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Having Fun, Helping Others, Eating Lunch

For the past three weeks I have been making several drives from my home in Jackson to the Oakland County area for lunch. For those of you not in Michigan, Oakland County is one of the three counties (including Wayne and Macomb) that makes up the Greater Detroit Metropolitan area. Oakland County is the northernmost of the three and includes several cities, villages, townships, and lakes.

Oakland County is home to twenty-one Main Street programs in the various cities, villages, and townships, and also home to one of the largest county-wide Main Street support programs. It was Main Street Oakland County (MSOC) that hired me to make these drives each week to do a “Lunch-and-Learn” series of workshops. The workshops are four-week-long tracks on one of three topics: Selling & Customer Service, Marketing & Advertising, or Retail Math.

We rolled this out to three different communities. Two of the communities chose Marketing & Advertising, one chose Selling & Customer Service. All three are reporting back with incredibly positive feedback. Other communities are already bugging MSOC to be included in the next round.

The fun part for me is that I like driving and I love doing these presentations, mostly because I know the difference one or two good tips or techniques can make for a small business.

The fun part for the attendees is that they get a free lunch (or breakfast) and four 45-minute presentations jammed with eye-opening ideas, out-of-the-box thinking, and surprisingly simple techniques to improve their businesses.

The fun part for you is that there is still time to plan a Lunch-and-Learn in your neck of the woods (as long as you are within two hours driving time from Jackson which would include Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Fort Wayne, Toledo, Detroit, Flint, and Lansing areas).

Here are the three tracks with class titles and descriptions.

Option A: Marketing & Advertising

  • Week #1 Boosting Your Brand to Attract the Right Business – A quick lesson in branding to show you how a well-crafted brand makes a huge difference in attracting the right types of customers and business. You’ll learn how to uncover the true value in your brand and make your brand stand out in the crowd
  • Week #2 Marketing Your Business on a Shoestring Budget – Seven different ways you can get the word out about your business and draw traffic in without spending a fortune. You’ll learn how to leverage your talents and time to attract more customers to your business right away.
  • Week #3 Making Your Ads More Effective – We hate ads, not because there are too many, but because most ads suck. This presentation will show you the six principles that make the difference between your ad being remembered and acted upon or being simply ignored. You’ll learn techniques even the most highly paid professionals sometimes get wrong, and how you can apply them to your own advertising efforts
  • Week #4 Generating Word-of-Mouth Advertising – We all know Word-of-Mouth advertising is far more effective than traditional advertising, but do you know what it takes to actually get your customers to talk about you? This presentation shows you four proven ways you can generate word-of-mouth advertising. You’ll walk away with tips and techniques that get people talking the very next day.

Option B: Selling and Customer Service

  • Week #1 Selling in a Showrooming World – Online shopping is here to stay. So is the concept of Showrooming, where a customer uses your store to touch and feel the product before ordering it online cheaper. This presentation shows you the two types of customers, how to recognize them, and the very different ways you sell to them. Learn this and you’ll close far more sales than ever before.
  • Week #2 Raising the Bar on Customer Service – Every store thinks they offer Great Customer Service, but every customer can regale several stories where the customer service fell far short. This presentation gives you a different perspective on customer service and shows you how to up your game so that Great Customer Service is only the minimum. You’ll learn how to surprise and delight customers at every turn.
  • Week #3 Building the Perfect Salesperson – Finding the right salesperson is the key for any organization. But how do you identify the perfect fit? This presentation will change the way you look at interviewing and hiring and even training. When you’re done you’ll have a better understanding of how the best companies find the best employees time and time again.
  • Week #4 Training and Motivating Your Team to Perform Their Best – The carrot and stick might be good for a donkey, but it won’t get the best out of your team. This presentation will show you what really motivates people to do their best work and how to get the kind of creativity from your team that sets you apart. You’ll also learn how to turn staff meetings and training times into something your staff looks forward to attending.

Option C: Retail Math

  • Week #1 Reading Your Financial Statements – Your accountant will be glad you attended. This presentation will show you in layman’s terms how to read the two most common financial statements – the Profit & Loss and the Balance Sheet. You’ll learn how they are calculated, what they show, and an intuitive way to use them to check the financial health of your company. It isn’t as scary as it sounds.
  • Week #2 Inventory Management – Cash is King. In retail, the biggest use of your cash is your inventory. This presentation will show you simple and smart ways to manage your inventory levels better including how Open-to-Buy programs work and easy ways to increase cash flow. You’ll learn how to turn slow moving merchandise into cash and make your inventory work for you.
  • Week #3 Pricing for Profit – Most businesses leave thousands of dollars on the table because they don’t understand the principles behind how to properly price their products or services. This presentation shows you how you can raise prices and increase unit sales by harnessing the power of perception. Learn these techniques and you’ll start making more money the very first day.
  • Week #4 Unlocking the Hidden Cash in Your Business – There is more to retail than just buying and selling product. This presentation will show you some different ways to measure your business and some simple ways to make a little extra cash that might just be the difference you need to pay yourself a bonus this year.

If you just read those and said, “Dang, I could use this!” pass this post along to your DDA Director, your Chamber of Commerce, your Main Street Director, your Economic Development Director, your Shop Local director, and tell them, “Dang, we could use this!”

(Heck, you don’t even need one of those organizations. Just get a few other small businesses together and give me a call.)

Then contact me. We’ll go over what it would cost, creative ways to finance it, how to get the food and venues, and what dates to schedule this fall to have some fun helping small businesses grow and thrive, all while having lunch.

