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Author: Phil Wrzesinski

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

A Tale of Two Icons

In the sleepy Little Bavaria known as Frankenmuth, Michigan are two world-famous businesses. One of them is Bronner’s CHRISTmas WONDERLAND! The other is Zehnder’s Restaurant and their “World-Famous Chicken Dinners.” 

Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland two weeks before Christmas.

Bronner’s is a mecca for anyone who loves Christmas. It is over 90,000 square feet of all Christmas all the time. Tens of thousands of ornaments from all over the globe grace display upon display upon display. Buses stop frequently all year long bringing tourists to this amazing store. Like Toy House, Bronner’s was also named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin (Penguin 2009).

Zehnder’s is a massive restaurant with several dining rooms and a chicken dinner you drive to get. (They also have a water-park hotel, golf course, and marketplace, but the restaurant is the crown jewel.)

A typical trip to Frankenmuth requires a stop at both of these iconic businesses.

I made that trip last Saturday to get into the Christmas Spirit. It worked! The trip, however, was not without its lessons.

It was the Saturday two weeks before Christmas. I knew it would be busy. I expected it to be mobbed. I was prepared for the throngs of shoppers and diners.

Zehnder’s, apparently, was not. When we entered the restaurant there was no clear way to go. There appeared to be a line that eventually split into two lines, but then again there were people milling about on chairs in a lounge-type area. Being a guy, I looked for signs. Didn’t find any. We got into what appeared to be the back of the line, but then again, the mass of people standing everywhere made it hard to be sure we were at the back of the line, or if we were even in the right line because it now looked like there might be three separate lines.

Fortunately the people who got into line behind us confirmed we were in the right line. They had waited almost 30 minutes in the wrong line before being directed to our spot.

Another fifteen minutes passed in this line until we met the host who then informed us to go stand in another line and that we would be seated in approximately an hour and a half.

Now mind you, this was at 2:10pm in the afternoon. Can you imagine what noon and 5pm looked like? Nowhere was there a sign directing traffic. Nowhere were there ropes to guide you. There were a couple of unhappy employees (I assume they were employees because unlike everyone else, they weren’t wearing or holding jackets, but they also weren’t wearing uniforms or name-tags) directing traffic by occasionally yelling at people entering the building and telling them where to go.

Zehnder’s has been open since 1856. This isn’t their first rodeo. I doubt this crowd was that much bigger than usual. In fact I would bet they have crowds like this every year at this time, if not every Saturday all year long. You would think they would have a better system for crowd control by now. It was more the lack of crowd control that caused my party to decide not to eat there than it was the two hour wait time. We could have waited if we felt cared for, if we felt confident they knew what they were doing. But this obvious lack of control was unsettling.

Contrast that to Bronner’s.

A quick Google search tells me that Frankenmuth, MI has a population of 5,131 people (2016). Most of them must work at Bronner’s. Bronner’s website tells me they get about 50,000 visitors over Black Friday weekend. Doing the math, I would guess there were at least 5,000-10,000 of my new best friends in the store shopping with me last Saturday.

Yet as crowded as it was, it wasn’t hard to get around. The signage was spectacular and easy to see. They also had maps available to guide us to the several different departments. I was never more than twenty feet away from a red-vested employee eager to help me find what I wanted. In fact, they had several information stands staffed by at least two employees all throughout the store.

It was everything you would expect from a top-level retailer. They were prepared for a busy day and it showed. I spent two wonderful hours there, soaking up all the Christmas Joy and basking in the fun and excitement of retail done right. The store was packed with people and strollers and shopping carts. You couldn’t move fast, often having to shuffle along from one display to the next, but you never felt crowded. The eager, friendly staff and the amazing merchandising and displays made the crowds more bearable and put everyone, especially the shoppers, into a better mood.

That was the lesson right there.

Don’t meet your customer’s expectations and they walk away frustrated and disappointed. Meet and exceed your customer’s expectations and they stay and shop and have fun. I stayed and shopped and had a blast!

More important than how much a customer spent is how that customer felt about it. I’m sure many people walked away from Zehnder’s after waiting over an hour for their chicken dinner thinking, “Okay, I did that. Won’t have to do it again.” while many people walked away from Bronner’s thinking, “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again.”

Which response would you rather have?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re expecting a crowd, plan for it. Make sure your customers know exactly where to go and what to do. If you are expecting a lot of new faces, have maps and flyers telling them where to go and what to do. Act like you’ve been there and done that and that you expected to be this busy. Most of all, act like you’re having fun! Your mood affects the mood of everyone. If you act like you’re stressed, your customers will feel stressed. if you act like big crowds weren’t expected, your customers will not believe you to be all that wonderful.

