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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.

Hire Me to Be Your Coach

I played the role of Father in The Nutcracker Suite on stage at the Michigan Theatre. I was in eighth grade. It was part of our LEAP class (Learning Experience for Academic Progress). It was a play more than a ballet, although we did have a dance troupe come in and do some dance numbers. I don’t remember much of anything about the play itself. I couldn’t tell you anything about the story, the other characters, or even my performance. About all I remember was I played the role of Father and I loved being on that stage.

Panorama of Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a large crowd
Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a packed house in Grand Rapids, MI

I’ve never really been afraid of standing on a stage in front of people. Oh sure, I had a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering in my stomach moments before I took the pulpit to do a guest sermon at church. But those butterflies settled down the moment I began to speak.

Whether it is a crowd of 500 at a trade show conference, a group of screaming kids in the dining hall at camp, or a room full of revelers at a brewpub, I love to perform.

That’s why when I began building Phil’s Forum I focused on speaking and presenting, doing workshops and seminars and webinars. That’s what brings me the most joy (and people said I was pretty good at it.) 

But my real goal, my true focus of Phil’s Forum is about YOU. Your success. That’s all that matters.

That is the reason behind all the Free Resources for you to download. That is the reason behind writing over a thousand blog posts for you to consume. That is the reason behind offering all those classes, presentations, workshops, and webinars for you to attend.

That is the reason why you’ll find a new page on my website.

Many of you have contacted me about private, one-on-one consulting and coaching. While I often said yes, I didn’t have a plan in place for how to handle and structure those requests. Nor did I have a firm concept for how I felt I could best work with you.

Until now.

Coach /kōCH/ (noun) An instructor or trainer. A tutor who gives private or specialized teaching.

A Consultant is someone you consult for advice and opinions. A Coach is someone who teaches you how to do what you need to do to be successful.

I am chock full of advice. I give it away freely. You can shoot me an email with a question and it is highly likely I will answer it (for free). If you read this blog regularly then you can probably guess my opinion on a topic before you even ask. Lots of people get paid for their opinions. It always seems a little disingenuous to me. If you make your living that way, you always want to keep your client in a position of needing your opinion. There is almost a built-in need for keeping a client partially in the dark so that they don’t form opinions on their own.

A Coach, however, knows that his role is to teach you something so that you can do it yourself. A coach puts you in the best position to succeed.

I know this is mostly semantics. There are amazing consultants out there who really are more like coaches. They teach. They instruct. They help you grow. They never hold back.

Words, however, are important. Choose the right words and your advertising messages will sparkle. Know which words make up your Core Values and your business will attract the right people. I needed to know which word I wanted to use and why before I could be of best service to you.

I chose the word Coach.

If you want one-on-one, private, specialized instruction to learn how to:

  • Hire Better
  • Train Better
  • Serve Your Customers Better
  • Market Yourself Better
  • Manage Your Inventory Better
  • Manage Your Staff Better
  • Manage Your Cash Flow Better

Let’s get together for an exploratory meeting.

The first meeting is FREE. In that meeting we’ll discuss where you are, what problems you’re facing, what tools you might need to solve those problems, and how best I can help you. After that I’ll send you a few different proposals explaining what I will do, what it will cost, and how we’ll measure success. From there the choice is yours as to how much coaching you want.

While my love is still the stage and I hope to spend as much time there reaching as many people as possible, coaching is the next best way I can help you find your path to success.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I do coaching remotely. We’ll use phone and email to get the job done. (Or if you want to fly me out to meet face-to-face, I’ll let you do that, too. The best way to get me to town is to convince your local Chamber or DDA to hire me for a presentation and have them pay my way.)

PPS One thing I will ask of any client who wants my coaching services is for you to know your Core Values. You can download the new, updated worksheets here.

PPPS Yes, you can hire me to do stuff for you, too. I’ll run a Team Building event. I’ll write your Hiring ads. I’ll write your advertising messages. I’ll teach your staff how to sell. I’d rather teach you how to do those things yourself, though. That’s what serves you best in the long run.

