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Not All Retail Experience is the Same

It dawned on me what a hypocrite I was last week. I was doing some talks to retailers at a conference and in my introduction I bragged about getting my start in retail at the age of seven when my grandfather paid my sister and me ten cents an hour to put price tags on boxes. My official start in retail came just after my fourteenth birthday back in 1980 and my full-time career in retail began April 30, 1993 – as if all those dates were important.

I say that because at the end of my talk I share a quick story about my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel and how all other books on hiring say Hire For Experience. As I tell the audience in my presentations, I used to hire for experience until I realized you can have twenty years of retail experience and still be lousy at it.

See the hypocrisy?

In my book I teach that you should hire personality traits suited for the job. Without those traits, there is no amount of training that can turn them into the kind of staff you want. Experience can sometimes be a negative because that means you have a lot of bad habits to break.

Yet I sell myself on exactly that – being experienced. It begs the question… When is experience bad and when is it good?

BAD EXPERIENCE

The only truly bad experience in retail is when someone is put in a job that doesn’t match his or her personality traits. Fortunately, since you will be hiring for personality traits first and foremost, that won’t be an issue. Sure there will be applicants who worked at stores with lousy (or non-existent) training programs. Sure there will be applicants who worked at stores with low bars of expectations. Sure there will be applicants who worked for less-than-stellar managers who never recognized and developed the talent below them. None of those are deal killers if your applicant has the character traits you need. Just remember that you’ll have to break a few more bad habits early on.

GOOD EXPERIENCE

Some businesses have a reputation for high levels of service. That experience works in an applicant’s favor. If you have an applicant with the right character traits and five years of experience at Nordstrom’s – ka-ching! If you have an applicant with the right character traits who worked for a company who holds regular training exercises – ba-da-bing! If you have an applicant with the right character traits who moved up the ranks at a business known for service – rama-lama-ding-dong!

When we announced our closing I had several businesses reach out to ask about the availability of my staff because those businesses knew what I expected and how I trained my team. Many of my staff moved on to bigger and better things in part because of the reputation of our store.

Experience by itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. When you find someone with the right personality traits and the right kind of experience you will find some real superstars (if you can afford to pry them away from their current jobs). It is all about getting the right traits for the job first. Their experience only tells you how many more bad habits you may or may not need to break.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The non-hypocritical part is when I explain what I did with my experience at Toy House including getting the store named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars (George Whalin, Penguin 2009), winning the Entrepreneurial Vision Award in 2010, and how my Core Values of Fun, Helpful, Educational and Nostalgic were a perfect fit to toy retail (and a perfect fit to my new role as a Retail Educator).

You’re Not Perfect

You’re not perfect. Far from it. Me, too. You will make mistakes. You will ruin someone’s Christmas. You will cause someone gray hairs. You will make someone miss an appointment because they had to deal with your carelessness.

You will have some problems that aren’t even your fault. Maybe your vendor screwed up or the customer had a completely unrealistic expectation even after you explained it for the third time. Maybe you get the good spouse, bad spouse routine.

No matter what type of retail, you are going to have the unhappy customer.

I believe two of my favorite companies – Ritz-Carlton and Zingerman’s Deli have it right.

(source unknown)

They both empower their entire staff to be able to take care of a customer’s problem. Everyone from the assistant bottle washer to the garden boy to the valet have authorization to take a customer’s wrongs and make them right.

It does beg the question… Would you leave the fate of your customer service reputation in the hands of your lowest paid employee?

Yes! If you train them right.

Here is the easy format for handling about 98.7% of your unhappy customers.

  1. Apologize. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. They are angry. They perceive you have slighted them in some way. Apologize to them. “I am really sorry that this happened.”
  2. Ask. Ask for a complete description of what happened and what went wrong from their perspective. Don’t interrupt. Let them say what is on their mind. Don’t assume you know what happened. Let them tell the whole story. Apologize again, if necessary.
  3. Amend. Make it right. The best way to make it right in their eyes is to ask, “What would you like us to do?” Most of the time, especially if you have done steps 1 and 2, they will ask for far less than what you are prepared to do. Do what they asked, and then a little more. Yes, even if you’re giving away the farm (figuratively, of course).
  4. Learn. Let your staff make the customer happy. Then have them report back to you what they did. As long as they made the customer happy, tell your staff, “Well done!” Then show them a better way to handle it the next time if necessary.

You have to train your staff to do this. It won’t happen overnight. You have to role play it at meetings. You have to spell it out in writing. You have to remind them that the store’s first and foremost goal is to have happy customers and their job is to make those customers happy. Your job is to teach them how.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Unhappy customers are people, too. Treat them with respect and dignity (apologize and listen fully to their complaints) and they become a lot less unhappy in very short time. In fact, they often become your best ambassadors.

