There might be some sort of order to why you merchandised certain products where you did, but if that order isn’t easily recognized, then to your customers, your store is a mess. (Then again, you might be like the men’s pants at Kohl’s and be an actual mess!)

The degree to which your chaos will look messy has a lot to do with the general design and layout in your store. There are generally two distinctly different styles of setting up your store or department, and they have two different levels of allowable chaos. You could go Military or Whimsy.

MILITARY STYLE MERCHANDISING

Characteristics: Rows and aisles are straight and easily navigable. Product is displayed orderly by type and size in neat and even rows.

Pros: Easy to navigate through the store. With proper signage, it is easier to find the product you already knew you wanted. Customers who wish to browse the whole store can track where they have been and where they haven’t. Much more navigable for shopping carts and strollers. Sense of order and control for the store. Harder for shoplifters to hide.

Cons: There is less sense of discovery because it is harder to get products directly in front of a customer. Endcaps become the prime real estate but are limited. Customers are less enticed to browse. Harder to change displays and departments.

Use: This is a common layout for grocery stores and large discount stores. It also makes sense for stores that appeal more to men. Men are less likely to browse and want to find their products with the least amount of work. If you sell mostly commodities, this style suits you best.

Chaos is deadly for these stores. They are built on order. To be successful, you have to be stocking and straightening constantly.

WHIMSICAL STYLE MERCHANDISING

Characteristics: No defined rows or straight lines. Lots of curves, free-standing displays, and a meandering path. Product is grouped but not necessarily ordered.

Pros: A lot of product ends up facing directly at the customer as she makes her way through the store. More chance for discovery of new products or forgotten products. Sense of wonder and discovery at every turn. Easy to change out product displays. Store always feels new.

Cons: Not easy for strollers or shopping carts. Difficult to run in and grab something quick. Can create bottlenecks of traffic. Feels less ordered. Much more difficult to spot products out of place. Easier for shoplifters to hide.

Use: Clothing stores and gift shops employ this style to great success. Everywhere you turn a new display is facing right at you. Small boutique stores of all kinds can employ this style. Even departments within bigger stores can use this style. Just remember that it is a put off for men and for customers who want to shop quick. It appeals more to customers who like to browse and discover. If you sell mostly new and unique items, this style suits you best.

Chaos is much more forgiven in a Whimsy store – as long as the displays are neat. If you have a creative merchandiser who can make displays look fantastic, you can sell a lot of cool merchandise in a store like this. The trick, however, is that unlike the Military style, it is a lot harder to notice the messes when they do happen.

There is a fine line between chaos and mess and more often than not indie retailers are on the wrong side of that line. If you’re not sure of your own chaos, have a friend not affiliated with the store come in and see if she can tell the order of your store. If not, then customers might think you’re too messy to bother.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The great stores employ enough people to keep the aisles and displays neat and clean and stocked no matter what style of merchandising. Plus, those extra employees on the floor discourage shoplifting. In the race to the top, this is one of the separating factors.

PPS There are several studies that show how chronically disorganized people like me are actually smarter than average. That’s fine for my desk (and yours), but you don’t need a study to know that a hot mess of a display will turn customers away. As messy as I am, I’ve walked out of several stores because I didn’t want to dig through the heap to find what I wanted. Don’t let potential customers do the same in your store.

PPPS Your merchandising is part of your Branding because it sets the “feel” of the store. It is usually the first emotion someone feels when they enter.

They Thought They Had Helped

I went into a sporting goods store looking for a walking stick. Unlike most guys, I’m not afraid to ask for help in a retail store. I approached the first clerk I saw and asked, “Do you have any walking sticks?”

“I don’t know. Let me ask someone …
She doesn’t know, either. If we did they would be in camping.”

Then the clerk walked away, thinking she had been incredibly helpful.

Fortunately for me, I had been in this store before and knew where the camping section was. Unfortunately for me, I was looking for a tall, skinny item, not thinking that walking sticks telescope down to almost nothing. A quick walk down the camping aisle proved fruitless, so I asked another clerk in the area about walking sticks.

