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Three Examples of Doing a Little More

I was in Houston a few weeks ago doing a staff training for a fellow toy store owner’s team. After the training three of us (two former toy store owners and one current toy store owner) took a nice long walk. I got to see some of the places where the floods from last summer’s hurricane had left their mark. It was mind-blowing trying to imagine just how high the water got compared to its level that day.

We also walked through a little neighborhood shopping area. I was immediately drawn to the sign that said “Free Beer”. Yeah, we went inside.

The store sold beachwear and was in between last year’s fashions that were severely depleted and this year’s fashions that had yet to come in. If their regular stock levels were the highest point of the flood, their current stock levels were below the lowest point in the water table. They barely had anything to make you think they were in business.

That’s me on the left with my, um, hat?

They did, however, have a cooler full of beer and a Tiki Toss game on the wall (you know the game—the ring on a string that you swing to try to land it on the hook on the wall). They were throwing a party inside the store to celebrate. They weren’t celebrating the clearance of the old lineup. They weren’t celebrating the arrival of the new lineup (it hadn’t yet arrived). They were simply celebrating the customers.

I walked in and got a free beer. I also got a coozie sleeve for that beer. I also played Tiki Toss, and when I got a ringer they gave me a free foam, um, hat? I don’t know what it was for sure, or what it was for, but I packed it in my luggage and brought it home.

Even with nothing to sell, that store was doing what all great retailers do—building the relationship with the customer. That was their way to beat the first quarter blues—have a party!

They definitely exceeded my expectations.

Here are three more examples of how to give your customer more than he or she desires, needs, or expects.


On a typical Saturday morning we will see a parent in our store with a child. They aren’t there to shop. They are just there to browse and play. Sometimes it is Saturday afternoon and they have a couple hours to kill between the wedding and the reception. Sometimes it is a dad who is looking for an inexpensive way to have some fun with his child.

Whatever it is, the expectation is that the parent is hoping to kill some time, let the child have some fun looking at all the cool toys, and maybe play with a sample toy or two.

In one instance a dad brought his daughter in to play. We had just received some new magnetic blocks. I made it a big deal to pull out the blocks and allow her to be the first kid in Jackson to play with this new toy. She squealed with excitement. No, he didn’t buy those blocks … that day. He bought them on Monday. That little girl is in college now and we got to watch her grow up.


Another common Saturday visitor is on her way to a birthday party, often running late. One of my staff related this Smile Story at a staff meeting …

“She called the store, said she was on her way to a birthday party for a six-year old boy. Could we pick a LEGO set out for around $25 and have it wrapped so that she could run in and get it quickly? So I got her item, wrapped it, and then attached a blue helium balloon to it. She was so thrilled! She was the gal who came in last week with a tray of cookies. She said, ‘Not only do the kids always go for the packages wrapped in Toy House paper first, when you have a helium balloon attached, you’re the first of the first!'”

Think about that one for a moment. This customer already had a pretty high bar of expectation if she felt she could call ahead and have us pick the right gift and have it wrapped. Yet my staff still found a way to exceed that.


This is one of my favorite stories. I even wrote a radio ad about it. One of our regular customers came in asking for help. She had three grandkids visiting for five days and wanted a new toy for each day of their visit. Not only did my staff pick out fifteen great toys, they wrapped each one, labeled them with the child’s name and the date to open. When she came back into the store, she said, “Phil, your staff is the best! My grandson thinks I am the best toy picker ever. He said, ‘These toys are better than if I picked them out myself!’ Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I use these stories to illustrate that you don’t need to do a whole lot to exceed your customer’s expectations. You just have to first know what those expectations are. In all three instances we didn’t give away the farm. In fact, we didn’t use discounts or deals to win the hearts of these customers. We just found out what they wanted, and gave them a little more.

You can do that, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The first step in giving your customer more than she desires, needs, or expects is to eliminate the phrase, “No, we don’t do that,” from your vocabulary. If your customer is asking if you do something, then she expects it is something you would do. If it isn’t too crazy, do it. What have you got to lose (except another customer)?

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

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”.

Reconciling Yes and No

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”

On the other hand, Steve Jobs said, “It’s only by saying ‘No’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

Yes and No – both valid answers!

Teddy wants you to take on any job you can. Steve wants you to only take on the important jobs.

