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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.

It Never Feels Like Work

Last weekend YMCA Storer Camps celebrated 100 years of camping. I was there celebrating with over 834 of my closest friends. I’m not exaggerating when I say 834 of my closest friends. Many of them are people I haven’t yet met. But I know if and when I do meet them, we’ll hit it off immediately.

One of the reasons I know this is because the camp’s Core Values are perfectly aligned with my Core Values and shared by the other 834 people in attendance.

Toy House Character Diamond and Core Values
The Toy House Character Diamond and my Core Values!.

Having Fun? Check! It is a camp after all!

Helping Others? Check! The motto of camp is “I’m Third” meaning God is first, others are second, and I’m third. The camp also celebrates different mottos for the first five years of your camping experience. The fifth and forever motto is Service.

Education? Check! Storer is one of the largest Outdoor Education Centers in the country and has been leading the way with innovative curriculum for environmental and experiential education for decades. I learned how to teach on the banks of Stoney Lake.

Nostalgia? Check! I did say it was the 100th anniversary, right?

It is quite rare that you will ever work for someone else’s organization and have it align so perfectly with your own values. The one organization you can count on to most perfectly align with you will be the one you run. That’s one of the benefits of being your own boss.

The beauty of having your business aligned with your Core Values is that it never feels like work. That is why I always encourage business owners to spend some time uncovering their Core Values.

  • Once you know them, you can tweak your business to align more perfectly.
  • Once you know them, you can change the parts that don’t align at all.
  • Once you know them, you can amplify them within the business so that others who share your values will be attracted to your business.
  • Once you know them, you can hire people who share those values.
  • Once you know them, you have a blueprint for making all decisions going forward.

I am willing to bet that all 834 people at camp last weekend shared at least one of those Core Values with camp (and with me). It was those values that drew these people back for the reunion and celebration.

I am lucky and blessed to have worked for two organization, encompassing most of my life that have perfectly aligned with my Core Values. The work I do under the banner of Phil’s Forum is more of the same—Having fun helping others through education (with a healthy dose of perspective from reliving my past experiences and drawing out their lessons).

When you align your work and your values, it never feels like work and you never want it to end. Who wouldn’t want that?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here is a link to some worksheets that will help you uncover your Core Values.

PPS There were hundreds more people who couldn’t make it to the camp this weekend for the celebration who also shared some of the camp’s values. There are thousands in your town who also share your values. How do you become a beloved business? By creating a tribe of customers who feel the way you feel.

Roll With the Punches

I picked up my son from summer camp today. He was in the Counselor-in-Training (CIT) program out at YMCA Storer Camps. As I have always done with my boys after a session at camp, Ian and I sat down to talk about the experience right away while it was still fresh in his mind.

After regaling all the experiences, I asked my son what was the one thing he felt he really learned at camp these past two weeks?

“How to roll with the punches.”

Image result for roll with the punchesRolling with the punches is a boxing technique. As a punch is about to land on you, you turn or roll your body away from the blow to lessen the impact. At freedictionary.com they also define it as, “to adapt to setbacks, difficulties, or adversity so as to better manage or cope with their impact on one’s life.”

I’m pretty sure Ian meant the latter definition. His first cabin of kids had a few setbacks, difficulties, and adversity for him and his lead counselor to handle.

For business sake (this is a business blog after all) let’s break that definition down further …

We know what setbacks, difficulties, and adversities are. In business we all have them. Local economic woes, street construction, your favorite line of products suddenly discounted online, a bad review on Yelp, a 20% jump in insurance costs, the landlord wanting to raise rent, a new competitor in town.

You’re never without setbacks, difficulties, or adversity.

The successful boxer rolls with the punches. The successful business “adapts … so as to better manage …” Just like the boxer, you have to anticipate the blows that are coming so that you can adapt to them and lessen the impact.

Street closures? Are you following the news, attending city council and planning meetings, or subscribing to government emails? Are you going to public hearings to not only hear what is being done, but have your voice be heard to find ways to lessen the impact these closures might have on your business?

Insurance costs? Are you working with a good business insurance agent and agency that can shop your account around to find you a better deal or work with you when rates go up to help you be aware more quickly? Are staying on top of all your expenses before they blindside you with a punch to the gut?

Landlord raising rent? Do you see your landlord as an adversary or partner? How would that change the relationship? How much sooner and with better intent would a partner inform you of a rent increase than an adversary?

Local economic woes? Are you measuring your market potential for your community by tracking national sales for your industry combined with local household income and population growth (or decline)?

Got a bad review? Are you actively monitoring social media and sites like Yelp and Google for mentions of your business? Do you have a plan in place for how you respond? Do you know the right questions to ask before you respond?

