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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.

Hidden Networking (And Why it is Important)

Call me Admiral Graybeard. This summer I will be heading up a fleet of Interlake Sailboats on the waters of Stony Lake for YMCA Storer Camps. I’ll be spending my mornings on the water (and my afternoons typing away at my computer.)

Image result for ymca storer campsYou could call this a return to my youth. I did spend the summers of 1974 through 1981 as a camper there. You could call this a return to my high school and college days. I did work there as a summer camp counselor from 1983 to 1987. You could call this a return to my early career. I did work there full-time teaching Team Building through wilderness and experiential education in 1990 and 1991.

I call this an example of Hidden Networking.

When I say Networking, most business owners immediately think of Chamber events and other B2B meet-and-greets as the only networking they might do. I know. I used to think that way, too. Here’s a dirty little secret …

You’re always Networking.

When you go to the bank or gas station or grocery store or out to eat, you are networking. When you volunteer to help out at the school or church, you are networking. When you meet people at a social gathering, you are networking. It just isn’t as open and obvious.

Although you can call me Admiral, my boss this summer happens to be someone who took my Daddy Class at the local hospital. His boss, the person who hired me, knows me because my boys have attended the camp as campers. I was up at the camp a couple weekends ago to do some volunteer work organized by an old friend, when the idea sprang about.

You never know when or how a connection will benefit you. I may have a connection to the camp through being a camper, staff member and parent. But I made the connections to the people who hired me through teaching a class and volunteering to help a friend.

Hidden Networking is the quiet connections you make daily. Sometimes it is more powerful than big networking events.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You’re already doing Hidden Networking. I just want to give it a face and a name so that you would do it more openly and consciously. Make sense?

PPS One big perk besides spending my summer on the water is that I get the flexibility to still do workshops and seminars like the Spotlight on Marketing and Advertising workshop coming up June 20th (that gives you insight into how to make any and all kind of Networking work best for you.)

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

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.

How to Make Networking Events Actually Pay Off

I was speaking about the power of networking to a group of baby product sellers. One of them pointed out that he had never seen a pregnant person at a networking event.

That pretty much sums up what most people get wrong about networking.

Raise your hand if you know someone who is pregnant…

That’s a lot of hands and a lot of people to whom he could have spoken and gotten results.

Sellers at Market


A friend of mine was doing a keynote address prior to a networking event. He asked everyone who was hoping to sell something that night to raise their hands. Every hand in the room went up immediately.

He then asked who was there to buy… crickets…

He then delivered the most powerful message, “The first one of you who switches sides and becomes a ‘buyer’ will have the most successful evening.”

Anyone who has ever told you networking is a waste of time made this mistake. He or she went to an event hoping to find an end user and make a sale. Networking is about making connections, not making sales.

The first person who becomes a buyer instead of a seller is the one who will have the fullest dance card and make the most meaningful connections.


When I attend a networking event, my goal is to meet two new people and truly understand what they do. One of the best networkers I know keeps a stack of blank cards on her desk. Every morning she takes out the business cards she farmed at the previous night’s event and sends each person a handwritten card acknowledging their meeting.

Once I make a connection, I scour my own contacts to see if there is someone I know who might need their services. If I can refer someone to them, it solidifies the connection. It also creates a sense of reciprocity and they will look for a chance to send someone my way.


Follow this simple plan and you’ll grow your network by leaps and bounds:

  • Meet two people and meet them well. Meet too many and you don’t have the time to get to know them enough to recommend them to your contacts.
  • Ask more than you answer. The best way to get to know people is to ask and listen. Only talk about yourself when directly asked.
  • Send a handwritten card the following day to the people you meet.
  • Refer someone to them for their services.

Growing your network raises awareness of your business. Growing your network gets you referral business. Growing your network helps you find new resources for your business. Growing your network introduces you to people who can help you grow personally and professionally.

Networking is a powerful tool for your business when you do it right. Now you know how to do it right. Put this in your retail toolbox right now.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I’m not good at handwritten cards, but I am a sucker when I get one. My immediate reaction is to think of the person who sent it as someone with their act together, with whom I hope to do business. That’s the reaction you’ll get when you force yourself into this habit.

