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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.

My Second Favorite Retail Conversation

“He left Detroit 9am Christmas Eve. Someone, somewhere had to have the one toy his sweet little six-year-old wanted. Six cities, seven stores later he stood, travel-weary, across the counter from me. ‘I suppose you don’t have any Simon games, either.’ As I handed over the last of my Simon games he smiled and said, ‘God Bless You!’ Believe me, he already has. Merry Christmas from the Toy House in Downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.”

That was the ad I ran as our whole Christmas ad campaign in both 2005 and 2007. The first time I ran it, we smashed every holiday sales record ever. The second time we pushed the bar even higher.

It is a powerful story. More importantly, it’s true. It happened at 4:05pm on Christmas Eve in 1980. It is one of those moments that sticks with you all your life.

Image result for original simon gameI was 14 years old. My parents hired me to stand behind a glass display case and help customers with hand-held electronic games like Simon and Coleco Football. Simon was the hot game that year. We could barely keep them in stock.

Shortly after Black Friday we were completely sold out. We took customers’ names and phone numbers in case we got another shipment in. As I recall, we did get a few in, but we had more names than we had product, so they were quickly snatched up.

On Christmas Eve my mom would always go through the layaway file to see if there were any large layaways not yet picked up. We closed at 5pm and didn’t want someone to miss out on having their gifts. Mom called one such customer who had forgotten he had even started a layaway. He told her to cancel it. He would be in after Christmas to get his deposit back. It was 4:02pm.

One of the items in that layaway was a Simon game. With less than an hour until we closed it was too late to call someone on our waiting list. Mom placed the box at my feet behind the counter and said, “See if you can sell this before we close.” It was 4:04pm.

At just that moment a large man walked through the front doors. One of our staff pointed him toward the glass cases. In my memory he was around 6ft 2in tall but with shoulders slumped by life. He looked tired and beaten when he pointed at the empty spot in our game case and said, “I suppose you don’t have any Simon games either.”

I told him, “This is your lucky day,” while reaching down by my feet to grab the last Simon game. I handed him his prize possession and he couldn’t stop saying, “God Bless You.” He said it over and over and over while leaning over the counter to hug me. Tears were running down his face. Soon we were both crying and hugging.

He told me his story. He and his wife had adopted their 6-year-old granddaughter earlier that year. All she wanted for Christmas was a Simon game. She had asked Santa several times. With all she had been through, he was going to do everything in his power to make her Christmas special. For weeks he checked every toy store in Detroit. No luck. On Christmas Eve he left Detroit, vowing not to return until he found a Simon game. He went to a couple toy stores north of town, then on to Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek. At the Battle Creek store they told him that if anyone had one, it would be Toy House. God was shining down on both of us that day.

I tell you this story, but I could have told you four others almost exactly like it. This one just happened to be the first. It is the one I get the most choked up retelling.

You have stories like this, too. 

If you’ve worked in retail you have had these serendipitous moments where the whole world aligns just right. It is what keeps us going through the hard times. It is what reminds us of the difference we make.

The only question I have to ask is, Are you sharing those stories? If not, you should. That’s what gets your fan base fired up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I call it my second favorite only because luck played such a big role. My first favorite was based more on what we did.

PPS Just to show you how powerful stories are, we ran that as our sole ad for our 2005 holiday campaign. It didn’t tell you our hours or our location. It didn’t tell you about Free Gift Wrapping or Layaway. It didn’t even talk about a product we were selling in 2005. But it did share the emotions and feelings of the Christmas spirit, with a heaping dose of Nostalgia thrown in. Check the boxes. Didn’t look or sound like an ad. Told a story. Made only one point. Spoke to the heart. Spoke to the tribe.

PPPS Yes, God has blessed me many times over.

Frigidaire Made Me Say a Bad Word

I installed a dishwasher today. It only took me four trips to the hardware store. The first one I cussed all the way there. I had to crank up the music to make the people in cars next to me think I was singing. The next three were my own fault and I take full blame. (I still had the music turned up, but that was just for my listening pleasure.)

The issue was a small part that is required on all dishwashers, standard for pretty much all new models, and sold separately for every dishwasher manufacturer out there. The part cost me a whopping $6.35. It is a simple elbow (pictured) that attaches to the dishwasher, to which you hook up your water supply line. I already had the water supply line from the old dishwasher, but the elbow on the old dishwasher wasn’t the right size for today’s new dishwashers.