Sound yummy to you?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not within that two-hour drive? No worries. Instead of four lunches, we’ll do one big brunch and put all four lessons into a three-hour workshop. Call me.

PPS The beauty of what you’ll learn in these tracks is that the dividends are immediate. With many of the lessons you’ll see results right away. Having this information fresh in your mind leading into the busy holiday season will make a huge impact on your bottom line this year. Lets get some dates locked in now.

PPPS If you’re in Oakland County, MSOC is already working on the budget for 2019. Contact John Bry at MSOC and let him know you want in. If you want something this fall, however, check with the other organizations in your community to see if they will help you organize this.

Ask Your Customers What They Want

The one “service” my biggest competitor had that I didn’t was a Birthday Club. I wanted one for my customers. I already knew one thing I would do differently. That was the big Birthday Bell you got to ring when you came in to celebrate your birthday. What you probably don’t know was that I actually wanted a bigger bell than the 32-pound brass bell we ended up getting.

Phil holding the Birthday Bell

I wanted to run a hole through the ceiling and put a little steeple on top of the store with bronze church bell inside. That way, when you rang the bell, not only would everyone in the store know you were celebrating your birthday, so would everyone outside the store.

Unfortunately that would be a potential violation of the noise ordinance, so we went with the indoor bell.

The two parts of the Birthday Club I wasn’t sure about were the offer and the age limit. So I asked my fans on Facebook.

I first asked what people got from other birthday clubs for kids. Most birthday clubs offered a small coupon good on a larger purchase with a limited time frame to redeem. The general sentiment was that $2 and $3 coupons, especially when they came with strings attached such as a limited window to redeem and a minimum purchase, were of little interest to the child and often not enough to even garner a visit to the store. That was useful information. I knew I had to go big or go home.

With this knowledge, I sent out a postcard that was a $10 gift certificate—no strings attached. Well, okay, we had one string attached. It could only be used by the birthday person. Period. How that person used it was up to the individual. The postcard never expired. The postcard didn’t have to be used with anything else. There was no minimum purchase (although you didn’t get change back if the purchase was less than $10).

A lot of people gave us the postcard and 59 cents for their birthday purchase ($9.99 plus 60 cents for MI sales tax).

A lot of people spent way more.

Our average ticket for the birthday postcard was just under $30, which meant we made a profit (albeit a small one) on those transactions. More importantly, the postcards drove traffic. Over the last couple years we averaged over 300 postcards a month. That’s over 10 per day. Imagine ten happy customers ringing a bell and having fun spending their free money. Not only did it create excitement in the store and drive traffic, it drove word-of-mouth advertising. Everyone took pictures and video of their kids ringing the birthday bell that they posted on social media. On top of that, it created lifelong memories. I have had several customers come up to me since we closed saying that was the one thing they miss the most!

I had one more question to ask … “How long should the Birthday Club last?” Some stores aged you out at 10 years old, some at 12 years old. I wondered what my customers thought.

When I asked that question of my fans on Facebook one mom answered, “40?”

I didn’t need any more answers (although I got several that echoed her sentiment). I knew right then and there our Birthday Club would have no age limit. Sure, some of the parents and grandparents used their postcards to buy gifts for the little ones. Some, however, bought stuff for themselves. One young lady celebrated her 96th birthday by ringing the bell and buying two new decks of cards.

Without asking my customers, I might have structured the Birthday Club quite differently and it wouldn’t have been the successful program it was.

Toy House Birthday Bell

Find out what your customers want. Give them that and a little more.

We only had the Birthday Club and the Birthday Bell in the last decade of our operations, but it quickly became the highlight and focal point of a visit to Toy House. The bell was engraved and now rests in the capable hands of Ella Sharp Museum where they pull it out for special displays of Jackson’s history.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The Birthday Club worked on a variety of different levels. The ringing of the larger-than-life, 32-pound brass bell was about creating memories and spreading the word through social media posts. Rarely a day went by that we weren’t tagged in a photo or video somewhere. The $10 gift certificate was an act of generosity that outshone our competitors and positioned us as being more customer-centric than they were with all the strings attached. The no expiration on the postcard allowed customers flexibility for using it whenever it worked best for them. One family saved them all up and made a family trip in for everyone to spend their cards on one special day. One family was always traveling around their daughter’s birthday so they appreciated not having to “use-it-or-lose-it.” Another family held it for their son to celebrate his December birthday in July. Any time you can delight your customers, you should.

PPS If Goodyear had asked its dealers (its customers), I’m sure they could have helped create an even better system that would surprise and delight the end-users more than the frustrations they caused yesterday.

You’re Going to Offend Someone

I heard someone argue that Memorial Day Weekend shouldn’t be about shopping and big sales at the mall. We need to be properly honoring our fallen soldiers. I also heard someone make the same argument about backyard BBQs and trips to the lake/ocean/river/woods. It isn’t about partying, it is about properly honoring our fallen soldiers. It begs the question … What is “properly honoring our fallen soldiers?” You better learn or you will likely offend someone.

Publix has suspended support for an NRA-favoring political candidate after “die-in” protests in their stores. Pretty soon you will see a backlash against Publix from NRA members for withdrawing that support. Either way, someone is going to hate them.

To some people, if you don’t automatically hate President Trump, then you’re a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, religious nut-job. If you even hint at defending any of the President’s actions (or decry any of the President’s actions), you’re going to have haters painting an unfavorable picture of you (whether true or not.)