Who is right?

Teddy is right when it comes to serving your customers. If a customer asks if you can do something for them that you have never done, you should seriously consider doing it. First, if the customer is asking, the customer must believe it is something you can do. Second, it meets and/or exceeds their expectations, which is the hallmark of WOW Customer Service. Third, it might just become the new calling card you need to set yourself apart from your competitors.

You should always be looking for new ways to take care of your customers.

Steve is right when it comes to advertising. It is easy to “dabble” in advertising, doing a little here and a little there, clinging to the false hope that the more different things you do, the more people you will reach to drive into your store. We mistakenly believe that advertising is simply a numbers game and the more people we reach, the more traffic we’ll get. Yes, it is a numbers game, but not all numbers are equal.

Roy H. Williams often asks the question, “Would you rather convince 100% of the people 10% of the way or 10% of the people 100% of the way? In advertising, both cost the same.” The goal of your advertising is to convince people to visit your store and shop with you. You don’t convince people if all you do is “dabble”. You simply annoy them. It takes time, frequency, and focus to convince the people you reach to finally decide to shop with you. You have to pick and choose your media carefully and then be in full in with that media. If you aren’t, you are wasting your ad budget.

Both are right when it comes to inventory. You need to follow Steve’s advice and make sure you first stock your store with the most important items. When cash flow is tight, focus on the must-haves. Focus on the items that customers come in asking for by name. Make sure you have plenty of the requested items and you’ll make the sales you need to keep the cash flowing. You also need to keep looking for new products and new opportunities. Unless you’re strictly in the commodities business, customers want to see what is new and fresh. If you don’t have new and fresh, you are boring your customers and eventually they won’t bother coming back.

After the must-haves, the second most important inventory spending should be on the brand-new. It keeps your store fresh, keeps your staff energized, keeps your customers returning.

Sometimes you have to follow President Roosevelt. Sometimes you have to follow Mr. Jobs. Knowing when to say Yes and when to say No is the key to your success.

Perhaps Neils Bohr said it best when he said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I used both quotes in presentations lately and it struck me how profound, yet at odds, they both seem to be. I also have found myself using both quotes in my own life. I have been asked to do a lot of new things lately. I have said Yes to creating several new presentations, different from the homerun talks I do. I’ve also said No to some opportunities because they didn’t push forward my main industries of speaking, writing, and consulting. I think knowing when to say No is truly an art, one in which I am still the amateur, but I am learning. How about you?

Few Things Go As Planned

Back in the early 1990’s I ran a wilderness trip program out at YMCA Storer Camps. I had a team of trip leaders who would plot out backpacking, biking, rock climbing, and canoeing trips around the Midwest and Ontario. One of the planning stages for the trip leaders was to build an itinerary showing what they would be doing each day, where they would be camping each night, and what goals they hoped to accomplish on the trip.

Papa Moose and family on the Missinaibi River, Northern Ontario 1987

Before each trip I would go through their itinerary with them, making sure the trip looked sound on paper. Then I would have them fold up the itinerary, place it in a Ziploc bag, and stick it in the bottom of their rucksack to only pull out if necessary.

Rarely if ever did a trip turn out exactly as it was written on paper. Flat tires, flash flooding, lost canoes, or other unexpected obstacles would always throw the itinerary off track. Sometimes the itinerary had to be adjusted to meet the needs of the group. One of my bike trips added an extra 100 miles to their trip because the kids had the skills to make that extra jaunt. There was always something.

What I learned through this exercise was one simple lesson—the future will not turn out exactly as you planned.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for it. The two most important days of the itinerary were the first and last. The first set the tone, the last got you home. What happened in between was subject to change at a moment’s notice. A skilled trip leader knew when to adjust the itinerary to make the trip fun for everyone. A skilled trip leader expected to make changes mid-stream and was prepared to do so.

So here is my best New Year’s advice to you.

2018 will not turn out how you planned.

I’m not being a Debby Downer here. In fact, 2018 may surpass all your wildest dreams. Or it may take a hard 90-degree turn down a path you never imagined that might be the best path you ever could take. It may be close to what you thought, but there will be plot-twists, obstacles, detours, re-routes, and even a dead-end or two along the way.

That’s okay.