Why isn’t this part—that is required and now universal—included with the dishwasher? It’s like buying a car for $25,000 and then they tell you it will be another $50 to get the keys.

Why didn’t the person who sold the dishwasher tell us that the dishwasher was sold a la carte and that we’d have to buy another piece to make it work?

Why did I not have everything I needed to “complete the sale?” All I did was curse the store that sold the dishwasher and gave the rest of my business to another hardware store.

The first problem was obviously Frigidaire’s. If I was them, I would include the $6 piece with the sale of every dishwasher. I would build it into my price and then go advertise that only my products come with everything you need to complete the project. The other companies sell you an incomplete product.

The second problem was the sales clerk’s fault. After watching a YouTube video on installing dishwashers, I found out this missing part is known and expected to be missing. Since none of the dishwashers come with this part, there should be a HUGE display of them next to the dishwashers with a big sign that says, “DON’T FORGET THESE EXTRA PARTS YOU WILL NEED!!!!” At the very least, the sales person should have known to suggest the part before we got to checkout.

This is what I mean when I say “complete the sale.” It is what Bob Negen means when he talks about “the perfect sale.” It isn’t an add-on, it is a necessity of great customer service.

When your customer gets home, she should have everything from you that she possibly needs to use the main product she bought.

If she doesn’t, not only will she think poorly of you, she may very well go to another store to get the stuff you should have sold her! (That’s what I did.)

Frigidaire made me angry for not including the part. Lowe’s made me angry for not selling me the part. Hammond Hardware is my hero for not only finding me the right part, but also helping me when I found out the old supply line was no good either because it didn’t have standard fittings, nor did the pipe to which it attaches. (To John at Hammond, who helped me out, you’re a true customer service hero. To Dave, the boss, your whole crew deserves praise. I wish you guys sold the dishwashers in the first place!)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Plumbing is one area where I know I don’t suffer from Dunning-Kruger Effect. I knew I didn’t know. That’s why I went to my local store when I needed help. I didn’t trust that anyone at Lowe’s would know more than I did and I wasn’t in the mood to try to teach myself. Buying the dishwasher was transactional by default. None of the stores that sold dishwashers had won my heart. Buying the parts, however, was relational.

PPS If Lowe’s had told me I needed the part and I said no thank you, then two things would have occurred. First, I would not have blamed them for not having what I need. Second, and more importantly, my levels of trust with them would have gone up considerably. Since they didn’t say anything, my levels of trust dropped dramatically. Not good when you’re trying to build relationships with your customers.

Reading Better, First Impressions, and Setting the Mood

One of the fun things about moving is finding your “memory boxes”. One of mine was falling apart so I had to dig through everything and transfer it all to a new box. Yeah, that took a lot longer than it should. (Remember, one of my Core Values is Nostalgia.) One item I found that brought back a flood of memories was a short story I wrote back in 1990 about a spring break trip to Colorado and Utah.

Back in 1990 my favorite author was Pat McManus, a humor writer who wrote columns for Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and other magazines. Pat also wrote several side-splitting books about camping, hunting, fishing, and growing up in the 1930’s and 1940’s in the great outdoors. Rarely did I go camping without one of his books stashed in my backpack. It was a necessary weight.

Not surprisingly, my writing style for my short story back in 1990 was quite similar to Pat’s humor.

Back in 2005 Roy H. Williams told me that if I wanted to learn to write better, I needed to read better. In my notes from one of Roy’s workshops I had circled a book idea, Poem A Day edited by Retta Bowen, Nick Temple, Nicholas Albery, and Stephanie Wienrich.

Poetry is the language of emotions. Advertising works best when it reaches you on an emotional level. Poetry is looking at ordinary things from unique and surprising perspectives. Advertising is giving your potential customers a new way to look at your business. Poetry uses interesting word combinations to set the mood. Great advertising uses interesting word combinations to get your attention.

Back in 2010 I did a staff training using the opening lines from several great books such as …

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Jane Austen – Pride & Prejudice

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”  C.S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”  Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.”  A.A. Milne – Winnie the Pooh

In that same meeting I played the opening music from Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for Common Man, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and The Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

We talked about how the opening sets the mood for everything else. We talked about the importance of first impressions. We talked about rhythm and feelings. We also talked about all the “openings” a customer has at our store.