The successful business owner is rarely blindsided with a gut punch. He sees most hits coming and can roll with those punches. The key is to know that there will always be blows. You know which punches hurt the worst, too. Put a system in place to help you see those punches coming before they land directly on your business, and you’ll know how, “to adapt … to better manage or cope with their impact.”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Two of the most profitable years in the Toy House’s 68 years of business were in 2009 during the Great Recession, and 2014 as our local economy and market was dying out. Although we took a gut punch in the fourth quarter of 2008, we saw the punches coming in 2009 and 2014 and were prepared for them. I know you already wear a few dozen hats. Being involved in city politics and tracking other numbers that affect your business might not be in your wheelhouse, but they do make a difference in how well you roll with the punches. Only you can decide how many direct hits you can absorb before you’re knocked out.

PPS Every boxer also knows the better you learn to anticipate the blows, the better you can counter-punch, too. That’s how you get ahead in boxing, in business, as a CIT at YMCA Storer Camps, and in life—by anticipating the blows, rolling with the punches, and throwing counter moves.

How to Find Out Your Business Reputation

Some of you read them. Some of you don’t. I often get asked why each blog post has a Postscript (PS) or two. Postscripts are also called “afterthoughts.” In the case of my blog, I use them to reinforce different points made in the post, without clunking up the writing. I also use them to clarify and/or sum up something I’ve said. Often the PS is an action step or an application of the idea posed by the post. Sometimes it is a humorous anecdote or story from my past experiences.

Sometimes the PS hints at the next post. That was the case yesterday.

According to Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, your brand is “every single interaction someone has with your business, plus how they feel about it.”

In other words, your brand is not your slogan, your color scheme, or your logo. It is the way people feel about your business. It is your reputation.

In 2005 I wanted to know what people thought and felt about Toy House. Before I could create a stronger brand, I had to know from where I was starting. To do that, I needed to do a survey. Here is what I did.

LOCAL COLLEGE STATISTICS CLASS

Image result for phone surveyI contacted a professor at Spring Arbor University who taught statistics. Fortunately I already knew him. We had met at a networking event (one more reason why you should attend those events).

I told him what I wanted to do. I had a survey. I had the questions. I just needed someone to figure out the sample size, do the calling, and compile the results. It would be a live exercise for his statistics students. I agreed that I would write a letter of recommendation for all the students who participated, and that I would host a pizza party for the students when they had the results.

The professor thought it would be a fun exercise, and put it into his lesson plan at the appropriate time.

The students did the math and figured out we would need a sample size of 400 Jackson County residents to accurately measure the entire county within an acceptable margin of error. They also devised a random way to find those 400 people using the phone book. Each of the twenty students was then tasked with getting twenty survey results back within a two-week window.

QUESTION #1

The script I gave the students came from Roy. In a class I took, he showed me how to get an accurate assessment of where Toy House stood in the minds of Jackson County residents. It also showed how I compared to other stores selling toys in the area.

When someone answered the phone, the student would say …

“Hello, my name is (____). I am a Spring Arbor University student. My statistics class is doing a survey on toy shopping habits in Jackson County. Can I ask you a couple questions?”

If they said yes, the first question was this …

“Please name all the stores you can think of that sell toys in Jackson.”

The students had a worksheet with all the possible places listed and a few blanks for some out-of-the-box thinkers. As the person named stores, the student would number them in the order they were named. After the person stopped, the student would say, “You named (list of all stores they named). Can you think of any others?” This went on until the person said they could not think of any others.

The beauty of this question is that it helps you see how much awareness people have of your existence. You also see how you compare to everyone else in your town. It was eye-opening to see what percentage of Jackson County shoppers knew we existed. The results looked like this.

  1. Toys R Us 84.1%
  2. Meijer 82.3%
  3. Walmart 69.5%
  4. Toy House 64.8%
  5. Kmart 59.1%
  6. Target 45.2%

Thirty-five percent of the population could not think of us when asked to name a store that sold toys in Jackson. That was a shocker. (So was the fact the 16% couldn’t name the iconic national brand of Toys R Us and over half the population didn’t think of Target as a place to buy toys.)

QUESTION #2

Once the first question was answered, the student would then say, “For the second part, I am going to read you a few words. From the list of stores you just gave me, I want you to tell me the first of those stores that comes to mind with each word. There is no right or wrong answer. Just blurt out the first store you think of.”

The list of words I had the students read included positive words like Affordable, Caring, Clean, Friendly, Fun, Helpful, Knowledgeable, Quality, Value, and Welcoming.

The list also included negative words like Arrogant, Cluttered, Confusing, Dark, Deceptive, Dirty, Expensive, High Pressure, Indifferent, Over-Priced, Pushy, and Rude.

The list also included one word that upon reflection could be considered either positive or negative—Cheap.

The deal here is that whoever is mentioned the most for that particular word owns that word in the minds of shoppers. That is your reputation, good or bad.

