When I was a kid, I loved riddles. I especially loved the gotcha riddles where if you didn’t pay attention to everything you were sure to get it wrong. One of my early favorites was,
“What weighs more? A pound of feathers or a pound of gold?”
Once I learned the devil was in the details, I would never answer a riddle until I heard it several times, always paying attention to every little detail. Another of my favorites was,
“You’re the driver of a bus. The bus goes west one mile before turning right. Then it travels two miles, drops off one person and picks up three. The bus turns right again and travels 4 miles, dropping off six and picking up five. The bus turns left and goes a half mile dropping off two and picking up nine. What is the bus driver’s name?”
Miss that first detail and you miss the whole riddle.
This Friday, every year, was a detail day. Tomorrow you will be as busy as any day of your year. You’ll likely have to fight to get a break just to eat some cold leftovers (unless you were smart enough to cater lunch for the team). You’ll feel overwhelmed at times. You’ll feel pulled in several directions at once. The last thing you need tomorrow is to have to take care of problems that can be nipped in the bud today.
The night before a big day we replaced all the cash register receipt tape with fresh, full rolls. We checked the ink levels on the registers and in all of the pens nearby (and made sure there were plenty of pens nearby). We restocked all the giftwrap paper we used to wrap gifts and had extra rolls on standby. We checked all the tape dispensers, refilled all the staplers, and made sure there were plenty of our yellow note pads at every register and phone.
Those all seem like simple things that should be done every night, but on Friday nights especially, the team is tired and wants to go home. Those few minutes spent, however, make a huge difference when there are lines at the register the next day and everyone in line has somewhere else to be, too.
I’m not a detail guy by nature. But I understood at an early age the importance of paying attention to the details and seeing how they would payoff in the long run.
Tomorrow is going to rock and roll. You’ll have your moments. And if you take a little time tonight to take care of some little things, those little things will remain little things and not blow up into big things tomorrow.
PS Murphy’s Law states that the register will run out of receipt paper at the worst possible time. Doesn’t it always seem like it takes twice as long to change the paper when people are waiting in line staring at you than it does when no one is at the counter? That is stress making you feel that way. You have enough stress already. Eliminate that one before you even get started. You’ll have plenty of days in January to use those partial rolls of paper.
Bronner’s is a mecca for anyone who loves Christmas. It is over 90,000 square feet of all Christmas all the time. Tens of thousands of ornaments from all over the globe grace display upon display upon display. Buses stop frequently all year long bringing tourists to this amazing store. Like Toy House, Bronner’s was also named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin (Penguin 2009).
Zehnder’s is a massive restaurant with several dining rooms and a chicken dinner you drive to get. (They also have a water-park hotel, golf course, and marketplace, but the restaurant is the crown jewel.)
A typical trip to Frankenmuth requires a stop at both of these iconic businesses.
I made that trip last Saturday to get into the Christmas Spirit. It worked! The trip, however, was not without its lessons.
It was the Saturday two weeks before Christmas. I knew it would be busy. I expected it to be mobbed. I was prepared for the throngs of shoppers and diners.
Zehnder’s, apparently, was not. When we entered the restaurant there was no clear way to go. There appeared to be a line that eventually split into two lines, but then again there were people milling about on chairs in a lounge-type area. Being a guy, I looked for signs. Didn’t find any. We got into what appeared to be the back of the line, but then again, the mass of people standing everywhere made it hard to be sure we were at the back of the line, or if we were even in the right line because it now looked like there might be three separate lines.
Fortunately the people who got into line behind us confirmed we were in the right line. They had waited almost 30 minutes in the wrong line before being directed to our spot.
Another fifteen minutes passed in this line until we met the host who then informed us to go stand in another line and that we would be seated in approximately an hour and a half.
Now mind you, this was at 2:10pm in the afternoon. Can you imagine what noon and 5pm looked like? Nowhere was there a sign directing traffic. Nowhere were there ropes to guide you. There were a couple of unhappy employees (I assume they were employees because unlike everyone else, they weren’t wearing or holding jackets, but they also weren’t wearing uniforms or name-tags) directing traffic by occasionally yelling at people entering the building and telling them where to go.