It isn’t just the greeting that sets the mood.

We identified the following “first impression” moments:

  • Phone
  • Parking Lot
  • Front Window
  • Front Door
  • Store Atmosphere
  • Appearance of Staff
  • Greeting

Notice how many “first impressions” happen before you even say, “Hello. Thank you for coming in,”? That’s a lot of mood setting and emotion-creating before you even open your mouth.

When you read better, you write better. When you visit better stores and truly look at the moods and emotions they are trying to evoke, you’ll have better ideas for your own store.

Take that list above and go visit your favorite stores. See if you can figure out who is making the best first impressions. Then go back to your store and see if you can figure out what first impression you are giving your customers.

The better your first impression, the easier it is for your staff to make connections and build relationships necessary to compete in today’s retail climate.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you visit other stores, take good notes. When you attend workshops and presentations, take good notes. Then revisit your notes often. I don’t just look at those notes for a walk down memory lane. I read my notes from old workshops because there are often more nuggets in there than I could ever possibly remember. Sometimes when you get home from a presentation it isn’t the right time for one of those nuggets. But when you revisit it later, the timing may be perfect.

PPS Yes, in some ways this is a meta-post. Notice how my blogs often start with a story? Stories are powerful tools in advertising because they get your attention, speak to the heart, and are more memorable. In other words, they set the mood and make a good first impression. If you set the wrong mood, you put up obstacles to sales. If you set the right mood, you grease the skids for sales. I was lucky in that Toy House was a downtown business, but with our own parking lot. But you should have seen how I fretted about the cleanliness of that parking lot—especially in the winter.

Be the First to Raise the Bar

It had to be my most favorite conversation with a customer ever. It was sometime in the fall of 1994, one year after Toys R Us had opened in our city.

“Phil, I have to tell you this. I went to Toys R Us last Christmas.”

Yeah, they were the new store in town. A lot of people went to check them out.

“But let me tell you what happened. I think you’ll get a kick out of this. I went in and looked around. They didn’t have quite as much stuff as you do. And I couldn’t find anyone to help me on the floor. So I took my cart up front and told the gal at the register I wanted to put it all on layaway. She said, ‘We don’t have layaway.’ So I said, that’s okay, I’ll just get it gift-wrapped. ‘We don’t do gift-wrapping.’ Well then what the hell am I in here for?

“If that’s your competition, you’re gonna be just fine.”

I was reminded of that story a few days ago. A new pizza place opened in town, a pizza and tap house. I only knew because I drove by it. I haven’t heard anything about it good or bad. No buzz. No excitement.

Image result for klavons pizza
The stuffed pizza at Klavon’s

Part of their problem is that another pizza joint opened up a full-service restaurant and bar serving pizza a few years ago. That restaurant is amazing, featuring indoor-but-can-become-outdoor-in-a-New-York-minute seating, classy stonework and decor, fireplaces, big screen TVs, and a killer menu (I had to go for lunch once just to order the cheeseburger that was getting all the raves because at dinner time I always get the pizza.)

This first restaurant raised the bar incredibly high. Anyone coming after them has to do something they didn’t do to get any buzz or excitement.

That’s the power of being first to raise the bar. If you raise it high enough, no one else is going to get any buzz just for copying you. Back in 1993 being “new” was enough. In 2018, being “new” only counts if you actually do something no one else is doing.

At the same time, here is your warning. If you haven’t raised the bar, you’ve left the door wide open for someone else to come in and clean your clock, eat your lunch, steal your chickens, or whatever metaphor you want to use for getting kicked to the curb.

Wanna play a fun game with your staff? Ask them this question …

If you were going to start a new store to compete with my current store, what would you do differently to have a competitive advantage?

Ask it of your staff. Ask it at the next networking event you attend. Ask it of your friends and family. Then listen to the answers. Any idea that isn’t simply cutting prices or offering more discounts and deals is a potential open door for a competitor to waltz right through.

Don’t wait for someone else to raise that bar. Be first. And raise it so damned high no one else would even think of trying to compete in your space.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My second favorite conversation with a customer happened back in 1980. I was only 14 years old. I still get choked up thinking about it. I even turned it into a radio ad that propelled our 2005 Christmas season to record heights. I’ll tell you about it later if you’d like.