  • We owned the words Caring, Clean, Friendly, Fun, Helpful, Knowledgeable, Quality, Value and Welcoming from the positive list, and Expensive and Over-Priced from the negative list.
  • Walmart owned the words Affordable, Deceptive, Indifferent, Rude, and Cheap.
  • Kmart owned Dark and Dirty.
  • Toys R Us owned Cluttered, Confusing, High-Pressure, and Pushy.
  • Target and Meijer didn’t own a single word on the list.

(Note: in that first survey, no one owned Arrogant. We were in a virtual tie with both Walmart and Toys R Us for that word.)

The one thing I didn’t include in my list of words was all of our Core Values, but mainly because I didn’t know them in 2005 like I did in 2007. We did a second survey in 2007 adding Education and Nostalgia to the list and owned those words hands-down. The only other changes in 2007 were that Walmart tied us for Value, and we took over Arrogant.

RESULTS

There were several takeaways from these results. The first was the lack of awareness for our giant, colorful store that had been in business for 56 years in the heart of downtown Jackson. More people mentioned Walmart, yet they had only been open a couple months when this survey was done. When we did the survey again in 2007, our name recognition jumped from 64.8% to 76.0%, whereas Walmart’s only went from 69.5% to 76.5%. We were still fourth overall, but had closed the gap significantly. (TRU and Meijer held steady.)

I was okay with owning the negative words Over-Priced and Expensive. That’s a common belief of indie retailers and I expected it. I was especially okay because we also owned Value. Value and Expensive are not exclusive. Value and Over-Priced don’t go together, but for every person that thought of us as Over-Priced, there was someone else who saw the Value in our offerings. I was okay with owning Arrogant in the 2007 survey, too, since I also owned nine of the ten positive attributes.

Most importantly, we owned the things we wanted to be know for. We owned our Core Values of Helpful, Fun, Education, and Nostalgia. We owned the things we were already advertising such as Friendly, Knowledgeable, and Quality. We owned the one word that made my mom the happiest—Clean! So we knew we were on the right track with our advertising, but more importantly we were on the right track with our actions.

Advertising cannot change your reputation. It can only enhance it. Actions speak louder than words.

Now you have the blueprint for doing your own survey to find out where you stand compared to your competition. If you don’t like your results. First change your actions.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The interesting question about doing a survey today is whether to do it online or by phone or both. Back in 2005 and 2007 most people still had landlines. Today, if you only do a phone survey with numbers generated randomly from a phone book (assuming those still exist), you’re missing out on a huge segment of the population. That will be the challenge for your statistics class to figure out. It might cost you a little more than pizza, but it will be totally worth it.

PPS One other benefit from the survey was that I had a classroom of 20 college students who now knew about our store and saw the reputation we had. That alone was worth the pizzas and a quick letter thanking them for running the survey.

If You Want to Be Known for Something …

Back in high school I had a friend who lived in a house that was hard to find. We always went to his house to play games because we could always get free pizza from Domino’s. They had their “thirty minutes or it’s free” campaign going, yet the drivers could never find his house. Thank goodness this was in the days before GPS.

In my high school days Domino’s was known in the pizza industry for fast delivery. Little Caesar’s was known for their “pizza, pizza,” two-for-the-price-of-one deal. Pizza Hut had the Pan Pizza. Everyone had their niche.

Image result for hamburglarThe burger industry was similar. Wendy’s had fresh-not-frozen (and Where’s the beef?). Burger King had flame-broiled. McDonald’s had the Hamburglar.

If you wanted to make a name for yourself in the pizza or burger industry you had to do something completely different. The more you looked for ways to differentiate, the better.

When Domino’s faltered and gave up their fast delivery guarantee, Little Caesar’s stepped in with an even faster claim—pick it up any time, it’s hot-and-ready. Little Caesar’s isn’t going to win any taste tests, but if you have a bunch of kids to feed, a twenty-dollar-bill and a trip through the drive-thru fills a lot of little bellies.

By now you know IHOP wants to be known as “International House of burgers.” They launched a clever viral campaign to highlight the fact that along with all the breakfast stuff, they also have burgers on the menu. It is getting a lot of talk, but not about the burgers. I have yet to hear one remark about the actual burgers good or bad. I have yet to hear one reason why I should try their burgers. They have done nothing so far to stand out in the burger crowd.

If you want to be known for something, you have to do something no one else is doing. 

Pizza Hut offers three different thicknesses of crusts. Little Caesar’s has pizzas ready for immediate pick-up without having to order in advance. They are doing something different.

I originally was going to title this blog “How to Stand Out in the Burger Industry” and help IHOP out. Here are some things no one is doing on a national level with hamburgers …

  • Home Delivery – why is it that pizza and Chinese food are the only foods delivered to our door regularly?
  • Free Sliders with every meal – You want to let people know you have burgers? Put a small, tasty slider on a plate and deliver it at no charge no matter what they ordered.
  • Condiment Bar – Wendy’s tried this at one time. It might be worth trying again, but with really cool and different condiments that make people talk.
  • The 24-Hour Burger – most IHOPs are already open 24 hours. Why not tout the breakfast burger? Heck, we’ve already been putting bacon and fried eggs on burgers for years, just not at eight o’clock in the morning.

