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Fascinating Interview with Half of Neiman-Marcus

Digging through old files I found a magazine article my dad had buried a few decades ago. It was a gem of an interview with Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus fame. I had to keep checking the date on the article because I swear it could have been written today (other than the fact Stanley Marcus died in 2002 and the age of 96). Here is just one excerpt from the interview…

INC.: Other [retailing] myths?

MARCUS: That stores “own” their customers. Nobody owns anybody anymore. This is show business, folks, and you’re only as good as your last performance. And if it was lousy, shoppers could probably find identical merchandise three doors down in the same mall.

Yeah, Marcus said that in the June 1987 issue of Inc. Magazine. Nineteen frickin’ eighty-seven, thirty years ago, long before eCommerce, back when anyone could make money in retail.

I was in a large mall last Saturday. An incredibly busy mall. The Cheesecake Factory was quoting a four-hour wait for service! There were shoppers everywhere in the hallways, but not so much inside the stores. It was easy to tell why.

I visited nine different stores and only one store greeted me. Four stores asked if they could help me and four stores ignored me completely. Yet many had the exact same merchandise, or at least close enough. The trip almost became comical when an untrained salesman in an over-staffed store with too few customers had me fighting back laughter at his expense because of his poor approach to selling me. I felt bad for him afterwards, knowing that it likely wasn’t his fault. No one had ever trained him the right way to sell his products (or, as in his case, to even know his products).

At least this mall was getting to keep its Macy’s and Nordstrom’s stores (we’ll see how long Sears holds up their anchor position) for what that may be worth.

Mr. Marcus, you see, also predicted the demise of the department store in that interview, pointing out how the discount stores were in a race to the bottom, other retailers were maximizing service and maximizing selection, but in-between were the department stores giving neither the best service nor the best price.

That was true in 1987 and is even more true today. The businesses succeeding today are either the best in service or the best in price (or in some cases, like Costco and Amazon, best at both). Even this busy mall had stores that obviously weren’t reaping the benefits of all the traffic.

Stanley Marcus was quite prescient. If I were you, I’d take his advice. Choose to be the best at service or the best at price and then go about figuring out how to do that.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Being best at price is the easier of the two, but you won’t be in business long. Being best at service is incredibly hard, and also incredibly rewarding, as long as you’re committed to staying the best. You can start by poking around the Customer Service articles on my Free Resources page for some ideas.

The Power of the Network

I went to a networking event a couple nights ago. I knew walking in that the likelihood of picking up a high-paying speaking gig from this event was incredibly low. In fact, the idea that I would be able to pick up any speaking gigs from this event never really entered my mind. I went for one reason, to strengthen my network.

A lot of people have told me over the years that they hate networking events. They never meet anyone who wants to buy from them. Those people, like most people at these events are missing the point.

I bet if you asked a room full of people at a networking event how many were hoping to sell someone, every hand would go up. Then if you asked how many were there to buy something, not a hand would be raised. In fact, I know this is true. A buddy of mine asked those very questions while giving a keynote at a networking event. What he said next was advice I have never forgotten…

“The first one of you ‘sellers’ who changes his or her mindset into being a ‘buyer’ will be the most successful person at this event.”

He wasn’t telling you to actually buy someone’s services, but instead to listen to what they have to offer. Most of us are polite enough to hear someone else’s sales pitch, but we aren’t really listening, just waiting for the moment to jump in with our own pitch. If you go in with the mindset of a buyer, however, you are actively listening and actively thinking through your own databank of people you know who might need this service.

You take that approach and three things will happen…

  1. You will strengthen and enhance your own listening skills which will help you no matter what you’re selling.
  2. You will connect a person you know with a service they need. That’s always a good thing.
  3. You will earn some reciprocity. As soon as you refer someone to a business contact, that business contact will be looking for ways to repay you.

That’s how Networking is supposed to work. Don’t turn your nose up at the next Chamber outing. Try taking a different approach. Try being a buyer in a sea of sellers. It is not only more effective, it is a heck of a lot more fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I only met two new people at the event, but more importantly I reconnected with a lot of people and got up-to-date on what was happening in their businesses. I’ve already made a couple referrals heading their way.

Not My Job

The downside to writing a job description for each position on your staff is that you can never remember to list everything that position needs to do. Something will eventually get left off the list. Or if you do remember everything, the list is so long no one reads it, let alone memorizes it.

