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Working “On” Part 4 – The Game Plan

When my dad retired in 2005 his biggest concern for me was what was my plan. He’s a football fan just like I am. We’ve heard coaches time and time again talk about their Game Plan for beating their opponent. We had a new opponent that had just opened in Jackson named Walmart. How was I going to beat them?

The newspaper had asked me a similar question when Walmart announced the opening of their super center in Jackson. “How will you compete with them?”

Phil Wrzesinski ringing birthday bell
Phil Wrzesinski rings the Birthday Bell at Toy House on 11-11-11

My answer to both was the pretty much the same. “We have over five times the selection of toys as Walmart and several services they don’t offer, not to mention the smartest staff in town. The better question is, How are they going to compete with us?”

Sure there was some hubris involved. You can be a little confident when you do have a plan.

Our Game Plan was simple.

  • Increase our levels of customer service.
  • Offer more in-store activities and events.
  • Create more memorable moments.
  • Set up more demonstrations and hands-on displays.
  • Write more powerful messages for our advertising and marketing.

We were going to take our competitive strengths and put them on steroids.

Even with Walmart opening that summer, in 2005 we had our largest Christmas season ever. Two years later we surpassed every record in top line sales. 2008 was looking to be another record-breaker, only falling short at the last moment. (I think the housing bubble burst had something to do with that.) 2009 was the most profitable year in the 60-year history of the store. Even when we decided to close seven years later, our share of our shrinking market was still holding steady, even with Amazon’s growth into toys.

The key to a successful Game Plan is two-fold.

First you have to get the strategic part right. I knew we couldn’t compete with Walmart on price. I also knew they couldn’t compete with me on service. If a football team has a great player no one can tackle, you keep feeding him the ball until they stop him. I was going to keep improving my customer service and in-store experience until no one could match it.

Second, you have to have concrete steps to achieve each point of your strategy. I created year-long training schedules to transform my staff, focusing on small, incremental improvements each month to reach our goals of better engagement with customers and better selling skills. As a team we evaluated our current event offerings and came up with new ideas to make sure we had something special going on every month. My buyers were instructed to look for more toy demo options from our vendors.

Believe it our not but our Birthday Bell—one of our customer’s favorite activities—didn’t come into existence until 2010 as we were trying to come up with ways to offer more memorable moments. (Nostalgia is one of our Core Values.) That bell is now at a local museum.

Here are the steps you need to take to develop your Game Plan.

  • Identify your Core Values. The most effective Game Plans must fit within and accentuate your Core Values. If they don’t, they won’t last.
  • Evaluate both yours and your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Be brutally honest. Figure out where you have the competitive advantage and where you don’t. Highlight and exploit where you are already better and concede (or at least don’t waste valuable resources) on the areas where you cannot win.
  • Develop concrete actions you can take to increase your competitive advantage that also fits within your Core Values.
  • Play the long game. If you already own the competitive advantage in an area of your business, growing it slowly and incrementally helps your gains stick better with your staff and customers. Every bit of growth is positive, no matter how small because everything you do builds on what you have already done.

Having a Game Plan gives you two other benefits.

First, it makes working “on” your business easy. You have the blueprint right in front of you at all times. You have your marching orders for what to do next. Your Game Plan determines the kind of people you hire and the kind of services you offer. It guides your decisions and makes those decisions easier. You even have the tools for measuring your progress.

Second, it keeps you from chasing after every new fad that comes down the pike. You and I both know how often we get bombarded by some salesperson with the “next great thing” that will transform retail. When you have a solid Game Plan you can determine much more easily if the next new fad fits for you or doesn’t. You can also see whether it will affect your competitive advantage or not.

Any coach can tell you that talent alone doesn’t win games. It takes a solid Game Plan that plays up your competitive advantage and solid execution of that Plan to seize the day. If you want to win in retail you need to schedule part of every week for working on your Game Plan.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you don’t have a competitive advantage, then you need a major disruption. You need to do something huge and wild and spectacular that sets you apart from your competition. Offer a brand new service no one else would ever think of doing (like Amazon did with drone delivery). Change up your product selection to get into a niche no one else is touching. Think of it as the trick play in football. No one saw it coming. Then build on the momentum it gives you.