Zehnder’s has been open since 1856. This isn’t their first rodeo. I doubt this crowd was that much bigger than usual. In fact I would bet they have crowds like this every year at this time, if not every Saturday all year long. You would think they would have a better system for crowd control by now. It was more the lack of crowd control that caused my party to decide not to eat there than it was the two hour wait time. We could have waited if we felt cared for, if we felt confident they knew what they were doing. But this obvious lack of control was unsettling.
Contrast that to Bronner’s.
A quick Google search tells me that Frankenmuth, MI has a population of 5,131 people (2016). Most of them must work at Bronner’s. Bronner’s website tells me they get about 50,000 visitors over Black Friday weekend. Doing the math, I would guess there were at least 5,000-10,000 of my new best friends in the store shopping with me last Saturday.
Yet as crowded as it was, it wasn’t hard to get around. The signage was spectacular and easy to see. They also had maps available to guide us to the several different departments. I was never more than twenty feet away from a red-vested employee eager to help me find what I wanted. In fact, they had several information stands staffed by at least two employees all throughout the store.
It was everything you would expect from a top-level retailer. They were prepared for a busy day and it showed. I spent two wonderful hours there, soaking up all the Christmas Joy and basking in the fun and excitement of retail done right. The store was packed with people and strollers and shopping carts. You couldn’t move fast, often having to shuffle along from one display to the next, but you never felt crowded. The eager, friendly staff and the amazing merchandising and displays made the crowds more bearable and put everyone, especially the shoppers, into a better mood.
That was the lesson right there.
Don’t meet your customer’s expectations and they walk away frustrated and disappointed. Meet and exceed your customer’s expectations and they stay and shop and have fun. I stayed and shopped and had a blast!
More important than how much a customer spent is how that customer felt about it. I’m sure many people walked away from Zehnder’s after waiting over an hour for their chicken dinner thinking, “Okay, I did that. Won’t have to do it again.” while many people walked away from Bronner’s thinking, “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again.”
PS If you’re expecting a crowd, plan for it. Make sure your customers know exactly where to go and what to do. If you are expecting a lot of new faces, have maps and flyers telling them where to go and what to do. Act like you’ve been there and done that and that you expected to be this busy. Most of all, act like you’re having fun! Your mood affects the mood of everyone. If you act like you’re stressed, your customers will feel stressed. if you act like big crowds weren’t expected, your customers will not believe you to be all that wonderful.
PPS I am not knocking Zehnder’s at all. I am sure they are a fine restaurant and I know their chicken dinner is spectacular. But I guess because they are “world-famous” and have been around since before the Civil War I expected so much more out of them. That’s the one problem with being world-famous. The bar is set much higher. You have to be better than everyone else at everything. That’s also why advertising that you have “great customer service” is dangerous. First, it tells the customer nothing. Second, it raises the bar of expectation. Don’t tell me you have “great customer service.” Show me one really cool thing you do for me (and leave the other really cool things you do unspoken so that you’ll surprise and delight me.)
Long distance runners and long distance swimmers know that somewhere in the middle of the race is where you separate the pros from the amateurs. The amateurs have either gone out too fast and really start to feel it in those middle miles, or their minds start to wander and they lose focus on their pace and strategy.
This is that midpoint for holiday retailers. The run from mid-November to Christmas is a marathon, with many peaks and valleys. The week of Thanksgiving is the start of the race. The week before Christmas is the final sprint to the finish. It is in these middle weeks where focus tends to wander off.
You’re tired. You’re a little down because the sales, while good a couple weeks ago, have ebbed a little prior to that final push. The hours are longer while the days are shorter, and it doesn’t seem like you have enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. Plus, you have all those seasonal staff that aren’t quite up to the level you had hoped for them. You feel like you need to work on both their Attitude and their Aptitude.
