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What are You Doing to Reach the Influencers

McDonald’s spent millions advertising the Happy Meal to children. Yet, who ultimately controls what a child eats? The parent, of course. Yet, McDonald’s made billions from the Happy Meal by advertising to the strongest influencer.

There is a bra store near me that specializes in custom-fitted and hard-to-find sizes of bras. They advertise on the local ESPN sports/talk radio station. Yes, a bra store on a sports/talk station. And they’re making a killing by saying, “Hey guys, tired of hearing your wife complain about her bra not fitting?”

Later this fall I am going to give out about seven thousand $5.00 gift cards to the students of one of our school districts. In a couple weeks I am going to wine and dine and bribe their teachers through a Teachers’ Night Out private party at our store with food & drinks, prizes, fun activities and incredible incentives for attending. I want to make sure that when the teachers hand out these gift cards that we get a great return on our investment.

Too many retailer make the mistake of thinking they have to focus all their efforts only on the person who might buy or use their product. The most powerful push someone gets to shop at your store usually comes from someone other than you. It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes your best advertising and marketing needs to be directed at a non-customer.

If you can convince the influencer of the benefits of your business, they will convince the end user of your benefits.

There are two advantages to this approach.

First, since you are advertising to an indirect target, they are going to be more surprised (which is a good thing) and interested in your ad. It won’t come off as such a sales pitch. The bra ladies weren’t trying to sell a product, just to offer a solution to a common problem heard by married men all over the planet.

Second, the influencer has far more power to affect the actions of your intended customer than you do. Word of mouth from a friend always trumps advertising by a company. Let the friends and family and influencers do all the heavy lifting for you.

Yeah, it’s risky. All advertising is risky. At least this one has a pretty good track record (or why else would people be trying to ban the Happy Meal toys?)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS To do this you just have to do two things. First figure out who is that non-customer that has the power to influence your shopper. Is it a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend, an authority figure? Second, figure out a message that will resonate with that person. It is powerful and it works.

A Clean Business is a Happy Business – Three Reasons to Get Out the Paint Brush

I hadn’t washed my car in weeks. When it was sunny, I didn’t have the time. When I had the time, it was raining. I finally got it done two days ago.

As I was toweling off a few last sprinkles, I felt a little extra bounce in my step. There was a little more pride driving around town in a shiny vehicle. Even walking up to it, I thought my Pilot winked at me in the sun. The car was cleaner. I felt better. More pride.

Yes, a clean car is a happy car.

I felt the exact same way a few weeks ago. The cottonwood trees had slowed down enough for us to put a fresh coat of paint on the front of the store. Coincidentally, our business skyrocketed 20% after the paint job.

A clean store is a happy store.

I’m smart enough to know that our success the past three weeks is not just because we painted the building, but never underestimate the power of a simple cleaning job.

  • It puts you and your staff in a happy mood. A happy staff delights your customers more.
  • It sends a signal to your customers that you care about your business and, likewise, that you will care about them.
  • It sends a signal to your customers that you are fresh and new and on top of things.

Those last two are the kickers. A fresh coat of paint on the outside of your building is often a much cheaper and more powerful marketing tool than a month of billboard and newspaper ads.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Landscaping, painting the inside walls, moving the merchandise around, mopping/shampooing the floors, and updating the signs all have the same effect. The inside stuff, however, doesn’t send those signals to the outside world, only to the current customer base who already love you despite your messiness.

PPS None of that cleaning matters, however, if you aren’t first taking damn good care of your customers. Otherwise it’s just a band-aid on an amputation. If you don’t have a capital fund for repairs and improvements, take the money from your advertising budget, not your customer service training budget.

Getting Customers to Walk Those Last 20 Feet

“At the end of the day you’ll get nothing for nothing.” -Les Miserables

I’m on the planning committee for a new street festival that will happen this summer in downtown Jackson. It’s a big one. Artists, Musicians, Restaurateurs, Local Brewers and Wineries, a Color Run and more.

