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Ask Your Customers What They Want

The one “service” my biggest competitor had that I didn’t was a Birthday Club. I wanted one for my customers. I already knew one thing I would do differently. That was the big Birthday Bell you got to ring when you came in to celebrate your birthday. What you probably don’t know was that I actually wanted a bigger bell than the 32-pound brass bell we ended up getting.

Phil holding the Birthday Bell

I wanted to run a hole through the ceiling and put a little steeple on top of the store with bronze church bell inside. That way, when you rang the bell, not only would everyone in the store know you were celebrating your birthday, so would everyone outside the store.

Unfortunately that would be a potential violation of the noise ordinance, so we went with the indoor bell.

The two parts of the Birthday Club I wasn’t sure about were the offer and the age limit. So I asked my fans on Facebook.

I first asked what people got from other birthday clubs for kids. Most birthday clubs offered a small coupon good on a larger purchase with a limited time frame to redeem. The general sentiment was that $2 and $3 coupons, especially when they came with strings attached such as a limited window to redeem and a minimum purchase, were of little interest to the child and often not enough to even garner a visit to the store. That was useful information. I knew I had to go big or go home.

With this knowledge, I sent out a postcard that was a $10 gift certificate—no strings attached. Well, okay, we had one string attached. It could only be used by the birthday person. Period. How that person used it was up to the individual. The postcard never expired. The postcard didn’t have to be used with anything else. There was no minimum purchase (although you didn’t get change back if the purchase was less than $10).

A lot of people gave us the postcard and 59 cents for their birthday purchase ($9.99 plus 60 cents for MI sales tax).

A lot of people spent way more.

Our average ticket for the birthday postcard was just under $30, which meant we made a profit (albeit a small one) on those transactions. More importantly, the postcards drove traffic. Over the last couple years we averaged over 300 postcards a month. That’s over 10 per day. Imagine ten happy customers ringing a bell and having fun spending their free money. Not only did it create excitement in the store and drive traffic, it drove word-of-mouth advertising. Everyone took pictures and video of their kids ringing the birthday bell that they posted on social media. On top of that, it created lifelong memories. I have had several customers come up to me since we closed saying that was the one thing they miss the most!

I had one more question to ask … “How long should the Birthday Club last?” Some stores aged you out at 10 years old, some at 12 years old. I wondered what my customers thought.

When I asked that question of my fans on Facebook one mom answered, “40?”

I didn’t need any more answers (although I got several that echoed her sentiment). I knew right then and there our Birthday Club would have no age limit. Sure, some of the parents and grandparents used their postcards to buy gifts for the little ones. Some, however, bought stuff for themselves. One young lady celebrated her 96th birthday by ringing the bell and buying two new decks of cards.

Without asking my customers, I might have structured the Birthday Club quite differently and it wouldn’t have been the successful program it was.

Toy House Birthday Bell

Find out what your customers want. Give them that and a little more.

We only had the Birthday Club and the Birthday Bell in the last decade of our operations, but it quickly became the highlight and focal point of a visit to Toy House. The bell was engraved and now rests in the capable hands of Ella Sharp Museum where they pull it out for special displays of Jackson’s history.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The Birthday Club worked on a variety of different levels. The ringing of the larger-than-life, 32-pound brass bell was about creating memories and spreading the word through social media posts. Rarely a day went by that we weren’t tagged in a photo or video somewhere. The $10 gift certificate was an act of generosity that outshone our competitors and positioned us as being more customer-centric than they were with all the strings attached. The no expiration on the postcard allowed customers flexibility for using it whenever it worked best for them. One family saved them all up and made a family trip in for everyone to spend their cards on one special day. One family was always traveling around their daughter’s birthday so they appreciated not having to “use-it-or-lose-it.” Another family held it for their son to celebrate his December birthday in July. Any time you can delight your customers, you should.

PPS If Goodyear had asked its dealers (its customers), I’m sure they could have helped create an even better system that would surprise and delight the end-users more than the frustrations they caused yesterday.

Good Idea, Poor Execution

I need new tires for my vehicle. I’ve been through this process before. It used to be easy. I had a downtown Goodyear Tire place. I went there. Supported my fellow downtown business. They always took care of me. Knew me on a first-name basis. It was only two blocks from Toy House. No worries.

They’re closed now.

Image result for goodyear assurance tripletred all-seasonSo I did what a lot of people do these days. I went online.