PPS Not sure where your strengths and weaknesses lie? Check with your local business agencies. Some of them offer SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) at low or no cost. Sometimes an extra set of eyes is all you need to see what you missed.

The Table Ad That Will Make You Cry

The salesman said something that has stuck in my head for over two decades. “Most people only buy one dining room set in their lifetime. If you buy it right, you have something that is passed down through the generations.”

He was right.

My aunt is still using the table my grandparents bought when she was young. I played cards at my cousin’s house at a table with initials carved in it from family members who were gone long before I was born. My own dining room table is twenty three years old and counting.

True Value created an ad that captures that sentiment perfectly. Watch it here. (Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

Here is the transcript from that ad …

During the depression my grandfather went hungry around this table.
Before leaving for Vietnam my uncle ate one of his last meals in America around this table.
This table has played host to everything from Christmas dinners to Grandma’s bridge tournaments to arguments about politics and sports.
This table has had fists pounded on it, pumpkins carved on it, and babies spit up on it.
Four generations of children have had to sit at this table until they ate all their vegetables, one of them just last week.
This table has a story. This table is a story. And the story doesn’t end any time soon.

This ad hits all the emotions of a dining room table perfectly. This ad is written for the Nostalgia crowd. That’s one of my core values which is why this ad resonates with me. It also fits most of the principles of a powerful ad.

This ad 1) tells a story, 2) speaks to the heart, 3) doesn’t look or sound like any other hardware store ad out there, 4) makes only one point – that we are the store for people who want to restore keepsakes and memories. 5) It speaks to the nostalgia crowd and the do-it-yourself tribe. 6) It covers enough universal memories that it could very well be your own table.

About the only thing it doesn’t do is connect you solidly back to the brand.

By itself, this is a highly emotional ad that makes you think about your own table and all the memories it holds. But it doesn’t make you think about True Value. To do that it needs to be a series of ads with a similar feel that over time will begin to resonate because it will tell an even larger story about the brand.

The important takeaway is that one great ad won’t necessarily move the needle. It is when you craft a series of ads, a campaign with the same style and flair that people come to recognize as you the instant the music or voice or image opens, then the magic begins to happen.

If True Value were to do a series of ads like this over a period of time, they would begin to own the hearts of the Nostalgia crowd. They would get the top of mind awareness for the people who share that sentiment and believe what they believe. They would establish themselves as the brand for those who want to restore and refinish and value the old-style craftsmanship. One ad won’t do that. One ad will make you think of tables. A series of ads gets you to think about the brand.

My favorite compliment about my advertising for Toy House was not about any individual ad. It was when people said they couldn’t wait to hear the next ad. It is the series of ads that truly speaks about your brand and tells your customers what you believe.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The ad copy is poetry. All great ad copy reads and sounds like poetry. Then again, the poet’s job has always been to take something you already knew, reframe your perspective, and make you feel something. Oh, and the ad-writer’s job is to take something your customers already know, reframe their perspective, and make them feel something. But you already know that.

Breaking Down the Typical Car Ad

My son wrote an amazing car ad right off the top of his head. He did it in response to the boring-to-downright-excruciatingly-bad car ads we were seeing while watching football over the weekend.

You know the kind of car ad I’m talking about.

  1. It starts with a close up of the curves and shiny paint job of some new car while a voice talks in hushed tones about beauty or design or craftsmanship.
  2. Then you see the full vehicle driving on a winding road through the mountains or doing donuts on the salt flats of Utah or cruising through some generic downtown while the words “professional driver on a closed circuit” flash briefly at the bottom of the screen.
  3. Then the vehicle is parked. If it is an SUV it is on top of a mountain with a panoramic view. If it is a sedan or sports car then it is shot from above looking down on the car with a city landscape in the background. (Or in Buick’s case – both!)
  4. Then big numbers flash on the screen with a bunch of small print, and a voice telling you in rapid-fire, small-print kind of speech that if you work for the company you can get some amazing deal on a lease or something like that.

Outside of the testimonial ads*, isn’t that pretty much 80-90% of the car ads out there?

