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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.

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.

Asking Questions, Playing Games, Laughing, and Learning

Occasionally I go back to my old blog posts to see how things have changed in retail. Sometimes I see how things have stayed the same. Here is something I wrote almost ten years ago on December 3, 2008

The best stores have a staff that listens, that repeats back what a customer says and asks questions to clarify everything so that there is no misunderstanding. We may not be the best listeners all the time, but we’re working on it. Would you be surprised to know that the last ten staff trainings were on communication?

Nine years and five months later I wrote …

Once again, a properly trained staff makes a huge difference. This team knew that by asking questions they could get to know the customer better. Getting to know the customer better allowed them to pull better pieces that more closely matched the customers’ needs.

I read that last line from the 2008 passage and immediately opened my 2008 file with the notes of all our staff meetings. (Yes, I have kept those notes all these years. You never know when you’ll need that info again.) Did I really do ten straight staff trainings on communication? Yes, indeed.

It started on January 14, 2008 with my favorite staff training activity of all time where we “raised the bar” and everyone had to go over it. On March 10th of that year we worked on how to communicate with customers “when something goes wrong”. On April 7th we focused on communication among team members so that we could pass customers to other sales people, make sure all areas of the store were covered, and have better communication between our buyers and our sellers.

When I got to October 20th, the memories hit me like a tsunami. I remember when I got the idea for this meeting. My Goal for the meeting was to help my team learn how to listen better, ask better questions, and decipher what customers were trying to say. As with all my staff meetings, it started with … This will be a successful meeting if my staff learned the importance of asking questions and understanding that even when the customer doesn’t know the name of the product, with a little work we can figure out exactly what they need.

I was awake one night flipping channels when the television show Whose Line is it Anyway? with Drew Carey came on. I knew instantly the Task that would lead us to our Goal.

The staff was split into two teams to play a series of four games.

The first game was called Questions. One person from each team squared off. They were each assigned a character and then they were given a product. The two then had to try to sell the product to the other person with two rules. First, they could only use questions. Second, they had to stay in character. The game went until one of the rules was broken.

The second game was Worst Ad Ever. Each person drew a product name out of a hat. They had to go find the product and then do the worst infomercial ever for that product. You might think this would be easy, silly, and pointless. The staff, however, found it to be a little more challenging. First, they had to know the product. You can’t act dumb about something until you are smart about it. Second, they learned more about each product that was featured. Mostly, though, they learned more about what not to say so that they would catch themselves and each other whenever they went into some Ron Popeil inspired pitch.

The third game was my favorite. I called it Santa’s Sack. Four people got up at once and drew product names out of a hat. Each person now had to pretend he or she was that product sitting in Santa’s Sack getting excited about the child who was about to receive them as a gift. They had to hold a conversation with each other about that excitement and their recipient without saying what product they were. The rest of the team had to guess the products.

Not only were they learning to talk about products based on what they did rather than what they were, they were tapping into the excitement that each item they sold was going to be a gift for someone special. They were learning to transfer that excitement onto the customer.

The last game was Toy Taboo. In the game Taboo you are given a word you need others to guess. You are also given a list of words you cannot say, words that are taboo. I created several cards with different products and related words they couldn’t say. For instance, LEGO was one word. The taboo words were Construction, Brick, Building, and Plastic. The lesson was simple, learn to describe toys in unique ways and you’ll be better at deciphering the descriptions our customers gave for toys they didn’t know the name.

We laughed a lot at that meeting. We laughed a lot at most of our meetings. We learned a lot, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’m not sure if this is a post about communication or a post about staff trainings. I’ll let you decide.

PPS If you look at this post as a Staff Training post, one added benefit of the games we played was that it got everyone up and acting. When you have to act and perform and be goofy in front of your peers, you lose your fears of interacting with strangers.

PPPS If you look at this post as being about Communication, listening, asking questions, and clarifying are three amazing tools that will help you close more sales.

“Everything Cheaper Somewhere Else”

I used to hate anonymous commenting on news articles and blog posts. It is so easy to hide behind a pseudonym and take unsubstantiated potshots at people and businesses, spread rumors, and even spread downright lies.