“Did you see any in the camping aisle?”

“No.”

“Then we must be sold out. Sorry.”

Then the clerk walked away thinking he had been helpful.

Both clerks engaged with me. Both answered my questions. Both walked away thinking they had given me good customer service. I was about to walk out empty-handed, but on my return trip down the camping aisle, I happened to notice a small, skinny box down in the corner. Upon closer inspection, they had three different types of walking sticks in stock on their shelves, just not in the packaging I was expecting.

I got my walking stick, no help from the clerks who thought they were helping me.

I tell you this as a cautionary tale. If your staff training consists of teaching your staff to engage with customers and answer their questions, you are likely losing sales. The two clerks both did that for me, but neither solved my problem. If instead of answering questions, they were taught to solve my problem, the interaction would have been different.

“She doesn’t know either. If we had any, they would be in camping. Let me walk you over to camping and help you look.”
“She doesn’t know either. Let me look it up on the computer and see what it says.”
“She doesn’t know either. Let me ask the buyer for camping.”
“She doesn’t know either. Let me call another store to see if they have any.”

Notice that neither of the clerks asked me any questions to clarify what I wanted or why I wanted it. Neither offered to walk over and look with me. Neither offered to take my name and call me when they got more walking sticks in. Neither suggested another store where I might find the item I needed. Neither offered to look in their system to see if they even sold walking sticks. Yet they both engaged with me and answered my questions. They walked away thinking they had helped.

Don’t assume your customers know what they are looking for. Don’t assume your customers know where to look. Don’t assume just because you answered a question, you’ve offered any level of service. It isn’t great customer service until the customer’s reason for coming in has been fully resolved.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We kept an Internet-wired computer up front because sometimes customers would ask for items by a different name than we knew or a different version of a product we carried. A quick search on Google showed us what the customer wanted and helped us either find it or offer an alternative solution.

PPS Every customer that walks through your door did so for a reason. Your staff’s job is to connect and engage with that customer well enough that they tell you their reason and ask for assistance. When you take on the mindset of solving their problems, resolving their issues, then you are on your way to great customer service.

How to Find a Master

(Note: this is a longer post than usual. Set yourself some time to give it a good read and bookmark it so that you can come back to it as necessary.)

You’re the Jack-of-all-Trades. You’re at least mildly competent at all aspects of your job. Like you, your store is mildly competent, too. But you want to take it to a higher level. To do that, you need to either become a Master at the aspect where you’re least competent (or the thing you least desire to do), or hire a Master at that aspect.

BECOMING A MASTER

Image result for masterBecoming a Master means training, taking classes, reading books, watching videos, studying other experts and Masters, practicing and experimenting, recording and measuring your progress. Becoming a master takes times. And in the process, you have to steal time from your other duties.

If you have lots of free time on your hands, take the aspect of your job where you are the worst and become a Master at it.

Chances are pretty good that you don’t have lots of free time, and where you’re the worst is usually what you also like to do the least.

FINDING A MASTER

Finding someone else better than you to do what you don’t want to do (or can’t do) is the faster way to get your business to the next level. First, you get that part of your business up and running at a higher level right away. Second, you free up more of your time to do what you do best. Third, the combination of those first two will make you enough money to pay for that Master.

Here is the recipe for finding that Master:

  • Define the Job clearly including tasks and how success will be measured
  • Define the skills necessary for doing the job well
  • Write a clear and concise hiring ad that spells out the skills you wish to hire
  • Post the ad in smart places
  • Offer to pay above-average wages
  • Create a training program to train the necessary skills that you want but weren’t part of the skills you wish to hire
  • Be clear and unwavering on how success will be measured

For instance, if you want to hire someone to take over your social media presence, you might do the following …

Social Media Manager: This person will be responsible for making sure the business has a social media presence that is updated daily, consistent with our Core Values, and in line with our in-store promotions and events. This person will engage customers, respond quickly and professionally to comments and questions, and grow our online presence by double digits every six months. This person will be able to handle complaints quickly and positively. This person will be able to work with the sales clerks and other staff to make sure posts are relevant to what is happening in the store. This person will answer directly to the owner. This person will be monitored weekly for postings and consistency of message, measured monthly for growth and engagement, and evaluated every six months for progress towards goals.