Let’s break down what these ads are telling you.

Scene 1, the opening shot, is supposed to subliminally suggest sex. The hushed tones, the close-ups, the reveal-a-little-but-not-the-whole-thing. Yeah, that’s the tease to get you interested. The problem is that most of the vehicles tend to be morphing into each other to the point you can’t tell them apart without their logo. Right now Mazda is running an ad where the vehicle is completely covered on the outside while people test drive it and then they reveal the logo at the end to the driver’s surprise. If you can’t tell a Mazda from a BMW by the shape of the car, does design really matter that much? For years now Buick has been running ads about how people can’t even recognize that the car is a Buick. So much for design branding.

Scene 2, the driving sequence, shows the car going through its paces, not your paces. You won’t ever get to do donuts on the salt flats or go speeding around traffic-free, hairpin turns in the mountains. You’d like to do that. But you won’t. You aren’t a “professional driver on a closed circuit”. How does it handle stop-and-go traffic during rush hour? How tight is the turning radius for pulling into the parking lot at Costco? How bad are the blind spots when you’re backing up out of the drive? For 99% of the buyers, that’s more relevant than mountain driving, anyway.

Scene 3, the parked vehicle, is the glamour shot. They all finish with the glamour shot. Supposedly this is so you can recognize their car from all the other similar looking cars when you finally go out to buy one. The shot signifies that we are nearing the end of the ad. This wouldn’t be bad if there had been some kind of story coming to an end. This wouldn’t be so bad if it actually was the end. But it isn’t.

The glamour shot is simply the background to Scene 4, the offer. Big, bold numbers and a bunch of fine print showing up telling you that if you work for the company and are approved you can get some version of this vehicle “right now” for only $999 down and $230 a month. This part of the ad drives me crazy.

First, the deal they are offering comes with pages of fine print, the first being you have to be an employee to get this deal. Really? You’re paying millions for this commercial to tell the 209,000 people of GM about a sale just for them? Why not send them an email and save a few million? Otherwise, you’re just telling the 317 million people who don’t work for GM that they will have to pay more.

Second, no one actually gets that deal. No one. The car has too many extra features or you aren’t fully approved with an 850 credit score.

Third, the deal takes away from any of the feelings the ad may have stirred (granted not many feelings, but still …). The ad goes from one about how sleek, sexy, powerful, luxurious, rugged, adventurous, green, and quiet the vehicle is to, “Hey, it’s on sale!!!!” The person looking for a deal doesn’t care about all those other adjectives. The person who cares about those adjectives is less concerned about the deal. The offer waters down the message for both groups.

No matter how you slice it, these ads don’t speak to your heart. They don’t tell you a compelling story. They try to make more points than anyone could remember. They look and sound like everyone else. Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep, Lexus, Nissan, even Kia are all spending millions without moving the needle.

When you go to create your ads for your business, do me one favor. Don’t fall into the trap of, “Well, the big companies do this so it must be right,” kind of thinking. I’ve just shown you how really big companies can do things incredibly wrong.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS *Even the Chevy ads with “real” people showing off their awards and using testimonials aren’t nearly as effective as they think. One study shows that more people find these kinds of ads less believable than find them more believable.

PPS Sorry. I just made it impossible for you to watch any more car ads without thinking about this post. Hopefully you’ll laugh more than cry about the absurdity of them all. Me? I die a little inside each time.

PPPS I went back and looked at the car ads from the UM football game. Lexus swaps out driving in the mountains with driving in a black gigantic showroom of some kind. Nissan shows cars driving on a football field. Like either of those is going to happen in real life.

This is the Ad We Wish They Would Write

I spent the weekend watching college football. I went to my first game at age seven to watch the University of Michigan whomp on the Navy. I was hooked. I became the third generation of my family to graduate from Jackson High and get a degree from UM. (My oldest son is working on becoming the fourth generation.) I only applied to one school and only applied for one reason—it was the easiest way to get football tickets! (Mom says the reason I stayed a fifth year was to keep those tickets one more season. She was right!)