Some of the merchants on the streets that will be closed are concerned. I hear comments like…
“These events never draw me any traffic.”
“All these events do is close me down to my regular traffic.”
“Too many street closures and I’ll have to close, too.”

Five thousand people walking past your shop and you can’t do any business?!?

When you ask those who are complaining what they did to get those people the last 20 feet from street through door, the usual response is a blank stare.

Street closures for construction suck! Street closures for fairs and events can be a windfall… if you recognize that it is your job to get the customers from the street through your door.

If you do nothing, you’ll get nothing.

You have to do something.
You have to do something special.
You have to do something that will move the needle for someone who came down to look at classic cars or taste local cuisine or peruse amazing art.
You have to do something that gets their attention, makes them notice you, be interested in you, desire your products and services, and make the purchase.

You can’t reach them through radio or TV or email. They are 20 feet away. Right here right now. You have to go out and get them. You have to do something so amazingly wonderful that they drag their friends through the door with them.

That last statement could apply any time of the year. If you’re not getting the traffic you think you should be getting, whatever you’re doing to try to attract customers is pretty close to nothing in their minds. Time to up your game.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One simple clue into what not to do to get them that last 20 feet… People at street fairs – especially ones involving art and food – spend like drunken sailors. You won’t win them over with a sale or special price or discount nearly as much as you will by offering them something that matches their world view. They are already over-paying for food and drinks at these events. Entice them with something impulsive and fun and in line with their (your) Core Values. They are ready to overspend. Don’t disappoint them.

Doing Business When Your Street is Closed

Winter is finally giving way to that other season – Construction. Orange cones are popping up everywhere.

And shortly after that, if you’re a downtown business, you’ll probably be facing Festival Season – that time of year when the city shuts down the street for a car cruise or an art fair or some other event.

Either way, at one point or another, if you have a Main Street business, your business is going to have to deal with a street closure. How you deal with that will be critical to your success. Here are some suggestions for keeping the till humming while the streets are closed.

CONSTRUCTION

This is usually a long-haul situation and requires some smart strategy. The key is communication.

  • Communicate with your fan base the best ways to approach the store and the best places to park.
  • Communicate what is happening with the construction. Give blow-by-blow accounts and updates.
  • Have fun with the construction. Post trivial facts, goofy pictures, interesting finds. Get your fans to post their own pictures. Play guessing games – take close-ups or partial pictures and have them guess what machine it is. Turn it into a focal point that might make people want to stop by and gawk.
  • Set up a shuttle (you can partner with other businesses affected by the closure) to help get your customers in to see you.
  • Offer delivery services for the time the construction is taking place.
  • Expand your hours so that you are open at times when less work and disruption is taking place.
  • Roll out a red carpet – yes an actual red carpet – to get people over muddy, dirty, disrupted areas.

Don’t just assume business as usual. Plan for a small fall off, but be proactive in your approach to make it as convenient and fun as possible for your customers to do business with you.

FESTIVALS

Street closures for festivals are a different beast and require different tactics. First, they are usually short-term events that take place during your typically busiest times – Friday nights and Saturdays. Second, they draw a lot of people, but not necessarily your regular customers, and not necessarily anyone who wants to shop with you. At the same time, they disrupt your regular customers and keep those people away.

Therein lies the key. The people on the street are not your regular customers. What would you do differently to try to turn these people into your regular customers? The first goal is to get them off the street and into the store.

  • If you sell jewelry, put out a sandwich board and offer “Free Ring Cleanings”. Get those customers in the store looking at the shiny, bright, glittery stuff in your cases while they wait for your polishers to make their rings sparkle. 
  • If you sell clothing, put some racks on the street of your unique offerings that will entice someone to stop on by.
  • If you sell candles, get that aroma wafting out your door and onto the street. You’ll attract attention in no time.
  • If you sell baked goods set up a fan inside the door so that chocolate chip cookie scent reaches the end of the block.
  • If you sell shoes, put out a sign showing how to check your own shoes for wear and tear. Have a sizing specialist standing out front to engage the folks on the street. Offer a free shoe-polishing stand.