Skills: This person will be someone who is creative, loves to interact with others both in person and online, knows how to de-escalate a negative situation, has good spelling and grammar skills, knows how different social media work and how to use them best, is tech-savvy, is dependable and reliable, has a strong understanding about the needs and wants of our customers, understands the ins and outs of our industry, puts the needs of the company first, and understands how he or she will be measured.

Help Wanted Ad: Are you a social media marketing genius with a track record of success that loves to engage with customers and turn them into fans? Do you have a background in marketing and advertising? Do you love to be creative and different? Can you spin anything and everything positively? Do you like working in an environment where you know exactly how your success will be measured? Are you worth more than the average pay for this type of position? Please apply at:

Posting: Post on your own online page. Post in LinkedIn and Facebook groups for Social Marketing. Post on Twitter.

Salary: A quick Google search shows that social media managers make on average $15.22 per hour. Armed with that knowledge and the knowledge of your local economy (is it greater or less than the national average?), you might want to offer at least $17-$20/hour or more to attract a higher level of applicants. If you get a true Master, it will be money well spent. My grandfather always believed you cannot pay too much to a great employee.

SORTING THE APPLICANTS

Once you get applicants, you need to sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak. The first round of weeding out is simply removing anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements you listed in your ad. If the person didn’t explain in their cover letter or their visit to your store why they fit the criteria you listed, they won’t be good at communicating with your customers. The second round for a position like this would be grammar and spelling. You don’t want poor grammar or spelling undoing your social presence. The third round is where you start to choose who you want to interview. You look for keywords in their cover letter and resume that signal their Core Values and see how those match up with yours. You also might look for things like longevity in a position, commitment to work, growth in job titles and responsibility. Most importantly, you’re looking for people who love to do this more than you do.

Once you have your interviewees, you need questions that will draw out the information you want. People in interviews are ready to tell you what they think you want to hear. The way to get around this is to ask questions about things they did rather than what they think. Actions speak louder than words and tell you more about their personality traits than philosophical questions. Some might embellish the facts a little, but for the most part they will be more brutally honest. The key phrase I like to use is, “Tell me about a time when …”

  • Tell me about your most (least) successful social media campaign. What did you do? How well did it work? What did you learn from it?
  • Tell me about the hardest customer/person you ever had to deal with online. How did it go? How was it resolved? What did you learn from it?
  • Tell me about the hardest thing you had to do at your last job. How did you accomplish it? What did you learn from it?

If you’re a long-time follower of my blog or read my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, you know that I preach hiring the unteachable skills and teaching all the rest. The same applies to hiring a Master. The only difference here is that the “unteachable skills” are actually teachable skills that are above your level to teach. In this situation, experience on the job carries more weight, depending on how much training and learning came from the experience. That’s why each of the previous “Tell me about …” questions concludes with, “What did you learn?” You might get answers where you wonder if the learning is happening before your eyes because they never thought about it before now. That’s okay as long as there is learning and it appears they are learning the right stuff.

The training program you set up in this situation is primarily to teach them the ins and outs about your particular business and products (note that knowing your industry was not in the ad because it is not a trait your applicants need to bring to the table). You will also teach them what you already know about your particular customers and how they like to be reached, and teach them about your Core Values and what you hold most dear.

The final step, however, is the most important. Once you find your Master and define the way they will be measured, you need to step back and let them work their mastery. Measure as planned. Ask for clarity as needed. As long as they are hitting their benchmarks, let them be the expert you hired.