As a retailer, I took every negative comment and review of my business personally. Some of them hurt, especially when they weren’t true. The misunderstandings were one thing but the outright lies were the worst. They cut to the bone.

I remember one day in the infancy of online news when a fellow downtown business owner alerted me to comments posted on an online news story that attacked both my store and me personally. He warned me not to read them. I didn’t heed his warnings.

One person had taken it upon him or herself to just rip the business up one side and down the other, calling us, among other things, price-gougers who were just out to destroy the little people in town. This person claimed that he or she could find everything we sold in our store cheaper online.

I took offense to the first part. The person posting the comment had no idea what I paid myself or my staff or our profit margin or what we gave to charity or what causes we supported. I am a forgiving person, though. I will forgive them their ignorance.

The second part, however, was pretty much true. Not only could that person show you the items cheaper, I probably could, too. After all, I had Internet access. I could also show you sites and stores where just about everything we sold was more expensive than our prices. That exists, too.

In fact, if prices weren’t fluid across different channels, Retail would look a whole lot different and be a lot less fun. Everyone would pretty much do the same thing and charge the same for it. Yawn.

Image result for valueRetail is a game, and the game can be boiled down to this … Find the Value you can give the customer that will make it worthwhile for them to pay the price you wish to charge.

At the ballpark they charge you more for a single beer than you would pay for a twelve-pack at the store. You buy it because you want to drink a beer during the game. There is enough Value in enjoying that beer while watching the game that makes you pay the price. (Don’t want to pay their outrageous prices? You can eat before you go to the ballpark. Most people can handle 3-4 hours between eating. You can also drink water for free. They have to provide it to you.)

People call them price-gougers all the time. It doesn’t stop them from raising their prices and making money. They offer you the Value of being at the game and watching the action in person.

The real question you need to ask yourself as a retailer is … What Value are you adding to the equation and will that Value be enough to get people to pay your prices?

You can add Value in several ways. You can:

  • Offer services other stores don’t have (i.e. layaway, free gift-wrapping, assembly, delivery)
  • Curate the selection to help customers get only the best solutions
  • Align your business with a social cause
  • Offer follow-up services (such as the free 30-day riding tuneup that we used to offer with every bike we sold)
  • Build relationships to the point that the customer feels as much ownership in your store as you do.

Any one of those is a way to “play” the Retail Game. Play more than a few of them and you’ll never worry about how someone can find “everything cheaper somewhere else.”

Were we the lowest priced game in town? Nope. Never tried to win that race to the bottom. But in a 2007 survey of Jackson County residents about stores that sell toys in Jackson, we were rated as having the highest “Value” ahead of Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, Kmart, and Meijer (all whom love to advertise their “lowest prices”.)

What Value are you adding to the equation?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have a good friend also named Phil who also ran a toy and baby store in the other Jackson (MS) who never liked MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) because it made everyone price their goods at the same price. He said true merchants have no problem with the undercutting of prices on the Internet because they know how to offer Value and make sales at higher margins. As much as you hate to admit it, he’s right. MAP only protects you at the margin the vendor thinks you should make, not the margin you deserve for all the value you offer.

PPS As for anonymous negative comments online, if they are an attack on your character or the character of your business, ignore them completely. Your actions speak louder than your words. Use your actions to prove that person wrong. If the comments are simply something misunderstood, you can respond for clarification, but only if you can substantiate your claims without putting down the person who made the comment. More often than not, however, it is best to ignore anonymous comments, period. I’ll talk about how to respond to Reviews in a future post.

PPPS A few of those ways to play involve the skills and training you give to your front line staff. As I pointed out before, that is probably the easiest way to add the kind of Value your competitors are not adding to their equations.

Here is What Winning Looks Like – Sweetlees Boutique

Sometimes it is easy to talk about the mistakes retailers make and simply caution you to not make those same mistakes. I’d like to share with you a story of an experience that went right. A long-time Toy House customer, my boys’ piano teacher, and dear friend Jen sent this to me. In her words …

“Well, the basic story was this…. you know where it’s going right?

