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Lessons From Toys R Us

By now you have all heard about Toys R Us (TRU) filing bankruptcy. I have been personally tagged several times on Facebook linking to articles about the bankruptcy (a couple former staff members have even hinted I should reopen Toy House now.)

Here are some things you need to know.

Image result for sad face giraffeFirst, this is a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy which is a reorganization type of bankruptcy. The giraffe isn’t going away. They aren’t closing all their stores and liquidating. That’s a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Toys R Us is banking on being able to restructure (and relieve themselves from) their debt so that they have the operating funds to continue competing in the toy and baby retail industries.

Second, David Brandon, the former Athletic Director at my beloved University of Michigan, is not the cause of their demise. (Many UM fans who hated Brandon for his poor job hiring football coaches want to scapegoat him for this, too. It’s easy, but wrong.) They were in trouble long before he got there.

Third, this is not a happy day for the toy industry. Even though Walmart surpassed Toys R Us in toy sales in 1998, TRU still does a tremendous amount of business and sells a tremendous amount of toys. There are many vendors in position to take huge losses in this ordeal. While the big guys like Mattel and Hasbro can likely afford it, many mid-tier and smaller vendors would be gone without TRU. That doesn’t help the rest of the industry.

Toys R Us is also important for new toy launches. The big-box discounters want tried and true. Without a large store willing to take chances on new products, there won’t be as many new and innovative products from existing companies.

A lot of people have opinions why Toys R Us is where they are today. Many want to blame Amazon. Still others want to blame the economy. I’ve read articles bashing their expensive new headquarters building, their lack of leadership, and the leveraged buyout by Bain, KKR, and Vornado.

One article wanted to blame TRU for spending too much on their stores and not enough on their website. Considering that TRU reported $912 million in e-commerce and $11.54 billion in total sales, that puts their online sales at almost 8%. (For comparison, Walmart only does about 3% of their total sales online, but that is skewed by grocery.) While 8% is impressive, it doesn’t justify taking money from the part of your business that generates 92% of your revenue and giving it to the part that only generates 8%. 

My opinion is that they didn’t spend the money on their stores the right way.

The real demise for Toys R Us started in 1998. That is the year Walmart surpassed them in total toy sales by dollar (McDonald’s Happy Meal beats them both in units sold.) 

Toys R Us chose at that time to take on the beast to reclaim their crown as king. They didn’t stand a chance. Walmart had more stores, deeper pockets, a larger advertising budget, better operational efficiency, and no need to make money on a category they saw as a commodity traffic-driver.

Seth Godin said it best. “The problem with racing to the bottom is that you might win. Worse, you might finish second.” Toys R Us finished second and we all lost because of it.

Toys R Us allowed Walmart to dictate to the world that toys are commodities, not the valuable educational tools every specialty toy store owner and every educator in America knows them to be. Toys R Us allowed Walmart to dictate that price was the only reason to buy toys. Once Toys R Us decided to compete on Walmart’s terms, they were done.

Hindsight being 20/20, the best move TRU could have taken back in 1998 was to reestablish their position as the “toy leader” and put their emphasis on the value of toys as educational tools, on the value of toys for promoting growth and development, and on the importance of choosing quality toys for your children.

If toys were thought of that way today, Toys R Us would have diminished the commodity role of the big box discounters and strengthened the toy industry as a whole, while firmly establishing themselves as the clear “toy experts” instead of a warehouse full of only toys competing with warehouses full of toys, hardware, clothing, housewares, and grocery. It would have been a win-win for them and the industry as a whole. They weren’t going to beat Walmart at Walmart’s game and likely never would catch Walmart in total sales (Walmart now has over five times as many stores.) But had they played to their own competitive advantage they would still be the king perceptually and the industry would be better off for it.

That is the lesson. Play to your competitive advantage. Play on your terms, not someone else’s. 

