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How Long Do You Want to Be in Business?

I don’t think my grandfather ever envisioned Toy House being open for 67 year, 7 months, and 1 day. I’ve looked through all his notes and never found anything that stated how long he planned the store to be open. I know from an interview I did with him about twelve years ago that he knew he wouldn’t be in retail all his life.

“Retail is a young man’s game.” -Phil Conley

Phil Conley, working the register in 1958 at age 39.

You can argue all you want about that last statement. I know a lot of people who either started in retail at a later point in life or worked retail late into their lives. But that was my grandfather’s view.

At the same time, my grandfather had one other point he liked to drive home with his kids and grandkids.

“Plan for success.” -Phil Conley

When he founded Toy House, he did it on a rock solid set of Core Values and business principles. (His core values of Fun, Helpful, Educational, and Nostalgic matched mine perfectly!) He set the business up to succeed not just today but every day long into the future. In fact, there was only one “mistake” he felt he made in setting up Toy House for the long run.

“If I had only placed the building twelve feet farther north on the property, there would have been eight or ten more front parking spaces.” -Phil Conley

I bring this up because over the next few weeks we’re going to discuss advertising. There are two main types of advertising.

  • Short-term (Events and Sales)
  • Long-term (Branding and Awareness)

Too many businesses think that a string of short-term advertised events and sales is a “campaign.” It isn’t. It is an addiction.

You run a series of ads highlighting a sale. You get a lot of traffic for the sale. Everyone feels good. The ads and sale end. The traffic ends. Everyone feels bad. You run another sale.

You take a hit of a drug. It feels good. The drug wears off. It feels bad. You want another hit of the drug.

See the similarity?

Branding campaigns are different. First, they are long-term. It doesn’t matter when you start (to paraphrase a Chinese proverb, the best time to start a branding campaign is twenty years ago, the second best time is today) as long as you start and keep at it. You change the ads, just not the underlying message. The goal of this campaign is to make sure you are the first place someone thinks of when they finally need your service.

The beauty of such a campaign is the long-term effect. The longer you run the campaign, the more residual effect it has on people’s memory. It’s kinda like when your car runs out of gas. You put your shoulder into it and it barely budges. Eventually it starts to roll. The longer you push it (as long as you aren’t trying to go up a steep hill), the easier it gets until you barely have to put any effort into it at all.

These two campaigns are completely different, so it is important to know which campaign you are running. Some media are better suited for one more than the other. Some can do both, but you plan it differently.

My grandfather planned for success by building a business that would outlast him. His timeline was longer than he planned to be around. You make different decisions when you think like that. I know he did. When it comes to your advertising, you need to be thinking long-term there, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Some people call it playing the long game, knowing that what you do today is positioning yourself for something farther down the road. Amazon is playing that game. All those “profits” they didn’t show for many years was because of the money they reinvested into the company for R&D and infrastructure. Unfortunately, many publicly traded companies look no further than next quarter’s results. If you want to be in retail for the long run, play the long game. You’ll be surprised how effective it can be even in the short-term.

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”.

What to Do With the First Quarter Blues

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.

Collecting Information the Right Way – Brainstorming

(Note: this is a continuation from the blog post “Why Have a Meeting in the First Place?”)

Back in 2011, after seeing me do the presentation Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget at the 2010 Michigan Downtown Conference, I had a corporate sponsor sending me to do the same presentation for several downtowns across the state. It was during one of these presentations where I learned the acronym STP.

Same Ten People.

As the Main Street Program was being developed and launched in several Michigan communities, one element that made it attractive was how it involved several people to make it work. Most communities had the STP’s that did all the work, served on all the committees, and were the most vocal about everything that was happening. The Main Street Program got more people involved which gave more feeling of ownership to the community as a whole.

You can probably name the STP’s in your town.

Your team has STP’s, too. Same Two People (or three if you have a bigger team).

Every time you go looking for feedback in a meeting, these are the people who dominate the conversation. These are the people who either have the ideas or shut the other ideas down. These are the keepers of the flame who love to say, “But that’s not how we did it last time.”

It is because of these STP’s that you roll your eyes at the idea of brainstorming. “It doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. We didn’t get any good ideas. We couldn’t stay on track.”

Brainstorming, however, can work wonders if you do it right.

Plus, it can be a fun activity for the staff because they get to actively contribute and be part of the meeting. They get to share and shine.

Here are three tips for making your brainstorming sessions more effective:

  1. Post the meeting time and topic at least 24 hours in advance.
  2. Focus on quantity, not quality.
  3. Understand that your best idea will come after the brainstorming session, not during it. (But you need that session to get to the best idea.)


