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Reaching the People Who “Think” They Know You

I’ve been out at YMCA Storer Camps the last couple days teaching sailing again. This time, instead of teaching the kids, I’m just working with the staff to make sure everyone is on the same page for teaching the kids. While walking to the waterfront, one of the new instructors asked me where I sail when I’m not at camp.

“Nowhere,” I replied

They called me Admiral Graybeard!

I have sailed other places in the past. I sailed for the University of Michigan Sailing Club. I sailed on the Great Lakes with a different, larger boat that the camp used to own. I’ve even sailed in races hosted by the San Diego Yacht Club (no, not The America’s Cup) a long time ago. But for now, my only chance to sail is out on Stoney Lake in camp boats.

Sailing is not my true heart’s desire. Teaching is.

At the camp I have taught Archery, Riflery (bb guns and pellet guns), Canoeing, Kayaking, Sailing, Swimming, Horseback Riding, Snorkeling, Wilderness Survival, Ropes Course Climbing, Rock Climbing, Backpacking, Biking, Team Building, Cross-Country Skiing, and Nature. Out in California I taught Earth Sciences, Astronomy, Geology, and Ecology. At Toy House I taught Car Seat Installations, How to Buy Toys, How to Buy Baby Products, How to Sell, and How to Work With Children of Special Needs. At Henry Ford Allegiance Health I teach new and expectant fathers how to be better dads. On the speaking circuit, I teach Marketing & Advertising, Customer Service, Hiring & Training, Inventory Management, Retail Math, Team Building, and Management Skills.

“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.” -Theodore Roosevelt

(Forgive me if it sounds like boasting. I’ve just said, “Certainly I can!” several times.)  What I’m really trying to do is find new and better ways to Help You (one of my Core Values) so that I can convince you that I can help you even more. Therefore, I teach.

Teaching is not only a love, it is a means to an end. If I can teach you one thing, hopefully you’ll trust me enough to want me to teach you other things. That’s one way I generate new business.

Last weekend I taught a group of toy store owners looking to capitalize on the disenfranchised Toys R Us shoppers that there are two reasons those people didn’t shop with independent specialty toy stores like theirs.

  • They don’t know you
  • They “think” they know you

That first group is fairly easy to reach. Any extra marketing or advertising you do will find them because they will be looking. That second group will be a lot harder. They have opinions about you (usually wrong) that won’t be swayed by a fancy radio or TV ad.

The best way to reach that second group is through Word-of-Mouth. Do something big to get your current customers to talk to them about you.

I told the toy retailers last week that was the only way to reach them. I was wrong. 

While I was walking down the trail to the waterfront with these soon-to-be sailing instructors I realized there is a second way … Teach!

Seriously. Just like me, you have some crazy, cool knowledge you could share. You have some wisdom and understanding of the products you sell that they won’t find just surfing the Internet. You have some tips and techniques for using and maintaining those products that might be a lifesaver for those customers.

The people who “think” they know you can be enticed to attend a free training program about the products they don’t know.

That was our Shopping for Baby 101 class. Free information about how to buy certain baby products including what to look for, what questions to ask, and what criteria to use when making buying decisions. The class was never a sales pitch, just useful information.

We picked up a lot of new customers that way who only thought we were a toy store.

We also began changing the way they thought about toys. Many of those same people who bought into our teachings about baby products also bought into how to buy toys, and became lifelong customers.

What do you include in the class? Answer these questions …

  • What info do most customers either misunderstand or not know about our products?
  • What info separates the smart customers from the average customers?
  • What questions does your staff have to answer over and over and over about the products?
  • What info would be fun and shareworthy?

Have a free class. Serve refreshments. Give out vendor-donated prizes. Make it fun and informative. You’ll sway a bunch of skeptics in the process.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Teaching is a lot like leading. Think of your lesson plan as a path. You want to guide your audience by starting with what they know and building onto their knowledge and assumptions until it is time to break those assumptions. Then lead them back to safety with new knowledge that shows them why their assumptions were false in the first place. This template works time and time again.

PPS Teaching leads to word-of-mouth, especially when you weave in a lot of stories for your audience to share.

PPPS If you didn’t see a topic up there that might work with your group, follow this link. That list above was already way too long.