Protecting Yourself From Your Biggest Threat

I’m in a precarious position. My job is to help you succeed by teaching you the stuff you need to learn. My job is to know what you don’t know, be the expert you can trust, and help you see things from a perspective you haven’t seen before.

My other job is to protect myself from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. (DKE)

According to Wikipedia, “the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability have illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.”

People who suffer from this cognitive bias don’t know what they don’t know. They believe they have all the answers. They come across as arrogant, pushy, know-it-alls that annoy the heck out of true experts in that field.

As an author, business coach, and public speaker, I’m supposed to have all the answers. I’m supposed to know it all. Yet, how do I prevent myself from getting caught in the trap of illusory superiority?

Image result for stacks of booksThe simple answer is Read. 

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” -Mark Twain

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow …” -Lawrence Clark Powell

I subscribe to blogs and read books regularly, looking for new answers. Sometimes what I read challenges what I believe. I worry about my cognitive bias, wondering if the author knows something I don’t. Reading keeps me on my toes by presenting new ideas and opening me up to new worlds of thought.

The next best thing to do is Question everything you believe.

  • Why do I believe what I believe?
  • Where is my evidence?
  • Do I have the most up-to-date information on this topic?
  • Have I tested it?
  • Is my information relevant to today?
  • Are my sources up-to-date and staying current?

If all I ever did was give you information based off my own experiences running Toy House, then I might suffer from DKE. If all I ever did at Toy House was try to learn from my own mistakes without looking outside myself for help, then I most definitely suffered.

Yet isn’t that what so many business owners do? Especially the veterans who have been running their stores for years? They use their own experiences as the basis for everything and never try to learn from others.

“It is hard to read the label from inside the bottle.” -Roy H. Williams

Your biggest threat isn’t Amazon or the economy or the weather. It is in thinking you know all the answers and cannot be taught something new.

I fear this in myself. I have the confidence (arrogance?) to believe I have answers to pretty much any question about running an independent retailer. I guard myself against DKE, however, by reading and questioning everything I think I know. I did the same running Toy House. Didn’t know how to market and advertise? I turned to Seth Godin and Roy H. Williams. Didn’t know how to merchandise? I turned to Paco Underhill. I learned from them, tested it against what I thought I knew, and grew from the experience.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. You’re out there reading and learning from others (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading my posts). Sometimes, however, we need that reminder to keep vigilant and protect ourselves from our own DKE.

Sometimes we also need permission to go out there and remind our fellow retailers there is a world of information available, and the strength of your individual business will rely on how much of that information you acquire and use.

(Yes, that is a request that you share this blog and the other stuff you read with others.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One other way to keep DKE at bay is to be in a constant state of learning. Some people believe “training” only happens to new staff. Teach them what they need at first and let them go from there. Some people instead create a culture of learning not only for themselves but for their staff. One way I fostered that culture at Toy House was to give each of my staff a $150 budget each year for taking a class or attending a workshop. It didn’t have to be retail-related. It only had to keep them in a mindset of learning new things.

So You Got a Bad Review?

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

If you don’t already have a negative review online about your business, either you’re still too new to have any reviews or you just haven’t found where they posted it. No matter how nice you are, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much training you do, someone somewhere is going to have a beef with you and post it online for the whole world to see.

Image result for hundred dollar billThe big chains get them daily by the hundreds. If I told you those soulless corporations didn’t care, you’d believe me. They do care, but not nearly as much as you do when someone writes something bad about you.

To you, a negative review is like a kick in the gut. It is a dagger to the heart. You read it over and over, fretting about what you could have done differently. You worry about it, lose sleep over it, and turn a few more hairs gray. You’re ready to fire staff members and change everything you’ve done. At the very least you’ve gone out back behind the building where no one can hear you and let a few choice words fly.

Before you start drinking heavily and contemplating a mass firing of your team while writing a nasty reply to the reviewer, STOP!

Bad reviews are part of the game of being a retailer. How you respond to them is part of your brand image and marketing. Before flying off the handle with a criticism of the reviewer, stop and take a deep breath. In fact, the best thing you can do with a bad review is not respond right away while you’re still emotional. Instead take a moment to review the review.

