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Words of Wisdom From 1969

Here is another gem I found buried in a file, long forgotten. My grandfather and founder of Toy House, Mayor Philip H. Conley, penned these words in June 1969, two months before hiring my dad as his new manager.

I don’t know if this was penned to put his thoughts on paper for my dad, or if it was just something that struck him one day. I do not know if it was ever read again after that day (the file I found it in was pretty darned old). I don’t even know what one of the terms means (neither did my mom or dad). He refers to “marking capacity” and “markers”. I believe those were people who put price tags on boxes like my sister and I did as young children. He also refers to “jobbers”. I know that term. Those were the wholesalers or distributors of that day. I do know there are some nuggets in there that ring so true I’m calling them universal.

Here is his June 1969 manifesto in its entirety…

Business is a matter of balance.

Good business – successful business can be achieved as good government can be achieved using a system of checks and balances.

Balance as it applies to our business, there must be a balance between the number of customers, parking, inventory, shopping carts, sales people, stock people, marking capacity, office capacity, square feet selling space, square feet of stock space, store hours, checkout capacity, and giftwrap capacity. An excess of any of these factors creates too much expense for an efficient operation. A deficiency of a factor immediately creates an excess of all other factors – this is very bad for a profitable operation. Management’s responsibility is to maintain balance.

Enough free off street parking is an obvious example. Enough shopping carts is not so obvious. If people have to wait for a cart, then their parking space becomes non-productive , floor space, sales persons, inventory, etc. all become non-productive. Very wasteful, very expensive. We must realize that the customer may be on a time limit, therefore his waiting time must be subtracted from his shopping time. And, too, waiting is most aggravating and will result in a bad attitude for the customer.

Without customers, there is no business. If a customer is not satisfied after he is in the store, there is no sense in advertising to get him in the store.

Any time a customer is not satisfied with merchandise purchased in our store, he may return it for a credit, refund, or exchange. This matter should be handled more quickly than the original purchase.

Inventory balance is most difficult for us to achieve.

Excessive inventory is wasteful as it requires too many markers, too many receivers, too much work capital, too many sales people, too much stock space, and too many markdowns. If not balanced, this is the greatest cause of business failure.

An accounts receivable policy should be set up and adhered to with all being treated alike.

Inventory turns is the number of times your total inventory is sold per year. If you subscribe to the theory that you need only a 90-day inventory, then you should turn your inventory four times a year. Food stores may turn their inventory 40 or 50 times a year. Specialty stores turn theirs considerably less. This is the nature of the business. “If you can’t find it somewhere else, go to the specialty store and pay their higher price.”

Buying direct, although at a better discount, tends to create overstock conditions. In just buying dollars alone, your better price reflects at the most an 18% savings. However, your first markdown is usually 50%. I have not referred back to the other excessive expense factors. Buying direct, except under strict control, is dangerous.

In business the obvious is not always true!!! Example: “You’re nuts to buy from a jobber when you can get from us for less.”

Jobbers have been hurting for the past several years because so many operated on buying at the best price and selling at the lowest price hoping to move mountains (and doing so) of goods. (At a profit????)

So jobbers have been financially weak which is reflected in many ways.

  1. They do not carry a complete selection.
  2. The services of a competent salesman are not available.
  3. Their plant facilities do not allow for an efficient handling of vast quantities of goods.

Historically, three or four jobbers could not supply our needs. Their selections were never broad enough. We many times were forced to go direct to satisfy our needs for a “spread” of goods as well as supplying the needs of our customers, i.e. Monopoly money, Carrom refills.

Direct suppliers and jobbers giver preferential treatment usually to the largest customers. But not necessarily sometimes to the most regular – frequent – steady – GOOD PAY buyer. Over the years loyalty is pretty much a thing of the past.

No one seems to assess the market today. In years gone by, it was wise to spend time assessing how much could be sold profitably in the market and then budgeting the business accordingly. No one ever realized how large this nation’s ability to consume really was.

Business is a matter of keeping all relevant factors (and there are untold, unseen ones) in balance.

-Philip H. Conley

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The more things change, the more they stay the same. This June I’m going to be speaking to the toy industry about how to keep things like inventory and cash flow in balance. If you would like me to speak to your industry, I have some insights that go way back.

