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Pay it Down

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.

I served my team bacon and eggs.

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.

-Phil Wrzesinski

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.

Who Killed Black Friday?

I was never big on shopping on Black Friday. I don’t think it was just because I was a retailer. Many of my staff would be up before dawn hitting all the sales before coming in for their shifts. I knew other retailers who would also hit the streets looking for early-bird deals. Since I wasn’t a bargain hunter in general, it wasn’t a big attraction to me.

I also knew a secret. I knew that the same retailers filled with door-busters that day would have similar or even better discounts the week before Christmas. Such is the nature of the season year after year.

Image result for black friday doorbustersAccording to Wikipedia, “Since 1952, [Black Friday] has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S.” What most people don’t know is that it wasn’t the “busiest shopping day of the year” until 2003. The Saturday before Christmas regularly held that title most years.

If the new study from Market Track LLC is right, you might see Saturday, 12/23 reclaim the title as fewer people in their surveys say they will be out shopping Black Friday this year. Is this the end of Black Friday as we have known it? And if so, who killed it?

The easy answer is eCommerce. The article linked above is already calling it “Cyber Friday”. More people reported in the survey that they would be shopping online. The online sellers are no fools. Rather than give up on Black Friday and wait until Cyber Monday, they are going after the customers’ dollars all Thanksgiving Week and especially on Friday.

The other culprit is the big retailers themselves. In a quest to win the Black Friday customers, they started opening earlier and earlier until a bunch of them decided to do sales on Thanksgiving, which led to sales on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, too. You do all that and you take away the frenzy of Black Friday. The problem is most employees only have Thursday through Sunday off. Twenty-five states actually have Black Friday as a government holiday. Start offering your deals Monday through Wednesday and you lose some of your customers. They figure they might as well go online since they can’t get out of work.

Some want to blame the media. News reports of fights and people getting trampled will dampen any crowd. The reality is that those stories don’t match the experience for most people since those events are few and far between.

Last but not least, some are saying that American Express with it’s Shop Small Business Saturday campaign also had a hand in Black Friday’s demise. We certainly saw that in our last few years of business. Small Business Saturday beat Black Friday for us in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Add it all up and you might think Black Friday is on life support. Before you pull the plug, however, think about this.

Twenty-five states still have Black Friday as a government holiday. Many corporations also give their employees that day off. That puts a lot of shoppers on the streets ready to get started on their Christmas shopping. Whether they shop online, in stores, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday doesn’t matter.

What does matter is one thing and one thing only—are you the store where they want to spend their money?

The big chains, in their race to the bottom to win the Transactional Customers, only have one tool in their tool box—the red markdown pen. You have a whole bunch of tools at your disposal to win everyone else, the Customer Experience being one of your biggest.

If you are a toy store you could have a whole bunch of toy expert stations with people ready to show off the hot, new toys and answer questions parents might have (many toy stores I know already do this earlier in November for Neighborhood Toy Store Day.)

If you are a clothing store you could have a fashion show with real fashion experts on hand to share tips and help people explore new wardrobes for everyone in their family.

If you are a shoe store you could have certified orthotic fitters on hand to do demonstrations and talk about foot health and the importance of proper support.

If you are a caterer you could partner with a local retailer and offer food to their customers creating a festive atmosphere for the shoppers that becomes a win-win-win for everyone.

There are many ways to win customers during Thanksgiving Week. You know already what the big box and online sellers are going to do. There are a whole bunch of people actually happy that Black Friday won’t be as mobbed with bargain hunters as usual. Go talk to them and show them how shopping at your store will be different, better, and tons more fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It might seem weird to talk about Thanksgiving already. It is only 6 weeks from today. I want you to have enough time to plan something amazingly cool to maximize your weekend sales. If you’ve already seen your sales shift from Friday to Saturday like we did, then plan something special for Saturday to win the Relational Customers. But if you can, plan something special for Friday, too. There are a lot of people not working that day that still want to go shopping.

PPS Don’t read too much into your Friday or your Saturday numbers. Look at the week as a whole. The retail world is changing. Black Friday is no longer the sole focus of the week. But attracting customers hasn’t changed. Go find a way to capture your share of the market.

You’ve Ruined My Christmas!

“You’ve ruined my Christmas!”

We’ve all heard it. You can’t be a retailer with 4th quarter traffic without hearing that a few times. The problem is that we often let that statement ruin our own Christmas.

Why do we give it so much weight?

Why do we let one customer ruin our day, ruin our holiday, ruin our year? Chances are we weren’t even the responsible party.

Most often that statement is said when the customer had an unreal expectation of what you could provide. Or maybe your vendor let you down. Or maybe the customer was just bat-sh#t crazy. Or maybe you did make a mistake, but because your steps to rectify the mistake weren’t perfect, you ruined their Christmas.