Some people are offended by the football players who take a knee out of respect for the flag but to protest injustice in America. Others are offended by the NFL for creating a rule demanding they stand to “show respect for the flag.” The camps are divided and no posting of memes is going to change anyone’s mind. Both sides believe they are right and the other is wrong.

The tough part is that in many of these cases you are being forced to pick a side as if the world was black/white and either/or. No matter which side you choose, someone is going to hate you. Even if you don’t choose, your actions will cause someone to choose your side for you. People are looking for new ways to be offended. Tolerance is missing. Nuance is gone. Thoughtful discussion is rare.

Image result for pendulum book
Pendulum by Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew

How do you, as a business, navigate this world of hatred, intolerance, black/white, either/or?

Two months ago I wrote a post about when to take a political stand. The actions and attitudes since then have made it likely that whether you take a political stand or not, someone is going to assign a political stand to you for an action they perceive.

Since you’re going to offend someone anyway, you might as well do it consciously. 

No, I don’t mean pick a cause and go out there and piss a bunch of people off. What I mean is, become even more true to your Core Values. Amplify the Values and Beliefs you already have in everything you do.

If one of your Core Values is Helpfulness, add more ways to help your customers. If one of your Core Values is Nostalgia, add more nostalgic displays and tell more nostalgic stories. If one of your Core Values is Fun, make sure every single part of your business is fun down to the experience in the bathroom and the answer on your answering machine. If one of your Core Values is Education, add new educational signs and new instructional classes.

Evaluate everything in your business from the signs on the front door to the tagline on your receipt to make sure they accurately and boldly show your Values and Beliefs. The more consistent and observable your Values, the better.

  • First, it is easier to be consistent with your Values than try to be someone you are not. People will see right through you. The more consistent your actions are to your beliefs, the more you boost up the visibility of what you believe.
  • Second, the more obvious you are about what you believe and value, the less likely someone can paint you into a corner you don’t wish to be.
  • Third, yes, you will offend people, but primarily only people who don’t share your Values. That’s okay. Your business is at its best when you strongly attract the people who share your Values. Don’t worry about everyone else.
  • Fourth, the more obvious you are, the more likely you will find those people who share your Values. They are much more fun to work with anyway.

Not sure exactly what are your Core Values? Here is a worksheet to help you figure it out.

I’m working on a new resource, too, one that will help you write your Belief Statements. In the meantime, here is an example of I Believe … statements from Toy House. Here is one from LauraJoyWarrior. Here is one from PhilsForum to help you get some ideas flowing.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The stronger a magnet attracts, the stronger that same magnet repels. The more strongly you try to attract people who share your Values and Beliefs, the more strongly you will offend those who don’t share your Values and Beliefs. That’s okay. There are more than enough people who believe what you believe for you to have a rock solid business. Many of them just don’t know about you yet.

PPS This whole black/white, either/or, I’m offended mentality is going to take a few years to disappear. It was perfectly predicted in the book Pendulum by Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew. They predict a lot of other stuff in that book, some that has already come true (including exactly how Donald Trump won the election), and some that won’t be true for another ten, twenty, or forty years. It is a fascinating read and an eye-opener to what is happening around you.

PPPS To show you how easy it is for people to be offended, I saw on social media one person upset because another person thanked a veteran for their service. “Memorial Day is to honor fallen veterans. Veterans Day is to honor the living ones. Get it right!” 

So You Got a Bad Review?

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

If you don’t already have a negative review online about your business, either you’re still too new to have any reviews or you just haven’t found where they posted it. No matter how nice you are, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much training you do, someone somewhere is going to have a beef with you and post it online for the whole world to see.

Image result for hundred dollar billThe big chains get them daily by the hundreds. If I told you those soulless corporations didn’t care, you’d believe me. They do care, but not nearly as much as you do when someone writes something bad about you.

To you, a negative review is like a kick in the gut. It is a dagger to the heart. You read it over and over, fretting about what you could have done differently. You worry about it, lose sleep over it, and turn a few more hairs gray. You’re ready to fire staff members and change everything you’ve done. At the very least you’ve gone out back behind the building where no one can hear you and let a few choice words fly.

Before you start drinking heavily and contemplating a mass firing of your team while writing a nasty reply to the reviewer, STOP!

Bad reviews are part of the game of being a retailer. How you respond to them is part of your brand image and marketing. Before flying off the handle with a criticism of the reviewer, stop and take a deep breath. In fact, the best thing you can do with a bad review is not respond right away while you’re still emotional. Instead take a moment to review the review.

Ask these questions internally …

  • Was it an attack on an employee and what he or she did? If so, talk to the employee and make sure they know the right thing to do. (Don’t accuse them of doing the wrong thing, just focus on doing the right thing in the future.)
  • Was it an attack on a policy you have and how it was enforced? Take a look at the policy and see whether it needs changing, it needs flexibility, or it just is what it is and there is nothing you can do.
  • Was it a misunderstanding between the reviewer and what your staff meant to say/do? See how you can eliminate this misunderstanding in the future.
  • Was it a legitimate complaint that needs a follow-up? See if you can contact the reviewer individually and settle the problem.
  • Was it just completely unfounded and patently false? (See below)

Be honest in your answers to these questions. Often a negative review is a legitimate complaint about a policy you have that might be more business-friendly and less customer-friendly. It might also be exactly what you needed so that you knew what your staff was doing behind your back, and how certain team members were treating your customers when you weren’t around.

If you respond to a negative review (and that is a huge IF), you should only do so for one reason—to thank the person for their review and apologize for their experience.