Here is the lesson for you, the indie retailer. You don’t have to be known nationally for something. You only have to own it locally. The kicker here is you have to do something completely different from your competitors, preferably something they would never even think of doing.

Be the store known for…

  • Home Delivery
  • Giving away free stuff
  • Customizing things
  • Selling stuff made locally
  • Having live entertainment
  • Having classes and demos

Walmart right now is running a radio ad touting themselves as “The Best Toy Store in America.” Just like IHOb, this campaign is gonna flop big time.

You are judged not by what you say, but by what you do.

No one believes Walmart is the best toy store right now, and unless Walmart does something other than have the typical messy, unorganized, poorly-stocked, warehouse-shelved, no-one-to-help-you toy department they currently offer, no one is going to change their minds because of a radio ad. When Walmart opened in Jackson in 2005, the newspaper reporter asked me how I was going to compete with them. I said …

“With free gift-wrapping, layaway services, home delivery, tons of toy demos, weekly events, triple the toy selection, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff on hand to answer all your questions, the better question is, ‘How is Walmart going to compete with us?’ “

Don’t just do it. Be known for it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I was a little arrogant in my answer. Fortunately, thanks to a survey I did shortly after Walmart opened, I reaffirmed what I already believed. In that survey we owned the words Clean, Friendly, Knowledgeable, Caring, Fun, Helpful, Welcoming, Quality, Value, Over-Priced and Expensive. Walmart owned the words Affordable, Deceptive, Indifferent, Rude, and Cheap. Kmart owned Dark and Dirty. Toys R Us owned Cluttered, Confusing, High-Pressure, and Pushy. Target and Meijer didn’t own a single word on the list. What words do you own?

What Not to Change

By now you’ve heard the buzz about the International House of Pancakes and their big announcement. They are changing their name from IHOP to IHOb. They made the announcement and asked us to guess what the “b” meant.

The first answer by virtually everyone was “breakfast.”

Image result for ihob logoI could wrap my head around that. I love their Colorado Omelette. They have waffles, French Toast, and crepes too. Pancakes are out of favor because of all the low carb diets. That would make sense.

Heck, I could even have seen it if this was just a marketing gimmick and the “b” was going to stand for bacon. Bacon is trendy and popular right now.

But then in a “Hey, New Coke, hold my beer,” moment they announced the “b” stands for “burgers.” 

Burgers? Really? That was your big marketing gimmick?

First, let me reassure you that they are not actually changing their name. They are doing some temporary signs and making a big stink about it through the media. In one way, it has worked. We’re all talking about them. In another way, they have definitely brought attention to the fact they have burgers on their menu (and have for some time).

But here’s something worth thinking about when it comes to branding. The vast majority of people were going with either breakfast or bacon because that is what the restaurant is known for. That is IHOP’s reputation, which by extension is the restaurant’s brand. No matter how many viral campaigns like this, they will neither change that perception nor ever be known as the burger joint. As much as this campaign has gone viral, it isn’t likely to get too many new customers going to IHOP that weren’t going already. In fact, it might drive some customers away who think they have stopped selling pancakes.

Not only was this campaign confusing to a lot of people, trying to be known as the burger joint is probably the worst arena to enter. It is already crowded with all the fast food joints, the Red Robins, the Inn & Outs, and a slew of other players. IHOP owns the pancake title. Hands down. They own it better than Coke owns Pepsi. Yet Coke tried the exact same tactic with New Coke and watched it become the poster child for failed marketing campaigns.

I know some of why they did it. It is tough being the frontrunner. It is tough getting people excited about your pancakes when you already own the category (and pancakes are not quite as popular as before). The people at IHOP saw this campaign as a brand-extension, a way to be known for more than pancakes. Unfortunately, there was a better way to do that.

Saying that you are known for burgers when you aren’t won’t work. Simply saying your burgers are great won’t change anyone’s mind, either. Having taste-tests won’t move the needle much (or Pepsi would have overtaken Coke during the Pepsi Challenge campaign). But asking your tribe, the people who already love IHOP for your breakfasts, to try a burger next time they are in, might get a few people to switch. Speaking to the people who love IHOPs for being open 24 hours (in certain locations) and reminding them you have more than breakfast might get a few people to try the burgers. Offering small sliders as a side with the pancakes (there’s a little surprise and delight for you), would be far more effective in getting burgers into everyone’s minds.

Then if your burgers really are good, people will talk. That’s the kind of talk that moves the needle. Right now people like me are talking in the wrong direction.

Right now the talk isn’t even about whether the burgers are any good or not. Most of the talk is about what the heck were they thinking? That doesn’t help the brand one bit.

The lesson in all this is simple. If you are known for something already, don’t confuse people by trying to be known for something else. Instead embrace it, amplify it, and become it so fully that no one will know anyone else but you in that category.