Let’s face it. Tires are scary. There are so many different makes and models. Each vehicle has its own requirements. Without trust between buyer and seller, it is easy to feel afraid of being ripped off. I wanted to know more about tires before I set foot in a store. I wanted to research different models, check prices (last time I got tires there was a $250 difference between the tires I got and a couple other places offering the same tire), and be prepared.

I’ve always been a fan of Goodyear, probably because of the Goodyear store downtown, probably because there used to be a Goodyear plant in Jackson that spent a lot of money at Toy House both as a company and the individuals that worked there. I found myself on the Goodyear website comparing different models the right size and style for my vehicle.

The website was good. It had side-by-side comparisons, reviews and ratings, plus all the specs like warranty, fuel-efficiency, season, comfort, etc. I narrowed it down to a couple choices and felt a whole lot smarter.

GOOD IDEA

Then the website took it a step farther. I had the ability right then and there to purchase the tires online and have them installed locally. Before I clicked, however, I went to a few local tire place websites to compare prices. No one had the tire I wanted as an offering, but their pricing on the other Goodyear tires was similar to the Goodyear site. I felt a little more confident that I was getting a fair deal.

The good idea at Goodyear was to get the purchase right away. Don’t let me go to a local shop and have them sell me on some other brand. When I clicked on the purchase button, it then gave me a choice of shops in the area where I could get those tires installed. Even better! I knew most of them, but didn’t have a relationship with any of them, so I chose the place closest to my home.

Then the Goodyear site let me choose an appointment time. It had to be two days or more later. That made sense to me, since the shop might not have the tires in stock. I chose two days later at 10am, paid for my tires, and got my confirmation email.

I will be willing to bet this website drives a lot of traffic to these tire shops because of people like me shopping online.

POOR EXECUTION

This morning I arrived for my appointment. No tires. The delivery truck doesn’t arrive until the afternoon. Plus, even if the tires were there, the shop had already booked all their bays for the morning. The shop had only received the email from Goodyear about the shipment and appointment this morning.

The guy at the shop was quite apologetic. He said he has this problem with Goodyear all the time, even though he has called them several times trying to get minor changes to their program like scheduling out three days instead of two so that he was sure he would have the tires on time and be able schedule installers. They tell him, “Sorry, that’s the way we do it.”

Fortunately for this shop, and for me, I have a wide open schedule this afternoon. So does the shop. As soon as the tires land I’ll be back and they’ll be able to get me right in. But just imagine the person who had to work their whole schedule around this appointment.

Maybe you had to drop off the car before work and find someone to take you to work, then pick you up after. Maybe you had to get a babysitter because you didn’t want to take your two-year old to sit in the waiting room of a tire shop. Maybe you had a business meeting out of town in the afternoon and really wanted those new tires before making a two-hour drive. Maybe you were leaving on vacation and were waiting on another paycheck to afford the tires, scheduled the purchase as soon as possible, but now had to delay your entire vacation a day because of this fiasco?

Can you imagine any of those people being completely upset and irate? Can you imagine any of those people taking their frustrations out on a tire shop manager for something that was totally out of his control? Can you imagine any of those people writing bad reviews of the tire shop on Yelp?

VENDORS ARE PARTNERS

As a retailer, I understand the flow of products. If I had called this shop directly, placed the order, and made the appointment, only to find that morning that they didn’t have my tires, that would have been one thing. But these guys were at the mercy of Goodyear (and, by my guess, the mercy of Goodyear’s web guys not knowing how to add holidays into their calendar).

I applaud Goodyear for taking the steps to offer this service online. That’s what a good partner does—drives traffic into your stores.

I chide Goodyear, though, for not understanding the levels of frustration and complaint they also cause their retailers because they don’t listen and adjust the system to fit the retailers. I hope the tire shop makes their full margin on these tires, if nothing else but for the hassle of having to work around Goodyear’s “system.”

In fact, I’m going to ask if that’s the case so that next time I need tires, I can find a way to make sure my local stores get what they deserve.

If you have a vendor who is truly your partner, driving traffic into your store, thank them and support them!

If you have a vendor who is causing your customers to hate you because of things out of your control, send them this blog post. 

If you are a vendor, recognize that you can do just as much damage as good, especially when you don’t listen to your retailers.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Just a cautionary tale for vendors … I have known several vendors over the years who have offered programs to try to drive traffic into stores, but either didn’t consult the retailers first, or ignored their suggestions. The programs always fell flat and often turned the retailers off from buying their products. Many of those vendors are now out of business.