You Don’t Make it Up in Volume

(Warning: this post contains math. Proceed with caution.)

“We lose a dollar on each one we sell, but we make it up in volume.”

Yeah, we all know that isn’t right, but there is a mistaken belief that if you lower your prices, you can easily make up the lower margins through higher volume.

Warehouse Melissa and Doug 2

Let me show you why that doesn’t necessarily work.

First, we have to make an assumption together. Your business has fixed costs that do not change as your sales change (utilities, rent, etc), and your business has variable costs that go up as you do more volume (credit card fees, payroll, freight, advertising, etc).

Agreed? Good.


Here is some simple math…

You have an item you purchase for $10 and sell for $20. Let’s say you sold 24 of this item last year. That gives you a gross profit of $240 (24 units x $10 in profit per unit = $240 gross profit).

But you have the grand idea to lower the price 10% to $18, figuring you’ll make it up in volume.


To get the same $240 in gross profit, you now need to sell 30 units (30 x $8 = $240). That’s a 25% increase in units sold. With more units sold, however, your variable costs will go up. Maybe it is advertising because you had to spend more to get the word out about your lower price. Maybe it is extra sales people needed to help boost sales. Maybe it is more credit card transaction fees.

Realistically, just selling 25% more units won’t even break even because of the rise in variable costs. You’ll probably need closer to 30% more in units sold to cover your 10% discount.

Do you think 10% Off is enough to sell that many more units?


Okay, maybe 10% isn’t enough to move the needle. Let’s go 20% Off and sell them for $16!

Here’s the math…

40 units x $6 = $240.  Yes, you now need to sell 67% more units just to get the same gross profit! More than likely, as your variable costs go up, you’ll probably need to sell about 70-75% more units to truly break even.

How about 30% Off?

60 units x $4 = $240. If you go to 30% Off, you better be able to sell 250-300% more units to make it up in volume.

That is a lot of extra traffic you’re going to need to draw, and a lot of staff you’re going to need to handle those sales.


When you do the math, making it up in volume isn’t the answer. But ask yourself this question…

If I raise my prices a little, how many sales might I lose?

A 10% price increase could handle a 17% drop in units sold and make you the same amount of gross profit.

See? Those math classes in high school can pay off!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, you can raise your prices. With the way insurance premiums, taxes, utilities and other expenses keep rising, you have to find ways to make more money just to stay in business. But just a straight increase across the board isn’t the strategy. Download my FREE eBook Pricing for Profit in the Free Resources section to see smart ways to raise your prices (that won’t cost you a single unit sold).


The Need to Keep Raising the Bar

Bed Bath and Beyond just announced that their coupon strategy is backfiring and that their profits are hurting because everyone is waiting for the coupon to do their shopping.

Umm… yeah. When you send the coupon out every week and never enforce the exclusions or expiration date, you pretty much send out the message that everything in the store is always 20% off. Anyone paying full price in that store is either lazy or an idiot.

What used to be special is now considered the norm.

BBB faces a dilemma. They either have to drop the coupon program and wean customers off the 20% discount (a daunting and dangerous task), or raise the bar on the coupon program to make it special again.

They said in the article, “Bed Bath and Beyond says it plans to draw in more customers through marketing.”

Okay, but how? A bigger, deeper coupon every so often? (further eroding profits) or something else?


If you are doing something special for your customers, eventually it goes from special to expected and the marketing pull from it will taper off. If it is a discount, that discount will have to grow over time to remain equally effective.

If you consistently go above and beyond your customers’ expectations, eventually they will come to expect it, meaning you’ll have to raise the bar even farther.

As you choose your marketing strategy, remember that the special things you do today will become the norm tomorrow. Make sure you have room to raise the bar when the effects start tapering off.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Surprise and Delight are the best tools for attracting new customers because you’ll never run out of new and fun and inexpensive ways to surprise and delight your customers. Check out these two Free Resources to get some ideas of things you can do to raise the bar and attract more customers – Generating Word of Mouth and Customer Service: From Weak to WOW!. I doubt either of these will be strategies employed by BBB (although they should).

Free or Gift With Purchase?

You just got some free merchandise from one of your favorite vendors. It was a low cost item that you didn’t sell anyway. You want to give them away to your customers.

Do you give them away free, no strings attached, or do you only give them away free with a qualifying purchase?