You’re Looking at Credit Cards Wrong

I was having a recent discussion with a friend about credit card usage. She uses her credit and debit cards almost exclusively. I still prefer cash. Many people think exclusive credit card usage is a young person, Millennial thing. My friend was born on the cusp between Baby Boomers and Gen X.

She isn’t the only person I know who prefers cards over cash. In fact, many smart shoppers prefer to use their cards. They have rewards cards that earn them miles or cash back. Some of my fellow business owners use their cards almost exclusively for their business and go on vacations virtually free.

Image result for credit cardsCredit card usage is the way of the world. It is the way most customers wish to pay you. And with the expansion of Apple Pay and other mobile wallets, that usage is going to continue to increase and become the preferred method of payment not just for Millennials but for all generations. (My son wants me to change banks just because my bank doesn’t yet support Apple Pay.)

Yet many small retailers (and some larger ones) are still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to accepting credit cards.

Yes, you need to accept chip cards. Yes, you need to accept mobile wallet payments. Those are necessary changes in today’s retail climate.

More importantly, you need to check your attitude about accepting credit cards.

I still see retailers who have “minimum charges” for credit cards. If you have that, you’re penny-wise and pound-foolish. You’re telling your customers those few extra cents on that transaction are more important to you than taking care of the customer and serving her the way she wants to be served. You’re telling the customer your needs are greater than hers.

When my friend sees those signs it pisses her off, makes her want to spend less, and makes her not want to come back. Would you rather she comes in once a week to spend $5 or spends zero money and tells people what a horrible store you are?

Heck, even if you allow credit cards for any amount yet you cringe when a customer pulls out her card for a $2 purchase, you need to check your attitude at the door. Swipe fees and percentages are part of the cost of doing business. Period. Unless the majority of your transactions are under $5, those fees are actually quite minimal in the grand scheme of your business. (And if your business does have a lot of $5 and under transactions, you should be making enough margin on your sales to cover those fees quite easily.)

If you want to cringe at a $2 credit card transaction, don’t cringe at the extra pennies you might pay to Visa. Cringe, instead, at the inability of your sales staff to make a larger sale. Cringe, instead, at your lack of connection with the customer that might compel them to buy more. Cringe, instead, at your failure to price things enough to cover your expenses.

Better yet, don’t cringe at all. Celebrate that customer and her purchase. Make her feel as special as the customer who spent $200. Be happy she came in. Be happier that she spent money. Be happiest that you have the chance to build a long-term relationship with her. That is the winning attitude.

You are going to have credit card fees. That is an expected expense in today’s business climate. Your job as a merchant is to make enough money to cover your expenses. Whether you do it through better profit margins or cutting other expenses, your attitude towards those expenses shapes the attitude you have toward your customers.

When you limit how your customers can pay you or simply take an attitude when they pay you in a way that is least convenient for you, you’re taking a business-centric approach. When you have no limits and no worries, you’re taking a customer-centric approach. One leads to smaller average transactions and fewer transactions. One doesn’t. You know the difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The same can be said about whether or not to accept American Express. Yes, you need to accept it … with a smile on your face. You need to be happy when a customer pulls out her Amex instead of her debit card. You need to celebrate the customer, not worry about the fees. You do that by adjusting your margins and expenses to cover it. (As for Bitcoin and other cybercurrencies, because of their volatile nature, you can draw the line there without angering customers. Those of you who do accept cybercurrencies, however, are going to find that you attract a whole new level of clientele that could possibly be quite good for your business.)

PPS Here is the best thing you will read about how to increase your margins enough to cover those credit card expenses.

I Didn’t Steal a Bunch of Candy

I didn’t steal a bunch of candy. Oh, I could have. I bought some over-priced M&Ms at a candy shop on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. The checkout was at the back of the store in the most awkward place. I had to walk up a ramp, stand in a line, then stand in the entry way to the nostalgic candy area near the back of the store to pay for my purchases.