PPS I am not knocking Zehnder’s at all. I am sure they are a fine restaurant and I know their chicken dinner is spectacular. But I guess because they are “world-famous” and have been around since before the Civil War I expected so much more out of them. That’s the one problem with being world-famous. The bar is set much higher. You have to be better than everyone else at everything. That’s also why advertising that you have “great customer service” is dangerous. First, it tells the customer nothing. Second, it raises the bar of expectation. Don’t tell me you have “great customer service.” Show me one really cool thing you do for me (and leave the other really cool things you do unspoken so that you’ll surprise and delight me.)

Attitude Before Aptitude

Long distance runners and long distance swimmers know that somewhere in the middle of the race is where you separate the pros from the amateurs. The amateurs have either gone out too fast and really start to feel it in those middle miles, or their minds start to wander and they lose focus on their pace and strategy.

This is that midpoint for holiday retailers. The run from mid-November to Christmas is a marathon, with many peaks and valleys. The week of Thanksgiving is the start of the race. The week before Christmas is the final sprint to the finish. It is in these middle weeks where focus tends to wander off.

Hire fun-loving people and they’ll raise your attitude, too!

You’re tired. You’re a little down because the sales, while good a couple weeks ago, have ebbed a little prior to that final push. The hours are longer while the days are shorter, and it doesn’t seem like you have enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. Plus, you have all those seasonal staff that aren’t quite up to the level you had hoped for them. You feel like you need to work on both their Attitude and their Aptitude.

If you have to choose between Attitude and Aptitude, choose Attitude first. Focus on raising your team’s overall cheerfulness, friendliness, and joy.

A customer will overlook the lack of skill of a friendly staff person trying her best much more than they will overlook the surly attitude of a competent but frantic or unhappy staff person who acts like she doesn’t want to be there.

Plus, when you raise the the level of positive energy in the store, you make your staff better prepared for learning new skills.

How do you “raise attitudes?”

  • Check your own. The staff feeds off of you. If you’re still showing a happy, cheerful, friendly demeanor, they are likely to be happy, cheerful, and friendly. If you’re showing the stress of the season, they’ll feed off that, too. You might have to fake it to make it. Go ahead and fake it. Do whatever you have to do to make sure you are the cheeriest of them all.
  • Praise them. Give your staff praise every time you see them do something well. Praise them early and often, even if they make a mistake. Praise the parts they did right. Praise is right up there with food and water as being essential to their well-being. Praise them and they’ll want to learn and do more for you to get more praise.
  • Ask them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them what has been fun so far. Ask them what you can do to make it better for them. Asking shows that you care, especially when you listen to and act on the answers they give you. They will never care more than you. So the more you care, the higher the ceiling for them to meet.
  • Give them some small token of your appreciation. It can be food or snacks in the break-room, an unexpected gift card to a local restaurant, a gas card, a poinsettia (especially from the stash your sales reps have been giving you.) It doesn’t have to be expensive to be impactful. The act of being generous to them helps them to pay it forward to your customers.

Not only will doing those things raise the attitude of your team, they will help you raise your own attitude so that you don’t have to fake it. A truly good attitude will help you stay focused on the strategies you’ve laid out to be successful in these last couple weeks.

You’ve got this. I know you do.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have had competent and unhappy people on my team. I have had happy but not yet competent people on my team. I’ve never had a customer complain about the cheerful employee who tried but failed. I’ve had several customers complain about surly attitudes. An entrepreneur I met once, who has started several successful companies, had a simple hiring/firing philosophy … Fire the unhappy people. 

The Store of Today

I read a fascinating article that I think every retailer should read. It is one writer’s opinion of what the Store of the Future will look like, and it’s a good opinion.

We know the store of the future will have amazing tech. This article talks about what some of that tech will look and act like.

There was one paragraph in the article, however, that stuck out to me. It was this little passage toward the end …

“In the future, the smart retailer should not care whether customers purchased an item on a given trip or not. The smart retailer should only care whether its customers had a great time and that they yearn to come back again and again.”

That doesn’t sound like the store of the future to me. That sounds like the store you should be right now. That’s the Store of Today. That’s what is winning in this retail climate.

Go read the article. You might laugh when you see who the author looks up to to provide that experience that gets customers to yearn to come back.

