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Frigidaire Made Me Say a Bad Word

I installed a dishwasher today. It only took me four trips to the hardware store. The first one I cussed all the way there. I had to crank up the music to make the people in cars next to me think I was singing. The next three were my own fault and I take full blame. (I still had the music turned up, but that was just for my listening pleasure.)

The issue was a small part that is required on all dishwashers, standard for pretty much all new models, and sold separately for every dishwasher manufacturer out there. The part cost me a whopping $6.35. It is a simple elbow (pictured) that attaches to the dishwasher, to which you hook up your water supply line. I already had the water supply line from the old dishwasher, but the elbow on the old dishwasher wasn’t the right size for today’s new dishwashers.

Why isn’t this part—that is required and now universal—included with the dishwasher? It’s like buying a car for $25,000 and then they tell you it will be another $50 to get the keys.

Why didn’t the person who sold the dishwasher tell us that the dishwasher was sold a la carte and that we’d have to buy another piece to make it work?

Why did I not have everything I needed to “complete the sale?” All I did was curse the store that sold the dishwasher and gave the rest of my business to another hardware store.

The first problem was obviously Frigidaire’s. If I was them, I would include the $6 piece with the sale of every dishwasher. I would build it into my price and then go advertise that only my products come with everything you need to complete the project. The other companies sell you an incomplete product.

The second problem was the sales clerk’s fault. After watching a YouTube video on installing dishwashers, I found out this missing part is known and expected to be missing. Since none of the dishwashers come with this part, there should be a HUGE display of them next to the dishwashers with a big sign that says, “DON’T FORGET THESE EXTRA PARTS YOU WILL NEED!!!!” At the very least, the sales person should have known to suggest the part before we got to checkout.

This is what I mean when I say “complete the sale.” It is what Bob Negen means when he talks about “the perfect sale.” It isn’t an add-on, it is a necessity of great customer service.

When your customer gets home, she should have everything from you that she possibly needs to use the main product she bought.

If she doesn’t, not only will she think poorly of you, she may very well go to another store to get the stuff you should have sold her! (That’s what I did.)

Frigidaire made me angry for not including the part. Lowe’s made me angry for not selling me the part. Hammond Hardware is my hero for not only finding me the right part, but also helping me when I found out the old supply line was no good either because it didn’t have standard fittings, nor did the pipe to which it attaches. (To John at Hammond, who helped me out, you’re a true customer service hero. To Dave, the boss, your whole crew deserves praise. I wish you guys sold the dishwashers in the first place!)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Plumbing is one area where I know I don’t suffer from Dunning-Kruger Effect. I knew I didn’t know. That’s why I went to my local store when I needed help. I didn’t trust that anyone at Lowe’s would know more than I did and I wasn’t in the mood to try to teach myself. Buying the dishwasher was transactional by default. None of the stores that sold dishwashers had won my heart. Buying the parts, however, was relational.

PPS If Lowe’s had told me I needed the part and I said no thank you, then two things would have occurred. First, I would not have blamed them for not having what I need. Second, and more importantly, my levels of trust with them would have gone up considerably. Since they didn’t say anything, my levels of trust dropped dramatically. Not good when you’re trying to build relationships with your customers.

Asking Questions, Playing Games, Laughing, and Learning

Occasionally I go back to my old blog posts to see how things have changed in retail. Sometimes I see how things have stayed the same. Here is something I wrote almost ten years ago on December 3, 2008

The best stores have a staff that listens, that repeats back what a customer says and asks questions to clarify everything so that there is no misunderstanding. We may not be the best listeners all the time, but we’re working on it. Would you be surprised to know that the last ten staff trainings were on communication?

Nine years and five months later I wrote …

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

I read that last line from the 2008 passage and immediately opened my 2008 file with the notes of all our staff meetings. (Yes, I have kept those notes all these years. You never know when you’ll need that info again.) Did I really do ten straight staff trainings on communication? Yes, indeed.

It started on January 14, 2008 with my favorite staff training activity of all time where we “raised the bar” and everyone had to go over it. On March 10th of that year we worked on how to communicate with customers “when something goes wrong”. On April 7th we focused on communication among team members so that we could pass customers to other sales people, make sure all areas of the store were covered, and have better communication between our buyers and our sellers.