Why let that get you down?

Unless you’re a real f#@k-up, you probably only hear this once every few years. And you’re a stand-up person, so you made it right to the best of your powers. Yet you can still remember the day that mom screamed at you in front of six other customers. The hairs on the back of your neck go up every time you see a brunette in a fur coat just like hers. It colors your whole perception of the season.

Why don’t we instead focus on the people for whom we made their Christmas?

Go count how many transactions you had between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. Subtract from that all the ruinous statements. Now multiply the remaining number times ten. That’s how many Christmases you made last year. (Remember that people are in your shop not just for one person, plus, if you made their Christmas, you made the Christmas of those around them.)

Revel in those Christmases you made. Celebrate the Thank You’s. Exalt the I Love You Guys. Dance with the You Made My Day’s.

There are a lot more of those. Give them the weight they deserve. Pat yourself and your staff on the back. You all deserve that.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This goes doubly for the staff. They are going to make mistakes. You really can ruin your staff’s Christmas if you don’t handle those mistakes properly. I remind all my staff that I expect them to make mistakes, just not the same one twice, so when they make a mistake, I say to them with a smile, “Good, you got that mistake out of the way. What are we going to learn from it?”

Buy the Book, I’ll Speak for FREE

(I know you know someone who could use this.  Please share it with that person.)

My book, Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art comes packed 60 books to the carton.  What would you do if you had 60 of these books?  Do you know some businesses who could use help hiring and training a better staff?

60 books at $19.99 equals $1199.40.  I want to make you an offer.  Round it off to $1,200 even and I will throw in 4 FREE hours of me.

Yes, that’s right.  Buy one carton of books for $1200 and I will show up at your door anywhere in the continental USA and give you 4 hours of my business knowledge to use as you see fit.

If you are a Radio Station…
You will get 60 books to give to your clients that will help them hire and train a better workforce, thus ensuring they will be in business (and buying radio ads from you) for a long time.  If you think about it, that’s a far more memorable gift than the mug, candy or flowers you have been giving them.

Plus, you will get me teaching your sales staff how to sell your product more effectively, how to create killer campaigns for your clients, and how to craft powerful messages that drive serious traffic to their door.  Plus you can use me to help mentor your favorite clients, teaching them how to powerfully brand their business, and how to uncover their core message that will resonate strongest with your listening audience.

If you are a Chamber of Commerce, DDA, or Shop Local organization…
You will get 60 books to strengthen the quality of employees in your district, making your core businesses rock solid and recession-proof thus increasing your influence and the size of your district.

Plus, you get to choose from a vast array of training programs that will rock their worlds and make your businesses the envy of all the surrounding communities.  You can even ask me to show you how to plan Staff Meetings that people WANT to attend.

If you are a Trade Organization or Buying Group…
You get 60 books to help your members make hiring decisions and develop training programs that will turn them into the shining stars of your industry.  When they see how great your stores are doing, you will have other stores begging to join your proactive organization.

Plus, you get four hours of some of the best retail ideas on everything from Inventory Management to Customer Service to Pricing Strategies that put money in your members’ pockets (so that they can pay their dues on time.)

If you are an individual store…
You get 60 books to give away to all your business friends and family for Christmas.  You can even sell them in your store to get your money back if you want.

More importantly, you get four hours to pick my brain.  Use me to help train your staff on the kind of customer service that gets talked about.  Use me to help craft your marketing campaign into a traffic-driving force.  Use me to look over your financials and help you find lost profits and put them back in your pocket.  Use me to teach you how to make staff trainings fun again.

If you are a Nationally Syndicated Talk Show Host… (Stewart? Colbert? Kimmel? Dave? NPR?)
You get 60 business books that are soon to be the talk of the nation.  Heck, I’ll bring extra books so that you can hide one under every chair in the audience.

Plus, you will get a guest who is as comfortable behind a microphone as you are.  You get a savvy businessman who knows retail, has opinions, and is not afraid to share them.  Not only did I host my own radio show for three years, I have plenty of camera time sitting in the guest chair.  Plus, you will get top-notch ratings from the Jackson, Michigan market.

You buy 60 books and I’ll pay my own way to get there plus one night in a hotel*.  And you get to choose what business training you want for your purchase.

I have four full cartons of books ready and waiting to ship to the first four people/groups who contact me.  Send an email to phil@philsforum.com to set up your four hours of kick-ass, kick-starting presentations and trainings.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  If you want more than 60 books or more than 4 hours, I am more than willing to negotiate.  I will be happy to work with your schedule as much as possible.  Just remember that I have my own store to run, so we might both have to be flexible to schedule something.

*PPS This deal is good for USA travel only (unless you want to pay for the flight, too).