When everything you do today is about getting your customer to want to come back tomorrow, then you are playing the long game. Yes, even now while you are “making hay” you need to be making sure you’re making the customer have so much fun she can’t wait to return. That won yesterday, is winning today, and will win in the Store of the Future. All the tech in the world won’t change that one simple truth.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS How do you get customers to yearn to come back again and again? Surprise and Delight them. Yes it is that simple.

Pay it Down

You’ve heard the phrase Pay it Forward. Someone does something nice for you, and instead of doing something nice back, you do something nice for someone else. I have several things I need to pay forward in my life, including one act of generosity that happened this fall.

I love the concept of Pay it Forward. I love the concept of generosity in the first place. Generosity leads to positive Word-of-Mouth.

One area of generosity I encourage my indie retailers is to Pay it Down. Be generous with those who work for you.

I served my team bacon and eggs.

Be generous with granting them time off. This business is your every waking moment and your life. It isn’t theirs. They have more on their mind than just your business.

Be generous with your praise. This is a stressful time of year no matter how enjoyable it is supposed to be. Retail workers not only live that stress, they are on the receiving end of everyone else’s stress. Praise reduces stress.

Be generous with your time. Especially in these next few weeks. A little extra time listening to your staff may gain you some incredible insights for ways to improve your store. A little extra time showing you care about your employees will cause them to care more about you and your store.

Be generous with your giving. If you’re running your store right, your staff are making you money. Sure, you’re paying them to do that. At the same time, a little extra this time of year makes a world of difference. If you plan to give a gift instead of just money, make it personal and you’ll reap benefits fare beyond your imagination.

When you Pay it Down to your staff, you show them how much you appreciate them. We learned from Charles Dickens that’s the better way to act this time of year.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Little things mean a lot. Hire a masseuse for a day. Cater a big lunch on busy days. Bring in coffee. Give extended lunch hours. Give gift cards to local restaurants and shops (you can often get those businesses to trade gift certificates with you.) Share treats from sales reps with the team. Bake cookies and make a few extra for everyone to take home. Say thank you. A lot.

PPS Be amazingly grateful if someone pays it up. You owe them a lot more than they owe you. Without you, they don’t have a job. Without them, you don’t have a business.

You Get Twenty Four Days (Every Year)

Show me a family business that has passed down through generations and I can show you some fatherly wisdom that was shared and remembered. In fact, check out this article from Forbes on some of the biggest, oldest family businesses and the fatherly advice the current owners received that they still remember today.

My father shared a nugget with me that I recall every year on this date.

“There are always twenty four days in December prior to Christmas.”

Mom and Dad and I at the Toy House 60th Birthday Party in 2009

Throughout the year we are constantly measuring ourselves against last year’s numbers. Week to week, month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter. But in these final days, it gets hard to measure. Oh, you can measure Black Friday Weekend to Black Friday Weekend, but because Thanksgiving changes every year, those last few days don’t always line up so perfectly.

I remember trying to figure out projections based on last year and this year and how many Saturdays and when they would fall and my inventory levels and and and …

Dad stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t time to project any more. It was time to sell. It wasn’t time to compare. It was time to make hay.

“There are always twenty four days in December prior to Christmas.”

You can take that statement to the bank. Your job is not look at the numbers in comparison to anything else. Your job is only to go out there and find gifts, solve problems, and make happy customers. After Christmas you can compare this 24-day period to last year’s. But for now, quit looking at the numbers (other than to track them as they happen) and start looking for the opportunities to make sales.

It is December 1st. You have twenty four days left. Make them count.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’m a numbers guy, so I still tracked them like a hawk, but whenever I got anxious about those numbers, I would remember what Dad said, take a deep breath, and go hit the sales floor.

It is an All-the-Time Kinda Thing

One of the phone calls I dreaded most while running Toy House would happen occasionally on my lunch hour. I’d look down at my cellphone and see “Toy House” was calling. It rarely was a “problem.” My staff knew exactly how I liked problems to be handled. The phone call I dreaded was most often this simple question …

“When will you be back? We have a customer waiting to get her car seat checked.”

I hated that call. Not because it meant cutting my lunch short. If you’ve seen me, you know I could stand to skip a few meals now and then. I hated that call because it meant a customer was not getting served properly. If you offer a service, you need to offer it every single moment you are open.

That’s me teaching a class on car seats and stroller.