Right now the conventional wisdom is that Toys R Us owns too much real estate. Their stores are too big and costly. They need to close them down and sell off the real estate and focus online. I wonder how different the tune would be if back in 1998 they decided to make their stores more friendly and welcoming, filled with toy demos and play areas. What if they turned their stores into educational meccas offering classes on parenting, programs for preschoolers, and events that drew traffic? (According to this article, that is a little of what they are trying to do.) Instead they turned their stores into brightly lit warehouses with minimal staff and an entrance that makes you feel like a common thief just walking through the door.

Real estate is only an asset or liability depending how you use it.

There is still a chance for Toys R Us to turn the ship around. But they need to sail into different waters. I know a little about sailing. If you know David Brandon, tell him to look me up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It may sound like I’m suggesting Toys R Us be more like an independent specialty toy retailer. Umm … Yes! They have a far better chance being successful in that playground than in the big-box-treat-everything-like-a-commodity-warehouse playground they’ve been playing in. They had it right in their Time Square store and oh so wrong in the 865 other locations.

Working “On” Part 5 – Evaluating Progress

We all dreaded the blue sheets. As camp counselors at Storer Camps, we had to write up an “evaluation” of every camper in our cabin. The blue sheet was the worksheet we used. It had spaces for us to mark their daily activities and a few questions where we wrote short answers about their time at camp including what they seemed to like most, their strengths, and areas where they struggled.

The blue sheet dates back several decades. I remember my mom getting them from my counselors back in the 1970’s. I remember my own trials writing them late at night by flashlight on the porch of my cabin just to get them done on time. I remember turning them in to my director for approval only to be asked to rewrite them because of penmanship or to change a word or phrase. No time off until your blue sheets were finished and approved.

I also remember reading them as a parent and appreciating the thoughtfulness and insight that went into them. It made my boys’ camp experiences more meaningful. It gave me an outsider’s perspective of my children, a valuable measure of their growth.

Evaluations can be viewed as measuring sticks. They show you progress when you compare them to previous evaluations. They are also maps because they show you where you are in relation to where you want to go.

You are already using tools to evaluate your business. Your Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet are two of those tool. Your GMROI and Turn Ratio are also tools used to evaluate your business. These are easy tools because they measure hard, fast numbers.

If your Game Plan, however, is to exploit your Competitive Advantage of having better people offering better services, you have to have a map that shows you where your staff members are in relation to where you want them to go. You have to have a tool for evaluating their progress.

Some consultants believe in commission sales as the tool to evaluate your staff. If their numbers are going up, then life is good. The problem is that commission sales don’t always work in every type of retail store, nor are they truly an accurate predictor of someone’s selling skills since luck and timing and many other factors outside of pure selling skills have an effect on the numbers.

Some believe in written evaluations—blue sheets for your staff listing their strengths and areas they need to improve. I tried those and got frustrated by them. Although they measured, they didn’t map. Plus they took a long time to process and complete. They were as discouraging as they were encouraging. On top of that, if you don’t evaluate fairly and honestly without emotion using concrete, specific examples of problems needing to be fixed, these written reports could come back to bite you in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Written evaluations are best for documenting unacceptable behavior to protect yourself in termination cases, but they don’t work as well for motivating your staff to improve.

Here are the concrete steps I suggest for mapping a path for your staff.

  • Talk to them. Sit down every so often and just have an informal conversation.
  • Ask questions. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them what they are working on. Ask them what they have learned from the training program (that I know you have implemented.) Ask them where they see themselves in the big picture of the store. Ask them if they understand their purpose for being employed. Ask, ask, ask.
  • Give them praise. Praise them for what they have done, what they have learned, and where they are. Roy H. Williams said, “What gets measured gets managed, but what gets measured and rewarded improves.” Praise is often enough of a reward to get the improvement you seek.
  • Offer suggestions. Based on your observations of their work, coupled with their own beliefs of where they are on their journey, give them suggestions for what they can “work on next” to reach the goals you have already spelled out for your team. Give them concrete action steps such as reading certain articles or books, or watching certain videos, or working on a specific task.

Do it informally and do it often. Formal evaluations are scary and make your team afraid of you. Because of the amount of work involved, they also happen too infrequently to be of good value. Informal discussions following the format above build trust and help motivate your team. Plus they give you a much quicker read on the talent and potential of your current players so that it is easier to spot new, better talent when it comes along.