You have the blueprint. Go take your business to the next level.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The example above is hastily written to give you the idea of the steps to follow. The more thoroughly you define the job and how you will measure success, the better you can create the definitive list of skills for the job. The better your list of skills, the better you can write a Helped Wanted Ad that identifies people with the skills you wish to hire. The better your list of skills you want to hire, the better the interview questions you can create. The better you know your Core Values, the better you can identify the kind of people who will fit in best.

PPS If you need a Human Resources person because hiring and training is the skill you lack the most and wish to give up, you have to at least become reasonably competent in the short run. The above blueprint will help.

Jack of All, Master of None

I bought a multi-tool the other day. Since I no longer have my own bike shop to fix up my bikes I bought a multi-tool designed specifically for fixing bikes. It even included spoke wrenches. Eighteen tools in one little package. I got my first chance to use it a couple days ago. You can probably guess what happened. Like most multi-tools, it did a competent job (except for the spoke wrenches that failed miserably), but it wasn’t all that easy to use. Having the individual tools for each job would have been a whole lot better. It leads me to ask this question …

My bike multi-tool. Love the wrenches and options, hate the spoke wrenches.

Is it better to be a Jack-of-all-trades-Master-of-none, or incredibly amazing at one skill?

If you’re an indie retail store owner, you’re probably going with Jack. You wear many hats. You have to know your Products well enough to be a competent buyer. You have to understand Retail Math to get your books balanced, keep your inventory in check, and keep the cash flowing. You have to know something about Marketing and Advertising and Public Relations to keep attracting new people. You have to know Human Resources so that you can hire and train a staff to help you run the store. You have to understand insurance and leasing laws and tax rules. You have to know how to manage people, products, and crises.

In fact, you’re so busy playing the role of Jack, you have a hard time getting really good at any single element of it.

That’s the life of an indie retailer. At least that’s what many indie retailers believe. But let’s look at the big picture.

If you play the role of Jack and do everything mildly competent, what do you have? A mildly competent retail store. If, however, you hired someone fantastic at one element, while you were mildly competent at the rest, how would your business look differently? How would that change if you found several people, each with a specific skill you lacked?

Sure, it is a risk to hire someone else and turn over parts of your baby, your business, to that person. At the same time, it is the only way  to grow past mildly competent (and that’s assuming you are mildly competent at all elements of running a store). 

Sure, it is an expense to hire someone else to do a job your’re already doing. At the same time, if they are truly a Master, they will more than pay for themselves by taking your store to the next level. Plus, they will free you up to spend more time getting better at the things you do.

Jack can get the job done, but only a Master will get you to the next level. 

Here’s my challenge to all of you multi-tool Jack retailers out there. Go find a spoke wrench that works incredibly well at truing a wheel. Go find a socket wrench, too. And maybe a fantastic screw driver with a solid head and a perfect grip. Hire someone better than you to do jobs you’re only mildly competent at doing. Then take your free time to become a master at the stuff you’re already pretty good at doing.

Not only will your store grow leaps and bounds, you’ll have a lot more fun running it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’ve been a Jack most of my life. It is hard to accept that you aren’t great at everything and that more often than not, you are better off getting help from someone better.  Fortunately you do not need a twelve-step plan to break free of this Jack habit. Just two steps will do.

  1. Pick one of your job duties or requirements that you either hate doing, or recognize that you aren’t that great at doing.
  2. Hire someone else that is incredible at doing that particular job or duty and let them do it.

It pays more than it costs.

PPS The key phrase in all of this is “someone better than you” at that particular skill or job. Next post I’ll talk about how to find that person.

The Sweetest Sound is Your Name

Have you ever had that “Cheers!” moment where you walked into a place and everyone shouted your name? I’ve been blessed to have it happen to me several times. It never gets old. Never. In fact, it is one of the better feelings on this planet. I know when I hear my name shouted like that, I’m among friends. I know when I hear my name shouted like that, I’m where I am wanted and where I belong. It is one of the sweetest sounds you’ll ever hear.

Heck, just being greeted by name by a single voice when I walk through a door is pretty darn good. As I mentioned in a previous post, we are creatures of habit and familiarity. If you know me by name, then we’ve reached a certain level of comfort and familiarity.