Image result for sweetlees boutique mason miI went to a small locally owned (in Mason, MI) women’s boutique, Sweetlees Boutique. (Because I will tell everyone about how amazing it was, and where to find them—160 E. Ash St, Mason, MI 48854.) The workers were so attentive offering to find you sizing, suggesting things they thought would look good on your body. They were fitting both my mom and I who couldn’t be more different in that department, and they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try. Amazing experience. Both my mom and I purchased something. It was our first time there and we will definitely go back again.”

Let’s unpack that to see what they did so right.

“The workers were so attentive …”

How many times have you been in a retail establishment where you couldn’t even find an employee, let alone one who seemed remotely interested in helping you? The Wall Street Journal just wrote Monday about the dearth of employees in retail stores. Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers since 2008. Think about that number when you’re looking for someone the next time you visit a department store.

Think even harder about that number when you’re making out the next schedule for your store. Are you making a schedule to minimize payroll or maximize sales? If you think of your staff as your greatest expense, you’ll do the former. If you think of your staff as your greatest asset, you’ll do the latter.

“… suggesting things they thought would look good on your body.”

At one time this was the norm in a women’s clothing store. It was the expectation. Anything less and you would be writing a different review. Today it seems new and different and special.

That’s the one good thing you need to understand. The overall bar for customer service has been lowered so far that just doing the things you’re supposed to do will make you stand out in the crowd.

A properly trained and properly motivated staff can do wonders for the way your store is viewed compared to the competition. While everyone is all worried about high-tech this and omnichannel that, going old-school will win the day more often than not.

“… they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try.”

Once again, a properly trained staff makes a huge difference. This team knew that by asking questions they could get to know the customer better. Getting to know the customer better allowed them to pull better pieces that more closely matched the customers’ needs.

Every customer that walks through your door is there to solve a problem. The problem might be as simple as killing time. It might be as complex as buying the perfect series of gifts for the hardest person on your list. You don’t know the problem until you ask. (And you won’t get the answer you need if you haven’t first made a connection.) This doesn’t come naturally to everyone. You need to train your staff by showing them how, role-playing it, and practicing it. The stores that do that best are the stores that are winning.

“Both my mom and I purchased something.”

You have a lot of hurdles to overcome to get a sale from a first-time visitor. You have to make her feel comfortable. You have to figure out the problem she is solving. You have to present her with a valid solution. You have to overcome her hesitations and objections. You have to make her want the solution more than she wants her money. All of those are actual steps in a process. One misstep and it’s a no sale.

We call it browsing because many times customers want to go into a new store just to get a feel for the place. No pressure to buy, just a scouting trip to see if they like it. Sometimes you get lucky and they fall in love with a product by accident. That isn’t selling. That’s clerking. Anyone can do that.

If your sales team is waiting for the customer to come up to you, many of them won’t and you’ll have lost out. If your sales team hasn’t made a connection, unless she falls in love with a product by accident, she won’t be back, either. That’s on you.

“… we will definitely go back again.”

That, my friends, is what winning looks like. Bravo to Sweetlees Boutique. Bravo! Thank you, Jen, for sharing that story with us all.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In the same message, Jen told me about another retail experience that didn’t end so well. I’d rather leave on a high note and save that tale for later. If you have story of someone doing it the right way, please share. Send me an email or find me on LinkedIn.

Product Selection – Curation or Saturation?

I went to visit a fellow toy store owner in Cleveland. At that time Michael had three stores in the area. The store I visited was on the opposite spectrum of mine in terms of size. He had about 1,100 square feet of selling space. I had 16,000 square feet of selling space. Yet we were both successful toy store owners in our markets. I love seeing stores like his and discovering the creative ways they show off all the wonderful and unique products they carry. I often saw many of the same brands we carried.

We got to talking about the different challenges of running small versus large stores and one of those challenges was buying product to fill the shelves, especially something as simple and common as jigsaw puzzles. Michael had about 4 feet of space dedicated to jigsaw puzzles. I had about 44 feet of space.