If you have to choose between Attitude and Aptitude, choose Attitude first. Focus on raising your team’s overall cheerfulness, friendliness, and joy.
A customer will overlook the lack of skill of a friendly staff person trying her best much more than they will overlook the surly attitude of a competent but frantic or unhappy staff person who acts like she doesn’t want to be there.
Plus, when you raise the the level of positive energy in the store, you make your staff better prepared for learning new skills.
How do you “raise attitudes?”
Check your own. The staff feeds off of you. If you’re still showing a happy, cheerful, friendly demeanor, they are likely to be happy, cheerful, and friendly. If you’re showing the stress of the season, they’ll feed off that, too. You might have to fake it to make it. Go ahead and fake it. Do whatever you have to do to make sure you are the cheeriest of them all.
Praise them. Give your staff praise every time you see them do something well. Praise them early and often, even if they make a mistake. Praise the parts they did right. Praise is right up there with food and water as being essential to their well-being. Praise them and they’ll want to learn and do more for you to get more praise.
Ask them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them what has been fun so far. Ask them what you can do to make it better for them. Asking shows that you care, especially when you listen to and act on the answers they give you. They will never care more than you. So the more you care, the higher the ceiling for them to meet.
Give them some small token of your appreciation. It can be food or snacks in the break-room, an unexpected gift card to a local restaurant, a gas card, a poinsettia (especially from the stash your sales reps have been giving you.) It doesn’t have to be expensive to be impactful. The act of being generous to them helps them to pay it forward to your customers.
Not only will doing those things raise the attitude of your team, they will help you raise your own attitude so that you don’t have to fake it. A truly good attitude will help you stay focused on the strategies you’ve laid out to be successful in these last couple weeks.
PS I have had competent and unhappy people on my team. I have had happy but not yet competent people on my team. I’ve never had a customer complain about the cheerful employee who tried but failed. I’ve had several customers complain about surly attitudes. An entrepreneur I met once, who has started several successful companies, had a simple hiring/firing philosophy … Fire the unhappy people.
You’ve heard the phrase Pay it Forward. Someone does something nice for you, and instead of doing something nice back, you do something nice for someone else. I have several things I need to pay forward in my life, including one act of generosity that happened this fall.
I love the concept of Pay it Forward. I love the concept of generosity in the first place. Generosity leads to positive Word-of-Mouth.
One area of generosity I encourage my indie retailers is to Pay it Down. Be generous with those who work for you.
Be generous with granting them time off. This business is your every waking moment and your life. It isn’t theirs. They have more on their mind than just your business.
Be generous with your praise. This is a stressful time of year no matter how enjoyable it is supposed to be. Retail workers not only live that stress, they are on the receiving end of everyone else’s stress. Praise reduces stress.
Be generous with your time. Especially in these next few weeks. A little extra time listening to your staff may gain you some incredible insights for ways to improve your store. A little extra time showing you care about your employees will cause them to care more about you and your store.
Be generous with your giving. If you’re running your store right, your staff are making you money. Sure, you’re paying them to do that. At the same time, a little extra this time of year makes a world of difference. If you plan to give a gift instead of just money, make it personal and you’ll reap benefits fare beyond your imagination.
When you Pay it Down to your staff, you show them how much you appreciate them. We learned from Charles Dickens that’s the better way to act this time of year.
PS Little things mean a lot. Hire a masseuse for a day. Cater a big lunch on busy days. Bring in coffee. Give extended lunch hours. Give gift cards to local restaurants and shops (you can often get those businesses to trade gift certificates with you.) Share treats from sales reps with the team. Bake cookies and make a few extra for everyone to take home. Say thank you. A lot.
PPS Be amazingly grateful if someone pays it up. You owe them a lot more than they owe you. Without you, they don’t have a job. Without them, you don’t have a business.
Show me a family business that has passed down through generations and I can show you some fatherly wisdom that was shared and remembered. In fact, check out this article from Forbes on some of the biggest, oldest family businesses and the fatherly advice the current owners received that they still remember today.