When I got to October 20th, the memories hit me like a tsunami. I remember when I got the idea for this meeting. My Goal for the meeting was to help my team learn how to listen better, ask better questions, and decipher what customers were trying to say. As with all my staff meetings, it started with … This will be a successful meeting if my staff learned the importance of asking questions and understanding that even when the customer doesn’t know the name of the product, with a little work we can figure out exactly what they need.

I was awake one night flipping channels when the television show Whose Line is it Anyway? with Drew Carey came on. I knew instantly the Task that would lead us to our Goal.

The staff was split into two teams to play a series of four games.

The first game was called Questions. One person from each team squared off. They were each assigned a character and then they were given a product. The two then had to try to sell the product to the other person with two rules. First, they could only use questions. Second, they had to stay in character. The game went until one of the rules was broken.

The second game was Worst Ad Ever. Each person drew a product name out of a hat. They had to go find the product and then do the worst infomercial ever for that product. You might think this would be easy, silly, and pointless. The staff, however, found it to be a little more challenging. First, they had to know the product. You can’t act dumb about something until you are smart about it. Second, they learned more about each product that was featured. Mostly, though, they learned more about what not to say so that they would catch themselves and each other whenever they went into some Ron Popeil inspired pitch.

The third game was my favorite. I called it Santa’s Sack. Four people got up at once and drew product names out of a hat. Each person now had to pretend he or she was that product sitting in Santa’s Sack getting excited about the child who was about to receive them as a gift. They had to hold a conversation with each other about that excitement and their recipient without saying what product they were. The rest of the team had to guess the products.

Not only were they learning to talk about products based on what they did rather than what they were, they were tapping into the excitement that each item they sold was going to be a gift for someone special. They were learning to transfer that excitement onto the customer.

The last game was Toy Taboo. In the game Taboo you are given a word you need others to guess. You are also given a list of words you cannot say, words that are taboo. I created several cards with different products and related words they couldn’t say. For instance, LEGO was one word. The taboo words were Construction, Brick, Building, and Plastic. The lesson was simple, learn to describe toys in unique ways and you’ll be better at deciphering the descriptions our customers gave for toys they didn’t know the name.

We laughed a lot at that meeting. We laughed a lot at most of our meetings. We learned a lot, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’m not sure if this is a post about communication or a post about staff trainings. I’ll let you decide.

PPS If you look at this post as a Staff Training post, one added benefit of the games we played was that it got everyone up and acting. When you have to act and perform and be goofy in front of your peers, you lose your fears of interacting with strangers.

PPPS If you look at this post as being about Communication, listening, asking questions, and clarifying are three amazing tools that will help you close more sales.

“Everything Cheaper Somewhere Else”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can add Value in several ways. You can:

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

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

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

What Value are you adding to the equation?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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

Here is What Winning Looks Like – Sweetlees Boutique

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

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

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

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

“The workers were so attentive …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Both my mom and I purchased something.”

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

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

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

“… we will definitely go back again.”

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

Policies for the Minority Hurt the Majority

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

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

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

Does that sound far-fetched?

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

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

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

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

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

Here is where the retailer went wrong …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set your policies up to be customer-first.

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

Hire Me to Be Your Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I chose the word Coach.

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

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

Let’s get together for an exploratory meeting.

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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

Yes You Can Buy Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Celebrity endorsements don’t work like they used to. Sure, some fanboys will buy a particular brand because their favorite star told them, but the general public knows these actors, athletes, and entertainers only promote the stuff they get paid to promote. We see right through the pay-to-say ploy and aren’t convinced to buy.

The idea behind celebrity endorsements, however, was a sound investment at one time because Word-of-Mouth advertising was and still is the best, most powerful form of advertising. You are far more likely to try a new brand or a new store or a new product because someone you know and trust told you than you are because that brand or store told you.

The majority of Americans see advertising as the hype that it is. According to an omnichannel retail study done by Euclid, only 53% of Baby Boomers are inspired by traditional advertising to try something new. Generation X is even more skeptical at 40%, and the Millennials are under 33%.

After spending the last two weeks trying to tell you how to use traditional advertising more effectively, I’ve just linked you to a study that says the majority of shoppers won’t believe your ads anyway. (Note: the real reason behind those paltry numbers is because Most Ads Suck and violate the six principles of effective advertising, but that’s a post for another day.)