PPS This goes for retailers, too. You are a partner with your customer. Before you start offering something you think is good for the customer, you might want to first ask your customer exactly what she wants. I’ll tell you a tale tomorrow about what I learned when I asked my customers questions.

The Internet Isn’t Winning

You’re losing.

Case Study #1

Image result for a5 scooterMy son wanted to buy a scooter for getting around campus. Not an electric scooter, mind you, but a simple two-wheeled scooter similar to the one he had as a child but with higher handlebars and a larger weight limit. He is a college student with Amazon Prime. He researched it online as do most kids his age. He could have bought it and had it in two days. Instead, since the website said Walmart had it, he asked if I would take him to Walmart.

Two stores later, no scooter, no sign of that scooter having ever been in either store. Guess where he’s going?

Case Study #2

A friend needed a specific type of blood sugar test strips for the machine she got. The store where she used to get them had an empty slot on the shelf for over a week. Two other stores she tried didn’t have that style. Another store had them but for over double the price.

Guess where she went?

Case Study #3

I went shopping with my other son. He has particular tastes when it comes to pants. The last style that he liked has been discontinued. After trying several stores and pants we finally found another style he liked at REI. They had one pair—in one color—in stock in his size.

“You can get more colors and sizes online,” said the clerk.

Case Study #4

Another friend was in Dick’s Sporting Goods. She found a pair of shorts she liked but not her size. The clerk, after telling her they didn’t have her size, didn’t even offer for her to go online where she not only found her size, but also found they were on clearance, even though no one had bothered to mark them as such in the store.

Case Study #5

Another friend told me she stopped shopping at Younkers because the prices at the register never matched the prices on the shelves. Sometimes the prices were higher, which meant she had to get someone to go look at the shelf tags while customers lined up at the register behind her, and then fight for the right price. Sometimes the prices were lower, which, had she known, she would have bought more than one. Either way, each trip to the checkout was fraught with anxiety and stress.

I could go on and on about several times the customer service was so poor, the selection so lacking, or the experience so frustrating, that the best solution is to avoid going shopping in brick & mortar stores at all.

When I moved back to Jackson in 1993 the Jackson YMCA was transforming one of its squash courts into a rock climbing gym. Because I had led rock climbing trips before, they hired me to supervise it. When I met with my new staff for their first day of training I explained to them that there were NO regulations guiding how rock climbing gyms should be run, mainly because these gyms were relatively new and there hadn’t been enough injuries or accidents or insurance claims to force those regulations.

I told the staff that we would NOT be the cause of any such regulations. Our gym would be run at the highest standards of safety. We only had two incident reports in eight years and no major injuries.

Today you need to have the same conversation with your staff.

Your store will not be the cause of driving anyone to the Internet to do their shopping.

  • Your store will have the must-haves in stock.
  • Your store will have the merchandise properly displayed, priced, sorted, and available.
  • Your store will have a staff that knows the products inside and out including not only what you sell, but the most popular products you don’t sell (and why you don’t sell them).
  • Your store will be the store that offers solutions to problems.
  • Your store will be the store that makes checkout a breeze.

That’s what keeps people in the store and off the Internet. That’s what winning in the store looks like.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My son is living proof that even today’s youth still want to shop in a store. The stores just aren’t doing their job of making it worthwhile. Worse yet, each poor brick & mortar experience reflects poorly on all brick & mortar stores, especially when it happens at an indie store that is supposed to be the pinnacle for customer service.
Don’t be that store that brings everyone else down.

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.

Five Proven Recipes

I saw the recipe online. It was from the legendary Paul Harvey so it had to be true, right? A simple concoction for eliminating mosquitoes in your backyard. Heck, I could even hear Paul’s distinctive voice in my head reading off the formula …

“You take blue mouthwash, the minty kind. Pour it into a bucket. Mix in three cups of Epsom Salt. Be sure to stir it well. You want all that salt to dissolve. Then … pour in three stale beers. Stale, mind you. Don’t waste the good stuff on those pests. Put that into your spray bottle and you’ll enjoy a whole summer mosquito-free … I know … I’ve been doing it for twenty years. And now you know … the rest of the story.”

Image result for blue mouthwash(Note: that is not an actual quote, just how I heard it in my own mind.)

As I walked into the grocery store, scratching the mosquito bite on my elbow, on my way to buy blue minty mouthwash, Epsom Salt, and cheap beer, I quickly Googled it. Sure enough, it was legit.

I sprayed my yard three days ago. My backyard smells minty fresh and I haven’t seen a mosquito yet. As soon as I post this, I’m going to The Poison Frog and spraying their backyard by the campfire circle where I’ll be performing this Thursday night.