No matter what you sell, there is something you can do to engage with the festival goers and either get them in the door today or at some point down the road. You just have to be creative and proactive. Open the doors, put out a banner and make sure people know you are open for business. Do something in conjunction with the theme of the festival. Sign them up to your mailing lists, your birthday clubs, and any other program you offer. Use this opportunity to farm for new customers. There are a ton out there. Most of all be ENGAGING. Have fun with the event.

Street Closures are a reality. How you deal with them will have a direct impact on your bottom line. You can wallow in misery complaining about the lost business or you can let your creative juices flow and look at them as an opportunity to do things differently.

You know which one will pay off in the long run.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I knew of a hair salon that was half a block off the beaten path of a major festival in her town. Rather than lament the street closures combined with no foot traffic at the front door, she had her staff on the street handing out coupons for free ice cream cones inside her salon. For the cost of some ice cream she was able to get a ton of traffic that always resulted in new clients and new appointments.

PPS Also remember that those festivals do serve a purpose. First they make your downtown seem more active and vibrant. That message sticks with people throughout the year. Second, they attract people to downtown that might not go otherwise. Fear of the unknown keeps people from shopping in new locations. Third, they often serve to raise funds for charities and non-profits, the same ones that would be hitting you up double if not for the events. Embrace them and enjoy them and make them work to your advantage.

Give Your Business a Physical – Track These Numbers, Too

There are many different metrics you need to measure to determine the health of your business. Two of the biggest are Profits and Cash Flow. If both of those are good, your business is probably doing well.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t look at other numbers, too. That would be the equivalent of a doctor checking your temp and blood pressure and determining you are completely healthy without looking at anything else.

Here are some other numbers you should track to keep a check on the pulse of your business.

Traffic – Number of transactions you had this year compared to last year. Did that number go up or down? If it went down, why? 
  • Did your location get worse? 
  • Was there a change in the types and numbers of stores around you? 
  • Was there a drop in population? 
  • Did you cut back your offerings and categories significantly?
If your traffic was down, but none of these other factors were negative, you have a hole in your Customer Service (repeat and referral business) and/or Advertising (first-timer business). You need to find that leak and fix it fast.

Average Transaction – Take your total sales and divide by # of transactions. Compare to last year. If this number went down, why? 
  • Did you carry fewer high-ticket items? 
  • Did you add more low-ticket impulse items that people might run in and grab? 
  • Did you do anything to attract more youth? 
If none of those factors were in play but your average ticket went down, you have a hole in your staff’s ability to sell. You need to fix that fast.

Market Share – This is a little harder to calculate, but an incredibly valuable piece of information that can pinpoint problems – even if you had a great year on paper!
  1. Find the national sales figure for your industry. 
  2. Divide that by the population of the United States to determine sales per person. 
  3. Multiply that times the population of your trade area to determine the market potential for your area.
  4. Divide your total sales by that market potential to find your percentage or share of the market.
  5. Compare it to last year’s number.
You can have an awesome year with solid sales growth and decent profits and cash flow, but still be in potential trouble if your market share is slipping. If all your growth was fueled by huge growth in your market, but you aren’t holding onto your share of that market, then you are ripe for being picked off by a better competitor entering your market. You need to figure out why your share is decreasing and fix that problem now.

You can also have a lousy year with declining sales and profits, but mostly fueled by a change in the market. Maybe your industry is in decline (smaller sales per person). Maybe your trade area is shrinking. But if your market share is growing, then your big issue is determining whether to cut expenses and inventory and hope the market comes back or move to a new market.

Make sure your Profit and Cash Flow are good. Those are immediate life threatening problems for your business. If those are good, it buys you time to check/fix the other problems.

Give your business a full physical. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

-Phil Wrzesinski
PS Be honest in your evaluations. Even if there are circumstances beyond your control, there are always circumstances you can control and improve while you ride out the storm.

Praying for Customers

I know it was tongue-in-cheek (kinda), but when a fellow store owner asked a group of us on FB what we were doing to attract customers, the first response was “Praying”.