I watched customer after customer walk away from the checkout with a decorative paper bag into which they could have tossed tens or even hundreds of dollars worth of loose candy from multiple displays on their way to the front of the store. I don’t think they did. I didn’t. But I could have.

Sure, the store had cameras near the front door. But with the crowd that was in that store on a Saturday afternoon, beating those cameras would have been a breeze worthy of the Windy City.

It wasn’t just the shoplifting aspect that bothered me with the layout of this particular store.

The registers were side by side, but the line to get to them was beside them, not in front of them. If someone was at the first register, by the time it was your turn, you had to scootch around them to get to the second register. If someone big, or a party of two or more was at the first register, you couldn’t even see the tiny little cashier at the open register.

The registers were also poorly placed in the doorway to a special section of nostalgic candy. You know Nostalgia is one of my Core Values. I was excited to enter that section. I was a lot less excited waiting for the gal at checkout with her stroller that was blocking my entry to the area.

I suppose if you’re in a large city like Chicago, catering to the tourist crowd, you can overcharge for your goods to offset your shrinkage and create a layout that frustrates the heck out of customers knowing that they likely won’t be back anyway.

If you’re not in this situation, you might want to plan your layout more carefully.

Put the cash-wrap where you can see everything and everyone in the store, but also close enough so that once people check out, they can easily leave. More importantly, plan the line of customers for checkout so that they don’t block other customers trying to shop. Best of all, make it easy and intuitive for customers to know where to go and what to do when they are ready to check out.

I know there is a train of thought that says you want a layout that gets people to the back of the store. Using your checkout as the lure, though, is not the best way to accomplish this, especially in a store that has a ton of traffic and sells easily-pocketed items.

This kid definitely wasn’t as enthralled with this candy shop.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I will give them props on the centerpiece display. The giant lollipop tree pictured here was worthy of the stop and a good example of Over-the-Top-Design. They also had several choose-your-own-flavor stands for things like Jelly Bellies, M&Ms, and other candies. But then again, the last feeling of the experience is the lasting feeling of the experience. Don’t let your customers walk out unhappy, confused, frustrated, or befuddled.

Things You Should Know Better

I just got back from Chicago. Fabulous trip! I was hired to do a couple presentations for the Diamond Retailer Summit hosted by Diamond Comics Distributors. I did two talks—Selling in a Showrooming World and Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget. I also got to do something new for me. I had a booth during their afternoon showcase. I have visited several booths over the years, but this was the first time I got to have a booth under the banner of Phil’s Forum.

My booth at the Diamond Retailer Summit, April 2018

I knew a little about having booths in big convention halls from my friends who own toy and baby product companies. I knew I wanted to have a booth I could carry in by myself, that wouldn’t take any special tools to build, and wouldn’t require electricity. We were in McCormick Place in Chicago and it wasn’t in my budget to pay for any “help.”

The McCormick Place website was helpful in giving me some basic information. I got my parking pass in advance so that I would have a guaranteed space in Lot A. I knew I was in the South Building, fourth floor, so I would have to take the sky bridge from parking to my building. All was good.

Until I got off the highway.

The signs leading to Lot A were all but nonexistent. I only saw one, vaguely over an area of road where several roads converged. I never knew if I was in the proper lane. I was about to turn around, thinking I had gone too far when the turn I made actually led me directly into the parking lot, surprise, surprise. One frustration down.

My signs for my booth weren’t heavy. A little awkward, but those fancier, lightweight, compact signs just weren’t in the budget. I made my way from the garage across the sky bridge into the South Building. It was dark. I was in the lobby of the building in front of the grand ballroom and rooms S101-S104. There were two big escalators, neither working. There were elevators at both ends of the lobby, neither working. There was a sign with a map of the different levels telling me I was in the South Building on Level 1, and showing that my room—S401—was also in the South Building on Level 4.