When you post in advance that you are going to have a brainstorming session about a certain topic, your introverted staff will have some time to think about the topic. Extroverts talk to think, but introverts think to talk. Give them advance notice and they’ll be much more willing to contribute ideas at the appropriate time. Your STP’s are extroverts. This is one of the reasons they dominate. You didn’t give your introverts enough time to prepare.


When you make quantity your goal, you keep the STP’s from shutting everything down. They are the ones who say, “That will never work.” They shoot down every idea as it comes or at the very least start discussions on each idea which leads to fewer ideas being shared. There is a time and place for discussing the merits of each idea. That time is NOT during the brainstorming session.

Here are some techniques for getting quantity …

  • Have individuals write their ideas down. This makes sure everyone gets a chance to share.
  • Share ideas in a rapid-fire session. Allow NO discussion of the merits of each idea. Just blurt them out and write them down.
  • Share ideas in a round-robin where everyone gets a turn.
  • Have smaller groups do their own brainstorming and give them a number of ideas they need to generate. (Make it higher than they have time so that they don’t get bogged down in discussion either.)

The goal is to get as many ideas as you can without filters or discussion. In fact, when you go into a brainstorming session, have one or two really crazy out-of-the-box ideas of your own. You’ll be surprised how having those “seed” ideas can get the juices flowing.


Once you have a good quantity of ideas, assign different people to take those ideas and before the next meeting answer these questions:

  • What would it take to make this happen?
  • What would be the expected result?

Not only does that keep the brainstorming session from getting bogged down with too much discussion and filtering, it also keeps the STP’s from dominating the discussion. When you assign the ideas, ask for volunteers. No volunteers? No one thinks the idea has enough merit to waste their time. Move on to the next one.

The true value of the brainstorming session happens in the follow-up. You’ll find your team collaborating with each other on their own to finish their assignments. You’ll find them asking questions, getting more ideas, and looking for ways to improve on the ideas from the brainstorming session. When your team presents their answers at the next meeting you will find that several of the ideas have taken a new shape or form, one that will likely be incredibly beneficial to your business.

Oh, and there is one other secondary effect …

You get more people involved so that the STP’s no longer dominate everything.

To learn more about how to make brainstorming sessions more effective, I recommend you read this article by Brianna Hansen.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you have time at the end of your brainstorming session, another quick, democratic way to see what ideas people want to explore is to give everyone six gold star stickers and have them “vote” with their stickers. They can put the stickers all on one idea or spread them out. The ideas with the most votes will be the ones you assign.

Why Have a Meeting in the First Place?

I had just finished doing a presentation on Customer Service for a team of volunteers and staff at a non-profit organization. We had discussed the different types of “customers” and how to recognize them. We talked about their different expectations and how to meet and exceed those expectations. We laughed and listened and learned and shared. Everyone was fired up.

Then the director stepped up and said. “Okay, as I said before, we are going to have a staff meeting following the presentation. I need to address some things you all are doing wrong.” She then went on to read a laundry list of criticisms and mistakes calling out individuals in the process.

Not only did all the positive energy from the presentation leave the room in a flash, even I felt uncomfortable listening to her drone on and on chastising everyone on the team. By the time I had packed my bags I could tell everyone was jealous that I got to leave while they had to stay behind and take the verbal assault.

This wasn’t a meeting. It was an attack. I got the sense that all their meetings happened in a similar fashion.

You know exactly what I mean. We hear the word “meeting” and immediately roll our eyes.

We all have horror stories of meetings that dragged on too long or bored us to tears. We all have sat in meetings where the silence was deafening after being chewed out by our supervisors or where the energy was sucked out of the room by a brain-dead brainstorming session. The eye-roll is well-deserved.

There are three reasons to have a meeting:

  • To share information with the team
  • To collect information from the team
  • To teach the team something new

Here are three reasons NOT to have a meeting:

  • If all you are going to do is share information with your team
  • If you are going to criticize the team for something an individual or the collective team is doing wrong
  • If you are meeting because you always meet on Monday mornings

If all you are going to do is share information with the team, you can do that without inconveniencing them with a meeting. Write it all down in a clear and concise memo instead. Write it down. Proof-read it. Have a subordinate read it and tell you what they think it means. Then post it, share it, email it or whatever it takes to get the info into everyone’s hands.

When you take this approach, you eliminate the most boring part of every meeting. Plus, the written memo gives everyone a reference point to make sure your instructions are clear and that everyone is on the same page. (Make sure you proof-read and test it so that you are “clear”.)