Ask these questions internally …

  • Was it an attack on an employee and what he or she did? If so, talk to the employee and make sure they know the right thing to do. (Don’t accuse them of doing the wrong thing, just focus on doing the right thing in the future.)
  • Was it an attack on a policy you have and how it was enforced? Take a look at the policy and see whether it needs changing, it needs flexibility, or it just is what it is and there is nothing you can do.
  • Was it a misunderstanding between the reviewer and what your staff meant to say/do? See how you can eliminate this misunderstanding in the future.
  • Was it a legitimate complaint that needs a follow-up? See if you can contact the reviewer individually and settle the problem.
  • Was it just completely unfounded and patently false? (See below)

Be honest in your answers to these questions. Often a negative review is a legitimate complaint about a policy you have that might be more business-friendly and less customer-friendly. It might also be exactly what you needed so that you knew what your staff was doing behind your back, and how certain team members were treating your customers when you weren’t around.

If you respond to a negative review (and that is a huge IF), you should only do so for one reason—to thank the person for their review and apologize for their experience.

People are going to read your bad reviews. More importantly, they are going to read how you responded to those reviews. If all you do is get defensive and try to combat the reviewer, everyone else will believe that you’re hostile and not open to suggestions. If all you do is stoop to the level of the reviewer, you’re no better than them.

Instead say something like, “Thank you for making us aware of [the situation.] I am sorry that you had such an experience. The staff and I have discussed this at length to make sure we don’t have this problem again. We hope that you will give us the opportunity to serve you in the future.”

You don’t have to admit there was a problem. (Most often, negative reviews are based on misunderstandings.) You only have to own up to the fact that a customer, whether by her own actions or yours, had a bad experience in your store. “I’m sorry,” goes a long way to healing that experience and making others believe you are a caring company.

Most importantly, when you respond like this, the other people reading the review will see that you responded and apologized and took steps to correct the problem. That not only reassures them that they won’t have the same problem if they visit your store, but also that you are willing to listen to customers and put their needs first. That perception is what wins hearts and loyalty.

THE OUTRAGEOUS NEGATIVE REVIEW

You’ll get a bad review from time to time that has no basis in reality. It is simply bashing you for no reason or a made-up reason. Those don’t deserve a response. Leave them alone. The people that write these kinds of reviews probably won’t respond, even if you do try to engage. If they do respond, someone willing to write something that false will continue to write BS so you’ll never win. Either report them, block them, or ignore them. Don’t ever try to engage with them.

Most people who read reviews online will do like the judges in certain sporting events. They’ll throw out the best and worst reviews and read all the ones in-between.

There is only one response to those completely unfounded, totally false, negative reviews. Simply say, “Thank you for this review. We will look into it.” The other readers will see that you take all reviews seriously, and that is far more important than getting into a shouting match, being defensive, or calling someone out for being a loon.

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

Negative reviews, like credit card fees, are part of the cost of doing business. Don’t take them personally. Don’t attack the reviewer. Don’t go on the defensive. Do answer a few questions internally and see if there are steps you can take to reduce these types of reviews in the future.

If you make your policies customer-friendly, your staff highly trained, and your store an experience of wonder and delight, those negative reviews will be heavily outweighed by the positive ones.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sometimes your policy is the way it is for reasons beyond your control. We got a negative review for not taking back a used breast pump. Because of bodily fluids, we weren’t allowed to take it back. Occasionally you’ll have something like that. A short, simple, it-is-out-of-our-control explanation is okay in a situation like that. Otherwise, take the high road Every. Single. Time. Period. Period. Period. Other people are more concerned with your response than with the actual review, and what they think is all that matters.

PPS If someone has a legitimate complaint, see if you can solve it offline. Once solved, go back to the review (if they haven’t taken it down) and thank them for the opportunity to work with them to solve the problem. To the people reading the reviews, this is sometimes more powerful than having zero negative reviews. The average person knows you aren’t a one hundred dollar bill, too.

Cutting Expenses The Wrong Way

I was in Walmart yesterday. I had to pick up a few things. At the checkout, the cashier kept doubling bagging all of my items. I asked her why.

“These bags tear so easily that almost everyone has a ripped bag at the end. They used to be better but these new bags are too thin.”

Image result for walmart grocery bagsI hope for Walmart’s sake that the new bags are less than half the cost of the old bags. Otherwise their cost-cutting move is costing them more than it saves.