Combine these conversations with a kick-ass continual training program and you will see the progress before your very eyes.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There are many who might disagree with this procedure. There are valid arguments for a formal evaluation process. If you are a small business with only a handful of employees, however, a formal evaluation process could be (or at least feel) overwhelming. Your true goal for evaluating your staff is to see where they are and motivate them toward the ultimate goal of being the best at serving your customers. Daniel H. Pink in his book “Drive” points to three things that intrinsically motivate your staff—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. A simple measuring stick of growth compared to where you were previously is Mastery, but a map of where you are in relation to where you want to go is Mastery and Purpose.

Working “On” Part 3 – Hiring a Manager

I’ve only been flown in for an interview once in my life. I went to the Catskills in New York to interview for a position running an experiential education and wilderness trip program. I was a perfect candidate for the job. Not only did I have the experience running a similar program in Michigan, this program also had a strong bike program and owned a fleet of several dozen bikes they had to maintain. I had spent my teenage years assembling and fixing bikes at Toy House. It was a perfect match!

I figured I had the inside track on this job. They flew me in so they must have thought quite highly of me. I had the perfect skill set. I also knew the other two candidates. Both were currently working in the program where I was interviewing. Both had previously worked for me. Neither had the experience in a managerial role I had.

Although I thought I interviewed well, I didn’t get the job.

Only later did I find out the guy doing the hiring had always and only promoted from within. He flew me in only because his boss demanded he interview someone outside the company. I didn’t have a chance. I never had a chance.

Hiring from within makes sense on the surface. You’re hiring a known quantity. You’re hiring someone who already knows your culture (and likely fits in). You’re hiring someone who already knows your procedures. You’re hiring someone who is already loyal to you. The risks seem low.

Laurence J. Peters published a management theory in 1969 about the promotion and hiring from within now called the Peter Principle. According to Wikipedia, the concept is “that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and ‘managers rise to the level of their incompetence.’ “

The risks may seem low, but the downside to the Peter Principle is that you end up with incompetent people at every level of the organization because you elevate people until they are no longer competent. Does that sound like a good plan?

You need to hire your manager the same way you hire anyone at your company. Make a list of all the traits and skills necessary for a person to be successful on the job. Then figure out what you can teach your new manager and what that person needs to bring to the table.

When you make a list for a sales associate you get different traits than your list for a store manager. A perfect salesperson is great at selling. A perfect manager is great at teaching and motivating. Yes, one person can be good at both. But if you are promoting your best salesperson to manager just because they are your best salesperson, you might have made two positions on your team worse off.

Your manager is most important hire you will make. Your manager is the person who gives you the most time to work on your business instead of in it.

Here are concrete steps you can use to find a great manager.

  • Make a list of the skills needed to be a great manager. That list better include the ability to teach, the ability to motivate, and empathy. You probably need to throw trustworthy onto that list, too, and the ability to learn.
  • Make a list of questions you can use to identify those skills in your candidates. Here are some on ability to teach and trustworthiness. Tell me about a time where you had to teach someone else a new skill. How well did it go? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? Tell me about a time when you weren’t able to keep your word. How did you rectify that situation later?
  • Talk to your current staff, especially the high performers who are great in their current role, but not necessarily skilled for the next role. Many people feel the need to want to move up the ranks. Your best salespeople might feel resentment if you pass them over. Talk to them about the importance of their current role and why you need them in that position. If it about money, give them a raise. If they are truly your best salespeople, they are worth it. If it is about power, give them responsibilities that fit with their skill set. They feel better, you feel better, and you haven’t promoted anyone to the level of incompetence.
  • Move “industry knowledge” lower down your list. Sure it helps if someone is as enthusiastic about your niche in the market as you are. But it isn’t nearly as important as the ability to learn, the ability to teach, and the ability to motivate other people. Given the choice between hiring someone who can step in and lead the team while they learn the products or someone who knows the products but is still learning how to lead, you know the smarter choice.