My Staff Training Philosophies

One of the fun things about closing up the shop is finding hidden treasures as I empty filing cabinets. This is one of those treasures. I don’t know when I wrote it, but I do remember writing it. I was on a flight home from a conference or workshop and one of the speakers asked us to write down our philosophy about our staff and why we should train them.

Here is what I wrote…

For those who can’t see the image or read my handwriting…

Philosophies

Staff Training –

-Staff is only as good as you allow them to be

-Staff rises/falls to your expectations

-Attitude of Management directs attitude of staff

-Communication is #1 key
–Communication of Expectations
–Communication of Information necessary to do job
–Communication two-way street

-Empowerment is key #2
–Empower to make decisions
–Empower to use Imagination/Creativity
–Empower to solve problems

-Motivation is key #3
–Motivation through financial rewards
–Motivation through personal satisfaction
–Motivation through recognition

-Need to put staff into position to succeed
–Play to their strengths
–Give them “tools” to do their job

-Have Confidence in…
–Your Knowledge
–Their Training
–Their Abilities

There you go. There’s your blueprint for a killer staff. Go make it happen.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I think I wrote this after a trip to Wizard Academy, but I’m not exactly sure. Based on where I found it, it was likely written between 2004-2009.

Newly Redesigned PhilsForum.com Website

I told you I was working on a new version of my PhilsForum.com website.

It just went live a few minutes ago.

Everything is up and running except this blog (which should be migrated over by late Thursday).

In an effort to make it more search engine friendly, some of the pages you’re used to seeing have new names.

  • Freebies is now Free Resources and still includes links to free pdf’s you can download on a variety of topics
  • Speaker for Hire is now Hire Me to Speak and focuses on the top programs I am most often hired to do
  • Products is now Phil’s Books and focuses on my two books, Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel and Welcome to the Club Daddy
  • Media is now About Phil and yes, it is about me

You’ll also find a few fun things hidden here and there on the site including a page of radio ads I have run for Toy House and Baby Too.

Check it out and let me know if there are any issues with the site (tell me what browser/platform/device you’re using, please).

Every time an independent retailer grows, we all grow.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Supposedly all email subscribers will be migrated over, but I will be looking into it directly. You may get an email from me asking you to resubscribe to the new blog site. Just giving you a heads up.

Preparing Your Staff for Life

One of my talented regulars on my staff just put in her two-week notice. She is leaving me for a new full-time job teaching art.

JUST A JOB (?)

As much as I love my job and my business and the difference we make in other peoples’ lives, I know where Retail Sales Clerk sits on the hierarchy of employment. Unless you’re in management or ownership, it is a job, not a career.

When my employee told me what she would be doing next, I gave her a standing ovation. I could not be happier for her. It is a huge step up for her in many ways. Sure, I will miss her and I’ll have to find a way to replace her. But in the long run this is a great opportunity for her and a chance for me to bring in some new blood with new energy and ideas, too.

The only real question I had was more internal… Had I helped to prepare her for this next step?

Had I helped her hone and practice skills that would be helpful working with others? Had I helped her hone and practice skills for teaching? (Education is one of our Core Values). Had I helped her hone and practice skills for dealing with conflict? Had I helped her hone and practice skills for finding creative solutions to all kinds of problems?

I believe it is my responsibility as an employer to help my employees prepare not just for working specifically at my store but also for what may come next. Maybe it is a management job. Maybe it is a new career. Maybe it is a new role. Maybe it is to stay home and raise a family. Maybe it is simply to be better than they were last week, last month, or last year. Personal growth is not just an idea. It is part of the culture.

INVEST IN YOUR ASSETS

Some retailers look at their employees as their biggest expense. But when Customer Service is your one true advantage over your competitors, your employees are instead your biggest asset. Properly invested, that asset can give you incredible growth.

Training – whether it is done in group settings, one-on-one, by videos or online – is the most valuable and least utilized tool you have in your Retail Tool Kit.

Bob Negen of Whizbang Training is a big fan of videos. Short, simple, raw videos of your best teacher (you?) teaching one technique or skill at a time. No fancy production necessary. Just someone with a smartphone taping you being you.

I’m a big fan of the monthly Staff Meeting. I choose a grand theme and goal for each year and plan step-by-step trainings to reach that goal.

Maybe you do your best work one-on-one or your staff size is such that anything else wouldn’t make sense. That’s great. Just take the time and keep investing.