I get why they did it. I’ll bet their bags are a huge expense for them. I’ll bet someone pitched them the idea of a cheaper bag, or knowing Walmart, they probably went to their vendor and demanded a cheaper bag. The only way to make it cheaper was make it thinner. And now their employees are double bagging everything so that you can get your groceries home in one piece.

How’s that cheaper bag working out for you?

Bags, like so many other non-merchandise items, seem like a hassle expense. You know you need them but you hate paying for them. I know I did. But that didn’t stop me from buying better, thicker bags than I probably needed. Mostly because I also looked at bags as being a reflection of my brand. Cheap, flimsy bags send the signal that I care about my money more than I care about you. Sturdy, reusable handle bags say I care about you more than I care about money. (Remember that Values post I just wrote?)

The problem is that we too often look at our expenses as single, individual entities instead of how they fit into the whole. We make decisions on those expenses purely on a financial basis instead of thinking about how we want to present ourselves and how we want our customers to feel about us. You have to consider everything, otherwise your cuts may end up costing you more.

In the 68 years we ran Toy House, one of our most profitable years was 2009, smack dab in the middle of the great recession. I had to cut expenses that year to get that profit. Here is a post I wrote January 11, 2010 about how I cut those expenses … “Cutting Expenses the Smart Way”

Sometimes you need to cut expenses. How you cut them is often more important than how much you cut them.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This trip down memory lane looking at old blogs has been fun for me. Maybe it will be fun for you. Here is a link to one page with all 897 blog posts to date.

Asking Questions, Playing Games, Laughing, and Learning

Occasionally I go back to my old blog posts to see how things have changed in retail. Sometimes I see how things have stayed the same. Here is something I wrote almost ten years ago on December 3, 2008

The best stores have a staff that listens, that repeats back what a customer says and asks questions to clarify everything so that there is no misunderstanding. We may not be the best listeners all the time, but we’re working on it. Would you be surprised to know that the last ten staff trainings were on communication?

Nine years and five months later I wrote …

Once again, a properly trained staff makes a huge difference. This team knew that by asking questions they could get to know the customer better. Getting to know the customer better allowed them to pull better pieces that more closely matched the customers’ needs.

I read that last line from the 2008 passage and immediately opened my 2008 file with the notes of all our staff meetings. (Yes, I have kept those notes all these years. You never know when you’ll need that info again.) Did I really do ten straight staff trainings on communication? Yes, indeed.

It started on January 14, 2008 with my favorite staff training activity of all time where we “raised the bar” and everyone had to go over it. On March 10th of that year we worked on how to communicate with customers “when something goes wrong”. On April 7th we focused on communication among team members so that we could pass customers to other sales people, make sure all areas of the store were covered, and have better communication between our buyers and our sellers.

When I got to October 20th, the memories hit me like a tsunami. I remember when I got the idea for this meeting. My Goal for the meeting was to help my team learn how to listen better, ask better questions, and decipher what customers were trying to say. As with all my staff meetings, it started with … This will be a successful meeting if my staff learned the importance of asking questions and understanding that even when the customer doesn’t know the name of the product, with a little work we can figure out exactly what they need.

I was awake one night flipping channels when the television show Whose Line is it Anyway? with Drew Carey came on. I knew instantly the Task that would lead us to our Goal.

The staff was split into two teams to play a series of four games.

The first game was called Questions. One person from each team squared off. They were each assigned a character and then they were given a product. The two then had to try to sell the product to the other person with two rules. First, they could only use questions. Second, they had to stay in character. The game went until one of the rules was broken.

The second game was Worst Ad Ever. Each person drew a product name out of a hat. They had to go find the product and then do the worst infomercial ever for that product. You might think this would be easy, silly, and pointless. The staff, however, found it to be a little more challenging. First, they had to know the product. You can’t act dumb about something until you are smart about it. Second, they learned more about each product that was featured. Mostly, though, they learned more about what not to say so that they would catch themselves and each other whenever they went into some Ron Popeil inspired pitch.

The third game was my favorite. I called it Santa’s Sack. Four people got up at once and drew product names out of a hat. Each person now had to pretend he or she was that product sitting in Santa’s Sack getting excited about the child who was about to receive them as a gift. They had to hold a conversation with each other about that excitement and their recipient without saying what product they were. The rest of the team had to guess the products.