There is only one house of pancakes.

There is only one waffle house.

There are dozens of burger and pizza joints.

When you can be the only one, be the only one, and be happy with that.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, there are thousands of great breakfast restaurants including some regional chains and plenty of local joints, but in the national scheme of things, no matter where you go, if someone is asked to name a pancake joint, IHOP will be at or near the top of that list. That’s the power of their brand and the source around which the rest of the chain revolves. Move away from that and the brand will falter.

PPS Marketing and advertising cannot change your reputation for the better. Only actions will do that. Confusing people or trying to get them to believe something other than what they already believe hurts the brand more than it helps because it erodes more confidence away from what people already believe. Telling people their old Coke they’ve drunk for years doesn’t taste good (even though it was the best seller by a wide margin) wasn’t a smart move. This move by IHOP stands right beside that.

PPPS You’ve heard it said there is no such thing as bad PR. That statement is wrong. Don’t believe it.

Surprise and Delight for Sales Reps

Today is a Hinkley Donut day. Those of you who have lived in Jackson know what I mean. There are only four of these days each week. Hinkley’s Bakery is the exception to the rule of needing to be open seven days a week to be successful (although they would make waaaaaayyyyyyyy more money if they were open more, it is a quality of life issue, quality of product issue, and a choice they have made, which I respect.)

Hinkley’s Best of Michigan Donuts (I tried to take a picture of a full box but they get swooped up quickly.)

Not everyone likes Hinkley’s Donuts, but enough people do that they were the runaway winner in a poll here in Jackson of the best donuts, and the overall winner in a statewide taste test held by the food writer for MLive, a newspaper with editions in several Michigan cities.

I had sales reps who would only call on me in the morning, and only on Hinkley Donut days. I also had reps who always came at lunch time to either go to Mat’s Cafe for BBQ or Schlenker’s for a hamburger (both also placed highly in their respective categories on MLive.)

Good sales reps know one of the best ways to make connections with the retail buyers is over meals and food.

They don’t have to buy for you all the time, either. In fact, decades ago my parents would take sales reps to lunch at a private business club in downtown where you signed a bill, rather than pay cash or card for the meal. That way the reps couldn’t pay!

Once word got out on the street that Toy House was buying you a nice lunch at a cool restaurant with a birdseye view of the store, all the reps stopped in Jackson for a visit.

Surprise and Delight. We surprised the sales reps, delighted them with a free meal (when the expectation was often that they would have to pick up the tab). Guess who went to bat for us when new products were released, when shipping was tight, or when we needed information?

I was doing a presentation about Customer Service (that dead phrase) with an eclectic group of businesses, not all were retailers. Ernie had a sales force that called on other businesses to sell his product.

I asked him what the client’s expectation was when his team went on a sales call. He said the stuff you would expect like show up on time, dress appropriately, be prepared, don’t waste time, don’t get in the way of their regular business. All good stuff. All expected stuff. If you don’t do any one of those things you’ll have a hard time making the sale.

I then asked him what time of day they made these calls. Some were morning, some were afternoon.

Does your salesperson show up for a morning meeting with a box of donuts for the staff? Not any donut, mind you, but Hinkley Donuts?

Does your salesperson show up for an afternoon meeting with a Klavon’s Pizza Pie? (another Jackson-based restaurant high on the MLive list)

Imagine your sales rep shows up at your store with a box of your favorite local donuts or a pepperoni pizza from your favorite local pizza joint. Does that change the relationship? Of course it does! You’ll talk about that sales rep to all your other retailer friends. You’ll likely try to do more business with that rep, too.

Same thing is true if you, the retailer, do something unexpected like that for your reps. They’ll tell all the other reps and you’ll have a rep-utation that makes people want to do business with you.

Generosity. Word-of-Mouth. Doing the Unexpected. Surprise and Delight. It doesn’t just work with your end-users.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t for a minute think that I am telling you your reps won’t service you if you don’t feed them. Your sales reps are mostly a hard-working group of individuals that don’t get paid nearly enough for what they have to put up with. Heck, feeding them is also just a nicety that keeps them from spending too many days on the road eating fast food. What I’m talking about is another example of how doing something surprising and delightful can help your business (and another example of what surprising and delightful looks like.)

PPS How hard would it be to call the local chamber and ask what is the favorite donut shop or pizza joint in town?

“Customer Service” is Dead

I make a living teaching businesses how to raise the bar on their Customer Service. It is one of my favorite presentations that always gets rave reviews. In fact, I have several presentations built around the concept of how and why to offer better Customer Service.

Yesterday I got an email from a toy store manager who was struggling to get her new team to connect their Customer Service Training with actually serving the customers. She was looking for ideas to help them understand and deliver the concept of Great Customer Service. It was then I realized something profound …

“Customer Service” is dead.