Although we started checking car seats back in the late 1990’s, we didn’t publicize it as a service until 2005 because I didn’t have enough people trained to offer that service full time until 2005. With the exception of trade show weeks and vacations, I made sure someone was scheduled to offer this service almost every single moment we were open.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I stopped in a Meijer store early one morning. I was in this store that is open 24/7 at 7:50am to do a return. They have a Customer Service desk where you go for returns. I went there and spoke to the nice lady behind the counter. She informed me they weren’t open yet. Not open? The store is open 24/7!

“Could I take my items to a cash register lane to do the return?”

“No, you’ll have to wait until 8am.”

The store may be open 24/7 but the Customer Service desk is only open 8am to 10pm. Apparently they only offer service for 14 of those 24 hours.

It reminded me of the time I once went to a Sam’s Club. They had the item I wanted in stock, but it was “up in the steel.” Unfortunately there were no forklift drivers to get it down for me. I would have to wait until morning. Really???

I point these out because these are the kinds of stories people like to share with their friends. These are the negative stories that get passed along from person to person, growing in scope and stature with each re-telling.

That’s why I hated to get that phone call. That was one more customer who could potentially have a negative story to share about my store. 

If you advertise you offer a service, you have to offer that service the entire time you are open. Period. Otherwise you open yourself up to that other kind of advertising that is extremely difficult to overcome.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you have a service that is impossible to offer the entire time you are open, make sure the restrictions are known well in advance. Let people know clearly if it is by appointment only, or limited hours, or only on certain days. Control the stories people tell about your business and you’ll control the growth of your business. Oh, and always keep your cellphone on when you go to lunch.

Two Pictures to Make You Feel Better (Or Worse?)

I started writing this blog August 9, 2008, shortly after my first gig as a public speaker for the retail industry. My first post was about a Christmas present I received and the announcement that I would be playing guitar in public* for the first time at the Nomad Bookhouse.

(*Apparently back then I didn’t consider playing guitar in church as part of worship “playing in public”.)

By October of 2008, a group of us local business owners had launched Jackson Local First, our Shop Local organization for the community, and my blog changed. From that point forward it was less about toys and Toy House and Phil, and more about you, the indie retailer and small business owner finding new ways to compete with national chains and the Internet.

Since those early days (and you can find every single post archived on my website) my goal has always been to help you feel good about being in this career by showing you concrete ways you can compete and win, while also giving you the background information why those ways work. If you are new to this blog, you might want to sift back through some older posts. There are some true nuggets tucked away for those willing to look. (Okay, so maybe you’re a little busy right now. Put it on your calendar for January.)

This post, however, might not make you feel all that great. I’m going to post two pictures taken in the two malls here in Jackson.

Here is picture #1 …

This picture was taken on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend—a typical shopping holiday—in Westwood Mall at 11:30am (anchor stores of JCP, Younkers, and Walmart). Notice the lack of shoppers. Now, in all fairness, Jackson is a county filled with lakes, so it is possible the lakes trumped shopping. You could roll a bowling ball the length of that mall without fear of hitting anyone.

Here is picture #2 …

This picture was taken last night at 7:46pm in our other mall, the bigger, busier one with Toys R Us, Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Sears as anchors.

Once again, this could be the result of the economic woes in our county and the shrinking population—the two factors that led to our choice to close shop. Or it could be a symptomatic problem with a much bigger cause. (What I find most amazing in this pic is that this is the “walkers” mall and there isn’t even a group of walkers pacing the corridor.)

Malls everywhere are in decline. This problem was reported heavily in 2016. And now with the Retail Apocalypse of 2017, you can expect traffic to decline even further.

Like I said, this may not make you feel better, especially if you are in a mall location.

Here is why you should feel better.

The decline in mall traffic is really caused by two things—cellphones and incredibly poor customer service. Cellphones have replaced meetups. You don’t go meet your friends at the mall anymore because you’ve been texting them all day long. Many people thought teens hanging out at the mall would be a bad thing. It wasn’t. Someone had to drive those teens (malls weren’t typically located in high-density neighborhoods). Parents who drove their teens to the mall would often stop in so as not to waste a trip. That familiarity led to future trips.

Unfortunately, those days are long gone. The mall is no longer a meet-up, drawing its own traffic. You have to want to shop there to even bother making the trip.

That’s where the stores, themselves, have failed. Too many mall stores relied only on the mall and its anchors to draw their traffic. They never knew how to draw traffic themselves. As the malls drew less and less traffic (and/or the anchors kept expanding their departments to eat into the mall stores categories), these stores cut back on personnel to match dwindling sales. Of course, that led to a downward spiral in what was already poor levels of customer service.