Not only were they learning to talk about products based on what they did rather than what they were, they were tapping into the excitement that each item they sold was going to be a gift for someone special. They were learning to transfer that excitement onto the customer.

The last game was Toy Taboo. In the game Taboo you are given a word you need others to guess. You are also given a list of words you cannot say, words that are taboo. I created several cards with different products and related words they couldn’t say. For instance, LEGO was one word. The taboo words were Construction, Brick, Building, and Plastic. The lesson was simple, learn to describe toys in unique ways and you’ll be better at deciphering the descriptions our customers gave for toys they didn’t know the name.

We laughed a lot at that meeting. We laughed a lot at most of our meetings. We learned a lot, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’m not sure if this is a post about communication or a post about staff trainings. I’ll let you decide.

PPS If you look at this post as a Staff Training post, one added benefit of the games we played was that it got everyone up and acting. When you have to act and perform and be goofy in front of your peers, you lose your fears of interacting with strangers.

PPPS If you look at this post as being about Communication, listening, asking questions, and clarifying are three amazing tools that will help you close more sales.

“Everything Cheaper Somewhere Else”

I used to hate anonymous commenting on news articles and blog posts. It is so easy to hide behind a pseudonym and take unsubstantiated potshots at people and businesses, spread rumors, and even spread downright lies.

As a retailer, I took every negative comment and review of my business personally. Some of them hurt, especially when they weren’t true. The misunderstandings were one thing but the outright lies were the worst. They cut to the bone.

I remember one day in the infancy of online news when a fellow downtown business owner alerted me to comments posted on an online news story that attacked both my store and me personally. He warned me not to read them. I didn’t heed his warnings.

One person had taken it upon him or herself to just rip the business up one side and down the other, calling us, among other things, price-gougers who were just out to destroy the little people in town. This person claimed that he or she could find everything we sold in our store cheaper online.

I took offense to the first part. The person posting the comment had no idea what I paid myself or my staff or our profit margin or what we gave to charity or what causes we supported. I am a forgiving person, though. I will forgive them their ignorance.

The second part, however, was pretty much true. Not only could that person show you the items cheaper, I probably could, too. After all, I had Internet access. I could also show you sites and stores where just about everything we sold was more expensive than our prices. That exists, too.

In fact, if prices weren’t fluid across different channels, Retail would look a whole lot different and be a lot less fun. Everyone would pretty much do the same thing and charge the same for it. Yawn.

Image result for valueRetail is a game, and the game can be boiled down to this … Find the Value you can give the customer that will make it worthwhile for them to pay the price you wish to charge.

At the ballpark they charge you more for a single beer than you would pay for a twelve-pack at the store. You buy it because you want to drink a beer during the game. There is enough Value in enjoying that beer while watching the game that makes you pay the price. (Don’t want to pay their outrageous prices? You can eat before you go to the ballpark. Most people can handle 3-4 hours between eating. You can also drink water for free. They have to provide it to you.)

People call them price-gougers all the time. It doesn’t stop them from raising their prices and making money. They offer you the Value of being at the game and watching the action in person.

The real question you need to ask yourself as a retailer is … What Value are you adding to the equation and will that Value be enough to get people to pay your prices?

You can add Value in several ways. You can:

  • Offer services other stores don’t have (i.e. layaway, free gift-wrapping, assembly, delivery)
  • Curate the selection to help customers get only the best solutions
  • Align your business with a social cause
  • Offer follow-up services (such as the free 30-day riding tuneup that we used to offer with every bike we sold)
  • Build relationships to the point that the customer feels as much ownership in your store as you do.

Any one of those is a way to “play” the Retail Game. Play more than a few of them and you’ll never worry about how someone can find “everything cheaper somewhere else.”

Were we the lowest priced game in town? Nope. Never tried to win that race to the bottom. But in a 2007 survey of Jackson County residents about stores that sell toys in Jackson, we were rated as having the highest “Value” ahead of Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, Kmart, and Meijer (all whom love to advertise their “lowest prices”.)

What Value are you adding to the equation?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have a good friend also named Phil who also ran a toy and baby store in the other Jackson (MS) who never liked MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) because it made everyone price their goods at the same price. He said true merchants have no problem with the undercutting of prices on the Internet because they know how to offer Value and make sales at higher margins. As much as you hate to admit it, he’s right. MAP only protects you at the margin the vendor thinks you should make, not the margin you deserve for all the value you offer.