Not the action, just the phrase. It means nothing. It has no basis for today’s workers. It is vapid and useless and needs to go on Lake Superior State University’s list of banished words (might I also suggest adding “omnichannel?”)

The phrase is meaningless because so few retail outlets actually offer anything remotely resembling what it used to mean. Think about today’s young adults. Where are they shopping in brick & mortar? Big-box discounters like Walmart and Target? Check. Discount and close-out rack stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Home Goods? Check. Cheapie stores like Dollar General and Five Below? Check. Under-manned and under-trained department stores like Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney’s and Kohl’s? Check.

When you tell your staff to focus on offering great Customer Service, they have no point of reference to understand what you mean. Most of them have never been in a Nordstrom’s at the peak of their game. Most of them have never been in an indie store like yours that spends the time and energy you do on training your team. They have heard the phrase, but cannot connect it to anything meaningful in their experiences.

Image result for problem solvingMy response to that toy store manager was to quit training on Customer Service. Drop that word from the vocabulary and instead focus on something for which they have a frame of reference like “Problem Solving” or “Surprise and Delight.”

Problem Solving is something we all have to do in our lives, something we all have experience with doing, something to which we all can relate. Instead of telling your staff to offer better Customer Service, teach them to be better at figuring out what problem a customer has come in to solve.

It might be someone needing a birthday present, or someone changing their wardrobe, or someone just killing time. Because of all the churches downtown we often had families in nice clothes show up on a Saturday afternoon just to kill time between the wedding and the reception.

It might be someone working on a project, or someone trying to replace an heirloom, or someone who saved up their money for a big purchase. In a toy store we often got kids with allowance or baby-sitting money burning a hole in their pocket.

Whatever the problem, your team’s true goal is to figure it out and help the customer solve it. We had a dad in the store one Saturday morning with the kids. He was filling time. We showed him all the demos and displays so that he could be the hero taking his kids around the store to play. We often had customers on their way to a birthday party that started ten minutes ago. Our staff would take the item before they checked out, leave the price tag at the register, and start wrapping it just to save time (and with a nice helium balloon on top, it was the hit package at the party.)

Surprise and Delight is another frame of reference to which we can all relate. We’ve all had that moment when something really cool and unexpected happened. Work with your staff to identify those moments when you can surprise and delight customers. Maybe it is something you give out of generosity. Maybe it is saying, “Yes!” to some crazy request. Maybe it is identifying what the customer truly desires and offering not only that but a little more. Maybe it is doing something totally unexpected. On several occasions, including a few Christmas Eves, I made after-work deliveries of large, bulky toys and baby products to customers who couldn’t be home during our normal delivery hours, or who needed the items right away.

When you get your staff laser-focused on Problem Solving or finding new ways to Surprise and Delight, they can relate better and understand their role better. At the end of the day, they are raising the bar on Customer Service, whether they know it or not. You just aren’t using that phrase.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Reinforce this concept with your staff by always having them regale the tales of when they solved a problem or delighted a customer. I always started my staff meetings with Smile Stories (our tagline and my focus with my team was, “We’re here to make you smile.”) These were the moments when the staff truly made a customer happy. Not only did it reinforce our purpose, it started our meetings off on a positive, feel-good high, which made the meeting far more productive than the typical here-is-what-you-did-wrong-last-week berating that poor managers use to start their meetings.

PPS Since closing Toy House, I have abdicated the throne of being the “Largest Independent Toy Store in America.” There are some amazing contenders for that throne. One of them is The Toy Store with locations in Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas. It was one of their managers, always seeking better ways to train her staff, who reached out to me with the question above. I have full confidence her team will be solving problems and delighting customers at every turn by the time they reach the fourth quarter. If you want to see a magical toy store, check them out if you’re ever near their towns.

Getting People to Talk – Part 3 (Domino’s for the Win!)

A new restaurant opens in town. Fine dining. The early reviews are good. Everyone is talking about it. Expensive, but worth it. The desserts are extraordinary. You call up some friends and the six of you make a reservation. While you’re waiting for your meal you see desserts going past. It looks like every table has ordered something scrumptious. You look at the menu and your mouth begins to water. Then you look at the prices and the six of you decide maybe you’ll share a couple of them instead of everyone buying one.

The meal is done and you’ve picked up the dessert menu one more time to choose a couple to share when your waiter walks over and says, “You guys have been such a fun table, I’d like to buy everyone a dessert on me.”

Would you be talking afterward about a meal like that? Of course you would! For the price of some sugar and flour (that the restaurant has already baked into the price of the meal), the restaurant is buying word-of-mouth through Generosity.

The key here is that they did not advertise it, it was given with sincerity, it had value, and it was unexpected. When you can give something away like that, people will talk.

Yesterday my son pointed out to me something that fits that criteria. He told me Domino’s Pizza is filling potholes. I had to Google it right away.