Give Them Something to Talk About (Part 1)

My eyes always glazed over. Didn’t matter if it was Toy Fair, ASTRA, the All Baby & Child Expo (ABC), the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (JPMA) Trade Show, or SuperZoo. By the end of the day my eyes were glassy, my pupils were dilated, and my senses were overloaded. One booth after another melded into the landscape until none of them stood out.

” … until none of them stood out.”

Last Monday I walked the tradeshow floor at the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. The day before, I did a presentation about how to get people to talk about your business. One of the ways is to have Over-the-Top Design.

Have some element of your store (or booth)be it the design of your building (like Estes Ark in Estes Park, CO), an element of your store like the chalkboards or directional signs we had in front and on the side of our building, an element inside your store such as our Circus Mirrors, Electric Train Display, or LEGO building/racing ramp, or even through the products you might sell such as the 32,000 piece puzzle we had that weighed 42 pounds and was almost 18 feet long when finished—be so crazy and unexpected that customers have to tell their friends about it.

Eighteen rows of vendor booths later and only two stood out.

Lenny and Mark from Marky Sparky

The first was Marky Sparky. Mark Rappaport and his company Marky Sparky had been honored earlier that morning as the ASTRA Vendor of the Year, an honor well-deserved. The day before, he and his sales manager Lenny Breeden sat through my presentation on word-of-mouth. Lenny came up afterwards and said, “Wait until you see our booth tomorrow.” He was right.

What they did was simple. It didn’t cost much either. But it was innovative, unexpected, interactive, and fun. Mark created a “target” for their Faux Bow out of straws jammed into a box. Now you could shoot their indestructible foam/plastic arrows into the target and they would stick just like real arrows into a bale of hay. People were lining up to take turns shooting the bow.

At the end of the day, when I asked retailers what they saw that looked cool, the most common answer was, “Did you see the target at Marky Sparky? That was cool!”

Marky Sparky was winning the battle of word-of-mouth.

The second most common booth I heard about was selling jumbo hula hoops. Yes, jumbo! Hoops that were close to six feet in diameter! Apparently the larger the hoop, the easier it is to hula. These were designed to help adults get into hula-hooping (and the fabulous core exercises it offers). The booth stood out, not only because of the number of old people like me trying to hoop for the first time in thirty years, but because they had over-sized a product we all knew and loved. Interactive, unexpected, and larger-than-life fun.

In a trade show filled with 18 aisles of booths and over 500 vendors, only two booths had done something so over-the-top to stand out among the rest. I saw booths without decorations. I saw booths simply filled with chrome or wood shelves and products displayed military-style on those shelves. Some booths had active people manning the booth jumping out in front of us to shove catalogs in our hands as we walked the aisles. Other booths had people sitting in chairs staring at their phones, wondering why no one was stopping. But only two had done something worth talking about.

You have to do something to stand out.

This applies to any business anywhere. Whether you are a booth at a trade show, a retailer in a crowded retail market, or even an advertiser during the Super Bowl, all that matters is at the end of the day, are people talking about you? If they are talking about you, you’re winning. If they aren’t, you’ve melded into the landscape and become invisible, forgettable.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of change. One thing you need to change right now is to add some design element that is so over-the-top that people say, “OMG! Did you see that??!!” 

It can be outside where people see it driving by. It can be inside that gets people into the store. It can be a display or demo. It can even be a product you “sell” (we never expected to sell our 32,000 piece puzzle, we just used it to get people to talk—and sold three of them!!)

For best effect, make it unexpected, interactive, and larger-than-life fun.

Nice job, Mark & Lenny!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There was one other booth with a WOW Factor. The folks at Spooner Boards had a ramp for their mini-surfboard type toys and were showing off their product by doing tricks and stunts on the ramp. The problem is, they’ve done that every year so it wasn’t unexpected. Change. Once you set the bar high, you need to keep raising it higher to get more word-of-mouth. That’s why we were constantly adding new elements of over-the-top design to Toy House over the years.

PPS This is Part 1. I’ll tell you some other ways to get people to talk about you in future posts.

Some Inventory Management is a Customer Service Issue, Too

My mom shops like a man. Get in, get what you need, and get out. Her lifetime of being raised in retail, her always efficient use of time, and her preference to spend her free time playing golf, playing bridge, reading books, or doing cross-stitch needlepoint all have led her to this shopping style. Oh, she’ll browse the dozens of catalogs she gets in the mail each week, but spending a day at the mall is not her idea of a great time.