Michael said, “It must be hard for you to buy puzzles to fill up all that space.”

“Are you kidding? It’s easy, I just go through the catalog and buy them all and let the customers decide which ones I should reorder. I think it would be way tougher trying to narrow it down to only four feet.”

That was the big selection difference between our stores—Curation versus Saturation.

Both methods have their pros. Both have their cons. Both can be used as your calling card to advertise to potential customers the advantages of your “Selection.” (As I said in a previous post, the customers you can most easily steal from your competitors are customers who shop the category killer in your industry for the Experience and the Selection.)

This was just the young kids puzzles. Opposite that was another 44 feet of jigsaw puzzles!

SATURATION

Saturation is when you give your customer all the possible (or likely) options for any given product category. I found it was much easier, when buying jigsaw puzzles, to pick the ones I didn’t want than to pick the ones I did want. I often heard myself telling the rep, “I’ll take everything from that collection except this one.”

In a store of my size, Saturation wasn’t only easy, it was necessary. We needed a lot of product to fill our shelves and make our store look full. We used that method of stocking for many different departments and categories. We also played up the strengths of Saturation by pointing out that we carried more toys from more vendors than any other toy store in America—even Toys R Us! We bragged how we were the largest toy store in America because of it. (He who has the most toys wins!)

The downside to Saturation was twofold.

First, we had a lot of products that didn’t sell well. We had more than our fair share of slow movers. I solved that problem by having an annual clearance sale every July to get rid of the merchandise that didn’t move. Our inventory turns, however, were lower than the average for indie toy stores.

Second, sometimes we overwhelmed our customer with too many option. Analysis Paralysis. To overcome that I needed to have a staff that knew our products inside and out. We spent a lot of time training the staff to curate the selection after the customer explained what she needed.

Your Category Killers built their entire business models around Saturation. Saturation appeals to the customer who wants to browse and sort through the options. Saturation appeals to the customer who doesn’t know what she wants. Saturation makes you look like the expert. Bigger, better, bestest.

When these stores first opened up they were amazing. Nowadays, however, that saturation (especially without a knowledgeable sales staff) seems overwhelming or simply a waste of time and space. Many of these same stores are now building smaller footprints because they realized they don’t have the payroll to staff such a huge store properly.

CURATION

The other side of the coin is Curation—when you pick only the best items or options to offer your customers so that they don’t have to make any tough decisions.

Curation is great because it streamlines the process for the customer. It is attractive to that same customer who didn’t know what she wanted because it takes some of the guesswork out of the equation for her.

A carefully curated product selection can also send your customers the message that you are the experts in your category … As long as you have first earned their trust.

Curation without Trust is just a “poor selection”.

Here is how you win their Trust with your Curation:

  • Make sure you have the best solution available, no matter what it costs. If one of your competitors offers a better solution, you didn’t curate well. Be ready to defend why it is the best option. (PS You don’t have to sell a lot of that option, but you do need to have it.)
  • Make sure your selection is neat, clean, organized, and well-merchandised. If it looks like you don’t care about your products, no one will trust your Curation.
  • Make sure your sales team knows every product inside and out including how each item is used and the difference between the Best, Better, and Good options.
  • When you show a customer your options, ALWAYS lead with the Best.
  • If you don’t carry the “most popular” item in that category have a simple and understandable explanation why. (“We can’t get it,” or “It sucks.” are not good answers. Try “It is an exclusive to … but we prefer …” or “It doesn’t work as well as this option because …”)
  • Make sure you are never out of stock of the best selling option.

If you have a carefully Curated collection of merchandise, you can win the Selection crowd just as easily as if you have a Saturation of products. You do it by advertising that you’ve taken all the guesswork out of the equation.

Both methods can help you steal customers away from your competitors, but only when you do them right and with purpose.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One big discussion taking place in the indie toy world right now is whether indie stores should pick up more of the mass market lines Toys R Us used to sell to try to win over those customers. The answer to that is Yes and No. Yes, if the product is both one of the best options to have in your Curated selection and also one that you can be profitable selling. No if it doesn’t meet those two criteria. More often than not the Category Killer had the “most popular” item. More often than not, that item was not one of the best options. As long as you can answer why you don’t carry the most popular item in a solid way, you’ll win over customers.