I’m seeing a resurgence in old home remedies like this. I’ve been using a vinegar, salt, and dish soap remedy for the weeds in my yard. Much, much cheaper and safer than the chemical solutions on the market. And nearly as effective.

Here are the recipes:

Weed Killer

  • One Gallon White Vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Dish Soap

Mosquito Killer

  • One Large Bottle Blue Minty Mouthwash
  • 3 Cups Epsom Salt
  • 3 Cheap, Stale Beers

Yes, there are more costly solutions. I used to spend a lot of money on Roundup and Ground Clear to keep the weeds at bay. I used to spend a lot of money on Cutter’s yard spray to be able to enjoy the backyard. The old recipes seem to be working just as well as the newer, more costly solutions.

I’m telling you this because you are being bombarded with a bunch of new-fangled (often costly) solutions to your business problems. There are some less-costly yet incredibly effective old recipes for success you should try cooking up. Here are three of my favorites.

Customer Service

  • Find out exactly what the customer expects.
  • Give her that and a little more.

Advertising

  • Don’t let your ads look or sound like an ad.
  • Tell a story.
  • Make it about your customer, not you.
  • Speak to the heart of your customer.
  • Speak to your tribe, the people who share your Values.
  • Make only one point.

Hiring & Training

  • Identify all the traits and skills of the perfect candidate for that particular job.
  • Hire the traits and skills you can’t teach.
  • Train the traits and skills you can teach.

Five recipes that are proven to work, don’t cost a bunch, and have stood the test of time. You’re welcome to try any of them.

Cheers!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, you can hire me to teach you how to use those last three recipes in your store, either one-on-one or in a group setting.

Convenience Versus Experience (Revisited)

It was seven years ago today that I returned to work after recovering from major throat surgery. I was looking at some posts I wrote during that time and came across one I wrote while lying in bed titled Convenience Versus Experience.

The new buzzword in retail today is “experience.” Just Google “Customer Experience” and you’ll see what I mean. Heck, I’ve been saying it, too.

Here is what I said on May 26, 2011

 

Convenience Store is always located on the easiest side of the road to pull in or pull out, no-hassle driving.

An Experience Store has you drooling with anticipation as you wait at the light to pull in.

Convenience Store carries all the same merchandise you would expect to find anywhere, the most popular items, the most requested items.

An Experience Store is full of unique and wonderful treasures, amazing merchandise you haven’t seen.

Image result for convenience store signConvenience Store is open early and late, enough hours to be there exactly when you need it.

An Experience Store is open long enough for you to be able to take the time to explore all those treasures leisurely and when it fits in your schedule.

Convenience Store has a staff that knows where everything is, and can get you through checkout in a hurry.

An Experience Store has a staff that also knows what everything is and how each product fits or doesn’t fit in your lifestyle, and can also get you through checkout in a hurry (because when the shopping is done, there’s no time to waste).

Convenience Store wants your trips to be quick, painless, anonymous.

An Experience Store wants your trips to be comfortable, engaging, and relational.

Convenience Store treats the customers as transactions, maximizing speed in the process.

An Experience Store treats the customers as people, maximizing comfort in the process.

Convenience Store is measured by how little time you want to spend there.

An Experience Store is measured by how much time you want to spend there.

Convenience Store is on the way to or from a Destination Store.

An Experience Store is a Destination Store.

 

Let me clean that up for you.

An Experience Store

  • Has you drooling with anticipation as you wait at the light to pull in.
  • Is full of unique and wonderful treasures, amazing merchandise you haven’t seen.
  • Is open long enough for you to be able to take the time to explore all those treasures leisurely and when it fits in your schedule.
  • Has a staff that also knows what everything is and how each product fits or doesn’t fit in your lifestyle, and can also get you through checkout in a hurry (because when the shopping is done, there’s no time to waste).
  • Wants your trips to be comfortable, engaging, and relational.
  • Treats the customers as people, maximizing comfort in the process.
  • Is measured by how much time you want to spend there.
  • Is a Destination Store.

Notice how none of that says you have to offer some crazy, wild, event-based, theme-park-styled type of experience? Seven years ago, this was cutting edge stuff. Today it is pretty much what everyone is talking about. Now you have a list to which you can compare your store.

Are you full of unique and wonderful treasures people haven’t seen? Do you have a staff that knows what you carry, why it fits into someone’s lifestyle, and how they should best use it? Is your store comfortable? Do people want to spend time there?

