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Don’t Get Stuck in Irons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

Jack of All, Master of None

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

It pays more than it costs.

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

Some Things Change, Some Things Shouldn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Change: Your Core Values, Putting Your Customer First

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

Change Now: Everything else

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

Give Them What They Want

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

June 23, 2017 behind The Poison Frog Brewery

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

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

What does that have to do with retail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

Spotlight on Marketing & Advertising Class Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Here is your chance to learn the equivalent of a degree in advertising in just one night. As one MBA professor told me after sampling the material, “No one is teaching this stuff even at our level, and it needs to be learned!”

If you are a small business owner, you should take this class.
If you are an entrepreneur, you should take this class.
If you are a student studying business at any level, you should take this class.

SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING & ADVERTISING 

Next Class: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 – 6pm to 10pm

Tuition: $250 (Half-price for any businesses that are JRSA™ Alumni)

Famed retailer John Wanamaker said it best, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The problem is, I don’t know which half.” Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on advertising every year. Most of it poorly.

This Spotlight covers everything from how different types of advertising work to the best ways to use social media to marketing on a shoestring budget to learning the secrets to getting the press to talk about you. You will learn best practices for marketing your business whether your ad budget is $500 or $50,000. You will learn how to create memorable messages that move customers toward your business and you toward your goals. You will learn how to get far more out of your advertising dollars than any of your competitors.

When you take this class you will get…

  • Better, Smarter, More Effective Advertising – You’ll learn secrets that only a handful of businesses know that get greater results per dollar than any of your competitors.
  • One full year of Advertising Support including help finding your message, creating a campaign and buying ad packages
  • A Network of current and previous JRSA™ graduates for support and encouragement
  • Half-Price Tuition for any future JRSA™ programs

Click here to sign up for the class.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, this will include the material from my new book MOST ADS SUCK. That will only make up about 25% of the material covered. If you have a business to market, this will be the best money you’ve spent on “advertising” ever.

Using My Super Powers

My boys and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 earlier this evening. We are Marvel Studios junkies. Even the bad ones were good enough for us. I’ve always been fascinated by super heroes, especially their powers and how they use them. I am firm believer that we all have super powers within us. Maybe not the ability to fly or super-human strength or making fire shoot from our eyes. But we have talents that, when harnessed properly, become amazing powers.

I have learned that one of my powers is the ability to take complex subjects and make them understandable.

Independent retailers have to master a number of skills to be successful.

  • You have to be good with your Products – knowing your products inside and out, knowing how to relate to customers, knowing which products to sell and how to sell them.
  • You have to be good at Marketing & Advertising – knowing how to get the word out to people that you are the place to shop.
  • You have to be good at Financials – knowing how to manage your cash flow, maintaining profit margin, keeping expenses in alignment with sales.
  • If you’re a large enough store you have to be good with People – knowing how to hire, train, and manage a quality team.

Those are the main legs of the retail business – Products, Marketing, Financials, and People.

I used to say I was good at three, just don’t ask me about Financials. Then the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) asked me to do something unthinkable. They asked me to write a book about the financials of a toy store called “Financials Made Easy.”

They said if anyone could do it, I could. I told them if they changed the title to “Financials You Can Understand” (because no one could make it “easy”) then I was their guy.

In four months I learned and understood more about Financials than I ever thought possible. The book is one of my favorite writing projects because I had to take a topic I barely understood myself and translate it into the language of non-accountants everywhere. (My accountant friends who helped proof-read the book for errors were amazed as much as I was at how well it turned out.)

The book is proprietary property of ASTRA. You have to join ASTRA to get a copy. But the knowledge I gained in the process helped me tremendously at Toy House and also in my teachings through Jackson Retail Success Academy™ and PhilsForum. Later that year I did my first workshop on the topic. One of the attendees said her accountant had been trying to teach her this stuff for years, but this was the first time it finally made sense.

I have now presented several times on the topics of Retail Math, my least favorite and least experienced topic. I’ll be doing both a beginner and an expert breakout session on elements of the book at the upcoming ASTRA Academy in June.

I tell you this because I want you to understand the reasoning behind writing the book Most Ads Suck. Unlike Financials, I love Marketing & Advertising. I took over that element of Toy House in 1995 and began experimenting, trying different things to see what worked. I began studying advertising and reading different authors who spoke on advertising.

My radio sales rep Linda McDougall gave me Roy H. Williams’ first book The Wizard of Ads. I was hooked immediately. I ordered the other two books in his trilogy the very next day. I also became a huge fan of Seth Godin and joined his now defunct website triiibes based on his book Tribes where I met people as passionate about marketing and advertising as I was. I started using stuff I learned from Roy and Seth and Malcolm Gladwell and Gary Vaynerchuk and Daniel H. Pink and Guy Kawasaki and others.