Even in a book store, her favorite form of shopping, she’s a hunter more than a browser.

Last weekend, however, she took my boys on a shopping trip, hitting several stores in the Ann Arbor area. Of course, she hit those stores the way she always does, with purpose, focus, and an eye for efficiency. At one point in Macy’s, while my older son tried on some shorts, she asked my younger son to go find a cash register that was actually open. Her keen eye had not seen any employees at any registers yet, and she had to have her exit strategy mapped out.

She’s training my boys to shop like her, much in the way she trained me. When I’m in buying mode, I go in, get what I want, and get out. If I’m in a store to browse, I’m doing it to gather information for future blog posts, researching for my clients, or spending time with friends who love to shop (while I’m doing research.)

You might think from that description that my mom and I are mostly Transactional Shoppers who know what they want and are just on a hunt to get the best price. You would be wrong. Other than my bad habit of Diet Mountain Dew (I call it my “green tea”) that I’ll buy wherever it is on sale, I have my favorite stores where I’ll go first for all my needs. My mom is the same way.

If you consistently have the stuff we want, we’ll consistently shop at your store—even if someone else is selling it slightly cheaper.

The key phrase is “consistently.” If you are often out-of-stock of the items I regularly buy, I’ll stop shopping at your store, no matter how well you treat me.

Image result for empty shelvesIn a few days I’m going to give a new presentation at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy. The title is “Profit Margin is Not Your Only Money Maker”. The premise is about how and when to sell lower-margin goods. One of those times is when you are the store people “expect” to sell that product. You don’t want to disappoint those customers and drive them away.

Not all hunters are Transactional. Some like to hunt at your store because they always know they’ll find their prey. Listening to my mom regale the tales from shopping with the boys reminded me of that important distinction.

Ask yourself …

  • What products do you sell on a regular, consistent basis, day-in-and-day-out?
  • What products do you sell at the highest turn ratio?
  • What products do people walk in asking for directly the most because they expect you’ll have it?
  • What products do you know your customers will buy online if they can’t get it at your store right now?

Those are your Must-Haves. Those are the products that keep your Relational Customers like my mom and me happy.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your buying. If you need to add to the order to reach a better deal, add some Must-Haves. Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your marketing and advertising. Being out-of-stock often is one way to get bad Word-of-Mouth circulating. Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your overall customer service. The more your staff can say, “Yes we do!” the better they feel and the better the customer feels.

Five Proven Recipes

I saw the recipe online. It was from the legendary Paul Harvey so it had to be true, right? A simple concoction for eliminating mosquitoes in your backyard. Heck, I could even hear Paul’s distinctive voice in my head reading off the formula …

“You take blue mouthwash, the minty kind. Pour it into a bucket. Mix in three cups of Epsom Salt. Be sure to stir it well. You want all that salt to dissolve. Then … pour in three stale beers. Stale, mind you. Don’t waste the good stuff on those pests. Put that into your spray bottle and you’ll enjoy a whole summer mosquito-free … I know … I’ve been doing it for twenty years. And now you know … the rest of the story.”

Image result for blue mouthwash(Note: that is not an actual quote, just how I heard it in my own mind.)

As I walked into the grocery store, scratching the mosquito bite on my elbow, on my way to buy blue minty mouthwash, Epsom Salt, and cheap beer, I quickly Googled it. Sure enough, it was legit.

I sprayed my yard three days ago. My backyard smells minty fresh and I haven’t seen a mosquito yet. As soon as I post this, I’m going to The Poison Frog and spraying their backyard by the campfire circle where I’ll be performing this Thursday night.

I’m seeing a resurgence in old home remedies like this. I’ve been using a vinegar, salt, and dish soap remedy for the weeds in my yard. Much, much cheaper and safer than the chemical solutions on the market. And nearly as effective.

Here are the recipes:

Weed Killer

  • One Gallon White Vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Dish Soap

Mosquito Killer

  • One Large Bottle Blue Minty Mouthwash
  • 3 Cups Epsom Salt
  • 3 Cheap, Stale Beers

Yes, there are more costly solutions. I used to spend a lot of money on Roundup and Ground Clear to keep the weeds at bay. I used to spend a lot of money on Cutter’s yard spray to be able to enjoy the backyard. The old recipes seem to be working just as well as the newer, more costly solutions.