PPS When I quit trying to be a seller, I also found I have a lot more fun at networking events. Everyone wants to talk to me. Everyone wants to meet with me. Plus, I meet a lot of interesting and fascinating people. It is amazing what a difference listening instead of talking can make.

You Aren’t as Well Known as You Think

Back in 2005 we hired a Statistics Class at a local university to do a study for us. They determined how to get a random sample size that would accurately reflect Jackson County and then called people to ask them one simple task…


“Name all the places you can think of in Jackson County that sell toys.”

The students would write down every store mentioned. Then they would say, “You mentioned…” and repeat the list back to the person. They would then ask, “Can you think of any more?” and repeat this until the person had thought of everyone.

Here are the results of how often the top six stores were mentioned.

  1. Toys R Us 84.1%
  2. Meijer 82.3%
  3. Wal-Mart 69.5%
  4. Toy House 64.8%
  5. K-Mart 59.1%
  6. Target 45.2%

Interesting that 35% of the population of Jackson County could not think of us even though we had been here 56 years at the time of the survey.

More interesting was that Wal-Mart had only just opened a few months before this survey was done. Was that 69.5% too high or too low seeing that they had just received about four months of wall-to-wall news coverage prior to opening?

Even more interesting was that less than half of our population thought of Target as a place that sold toys even though Target, nationally, is only behind Wal-Mart and Toys R Us in overall toy sales.

Most interesting of all was that not one single store broke the 90% (even with the 4% margin of error).


One takeaway from all this is the reminder that you have to keep marketing and advertising your business. You are not the Field of Dreams. People will not come. Mainly because they don’t even know you’re there.

35% of my hometown did not know that an award-winning store with one of the largest selection of toys in America was located right downtown in a brightly colored building for over 50 years.


Another takeaway is that no matter how hard you try, there will still be people who haven’t heard of you.

35% of my hometown could not name the toy store that runs radio ads every day, gets mentioned on TV every day, makes monthly appearances on radio and TV, is all over social media, and gets coverage in the local newspaper all the time.

35% of my hometown could not name the toy store whose logo is on the shirt of the guy who attends networking events, teaches classes at the local hospital and even wears his colors on his jacket all winter long.

Heck, even 15% couldn’t name Toys R Us despite them spending billions on advertising.

You could sum it up simply as…

  • Always be farming for more customers
  • Not every seed planted will sprout

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This post took a turn after I started it. It was supposed to be about the importance of Networking, especially as a low-cost marketing method. I’ll get to that soon enough. In the meantime, download my FREE eBook Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget for six other ways you can get the word out about your business at little or no cost.

PPS The cool thing about the survey was that I quickly knew what the people of Jackson thought when they needed to buy toys. I knew where I stood and where everyone else in the market stood, too. That is some powerful information.

Teach What You Can Teach Part 2

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post, today I taught two high school classes. They were Child Development classes and I taught about the importance of Play for child development and how to find the right toys (tools) for Play. I’ve now taught this class to high schoolers, new parents, mom’s groups, and even a grandparents group.

For thirteen years I taught expectant parents and grandparents how to choose baby products at a class we did right in the store.

I do another talk called The Family that Plays Together, Stays Together that highlights how play and fun and laughter make you healthier and happier and strengthen the bonds of your family.

That’s just three classes based on the knowledge I gained running my store.

I’m pretty sure a good shoe store owner could teach about the importance of posture and good walking habits.
I’m pretty sure a good jeweler could teach about how to care for precious stones or the best way to polish gold and silver and brass.
I’m pretty sure a good grocer (especially one who specializes in locally produced goods) could talk about GMO’s and artificial sweeteners.
I’m pretty sure a good clothing store owner could talk about current fashions and trends in the clothing industry.
I’m pretty sure a good craft store owner could teach how to make something out of next-to-nothing.
I’m pretty sure a good health food store owner could teach about the difference in quality of certain vitamins and supplements.
I’m pretty sure a good bike shop owner could teach how to change your inner tube on your bike and other simple maintenance.
I’m pretty sure a good furniture store could teach the proper way to fix mars and scratches in a wood surface or how to get stains out of upholstery.
I’m pretty sure a good appliance store owner could teach about how to save energy while using appliances.
I’m quite certain a good hardware store owner could teach how to use tools safely and properly.