Your goal is to get the most competent people into every position possible. The manager role is the most important of all those positions.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have seen the Peter Principle in almost every place I have worked. I have even been guilty of it a few times myself. It never seems to end well. The easiest way to prevent it from happening in your business is to look at each role as being a separate position requiring separate skills, not a benefit or reward for time served or a promotion for those who do best in their current role.

PPS My son wrote a college entrance essay on “Leadership”. He identified empathy as being the most important character trait of a great leader. I couldn’t argue with his premise at all. Hopefully he still has that essay saved somewhere so that I can use it in a future post.

Does Your Advertising Match the Experience?

How many times have you heard a radio ad that sounded something like this?

Phil’s Toys is the leader in selling hard-to-find toys. We have thousands of toys in stock. We won’t be undersold! Our customer service is unbeatable and we always offer the best deals. Phil’s Toys has the best toys ever! If you haven’t been to Phil’s Toys, you need to check it out! Located on Main Street right by the clock tower. Go to Phil’s Toys dot com and check out our every day deals. (517) 555-1111. That’s (517) 555-1111 or Phil’s Toys dot com for the best selection, best prices and best services on all your toy needs. (517)-555-1111. Call Phil’s Toys today!!

Pretty much all of them, right?

Image result for boringMultiple unsubstantiated claims. Zero emotions. No representation of your Core Values.

Boring.

Most people will ignore that ad. The few that don’t ignore it will remember one of three points—that you have tons of products, cheap discount prices, and excellent customer service.

But what happens when your customers walk in to find you have a fraction of the products of your big chain competitors, prices that are fair but on the high side, and customer service that is decent but nothing to write home about?

Sure, you have good products. You’re selling a higher grade product than the chains. You’re selling lesser-known but better solutions than your customers are used to seeing. You have fewer choices because you’ve curated down to only the best options. But that isn’t what your ad said.

Sure you have good prices. Thanks to MAP, no one has prices consistently lower than yours (except for the rogue website or two that drives Amazon down temporarily until you complain to your vendor.) No one has prices any higher either. The prices are fair, if not inspiring. But that’s not what your ad said.

Sure you have great service. At least you think you do because customers tell you they love you and you get great reviews on Facebook. That’s the problem with customer service, though. There is no set definition in all customers’ minds what great service looks like. Just because you aren’t bumbling, gum-chewing, idiots like your competitors doesn’t mean you’re meeting your customer’s expectations. but that’s not what your ad said.

If you make an unsubstantiated claim in your advertising, most people won’t believe it (if they heard it at all.) Those few that do believe it better not be disappointed when they show up in your store. Otherwise they will become your greatest critics which is worse than them not showing up at all.

Whether you change your ads or change the experience, the ad and experience have to match to be effective.

Here is one way you could talk about your customer service that is interesting and more substantive …

The box wasn’t unusually heavy.  Awkward?  Yes.  But not too cumbersome.  Getting it into the trunk was fun.  The top first, a little twist here, and finally a big push.  The customer looked at me and said, “I probably should have brought the van.”  I laughed, “Next time.”  A couple of thank you’s and she left with a smile.  I had a happy customer, and a little fresh air.  Ahh, we love carrying the big stuff out to your car.  Toy House in downtown Jackson.  We’re here to make you smile.  But next time bring the van.

That is a true story from a time I was carrying a box out to a customer’s cars. It illustrates one of our services, but more importantly paints the picture of the level of service we offer.

Here’s another true story …

I served them ice cream.  8:30 in the morning and I served my staff ice cream.  Some looked at me like I was crazy.  Others dug right in.  Yeah, I’m a little unconventional that way.  Kinda like how we staff the store.  I have more staff on the floor than stores double our size.  Some think I’m crazy.  Others love it.  There’s always someone available to help you.  It takes a little more ice cream, but it’s worth every scoop.  Toy House in downtown Jackson.  We’re here to make you smile.

This one tells you one important point—we have “more staff on the floor than stores double our size.”