It is impossible for you to foresee that much of the future to meet every challenge perfectly prepared, knowing what will happen before it happens. (If you had that skill, you likely wouldn’t be reading my blog.)

With that said, you still need to plan your itinerary. You still need to plot out where you are today and where you want to be at the end of the year. You still need to put down a plan for how you will get from Point A to Point B. Without a plan, I can promise you won’t get anywhere close to Point B.

A skilled retailer will plan the following:

  • Marketing: What events, what advertisements, what other ways will you draw traffic to your store? At the same time, how will you measure new, unforeseen opportunities as they come along? What will you need to see to jump at an opportunity or take a risk with your advertising and marketing?
  • Staff Training: What skills do you want your staff to learn and strengthen in 2018? At the same time, how will you deal with the sudden change should you lose a key employee or two along the way?
  • Customer Service: Where are the holes in the service you provide and how will you raise the bar for 2018? At the same time, how will you spot new opportunities to surprise and delight customers in the future as their bar of expectation rises as well?
  • Inventory Management: How will you raise margins and turn ratios (to increase cash flow) while keeping prices attractive and keeping enough inventory on the shelf to maintain sales levels? At the same time, how will you respond to fads? What criteria will you use to jump in whole hog when something is going hot (or jump out quickly when something has died?)


A skilled retailer like a skilled trip leader knows that the goal is to start the year out on the right foot and make it to the finish line intact. What happens in between will never match the plan, but if you’re prepared, will be a helluva lot of fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Those four categories will be the main focus of this blog for 2018. My goal for the New Year is to prepare you to see the opportunities, the detours, the 90-degree turns, the obstacles, and the dead-ends for what they are so that you can navigate through them or around them. Sound good?

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

I had my first Chick Fil A sandwich a few years ago. We don’t have a Chick Fil A in Jackson, and until recently didn’t have any in the entire state of Michigan. I knew people that drove to Toledo, OH just to get Chick Fil A. That’s pretty high praise for a fast food sandwich.

It is deserving praise, too.

That sandwich is quite good. Every single time. Every. Single. Time.

I’m not alone in liking that sandwich. The average Chick Fil A restaurant does $4.4 million in sales. Contrast that to Kentucky Fried Chicken that does $1.1 million in sales. Four times their biggest competitor! Number one overall in sales per restaurant in the fast food industry! And they’re only open six days a week!!

It isn’t just the sandwich that makes them the true kings of Fast Food Chicken. It is the service.

According to a Business Insider article last summer by Hayley Peterson …

“The chain consistently ranks first in restaurant customer-service surveys. In reviews, customers rave about the restaurants’ cleanliness, quick, convenient service, and hardworking employees.”

The article goes on to say …

“Chick-fil-A says its service is so consistent because it invests more than other companies in training its employees and helping them advance their careers — regardless of whether those careers are in fast food.”

Invests more in training its employees. Gee. Where have you heard that before?

I’m going to tell you one other thing that sets them apart. They do what other fast food restaurants don’t do. Look at this picture of the Chick Fil A in Athens, GA.

Chick Fil A Restaurant, Athens, GA December 2017

You don’t see that in other restaurants, period.

There are only seven fast food restaurants doing more overall business than Chick Fil A. All of them have many multiple times more stores than Chick Fil A.

Like I said before … You can either do stuff no one else is doing, or you can open up more stores than anyone else. Those are the two paths to success.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I went into a Kentucky Fried Chicken the other day. The menu was amazingly confusing. It didn’t even have everything on it. Worst of all, I only wanted some of their chicken strips and a drink. I was told it would be more expensive to buy chicken strips and a drink than to buy the meal which got me chicken strips, a drink, a side, and a cookie. I’m trying to watch my carb intake. I didn’t want a side or a cookie. My choices were to …

  • Pay less and throw away food
  • Pay more and not throw away food
  • Pay less and eat more than I wanted

This is a business plan???

Let’s just say I was surprised, but far from delighted.

PPS You could look at this as a lazy post, just using someone else’s research to make my point. I look at it as a Case Study and social proof that what I have been preaching is working for a business that believes the way I do. By the way, Case Studies are a great advertising tool, too. Don’t tell people what you do, show them.