People are going to read your bad reviews. More importantly, they are going to read how you responded to those reviews. If all you do is get defensive and try to combat the reviewer, everyone else will believe that you’re hostile and not open to suggestions. If all you do is stoop to the level of the reviewer, you’re no better than them.

Instead say something like, “Thank you for making us aware of [the situation.] I am sorry that you had such an experience. The staff and I have discussed this at length to make sure we don’t have this problem again. We hope that you will give us the opportunity to serve you in the future.”

You don’t have to admit there was a problem. (Most often, negative reviews are based on misunderstandings.) You only have to own up to the fact that a customer, whether by her own actions or yours, had a bad experience in your store. “I’m sorry,” goes a long way to healing that experience and making others believe you are a caring company.

Most importantly, when you respond like this, the other people reading the review will see that you responded and apologized and took steps to correct the problem. That not only reassures them that they won’t have the same problem if they visit your store, but also that you are willing to listen to customers and put their needs first. That perception is what wins hearts and loyalty.

THE OUTRAGEOUS NEGATIVE REVIEW

You’ll get a bad review from time to time that has no basis in reality. It is simply bashing you for no reason or a made-up reason. Those don’t deserve a response. Leave them alone. The people that write these kinds of reviews probably won’t respond, even if you do try to engage. If they do respond, someone willing to write something that false will continue to write BS so you’ll never win. Either report them, block them, or ignore them. Don’t ever try to engage with them.

Most people who read reviews online will do like the judges in certain sporting events. They’ll throw out the best and worst reviews and read all the ones in-between.

There is only one response to those completely unfounded, totally false, negative reviews. Simply say, “Thank you for this review. We will look into it.” The other readers will see that you take all reviews seriously, and that is far more important than getting into a shouting match, being defensive, or calling someone out for being a loon.

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

Negative reviews, like credit card fees, are part of the cost of doing business. Don’t take them personally. Don’t attack the reviewer. Don’t go on the defensive. Do answer a few questions internally and see if there are steps you can take to reduce these types of reviews in the future.

If you make your policies customer-friendly, your staff highly trained, and your store an experience of wonder and delight, those negative reviews will be heavily outweighed by the positive ones.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sometimes your policy is the way it is for reasons beyond your control. We got a negative review for not taking back a used breast pump. Because of bodily fluids, we weren’t allowed to take it back. Occasionally you’ll have something like that. A short, simple, it-is-out-of-our-control explanation is okay in a situation like that. Otherwise, take the high road Every. Single. Time. Period. Period. Period. Other people are more concerned with your response than with the actual review, and what they think is all that matters.

PPS If someone has a legitimate complaint, see if you can solve it offline. Once solved, go back to the review (if they haven’t taken it down) and thank them for the opportunity to work with them to solve the problem. To the people reading the reviews, this is sometimes more powerful than having zero negative reviews. The average person knows you aren’t a one hundred dollar bill, too.

Your Advertising Media Reference Guide

Here are links to the recent posts on how to best use the different advertising media. Like I said before, all advertising works and all advertising doesn’t work. It depends on two factors, how you use the media and what you say (work on that last one first, then pick the media best suited to say it.) You’re going to want to bookmark this page and share it with your fellow business owners. Before you spend a penny on advertising, spend a few minutes reading these posts.

Television – The Super Bowl of Ads: Television is a powerful branding tool and a powerful direct marketing tool. The downside is it is expensive and people spend as much time and energy trying to avoid TV commercials as they do trying to see TV content.

Radio – The Marathoner: Radio works best for long-term branding campaigns. You can reach a lot of people at a reasonable rate. You just need a great copywriter to craft the kind of ads that can get people’s attention. Boring ads that sound like everyone else are where most radio dollars are wasted.

Billboards – The Drive-By Advertising: In terms of eyeballs per dollar, billboards are one of the best values out there … As long as you can tell a heartfelt story in one picture and six words.

Does Newsprint Even Exist Anymore? Even though it has fallen out of favor with most advertisers, newsprint (whether in print or on a screen) advertising can work if you remember to create the ad the same way a journalist creates a story. You need an engaging picture and a killer headline to grab someone’s attention with this passive media.

Magazines – Speaking to the Tribe: Magazines are newsprint without the daily frequency or the large readership. That’s the downside. The upside is that the niche readership of the magazine means their readers are already qualified members of your tribe. Speak their language and win their hearts.

Why Email Works (And When it Doesn’t): One of the more affordable ways to reach your current customer base to get them back into your store. This post includes tips for getting better open rates and more traffic in the store.

Shares, Comments and Likes (How to Get Facebook to Work for You): Social media is exactly that—social! When you learn how to have two-way conversations and how to reach customers in a way that makes them interact, you’ll find the time you spend on social media is finally worthwhile.

Websites – The Silent Salesman: In today’s retail landscape where everyone has the Internet in their pocket, you need a website. Here are some tips for how to build a website worthy of your brand.

Direct Mail – Do the Math: Direct Mail is for Direct Marketing. You need a relevant offer at a relevant time to a relevant audience to make it work. You also need to know the math to see if the ROI is worth it. This post shows you the math.

Yes You Can Buy Word-of-Mouth Advertising: The most effective form of advertising is Word-of-Mouth. It has always been that way. This post shows you where to put your “advertising” money if you want to get people to talk about you.

Google AdWords – Wasted Money or Well Worth It? When you have a great solution and can convince people of that on a single web page, you can get a lot of customers through Google AdWords. If you don’t have a great solution or cannot communicate that solution well, you can blow through a lot of money quickly with little to no effect.