Is it any wonder that Outlet Malls, where Transactional Customers don’t expect any service in the first place, continue to draw traffic while traditional malls suffer? When someone else is drawing your traffic and options are fewer, you can get away with poor customer service. That type of retail climate no longer exists.

Nowadays ALL retail is destination retail. People only go to shops by choice.  Since independent retailers have always been destinations by nature, you are best suited to win the brick & mortar dollars of today (of which by last count there are still over a trillion of them). You win in this game by being the destination, the store everyone wants to go to because it is fun, exciting, worthwhile, important, friendly, helpful, surprisingly delightful.

Those pictures aren’t meant to scare you. They are meant to inspire you. The malls didn’t lose to the Internet just because the Internet exists. They lost because they didn’t take care of their customers.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This does beg the question … If you are in a mall, should you move? The answer is complicated. If you truly have created a destination store, you can make it work almost anywhere. If you are paying mall prices and not getting mall benefits, however, you might want to contact a realtor and see what is out there. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of location later, okay?

Now is Not the Time to Panic

Long before there was ever Cyber Monday, there was Letdown Monday. You worked incredibly hard gearing up for Black Friday (and now Small Business Saturday). You planned events, did marketing, trained the staff, decorated the store, and had a nice busy weekend. Then Monday hits and you wonder where all the customers went.

You feel a little letdown. You feel a little worried that you didn’t get enough momentum to carry you through the season. You worry that Cyber Monday is stealing your dollars while you sit there feeling helpless. You start to wonder why you didn’t put more energy into building your own website, or why you didn’t plan a lot of deals for Cyber Monday to keep the customers in your store, or that you have too much inventory, or that you don’t have enough inventory.

In the immortal words of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic!

Image result for hitchhiker's guide to the galaxyI know the feelings of this week. I lived it for twenty three years, and lived with it for another twenty seven. The slowdown from the busy weekend gives you too much time to think about what you might have done differently, what you haven’t done, and what you’re afraid might happen.

That’s a natural reaction, but not all that productive. I’m here to put it all into perspective.

First, let’s talk about the slowdown. It is a natural ebb of the season. Happens Every. Single. Year. The busiest days of the year are typically:

  • Saturday before Christmas
  • December 23rd
  • Second Saturday before Christmas
  • Black Friday/Small Business Saturday
  • First Saturday in December

This year the 23rd of December happens to be on a Saturday making it extra special. Also you get a bonus of having four Saturdays in December prior to Christmas. Still plenty of big days to get the sales you need. You just won’t get many this week because there are too many days before customers truly get into that Christmas mood. This year, with Thanksgiving extra early, you have a long season. Expect a little customer (and staff) burnout.

The slowest week of your season is this week.

This is not the week to panic. This is the week to prepare. 

In a marathon race everyone sprints off the line. That’s Black Friday. Then they settle into their strategy. That’s this week and next. Finally, they go into their kick down the homestretch. That is your last two weeks. Now is strategy time. Now is preparation time.

  • Put a little extra time into training your staff. Work on role play, on greeting customers, on working with multiple customers at the same time.
  • Put a little extra time into decorating. Sure, you got it done for last weekend, but now is a good time to tweak it, upgrade it, spruce it up. Make it extra special because for the next few weeks customers will actually have the time to appreciate it more than they did in the frenzy of last weekend.
  • Put a little extra time into merchandising. Highlight the high-profit stuff you really want to move. Put the stuff they come in asking for by name at the back of the store so that your customers travel past everything else to get there.
  • Put a little extra time into Social Media. Start polls. Compare two items side by side. Share heartwarming stories. Tell the backgrounds of you, your store, your staff, your vendors, etc. Don’t make it about discounts or drawing traffic. Make it human and interesting,
  • Put a little extra time into you. Do something nice for yourself this week. Your staff can handle it. Take some time to go shopping (if you haven’t already). Take some time to catch a movie or go to a show or go outdoors. Those little things will keep you refreshed for those last two weeks that will be busy enough.

If you are worried about your inventory, keep this in mind. The last week before Christmas will be approximately ten percent of your entire yearly sales. If you don’t have enough inventory for that, then do some buying this week. Other than restocking a few hot items that will sell well after Christmas, too, trust your inventory levels and go have some fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It is too easy to second-guess everything based on last weekend. Unfortunately, that’s the worst barometer you have. The only time to properly analyze the season is after it is over. Right now your only job is to prepare this week to make those last two weeks the best ever.