Being World Famous

I hope someday to be world famous. I could almost say that I already am world famous. I do have a follower in Russia. I have another in Serbia and one in Austria. I have a couple followers from the southern hemisphere. I have shipped my Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel book overseas on several occasions. I’m not exactly a household name, but getting there.

Some places claim to be world famous on even less than that. Some places truly are world famous. I talked about two of them yesterday.

Here is another worth mentioning.

Image result for pike place fish market
World Famous Pike Place Fish Market

Pike Place Fish Market, the retailer highlighted in the excellent training book FISH!, wasn’t world famous at one time. They were just a fish market in Seattle trying to carve out a niche in their market. Business was okay. Like every retailer on the planet, they wanted it to be more than okay. The staff and management got together and decided they wanted to be World Famous.

Deciding you want to be World Famous is powerful. Acting on that decision is the true magic.

When the team at the fish market made that decision, the first question that popped up was the one that would change their fortunes forever.

“What does a World Famous Fish Market look and act like?”

The simplest answer was that it doesn’t look and act like all the other fish markets out there.  It does things differently.

A World Famous Retailer …

  • Offers services no other retailer in their industry offers
  • Treats customers better than they could ever imagine
  • Has hard-to-find products no one else sells
  • Makes an emotional connection with their customers
  • Makes people feel good about themselves, about their purchases, and about life in general
  • Is an experience, not just a shopping trip
  • Is prepared for crowds (heck, they are prepared for anything)
  • Always, always, always has the right attitude
  • Always, always, always does more than the customer expected
  • Foresees problems before they happen, and nips them in the bud
  • Fixes problems right away without hassle, and to a level better than the customer expected

Being World Famous is a mindset first, a recognition second, and a designation third. The path to World Famous is pretty simple. Decide you want to be world famous and do everything on that list consistently year-in-and-year-out, or open up a few thousand stores. Either way, you’ll become World Famous.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I was looking through one of the Memory Books we had for people to sign when they visited Toy House. (People love to sign books like that at World Famous locations, hint, hint.) Found this one …

“Awesome store! What a pleasant surprise! Greetings from the Netherlands, Europe”

Right below it was …

“Thank you for such a wonderful evening and such a wonderful store. -Amiye, Cairo Egypt”

You don’t have to be World Famous to act World Famous. Do the acting part first and the rest will take care of itself.

PPS You can call yourself World Famous before you actually are, but then you better perform like it. Anything less and the marketing will be all for naught.

A Tale of Two Icons

In the sleepy Little Bavaria known as Frankenmuth, Michigan are two world-famous businesses. One of them is Bronner’s CHRISTmas WONDERLAND! The other is Zehnder’s Restaurant and their “World-Famous Chicken Dinners.” 

Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland two weeks before Christmas.

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.”

Which response would you rather have?

-Phil Wrzesinski

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.)

The Store of Today

I read a fascinating article that I think every retailer should read. It is one writer’s opinion of what the Store of the Future will look like, and it’s a good opinion.

We know the store of the future will have amazing tech. This article talks about what some of that tech will look and act like.

There was one paragraph in the article, however, that stuck out to me. It was this little passage toward the end …

“In the future, the smart retailer should not care whether customers purchased an item on a given trip or not. The smart retailer should only care whether its customers had a great time and that they yearn to come back again and again.”

That doesn’t sound like the store of the future to me. That sounds like the store you should be right now. That’s the Store of Today. That’s what is winning in this retail climate.

Go read the article. You might laugh when you see who the author looks up to to provide that experience that gets customers to yearn to come back.

When everything you do today is about getting your customer to want to come back tomorrow, then you are playing the long game. Yes, even now while you are “making hay” you need to be making sure you’re making the customer have so much fun she can’t wait to return. That won yesterday, is winning today, and will win in the Store of the Future. All the tech in the world won’t change that one simple truth.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS How do you get customers to yearn to come back again and again? Surprise and Delight them. Yes it is that simple.

It is an All-the-Time Kinda Thing

One of the phone calls I dreaded most while running Toy House would happen occasionally on my lunch hour. I’d look down at my cellphone and see “Toy House” was calling. It rarely was a “problem.” My staff knew exactly how I liked problems to be handled. The phone call I dreaded was most often this simple question …

“When will you be back? We have a customer waiting to get her car seat checked.”