Mobile Marketing – Winning the Transactional Customer Today: Mobile marketing works well for making a Direct Marketing offer, but be careful how you use it. If you have a “deal-of-the-day” or are a restaurant with daily “chef’s specials” it can be highly effective, but as a branding tool, it won’t get the job done.

Movie Ads, Placemats, Yellow Pages, and More: Here are some of those other more obscure and/or obsolete media someone may try to pitch you. Be wary.

If there are other media you are considering that aren’t covered here, let me know. I’d be happy to explore the ideas with you. As always, if you ever have a question about your marketing and advertising, whether it is about your message, your media choice, or anything else, send me an email.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If none of these forms of advertising are in your budget, go to the Free Resources page and download one of my Marketing on a Shoestring Budget pdf’s. You’ll find a few more tools to throw into your marketing and advertising toolbox.

Yes You Can Buy Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Celebrity endorsements don’t work like they used to. Sure, some fanboys will buy a particular brand because their favorite star told them, but the general public knows these actors, athletes, and entertainers only promote the stuff they get paid to promote. We see right through the pay-to-say ploy and aren’t convinced to buy.

The idea behind celebrity endorsements, however, was a sound investment at one time because Word-of-Mouth advertising was and still is the best, most powerful form of advertising. You are far more likely to try a new brand or a new store or a new product because someone you know and trust told you than you are because that brand or store told you.

The majority of Americans see advertising as the hype that it is. According to an omnichannel retail study done by Euclid, only 53% of Baby Boomers are inspired by traditional advertising to try something new. Generation X is even more skeptical at 40%, and the Millennials are under 33%.

After spending the last two weeks trying to tell you how to use traditional advertising more effectively, I’ve just linked you to a study that says the majority of shoppers won’t believe your ads anyway. (Note: the real reason behind those paltry numbers is because Most Ads Suck and violate the six principles of effective advertising, but that’s a post for another day.)

As the trustworthiness of traditional advertising declines, shoppers are looking more to their friends and family for advice where to shop and what to buy. Word-of-Mouth.

The good news for you is that you can still buy Word-of-Mouth. That’s what celebrity endorsements really are—a company paying someone trusted and known to talk about their products. But I’m not advocating you buy that kind of Word-of-Mouth. The way you buy Word-of-Mouth effectively today can be done four ways:

  • By spending money on the design of your store to make it so fabulous and unexpected that people have to talk about it.
  • By spending money training your staff to the point that they exceed your customer’s expectations to the point your customer has to tell someone just to validate that it really happened.
  • By being so generous giving away the unexpected to your customers, that they have to brag to their friends..
  • By showing off products in your store so outrageous that people have to tell their friends what they saw.
32,000-piece Jigsaw Puzzle!

We sold jigsaw puzzles, over a million pieces worth of jigsaw puzzles a year. (I did the math once.) Mostly we sold 1,000-piece puzzles and 300-piece puzzles, but we showed on the shelf a 32,000-piece puzzle. The box alone weighed forty-two pounds and came with its own little handcart for hauling it away. The finished puzzle was over 17 feet long and over 6 feet tall. I spent $160 to put that puzzle on my shelf. I never expected to sell it. I never really wanted to sell it. In fact, I sold it three times and immediately ordered another one.

Why?

Because every week someone would take a selfie with that puzzle and post it on social media with #toyhouse. It was worth more to me for advertising than the profit from selling one every couple years.

 

I spent $200/board for three chalkboards on the outside of our building where customers could write their own answers to the questions posed on each board.

Why?

Because every time a scavenger hunt took place in the city of Jackson, one of the stops was to write something on that board.

 

I spent another few hundred dollars to create the mileage signpost outside our store.

Why?

Rarely a day went buy that someone didn’t take a picture of that sign with our logo conspicuously in the background. Those pictures invariably made their way onto social media.

I spent about a thousand dollars a year giving away helium balloons free to children of all ages. No questions asked. No purchase necessary.

Why?

Not only did it help with crying children who didn’t want to leave the store, it made it more likely that parents would bring their kids in the store, knowing they could get out the door with a free balloon (and on Saturdays with free popcorn). Many customers told me that was what they bragged to their friends when asked why they shopped at my store.

You can get your customers to talk about you to their friends and family. You just have to do something worth talking about. Spend the money to be fabulous, outrageous, unexpected, and over-the-top and then let your customers do all the advertising for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You can read even more by downloading from the Free Resources section of my website the pdf Generating Word-of-Mouth.

PPS In 2009 Toy House was featured as “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. Every single business in that book got there because of Word-of-Mouth. Whenever George traveled he asked everyone he met about their favorite places to shop. The stores he heard the most made it into the book. In other words, it was worth it for us to spend so much time and money trying to buy Word-of-Mouth. Oh yeah, and it worked, too!

PPPS Here are the links to the posts on the other forms of advertising … Television, Radio, Billboards, Newsprint, Magazines, Websites, Email, Direct Mail, Social Media

Shares, Comments, and Likes (How to Get Facebook to Work For You)

I remember when I first joined Facebook. I was connecting to friends I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. It was amazing! Reconnecting with old friends, conversing with current friends, and staying on top of who is celebrating a birthday today have made Facebook one of my pleasures. (I don’t call it a “guilty” pleasure because it is part of my life and also part of my business to understand how FB works for retailers—at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

I remember when we launched the Toy House page. The excitement from new likes was amazing. It was so new and shiny and free. I watched the numbers like a hawk to see what would move the needle the most.