Remember, though, that you aren’t just preparing them for the job. You are preparing them for life. Take that approach and it changes the way you invest and the rewards you reap.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here is one of the rewards you might not think about. When employees move on from my store, my reputation goes with them. If they lack the skills, it reflects poorly on me. But when they rock the house, it makes me look like a star, too, and raises the esteem people have of our business.

The Ideal Employee

I was digging through some old staff newsletters and came across this article. At one of our staff trainings I asked the staff to create what they called The Ideal Employee…


THE IDEAL EMPLOYEE
(reprinted from the August 2002 Team News)

Here is the composite of what you identified as the “Ideal Employee”…

Attitude—The Ideal Employee will have a positive attitude at all times, whether it is dealing with
customers or with other employees. He or she will use a friendly voice and have a helpful demeanor in all interactions with others.

Appearance—The Ideal Employee will dress appropriately in a conservative, business-casual outfit.  The Ideal Employee will not have his or her midriff exposed (or other body parts that should not be seen). The Ideal Employee will wear appropriate footwear—no sandals or open-toed shoes. The Ideal Employee will have his or her hair combed neatly and a general appearance of cleanliness. Finally, the Ideal Employee will always “wear” a smile.

Knowledge—The Ideal Employee will know and understand…

  • How to run a cash register
  • How to answer phones and take phone orders
  • Our policies of our many services such as gift wrapping, layaway, delivery and assembly.
  • How to measure packages for UPS shipping
  • The products that we sell
  • The hours of our operation and how to give directions to get here
  • Where to go or who to talk to for any information he or she doesn’t know
  • His or her schedule so that he or she will always be on time

Commitment—The Ideal Employee will be committed to helping the customer, or when unable, finding another person to help the customer. The Ideal Employee will be committed to assisting other employees with scheduling conflicts. The Ideal Employee will be committed to helping out in areas that are not his or her responsibility when no one else is available.  The Ideal Employee will be committed to making sure that all customers are being helped, and that all customers and other employees are treated with respect.  The Ideal Employee will be committed to protecting the store from theft.

That’s what my staff came up with 13 years ago. I’m curious what they will create this year.
-Phil Wrzesinski
PS Although this is a good blueprint for any retail staff, you should have your own staff create what they believe to be the Ideal Employee. You’ll get better buy-in from them that way.

Avoiding the Discount Mentality

Everyone wants a discount. Everyone wants a deal. Everyone wants a coupon. Or so you might be led to believe.

One of my employees went to a fast food restaurant and said, “I’d like a three-piece strips, a biscuit, and a small drink.”

The employee answered, “The drink isn’t included with that.”

She responded, “That’s okay, I want a three-piece strips, a biscuit, and a small drink.”

He replied, “But the drink isn’t included.”

She said, “I don’t care if it is included or not, I want a three-piece strips, a biscuit, and a small drink.”

He replied, “But the drink isn’t included. You’ll have to pay extra for the drink.”

This went on for several more exchanges until the clerk finally got her what she wanted. He had no concept of how to take care of a customer if it didn’t fit into his special value meal buttons.

Unfortunately, his actions aren’t far from his experiences. There are many customers out there who would have not gotten the drink because it wasn’t part of the bargain. They would have ended with the strips and biscuit or chosen something else that included a drink.

That is the Discount Mentality that has taken over much of America. And it is reinforced and fueled by retailers all across the country who only offer customers the bundles, deals and specials. 

Don’t be that store.

There are also a large swath of shoppers who are more like my employee, who know exactly what they want and how they want it. They are willing to pay extra for the drink, because to get it any other way is to not get what they want.

While the rest of the world caters to the Discount Mentality…

  • You need to find and hire employees who don’t think that way. 
  • You need to train your team to first give the customer exactly what she wants (and then worry about any specials or deals). 
  • You need to create a store where falling in love with the product is more important than fitting a budget or a price. 

You do that and you’ll have plenty of customers willingly paying extra for the drink. They’re thirsty for a store that gives them exactly what they want and how they want it.

Be that store.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS For those of you who have read Dr. Ross Honeywill’s book One Hundred Thirteen Million Markets of One, you’ll know that I am talking about selling to NEO’s. I’ll show you how to get customers to fall in love with your products in the next post.

Super Heroes aren’t Born, They are Made

I saw the new Avengers: Age of Ultron movie last night. Loved it!! I love the super hero movies in general. But some people are complaining that it is becoming over-the-top.

Avengers: Age of Ultron copyright Marvel Comics, source IMDB.com

It seems like every few years they reboot the franchise for our beloved super heroes. We’ve had two different Spider-men and five Spider-man movies since 2002, yet another reboot is scheduled for 2017. Fantastic 4 is getting a re-do this summer. And lord knows, Batman has gone through so many do-overs that you would need a stadium to host a party of everyone who has ever played the role.