The upside to simply giving them away is that you will surprise and delight your customers in an unexpected way. They will be talking about your generosity to their friends.

The downside is that you likely won’t garner any extra sales and you may end up giving them to people who don’t need them.


The upside for GWP is that you are using the freebie to help close the sale of a related product. Plus, you are getting the freebie into the hands of someone most likely to use it.

The downside is that the only word of mouth it generates is them talking about the good deal they got (that others might not be so lucky to get).

Here are some questions to ask…

  • Do you want them to talk about your generosity or the deal they got?
  • Do you want to put them only into the hands of people who will use them?
  • Do you want to surprise & delight or close the sale?

Ask the right questions and you’ll get the right answer.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Door #3 is that we just sell them at a discounted price, take the profit and run. The only question is whether you can get more profit using the freebies as a marketing tool than you would by simply selling a low-cost item you didn’t want in the first place. My guess is marketing tool pays more dividends in the long run.

How to Get Customers to Fall in Love With Your Products

Dr. Ross Honeywill says there are two types of customers – NEO’s and Traditionals. Traditionals are all about the Price. NEO’s, however, care more about Design, Authenticity, and Provenance than Price. Get the NEO to fall in love with the product and you’ll make the sale.

Roy H. Williams says there are two types of customers – Relational and Transactional. Transactional customers are all about the Price. Relational Customers, however, are looking for someone they can Trust who will lead them to the right products they can fall in love with.

The Diffusion of Innovation says there is a big chasm between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority. The Early Majority want the tried and true commodities that have a proven track record. They will go wherever they can find the best deal. The Early Adopters love the new and unique and have to have the latest, greatest, regardless of price.

You can discuss the nuance between the three theories until the end of the earth and never fully reconcile them into one theory.

Or you can pull out the one thing all three agree on and run with it all the way to the bank.

The money is in getting your customers to fall in love with your products and your store.


Remember falling in love? You don’t analyze it. You don’t weigh out pros and cons. You don’t look at the features and benefits.

You draw smiley faces. You doodle his name on the worksheet you were supposed to turn in. You imagine what it will be like to be together. You visualize walking hand in hand. You picture the two of you on a date, at the park, in the movie theater. You see the future of you with this other person.

Bob Phibbs says that customers who are shopping are in a different mode than customers who are buying. Customers who are shopping are in analytical mode. They are gathering info, measuring and weighing options. Customers who are buying, however, have to get out of that mode and into wonder and love. They have to see themselves already owning and using the product.

In other words, they have to fall in love with the idea of owning the product.

You have been wrongly taught for years that your job is to give your customers information. Features and benefits, features and benefits, features and benefits. In today’s online world, they already have most of the information they need before they set foot in the store. Your real job is to get them out of analyzing the product and into visualizing already owning the product.

You can do that two ways…

Ask Visualization Questions:

  • How do you see yourself using this product? 
  • What are your plans for this product? 
  • How will this look in your home? 
  • Where do you see yourself using this? 
  • What is your ultimate goal for this item?

Use Assumptive Statements and Questions:

  • Most everyone who buys one of these gets a second as a backup. Do you want to get two today or just the one?
  • Would you like me to giftwrap these items while you finish shopping for the rest of the list?
  • You’re going to be really happy with your choice of that product.
  • When you get this home, to make sure you get the full use out of it, be sure to…

Before you start thinking those sound snarky or sneaky or gimmicky, remember that your customer came into your store looking to solve a problem or fill a need. Your job, therefore, is to help her solve a problem or fill a need. If you leave her in analytical mode, you won’t solve her problem or fill her need. She’ll leave in search of more information and most likely have someone else solve her problem or fill her need.

If you make her fall in love with the product, you’ll make the sale, whether she is a NEO, a Relational Customer, an Early Adopter, or any other label you want to give her.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You still need to know all the information. In part, so that if she has faulty information, you can correct it. In part, because she may need one or two more pieces of information to help her visualize the product properly. In part, so that she will trust you as the expert.

Is it a Business or Just a Job?

I work with a lot of smaller retailers – start-ups and indies who are just getting going in this crazy industry we’ve all chosen. Many of them get this one question wrong.

Did you start a business or just create a job?

Most people think they are starting a business, but in reality all they have done is create a job for themselves, often a low-paying job at that. Then when they go to sell the business, they can’t find any buyers.