This might seem like a religious post. If I offend anyone, so be it. But I found the answer to be not only funny, but also appropriate. Yes, praying can have a place in your business.

Remember what I have said over and over about being true to your Values? If religion and faith are part of your values, praying should be a regular event. Include your staff in a holy huddle. Make sure your policies also reflect your faith. It can be a powerful attractor of customers who share your faith. (See Chick-Fil-A and how they share their faith.)

Here are some prayers you can say.

Pray that your advertising will be effective.
Pray that your staff will have a good day and take care of your customers.
Pray that you will accomplish your to-do list efficiently.
Pray for thanksgiving of the blessings that have allowed you to be in business.
Pray for the blessings of your wonderful staff and all that they do (and have done) for you.
Pray for your wonderful evangelists who tell your story to all their friends.
Pray for your vendors who supply you with the products that solve your customers’ problems.
Pray for your government leaders that they have the strength and will to do good for your community.

If faith and religion are part of your Core Values, then you should be Praying for Customers.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I say a modified version of the Jabez Prayer every single day…
Oh that you would bless me indeed
And enlarge my territory
That your hand would be with me
And lead me to good

The Five Drivers of Traffic – Delight

I posted that JC Penney was struggling because it was losing in all five of the main drivers of traffic… PriceProductConvenience, Trust and Delight.  Let’s look at each one of them separately.

DELIGHT

Delight is probably both the easiest and most difficult of all the drivers to own. 

Easy because so few companies even try to own it. Sure, they give it lip-service, but outside of a handful of retailers (Apple? Zappos?) and companies (Disney?), few major chains or national businesses really even try to delight anyone other than the shareholders and owners.

Difficult because the bar of expectation is constantly shifting and changing. What delights the customers of today might seem ordinary tomorrow.

You can increase your Delight Factor a number of ways…

  • Sell things that make people happy. The more whimsy and uniqueness you bring to the table, the higher the delight factor in the customers’ minds. The more fun and interesting your product selection, the more you will delight customers.
  • Sell things that solve problems. Customers buy items to solve a problem. Identify the problem and you can delight the customer by solving it.
  • Host Events. Bring in authors, experts, and celebrities. Teach classes. Host parties. Play games. Show movies. Serve food and beverages. 
  • Bend over backwards to help. When you put the customer’s needs above your own, you raise the delight factor exponentially. The easiest way to do this is to say “Yes!” every time a customer asks, “Can you…?” and then go figure out how to do it.
  • Exceed expectations. This may seem simple enough, yet once you consistently exceed the expectations of today, you raise the bar for the expectations of tomorrow. Keep raising the bar, though, and you’ll continue delighting your customers in new and exciting ways.
  • Do something no one else would even think of doing. How about a downtown toy store offering Valet Parking at Christmas? How about a clothing store offering free dry cleaning for a year? How about a bookstore that gets you a signed copy every time you buy a book from a living author?

The advantages of delighting your customers are numerous.

  • They become more loyal.
  • They bring you more customers like them.
  • They do your advertising for you.
  • They make your job more fun.

You can do Delight. In fact, you need to do Delight! It is the one driver you can consistently do better than any of your competitors. It is the one driver you are expected to do better than the chains and online stores. It is the one driver you can most easily own all to yourself.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Want to know which driver (if any) you already own? Check out this free download – How to Measure the Strength of Your Brand. When you do your survey, be sure to use the five drivers as part of your word association. You’ll know exactly which of your competitors owns which driver and what you need to work on.

The Five Drivers of Traffic – Trust

I posted that JC Penney was struggling because it was losing in all five of the main drivers of traffic… PriceProduct, Convenience, Trust and Delight.  Let’s look at each one of them separately.

TRUST

Trust is earned. You don’t get it automatically. Trust is earned one transaction at a time.  Trust is fragile, too. Trust earned over a period of years or even decades can be blown up by one single encounter.

How do you earn Trust? Through consistency and honesty. Do what you say you are going to do time and time and time again. Yes, it is that simple. 