Experience Stores aren’t accidental. Nor are they easy. You build them by design, staff them by design, and run them with purpose. Which store do you want to be?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If I were to add anything to the May 26, 2011 post it would be …

A Convenience Store has everything you expect.

An Experience Store has pleasant surprises and unexpected wonders of delight.

“Everything Cheaper Somewhere Else”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can add Value in several ways. You can:

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

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

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

What Value are you adding to the equation?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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

Here is What Winning Looks Like – Sweetlees Boutique

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

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

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

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

“The workers were so attentive …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Both my mom and I purchased something.”

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

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

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

“… we will definitely go back again.”

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

Policies for the Minority Hurt the Majority

The date for your annual family picnic has been set. You’re bringing your famous corn casserole. Your mom knows you’re bringing your famous corn casserole. She looks through the coupons from the local and Detroit Sunday papers and finds they both have the same coupon for your number one ingredient. She clips them for you. You also clip both coupons from your copies of the Sunday papers and head out to the store.

You get to the checkout line with your four identical coupons from the newspaper only to be told you can’t use them. The store has a new policy limiting you to only two identical coupons per transaction. You feel like they’re looking at you out of the corner of your eye because you’re trying to cheat them out of an extra fifty cents on a can of corn.

Heck, the time it took you to cut those two fifty-cent coupons probably wasn’t worth it, but now you’re walking out feeling judged, and just a little ticked off that the store has such a ridiculously strict policy for something that seems so innocuous. The cashier, feeling your pain, tried to use the third coupon, but it shut down the register completely and needed a manager’s override which only added to your feelings of shame as you could feel the eyes of everyone else in line behind you judging you as the criminal you appear to be.

Does that sound far-fetched?

That is what has happened at a large, Midwest grocery store chain. Apparently to cut down on extreme-couponers and people printing multiple coupons off the Internet, this large chain has reprogrammed their registers to only allow two of any identical coupon per transaction. Use a third one and the register shuts down. Your only choices in the above scenario is to either cause the people behind you to wait even longer while you make the cashier ring up two cans of corn separately or forego the extra dollar in legitimate savings.

Either way, you feel like crap and are probably thinking you’ll avoid that store the next time you have coupons.

Plus, the store really didn’t change anything. The extreme-couponers are still going where the best deals can be made. If that means they stand in the self-checkout line and ring up thirty seven transactions, then they’ll stand in that line. The money they believe they are saving is worth their extra time (and they don’t care about the people behind them in line.)

The store doesn’t save any money or make their business any better, either. In fact, they slow down the checkout as people with three or more coupons have the cashier do multiple transactions. And unless the coupon is provided by the store itself, the store isn’t saving any money. Jolly Green Giant reimburses them for every coupon plus a little extra for handling.

Most importantly, the store sends a loud and strong message to its customers. We don’t trust you!

Here is where the retailer went wrong …

The retailer saw a tiny percentage of customers taking advantage of a loophole or doing something they just didn’t like. The retailer then enacted a restrictive, me-first policy that negatively affected all of their customers, including the ones who never had any intention of “taking advantage” of the retailer. Those customers were just doing what most would call common sense, using the system in place to save a little money.

As retailers we do that often. We create rules to stop the minority by inconveniencing the majority.

We do it with restrictive return policies. I saw one store that had a 30-day return policy. Period. No exceptions. Remind me not to go Christmas Shopping there before Thanksgiving.

We do it with limits for credit card transactions. (See my recent post on that here.)

We do it with rules. I used to have a rule of certain items we wouldn’t giftwrap for free. When we realized the rule was me-first, we changed it to only restrict items around which the wrapping paper wouldn’t stay (like an assembled tricycle). 

The funny thing is that these restrictive rules never really stop the behavior we intend them to stop.

People who exploit loopholes will exploit loopholes. If you close one, they’ll look for another. Fortunately these people are the exception, not the rule. So treat them like an exception, not the rule.

Set your policies up to be customer-first.

Make your return policy as liberal as possible. If you have one person taking advantage of the situation, deal with that one person. I had a customer bring back fourteen puzzles one year, all because they were missing a piece. As it turns out, I only had fourteen puzzles returned that year. Those fourteen pieces were the only ones out of a million pieces we sold that were “missing.” I pulled the customer aside, explained this fact to her politely and respectfully, and told her she was no longer allowed to return any puzzles.

You may be surprised to know, she continued buying jigsaw puzzles from us.