Here are three questions you need to ask yourself to see whether your retail shop is truly a business or just a job.

Could the business run without you? More specifically, could you hire someone to do your job, or is the whole reason the business exists because you exist?

Do people come to your business because of what you offer or what your business offers? If the vast majority come because of you, you might have a job, not a business.

Do you pay yourself a salary? If you don’t then it isn’t even a job, it’s a hobby. If you do pay yourself a salary, is it a good one? Is it enough to hire someone else to do that job? If you said no, then you might have a job, not a business.

Do you show a profit? If you’re paying yourself a salary, that is a good thing. It means that you could potentially hire someone else to do that job, while you reap the profits – assuming there are some profits. Some owners will make the correct move of paying themselves a salary, but do so at the expense of showing a profit. Some will keep profits low on purpose to avoid taxes. There might be a number of reasons for not showing a profit. Amazon doesn’t seem to need to show a profit. As long as the cash keeps flowing they (and you) can usually keep doing your job. But an indie retailer without profits probably won’t be able to sustain that cash flow for too long. You and I don’t have the deep pocket investors Amazon has. If you’re paying yourself a salary in lieu of showing a profit, you might have a job, not a business.

Not that there is anything wrong with having a job, not a business. You can make a healthy living for many years that way. You might like the job of being boss (and you might be really good at it). You might like the salary you pay yourself for being boss in lieu of having your business show a profit. Those are good and valid points for you to keep doing what you do.

The only downside will be the exit strategy. Once you decide you no longer want your job, if you didn’t first turn it into a business, you’re going to have a hard time finding anyone who wants to buy it. No one “buys” jobs. They buy businesses. Without a business, all you have left to sell are your assets.

Neither concept is wrong, but not knowing the difference can be costly down the road.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you want to turn your job into a business, you need to think about three things.

  1. Could I hire and train someone to do my job?
  2. Do I pay well enough to hire someone competent to do my job?
  3. Is there enough profit and/or growth potential to keep the business making money?
When you can answer yes to all three, you have a business, not a job. You have something you could sell down the road. You are truly an entrepreneur. Heck, you could should hire someone to do your job right now and go start another business or two.

Bye-Bye Buying (A Grandfather’s Wisdom)

In 1951 my grandfather and founder of Toy House, Phil Conley, wrote his “Twenty-Two Important Retail Fundamentals”. I just uncovered them going through some old files.


It was amazing how many of them are still true today. Take, for example, number 18 which is appropriate as many of us start buying for the fourth quarter…

18. That weak departments dissipate their merchandising strength…

  1. By buying from too many manufacturers
  2. By buying from too many price lines
  3. By buying too many colors
  4. By buying too many sizes
  5. By buying too many materials
  6. By buying too many styles

All this adds up to bye-bye-volume and profit.

Powerful stuff. Stay true to who you are. Limit your customer’s choices. Give them the best options. Remove the clutter. Don’t over-buy.

In today’s retail climate we feel compelled to offer more and more because the Internet offers more. Yet, we will never be able to match the offerings of the Internet. Instead, the more we should be offering is more thoughtful choices, more carefully chosen products, more practical solutions, more intelligent offerings. We need to help our customers cut through the clutter by knowing everything that is out there and why we chose to sell these particular items.

There are already too many options causing analysis paralysis in our customers. Remove the options that don’t make sense and don’t fit your customer’s needs and your inventory will sparkle and shine just a little better than before. The only bye-bye’s will be when you help a customer carry her purchases to the car, usually followed by a Thank You!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Choices are good. Don’t get me wrong. Having options for different needs is also good. But the biggest way to eat up a chunk of your cash is to buy too many choices and too many options. Keep it down to a Good, Better, Best (or better yet a Best, Bester, Bestest) selection and your cash flow and profits will improve.

PPS Yeah, I’ll talk about a few others down the road. There are some really good nuggets in there, like this one…  7. That good basic stocks plus strong reorder numbers, plus realistic timing, plus selling – not order-taking – will increase volume and profit anytime.

The Last Buy

The season is almost over and you’re out of a lot of things. Do you make that Last Buy?

This is a question that haunts all retailers.

If you don’t make the buy, you run the risk of not having what the customer wants which means you lose the sales and you lose their trust. If you do make the buy, you run the risk of having it show up too late and being  stuck with inventory you cannot sell.