The experts began predicting Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest to be the new darlings of advertising and that more typical media like Television and Radio would suffer. Heck, people wouldn’t even need a website if they had a Facebook page. That was the common thinking back then. It’s still the common thinking right now. And it is still wrong, and about to get worse*.

Oh, I’m not saying Facebook and other social media outlets aren’t effective as advertising platforms. They just aren’t as effective as they are made out to be. Let’s take a quick look at Facebook.

The upside to Facebook is two-fold:

  • You can connect to your current customer base and talk to them as often as you want for free.
  • You can pay to boost your posts or pay to advertise to reach more people relatively cheaply.

The downsides, however, will make you rethink your strategy.

  • Your free, organic reach is seriously throttled by the algorithms of Facebook because they would rather that you pay to get seen.
  • Even when you do pay, there is no way for you to guarantee the people you paid to reach actually saw your post.
  • Just like newsprint, Facebook posts are a passive form of media.

Think about all the businesses your friends convinced you to like. How often do they show up in your feed? Not very often. Yet you are constantly bombarded with “suggested posts.” Those are the boosted posts that make Mark Zuckerberg a gabillionaire.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a Facebook page or use other social media outlets. They serve a far greater purpose than simply an advertising platform. That was the first thing most businesses got wrong when they got onto Facebook (myself included). We used it the way we used all other forms of advertising—to talk at you.

They are called social media for a reason. They aren’t meant for talking at people. They are meant for engaging with people and having conversations. They are tools for getting feedback and insights from your fan base.

Your first goal with your Facebook page should be to get feedback, to hear from your customer base. Ask them questions. Engage with them. Listen to their insights.

336 Shares and over 24,000 Views!

When we were getting ready to launch our Birthday Club I asked the Toy House fans how long the club should last. Some stores stopped at 10 years old, others at 12. One of my customers suggested 40. That suggestion was all I needed to say “no limit”. In the summer of 2016 we had a woman celebrate her 94th birthday by ringing the bell and buying a couple decks of playing cards with her Birthday Gift Certificate.

Another of my favorite engagement posts was taking a picture of two competing items and asking the question, “Which do you prefer?” I did that with Barbie and Groovy Girl dolls, figuring Barbie would win hands down. Much to my surprise the first nine people said Groovy Girls. The tenth person said, “I was gonna say Barbie, but now I guess I better check out those Groovy Girls.”

Keys to Organic Reach

The best way to get past the algorithm that holds your posts back is engagement. If you have 1000 fans, your initial post will only go out to a tiny fraction of them, maybe 10-20 people. If they engage, Facebook will release your post to a few more fans. If they engage, you’ll reach even more, and so on. If none of the first 10-20 engage, your post is sunk. In the rock, paper, scissors hierarchy of Facebook, Shares beat Comments, Comments beat Likes, Likes beat yawns.

If you want to reach people on Facebook without paying for it, you need to post Shareworthy stuff. (credit Tim Miles for coining the word “shareworthy”) You need to post things people want to pass along. The Share is the gold currency because not only does it get your post released to more of your fans, it reaches people who aren’t your fans (yet) by reaching the friends of your fans who share.

People love to share:

  • Links to articles that are important to your fan base
  • Funny pictures & videos
  • Touching, heartfelt stories

If you want to reach people on Facebook without paying, you also need to get comments. People respond to:

  • Questions
  • Polls

If you want to reach people on Facebook without paying, you have to avoid certain triggers that throttle you back even more, like:

  • Dates and times
  • Exclamation Points!!!
  • Words like Sale, Deal, Discount, % Off, or Event
  • WORDS IN ALL CAPS

Yes, it is a game trying to figure out how to get more free, organic reach. In fact, one fun thing you can do is make it a game with your staff. Turn all of your team into Admins for your page, then hold a weekly contest. Allow everyone the opportunity to post twice per day whatever they think is appropriate for the business. At the end of the week give $20 to the person who got the most shares and $10 for the person who got the most comments. Do this for five weeks. It will cost you $150, but the research you’ll have will be priceless! It will also increase the number of fans you have dramatically.

Keys to Paid Reach

Whether you choose to boost a post or pay for an ad (here is a good link for the differences between those two options), the key to success is the same as any passive media like newsprint or magazines. You have to have a picture and headline interesting enough to grab people’s attention and compelling enough to make them want to click. Anything less and you’ve wasted your money.

Facebook and other social media platforms can be effective ways to reach customers if you make engagement your goal. The more people Share, Comment, and Like what you are posting, you’ll keep reaching more people. Otherwise, they are simply a digital form of the newspaper ad everyone seemed to ignore.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Twitter is even more about engagement and conversation than Facebook. Treat it that way. Pinterest is more about idea sharing. If you sell something used in a crafty way or for decorating, Pinterest can be a phenomenal way to share how to use your products. Find a clever way to include your logo and web address in each picture in an unobtrusive-yet-impossible-to-crop-out way.

PPS *Facebook is looking to remove organic business page posts from your newsfeed altogether, and put them into a separate tab buried deep in the lefthand column of your feed. They’ve already done that in some countries to “test” it. You only see your friends’ posts and paid posts. As a Facebook user, I don’t like that. I “liked” business pages so that I could hear from them. But FB doesn’t keep the stockholders happy that way. One way as a business to get around that problem is to make sure everyone on your team shares every post you make, even if they have to go find your page to do so. (Heck, you should be having them do that anyway.)