Fast food restaurants are built around the model of consistency. A McDonald’s Big Mac tastes the same all over the world so that you know what to expect and get what you expect every single time. Franchises and chain stores in general are designed to offer consistency. Time and time again, the same experience (at least that’s what they hope).

More importantly than discussing how to build trust, it might be better to look at how easily you can break that trust.

You can break trust in any of the following ways…

  • Play games with your pricing. Mark it up to mark it down. Hide the real price through some fine print. Change your prices all the time. Dicker and deal on price.
  • Don’t deliver. Don’t do what you say you will do. Make promises to get the sale that you know you won’t keep.
  • Lie. Be dishonest about mistakes you have made or things you have done that you don’t want customers to know about.
  • Change your policies. Making up policies that favor the company over the customer on the spot are quick trust slayers.
  • Be rude or apathetic. If you don’t treat your customers well, they won’t trust that you do anything well.
  • Load up on Fine Print. Sure, there always seems to be fine print. There always is an asterisk, an exception. Of course, the more fine print, the more exceptions, the less trustworthy you become. Just sayin’.

Here are some simple things to help you maintain trust with your customers.

  • Admit your mistakes. We all make them. Be honest and up front when you make a mistake and say, “I’m sorry. We screwed up. What can I do to make it better?”
  • Fulfill your promises. if you promise something, you better move mountains to make it happen. Period.
  • Be Professional and Kind. As my friend Tim Miles says, these are the two cornerstones of Shareworthy Customer Service. Do both and your customers will notice. Your customers will trust you. Your customers will tell others about you.

If you want to drive traffic on the basis of Trust you need to be honest and consistent. You need to do the right thing all the time, regardless of how much it hurts you. In fact, the more pain you are willing to suffer to maintain that trust, the more believable you will be.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS To grow Trust as an indie retailer you need two key elements; a trustworthy staff and credible marketing. Here are two books to help you do both better…

Read those books, do what they teach. If you don’t get far more back than you invested, I’ll buy the books from you. Yes, I trust them that much.

The Five Drivers of Traffic – Convenience

I posted that JC Penney was struggling because it was losing in all five of the main drivers of traffic… Price, Product, Convenience, Trust and Delight.  Let’s look at each one of them separately.

CONVENIENCE

Convenience is a tricky subject because there are many different ways to define convenience. 

You could be considered convenient if it is quick and easy to get in and out of your store. Heck, we have a whole category of stores like that called, conveniently  Convenience Stores. Smaller stores located on intersections with front door parking, a handful of commodity products, and rarely ever a line at the register. You can charge a lot more for a product when you have this kind of convenience.

You could be considered convenient if you have such a wide selection of product that it truly is one-stop-shopping. This is the road Wal-Mart and Target Supercenters are taking. Add in the groceries and you can get everything you want under one roof. How convenient!

You could be considered convenient if you offer services that make your customer’s job so much easier. Free giftwrapping is such a service. We get many customers the day of the birthday party or baby shower who stop in on their way. They get the gift, get it wrapped, buy a card and off they go to the party. Repair services, installation services, delivery and assembly services are matters of convenience to a customer.

The first and last of those three examples are fairly easy for indie retailers to own. 

We can certainly be quick stops for customers who don’t want the hassle of parking in a huge lot, walking half a mile to the front door, navigating a 200,000 square foot store to find a $20 gift, only to now have to wait in line behind someone juggling three kids and two shopping carts in a line staffed by a minimum-wage, poorly-trained, gum-chewing clerk.

We can offer services that make life easier on our customers like those mentioned above.

But I will also argue that we can, in some ways, also own that middle example. Do you have everything to “complete” a sale? For instance, if someone buys a model, do you also sell them the glue and paint and a display case to show off the finished product? If someone buys a pair of shoes do you also have the socks, stockings, inserts, shoe polish, shoe-trees, suede brushes, and waterproofing to complete the sale?

Whatever you sell, you can become the “convenient” store in your customer’s mind if she is able to buy everything she needs to complete that purchase. If she has to go to another store to finish the purchase, you lose that driver.