What is Your Story? (Here’s Mine)

My first official day of work at the Toy House came the day after my 14th birthday. With work permit in hand, I joined the team in November 1980 and took my place behind the glass counter that housed all of our handheld electronic games.

Games like Simon, Coleco Football, Speak & Spell and others.

My parents figured if anyone could explain these games to parents & grandparents, it would be a kid like me. And I was good at it. So good that I could play all the games upside down and backward (that’s how they were to me when I showed them to you) better than most of my friends could play them right side up.

What a perfect job – paid $3.35 an hour to play with games!

The hot toy that year was Simon by Milton Bradley. The old Simon with the round black body and four colored lights on top. We owned one at home and I was the champ there, too.

We sold tons of Simon games, as many as they would send us. By early December we were sold out. We started a waiting list in hopes that Milton Bradley would ship some more. They did, but still not enough to meet the demand.

Every day I looked at the empty spot on the shelf where Simon had sat.

The Christmas season flew by fast. It was finally Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year. We stayed busy until about 3pm when my mom started calling people with big layaways still here. You’d be amazed how many people forget about their layaways until the very last moment.

One guy had completely forgotten and had already gone out and bought a whole bunch of other gifts for the kids. He told my mom to cancel his layaway, he’d be in to get his deposit back after Christmas.

At 4:05pm, less than an hour from closing and too late to try calling people on our waiting list, my mom brought over a Simon game from his canceled layaway and laid it at my feet.

“See if you can sell this before we close,” she said.

I turned around a minute later and saw him. He was easily over six feet tall. In retrospect I figure he was in his mid-60’s but he felt so much older than that. The look on his face was tired and beaten. His shoulders were slumped in defeat.

He explained to me that he had left Detroit that morning because his six-year-old granddaughter he was raising only wanted one thing for Christmas. He had been to Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek but no luck.

The gal in Battle Creek gave him directions to our store saying, “If anyone can help you, Toy House can.”

He pointed to the empty spot on the shelf and with a sadness in his voice said, “I suppose you don’t have any Simon games either.”

There are moments in your life when you know there must be some sort of greater power at work. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it Karma. Call it whatever you want, but I knew instantly I was in one of those moments. I felt it even before I leaned down to pick up the Simon game between my feet.

“Well, today is your lucky day!” I said as I handed him the last of our Simon games.

Thirty years of dust and defeat were shook off in that moment. He started crying, saying “God bless you, God bless you, God bless you.” He reached over the counter and gave me a bear hug.
I couldn’t help but join him in the moment. With tears now running down my own face we hugged and hugged as though we were long lost relatives. Still he repeated, “God bless you,” over and over.

As he left the store, he shouted “Merry Christmas!” to everyone within earshot, and I swear this old man had a dance in his step as he entered the parking lot.

I was fourteen years old at the time. Now I have thirty years of Christmas Eve memories at the Toy House. But none will ever replace that moment in time. I remember the details like it was yesterday.

God bless me?
Believe me, he already has!
Merry Christmas,


Happy Black Friday?

Sometimes I wonder if we are taking Thursday off to celebrate Thanksgiving or the beginning of Christmas Shopping.

It seems that there is more talk about Black Friday in the news than the turkey celebrations on Thursday. In fact, the only time I see the word “Thanksgiving” is when they announce another store like K-Mart planning to be open that day.

Has it come to be that the thing for which we are most thankful is getting up at 3am to grab a doorbuster special?

I hate to be the mythbuster, but I’m going to let you in on some little retail secrets. My fellow retailers might not be happy that I’m sharing these. They might blackball me like those magicians that gave away their secrets on Fox TV. But here it goes…

Black Friday Myth #1: These are the best deals you will see this shopping season. Reality: Yes, there are some big bargains, but most of those were carefully orchestrated to make you think you are getting a bigger deal than you actually are. These “deals” are planned months in advance. The true deals are the “panic deals” that happen when stores panic because sales aren’t as strong as they hoped. Usually these start the week before Christmas. This year, they’ll start as early as December 1.

Black Friday Myth #2: This is the busiest day of the year. Reality: Although it is a busy shopping day, the two Saturdays before Christmas always outpace Black Friday in terms of actual dollars being spent. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the procrastinators.

Black Friday Myth #3: This is the day that all retailers get back to profitability. Reality: Some retailers won’t ever get back to being profitable this year. And with the price-slashing we are seeing, there may be some serious casualties after the dust settles. It’s hard to make a profit when you give everything away below cost.