I hated that call. Not because it meant cutting my lunch short. If you’ve seen me, you know I could stand to skip a few meals now and then. I hated that call because it meant a customer was not getting served properly. If you offer a service, you need to offer it every single moment you are open.

That’s me teaching a class on car seats and stroller.

Although we started checking car seats back in the late 1990’s, we didn’t publicize it as a service until 2005 because I didn’t have enough people trained to offer that service full time until 2005. With the exception of trade show weeks and vacations, I made sure someone was scheduled to offer this service almost every single moment we were open.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I stopped in a Meijer store early one morning. I was in this store that is open 24/7 at 7:50am to do a return. They have a Customer Service desk where you go for returns. I went there and spoke to the nice lady behind the counter. She informed me they weren’t open yet. Not open? The store is open 24/7!

“Could I take my items to a cash register lane to do the return?”

“No, you’ll have to wait until 8am.”

The store may be open 24/7 but the Customer Service desk is only open 8am to 10pm. Apparently they only offer service for 14 of those 24 hours.

It reminded me of the time I once went to a Sam’s Club. They had the item I wanted in stock, but it was “up in the steel.” Unfortunately there were no forklift drivers to get it down for me. I would have to wait until morning. Really???

I point these out because these are the kinds of stories people like to share with their friends. These are the negative stories that get passed along from person to person, growing in scope and stature with each re-telling.

That’s why I hated to get that phone call. That was one more customer who could potentially have a negative story to share about my store. 

If you advertise you offer a service, you have to offer that service the entire time you are open. Period. Otherwise you open yourself up to that other kind of advertising that is extremely difficult to overcome.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you have a service that is impossible to offer the entire time you are open, make sure the restrictions are known well in advance. Let people know clearly if it is by appointment only, or limited hours, or only on certain days. Control the stories people tell about your business and you’ll control the growth of your business. Oh, and always keep your cellphone on when you go to lunch.

Earning Trust One Holiday at a Time

I walked into a large chain furniture store. There was a line of salespeople waiting to pounce on anyone walking through the door. It reminded me of the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin’s character was waiting in line to use an ATM while another line of muggers waited to mug everyone after they got their money. It was almost that comical.

I wasn’t there to buy anything, just to gather information. (I’m the guy. Of course I don’t get to make final purchasing decisions on furniture. If they had been trained on personas, they might have suspected that in the first place.)

The sales lady was pleasant and helpful, finding all the information I needed. She was also trying all the closing techniques you read in all those books on sales. She definitely was trained in the Always Be Closing mindset. When it looked like I really wasn’t going to buy, she played the trump card.

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends today?

I thanked her for her time and kept browsing. Then, as the playbook would dictate, her manager came over to try to close the sale she couldn’t close. It wasn’t happening. He left me with this …

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends tomorrow?

For more ways to earn your customer’s trust, buy this book!

This is why customers don’t trust us. They know we are all about the sale. We’ll say anything to get that sale.

Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities we used to earn back some trust by showing we cared about more than just the sale. We posted every year on social media that we were choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving and open at our regular time Black Friday morning. We did it so that my staff could enjoy the holiday and/or go shopping for Black Friday deals themselves. We’d have coffee ready when the shoppers visited at our normal hours.

This willingness to forego opportunities for sales paid off long term because it strengthened our reputation of caring more about people than money. Lose the battle to win the war.

Plus, that post went viral almost every single year.

Twice our local newspaper wrote about it. The radio and television news people talked about it several times.

Trust is fragile, yet it is a critical element for winning customers’ hearts and minds (and eventually their pocketbooks). When you sacrifice sales for the purpose of serving your staff, your customers, and/or your community, you build that trust up. When you say or do anything just to get the sale, you lose that trust. Your choice.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you are in a mall, you have no control over your hours. If you are in a strip mall or shopping center where there is a big draw that brings in a lot of traffic, it behooves you to be open for all those customers the other store is attracting. That’s smart customer service. But if you are a stand-alone or in an area where no one else is drawing traffic, you can choose to not be open early. It won’t cost you as much in sales as you think, but it will win you a ton in trust.

PPS If you cannot control your hours, there are other things you can do and state publicly such as pay your staff overtime, grant them extra comp time, have food for them while they are working, serve coffee for staff and customers, and donate to charity. Show the public what you truly value. Those that share your values will find you.