Stories are far more illustrative and effective at getting your point across in a way people will notice and remember. When you show customers what you do, you are substantiating your claim and making it more believable. When you tell a true story you also make it more memorable.

Show people what you have done to help them see what they can expect when they visit. Not only will your ads be more interesting, they will match the experience your customers have in the store perfectly.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here’s one more substantiated claim …

On a slow day we gift wrap about fifty packages.  On a busy day it’s closer to five hundred quickly and neatly wrapped gifts.  Why do we do it?  Because your time and money are valuable and this is how we help.  After fifty-six years and over five hundred miles of giftwrap, we’re pretty darn good at it.  Sure, there are a few hundred of our thirty thousand toys we just can’t wrap.  For everything else, let us do the work.  We like to wrap.  Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

Happy 4th of July (Whether You’re Open or Not)

Happy 4th of July!

If you worked for me at Toy House, today would be a paid holiday. Same with New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We only had two unpaid days we were closed—the Sundays before Memorial and Labor Day. Nine closed days, seven paid holidays.

Image result for fireworksYeah, I lost business being closed those days.

Yeah I gained business being closed those days.

Yeah, I increased payroll being closed those days.

Yeah, I decreased payroll being closed those days.

Wait, what?

First, understand that my store was in a downtown of a city surrounded by over one hundred lakes. No one was downtown. No one was going downtown on Memorial Day, 4th of July or Labor Day. If you are near the beach or amusement park, or river where the fireworks are going off, you might be better off being open.

The other holidays I lost business, especially Thanksgiving and New Years—days that many other retailers are open. At the same time, because I made a big deal out of giving my staff paid time off to be with their families, I actually gained loyalty from my customers who shared those values. Giving up business to be good to my staff made my brand stronger and helped me build trust among my customers. They realized our store was not driven only by the almighty dollar.

The key was letting my customers know why I was closed and what I was doing.

As for payroll, sure paid holidays are payroll with no income. I could be closed without offering pay. Then again, the biggest expense in payroll long-term is employee turnover. Take care of your staff and they’ll take care of you. Plus, it reinforced my values of putting my staff’s needs near the top of the list. My customers saw that and appreciated it. My staff truly appreciated it. In the long run it was a win-win all around.

You don’t have to be closed for holidays. In fact, you might be in a situation where you can’t be closed. I’m not telling you to be closed, either. I’m telling you to be true to your values and make sure your customers know exactly what you value. You’ll attract more customers that share those values, which will more than make up for any sales you might sacrifice or expenses you might add on in the process.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re gonna be open on those holidays, make it special for both your staff and your customers. They both are in your store instead of out celebrating. Go all out and celebrate in style. If I was open today, I’d be grilling hot dogs out front and singing patriotic songs.

Death by Typo

My buddy was at a conference recently and the presenter for his breakout session had a major typo in big bold letters at the top of one of his opening slides. My buddy couldn’t resist. He took a photo of this typo—and I’m talking not just a single letter but a major butchering—and posted it with the comment, “Why am I listening to this guy for advice?”

After we all agreed the comment was a bit snarky and we all agreed the speaker probably had some good content, I couldn’t quite let this speaker off the hook. After all, even PowerPoint has spellcheck.

The real problem was that a major blunder like this on something so easily proofread and corrected meant two things …

  1. The guy wasn’t prepared. He hadn’t given his presentation enough time to check for errors which sent the signal that the rest of his presentation was hastily slapped together, too.
  2. My buddy was so turned off and distracted by one little misstep, that he missed the message.

Your business sends similar signals to customers all the time. When you have typos or grammar mistakes in your signs and posters and emails and social media posts, you send the signal to many of your customers that you hastily slapped things together. You distract them with these errors and keep them from seeing what you want them to see.