Now is Not the Time to Panic

Long before there was ever Cyber Monday, there was Letdown Monday. You worked incredibly hard gearing up for Black Friday (and now Small Business Saturday). You planned events, did marketing, trained the staff, decorated the store, and had a nice busy weekend. Then Monday hits and you wonder where all the customers went.

You feel a little letdown. You feel a little worried that you didn’t get enough momentum to carry you through the season. You worry that Cyber Monday is stealing your dollars while you sit there feeling helpless. You start to wonder why you didn’t put more energy into building your own website, or why you didn’t plan a lot of deals for Cyber Monday to keep the customers in your store, or that you have too much inventory, or that you don’t have enough inventory.

In the immortal words of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic!

Image result for hitchhiker's guide to the galaxyI know the feelings of this week. I lived it for twenty three years, and lived with it for another twenty seven. The slowdown from the busy weekend gives you too much time to think about what you might have done differently, what you haven’t done, and what you’re afraid might happen.

That’s a natural reaction, but not all that productive. I’m here to put it all into perspective.

First, let’s talk about the slowdown. It is a natural ebb of the season. Happens Every. Single. Year. The busiest days of the year are typically:

  • Saturday before Christmas
  • December 23rd
  • Second Saturday before Christmas
  • Black Friday/Small Business Saturday
  • First Saturday in December

This year the 23rd of December happens to be on a Saturday making it extra special. Also you get a bonus of having four Saturdays in December prior to Christmas. Still plenty of big days to get the sales you need. You just won’t get many this week because there are too many days before customers truly get into that Christmas mood. This year, with Thanksgiving extra early, you have a long season. Expect a little customer (and staff) burnout.

The slowest week of your season is this week.

This is not the week to panic. This is the week to prepare. 

In a marathon race everyone sprints off the line. That’s Black Friday. Then they settle into their strategy. That’s this week and next. Finally, they go into their kick down the homestretch. That is your last two weeks. Now is strategy time. Now is preparation time.

  • Put a little extra time into training your staff. Work on role play, on greeting customers, on working with multiple customers at the same time.
  • Put a little extra time into decorating. Sure, you got it done for last weekend, but now is a good time to tweak it, upgrade it, spruce it up. Make it extra special because for the next few weeks customers will actually have the time to appreciate it more than they did in the frenzy of last weekend.
  • Put a little extra time into merchandising. Highlight the high-profit stuff you really want to move. Put the stuff they come in asking for by name at the back of the store so that your customers travel past everything else to get there.
  • Put a little extra time into Social Media. Start polls. Compare two items side by side. Share heartwarming stories. Tell the backgrounds of you, your store, your staff, your vendors, etc. Don’t make it about discounts or drawing traffic. Make it human and interesting,
  • Put a little extra time into you. Do something nice for yourself this week. Your staff can handle it. Take some time to go shopping (if you haven’t already). Take some time to catch a movie or go to a show or go outdoors. Those little things will keep you refreshed for those last two weeks that will be busy enough.

If you are worried about your inventory, keep this in mind. The last week before Christmas will be approximately ten percent of your entire yearly sales. If you don’t have enough inventory for that, then do some buying this week. Other than restocking a few hot items that will sell well after Christmas, too, trust your inventory levels and go have some fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It is too easy to second-guess everything based on last weekend. Unfortunately, that’s the worst barometer you have. The only time to properly analyze the season is after it is over. Right now your only job is to prepare this week to make those last two weeks the best ever.

Online Advertising: What They Say, What You Get

I have a bad habit. I like to play games in my iPad right before going to bed. I know I’m not supposed to have screen time before bed, but it settles me down and helps me clear my mind. My favorite game to play is Free Cell. It is a form of solitaire and extremely addicting. I’m on level 408. It takes about ten wins to get to the next level, so you can get an idea how often I play.

I’m also kinda stingy. It’s already expensive enough that I use my iPad primarily for playing Free Cell and as my alarm clock. I refuse to pay to have ad-free game play while playing Free Cell. So between every game I wait for the ad to pop up and then close it as soon as I can. Usually it is just an ad for another game they think I would like. Every now and then I get some annoying video ads—reason #1 why I keep the volume off.

Last night I got something new. I got a local ad. It was for one of our candidates for Mayor. Nice shot of him smiling at the camera and talking about something. (I had the volume off so I don’t know what he said, but I’ve seen his campaign material and known him long enough to have an idea.)

Here’s the problem …

I got his ad between every game I played last night. Every. Single. Game. I played about three-and-a-half levels. Do the math.

Please vote!

Worse yet, I don’t live in the city. I don’t get to vote for or against him regardless of how many times his video played.

I will definitely ask him how much he spent on that ad. I want to know what they told him and sold him, because I doubt he got his actual money’s worth.

Therein lies the rub with online advertising. It is a numbers game, they tell you. It is a cheap way to reach a lot of people, they tell you. It reaches all the right people, they tell you. I’ve been pitched by online advertising salespeople many times before. I know the script.

Yet here was a guy running for Mayor on a tight budget in a small city. He got that pitch and because he is a politician, not a business person, he fell for it. And for his money, he got his ad sent to one guy thirty-five times who doesn’t live in the city, can’t vote for him, and didn’t even have the volume on to hear what he had to say.

Imagine how many more people like me also were bombarded by his ad. If I would have had the volume on, I might have liked his pitch the first three or four times I heard it, but by version #35, I might have switched sides for the seventh time. Then again, I don’t get to vote tomorrow for or against him.

They tell you online advertising is cheap because it is targeted directly at the people you want to reach. False. He didn’t want to reach me.