PPS As for anonymous negative comments online, if they are an attack on your character or the character of your business, ignore them completely. Your actions speak louder than your words. Use your actions to prove that person wrong. If the comments are simply something misunderstood, you can respond for clarification, but only if you can substantiate your claims without putting down the person who made the comment. More often than not, however, it is best to ignore anonymous comments, period. I’ll talk about how to respond to Reviews in a future post.

PPPS A few of those ways to play involve the skills and training you give to your front line staff. As I pointed out before, that is probably the easiest way to add the kind of Value your competitors are not adding to their equations.

Here is What Winning Looks Like – Sweetlees Boutique

Sometimes it is easy to talk about the mistakes retailers make and simply caution you to not make those same mistakes. I’d like to share with you a story of an experience that went right. A long-time Toy House customer, my boys’ piano teacher, and dear friend Jen sent this to me. In her words …

“Well, the basic story was this…. you know where it’s going right?

Image result for sweetlees boutique mason miI went to a small locally owned (in Mason, MI) women’s boutique, Sweetlees Boutique. (Because I will tell everyone about how amazing it was, and where to find them—160 E. Ash St, Mason, MI 48854.) The workers were so attentive offering to find you sizing, suggesting things they thought would look good on your body. They were fitting both my mom and I who couldn’t be more different in that department, and they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try. Amazing experience. Both my mom and I purchased something. It was our first time there and we will definitely go back again.”

Let’s unpack that to see what they did so right.

“The workers were so attentive …”

How many times have you been in a retail establishment where you couldn’t even find an employee, let alone one who seemed remotely interested in helping you? The Wall Street Journal just wrote Monday about the dearth of employees in retail stores. Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers since 2008. Think about that number when you’re looking for someone the next time you visit a department store.

Think even harder about that number when you’re making out the next schedule for your store. Are you making a schedule to minimize payroll or maximize sales? If you think of your staff as your greatest expense, you’ll do the former. If you think of your staff as your greatest asset, you’ll do the latter.

“… suggesting things they thought would look good on your body.”

At one time this was the norm in a women’s clothing store. It was the expectation. Anything less and you would be writing a different review. Today it seems new and different and special.

That’s the one good thing you need to understand. The overall bar for customer service has been lowered so far that just doing the things you’re supposed to do will make you stand out in the crowd.

A properly trained and properly motivated staff can do wonders for the way your store is viewed compared to the competition. While everyone is all worried about high-tech this and omnichannel that, going old-school will win the day more often than not.

“… they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try.”

Once again, a properly trained staff makes a huge difference. This team knew that by asking questions they could get to know the customer better. Getting to know the customer better allowed them to pull better pieces that more closely matched the customers’ needs.

Every customer that walks through your door is there to solve a problem. The problem might be as simple as killing time. It might be as complex as buying the perfect series of gifts for the hardest person on your list. You don’t know the problem until you ask. (And you won’t get the answer you need if you haven’t first made a connection.) This doesn’t come naturally to everyone. You need to train your staff by showing them how, role-playing it, and practicing it. The stores that do that best are the stores that are winning.

“Both my mom and I purchased something.”

You have a lot of hurdles to overcome to get a sale from a first-time visitor. You have to make her feel comfortable. You have to figure out the problem she is solving. You have to present her with a valid solution. You have to overcome her hesitations and objections. You have to make her want the solution more than she wants her money. All of those are actual steps in a process. One misstep and it’s a no sale.

We call it browsing because many times customers want to go into a new store just to get a feel for the place. No pressure to buy, just a scouting trip to see if they like it. Sometimes you get lucky and they fall in love with a product by accident. That isn’t selling. That’s clerking. Anyone can do that.

If your sales team is waiting for the customer to come up to you, many of them won’t and you’ll have lost out. If your sales team hasn’t made a connection, unless she falls in love with a product by accident, she won’t be back, either. That’s on you.

“… we will definitely go back again.”

That, my friends, is what winning looks like. Bravo to Sweetlees Boutique. Bravo! Thank you, Jen, for sharing that story with us all.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In the same message, Jen told me about another retail experience that didn’t end so well. I’d rather leave on a high note and save that tale for later. If you have story of someone doing it the right way, please share. Send me an email or find me on LinkedIn.