The same can be said of your customers.

Image result for name tagThere are many consultants out there with data-mining programs to find out as much information about your customers as possible so that you can fulfill their every need. While all that info is valuable, the one piece of info with the greatest amount of value is her name.

Without her name, you can’t create the kind of relationship that turns her from a customer into an evangelist for the store. Without her name, you can’t build the level of trust that turns her into a lifelong fan of your store. All the other data is useless if you don’t first know her name. (All the other data is useless if you can’t make an emotional connection with her, but that’s a post for another day.)

There are many ways to learn a customer’s name. You can sign her up for your email list. You can look at her credit card when she is paying (which you should be doing anyway). You can simply ask her.

The best way is through conversation. Here is a simple structure you can teach to your staff if they struggle to get conversations going with customers.

  • Compliment her.
  • Ask her questions related to the compliment.
  • Get her to talk about herself or her kids (her favorite subjects).
  • Share a little about yourself that relates to what she said.
  • Introduce yourself – more often than not she will reciprocate.
  • Use her name repeatedly throughout the rest of your interaction to help you remember it.

Not only do you get her name, you get her talking. You start building the relationship that leads to familiarity and trust. The best sales people do this instinctively. Fortunately, it can be taught to everyone else. Teach your staff and have them practice on each other. The other benefit is that as your staff gets better at learning names, their own confidence grows and they get better at serving your customers, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It might seem a little phony at first. Not everyone is a natural conversationalist. But if you want to be a good salesperson, it is a skill you need to learn. Plus, it isn’t as phony as you think. You’re trying to build a relationship in a short window of time. This is just speed dating in a retail setting.

Some Things Change, Some Things Shouldn’t

I saved one item from the Toy House when we closed. One item that had endured the entire 67 years of our existence. One item that had served one single purpose, unchanging, for the store’s entire life. It was the metal box we used to hold our layaway cards. If you ever had a layaway at Toy House, your name was on a card in that box.

The cards changed over the years. We updated them with different logos. We went to duplicate paper when our printers changed. We added services to our layaway program. We even made a major point-of-sale software provider change the way their programming did layaway so that it matched our level of service.

The layaway program changed, but the box remained the same.

Any business that has been around ten or more years knows how drastically business can change. For most retailers, your product changes every year, sometimes several times a year. Your marketing changes as your market changes. Employees come and go. Customers come and go.

But change is scary. That is why we cling to the known. We hold onto what we remember. We defend the status quo. We use marketing that worked before even if it isn’t working now. We sell products long past their peak. We hold onto employees long past their usefulness.

The layaway box reminds me of one simple truth. When something you are doing is no longer productive, you need to change it. The box did its job quietly, efficiently, and unassuming. The layaway program, however, went through many changes to accommodate the needs of the customers.

Here is your summary of what should change in your store …

Never Change: Your Core Values, Putting Your Customer First

Don’t Change Now: Anything that is productive and efficient

Change Now: Everything else

Change doesn’t have to be major. Sometimes you just need a little tweak here or there to raise the productivity and efficiency of a program or policy or employee. Paint a wall. Try a new product line. Change the terms of a policy. Move a display or two. Upgrade the phone system. Reprint signs. Reword your phone message. Add a new training program.

Notice also that I didn’t say eliminate. Just like you, your customers like what is familiar and comfortable. Make your changes simple, customer-centric, and obviously better for everyone. It will still feel familiar and comfortable, only better and more productive. As credit cards became more common, our layaway program became less used. We tweaked it to fit the needs of those who still loved it, without getting rid of it entirely.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The accompanying photo was taken in 1957 at the original store on First Street. That is my grandfather, Phil Conley, who founded Toy House. The layaway box is in the foreground and pretty full. Grandpa taught me a lot about Core Values and Putting Your Customer First.

PPS I don’t know what I am going to do with that box quite yet. I’m open to suggestions.