It doesn’t have to be typos either. It can be a staff that is ill-prepared for an event or special offering. It can be contradicting terms from two different sales people. It can be trash by the front door. It can be poorly merchandised areas of your store. It can be dust. It can be a messy bathroom. It can be an answering machine with the wrong hours because the seasons have changed. It can be a website with the wrong hours. It can be a funny smell coming from the backroom staff area. It can be an old, faded, worn-out, been there since the 90’s sign that has a corner missing. It can be footprints of mud leading back to the model section from the work boots of one of your best customers. It can be disheveled clothing on your staff. It can be music that is too loud or too harsh for your shopping environment. It can be window and door glass with smudged finger and hand-prints. It can be products not matching the shelf signs.

It doesn’t have to be much to distract your customers from your awesome staff and fabulous product selection. That little typo can do more damage to your branding than the thousands of dollars you spend on advertising can do good. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

The band Van Halen used to put a clause in their contracts asking for M&M’s with all of a certain color removed. A lot of people thought they must be divas because of that. I was part of that crowd until I heard an interview with David Lee Roth, the acrobatic lead singer who used to fly around the stage. He said they had very intricate, detailed instructions for how to assemble the stage for his safety. If the show organizers were detailed enough to do the M&M’s right (something small and trivial in the grand scheme of things), he had more confidence the stage would be built right. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

You have a fabulous staff and wonderful products. Don’t do anything that signals the customer otherwise. Don’t do anything that distracts the customer from the prize. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There was another lesson from that presentation about bullet points, but I’ll save that for another day. You have enough to do looking for all those little distractions that mean a lot.

Is Collaboration Really the Problem?

I read an article that caught my eye in Inc. Magazine with the title “Collaboration Creates Mediocrity, Not Excellence, According to Science”. You read that title and you will believe that grand studies have now been done to prove that collaboration is a bad thing. Then you read the article and find out there is no science. There really isn’t even a good definition of “collaboration”.

Image result for inc magazine

Here is how the article defines collaboration…

“1) plenty of ad-hoc meetings and 2) open-plan offices that increase the likelihood that that such meetings take place.”

Really? That’s what passes for collaboration in corporate America? Floor plans that are conducive to more meetings?

I read the article, especially the “science” part of it and instead of seeing a problem with collaboration I saw a serious lack of good management. Here is what the science part had to say…

The problem is that rather than seeing a top performer as a role models, mediocre employees tend to see them as threats, either to their own position in the company or to their own feelings of self-worth.

Rather than improving their own performance, mediocre employees socially isolate top performers, spread nasty rumors about them, and either sabotage, or attempt to steal credit for, the top performers’ work. As the study put it: “Cooperative contexts proved socially disadvantageous for high performers.”

A good manager would have nipped that in the bud a long time ago. A good manager would have found ways to keep top performers at their peak while raising the level of mediocre employees. A good manager would have found ways to utilize the individual strengths of everyone on the team so that everyone felt like a valued contributor. A good manager would have created a team where everyone was working toward the success of the collective rather than individual success (while celebrating the individual accomplishments along the way).

I read that article (and the subsequent link to the study that used hair salons?? as their subject material) and came to a different conclusion.

Open floor plans do not lead to great collaboration. Then again neither do closed floor plans. And collaboration by itself without strong management and solid team building doesn’t work either. None of those address the true issue.

Collaboration works incredibly well. But only when you have the right manager in place, someone trained to build teamwork and communication and trust. 

How do I know? I’ve worked for managers like that. I’ve led teams of high productivity and high levels of collaboration. It all comes down to the skills of the manager.

That’s why I’m offering the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop next Wednesday, April 26th.  You’ll learn how to lead your team to their peak performance. You’ll learn how to create a culture that has everyone working on the same page for the same goals. You’ll learn how to motivate your team to do their best. You’ll learn how to set up training programs that turn everyone into top performers. You’ll learn all that in one incredibly fun day.

The class is limited to the first 18 people to sign up. Follow this link to sign up today.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Do you wish you could attend but can’t make the trip to Jackson? Contact me and we’ll figure out a plan to bring this workshop to you.

How to Teach a Class in Your Store

You know why you need to teach classes in your store. Here are the six steps you take to create a class that draws traffic, builds excitement, gains you followers, sets you up as the expert, and makes people want to buy from you.