I’m telling you this because you are being bombarded with a bunch of new-fangled (often costly) solutions to your business problems. There are some less-costly yet incredibly effective old recipes for success you should try cooking up. Here are three of my favorites.

Customer Service

  • Find out exactly what the customer expects.
  • Give her that and a little more.

Advertising

  • Don’t let your ads look or sound like an ad.
  • Tell a story.
  • Make it about your customer, not you.
  • Speak to the heart of your customer.
  • Speak to your tribe, the people who share your Values.
  • Make only one point.

Hiring & Training

  • Identify all the traits and skills of the perfect candidate for that particular job.
  • Hire the traits and skills you can’t teach.
  • Train the traits and skills you can teach.

Five recipes that are proven to work, don’t cost a bunch, and have stood the test of time. You’re welcome to try any of them.

Cheers!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, you can hire me to teach you how to use those last three recipes in your store, either one-on-one or in a group setting.

Reading Better, First Impressions, and Setting the Mood

One of the fun things about moving is finding your “memory boxes”. One of mine was falling apart so I had to dig through everything and transfer it all to a new box. Yeah, that took a lot longer than it should. (Remember, one of my Core Values is Nostalgia.) One item I found that brought back a flood of memories was a short story I wrote back in 1990 about a spring break trip to Colorado and Utah.

Back in 1990 my favorite author was Pat McManus, a humor writer who wrote columns for Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and other magazines. Pat also wrote several side-splitting books about camping, hunting, fishing, and growing up in the 1930’s and 1940’s in the great outdoors. Rarely did I go camping without one of his books stashed in my backpack. It was a necessary weight.

Not surprisingly, my writing style for my short story back in 1990 was quite similar to Pat’s humor.

Back in 2005 Roy H. Williams told me that if I wanted to learn to write better, I needed to read better. In my notes from one of Roy’s workshops I had circled a book idea, Poem A Day edited by Retta Bowen, Nick Temple, Nicholas Albery, and Stephanie Wienrich.

Poetry is the language of emotions. Advertising works best when it reaches you on an emotional level. Poetry is looking at ordinary things from unique and surprising perspectives. Advertising is giving your potential customers a new way to look at your business. Poetry uses interesting word combinations to set the mood. Great advertising uses interesting word combinations to get your attention.

Back in 2010 I did a staff training using the opening lines from several great books such as …

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”  Jane Austen – Pride & Prejudice

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”  C.S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”  Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.”  A.A. Milne – Winnie the Pooh

In that same meeting I played the opening music from Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for Common Man, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and The Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

We talked about how the opening sets the mood for everything else. We talked about the importance of first impressions. We talked about rhythm and feelings. We also talked about all the “openings” a customer has at our store.

It isn’t just the greeting that sets the mood.

We identified the following “first impression” moments:

  • Phone
  • Parking Lot
  • Front Window
  • Front Door
  • Store Atmosphere
  • Appearance of Staff
  • Greeting

Notice how many “first impressions” happen before you even say, “Hello. Thank you for coming in,”? That’s a lot of mood setting and emotion-creating before you even open your mouth.

When you read better, you write better. When you visit better stores and truly look at the moods and emotions they are trying to evoke, you’ll have better ideas for your own store.

Take that list above and go visit your favorite stores. See if you can figure out who is making the best first impressions. Then go back to your store and see if you can figure out what first impression you are giving your customers.

The better your first impression, the easier it is for your staff to make connections and build relationships necessary to compete in today’s retail climate.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you visit other stores, take good notes. When you attend workshops and presentations, take good notes. Then revisit your notes often. I don’t just look at those notes for a walk down memory lane. I read my notes from old workshops because there are often more nuggets in there than I could ever possibly remember. Sometimes when you get home from a presentation it isn’t the right time for one of those nuggets. But when you revisit it later, the timing may be perfect.

PPS Yes, in some ways this is a meta-post. Notice how my blogs often start with a story? Stories are powerful tools in advertising because they get your attention, speak to the heart, and are more memorable. In other words, they set the mood and make a good first impression. If you set the wrong mood, you put up obstacles to sales. If you set the right mood, you grease the skids for sales. I was lucky in that Toy House was a downtown business, but with our own parking lot. But you should have seen how I fretted about the cleanliness of that parking lot—especially in the winter.