Not everything I learned worked for me. I had to mix and distill and tweak and measure and test. But when it did work, it was magical.

I wrote this ad in a few minutes one Sunday afternoon in July 2008 …

I couldn’t believe it. They were taking customers into the men’s bathroom. Yes, my staff was taking men and women, young and old, into our men’s bathroom. And they were coming out laughing, smiling, oh yeah, and buying, too. I guess when you have a product this good, you just have to show it off however… and wherever… you can. The men’s bathroom… Gotta love it!  Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

I didn’t ever think about not running it. It told a story. It made you laugh (emotion). It grabbed your interest. Yeah, it mentioned the men’s bathroom, but not in a bad or seedy way. Yeah, it never mentioned the product (if you remember the previous blog, you know that feelings are more important than facts.) Yeah, it went viral big time.

The ad ran in August 2008. Two times a day, Monday through Friday, for four weeks. That’s it.

The first day it aired, the DJ started talking about it live on air, wondering what was going on in our men’s bathroom. The second day, all the DJ’s on all the related stations were talking about it – including one of the stations that wasn’t even running the ad! By day three even the local TV talk show host was speculating on that ad. All fall my staff and I would get asked at the grocery store or the gas station about what was going on in the men’s bathroom. In March 2009 one customer stopped in and asked me because, “All we talked about at the adult table at Christmas Dinner was was going on in your men’s bathroom.” And she lived two hours away!

When people are talking about your ads weeks and months after they aired, you made memorable ads. When people are asking you about your ads even when you’re not in your store, your business is at the top of their minds. When people talk to their friends and family about your ads, you know you made an impact.

That ad wasn’t a lucky accident. It was years of study and testing. It was years of trial and error. It was millions of dollars spent learning what moves the needle and what doesn’t.

The book Most Ads Suck (But Yours Won’t) is me using my super powers to take something as complex and nuanced as Advertising, that I have spent twenty years studying and actively doing, and make it understandable. This is me at my best helping you become your best. I am asking for your support to help launch this book.

My super power is to make it understandable. I’m counting on your super power to make it happen now.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The principles in this book don’t just work for radio ads. The principles apply to billboards, print ads, television, direct mail, email, social media, pitches to investors, political speeches, and anywhere else where you need to persuade someone. If you haven’t yet pre-ordered the book through my Indiegogo campaign, there are plenty of links above.

This Book Will Change Lives

Click-bait, right? Not at all. My new book, Most Ads Suck, will change lives for the better. Here’s how …

Before we go further, if you accept the premise that most ads do in fact suck, then you will accept the premise that most independent business owners will have sucky ads. You good with that?

First, most indie business owners have no training for creating killer content.

Second, they have no budget for buying a big ad agency with a top-notch creative team.

Third, they are usually at the whim of an advertising sales person who also has no training in creating killer content. At best he or she has a clever team that can create a clever version of the same template they are running for every other client.

Just imagine what happens if one indie business owner gets a hold of this book and learns how to tell stories that speak to the heart of his tribe*. Just imagine what happens if one indie business owner starts creating content that gets noticed and remembered. Just imagine what happens if one indie business owner grows her business into a powerhouse.

That’s food on the table for his family. That’s better pay for her employees (indie businesses are notorious for paying more than big chains). That’s more taxes for his community (indie businesses are notorious for being stuck paying higher taxes than chains). That’s more support for other indie businesses.

Multiply that x 1000 (the number of books available in the first print run) and your pre-order of this book will change lives. I call it Trickle Up Economics.

You aren’t donating to me when you go to Indiegogo.com – you get a book, a t-shirt, a webinar, even a couple of ads written for you in return for your support. The support you give to this campaign is support to every indie business owner out there currently at the mercy of untrained creative teams from untrained advertising salespeople. You are helping launch a resource that will change their lives (and yours) forever.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS *Telling Stories, Speaking to the Heart and Speaking to Your Tribe are three of the six principles outlined and explained in the book. Since all boats rise with the tide, when you help me help them, you help me help you (which helps them and you, too.) Please support this campaign.

Not Just for Retailers

I was having a conversation this morning when the light bulb went on. I was asked by someone considering enrolling in the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop this Wednesday (it is not too late to sign up) whether he would learn anything useful since he “wasn’t a retail store manager.”

The answer is a resounding YES!

In fact, most of what I teach has implications far beyond just the retail landscape. I have followers from all over the world in all types of industries.