Image result for domino's pothole
Image from Washington Post

Domino’s Pizza is paying communities real money for their crews to go out and fill potholes. All the community has to do is take a few cellphone pics of the crew and spray chalk the Domino’s logo with the phrase, “Oh yes we did” onto the newly filled pothole when they’re done.

The city manager of Milford, Delaware explains how they gave him $5,000 to fill potholes in his town. With a budget of only $30,000 for fixing potholes to begin, an extra $5,000 goes a long way. The spray chalk on the logo might seem offensive to some, especially if you don’t like Domino’s Pizza, but the talk they are generating from that money is unbelievable.

Yes, it was unexpected. Yes, it brought value. Yes, it was done without advertising. You can argue sincerity all you want, but the comment from Kate Trumbull, VP of Advertising for Domino’s is spot-on …

“This idea came from when you hit a pothole and you have a pizza in your front seat. It’s kind of a dramatic moment and dials up the fear factor that something would happen to your delicious pizza,” said Trumbull. “It came down to how we’re so passionate about pizza – and every single piece of the experience.” (from Yahoo)

Here is the clincher. They spent $5,000. Their logo was washed away with the first rain. The town of Milford, DE was just under 10,000 people in 2010. You can look at it as only 50 cents to reach everyone in that city. You can look at it as a way to make the roads better for their delivery vehicles. But the best way to look at it is that the city manager wrote an article in the Washington Post about it. The news stations all did stories about it. People who saw it on the road all told their friends about it.

The word-of-mouth—even from the people who hated it—is through the roof! Everyone is talking!

Even the haters are probably acknowledging that the potholes needed filling. Their complaint is likely just about the commercialization of it and where that may lead.

I give Domino’s a hearty win for this campaign. It is the kind of creativity that helps a campaign budget reach far beyond the money you spend. That’s the power of Generosity.

Four elements to make Generosity work for you:

  • Don’t advertise it
  • Give freely from the heart
  • Give something of value
  • Give something unexpected

You don’t have to pave the roads to get people to talk, but I’m sure you can find something of value you can give away for free.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We gave away free helium balloons all day, every day. It helped parents get crying children out of the store, and helped them come in more often for “looking trips”. When helium balloons became expected, I brought in an art teacher to teach my staff how to draw doodle animals on the balloons. We never got the kind of talk Domino’s did, but people still talked, and that’s all that mattered.

PPS No, if you don’t like Domino’s Pizza, it probably won’t make you rush out and buy a pie. But it just might make someone on the fence, buy a “thank-you pie” just for fixing that pothole at the end of their street. It also has a long-term effect of making you feel just a little better about Domino’s as a company, and that ripple effect, while hard to measure, will be huge. Now, if they double-down and add some generosity to their product when they deliver it, they’ll knock it out of the park.

Reaching the People Who “Think” They Know You

I’ve been out at YMCA Storer Camps the last couple days teaching sailing again. This time, instead of teaching the kids, I’m just working with the staff to make sure everyone is on the same page for teaching the kids. While walking to the waterfront, one of the new instructors asked me where I sail when I’m not at camp.

“Nowhere,” I replied

They called me Admiral Graybeard!

I have sailed other places in the past. I sailed for the University of Michigan Sailing Club. I sailed on the Great Lakes with a different, larger boat that the camp used to own. I’ve even sailed in races hosted by the San Diego Yacht Club (no, not The America’s Cup) a long time ago. But for now, my only chance to sail is out on Stoney Lake in camp boats.

Sailing is not my true heart’s desire. Teaching is.

At the camp I have taught Archery, Riflery (bb guns and pellet guns), Canoeing, Kayaking, Sailing, Swimming, Horseback Riding, Snorkeling, Wilderness Survival, Ropes Course Climbing, Rock Climbing, Backpacking, Biking, Team Building, Cross-Country Skiing, and Nature. Out in California I taught Earth Sciences, Astronomy, Geology, and Ecology. At Toy House I taught Car Seat Installations, How to Buy Toys, How to Buy Baby Products, How to Sell, and How to Work With Children of Special Needs. At Henry Ford Allegiance Health I teach new and expectant fathers how to be better dads. On the speaking circuit, I teach Marketing & Advertising, Customer Service, Hiring & Training, Inventory Management, Retail Math, Team Building, and Management Skills.

“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.” -Theodore Roosevelt

(Forgive me if it sounds like boasting. I’ve just said, “Certainly I can!” several times.)  What I’m really trying to do is find new and better ways to Help You (one of my Core Values) so that I can convince you that I can help you even more. Therefore, I teach.

Teaching is not only a love, it is a means to an end. If I can teach you one thing, hopefully you’ll trust me enough to want me to teach you other things. That’s one way I generate new business.

Last weekend I taught a group of toy store owners looking to capitalize on the disenfranchised Toys R Us shoppers that there are two reasons those people didn’t shop with independent specialty toy stores like theirs.