  1. Determine which product(s) you sell that takes the longest to explain or takes the most trips before the customer pulls the trigger. These are the items to build your class around because these are the items that require an expert. The more questions a customer asks about a product, the more likely you’ll find people wanting to attend a class to learn more.
  2. Write down all the questions a customer typically asks about the product. Then add in two more questions you think they should be asking. This will become the outline of your presentation. (You can brainstorm this list with your sales staff.)
  3. List all the benefits of the products (remember, a feature is what the product does, a benefit is why that helps the user).
  4. List all the downsides of the product. Everything has a downside. If you don’t tell your customer up front, she will think you’re hiding something. Being honest about the downsides wins you trust.
  5. Get the customer to visualize using the product in her home or in her life. Ask questions like, “How would you use this?” Where would you use this?” “Do you see yourself using this?” “How would this affect your life right now?” This moves the customer from being in analytical mode to being in ownership mode. We only do in real life what we have already visualized in our minds. Get your customer to visualize owning the product and you will be more likely to win the sale.
  6. List all the reasons why someone should buy this product from you. If you offer services like layaway or financing or delivery or assembly, this is when you share that information. If you truly have answered all the most important questions including the ones they forgot to ask, and you have helped them visualize owning and using the product, then you have their permission to sell them. Just remember that you aren’t selling a product, you are selling a solution.

That’s the class. It is no different than selling to one person while a bunch of other people sit in and listen. You can decorate with comfortable seating, snacks & prizes (ask your vendors for giveaways), cool signs, etc. Just make sure you follow the steps above so that you offer a true benefit to your customers. They’ll thank you for the effort with their pocketbooks.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t worry about attendance. You might get 30 people, you might get 3. Make them feel special. Go above and beyond what they expect. Not only will you get the sale, you’ll get the referral, which is often a more powerful sales tool than the class, itself.

PPS Just a reminder that it doesn’t have to be that expensive to advertise. Social media, email, your website, some in-store signage, and a few online community calendars will draw a crowd. Make it worth their while and they’ll help you draw the next crowd.

Stories From Toy Fair

The big show for the toy industry starts this weekend. It feels weird not gearing up for the trip to NYC. So instead of a trip to New York, I’m going to take a trip down memory lane. Here are some of my favorite stories…

Toy Fair LEGO Booth 2010

This first story goes back to my grandfather, Mayor Phil Conley’s first trip back in 1950. Munn Furman (Furman’s Clothing) pulled him aside and told him the vendors there did their “credit check” by the thread count of his jacket. Munn gave my grandfather a new suit to wear and told Phil to pay him for it after the trip. Sure enough, the first showroom my grandfather entered, the guy vigorously shook his right hand saying hello and welcome, all the while rubbing the shoulders and back of the suit coat with his left hand. My grandfather knew immediately he would be paying Munn for that suit (and that suit was already paying for itself!)

Lesson? Appearances do matter. They did back then and they do today. Make a good first impression if you want to be taken seriously.

My dad had an interesting story of being in a showroom once back in the early 80’s when the Toys R Us buyer entered the room. The man talking to my dad left him in mid-sentence – yes, with half a word still dangling in the air – to go meet the TRU guy. Another gentleman came and escorted my parents from the showroom as they closed shutters and locked doors behind them. I had a similar experience in a booth two decades later when a salesperson actually said, “You’re not as important to me as the Toys R Us buyer. You can find your way out.” In both cases, those companies lost our business. In both cases those companies were out of business long before we were. In both cases, politeness would have gone a long way.

Lesson? Sure, your best customers deserve top-level attention. But then again, so do all your other customers. If either company had been polite and apologetic toward my dad or me, they wouldn’t have lost any customers that day.

One of my favorite booths was Education Outdoors. They had a hunting lodge feel to their booth. Tim and Jesse were always welcoming and friendly. They had two camp chairs in the booth. Usually I would see them late in the day. After two days walking the concrete floors lugging a few hundred pounds of catalogs, those camp chairs felt like Lazy Boy recliners. One year I got to their booth and my phone battery was dead. They had paid extra to have electricity in their booth and let me plug in my phone and pick it up an hour later. I can count on one hand the number of booths I trusted enough to even ask such a request, let alone trust them to leave my phone behind. Yes, they were always one of my favorite vendors. Probably one of yours, too, if you ever played the game “Camp”.

