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Category: Word of Mouth

Give Them Something to Talk About (Part 1)

My eyes always glazed over. Didn’t matter if it was Toy Fair, ASTRA, the All Baby & Child Expo (ABC), the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (JPMA) Trade Show, or SuperZoo. By the end of the day my eyes were glassy, my pupils were dilated, and my senses were overloaded. One booth after another melded into the landscape until none of them stood out.

” … until none of them stood out.”

Last Monday I walked the tradeshow floor at the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. The day before, I did a presentation about how to get people to talk about your business. One of the ways is to have Over-the-Top Design.

Have some element of your store (or booth)be it the design of your building (like Estes Ark in Estes Park, CO), an element of your store like the chalkboards or directional signs we had in front and on the side of our building, an element inside your store such as our Circus Mirrors, Electric Train Display, or LEGO building/racing ramp, or even through the products you might sell such as the 32,000 piece puzzle we had that weighed 42 pounds and was almost 18 feet long when finished—be so crazy and unexpected that customers have to tell their friends about it.

Eighteen rows of vendor booths later and only two stood out.

Lenny and Mark from Marky Sparky

The first was Marky Sparky. Mark Rappaport and his company Marky Sparky had been honored earlier that morning as the ASTRA Vendor of the Year, an honor well-deserved. The day before, he and his sales manager Lenny Breeden sat through my presentation on word-of-mouth. Lenny came up afterwards and said, “Wait until you see our booth tomorrow.” He was right.

What they did was simple. It didn’t cost much either. But it was innovative, unexpected, interactive, and fun. Mark created a “target” for their Faux Bow out of straws jammed into a box. Now you could shoot their indestructible foam/plastic arrows into the target and they would stick just like real arrows into a bale of hay. People were lining up to take turns shooting the bow.

At the end of the day, when I asked retailers what they saw that looked cool, the most common answer was, “Did you see the target at Marky Sparky? That was cool!”

Marky Sparky was winning the battle of word-of-mouth.

The second most common booth I heard about was selling jumbo hula hoops. Yes, jumbo! Hoops that were close to six feet in diameter! Apparently the larger the hoop, the easier it is to hula. These were designed to help adults get into hula-hooping (and the fabulous core exercises it offers). The booth stood out, not only because of the number of old people like me trying to hoop for the first time in thirty years, but because they had over-sized a product we all knew and loved. Interactive, unexpected, and larger-than-life fun.

In a trade show filled with 18 aisles of booths and over 500 vendors, only two booths had done something so over-the-top to stand out among the rest. I saw booths without decorations. I saw booths simply filled with chrome or wood shelves and products displayed military-style on those shelves. Some booths had active people manning the booth jumping out in front of us to shove catalogs in our hands as we walked the aisles. Other booths had people sitting in chairs staring at their phones, wondering why no one was stopping. But only two had done something worth talking about.

You have to do something to stand out.

This applies to any business anywhere. Whether you are a booth at a trade show, a retailer in a crowded retail market, or even an advertiser during the Super Bowl, all that matters is at the end of the day, are people talking about you? If they are talking about you, you’re winning. If they aren’t, you’ve melded into the landscape and become invisible, forgettable.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of change. One thing you need to change right now is to add some design element that is so over-the-top that people say, “OMG! Did you see that??!!” 

It can be outside where people see it driving by. It can be inside that gets people into the store. It can be a display or demo. It can even be a product you “sell” (we never expected to sell our 32,000 piece puzzle, we just used it to get people to talk—and sold three of them!!)

For best effect, make it unexpected, interactive, and larger-than-life fun.

Nice job, Mark & Lenny!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There was one other booth with a WOW Factor. The folks at Spooner Boards had a ramp for their mini-surfboard type toys and were showing off their product by doing tricks and stunts on the ramp. The problem is, they’ve done that every year so it wasn’t unexpected. Change. Once you set the bar high, you need to keep raising it higher to get more word-of-mouth. That’s why we were constantly adding new elements of over-the-top design to Toy House over the years.

PPS This is Part 1. I’ll tell you some other ways to get people to talk about you in future posts.

Some Inventory Management is a Customer Service Issue, Too

My mom shops like a man. Get in, get what you need, and get out. Her lifetime of being raised in retail, her always efficient use of time, and her preference to spend her free time playing golf, playing bridge, reading books, or doing cross-stitch needlepoint all have led her to this shopping style. Oh, she’ll browse the dozens of catalogs she gets in the mail each week, but spending a day at the mall is not her idea of a great time.

Even in a book store, her favorite form of shopping, she’s a hunter more than a browser.

Last weekend, however, she took my boys on a shopping trip, hitting several stores in the Ann Arbor area. Of course, she hit those stores the way she always does, with purpose, focus, and an eye for efficiency. At one point in Macy’s, while my older son tried on some shorts, she asked my younger son to go find a cash register that was actually open. Her keen eye had not seen any employees at any registers yet, and she had to have her exit strategy mapped out.

She’s training my boys to shop like her, much in the way she trained me. When I’m in buying mode, I go in, get what I want, and get out. If I’m in a store to browse, I’m doing it to gather information for future blog posts, researching for my clients, or spending time with friends who love to shop (while I’m doing research.)