Nowhere on that sign did it give me any indication I needed to leave the South Building and go to the main entrance between the North & South Buildings to find a working elevator to get me to the 4th floor. Nowhere was there a sign to let me know that the 4th floor rooms were all the way in the back of the building, another quarter mile from where I was standing, lost, looking at their signs, or that I would have to either maneuver my signs up escalators or traverse a snaking path between the two buildings to get there. Nowhere was there any person at the bottom of the escalator from the sky bridge to direct traffic for people coming in from Lot A.

After finding a working elevator to get me to the fourth floor, I then hiked the snaking pathway between the North and South buildings until finally finding my way to room S401. (Did I mention my signs were not heavy, but awkward? By now they were feeling much heavier than when I started.)

Once I got to my room and stopped sweating, my day went infinitely better. The talks were home runs (at least that’s the immediate feedback I got.) The booth time was excellent. I met some fascinating people and may have some incredible new opportunities. The food was pretty yummy, too. All in all it was an awesome day!

Then I had to head back.

Not wanting to do the snaking pathway back along the fourth floor, I took the elevator at the back of the building down to the first floor. Rookie mistake. There are no signs anywhere that tell you the “first floor” at the back elevator is not the same “first floor” as the front elevator. Now I was lost deep in the bowels of the convention center. Fortunately, a friendly security guard directed me up a couple escalators that got me back to an area I recognized.

He admitted the signage was lacking greatly and what signage they did have was confusing. He assured me I wasn’t the first person who had made this mistake.

Let’s stop right there. “He assured me I wasn’t the first person who had made this mistake.”

If there is a “mistake” a customer has made interacting with your business, that’s a potential red flag for you. If it happens once, then it might be the customer’s fault. If it happens more than once, you have a problem you need to fix.

If multiple customers don’t know what to do or where to go, that’s on you, not them. Somewhere along the way, you haven’t made it clear what they need to do next.

This could be a problem on your website where the call-to-action isn’t clear on each page. This could be a problem with your checkout if people don’t know where to line up or put their merchandise. This could be a problem with your services if people don’t know how they work or what they have to do or where they have to go.

If you have this problem, might I suggest a sign or two? There should have been a clear sign at the bottom of the escalator from the sky bridge when I entered the South Building telling me where to go. If not that, there should have been a person stationed there to direct traffic. There should have been clear signage at the back elevator explaining that it did not lead to the same “first floor”. 

McCormick Place opened in 1960, expanded several times, and is the largest convention center in North America. This isn’t their first rodeo. They should know better by now. The security guard knew it. He shouldn’t be apologizing for mistakes made by someone else. Maybe he has complained before, but no one listened. Maybe he never bothered to complain because he figured no one would listen.

There are things you should know better, too. Make sure you are listening and actively looking for those “mistakes” that can be easily corrected.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I probably missed something along the way. I’m not perfect. But I do like to think of myself as somewhat observant. If I missed it (and I was looking for it), I’m sure others did, too. Here is the thing, though. If your customers are made to feel stupid—even if it is their own mistake—they won’t come back. If your customers are made to feel comfortable, they will come back. If your customers are made to feel wonderful, they’ll bring their friends back with them.

PPS I am ready for my next visit to McCormick Place. If you’re looking for a dynamic speaker who isn’t afraid to admit he got lost in a convention center, who likes to learn from his mistakes, and is willing to use what he has learned from all his mistakes over the years to help you succeed, give me a holler.

Is the Retail Apocalypse Upon Us?

You have to be older than me to remember Shopper’s Fair. That was the first store that, back in the early 1960’s, was going to put my grandfather out of business. They were gone before I was old enough to spend my first dime. I do, however, have memories of Woolworth’s downtown and Montgomery Ward at Westwood Mall. I remember walking through Montgomery Ward, marveling at how big the store seemed. (I hadn’t yet been to Macy’s in Manhattan.)

Shopper’s Fair, Woolworth’s and Montgomery Ward are gone. Each because of their own individual circumstances. Here is a list going around the Internet these days of current closures and stores struggling in retail.

Businesses often cite a variety of reasons for closing:

  • Poor Economy
  • Changes in Industry
  • Unfair Retail Landscape Slanted Against Them

The reality is that most closures happen because of a Lack of Cash Flow. 