PPS Of the two methods for product selection, Saturation takes more money, Curation takes more time. If you have the resources (space and money), go for Saturation and combine it with a killer trained staff. You’ll be well on your way to becoming a Category Killer.

PPPS There is a Third Option. Curation with special order. The newer, smaller Category Killer store formats are using their distribution centers to order in the products they don’t keep in stock in the stores. They don’t want a customer walking out the door empty-handed. While this is the ultimate situation where you can get anything a customer wants in a day or two, it is built for the customer who knows exactly what she wants. Until your vendors can support you in that manner, make sure you have the right solutions and a staff that knows what you sell.

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.

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

Is the Retail Apocalypse Upon Us?

You have to be older than me to remember Shopper’s Fair. That was the first store that, back in the early 1960’s, was going to put my grandfather out of business. They were gone before I was old enough to spend my first dime. I do, however, have memories of Woolworth’s downtown and Montgomery Ward at Westwood Mall. I remember walking through Montgomery Ward, marveling at how big the store seemed. (I hadn’t yet been to Macy’s in Manhattan.)

Shopper’s Fair, Woolworth’s and Montgomery Ward are gone. Each because of their own individual circumstances. Here is a list going around the Internet these days of current closures and stores struggling in retail.

Businesses often cite a variety of reasons for closing:

  • Poor Economy
  • Changes in Industry
  • Unfair Retail Landscape Slanted Against Them

The reality is that most closures happen because of a Lack of Cash Flow. 

When the money quits coming in, the stores don’t have the money to pay the bills, don’t have the money to replenish the shelves, don’t have the money to invest in technology, upgrade the infrastructure, or train the employees. Lack of cash starts a downward spiral that is hard to escape.

More often than not, that Lack of Cash Flow happens because of Bad Management. Bad management of:

  • Employees—no training on how to relate to today’s customers, build the relationships that matter, and make the sale
  • Inventory—old merchandise, too much merchandise, too little merchandise, the wrong merchandise
  • Change—not adapting quickly enough to the changes in the industry (All industries change. Some disappear. There is a distinction.)
  • Goals and Vision—not having a clear view of where you want to be today and where you are going tomorrow

Many stores have found ways to thrive in an unfair retail landscape slanted against them. Many stores have found ways to navigate the changes in their industry and customer base. Many stores have found ways to thrive (or at least survive) in poor economies. 

Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor, posted an amazing blog about the experience (or lack thereof) in music stores today that addresses the first bullet point above. As a singer and mediocre guitar player, I can relate to everything in his post. This is a problem abundant in retail right now, and one that can be easily addressed. Amazon isn’t winning customers so much as brick & mortar stores are losing customers. Go read it right now.

It will be the best thing you read this month.

Overall, retail is growing. The stores in the meme above are losing market share to their competitors because management hasn’t trained them well, positioned them well, or managed their resources well.

Is the Retail Apocalypse upon us? I don’t think so. Stores open. Stores close. Just ask Shopper’s Fair, Woolworth’s and Montgomery Ward.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have seen the above meme used by the left to lay the blame for these closures at President Trump’s feet in much the same way many on the right tried to hang everything bad around President Obama’s neck for eight years. I have news for you. None of these closures are because of who is president or what the president has done. They would have happened under Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, you, or me.

PPS Yes, my store was a victim of cash flow problems. Our market share didn’t change, but our local market did. Because of shrinkage in population, household income, and the average money spent on toys, our market in 2016 was only 53% of what it was in 2007. Our store was too big for our economy. We could have shrunk it down to fit, but we wouldn’t have been the store you remembered. We chose to close instead (a choice discussed in the boardrooms of every one of those companies listed above). With Toys R Us closing, many have asked if I will reopen. Unfortunately, the market hasn’t improved enough to justify reopening.

What to Do With the First Quarter Blues

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.