Here is how to think about it…

Ask yourself why you are out of stock. Did you not buy enough to begin with or did you have an extremely good, better-than-expected run on that product?

If your answer is the latter, you may just want to smile and say thank you to the retail gods for giving you a winner and go home and count your money. Forget all about that Last Buy (it’s like trying to double your money at the casino on the last bet of the night – a sucker bet at best).

If your answer is the former, you might want to consider why you didn’t buy enough. Was it cash flow concerns or was it just projecting too conservatively? If it was cash flow concerns, think twice before you make the Last Buy. It is a fast road back into cash flow hell.

About the only time you should make the Last Buy is when it is a product you can sell after the season is over and you have the cash to do it.

The best thing to do is to eliminate the temptation in the first place. Overbuy the must-haves. Always project higher on the items people come in asking for by name. Have extras on hand of those items and you won’t have to make a Last Buy on them. Everything else? Let it go. When you run out for the season, you run out.

The key is identifying the must-haves. If you are out of things people don’t come in asking for, no one will notice. If you are out of things people buy from you all the time, they will notice and they will quit coming to buy them from you.

Don’t run out of those items.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You know what the must-haves are. The stuff you order every single time without having to look at a report. The stuff your customers ask for the moment they walk through the door. The stuff that sells 3x faster than the average item.

Financials You Can Understand

I told you about the book I wrote for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association called Financials You Can Understand: Building Blocks for Successful Toy Stores.

The book is finished, published and available for purchase.

Here is what the editors wrote about the book…

“After reading this book you will know and understand all of the numbers in your Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss Statement – from where they came, what they mean and how you can make them stronger. You will know what other numbers you should be tracking and how they compare to other specialty toy stores. If you understand the basics, look for special boxes with advanced, in-depth knowledge on more detailed ways to track your numbers. Most importantly, you will know how to make your business better.”

Who should buy this book?

Anyone who owns a retail store and (or) feels clueless when the accountant starts talking about your financial statements will find this book amazingly helpful.

Although much of the discussion is designed around the toy industry, the information, insights, and analysis will translate well to any type of retailer.  If you struggle to understand your accountant when he talks to you, or struggle to wrap your head around all the numbers on your financial statements, this book will be like taking the coolest, easiest, most practical accounting class ever that makes it all something you can understand.

You can buy the book here.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  You can still download my Financials eBook for free.  It does not have the detail or analysis that this new book does.  But it does cover some basic stuff.

PPS  Yes, the book might seem expensive at first glance, until you see the value in it.  Even a small retailer will gain enough knowledge to recoup that investment in short order.

PPPS  Full disclosure.  I do not gain financially from the sale of this book.  I have received my compensation for writing it.  But like with everything I do, there is no satisfaction for me until you benefit from my efforts. Please buy a copy for yourself or as a gift to a fellow retailer who could benefit.

David Beats Goliath (Again)

March Madness is a great reminder that even when the deck is stacked against you, you can win.

In the first full round of competition in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, ten of the thirty two games were won by the underdog.  31.3% for you statisticians.

The more telling stat is this…

100% did it by out-hustling their competition.  They did it by doing what they do best, to the best of their ability, and by wanting it more than their competitor.

Some could not match up size-wise.  Others did not have the depth.  Some lacked the overall talent.  A few even needed a lucky break or two.  Gee, sounds a lot like independent retailers.  Size of store, depth of product, lack of educational business training.

Yet independent retailers are slaying Goliaths all over the place, even without a lucky break or two.  They do it by playing up their strengths.  You don’t need a deep product mix, just a few great options.  You don’t need a huge store, just a talent for merchandising it well.  You don’t need an MBA, just an understanding of how to relate to others and build relationships.

More importantly, you don’t need to beat Goliath to win. You only need to accomplish three things:

  • Keep the cash flowing
  • Show a profit
  • Make a living

Do those and you get to raise all the championship banners you want.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Not doing all of those three things, yet?  Do not despair. Sometimes all you need is some coaching to push you in the right direction.  For those of you who are self-coached, check out Freebies section of my website.  There are plenty of Goliath-beating tools you can download for free.  For those wanting a little more, contact me.  Sometimes the fix is easier than you imagined.