You’re a great retailer. What can you teach?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS When you decide to teach, the next thing you need is an audience. I get some of my talks because I put it on my website. I get others because I put it on brochures in the store. I get the rest because I make it so much fun that people in those classes tell others about it. (Yeah, that thing we call word-of-mouth).

Two More Freebies For You

Why do I give it away for free? It is part of my Core Values to be helpful.

Don’t get me wrong. I love getting paid to sell toys and baby products. I love getting paid to travel across the country and impart some of the lessons I’ve learned to a room full of peers.

I also love helping and sharing. I want my ideas and thoughts to spread farther and wider to help my friends and peers in the independent retail industry. Plus. more often than not, I’ve already been paid.

All of my Freebies are the notes written from presentations I have done. That is why they are short and sweet – so you can print them easily. I could make eBooks more like power points with full-page graphics, tight bullet points and simple messages spread out over 72 pages. But I would rather keep them down to seven pages or less so that I can use them as handouts. Short and sweet so you can print them at home and read later. Short and to the point for you to email and share with your friends.

Since I got paid to do the presentation, I have already been paid to write the eBook, too. Now we just need to spread the word.

Here are two new Freebies worth sharing.

Generating Word-of-Mouth – You know Word of Mouth is the best form of advertising. But do you know the five ways to generate it? Do you know how to get people to talk positively about your business? This Freebie shares all the secrets behind getting people to talk about you.

(Yes, I decided to put it under Great Marketing. Put your best stuff where the customers are most likely to see it.)

Making Your Ads Memorable – Most ads are ignored, because most ads are lousy. The truly remarkable ads are the ads most remembered. This Freebie will show you three things you can do to make your print and broadcast advertisements cut through the clutter and be seen, heard and remembered by your potential customers.


-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Some have argued that by giving it all away, no one will ever hire me to speak. Fair enough. Of course, the live explanations are always more fun and interesting and worth every penny. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t offer to do them.

Get in the Paper or On the Air

Rarely does a month go by that I don’t have my store mentioned in the local newspaper, on local radio, or local TV. Heck, rarely does a week go by, especially during the holidays, that I don’t get some complimentary coverage for something we are doing.

I don’t think it is because I am more newsworthy than anyone else. I think it is because I do a few things most retailers don’t.

Here are my top three secrets for getting into your local media.

  1. Make friends with the reporters
  2. Help them out for free
  3. Show them why/how what you’re doing is newsworthy to everyone else

Make Friends

You can find local reporters at business meetings, at city council meetings, or simply by reading the bylines of your local paper. Those of you who still have print papers will find that those reporters list their email with every story.

Make it a point to attend those meetings and sit next to the reporters. Ask them questions. Find out their take and their opinion on the topics at hand. Listen. Strike up conversations every single time you see them, whether at a meeting or not. Call them by their first name. Comment positively on things they have written.

When you become their friend, they will learn to trust you as an easy source for information when they are on a tight deadline.

Help Them Out

Read all of what they write. Send them an email with your thoughts. If you agree with them, tell them so. If you don’t agree with them, give them facts and sources for information why you might politely disagree. In fact, help them out. Send them information related to articles they have already written – information that has nothing to do with your business. Send them links to articles you have read and liked. Give them content totally unrelated to your store but in the same vein as what they typically report.

Most importantly, expect nothing in return.

If you think of the reporter as a friend, you are just trying to help your friend do a better job. Do this enough and they will help you in return when the time is right.

Show Why/How it is Newsworthy

The editor gets the final say as to what stories get run. The number one thing an editor wants to know is, why is this important to my readers? If the answer to that is because it will make you money, they will tell you to buy an ad. If it is only important to you and your business and your customers, it isn’t newsworthy. You have to find the angle that makes it newsworthy to everyone.

When you finally get around to sending your press releases to all your friends in the media, you need to find that angle or your friends won’t get it past the editor.