Black Friday Myth #4: The earlier a business opens, the more business it will do. Reality: Where you shop has less to do with the hours, than with the products. If Kohl’s doesn’t have what you want, you won’t be there at midnight. This whole notion that K-Mart by being open Thursday, or some of the stores opening at 3am or even midnight will gain some big advantage over the competition is ridiculous. The stores that will have the best Black Fridays will be the stores with the best products, services and values. And service is hard to do when the staff is tired and grumpy at missing out on their own Thanksgiving festivities. Ever wonder why the stores that open the earliest have the highest staff turnover rate? I love my staff way too much to ever do something like that to them. We’ll open at our regular hours and do plenty of business without any gimmicks or stunts, just smart products, good values, and great service.

Speaking of early hours…

Black Friday Myth #5: The early hours are always worth it. Reality: If you like waiting in long lines, fighting huge crowds, getting pushed and shoved only to be one person too late to get the item you wanted, then more power to you. I like to calculate the cost of my time versus the price of an item.

I hope I haven’t burst anyone’s bubbles. It’s not like I’m trying to convince you that Santa Claus isn’t real. (He is real. Want proof ? Click here!) Despite what I have said above, I love Black Friday. It is a fun day filled with wonderful customers and experiences and, oh yeah, a whole lot of business. But there is so much more for which we should be thankful.

So as I tuck in for the night this Thanksgiving day, I will tip my hat to those of you who plan to confront the cold, blustery pre-dawn darkness to fight the coffee-starved crowds for deals, contrived or otherwise. Many of you brave soldiers tell me that it is the thrill of the conquest that drags you out of bed while others slumber peacefully. To you, I say go forth and conquer.

My staff and I will be well-rested and waiting here at the Toy House at 9:30am with a fresh pot of coffee brewing just for you.

Happy Black Friday and Thanksgiving, too!


Strummin’ My 6-String
It was my favorite Christmas present of all time. I still have it. And I knew I was getting it all along.

December, 1985. My sister and I were both in college. She wanted a stereo for Christmas and Mom and Dad had no clue what to buy her. So they called me in for advice. And since I knew what Mom and Dad were spending on her, they turned to me and said, “What do you want?”

No hesitation. A guitar. Six shimmering strings, a shiny wood top, and a black case. I was gonna be a star.

I always had a fascination with guitars. In fact, I even tried to build one out of an old sheet of particle board. I measured it, drew it out on the board and began cutting. At eleven I just figured that once I cut out the body I could attach some strings and be good to go. Without a jigsaw, though, I never got very far. I think that board with the drawings and a few misplaced saw cuts still sits somewhere in my parents’ basement.

But then I started working summers at YMCA Storer Camps in Napoleon. Although I never saw it, there must be somewhere on the application where you check off “guitar player”. Almost everyone there knew how to play guitar… except me.

I wanted a guitar. And now I had one. Mom and Dad went to Playford Music and got a perfect starter guitar, an Eterna by Yamaha with a really high action that tore through my fingertips in record time while I adjusted to this new skill.

My college roommate was not nearly as excited as I was about my new guitar. With each new chord I tried to teach to my fingers, Kraig found renewed motivation to go the library to study. And even then, by the following summer I could barely play 3 chords.

Then I met Tim. Dr. Timothy Murnen, PhD, now a professor at Bowling Green, was just a summer camp counselor like me, with long hair, a love for the outdoors, and an ability to relate to kids. And just like me, he had a guitar. But he was doing something I had not even considered. Tim was writing his own songs. Songs I’ve never forgotten like “Broken Strings” – The day is long and your feet move on/And you’re never really ever gonna change your song/Broken hearts and broken dreams/You just got to live with your broken strings.

Man, I was blown away. Now I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my guitar. Write my own music. And I did.

Over the next few years I wrote 40 or 50 songs, although I use that word loosely. With maybe two or three exceptions, none of that early work was approved for human consumption. But when I joined a contemporary Christian music group at the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson in ’93 I found a whole new outlet for my writing. Another 40 to 50 songs later I have a few more edible tunes.

Are you ready to hear them?

Yes, I’m going public. I’m going on the stage live at Nomad Bookhouse on Friday, August 29th at 7pm with my guitar, harmonicas and maybe a friend or two.

Some people ask what style of music I play. Is “Campfire” a style? You can call it folk, country, old time rock n roll, blues, Christian, or whatever you want. I promise that there will be songs to make you laugh, songs to make you think, songs to make you tap your toes, and songs to make you want to sing along. And when I hit the wrong note or two along the way maybe even a song to make you cry. I’m going to play a mix of Christian and secular originals with a few covers thrown in for good measure.

Will you dare to join me?

See you Friday, August 29th 7pm at Nomad!

Happy Strumming!

Phil Wrzesinski

PS I’ve told you my favorite present. Now I want hear about yours. Tell me the story behind your favorite gift and if I get enough responses I’ll put them in an upcoming forum.