My father shared a nugget with me that I recall every year on this date.
“There are always twenty four days in December prior to Christmas.”
Throughout the year we are constantly measuring ourselves against last year’s numbers. Week to week, month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter. But in these final days, it gets hard to measure. Oh, you can measure Black Friday Weekend to Black Friday Weekend, but because Thanksgiving changes every year, those last few days don’t always line up so perfectly.
I remember trying to figure out projections based on last year and this year and how many Saturdays and when they would fall and my inventory levels and and and …
Dad stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t time to project any more. It was time to sell. It wasn’t time to compare. It was time to make hay.
“There are always twenty four days in December prior to Christmas.”
You can take that statement to the bank. Your job is not look at the numbers in comparison to anything else. Your job is only to go out there and find gifts, solve problems, and make happy customers. After Christmas you can compare this 24-day period to last year’s. But for now, quit looking at the numbers (other than to track them as they happen) and start looking for the opportunities to make sales.
It is December 1st. You have twenty four days left. Make them count.
Long before there was ever Cyber Monday, there was Letdown Monday. You worked incredibly hard gearing up for Black Friday (and now Small Business Saturday). You planned events, did marketing, trained the staff, decorated the store, and had a nice busy weekend. Then Monday hits and you wonder where all the customers went.
You feel a little letdown. You feel a little worried that you didn’t get enough momentum to carry you through the season. You worry that Cyber Monday is stealing your dollars while you sit there feeling helpless. You start to wonder why you didn’t put more energy into building your own website, or why you didn’t plan a lot of deals for Cyber Monday to keep the customers in your store, or that you have too much inventory, or that you don’t have enough inventory.
In the immortal words of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic!
I know the feelings of this week. I lived it for twenty three years, and lived with it for another twenty seven. The slowdown from the busy weekend gives you too much time to think about what you might have done differently, what you haven’t done, and what you’re afraid might happen.
That’s a natural reaction, but not all that productive. I’m here to put it all into perspective.
First, let’s talk about the slowdown. It is a natural ebb of the season. Happens Every. Single. Year. The busiest days of the year are typically:
Saturday before Christmas
Second Saturday before Christmas
Black Friday/Small Business Saturday
First Saturday in December
This year the 23rd of December happens to be on a Saturday making it extra special. Also you get a bonus of having four Saturdays in December prior to Christmas. Still plenty of big days to get the sales you need. You just won’t get many this week because there are too many days before customers truly get into that Christmas mood. This year, with Thanksgiving extra early, you have a long season. Expect a little customer (and staff) burnout.
The slowest week of your season is this week.
This is not the week to panic. This is the week to prepare.
In a marathon race everyone sprints off the line. That’s Black Friday. Then they settle into their strategy. That’s this week and next. Finally, they go into their kick down the homestretch. That is your last two weeks. Now is strategy time. Now is preparation time.
Put a little extra time into decorating. Sure, you got it done for last weekend, but now is a good time to tweak it, upgrade it, spruce it up. Make it extra special because for the next few weeks customers will actually have the time to appreciate it more than they did in the frenzy of last weekend.
Put a little extra time into merchandising. Highlight the high-profit stuff you really want to move. Put the stuff they come in asking for by name at the back of the store so that your customers travel past everything else to get there.
Put a little extra time into Social Media. Start polls. Compare two items side by side. Share heartwarming stories. Tell the backgrounds of you, your store, your staff, your vendors, etc. Don’t make it about discounts or drawing traffic. Make it human and interesting,
Put a little extra time into you. Do something nice for yourself this week. Your staff can handle it. Take some time to go shopping (if you haven’t already). Take some time to catch a movie or go to a show or go outdoors. Those little things will keep you refreshed for those last two weeks that will be busy enough.