If all you are going to do is criticize the team for a mistake they made or a mistake one individual made, you are a coward. Mistakes need to be addressed one-on-one and in private. If the whole team is doing something wrong, rather than criticize them, start by taking the blame for not having taught them the proper way to do it in the first place. This one is on you. If you had taught them correctly, they wouldn’t all be doing it wrong. Second, turn your meeting into a positive, we’re-all-going-to-learn-a-better-way meeting.

Jim Henson, the founder of the Muppets was a perfectionist and known for doing multiple, multiple, multiple takes of every scene. Yet he was also beloved by his team. Why? Because of one simple technique … Every time they did a scene, he would say,

“That was awesome!! Great job!! Now this time, let’s do it with a little more …”

Praise always goes farther than criticism because it lifts people up and makes them more open to new suggestions. Criticism shuts people down and makes them defensive.

Do yourself, your team, and your business a favor. Don’t meet to criticize. Either have a one-on-one private meeting with the individual who needs help with his or her behavior, or have a teaching meeting where you show everyone a better way.

If all you are doing is meeting because you always meet, without a broad agenda for sharing or collecting information and/or teaching something new, then you’re wasting everyone’s time and undermining your effectiveness as a leader.

“Because we always do this,” is the justification of losers. Winners have a solid reason for their actions.

Last week I showed you how to plan the “teaching-something-new” type of meeting including some fun examples. This week I’ll show you how to better share and collect information.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There are incredibly rare instances where criticism is actually warranted. I’ll show you how to do it properly in the next post. Just remember that the true one-and-only reason for meeting is to make the team and business better. If you aren’t meeting for that purpose, with an expected outcome from the meeting, don’t meet at all.

Better Tasks Lead Your Team to Better Goals

My staff at Toy House probably thought I was crazy. They never knew what to expect at a staff meeting. As I told you before, I planned each meeting the same way, by finishing this sentence:

This will be a successful meeting if …

Then I worked backward from there, trying to find the most fun, memorable, powerful way to get my point across. Some meetings looked like this:

This will be a successful meeting if we learn how much work it is going to take to raise the bar of customer service.

At three feet, it took some teamwork and looking out for each other’s safety.

For this meeting I built two support poles and put a broomstick across them two feet off the ground. Everyone had to climb over the bar without hitting it or knocking it off. If one person hit the stick everyone had to start over. It took us six tries at two feet, three tries at three feet, and one failed attempt at four feet. The lesson was that you can fail at the simple things if you don’t pay attention; with teamwork and everyone pitching in, you can do more difficult things; and we aren’t yet ready to get to the top level.

This will be a successful meeting if we recognize and understand the different toy needs of special needs children and can identify several of those toys in our store.

Sensory, Mental, Tactile, Active, and Emotional Toys in a lifesize model

For this meeting I made a huge board with a piece of paper, had the staff outline my body, then spoke about the five specific types of toys (Sensory, Mental, Tactile, Active, and Emotional) by listing characteristics near the body part. Then I sent the team out to find corresponding toys. The visual of the large human body shape helped drive home the concept and helped the staff visualize the types of toys they needed to find by relating them to the body.

This will be a successful meeting if we all learn the proper way to fill out the Yellow Slip.

Halloween anyone?

I could have just harped on everyone for the mistakes they made, but I wanted to be more positive and make the meeting more fun so I made a costume out of the Yellow Slip and wore it that day. We didn’t have any mistakes after that meeting.

This will be a successful meeting if we understand that making people feel comfortable is the first step toward trust.

Bacon and eggs. Yum!!

For this meeting I brought in an electric frying pan and started cooking bacon long before the morning meeting began. Then I cooked eggs to order for everyone. I used the breakfast to talk about how certain foods feel more comfortable at certain times of day. The “norms”, the expected, gives comfort. At the same time, we have to surprise and delight our customers as I had surprised and delighted the staff. A secondary lesson brought up at the meeting was one of service. It is our job to serve the customer if we want to make them feel comfortable, just as I was serving the staff “comfort food.”

This will be a successful meeting if we recognize the consequences of our actions and inactions in monetary terms.

One of my favorite staff trainings was the Dollars on the Table Game

For this meeting I labeled fifty one-dollar bills with a statement that either said, “I earned this dollar …” or “I left this dollar on the table …” We then played a Memory Game where each staff person got to flip over two bills and read them aloud. If they both were “Earned” dollars, they got to keep them, but if either was a “Left” dollar, the bills stayed on the table and in play.

Do you see a pattern emerging?

For each meeting I tried to think up a fun, interesting, different way to get the message across. It wasn’t always the most direct way of getting the message across, but it was effective, and that was all that mattered. The most important thing was that each meeting was different and fun. The staff didn’t roll their eyes when they saw “staff meeting” on the schedule. In fact, they looked forward to it.