Protecting Yourself From Your Biggest Threat

I’m in a precarious position. My job is to help you succeed by teaching you the stuff you need to learn. My job is to know what you don’t know, be the expert you can trust, and help you see things from a perspective you haven’t seen before.

My other job is to protect myself from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. (DKE)

According to Wikipedia, “the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability have illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.”

People who suffer from this cognitive bias don’t know what they don’t know. They believe they have all the answers. They come across as arrogant, pushy, know-it-alls that annoy the heck out of true experts in that field.

As an author, business coach, and public speaker, I’m supposed to have all the answers. I’m supposed to know it all. Yet, how do I prevent myself from getting caught in the trap of illusory superiority?

Image result for stacks of booksThe simple answer is Read. 

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” -Mark Twain

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow …” -Lawrence Clark Powell

I subscribe to blogs and read books regularly, looking for new answers. Sometimes what I read challenges what I believe. I worry about my cognitive bias, wondering if the author knows something I don’t. Reading keeps me on my toes by presenting new ideas and opening me up to new worlds of thought.

The next best thing to do is Question everything you believe.

  • Why do I believe what I believe?
  • Where is my evidence?
  • Do I have the most up-to-date information on this topic?
  • Have I tested it?
  • Is my information relevant to today?
  • Are my sources up-to-date and staying current?

If all I ever did was give you information based off my own experiences running Toy House, then I might suffer from DKE. If all I ever did at Toy House was try to learn from my own mistakes without looking outside myself for help, then I most definitely suffered.

Yet isn’t that what so many business owners do? Especially the veterans who have been running their stores for years? They use their own experiences as the basis for everything and never try to learn from others.

“It is hard to read the label from inside the bottle.” -Roy H. Williams

Your biggest threat isn’t Amazon or the economy or the weather. It is in thinking you know all the answers and cannot be taught something new.

I fear this in myself. I have the confidence (arrogance?) to believe I have answers to pretty much any question about running an independent retailer. I guard myself against DKE, however, by reading and questioning everything I think I know. I did the same running Toy House. Didn’t know how to market and advertise? I turned to Seth Godin and Roy H. Williams. Didn’t know how to merchandise? I turned to Paco Underhill. I learned from them, tested it against what I thought I knew, and grew from the experience.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. You’re out there reading and learning from others (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading my posts). Sometimes, however, we need that reminder to keep vigilant and protect ourselves from our own DKE.

Sometimes we also need permission to go out there and remind our fellow retailers there is a world of information available, and the strength of your individual business will rely on how much of that information you acquire and use.

(Yes, that is a request that you share this blog and the other stuff you read with others.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One other way to keep DKE at bay is to be in a constant state of learning. Some people believe “training” only happens to new staff. Teach them what they need at first and let them go from there. Some people instead create a culture of learning not only for themselves but for their staff. One way I fostered that culture at Toy House was to give each of my staff a $150 budget each year for taking a class or attending a workshop. It didn’t have to be retail-related. It only had to keep them in a mindset of learning new things.

Hire Me to Be Your Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I chose the word Coach.

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

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

Let’s get together for an exploratory meeting.

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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

Things You Should Know Better

I just got back from Chicago. Fabulous trip! I was hired to do a couple presentations for the Diamond Retailer Summit hosted by Diamond Comics Distributors. I did two talks—Selling in a Showrooming World and Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget. I also got to do something new for me. I had a booth during their afternoon showcase. I have visited several booths over the years, but this was the first time I got to have a booth under the banner of Phil’s Forum.

My booth at the Diamond Retailer Summit, April 2018

I knew a little about having booths in big convention halls from my friends who own toy and baby product companies. I knew I wanted to have a booth I could carry in by myself, that wouldn’t take any special tools to build, and wouldn’t require electricity. We were in McCormick Place in Chicago and it wasn’t in my budget to pay for any “help.”

The McCormick Place website was helpful in giving me some basic information. I got my parking pass in advance so that I would have a guaranteed space in Lot A. I knew I was in the South Building, fourth floor, so I would have to take the sky bridge from parking to my building. All was good.