Image result for college footballI love watching college football games on TV, too. Except for one thing—the horrible TV ads! Even my younger son rolls his eyes and scoffs at the lousy ads we see. We wonder who in their right mind listened to the pitches for these ads and green-lighted them.

“Okay, we’ll have this hamster because hamsters are furry and fun and sell almost as well as teddy bears. But this one will be in a hospital, wearing a diaper. And, get this … he’ll make a daring escape from the hospital to action-packed music, running faster than anyone expected, zooming around the hospital employees. Just before he leaps off the top of the hospital to freedom, he’ll grab a green blanket to use as a parachute and glide perfectly through the sunroof of our car—also driven by hamsters, because everyone knows that if hamsters will break out of human hospitals to be in our cars, humans will want to break out of hospitals to buy them, too.”

Really, Kia? That’s moving the needle for you?

My younger son is in high school, but after watching the hamster ad for the umpteenth time, he wrote a car ad in twenty seconds with only two words that will move you to tears and send you to the dealership.

Here it is …

Scene 1: Daddy gives his young daughter her own pony.

Scene 2: A montage of the girl and the pony growing up together, learning to ride, riding like the wind, winning ribbons and medals, becoming a team.

Scene 3: The girl, now sixteen, is riding her pony across a huge open field when they spot a herd of 299 horses in the distance. The pony stops and looks back at the girl. A tear forms on the girl’s cheek. She slides off her pony, removes the saddle and bridle, and sends the pony to go join the herd, slapping it on the rear while choking out the words … “It’s time.” 

Scene 4: The pony runs off to join the herd of horses which then meld into a brand new 300-horsepower Mustang.

Scene 5: The girl climbs behind the wheel of her new Mustang still feeling a little nostalgic and sad. She hears a noise and smiles as she looks up to see her horse’s bridle hanging from the rearview mirror.

Scene 6: The girl drives her Mustang off into the sunset. The tagline at the bottom reads, “When it’s time …”

Fade out (None of those cheesy tags on the end to ruin it with prices that mean nothing when you’re actually on the showroom floor picking out your model)

Ford, you can make the check out to Ian.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The beauty of this ad is that without Ian having read my new book Most Ads Suck (But Yours Won’t), he crafted an ad in mere seconds that 1) Told a Story that relates to buying a car, 2) Spoke to the Heart about a rite of passage—getting your first car, 3) Made only One Point that we grow up and replace our childhood items with adult items, 4) Spoke to the tribe of women who owned or wanted to own a pony, and 5) Doesn’t look or sound like any other car ad out there. That’s five of the six principles in the book!

My son is planning to go to college to study computers, but if you are an advertising agency, you might want to snatch him up before the digital world gets him. I watched a lot of football and a lot of commercials this weekend. You could use him.

PPS If you don’t have a daughter, wouldn’t ever give your daughter a pony, or can’t stand Ford vehicles on principle, this ad won’t speak to you. Choose who to lose. But every guy who ever gave his daughter a pony will be watching, as will every woman who ever wanted a pony, whether she got one or not. That’s still a pretty big audience.

PPPS The best thing every car ad in America could do right now that would make their ads significantly better would be to drop those end tags about how much down, how much a month, because those prices are NEVER what anyone actually pays (even if you are a “fully qualified GM employee”). Those tags take away from the rest of the ad and turn what might have been a solid branding message into a transactional ad with a message that belies trust instead of building it. Just sayin’ …

Breaking Down Our Phone Greeting

“Thank you for calling the Toy House. How can I help you?”

That was the greeting I trained my staff to use every time they answered the phone. Twelve words in a specific order for specific reasons. Let’s break it down …

“Thank you for calling …”

Image result for mom on phoneWe were a toy store. Imagine who might be calling a toy store. A mom? Sure. A mom with kids running around playing at her feet? Likely. A mom trying to juggle two or three things at once? Ding, ding, ding. Half of her focus is on something other than the phone.

By using an opening phrase like, “Thank you for calling …” before saying the words “Toy House”, we give her a chance to regain her focus. In that split second she recognizes that someone has answered, that someone is a male voice, that someone is speaking English. By the time we get to the words she most needs to hear to know she called the right place—“Toy House”—she has dialed her focus into our voice.