If you are in any position where you have to hire people, you need to read my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art.

If you are in any position where you write copy to persuade people to buy or use your products or services, you can learn from my articles on marketing (and my new book coming out later this spring). 

If you are in any position to teach and lead your staff you would benefit not only from the Spotlight class, but also from the Free Resources on Team Building and Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend.

I know where the confusion began.

The SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop is being offered through the Jackson Retail Success Academy™. While JRSA™ is mostly geared for retailers, we have had many graduates from other industries. Other than the inventory management segment, most of what I teach there applies to all types of businesses. I run all local classes through JRSA™ because of my partnership with Spring Arbor University and their Hosmer Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. They provide a fantastic venue for hosting events like these and have been a wonderful partner.

You don’t have to be a retailer to take any of the classes or workshops I offer. You only have to be open-minded and ready to learn.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I am already working on a date for the next SPOTLIGHT workshop. This will be an advanced degree in Advertising and Marketing in four fast-paced hours for anyone who has a business to promote. Stay tuned for details.

Sign Up for the Spotlight on Managerial Success Workshop

If you’re still sitting on the fence about signing up for next Wednesday’s SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop, here are a few questions to ask yourself.

  1. Do you manage a team of three or more people?
  2. Do you feel that your team is not working up to their best potential?
  3. Do you believe you could improve your communication skills?
  4. Do you hate confrontational situations?
  5. Do you believe that team building can be fostered and led rather than just happening organically over time?
  6. Do you believe your new hires need a better, more consistent training program?
  7. Do you believe your current team would benefit from further training?

If you’re answering No then you can stop reading. You’re good to go.

If you’re answering Yes, then ask yourself these two questions…

  1. What will help your business more in the long run – you being there at your business all day Wednesday or you taking a day to learn new skills, techniques and tools to make everyone on your team more productive?
  2. Where else could you get hands-on training to teach you how to lead team building, teach you how to communicate better, and help you build training plans for your employees for only $50 and eight hours of your time?

If you’re still not convinced, let’s make this really simple… If you don’t find value in the program, I will refund your money. Period. (If you read my blog regularly, you know I’m serious about that. Customer first. Always.)

Sign up today!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here’s a benefit I have yet to mention. Attend this Jackson Retail Success Academy™ event and you will become an alumni, eligible to attend future JRSA™ events at discounted prices!

 

How to Teach a Class in Your Store

You know why you need to teach classes in your store. Here are the six steps you take to create a class that draws traffic, builds excitement, gains you followers, sets you up as the expert, and makes people want to buy from you.

  1. Determine which product(s) you sell that takes the longest to explain or takes the most trips before the customer pulls the trigger. These are the items to build your class around because these are the items that require an expert. The more questions a customer asks about a product, the more likely you’ll find people wanting to attend a class to learn more.
  2. Write down all the questions a customer typically asks about the product. Then add in two more questions you think they should be asking. This will become the outline of your presentation. (You can brainstorm this list with your sales staff.)
  3. List all the benefits of the products (remember, a feature is what the product does, a benefit is why that helps the user).
  4. List all the downsides of the product. Everything has a downside. If you don’t tell your customer up front, she will think you’re hiding something. Being honest about the downsides wins you trust.
  5. Get the customer to visualize using the product in her home or in her life. Ask questions like, “How would you use this?” Where would you use this?” “Do you see yourself using this?” “How would this affect your life right now?” This moves the customer from being in analytical mode to being in ownership mode. We only do in real life what we have already visualized in our minds. Get your customer to visualize owning the product and you will be more likely to win the sale.
  6. List all the reasons why someone should buy this product from you. If you offer services like layaway or financing or delivery or assembly, this is when you share that information. If you truly have answered all the most important questions including the ones they forgot to ask, and you have helped them visualize owning and using the product, then you have their permission to sell them. Just remember that you aren’t selling a product, you are selling a solution.

That’s the class. It is no different than selling to one person while a bunch of other people sit in and listen. You can decorate with comfortable seating, snacks & prizes (ask your vendors for giveaways), cool signs, etc. Just make sure you follow the steps above so that you offer a true benefit to your customers. They’ll thank you for the effort with their pocketbooks.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t worry about attendance. You might get 30 people, you might get 3. Make them feel special. Go above and beyond what they expect. Not only will you get the sale, you’ll get the referral, which is often a more powerful sales tool than the class, itself.

PPS Just a reminder that it doesn’t have to be that expensive to advertise. Social media, email, your website, some in-store signage, and a few online community calendars will draw a crowd. Make it worth their while and they’ll help you draw the next crowd.