Until I got off the highway.

The signs leading to Lot A were all but nonexistent. I only saw one, vaguely over an area of road where several roads converged. I never knew if I was in the proper lane. I was about to turn around, thinking I had gone too far when the turn I made actually led me directly into the parking lot, surprise, surprise. One frustration down.

My signs for my booth weren’t heavy. A little awkward, but those fancier, lightweight, compact signs just weren’t in the budget. I made my way from the garage across the sky bridge into the South Building. It was dark. I was in the lobby of the building in front of the grand ballroom and rooms S101-S104. There were two big escalators, neither working. There were elevators at both ends of the lobby, neither working. There was a sign with a map of the different levels telling me I was in the South Building on Level 1, and showing that my room—S401—was also in the South Building on Level 4.

Nowhere on that sign did it give me any indication I needed to leave the South Building and go to the main entrance between the North & South Buildings to find a working elevator to get me to the 4th floor. Nowhere was there a sign to let me know that the 4th floor rooms were all the way in the back of the building, another quarter mile from where I was standing, lost, looking at their signs, or that I would have to either maneuver my signs up escalators or traverse a snaking path between the two buildings to get there. Nowhere was there any person at the bottom of the escalator from the sky bridge to direct traffic for people coming in from Lot A.

After finding a working elevator to get me to the fourth floor, I then hiked the snaking pathway between the North and South buildings until finally finding my way to room S401. (Did I mention my signs were not heavy, but awkward? By now they were feeling much heavier than when I started.)

Once I got to my room and stopped sweating, my day went infinitely better. The talks were home runs (at least that’s the immediate feedback I got.) The booth time was excellent. I met some fascinating people and may have some incredible new opportunities. The food was pretty yummy, too. All in all it was an awesome day!

Then I had to head back.

Not wanting to do the snaking pathway back along the fourth floor, I took the elevator at the back of the building down to the first floor. Rookie mistake. There are no signs anywhere that tell you the “first floor” at the back elevator is not the same “first floor” as the front elevator. Now I was lost deep in the bowels of the convention center. Fortunately, a friendly security guard directed me up a couple escalators that got me back to an area I recognized.

He admitted the signage was lacking greatly and what signage they did have was confusing. He assured me I wasn’t the first person who had made this mistake.

Let’s stop right there. “He assured me I wasn’t the first person who had made this mistake.”

If there is a “mistake” a customer has made interacting with your business, that’s a potential red flag for you. If it happens once, then it might be the customer’s fault. If it happens more than once, you have a problem you need to fix.

If multiple customers don’t know what to do or where to go, that’s on you, not them. Somewhere along the way, you haven’t made it clear what they need to do next.

This could be a problem on your website where the call-to-action isn’t clear on each page. This could be a problem with your checkout if people don’t know where to line up or put their merchandise. This could be a problem with your services if people don’t know how they work or what they have to do or where they have to go.

If you have this problem, might I suggest a sign or two? There should have been a clear sign at the bottom of the escalator from the sky bridge when I entered the South Building telling me where to go. If not that, there should have been a person stationed there to direct traffic. There should have been clear signage at the back elevator explaining that it did not lead to the same “first floor”. 

McCormick Place opened in 1960, expanded several times, and is the largest convention center in North America. This isn’t their first rodeo. They should know better by now. The security guard knew it. He shouldn’t be apologizing for mistakes made by someone else. Maybe he has complained before, but no one listened. Maybe he never bothered to complain because he figured no one would listen.

There are things you should know better, too. Make sure you are listening and actively looking for those “mistakes” that can be easily corrected.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I probably missed something along the way. I’m not perfect. But I do like to think of myself as somewhat observant. If I missed it (and I was looking for it), I’m sure others did, too. Here is the thing, though. If your customers are made to feel stupid—even if it is their own mistake—they won’t come back. If your customers are made to feel comfortable, they will come back. If your customers are made to feel wonderful, they’ll bring their friends back with them.

PPS I am ready for my next visit to McCormick Place. If you’re looking for a dynamic speaker who isn’t afraid to admit he got lost in a convention center, who likes to learn from his mistakes, and is willing to use what he has learned from all his mistakes over the years to help you succeed, give me a holler.

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
www.PhilsForum.com

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.

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
www.PhilsForum.com

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.)