When the money quits coming in, the stores don’t have the money to pay the bills, don’t have the money to replenish the shelves, don’t have the money to invest in technology, upgrade the infrastructure, or train the employees. Lack of cash starts a downward spiral that is hard to escape.

More often than not, that Lack of Cash Flow happens because of Bad Management. Bad management of:

  • Employees—no training on how to relate to today’s customers, build the relationships that matter, and make the sale
  • Inventory—old merchandise, too much merchandise, too little merchandise, the wrong merchandise
  • Change—not adapting quickly enough to the changes in the industry (All industries change. Some disappear. There is a distinction.)
  • Goals and Vision—not having a clear view of where you want to be today and where you are going tomorrow

Many stores have found ways to thrive in an unfair retail landscape slanted against them. Many stores have found ways to navigate the changes in their industry and customer base. Many stores have found ways to thrive (or at least survive) in poor economies. 

Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor, posted an amazing blog about the experience (or lack thereof) in music stores today that addresses the first bullet point above. As a singer and mediocre guitar player, I can relate to everything in his post. This is a problem abundant in retail right now, and one that can be easily addressed. Amazon isn’t winning customers so much as brick & mortar stores are losing customers. Go read it right now.

It will be the best thing you read this month.

Overall, retail is growing. The stores in the meme above are losing market share to their competitors because management hasn’t trained them well, positioned them well, or managed their resources well.

Is the Retail Apocalypse upon us? I don’t think so. Stores open. Stores close. Just ask Shopper’s Fair, Woolworth’s and Montgomery Ward.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have seen the above meme used by the left to lay the blame for these closures at President Trump’s feet in much the same way many on the right tried to hang everything bad around President Obama’s neck for eight years. I have news for you. None of these closures are because of who is president or what the president has done. They would have happened under Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, you, or me.

PPS Yes, my store was a victim of cash flow problems. Our market share didn’t change, but our local market did. Because of shrinkage in population, household income, and the average money spent on toys, our market in 2016 was only 53% of what it was in 2007. Our store was too big for our economy. We could have shrunk it down to fit, but we wouldn’t have been the store you remembered. We chose to close instead (a choice discussed in the boardrooms of every one of those companies listed above). With Toys R Us closing, many have asked if I will reopen. Unfortunately, the market hasn’t improved enough to justify reopening.

Indie Retailers Best Poised for New Retail Model

A few years ago I went to lunch with a fellow toy store owner. I had wanted to see his store, so we made plans for me to visit and then go get lunch. Since we were in his town, I left it up to him to pick a place for lunch. What he said next I still cannot believe.

“Well, my favorite lunch place is out because I went there yesterday. A couple of our city council members stopped by and took me to lunch to ask me if there was more they could be doing for my business.”

Jaw meet floor.

That kind of respect for a local independent business is a rare bird in the world of government. Instead we see communities falling all over themselves to throw money at Amazon, not realizing that even if they don’t get an Amazon HQ or DC, they are still “giving money” to Amazon as local tax revenues are lost while local independent businesses struggle to survive.

For most indie retailers, even the government is slanted against us. You pretty much have to be a chain store or opening a mega-store for government to throw you any kind of bone.

In spite of all that, local independent retailers are starting to see a surge.

In a recent article discussing the problems plaguing Walmart, the author said, “Selling products to strangers doesn’t cut it anymore. To succeed in retail today you need to start with the customer, not the product.”

The article went on to talk about how several eCommerce sites are expanding into brick & mortar to better serve the customers.

Do you know who is best-suited to take advantage of this it’s-about-the-customers-more-than-the-products era of retail? You guessed it! Local independent retailers.

Believe it or not, it hasn’t been about the products for indie retailers for over a decade. It used to be that if you invented a new product you had to pitch that product to existing vendors or go into manufacturing yourself and pitch it to a handful of indie retailers to get started. Then, after the product gained traction and had sales history, bigger vendors might take interest. Once the bigger vendors got their hands on it, the product could make its way to the masses.