As the trustworthiness of traditional advertising declines, shoppers are looking more to their friends and family for advice where to shop and what to buy. Word-of-Mouth.

The good news for you is that you can still buy Word-of-Mouth. That’s what celebrity endorsements really are—a company paying someone trusted and known to talk about their products. But I’m not advocating you buy that kind of Word-of-Mouth. The way you buy Word-of-Mouth effectively today can be done four ways:

  • By spending money on the design of your store to make it so fabulous and unexpected that people have to talk about it.
  • By spending money training your staff to the point that they exceed your customer’s expectations to the point your customer has to tell someone just to validate that it really happened.
  • By being so generous giving away the unexpected to your customers, that they have to brag to their friends..
  • By showing off products in your store so outrageous that people have to tell their friends what they saw.
32,000-piece Jigsaw Puzzle!

We sold jigsaw puzzles, over a million pieces worth of jigsaw puzzles a year. (I did the math once.) Mostly we sold 1,000-piece puzzles and 300-piece puzzles, but we showed on the shelf a 32,000-piece puzzle. The box alone weighed forty-two pounds and came with its own little handcart for hauling it away. The finished puzzle was over 17 feet long and over 6 feet tall. I spent $160 to put that puzzle on my shelf. I never expected to sell it. I never really wanted to sell it. In fact, I sold it three times and immediately ordered another one.

Why?

Because every week someone would take a selfie with that puzzle and post it on social media with #toyhouse. It was worth more to me for advertising than the profit from selling one every couple years.

 

I spent $200/board for three chalkboards on the outside of our building where customers could write their own answers to the questions posed on each board.

Why?

Because every time a scavenger hunt took place in the city of Jackson, one of the stops was to write something on that board.

 

I spent another few hundred dollars to create the mileage signpost outside our store.

Why?

Rarely a day went buy that someone didn’t take a picture of that sign with our logo conspicuously in the background. Those pictures invariably made their way onto social media.

I spent about a thousand dollars a year giving away helium balloons free to children of all ages. No questions asked. No purchase necessary.

Why?

Not only did it help with crying children who didn’t want to leave the store, it made it more likely that parents would bring their kids in the store, knowing they could get out the door with a free balloon (and on Saturdays with free popcorn). Many customers told me that was what they bragged to their friends when asked why they shopped at my store.

You can get your customers to talk about you to their friends and family. You just have to do something worth talking about. Spend the money to be fabulous, outrageous, unexpected, and over-the-top and then let your customers do all the advertising for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You can read even more by downloading from the Free Resources section of my website the pdf Generating Word-of-Mouth.

PPS In 2009 Toy House was featured as “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. Every single business in that book got there because of Word-of-Mouth. Whenever George traveled he asked everyone he met about their favorite places to shop. The stores he heard the most made it into the book. In other words, it was worth it for us to spend so much time and money trying to buy Word-of-Mouth. Oh yeah, and it worked, too!

PPPS Here are the links to the posts on the other forms of advertising … Television, Radio, Billboards, Newsprint, Magazines, Websites, Email, Direct Mail, Social Media

I Didn’t Steal a Bunch of Candy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

Quit Making it So Hard for People to Buy From You

I’ve been settling into my new home. I don’t like moving. One thing I don’t like is the reorganizing of everything, such as my new office where I sit and write this blog. I’ve told you many times about my distaste for filing. One other thing I don’t like is the constant trips to the store to find replacements for items lost in the move, tossed before the move, or simply new items that work better in the new space. I’ve been to several hardware stores in town several times.

Yesterday I wanted to buy a mat to put down under my desk chair. My old office had low-pile carpet that my desk chair moved over easily. This office has a thicker pile. The chair doesn’t roll as easily. This office is also smaller. I am able to reach almost everything with just a few inches of movement in the chair. While handy, that can be frustrating when the chair doesn’t roll. So I went into OfficeMax for a plastic mat to put under my chair. What happened is a lesson we all can learn.

Not knowing exactly where to go, and being a guy (unwilling to ask for help), I headed toward the back of the furniture section. There was a box floor display of rolled up office floor mats—exactly what I thought I wanted. There was no price on the box. No price on the item. No price on a stand nearby. Just two mats rolled up in a displayer that previously held six. I grabbed one to take up front to check the price. (I had in my mind a Perceived Worth of $30-$40.)