Have you ever called someplace and they said the store name so fast you weren’t sure you called the right place? That doesn’t happen with this script. You give your customer time to focus on the call so that she hears the name of the store clearly.

The other thing this phrase corrects is the employee so in a hurry to answer the phone that he is saying the store name before the receiver even gets to his mouth.

Also, we begin with the words “Thank you.” There is no better greeting for a retailer. They didn’t have to call you. They could go online. They could go elsewhere. They called you. Be grateful. Say thanks.

“How can I help you?”

This is a question that indicates you are ready for the customer to begin talking and you are ready to listen. I have called stores where they simply say the store name and then shut up. There is usually an awkward silence at that point. Not only is this question polite, but it makes the conversation go much more smoothly. Plus, it reinforces in your own staff the importance of listening.

Notice that I don’t instruct my staff to give out their name at this point. There is a reason behind that. The initial person answering the phone is rarely the person answering the question. As you remember from the previous post, the four questions most commonly asked are:

  • Can I speak to (a person or the manager)?
  • Can I speak to (a department)?
  • Do you have (a product)?
  • How late are you open?

The customer is likely to remember only one name and usually it is the first name they hear. If the customer asks for a department or has a specific question, the person that greets them at that time is instructed to give out his or her name. “You have reached the baby department. This is Phil. How can I help you?”

This way the customer is only given one name to remember, the name of the person who gave her the greatest help and the name she would need to remember if she called back.

At the end of the day, a customer calling your store wants three things.

  • To know that she called the right store
  • To be treated with respect
  • To get the information she needs

When you train your staff on these little details, your chances for meeting the customer’s expectations go up exponentially.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You don’t have to use the same script I used. The most important thing is that you have a script and train the little details like answering the phone with whatever greeting makes most sense for you. Just don’t leave it to chance or happenstance. When you don’t train your staff on these little details your chances for failing your customers go up exponentially, too.

The Fine Line Between Chaos and Just Plain Messy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

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

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

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

Happy 4th of July!

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

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

Yeah I gained business being closed those days.

Yeah, I increased payroll being closed those days.

Yeah, I decreased payroll being closed those days.

Wait, what?

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

Death by Typo

My buddy was at a conference recently and the presenter for his breakout session had a major typo in big bold letters at the top of one of his opening slides. My buddy couldn’t resist. He took a photo of this typo—and I’m talking not just a single letter but a major butchering—and posted it with the comment, “Why am I listening to this guy for advice?”

After we all agreed the comment was a bit snarky and we all agreed the speaker probably had some good content, I couldn’t quite let this speaker off the hook. After all, even PowerPoint has spellcheck.

The real problem was that a major blunder like this on something so easily proofread and corrected meant two things …

  1. The guy wasn’t prepared. He hadn’t given his presentation enough time to check for errors which sent the signal that the rest of his presentation was hastily slapped together, too.
  2. My buddy was so turned off and distracted by one little misstep, that he missed the message.

Your business sends similar signals to customers all the time. When you have typos or grammar mistakes in your signs and posters and emails and social media posts, you send the signal to many of your customers that you hastily slapped things together. You distract them with these errors and keep them from seeing what you want them to see.

It doesn’t have to be typos either. It can be a staff that is ill-prepared for an event or special offering. It can be contradicting terms from two different sales people. It can be trash by the front door. It can be poorly merchandised areas of your store. It can be dust. It can be a messy bathroom. It can be an answering machine with the wrong hours because the seasons have changed. It can be a website with the wrong hours. It can be a funny smell coming from the backroom staff area. It can be an old, faded, worn-out, been there since the 90’s sign that has a corner missing. It can be footprints of mud leading back to the model section from the work boots of one of your best customers. It can be disheveled clothing on your staff. It can be music that is too loud or too harsh for your shopping environment. It can be window and door glass with smudged finger and hand-prints. It can be products not matching the shelf signs.