That model is gone. Now if you have an idea, you crowdfund it and launch it online until the big guys swoop in and buy you out.

Local indie retailers have had to build relationships with customers and offer them curated selections of great items they’ve likely never seen before to succeed. Fortunately, that model works. According to the article, that’s the new model of retail. According to me, that’s also the old model of retail.

Fostering relationships with your customers and building loyalty through something other than a frequent purchase discount never goes out of style. 

The simplest way to do that is:

  1. Figure out what she desires, needs, and expects.
  2. Give her more than she desires, needs, and expects.

I call that the Simplest Business Success Formula Ever. This is what the companies in that article are doing.

This is how you compete in today’s retail environment. You can’t control what product fads will be hot. You can’t control what vendors will stab you in the back (pro tip: every year at least one vendor goes back on his word about a product or product line he promised to keep exclusive to the indie channel.) You can’t control what products you will actually get shipped. On top of that, you can’t control what happens to the local, state or national economy. Nor can you control Mother Nature.

But you can control the experience someone has in your store. You can control the type of people you hire and the training they receive to be able to figure out those expectations and exceed them regularly. Do that and you’ll control your destiny as well.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Your local government would do well to understand the formula, too. If they would create an environment where the needs and expectations of indie retailers were met (and exceeded), they would see tax revenues begin to rise. Indie retailers typically have more staff and a higher payroll per sale than the chains. Indie retailers typically use less land and less local services (police/fire etc.) than the big chains. They also create character, draw outside traffic, and give local communities their charm. Yet, in the last twenty-five years, that opening story is the only time I have heard firsthand about a government trying to exceed the expectations of their most profitable “customers”.

What to Do With the First Quarter Blues

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.

How to Look at the Big Picture

I always planned my staff meetings by finishing the following sentence:

This will be a successful meeting if …

  • This will be a successful meeting if we learn how to become better listeners.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we learn about new products.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we understand the difference between Relational and Transactional Customers.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we find new ways to build relationships with our customers.
To see the Big Picture, you have to envision what success looks like.

From there I worked backwards, trying to figure out the best way to get the point across and be able to call the meeting successful.

I hired and trained my staff the same way—by starting at the end and figuring out what steps to take to get there. My book, Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, is built around a simple premise. Would you like your staff to be considered Beautiful, Useful, Strong, and Long-Lasting? Those are the words we use to describe the end result of pottery. If we follow the same steps as the potter, we’ll get the same end results for our staff.

I took the same approach to teaching sailing last summer. At the end of the week I wanted the kids to have a feel for the physics of sailing, but more importantly, the confidence that comes with knowing you harnessed the wind’s power to accomplish something. From there, the lesson plan was easy to create.

I do the same with my presentations. I start with the main point I want you to take back to your business and work on. Then I build the presentation around how to best drive that point home.

Many businesses forget to set goals, forget to define success. They did it at first when they drew up a business plan, but they never revisited that plan to see if the goal was met or needs to be revised.

If you want to see the Big Picture, you first have to create it. The easiest way to do that is by defining success.

  • This will be a successful year if …
  • This will be a successful season if …
  • This will be a successful training program if …
  • This will be a successful transition if …

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get there.” -Lewis Caroll

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” -Yogi Berra

If you know where you want to be, you can choose the best road. Sure, there will be obstacles. Sometimes you won’t get there. But it is better to head in the right direction and fall a little short than to wander aimlessly.

Define the success you want. Then plot a course to get there.

“This will be a successful business if I enjoy going to work every day and make enough money to live comfortably.”

This will be a successful blog post if I have given you a tool to help you see the Big Picture.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Did you know the phrase, “The devil is in the details,” was originally “God is in the detail.”? Either way you wish to look at that idiom, the details don’t matter if you don’t first know what you’re trying to accomplish.

PPS You should definitely download the Free Resource Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend and the accompanying Staff Meeting Worksheet. It will improve the outcomes of your meetings and trainings exponentially.