They tell you online advertising is cheap because you can reach tons of people for a fraction of the price. False. You can’t control how many times the same person sees your ad, versus new people seeing your ad. Heck, last spring CNBC reported that 20% or $16.4 billion dollars of online advertising is wasted due to fraud, reaching fake people (probably with fake news).

They tell you online advertising is where the millennials are. False. Go ask your millennial friends how many times they have purposefully clicked an online ad. You don’t have to ask, because you already know.

Proctor & Gamble just cut $140 million from their online advertising budget because they realized how ineffective it was.

My buddy Tim Miles shared this link with me about the top ten problems with online advertising.

I’m telling you this now, because in the next few weeks you’re going to panic, just like every retailer does this time of year. You’re going to be afraid that you haven’t done enough to advertise your business. You’re going to get pitched by someone selling online advertising as cheap, targeted, and effective. You’ll be intrigued, partly because of your panic, partly because it is the shiny, new bauble in the advertising world. Then you’re going to spend like a drunk in Vegas on a gamble where the odds are not in your favor.

Think of this blog as your black coffee and aspirin to the rescue.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Want to reach a bunch of targeted people online incredibly cheaply and effectively? Take pictures or quick videos of your products and say something completely memorable and shareworthy about the products. Post those daily (at the least) on all your social media platforms and share them on your own personal pages. You won’t reach everyone, but the more shareworthy you make it, the more people will share it with their friends, which is exactly what you want to happen. Best of all, it is free! (It is all about “shares” not “likes” so you have to say things people want to pass on.)

PPS Enjoy it while you can, however. Facebook is experimenting with a separate feed for friends and for business pages, which will bury your posts completely unless you pay FB. I’m following this and will report back when I know more.

Sleds, Stories, and Certain Death

My favorite sled is heading into its nineteenth year of service. I got it the year Parker was born. It is an ugly orange plastic sled with no fancy features. It isn’t eye-catching or sleek in design. It isn’t decked out with racing stripes or shiny vinyl that makes you think it will fly down the hill at supersonic speeds. There is nothing about this sled that would make you choose it over all the other fancy ones on the shelves.

Yet it still remains my favorite because it is still the fastest sled on the hill. It still travels farther faster than any of those other sleds. Oh, and it will hold me and two boys with ease (even now in their teenage years!)

When the boys were just five and two I took them to Michigan’s number one rated sledding hill—The Cascades. There are two sides to the hill. The north side is steeper and dominated by the older kids. The south side is gentler—as long as you take the long path toward the playground equipment. Take a left turn toward the east and you hit some bumps and trees and have a shorter trip toward the road.

Most sleds don’t have to worry about the road. It is too far away.

The fastest, ugliest sled on Michigan’s best sledding hill!

My sled is not most sleds.

Have you ever watched a trainwreck about to happen, knowing there was nothing you could do to stop it? The whole world slows, just like in the movies. I had that happen this fateful day.

I put both boys in the sled and gave them a push toward the playground. Then I watched with horror as the sled veered left toward the trees. It was just then I realized the boys were too young and inexperienced to know to flip the sled over and bail out before you hit a tree. They were also moving too fast for me to be able to yell anything they could hear. I momentarily thought about running after them. That was fruitless. They were already entering the bumps and careening toward the pines.

I took my first breath as they missed the opening row of trees. I held my breath as they zoomed past those pines on their way to the road.

The road at the bottom of the hill makes a curve, sweeping around a concrete embankment. Although the posted speed limit is 20 mph, many cars take that blind corner at 30 or 35. I could only pray no cars were coming as the boys hurtled onward across the small parking lot toward the road. No one would see that ugly orange sled with two young kids until it was too late.

My stomach dropped another foot. My heart leapt up into my throat. Time … Stood … Still …

I was already trying to figure out what I would say to their mom about how I killed our boys.

The sled finally lost momentum just as they reached the curb. The snow plows had made a small embankment on the curve, and I watched terrified as the boys went up that embankment and teetered on the edge for eternity before sliding safely backwards away from the road.

I let out the breath I had been holding and dropped to my knees. The boys came rushing back up the hill. “Do it again! Do it again!”

It is the ugliest sled on the hill, and just as expensive as its more sleek rivals. I’ve been using that exact same sled for 19 years and wouldn’t change it for the world.

You would never pick this sled off the shelf amongst its prettier rivals. But when you want the fastest, farthest ride on Michigan’s top-rated sledding hill, there are none that will beat it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This post is about Word-of-Mouth. We’ve been talking about WOM all week. You have heard that Stories Sell. Stories sell for several reasons.

  • Stories are interesting and get people engaged.
  • Stories are emotional
  • Stories are memorable
  • Stories are shareworthy

When you tell stories about your products, people remember and relate to those products—whether they need the product or not. That last part is the key. They remember that product when they run into someone else who needs that product. Then they tell that person about the product for you. I could have told you about how the plastic on this sled is twice as thick as the other sleds of its type making it more rigid, which gives it speed, and makes it more durable. But you might not remember that. You will, however, remember the story of the two young boys hurtling to their death because the sled was too fast.

I told this story on Facebook years ago for Toy House back when I had about 1500 fans. The story got shared a dozen times and reached over 5000 people. When you tell shareworthy stories, your fans spread the word for you. You have stories to tell about your products, your vendors, your founding. Share the funny, scary, and touching stories and you will see your word-of-mouth advertising go up dramatically.

PPS This is what Facebook, Instagram, and other social media are best suited for. Go tell your stories.