I had an experience last night that was clearly the case of, “Not My Job.”

I had a sit-down meal in a fast-food joint. Ordered french fries with my meal. You know the drill in these restaurants. They give you an empty cup and you get your own beverage. Want ketchup for your fries? They have those little paper cups and the big vat of ketchup. Two pumps and you’re loaded.

Except last night.

Somehow they timed it perfectly. There were only two paper cups left at the ketchup stand. I grabbed them both. I was about to tell the gal behind the counter they were out of cups, but as I started filling my cups, the ketchup ran out, too. Both nozzles on either side of the drink dispenser were dry. “You’re out of both ketchup and these little cups,” I said to the young lady.

And I got the look. You know the look. “Why are you telling me? That’s Not My Job.”

Fifteen minutes and several packets of ketchup requested by frustrated customers later and still not a single employee had addressed the issue. Apparently it wasn’t only Not Her Job, it wasn’t her job to tell anyone else about the problem, either.

Do you have any NMJ employees?

Here are two ways to solve that problem…

  1. The first line of any job description, no matter what the position, should read, “Do whatever is necessary to make sure the customer has an awesome experience.”
  2. Only hire people who care.

Our tag line at Toy House was, “We’re here to make you smile.” When new employees ask me their job description, I start with, “Your job is to make customers smile.” Then I show them how to answer the phone, run the register, ask questions, suggest the proper toys, giftwrap packages, offer tips, carry things up front or out to their car, sign them up for the Birthday Club and email newsletters, build a relationship, occupy their child, counsel them, teach them a new game, oh yeah, and sell them stuff.

The second part – hiring people who care – saves you all the hassle of writing up a lengthy job description. Hire someone who cares and they will do whatever it takes to get the job done well. The one thing they don’t care about is whose job it is to get something done. They only care that it got done.

You find those people by asking questions like…

“What do you care about?”
“Tell me a time you went above and beyond what was expected of you…”
“What are your biggest pet peeves?”
“Have you ever done someone else’s job for them?”

Just hiring warm bodies won’t grow your business. I would have written a different blog if the gal had looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry about that. Thank you for letting us know. We’ll get on that as soon as we get a free moment. In the meantime, can I get you some ketchup packets? How many do you need?”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t get me started on the overflowing trash cans or the ten-minute wait for the fish sandwich or the cold apple pies. You can’t afford that kind of help at any minimum wage.

PPS When you decide you want a better staff, buy the book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel. The steps are there for turning your staff into a work of art.

What Are You Doing to Grow?

I stood on the stage. It was small, in an awkward room with pillars that blocked sight lines. The room was supposed to hold 150 people, but I could see them setting up extra chairs in the back of the room. Even still, there were people sitting on the floor leaning back against those horrible pillars.

Phil Wrzesinski Presenting Pricing for Profit at Retail Success Summit

Three days earlier a gal who had seen this speech the year before told me how it had saved her store. That’s mighty high praise for any speaker. I was in awe. That speech had been my first to a group of retailers like this. To have that affirmation was amazing. She wasn’t the only one . Another retailer told me that the only reason he was back was because of what I taught. He took a front row seat to hear the same presentation again.

Back on the stage the microphone was hot. My voice was either a whisper or a boom no matter where I placed the lapel mic or where the sound guy turned the knob. I went with boom. The stage was too small and I was wireless. I walked the room, trying not to trip over the legs of people sitting by the pillars, all while making sure they felt acknowledged for being there.

I knew my slide deck by heart. Loved the new slides the Slide Doctor helped me create. Far better than the previous year. Everything flowed. The audience laughed at all of the jokes, went silent when I lowered my voice, and asked all the questions I wanted them to ask. If you’ve ever given a presentation, you know what I’m talking about. Public speaking nirvana.

All those A+ grades in my high school public speaking class just because I was good at improv, all those rowdy dining halls filled with 6th graders teaching them a new song, all those classes in the Toy House with expectant parents in rocking chairs waiting to be illuminated, even all those moments when the little red light went on to tell me we were on the air, none felt quite like this.