When you start with the finish line in mind, you can then brainstorm many different ways to get to there. You can play a game. You can watch a video. You can do a quiz. You can tell a story. You can do a PowerPoint presentation. You can do a skit or role play session. You can bring in a guest speaker.

When the free helium balloons we gave as an act of generosity came to be “expected”, I brought in an art teacher for one meeting to show the staff how to draw animal doodles on the balloons to surprise and delight our customers once more.

The Goal of your meeting is to learn something. The Task is the activity you do that leads to the Goal. Get creative with your Tasks and you’ll find your team reaching their Goals more often and with more enthusiasm.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I can already hear you saying, “But Phil, you ran a toy store. That’s supposed to be fun. I can’t do that in my industry” Oh yeah? Show me the rule that says you can’t have fun on your job. Show me where it says you can’t enjoy what you do. Show me where it says you have do things that are boring and dull and uninspiring instead of fun and interesting and different. I didn’t think so.

PPS My Retail Success Academy graduates get a full year of Task ideas as part of their graduation benefits. They send me an email with their Goal and I outline several fun Tasks they can use to reach that goal. Here is my ONE TIME OFFER for you. Send me one Goal by the end of March and I’ll email you back at least three different fun tasks you can use to reach that goal.

PPPS Wondering what a Retail Success Academy is? Think of it like a post-graduate degree in retailing in five weeks (or one really long weekend). Send me an email and I’ll send you the details.

How to Look at the Big Picture

I always planned my staff meetings by finishing the following sentence:

This will be a successful meeting if …

  • This will be a successful meeting if we learn how to become better listeners.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we learn about new products.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we understand the difference between Relational and Transactional Customers.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we find new ways to build relationships with our customers.
To see the Big Picture, you have to envision what success looks like.

From there I worked backwards, trying to figure out the best way to get the point across and be able to call the meeting successful.

I hired and trained my staff the same way—by starting at the end and figuring out what steps to take to get there. My book, Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, is built around a simple premise. Would you like your staff to be considered Beautiful, Useful, Strong, and Long-Lasting? Those are the words we use to describe the end result of pottery. If we follow the same steps as the potter, we’ll get the same end results for our staff.

I took the same approach to teaching sailing last summer. At the end of the week I wanted the kids to have a feel for the physics of sailing, but more importantly, the confidence that comes with knowing you harnessed the wind’s power to accomplish something. From there, the lesson plan was easy to create.

I do the same with my presentations. I start with the main point I want you to take back to your business and work on. Then I build the presentation around how to best drive that point home.

Many businesses forget to set goals, forget to define success. They did it at first when they drew up a business plan, but they never revisited that plan to see if the goal was met or needs to be revised.

If you want to see the Big Picture, you first have to create it. The easiest way to do that is by defining success.

  • This will be a successful year if …
  • This will be a successful season if …
  • This will be a successful training program if …
  • This will be a successful transition if …

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get there.” -Lewis Caroll

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” -Yogi Berra

If you know where you want to be, you can choose the best road. Sure, there will be obstacles. Sometimes you won’t get there. But it is better to head in the right direction and fall a little short than to wander aimlessly.

Define the success you want. Then plot a course to get there.

“This will be a successful business if I enjoy going to work every day and make enough money to live comfortably.”

This will be a successful blog post if I have given you a tool to help you see the Big Picture.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Did you know the phrase, “The devil is in the details,” was originally “God is in the detail.”? Either way you wish to look at that idiom, the details don’t matter if you don’t first know what you’re trying to accomplish.

PPS You should definitely download the Free Resource Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend and the accompanying Staff Meeting Worksheet. It will improve the outcomes of your meetings and trainings exponentially.

Something the Best All Have in Common

In every industry you have a handful of heavy hitters. These businesses and their owners have both longevity and a solid track record of sales and growth. They’ve seen it all. They’ve done it all. They’ve been involved in the industry, in their trade organizations, and quite often in their hometowns. They suffer from chronic hand-raising disease.

If you belong to a trade organization you can probably rattle off the names of those businesses and people in your industry quite easily.

The one thing I miss about my office at Toy House was the hutch full of books behind my desk.

The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) recognized this. They realized their Marketplace & Academy conference every year offered sessions geared mostly to small stores, new stores, green stores. They recognized that the big hitters were not being served, but instead were the ones mostly doing the serving. ASTRA reasoned that the stronger they could make these stores, the better it would be for the organization and the industry as a whole.

ASTRA invited sixteen of the big hitters together a few years ago to see how we could benefit from being together with our true peers. I had the honor of sitting at that table for that first meeting and becoming part of what we eventually called the Masters Circle.