Make all your rules less restrictive than your competitors. First, very few people will take advantage of you. Second, most of them are still making you money because they are shopping in your store. Third, no one walks out feeling shamed in any way.

Part of the goal of every transaction is to win the right for another transaction. Piss off your good customers and all you’ll have left are those trying to find another loophole to exploit.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, LL Bean just changed their incredibly liberal no-questions-asked-we’ll-take-it-back return policy because of people trying to exploit it. But if you look at it, the new policy is still far more liberal than any of their competitors, still fits their quality-first guarantee, and doesn’t hurt any honest customers in the process.

PPS I’m still trying to understand why this grocer created this new coupon policy. If the coupons were from the brands, the grocer would get reimbursed, so no harm there. If it was because of online coupons being printed multiple times, there are many ways to avoid that issue with today’s technology, or even by going old-school with a really strong legal disclaimer. Either of those would be preferable to being stuck in line behind someone trying to buy seven cans of corn and not understanding why the coupons his sister gave him won’t work.

KB-Toys Making a Comeback(?)

KB-Toys is coming back from the dead. The toy retailer that went bankrupt in 2009 is going to stage a comeback to try to pick up some of the business dropped by the closing of Toys R Us (TRU). According to one article, they will likely have a bunch of pop-ups this fall and more permanent locations by next year.

(picture from edplay magazine)

My expectation is that they won’t pick up as much of the toy industry as they think.

When TRU closed they were still doing billions of dollars in sales. They still had over 100 million customers. They actually showed a profit last year. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to pay the massive debt they had acquired.

While a lot of uneducated pundits and many comments on several articles about Toys R Us closing want to blame Walmart and Amazon for their demise, those two companies had already taken their sizable bites out of TRU’s hide. People who wanted to shop purely on price or convenience were already going to Walmart and buying toys with their groceries. People who knew exactly what they wanted and didn’t want to leave the house to get it were already shopping on Amazon.

The customers still shopping at Toys R Us (over 100 million times, mind you) were going there for one of two things …

  • The Experience
  • The Selection

As an independent toy store owner who offered events, demos, and a fun, friendly environment for shopping, I can rightfully roll my eyes when someone mentions the “experience” of going to a Toys R Us. In fact, most of your independent toy stores will be able to offer a consistently better “experience” than going to TRU. But the customers going there weren’t comparing it to an indie toy store. They were comparing it to Walmart or Target.

You never heard a young kid pleading, “Please, take me to Walmart, puhleeeeezzzze!”

The Selection crowd was going to Toys R Us to browse the aisles. Amazon, as incredible as it is, isn’t built for browsing. Oh sure, you can search stuff on Amazon. As of last September Amazon was closing in on Google as the primary place people go to search for products. But Amazon searching is not the same as browsing. You still need a starting point.

If you want to walk aisles, touch and feel products, and get inspired, you have to go to a brick & mortar store to do that. Outside of a handful of my friends in the independent, specialty toy industry, no one had a larger selection of toys to browse than TRU. Customers went there because it was a better selection and an easier browse than the cramped, too narrow, too tall, too messy aisles of a typical Walmart or Target store.

When KB-Toys opens their pop-ups this fall they won’t have either The Experience or The Selection to truly catch the ball dropped by TRU. Sure, they will make sales. The pop-up model has been proven to be effective to an extent. Whether it will be enough to jump back into the toy market full fledged, however, time will tell. My guess is it won’t be enough and KB will become a perennial pop-up along the lines of Halloween USA. (At least that is what I would advise them to do if they were to ask me.)

The lesson here for specialty retailers like you is to recognize the different types of customers and why they shop at the different competitors you face.

Walmart is all about price and convenience. The cheaper the better. Amazon is for when you know (roughly) what you want, and you don’t want to go out to get it. Your category killers (JoAnn’s, Michael’s Toys R Us, Cabela’s, Barnes & Noble, PetSmart, et al) are more about Experience and Selection. Of the three, the one who most closely shares your customers is the category killer. Your growth is dependent on how many of those customers you can peel away. You already know you can beat them on Experience. Tomorrow we’ll talk about how you can beat them on Selection, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The toy industry, with the closing of Toys R Us, offers a lot of opportunity for different stores to pick up the slack. There will be a lot of disenfranchised customers. Most everyone in the channel from the big box stores to Amazon to the indie stores stand to gain from their disappearance. The biggest winners will be those who have the most compelling message to the former TRU customers. Knowing why they were still choosing TRU over Walmart and Amazon gives you the heads up on what to say to get them to notice you.