Convenience comes in many forms. Although you may not be the one-stop-shop that a Wal-Mart Supercenter is, you can (and should) still own convenience in many other ways.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Completing the Sale is a major component of my staff training. I want my staff thinking about that with every customer. It isn’t so much about selling a product as it is about fulfilling a need or solving a problem. When you start thinking like that you will see two things happen. First, your average sales will increase. Second, your customers will be happier. Yes, your customers will spend more and be happier at the same time!

The Five Drivers of Traffic – Product

I posted that JC Penney was struggling because it was losing in all five of the main drivers of traffic… Price, Product, Convenience, Trust and Delight.  Let’s look at each one of them separately.

PRODUCT

Products are the stars. Without them, you don’t have a business. You have to have products that people want. Products typically fall into three categories:

  • Commodities – the products everyone wants and most stores carry. Products designed for the masses (and usually sold at the masses).
  • Niche – the products that are different, maybe with special features, that appeal to only a small but loyal segment of the market.
  • Custom – the unique, one-of-a-kind products such as hand-crafted artwork, customer-customized products, and items so different you wouldn’t expect to sell more than one.

To own the traffic driver of Product, you have to own at least one of those three categories.

Commodities
This is probably the toughest for an independent to own, because the mass market wants this category big time. They believe this is their category so much that they try to commoditize products that might otherwise seem niche.

The other problem with this category is that price drives more of the purchasing decisions for commodities. The mass advertises the price constantly, which sets the perceived worth in the customer’s mind.

But if you own the Commodities (at the right price), you can draw the masses.

Niche
This used to be the domain of the independent toy store. Our model was easy. Carry the stuff Toys R Us and Wal-Mart didn’t carry and you can compete easily with the mass. The profit margin was better on these toys, and there was plenty of product available that wasn’t in the big boxes.

Toys R Us and Target changed that game as they kept buying more and more of the niche products. Now the Internet is trying to take over this category. The Internet is built for the niche market. One website can reach all 500 potential customers for a niche product much more easily than trying to get that product into stores in the 500 markets where those people live.

There are still plenty of niche products out there not carried in the big boxes, but the list of products not sold online gets smaller every year. If you can find niche products that are also MAP protected (see the discussion on Price), then you can still own the Product driver.

Own this category if you want to attract customers who are less price-focused and more solution-oriented.

Custom
This is still a wide-open category. The big boxes don’t want it. Not a high enough turn-ratio. The Internet is struggling with this category because it is hard to attract people to check out product they don’t know they want, and in most cases they prefer to see and touch first before falling in love with it. Individual artists can be successful online, but mainly because they have built a tribe of followers. The independent retailers are also wary because it takes a lot of commitment and cash to get into the world of custom, one-of-a-kind offerings. Do it poorly and you’ll go broke.

To own this category, you need a savvy buyer who can guess the wants and desires of the customers before they walk through the door, and can hunt down those products and fill your store with them. If you have a buyer like that, keep her. They are a rare breed.

The fun part of owning a store full of custom products is that the mix is always changing, the delight factor is high, and your most loyal customers will come back often just to see what is new. If you can own this category, you can earn a lot of word-of-mouth, too.


If you want to own Product as a driver of traffic, choose one of those three categories and own it lock, stock and barrel. They each draw a different type of crowd and require a different type of advertising.

Then again, there is some wisdom in not worrying about owning any of the categories of Product but just dabbling in all three. 

  • Carry some Commodities to draw the masses. 
  • Carry some Niche for the people wanting something different (and to make some profit.) 
  • Carry some Custom to keep the store ever changing and unique.

If you can afford the lower profits on the commodities and the lower turn ratios on the customs, you can have a fun mix that has something for everyone. Focus on owning one of the other major drivers of traffic.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Some of you might wonder why I spent the first 90% of this post telling you how to own a category, and then end it with a paragraph about why not to own any of them. I do so because I want you to consciously make that choice. I want you to decide what you want to be, and be it by choice, not happenstance. Knowledge is Power (France is Bacon).