Lesson? Relationships matter. Trust matters. Helping each other out matters. Little acts of kindness matter. Get those things right and the rest will follow.

My favorite part of attending Toy Fair had to be the basement booths. The basement was filled with a lot of smaller companies. A lot of game inventors were downstairs. Education Outdoors was always downstairs. A lot of single-item toy inventors were downstairs. A lot of treasures to be discovered were downstairs. You had to walk some of the aisles with blinders on. This is where the real salesmanship was happening. Everyone was trying to catch your eye. Everyone had their pitch ready. If you so much as slowed down or glanced in their direction, they pounced.

“This will be bigger than Tickle Me Elmo!”
“Come on, give a small guy a chance…”
“Boo! Made you look. Now you have to stop in the booth!”

Or my favorite line I heard once, “Hey Phil, my friend bet me I couldn’t get you to stop in my booth.”

There were people sitting on chairs in the back of their booths waiting to be discovered. (They never were.) There were people jumping out in front of you as you walked the aisle. It was dog-eat-dog selling. The line that worked best was simply, “Phil, can I show you something new?”

Lesson? Honest, sincere pitches always work best. Gimmicks might get my attention, but never got me to buy. (Same thing with your advertising.)

I don’t miss travel to NYC in mid-February (been there for several feet of snow over the years) but I do miss the trade show, especially the after-hour sessions talking shop with my peers over a few beers. A lot of lessons to be learned for anyone paying attention.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I stopped. But only after he agreed to split his winnings with me. Funny thing is that I don’t remember the booth or the product, only the gimmick.

How Do I Make My Emails More Interesting?

I said earlier that you should send out an email newsletter only when you have something new and interesting to say. Coming up with something new is easy. As a retailer you have more new products and new events and stories than you could ever find time to write them up – especially since it takes so much of your energy to write them up in an interesting way.

Here are some easy easy-to-follow templates to make your emails more interesting. (Think of it as Mad Libs for retailers.)

NEW PRODUCTS

Simply finish these three statements.

  1. I bought this product for the store because…
  2. You should buy this product because…
  3. When you use this product you will get…

You can give them all the facts, but what people really want to know is how will this product impact their lives. The first question reminds them you are the expert. The next two questions help them understand why they need this product and what life will be like when they own it. Get them to visualize owning it. People only do in real life what they have already seen in their own mind. Use phrases like, “When you use this…”

NEW EVENTS

Yes people need to know when and where and if there is a charge. That is a single line below the title of the event.

Disney Princess Dance
Saturday, February 17 at 6pm – FREE

After that you follow a similar template as above to get your potential crowd to visualize attending. Use phrases like these…

  1. [Expected Audience] will love coming to…
  2. You will… [talk about what they will do]
  3. You’ll walk away with… [benefits of attending]

STORIES

Telling stories about your staff or your vendors or how you got where you are today help you build relationships and set yourself up as the expert they can trust. Stories make you real. Stories give your fans something to share with their friends.

Here are some easy ways to start your stories…

  • “You know [staff name], but did you know…?” (Then tell them something interesting, cool, weird, unknown.)
  • “You bought many things from [vendor] but did you know they…?” (Then tell them something interesting, cool, weird, unknown.)
  • “You know us as [current reputation] but there was a time when…” (Then tell them something interesting about your history that led you to here.)

Stories don’t have to be long. They just have to capture someone’s interest. In fact, the shorter the story, the more memorable and easier to share.

You don’t have to be a great writer to write interesting emails. Just use these simple templates to keep the focus on what is in it for your customers. Make it about them, not about you, and your engagement will go way up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Go back through this email and see how many times I used the word “you” versus “me” or “I”. The easiest way to make your emails more about your customer is liberal use of the words “you” and “your”.