If you are worried about your inventory, keep this in mind. The last week before Christmas will be approximately ten percent of your entire yearly sales. If you don’t have enough inventory for that, then do some buying this week. Other than restocking a few hot items that will sell well after Christmas, too, trust your inventory levels and go have some fun.
PS It is too easy to second-guess everything based on last weekend. Unfortunately, that’s the worst barometer you have. The only time to properly analyze the season is after it is over. Right now your only job is to prepare this week to make those last two weeks the best ever.
I have a bad habit. I like to play games in my iPad right before going to bed. I know I’m not supposed to have screen time before bed, but it settles me down and helps me clear my mind. My favorite game to play is Free Cell. It is a form of solitaire and extremely addicting. I’m on level 408. It takes about ten wins to get to the next level, so you can get an idea how often I play.
I’m also kinda stingy. It’s already expensive enough that I use my iPad primarily for playing Free Cell and as my alarm clock. I refuse to pay to have ad-free game play while playing Free Cell. So between every game I wait for the ad to pop up and then close it as soon as I can. Usually it is just an ad for another game they think I would like. Every now and then I get some annoying video ads—reason #1 why I keep the volume off.
Last night I got something new. I got a local ad. It was for one of our candidates for Mayor. Nice shot of him smiling at the camera and talking about something. (I had the volume off so I don’t know what he said, but I’ve seen his campaign material and known him long enough to have an idea.)
Here’s the problem …
I got his ad between every game I played last night. Every. Single. Game. I played about three-and-a-half levels. Do the math.
Worse yet, I don’t live in the city. I don’t get to vote for or against him regardless of how many times his video played.
I will definitely ask him how much he spent on that ad. I want to know what they told him and sold him, because I doubt he got his actual money’s worth.
Therein lies the rub with online advertising. It is a numbers game, they tell you. It is a cheap way to reach a lot of people, they tell you. It reaches all the right people, they tell you. I’ve been pitched by online advertising salespeople many times before. I know the script.
Yet here was a guy running for Mayor on a tight budget in a small city. He got that pitch and because he is a politician, not a business person, he fell for it. And for his money, he got his ad sent to one guy thirty-five times who doesn’t live in the city, can’t vote for him, and didn’t even have the volume on to hear what he had to say.
Imagine how many more people like me also were bombarded by his ad. If I would have had the volume on, I might have liked his pitch the first three or four times I heard it, but by version #35, I might have switched sides for the seventh time. Then again, I don’t get to vote tomorrow for or against him.
They tell you online advertising is cheap because it is targeted directly at the people you want to reach. False. He didn’t want to reach me.
They tell you online advertising is cheap because you can reach tons of people for a fraction of the price. False. You can’t control how many times the same person sees your ad, versus new people seeing your ad. Heck, last spring CNBC reported that 20% or $16.4 billion dollars of online advertising is wasted due to fraud, reaching fake people (probably with fake news).
They tell you online advertising is where the millennials are. False. Go ask your millennial friends how many times they have purposefully clicked an online ad. You don’t have to ask, because you already know.
Proctor & Gamble just cut $140 million from their online advertising budget because they realized how ineffective it was.
I’m telling you this now, because in the next few weeks you’re going to panic, just like every retailer does this time of year. You’re going to be afraid that you haven’t done enough to advertise your business. You’re going to get pitched by someone selling online advertising as cheap, targeted, and effective. You’ll be intrigued, partly because of your panic, partly because it is the shiny, new bauble in the advertising world. Then you’re going to spend like a drunk in Vegas on a gamble where the odds are not in your favor.
Think of this blog as your black coffee and aspirin to the rescue.
PS Want to reach a bunch of targeted people online incredibly cheaply and effectively? Take pictures or quick videos of your products and say something completely memorable and shareworthy about the products. Post those daily (at the least) on all your social media platforms and share them on your own personal pages. You won’t reach everyone, but the more shareworthy you make it, the more people will share it with their friends, which is exactly what you want to happen. Best of all, it is free! (It is all about “shares” not “likes” so you have to say things people want to pass on.)