Do we really need all those genesis stories?

I say yes! The genesis story is most often my favorite of the super hero movies because it reminds me of one simple truth…

Super Heroes are not born, they are made.

Oh sure, they may be born with super powers. But powers alone don’t make you a hero. You have to learn to harness those powers and use them for a purpose. They have to be trained to grow into that hero role.

Every retailer wishes they had a super hero team working the store. You just have to put in the effort to develop that team.

  • First, you have to find those people with the super powers you want. (The Interview)
  • Then you have to train them to use those powers for the purpose of growing your store. (The Training)
  • Finally you have to get them to use those powers in conjunction with the other super heroes on your team. (The Continual Education and Team Building)

No small task for sure. But not impossible, either. You just have to put on your Nick Fury eye-patch and start assembling your team.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, this is a different metaphor than the usual one I use for building your team. But the steps in creating a team of super heroes are exactly the same as the steps for creating a Work of Art. It all starts with having the right raw materials (super powers).

Launching a New Website – The Jackson Retail Success Academy

Back in February 2008, the newly hired director of The Enterprise Group, Scott Fleming, invited all the alphabet groups in town to a meeting to discuss how we were supporting existing retailers in Jackson.

The DDA, SCMW, SBTDC, JLF, EDC, JCCC and MA were all there. I was there. Everyone but Scott himself who got called away at the last minute.

The question of the day was, “What is your agency doing to help indie retailers survive and stay in business?”

After seven people said, “Absolutely nothing,” an idea was born – the Jackson Retail Success Academy (JRSA). Less than two months later we launched our first series of classes.

I was the only retailer sitting at that table that morning, so I was asked to come up with a curriculum (a healthy dose of customer service, marketing & advertising, inventory management, financials, and hiring & training). Ten businesses signed up for that inaugural class.

Over the next several years, we tweaked the class schedule to make it work better for the attendees. We had start-ups attend. We had new owners taking over old businesses attend. We had non-retail businesses who wanted the customer service, marketing and hiring segments attend. We had business coaches who wanted to learn new techniques for teaching attend. We had restaurants, online retailers, and home-based retailers attend.

The cool thing is that JRSA is still around and still getting better. The class schedule is shorter (from an original 10-week program down to 5 weeks now), but the content is better, tighter, and more focused.

A retailer who takes this class will have amazing tools they can use to fix almost any kind of retail problem.

Finally, a website with all the details is up.

www.JacksonRetailSuccessAcademy.com

Just like the class, the site is constantly being tweaked and will continue to get better. The retailers in Jackson ready to take their businesses to the next level are already checking it out and signing up for the next class starting in January.

What are you doing to grow your business?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com
www.JacksonRetailSuccessAcademy.com

PS If driving to Jackson five times is out of the question, but you still want to grow, I have a Road Show version of JRSA I can bring to your town. You only need to convince five businesses to sign up and find a place to hold the classes and I’ll do all the rest.

Do You Have Enough Staff or Just Enough Staff?

There are two ways to determine the right amount of staff to have on your floor.

You can have enough people to handle the average traffic expected that day.

Or you can have enough people to handle the peak traffic moment that day.

Yes, the second one costs you more in labor expenses because you never know when that rush will occur. But look at the pluses.

  • You’re never under-staffed. You never have to worry about a customer having a bad time and flaming you on Yelp because your staff wasn’t able to handle the rush of customers. Whelming? Yes, but never overwhelming.
  • You have plenty of extra bodies to do all the other stuff that you never seem to find the time to do. Make a list for your go-getters. Sweeping, dusting, rearranging merchandise, creating fabulous window displays, making signs, tagging merchandise, updating social media, etc.
  • You have the ability to exceed customer expectations on a regular basis. To get customers to talk, you have to do more than they expect. Imagine their delight when you have extra bodies to help them shop, wrap their gifts quickly and carry them out to the car. 

You can’t do all that with average staffing and above average traffic. As for costing you more, if you think of your staff as your greatest asset, the more you invest, the more it pays off. My grandfather had an old adage that served him well for his life – it’s impossible to overpay for great help.

Keep that in mind as you do your seasonal hiring.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There are ten employees in the above picture (some hidden behind big boxes). There are another ten employees not shown out serving other customers. My payroll is a higher percentage than most stores. I take that money out of my ad budget because delighting customers is every bit as important as a marketing tool as running great ad campaigns.

PPS If you need help hiring a better quality of employees, read the book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff into a Work of Art. It is the method of hiring that has made the biggest difference in the quality of my staff.