  • They don’t know you
  • They “think” they know you

That first group is fairly easy to reach. Any extra marketing or advertising you do will find them because they will be looking. That second group will be a lot harder. They have opinions about you (usually wrong) that won’t be swayed by a fancy radio or TV ad.

The best way to reach that second group is through Word-of-Mouth. Do something big to get your current customers to talk to them about you.

I told the toy retailers last week that was the only way to reach them. I was wrong. 

While I was walking down the trail to the waterfront with these soon-to-be sailing instructors I realized there is a second way … Teach!

Seriously. Just like me, you have some crazy, cool knowledge you could share. You have some wisdom and understanding of the products you sell that they won’t find just surfing the Internet. You have some tips and techniques for using and maintaining those products that might be a lifesaver for those customers.

The people who “think” they know you can be enticed to attend a free training program about the products they don’t know.

That was our Shopping for Baby 101 class. Free information about how to buy certain baby products including what to look for, what questions to ask, and what criteria to use when making buying decisions. The class was never a sales pitch, just useful information.

We picked up a lot of new customers that way who only thought we were a toy store.

We also began changing the way they thought about toys. Many of those same people who bought into our teachings about baby products also bought into how to buy toys, and became lifelong customers.

What do you include in the class? Answer these questions …

  • What info do most customers either misunderstand or not know about our products?
  • What info separates the smart customers from the average customers?
  • What questions does your staff have to answer over and over and over about the products?
  • What info would be fun and shareworthy?

Have a free class. Serve refreshments. Give out vendor-donated prizes. Make it fun and informative. You’ll sway a bunch of skeptics in the process.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Teaching is a lot like leading. Think of your lesson plan as a path. You want to guide your audience by starting with what they know and building onto their knowledge and assumptions until it is time to break those assumptions. Then lead them back to safety with new knowledge that shows them why their assumptions were false in the first place. This template works time and time again.

PPS Teaching leads to word-of-mouth, especially when you weave in a lot of stories for your audience to share.

PPPS If you didn’t see a topic up there that might work with your group, follow this link. That list above was already way too long.

Origin Stories – Getting People to Talk Part 2

We were sharing our origin stories at the hotel lobby bar last weekend. I was attending the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy as a speaker instead of a retailer. As a speaker I get to meet a whole bunch of new retailers.

One of them asked me how I got my start as a speaker. Another asked me how I got into the toy business. Pretty soon we were all sharing those stories. They were all quite fascinating.

Phil Wrzesinski on Toy House Float in Rose Parade 1970
Phil Wrzesinski, age 3, riding the Toy House float in the Jackson County Rose Parade 1970

One guy had an earlier career working for Publishers Clearing House. Another was a nanny. Several toy store owners I have met over the years were former teachers. I was working with juvenile delinquents before selling toys full time, but my first job at Toy House was riding on the float for the Rose Parade. When we get together we share those stories with flair and pizzazz.

Yet outside of our industry get-togethers I never seem to hear those origin stories.

Stories are fun to share. Stories posted on websites or told in ads or shared on social media come with an implicit authorization to share them. And many of these stories are Shareworthy.

In fact, many of the origin stories of the products you sell are Shareworthy, too. You probably have already heard how the Slinky was supposed to be a spring for keeping sensitive ship equipment safe and steady. You also may know that Play-Doh was originally designed to be a wallpaper cleaning compound.

When I launched the new and improved Toy House website a few years ago, I included a less-than-brief history full of pictures and details of our 67+ years of business, including how and why we got our start. I did the long form of our history with all the photos because Nostalgia was one of our Core Values.

I was surprised how much word-of-mouth it garnered, too.

On several occasions I had customers tell me how they had heard one of the facts from that page. That was an unexpected benefit.

We love to share stories.

Men love to tell stories because we speak vertically. For men, communication is like a ladder. Did what I say raise me up in your eyes or lower me down? Knowing and sharing a story raises me up a rung. (Asking directions lowers me down. Ladies, now you know why your guy won’t ask.)

Women love to tell stories because they speak more horizontally. Did what I say draw me in closer or push me away? A story is just an excuse to draw your friends in closer and bring them into your world of knowledge. (Men, now you know why she wants to ask for directions. It gets her into the inner circle.)

If you want people to talk about your business, you have to give them something to talk about.

Start telling the origin stories of your business, your products, and your services. You’ll be amazed at how quickly those stories make the rounds.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Over-the-Top Design and Story Telling are just two of the five different ways you can generate Word-of-Mouth for your store. As I told the audience at my talk last weekend, there are two types of customers who aren’t shopping with you right now: A) Those who don’t know you, B) Those who think they know you. That second group will only change their mind through word-of-mouth from their friends. To learn the other three methods, check out this.

PPS “Our History” was buried as a link off our “About Us” page. The About Us page needs to first establish those Core Values and begin building the relationship before you’ll get people to start sharing your stories. That’s why social media is an even better platform. Those people have already bought into you and your store. It was made for sharing. Give people something worth sharing.