On my way up front through the furniture section I came across another box floor display. This one had a different style of mat. No little spikes on the bottom. Again, however, no price anywhere. I grabbed this one, too, and looked around for a helper. All the staff were milling around the registers. I had almost reached them when I finally found the mother lode of floor mats. They had a huge wire rack display with several mats laying flat on different shelves. The signs on the rack told me whether they were for light, moderate, or heavy use, and whether they were for hardwood, light, medium, or thick pile. Exactly what a guy or introvert needs to make a decision. They all were priced, too, so I grabbed one that was $34.99 for moderate use on medium pile and headed up front.

Apparently the signs were a little deceiving. I didn’t realize that they were for the mat above, not the mat below. Yes, I guessed wrong on my first attempt. The mat I assumed was $34.99 rang up at $69.99. So I went back to the display only to find there were no $34.99 mats left. Behind the display I saw another box of the rolled up mats I had seen earlier. This time there was a price on the box. $44.99. I was debating between that one and another one that was $42.99. (The smooth one was $59.99 and designed for hardwood floors so it was out.)

At this point the staff at the register, who had already begun ringing me up, finally walked over to offer assistance in the way of telling me that he thinks “the rolled up mat is on sale for $34.99.” So once again, I hauled one of those mats up to the register. Sure enough, it rang for $34.99. I bought it.

I wish the story ended there. It didn’t. The rest of the story happened when I tried to unroll the mat to lay it on the floor. We wrestled like the Olympic Gold Medal was on the line. Fifteen minutes later I finally had it pinned down with heavy boxes on each corner. Then I attempted to peel off the label.

There is a product called “removable adhesive.” We spent a little extra to buy price tags with that adhesive to make it easier to remove the price tags for giftwrapping. Often I buy items that are plastic or glass with labels using this removable adhesive. The label comes off in one fell swoop, no residue left behind. That makes me happy. I don’t know if the more expensive floor mats that come already flattened have that removable adhesive or not. All I know is that my shiny, new, bending-at-the-corners, see-through floor mat has a swath of cloudy, sticky plastic and I have no idea which moving box contains the WD-40 or Goo Gone.

Low prices isn’t why the Internet keeps growing so much faster than brick & mortar. The real issue is lack of customer service. And when I say “customer service” I’m not just talking about the interaction between me and the staff. Let’s look at all the mistakes made today.

  • No price on the box or the product on the floor. Yes that is a Customer Service mistake of a whopping proportions. Many customers, if they can’t easily figure out a price, will simply walk out.
  • No signage to lead me to the product display. (No signage on the boxed display to let me know there were more options, either.) If you don’t have the money to invest in a staff to help me, invest in some proper signage. PLEASE.
  • No salespeople on the floor to help me with my search, or be able to answer my questions. (See above)
  • No help from the salesperson at the register once I finally started the transaction. “I think it’s on sale,” is not Customer Service!
  • No empathy.

I told the cashier about the boxes on the floor not having prices, and the boxes at the display stand not showing the sale prices. I said, “There’s your Sunday afternoon project.”

His reply? “Oh we have plenty to keep us busy on Sundays.”

This brick & mortar store exists only because people like me want something today. When they lose that competitive advantage, there will be another round of store closures.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Every barrier you put between your customer and buying the product is a lost sale. Prices, signs, and an accessible, available, knowledgeable staff break down those barriers and make people want to visit your store.

PPS Okay, maybe it’s not fair to blame OfficeMax for my struggles with the product after I got it home, but that was part of the “experience”. Fair or not, your customers judge you for the quality of the solution you sold them. The more highly they think of your product selection, the more critical they will be of the products they buy from you. You’re supposed to have the good stuff. Choose your offerings carefully, and when you find out about a bad product, either pull it immediately or, in the case of the inconvenient sticker, let me know in advance that the sticker won’t come off easily and that I might want to soak it in warm water first.

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.

DADDY/CHILD PLAY DATE

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.

LATE FOR BIRTHDAY PARTY

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.

THREE GRANDKIDS FOR FIVE DAYS

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
www.PhilsForum.com

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)?