I had a chance to interview a local newspaper editor a few years ago about this topic. She gave a classic example. Having the president of Rotary International coming to your next Rotary Club meeting is only important to you. Having five hundred people drive from up to four hours away and stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants to hear him speak is newsworthy to everyone.

Find the slant in your story that is newsworthy to everyone including people who would never be a customer of yours. That is the story to tell. (If you don’t have one, tweak your event until you do have a newsworthy angle.)

Yes, all of this takes time. That time, however, pays off quite well. You are in this for the long run, aren’t you?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It might seem like I am only talking about newspapers (print & online). The same applies to bloggers – flattery and complimenting information gets you far. The same applies to TV and radio – find out who the program directors and news directors are. They are your ticket in. The same works with networking – get to know the movers and shakers without expecting anything in return. Take the time. It is well worth your investment.

Thanks! It Works!

I have been teaching a class for new and expectant fathers through our local hospital for the past ten years.  Twice a month I sit these daddies-to-be around a table and teach them how to change a diaper, swaddle a baby, and take care of the mother.  Our two-hour time together is one of my favorite moments each month.

Today I got a Thank You Card in the mail from one of the dads along with a birth announcement.  It totally made my day.  In the card he told me which tip he found to be the most helpful (it was about keeping more than one diaper bag packed and being responsible for packing them daily, so that his wife could leave the house multiple times.)  It was easily my favorite moment of the day.

In fact, it changed the entire outlook of my day.  And today was a heck of a day.  Mistakes on the cash registers, money shortages, a visit from the police (no, I didn’t do anything wrong), employee issues, scheduling conflicts.  All that faded into the background because of this one note.

Yes, thank you cards can be that powerful.  Which reminds me that I need to write more of them.

I need to thank my top customers, my big spenders.  And I should also thank some of the medium spenders and see if I can turn them into big spenders.

I need to thank my best sales reps and let them know how much I appreciate the time they put into working with me.  They work long hours, spend a lot of time on the road, and have to put up with a lot of crap. Yet the best ones still have my best interests at heart.

I need to thank my vendors.  After all, without them I don’t have the largest selection of toys under one roof. They are not my suppliers, they are my partners.  Some of them bend over backwards to help me, sending samples for display and prizes for giveaways.  They deserve to be appreciated for inventing and producing the great toys that make me money.

If I can feel this good about getting a thank you in the mail, imagine how good your customers will feel about you when you write them a personal, hand-written note.  Imagine how much more your reps will want to help your account when you acknowledge all the hard work they do.  Imagine how pleasantly surprised your supplier will be when he receives a thank you in the mail. Yes, he will look at your account more favorably.

Frankly, I will admit that I am bad at writing these kinds of notes.  But today was a stark reminder to me how powerful they can be and why I need to write more.  And now I’ve reminded you, too.  If I could just find a pen…

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  A friend of mine keeps a stack of blank note cards and envelopes on her desk.  She starts out every morning by writing notes and getting them in the mail.  She says not only does it help her stay on top of the thank you’s she needs to write, it also puts her in a good mood to start the day by being grateful to all those who have helped her.  (I also imagine her desk is a lot less cluttered than mine – but it is a worthy goal to aspire.)

Just For Baby Stores (and Anyone Interested in Marketing)

Last week I gave a couple presentations at the All Baby & Child (ABC) Spring Educational Conference in Fort Worth, TX.

Once again, Pricing for Profit was one of the biggest hits of the show. Many vendors were asking, “Who’s Phil?” as retailer after retailer showed them better ways to price their goods for more profit because,“Phil said…” (Love that people talk about it that way! That never grows old for me:-)

The other presentation was Baby Store Marketing on a Shoestring Budget. Unlike most retailers who rely on repeat customers, there aren’t a lot of repeat visits in the baby world. Stores that sell cribs and dressers have to constantly seek out new clientele.

Similar to Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget, the Baby Store presentation covers eight affordable ways specific to baby stores that they can market themselves without spending a ton or giving away the profits.

And the Stork has arrived!

Everything in the presentation is now available in a newly published eBook. Download it for free. Share it with your friends. More importantly, use it as a guide to get more traffic in your store. (The smart ones among you will easily adapt it to your specific product mix.)