It doesn’t have to be much to distract your customers from your awesome staff and fabulous product selection. That little typo can do more damage to your branding than the thousands of dollars you spend on advertising can do good. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

The band Van Halen used to put a clause in their contracts asking for M&M’s with all of a certain color removed. A lot of people thought they must be divas because of that. I was part of that crowd until I heard an interview with David Lee Roth, the acrobatic lead singer who used to fly around the stage. He said they had very intricate, detailed instructions for how to assemble the stage for his safety. If the show organizers were detailed enough to do the M&M’s right (something small and trivial in the grand scheme of things), he had more confidence the stage would be built right. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

You have a fabulous staff and wonderful products. Don’t do anything that signals the customer otherwise. Don’t do anything that distracts the customer from the prize. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There was another lesson from that presentation about bullet points, but I’ll save that for another day. You have enough to do looking for all those little distractions that mean a lot.

Advertising Cannot Change Your Reputation

In a recent post I talked about how my hometown of Jackson, Michigan was once called “Central City” because of the railroad industry back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The name most people my age knew was the unofficial title of “Prison City”. One reader reminded me that for several years Jackson has been calling itself the “Rose City”.

I forgot about that name.

Image result for roseSure there are some subtle reminders such as the Rose Parade in which my boys and I have participated over the years, and the Rose Festival, but not much after that.

A friend of mine moved to Jackson a few years ago and heard the name. She still wonders how the name came to be. No huge rose gardens on display, no neighborhoods full of roses, no roses featured in the new logo. The name doesn’t fit the experience.

Prison City still fits. We still have prisons. People already think about Jackson that way. You don’t have to try to convince them otherwise.

But Rose City doesn’t.

That’s one of the key principles of advertising. To truly be effective, your advertising has to match the experience. You can’t advertise your way out of a bad reputation. You can only reinforce the reputation you already have. You can’t change perceptions with advertising. If you try, you will only waste thousands of dollars with nothing to show for it.

Sign up now for this Tuesday’s SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING & ADVERTISING class and I’ll show you how to spend your money much more wisely and use advertising in ways that it can work.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There are four things advertising cannot do. It cannot change your reputation. It cannot fix your business. It cannot create loyalty. It cannot reach everyone. Sign up for the class and I’ll show you the four things advertising CAN do.

Revisit the Important Stuff

Staff training has begun for my summer gig at YMCA Storer Camps. There is a lot of ground to cover to get the camp counselors up to speed with all the policies and procedures. Like any other camp, Storer has its quirks and special ways of doing things. Also like any other camp, Storer’s number one concern is safety.

Every single day during training week we have time devoted purely to safety. Every single session this week starts with a quick word about safety. Every single program is designed with safety of the campers and staff as the number one priority.

Don’t worry. We aren’t putting bubble wrap around the kids and treating them like snowflakes. They will have fun. Tons of it (especially if they get into my sailing program!!) They also will get some bumps and bruises. You can’t eliminate all the risks.

But when you minimize the needless risks and eliminate reckless or dangerous behavior, everyone has even more fun. There is nothing fun about spending your summer camp in the health center or going home early because of a preventable injury.

Safety is the number one priority, so it is brought up Every. Single. Time. It is at the front of every staff member’s thoughts. It is part of the culture.

What is your number one priority? Is it selling? Is it servicing? Is it greeting everyone at the front door? Is it making sure people are completely comfortable in the store? Is it gathering as much data about someone as possible? Is it keeping the store clean? Is it getting referrals and repeat customers?

No matter what your top priority may be, the bigger question is … Are you training it every single day? Are you reinforcing that this is your single most important priority? Are you making it not just something you say, but something you live and breathe as part of your culture?

The best companies do this. The best companies know exactly what is most important and they talk about it and train for it every single day. There is a reason YMCA Storer Camps is one of the best camps in the nation. They make sure everyone buys into their top priorities by making sure those top priorities are visited and revisited time and time again.

Follow their lead and do the same for your business. You will notice a difference almost immediately.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I know there is a typo on my name badge. Not everyone is perfect. People make mistakes. No matter what you make your top priority and no matter how often you revisit it, people will make mistakes. The more you revisit it, however, the fewer the mistakes and the less likely they will be big mistakes.

PPS What does this have to do with the SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING & ADVERTISING class coming up on Tuesday, June 20th? Absolutely nothing. Or then again …?