I Give Thanks

Today is a day of firsts for me.

This is the first Thanksgiving of my life without Toy House. Thanksgiving always brought that sense of excitement. The season is finally here. Let’s rock and roll! It also brought that sense of apprehension. Did I do enough? Am I prepared? Is the staff ready?

  • I give thanks to my grandparents and parents for all their years of service to Jackson, and for making Toy House the store that it was.
  • I give thanks to all the customers we were able to serve over our 67 years of business. You still rock my world!
  • I give thanks that all my wonderful team found life after Toy House.

This is the first Thanksgiving where I am cooking the turkey. My mom had knee surgery yesterday. Everything went well, but while she recuperates, I get to play head chef.

  • I give thanks to my grandma and mom for teaching me to cook.
  • I give thanks to the doctors who have performed so skillfully on my parents this past year.
  • I give thanks to all the medical and emergency personnel who will be with their “work families” instead of their blood families this holiday.

This is the first Thanksgiving where I get to go buying instead of selling.

  • I give thanks to the retail workers who have to leave their Thanksgiving dinners early, stay up late, or get up early to deal with massive throngs of people fighting over door buster deals. Your work is underappreciated.

This is the first Thanksgiving where I am more worried about the success of other stores than my own.

  • I give thanks to the businesses who have hired me to help them and I wish them all the success this weekend can bring.

This is the first Thanksgiving where I have been up early not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

  • I give thanks to all of you for reading my blog, for sending me your stories, for sharing your successes with me.

You are the reason I get excited to write something every day. You are the reason I am Happy this Thanksgiving. 

  • Finally, I give thanks for this report from the Advocates for Independent Business that shows how the indie retail segment is coming back through, “Personalized service, connection with community, product expertise, and ability to create experiences,” the same things I preach and teach.

Enjoy your day! Rock your weekend!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Even though I can go out shopping, I’ll tell you right now that I won’t be out there door busting tomorrow. I might hit the streets midday just to see what is going on, but I am not a Black Friday Transactional Customer.

Earning Trust One Holiday at a Time

I walked into a large chain furniture store. There was a line of salespeople waiting to pounce on anyone walking through the door. It reminded me of the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin’s character was waiting in line to use an ATM while another line of muggers waited to mug everyone after they got their money. It was almost that comical.

I wasn’t there to buy anything, just to gather information. (I’m the guy. Of course I don’t get to make final purchasing decisions on furniture. If they had been trained on personas, they might have suspected that in the first place.)

The sales lady was pleasant and helpful, finding all the information I needed. She was also trying all the closing techniques you read in all those books on sales. She definitely was trained in the Always Be Closing mindset. When it looked like I really wasn’t going to buy, she played the trump card.

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends today?

I thanked her for her time and kept browsing. Then, as the playbook would dictate, her manager came over to try to close the sale she couldn’t close. It wasn’t happening. He left me with this …

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends tomorrow?

For more ways to earn your customer’s trust, buy this book!

This is why customers don’t trust us. They know we are all about the sale. We’ll say anything to get that sale.

Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities we used to earn back some trust by showing we cared about more than just the sale. We posted every year on social media that we were choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving and open at our regular time Black Friday morning. We did it so that my staff could enjoy the holiday and/or go shopping for Black Friday deals themselves. We’d have coffee ready when the shoppers visited at our normal hours.

This willingness to forego opportunities for sales paid off long term because it strengthened our reputation of caring more about people than money. Lose the battle to win the war.

Plus, that post went viral almost every single year.

Twice our local newspaper wrote about it. The radio and television news people talked about it several times.

Trust is fragile, yet it is a critical element for winning customers’ hearts and minds (and eventually their pocketbooks). When you sacrifice sales for the purpose of serving your staff, your customers, and/or your community, you build that trust up. When you say or do anything just to get the sale, you lose that trust. Your choice.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you are in a mall, you have no control over your hours. If you are in a strip mall or shopping center where there is a big draw that brings in a lot of traffic, it behooves you to be open for all those customers the other store is attracting. That’s smart customer service. But if you are a stand-alone or in an area where no one else is drawing traffic, you can choose to not be open early. It won’t cost you as much in sales as you think, but it will win you a ton in trust.

PPS If you cannot control your hours, there are other things you can do and state publicly such as pay your staff overtime, grant them extra comp time, have food for them while they are working, serve coffee for staff and customers, and donate to charity. Show the public what you truly value. Those that share your values will find you.