PPS Enjoy it while you can, however. Facebook is experimenting with a separate feed for friends and for business pages, which will bury your posts completely unless you pay FB. I’m following this and will report back when I know more.
You bought your first car because you fell in love with it. You bought your first house because you fell in love with it. You married your spouse because you loved that person. Every major purchase in your life was ultimately decided by your heart. Facts and data play a role, but the heart opens the wallet.
So why do we fill our advertising with tons of facts and data?
Probably because you were told the best way to make the sale is to hammer home all the features and benefits. Yeah, I read that book, too. Yet features and benefits are for people in an analyzing mode. As long as they stay in analyzing mode, they won’t ever make the purchase. You want them in a buying mode. You have to speak to the heart to get them beyond analysis.
Maya Angelou said it best, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Your job as a salesperson is to get people to feel good about the product. Your job as an advertiser is to get people to feel good about a company. Your job as a small business person is to make people feel good. Period. Break it down like that and it simplifies your job.
I ran this ad as my sole radio ad for the 2005 Christmas season …
“He left Detroit 9am Christmas Eve. Some store somewhere had to have the one item his sweet little six-year-old wanted. Six cities, seven stores later he stood travel-weary across the counter from me. ‘I suppose you don’t have any Simon games either.’ As I handed over the last of my Simon games, he smiled and said, ‘God bless you!’ Believe me, He already has. Merry Christmas from the Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.”
It was a feel-good ad. It didn’t talk about our many services. It didn’t talk about our huge selection (heck, the Simon game wasn’t even on the market that season.) It didn’t give our extended holiday hours or our address, phone or website. It didn’t even mention the store until the very end.
But it worked.
We ran that ad in 2005 and had the busiest Christmas season ever! We ran it again in 2007 and surpassed 2005 by a wide margin.
Why did that ad work so well? It spoke to the heart. It made you feel good. It hit on four of the six principles in my new book Most Ads Suck (But Yours Won’t).
Don’t look or sound like any other ad
Tell a Story
Speak to the Heart
Speak to Your Tribe
You don’t hear radio ads like that. The opening line of most ads turns you off. The opening line here gets your interest. The story draws you in. The ending makes you feel good. The ad was also about Nostalgia, one of my Core Values. It spoke directly to the people who share my values-people who also are nostalgic. Did people remember the ad? Oh yes! Not the details, just the feelings. Just like Maya Angelou said they would.
PS You can pre-order the book MOST ADS SUCK by clicking the link. You can even get me to write a couple ads for your business (check out the perks for supporting the campaign.) Just ask yourself if your “best Christmas season ever” is worth the investment.
PPS That ad is based on a true story that happened to me back in 1980. It was one hour from closing time when this man approached my counter displaying all the hand-held electronic games. Only one minute earlier my mom had laid a Simon game at my feet from a canceled layaway and said, “See if you can sell this before we close.” Talk about timing! Besides saying, “God bless you!” over and over and over, this large, travel-weary gentleman hugged me right across the counter. Tears were flowing for both of us as he shared his story. I’ll never forget that man or that story (a story that hasn’t been embellished once in the last 37 years because it doesn’t need it.) You have a similar story that, once you tell it, that story will get people to fall in love with you all over again.
In these final days, the most common phrase spoken by retail employees everywhere is…
“No, we don’t have that.” Or its cousin, “No, we’re out of stock.”
Make sure in tomorrow morning’s huddle that you remind you staff that there is a better response…
“Let me show you what I do have.”
Learn to say that instead.
Before you say no, lead the customer over to an alternative. Put the alternative in his hand. He doesn’t want to drive all over in these last couple days for something that might be hard to find. More often than not he will accept the alternative.
PS Other cool things you can do for your staff… Give them gifts – lottery tickets, gift cards to restaurants, gas cards, etc. Give them massages – hire a masseuse for the day to chair massages in the backroom. Feed them – order in pizza, or cater a healthy lunch/dinner. Put on Christmas Movies in the backroom to keep them in the mood.