Happy 4th of July (Whether You’re Open or Not)

Happy 4th of July!

If you worked for me at Toy House, today would be a paid holiday. Same with New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We only had two unpaid days we were closed—the Sundays before Memorial and Labor Day. Nine closed days, seven paid holidays.

Image result for fireworksYeah, I lost business being closed those days.

Yeah I gained business being closed those days.

Yeah, I increased payroll being closed those days.

Yeah, I decreased payroll being closed those days.

Wait, what?

First, understand that my store was in a downtown of a city surrounded by over one hundred lakes. No one was downtown. No one was going downtown on Memorial Day, 4th of July or Labor Day. If you are near the beach or amusement park, or river where the fireworks are going off, you might be better off being open.

The other holidays I lost business, especially Thanksgiving and New Years—days that many other retailers are open. At the same time, because I made a big deal out of giving my staff paid time off to be with their families, I actually gained loyalty from my customers who shared those values. Giving up business to be good to my staff made my brand stronger and helped me build trust among my customers. They realized our store was not driven only by the almighty dollar.

The key was letting my customers know why I was closed and what I was doing.

As for payroll, sure paid holidays are payroll with no income. I could be closed without offering pay. Then again, the biggest expense in payroll long-term is employee turnover. Take care of your staff and they’ll take care of you. Plus, it reinforced my values of putting my staff’s needs near the top of the list. My customers saw that and appreciated it. My staff truly appreciated it. In the long run it was a win-win all around.

You don’t have to be closed for holidays. In fact, you might be in a situation where you can’t be closed. I’m not telling you to be closed, either. I’m telling you to be true to your values and make sure your customers know exactly what you value. You’ll attract more customers that share those values, which will more than make up for any sales you might sacrifice or expenses you might add on in the process.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re gonna be open on those holidays, make it special for both your staff and your customers. They both are in your store instead of out celebrating. Go all out and celebrate in style. If I was open today, I’d be grilling hot dogs out front and singing patriotic songs.

Give Them What They Want

Tonight I’m doing a repeat performance of last week’s Campfire Sing-Along at The Poison Frog Brewery. Last week I brought songbooks with the lyrics to forty-three songs from the likes of John Denver, The Eagles, Dobie Gray, Indigo Girls, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Beatles, Garth Brooks, and more. The evening went like this … Pick a song you want to sing and I’ll play it while we all sing it. Seemed simple enough, right?

June 23, 2017 behind The Poison Frog Brewery

Immediately people started asking for songs not on the list. They weren’t bad requests. I love Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. But they weren’t songs on the list or in the songbook with all the words. Still, people asked.

You know me. I’m all about making the customer happy. I’ve added a few of those requested songs to the list for tonight. I’ve added a few more songs as well.

What does that have to do with retail?

Every single retailer in America thinks they have a great selection of products just as much as I thought I had a great selection of songs. But there are products your customers come in asking for by name that you don’t have. There could be a good reason why you don’t have those products. Maybe you can’t get them. Maybe you don’t like the profit margins. Maybe you consider those products inferior to what you carry.

Keep in mind, however, if a customer stops in and asks if you have something, that means the customer thought of you as a place that would sell that product.

If your customers are constantly asking for certain items, maybe you need to reconsider carrying them. Or at the very least have a far better answer than either, “No,” or “We can’t get them.” If you keep saying, “No,” they will stop coming in and asking.

If it is something you either can’t get or simply don’t want to get because there is a better alternative, you could say, “No we don’t but can I show you something similar (better)?”

If it something you don’t carry and have never really thought about carrying, you could reply, “No we don’t. I’ll have to look into carrying that. Thanks for the suggestion.”

If a customer is asking, the customer thinks of you as a place that would have it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could say, “Yes we do,” more often than, “No we don’t,”?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My stock reply to requests not in the songbook is simply, “I’ll have to learn that for next time.” Usually I’m looking it up the very next day. If they think I can play it, I don’t want to disappoint them. Any time you can avoid saying “No” is a good time.