It wasn’t a standing ovation (unless you count the people sitting on the floor getting to their feet). But I can still hear the applause. One hundred and thirteen of the roughly 175 people in that room filled out their evaluations. All one hundred and thirteen gave the topic a perfect 5.0 out of 5.0. All one hundred and thirteen gave the presenter (me) a perfect 5.0 out of 5.0. The room itself got a 3.2 for lack of chairs among other issues.

It was Mary Lou Retton at the Olympics. It was Michael Phelps in the pool. It was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. It was seven years, dozens of presentations and eight perfect scores ago.

That’s why I’m signed up for a one-day Speakers Workshop in April.

Confused?

The point is this. No matter how good you (think you) are, no matter how experienced, you can always get better. Every year I hear business owners say they want to grow, but then they go watering the wrong plants. Your experience and training got you this far. If you want to grow your business farther, you need to grow yourself first.

You’re already reading this blog. That’s a good start. I encourage you to spend some of your precious time and energy strengthening your own roots. The more you grow, the more your business grows with you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Read books. Read blogs. Watch YouTube videos. Listen to podcasts. Sign up for webinars. Go to seminars and workshops. Hire a coach. Find a mentor. There are many ways to fertilize your growth. Ask me if you’d like suggestions. (I just did the same thing – asked a bunch of my peers for new reading material for 2017 and got a list started.)

PPS Pricing for Profit (I knew you’d ask.)

 

 

 

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.

How Will You Measure 2017?

The New Year is here. Your New Year’s Resolutions are gone. The inventory has been counted. The mail carrier is complaining about all the catalogs weighing down his bag. You’re trying to make sense of what just happened in 2016. (Or just trying to forget what happened in 2016.) 2017 is here whether you’re ready or not.

The only real question you need to answer right now is…

How will you measure 2017?

Will it be by growth in top line sales or bottom line profits? Will it be by management of cash flow or expenses? Will it be by the number of days you actually take off? Will it be by the number of human resource headaches you have (or don’t have)?  Will it be by “likes” and “shares” and “comments” on social media?

You get to choose. You have to choose. You have to decide where to put your limited energies and resources. If the bottom line is good, you work on cash flow. If the money is good all around, you work on HR. If the staff isn’t giving you any hassles, you work on PR and social media. If all of them need a hand, decide which one is most critical (hint: cash flow) and go there.

PICK A PROBLEM, SET A GOAL

The key is to determine what you want to measure and – most importantlyhow you’re going to measure it. It is that second part that gives you the  map to guide your decisions for the year.

Most businesses fail to set specific goals. They set vague ones like “grow profit”.  Then they forget all about those goals the very next morning as the day-to-day running of the business takes hold. But if you say “grow profit by $5,000” then you know you need to increase sales, decrease expenses, and/or increase profit margin. If you say, “grow profit by $5,000 through better control of expenses” you have an even clearer path.

The more specific your goal, the easier to plot the course. The more you make it known and talked about with your team, the more accountable you (and they) will be. The more you reward the team for reaching the milestones you set throughout the year, the more they will help you.

Roy H. Williams said it best, “What gets measured and rewarded, improves.”

The more specific you make your goal, the easier it is to draw a map that will get you there.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Once you’ve set your destination, do yourself a favor. Print it out and paste your goal somewhere in the back office area where you will see it daily. Tell your staff the goal and ask for their input on how to get there. Talk about your goal in every single meeting. Research new ways to reach your goal. Set up milestones to measure your progress. Hold yourself accountable to your goal. Reward yourself and your staff as you reach each milestone along the way.

PPS Not sure how to set your goals or need help with your map? Send me an email. As always, I’ll do whatever I can to help.

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.

What I Learned in 2016

2016 was a learning experience for me. I went through two life-changing events that taught me a lot about myself and about business. I got a divorce and I closed my toy store. Although they weren’t the kind of things one typically wishes for, they were incredible experiences filled with lessons I will share in 2017.

This blog is back. You will be getting posts on a regular basis filled with thought-provoking ideas and simple things you can do to make your business better.

 

Although I cannot put all the lessons from 2016 into one blog, I can sum them up for you in one sentence.

“Life and business is all about the relationships.”

We’ll explore how to build better relationships for 2017.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My first goal will be to rebuild my relationship with you. Sorry for not blogging in 2016. With the store closed you are my main focus for 2017. Let me know your fears and obstacles and challenges. We’ll find ways to overcome them.

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.