After that initial meeting, our group took on a life of its own. We planned other meetings, visited each other’s stores, and shared information freely with each other. We not only became friends, we became mentors to each other, people we could rely on to answer questions and offer advice.

I noticed something about these rock star toy retailers that I had also been seeing from the stage as I did more and more workshops.

The best stores were all eager to learn more. The best stores had intellectual curiosity.

At a customer service workshop I did in Manistee, MI a few years ago, the local shoe store—the rock star of their downtown retail scene—was at the workshop with a few of their staff. One of the other attendees asked, “Why are you guys here? You guys are like the best retailer in town.”

The owner replied, “That’s why we’re here. If we don’t keep learning new and better ways to do things, we won’t be the best retailer in town.”

Intellectual curiosity.

You don’t know what you don’t know. If you have intellectual curiosity, however, you have an understanding that there is a lot you don’t know.

Italian writer Umberto Eco has a personal library of over 30,000 books. Has he read them all? No. But by surrounding himself with such a vast wealth of knowledge, he reminds himself daily that he doesn’t know it all. He reminds himself daily that there is more to learn. It keeps him humble. It keeps him curious.

The good news for you is that you are here reading this blog. You are curious. You already have that one trait most common among the big hitters in your industry. Curiosity.

The other is longevity. Show me those two in a retail business owner and I’ll show you a heavy hitter in their industry.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The Masters Circle continues to meet regularly. In fact, they are meeting shortly after I publish this blog. ASTRA made the introductions. Their intellectual curiosity has kept the group going. (And their humility almost kept them from calling the group the Masters Circle. Sometimes they have to be reminded of their accomplishments in the toy industry.)

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?

Manager Do’s and Don’t’s

I’ve been blessed to have several employees tell me I was their favorite manager/employer. As much as I would like to take credit for being awesome, I can’t say how much of that was because of me or because of the extremely low bar set by their other employers. The stories they would tell me of their previous employers led me to believe that my dog would have been considered a better manager.

I know my own managerial style has been greatly influenced by a number of people.

I worked for some amazing leaders back in the 1980’s at YMCA Storer Camps that had a profound impact on my development as a person. The camp motto is “I’m Third” (God is first, others are second, and I’m third.) I’m sure you have seen powerful leaders who do their best work serving the people they lead.

I worked for an amazing man named Dana in the summer of 1992 who taught me how to treat everyone on the team equally and also how to trust us to do our jobs. You know how tough it can be when the boss plays favorites.

My grandfather Phil Conley working the register back in 1958

I saw my own parents and grandparents in action, too. My grandfather, Phil Conley, was Mayor of Jackson. He told me time and time again that the true jobs of Mayor were to build consensus and be head cheerleader. Mayor? Manager? The roles are pretty much the same. You and I are head cheerleaders for our teams, spending much of our effort trying to get everyone all on the same page.

In keeping with the theme of the last two posts (here and here), let’s put together a partial list* of Manager Do’s and Don’t’s.

I’ll start.

Manager Do’s

  • Do praise your staff, even for the small stuff, even for the stuff they only partially do right.
  • Do listen to new ideas and carefully consider them before deciding.
  • Do grant your team the time off to handle family and health issues as necessary.
  • Do be thorough in your explanations and communications.
  • Do schedule them as far in advance as possible so that they can make plans farther into the future.
  • Do work around any time-off requests they give you well in advance.
  • Do encourage them to better themselves through classes, conferences, books, etc.
  • Do let them redecorate and re-merchandise the store.
  • Do give the autonomy to do their job.
  • Do be clear how they will be measured and rewarded.
  • Do give them unexpected bonuses and meaningful gifts.

Manager Don’t’s

  • Don’t criticize them in front of other employees or customers.
  • Don’t be condescending.
  • Don’t play favorites.
  • Don’t give them a task without clear instructions of how you want it done.
  • Don’t give them a task you would not do yourself.
  • Don’t share anything they told you in confidence with another employee.
  • Don’t talk about other employees to them.
  • Don’t do anything you wouldn’t let them get away with.
  • Don’t believe that you are “above” them in any way. (They are people, too.)
  • Don’t expect them to care as much as you do. It is your life, it is their job.
  • Don’t make a decision until you know all the facts.
  • Don’t micromanage.
  • Don’t assume they think like you do or know exactly what you mean.

What would you add to these lists?

-Phil Wrzesinski

*PS This will always be a partial list. No one could ever finish it (although I encourage you to try). With that said, share with me your best ever manager stories either when you were being managed or you were managing someone else and it just clicked.