You might think from that description that my mom and I are mostly Transactional Shoppers who know what they want and are just on a hunt to get the best price. You would be wrong. Other than my bad habit of Diet Mountain Dew (I call it my “green tea”) that I’ll buy wherever it is on sale, I have my favorite stores where I’ll go first for all my needs. My mom is the same way.

If you consistently have the stuff we want, we’ll consistently shop at your store—even if someone else is selling it slightly cheaper.

The key phrase is “consistently.” If you are often out-of-stock of the items I regularly buy, I’ll stop shopping at your store, no matter how well you treat me.

Image result for empty shelvesIn a few days I’m going to give a new presentation at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy. The title is “Profit Margin is Not Your Only Money Maker”. The premise is about how and when to sell lower-margin goods. One of those times is when you are the store people “expect” to sell that product. You don’t want to disappoint those customers and drive them away.

Not all hunters are Transactional. Some like to hunt at your store because they always know they’ll find their prey. Listening to my mom regale the tales from shopping with the boys reminded me of that important distinction.

Ask yourself …

  • What products do you sell on a regular, consistent basis, day-in-and-day-out?
  • What products do you sell at the highest turn ratio?
  • What products do people walk in asking for directly the most because they expect you’ll have it?
  • What products do you know your customers will buy online if they can’t get it at your store right now?

Those are your Must-Haves. Those are the products that keep your Relational Customers like my mom and me happy.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your buying. If you need to add to the order to reach a better deal, add some Must-Haves. Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your marketing and advertising. Being out-of-stock often is one way to get bad Word-of-Mouth circulating. Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your overall customer service. The more your staff can say, “Yes we do!” the better they feel and the better the customer feels.

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

Being World Famous

I hope someday to be world famous. I could almost say that I already am world famous. I do have a follower in Russia. I have another in Serbia and one in Austria. I have a couple followers from the southern hemisphere. I have shipped my Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel book overseas on several occasions. I’m not exactly a household name, but getting there.

Some places claim to be world famous on even less than that. Some places truly are world famous. I talked about two of them yesterday.

Here is another worth mentioning.

Image result for pike place fish market
World Famous Pike Place Fish Market

Pike Place Fish Market, the retailer highlighted in the excellent training book FISH!, wasn’t world famous at one time. They were just a fish market in Seattle trying to carve out a niche in their market. Business was okay. Like every retailer on the planet, they wanted it to be more than okay. The staff and management got together and decided they wanted to be World Famous.

Deciding you want to be World Famous is powerful. Acting on that decision is the true magic.

When the team at the fish market made that decision, the first question that popped up was the one that would change their fortunes forever.

“What does a World Famous Fish Market look and act like?”

The simplest answer was that it doesn’t look and act like all the other fish markets out there.  It does things differently.

A World Famous Retailer …

  • Offers services no other retailer in their industry offers
  • Treats customers better than they could ever imagine
  • Has hard-to-find products no one else sells
  • Makes an emotional connection with their customers
  • Makes people feel good about themselves, about their purchases, and about life in general
  • Is an experience, not just a shopping trip
  • Is prepared for crowds (heck, they are prepared for anything)
  • Always, always, always has the right attitude
  • Always, always, always does more than the customer expected
  • Foresees problems before they happen, and nips them in the bud
  • Fixes problems right away without hassle, and to a level better than the customer expected

Being World Famous is a mindset first, a recognition second, and a designation third. The path to World Famous is pretty simple. Decide you want to be world famous and do everything on that list consistently year-in-and-year-out, or open up a few thousand stores. Either way, you’ll become World Famous.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I was looking through one of the Memory Books we had for people to sign when they visited Toy House. (People love to sign books like that at World Famous locations, hint, hint.) Found this one …

“Awesome store! What a pleasant surprise! Greetings from the Netherlands, Europe”

Right below it was …

“Thank you for such a wonderful evening and such a wonderful store. -Amiye, Cairo Egypt”

You don’t have to be World Famous to act World Famous. Do the acting part first and the rest will take care of itself.

PPS You can call yourself World Famous before you actually are, but then you better perform like it. Anything less and the marketing will be all for naught.

Pay it Down

You’ve heard the phrase Pay it Forward. Someone does something nice for you, and instead of doing something nice back, you do something nice for someone else. I have several things I need to pay forward in my life, including one act of generosity that happened this fall.

I love the concept of Pay it Forward. I love the concept of generosity in the first place. Generosity leads to positive Word-of-Mouth.

One area of generosity I encourage my indie retailers is to Pay it Down. Be generous with those who work for you.

I served my team bacon and eggs.

Be generous with granting them time off. This business is your every waking moment and your life. It isn’t theirs. They have more on their mind than just your business.

Be generous with your praise. This is a stressful time of year no matter how enjoyable it is supposed to be. Retail workers not only live that stress, they are on the receiving end of everyone else’s stress. Praise reduces stress.

Be generous with your time. Especially in these next few weeks. A little extra time listening to your staff may gain you some incredible insights for ways to improve your store. A little extra time showing you care about your employees will cause them to care more about you and your store.

Be generous with your giving. If you’re running your store right, your staff are making you money. Sure, you’re paying them to do that. At the same time, a little extra this time of year makes a world of difference. If you plan to give a gift instead of just money, make it personal and you’ll reap benefits fare beyond your imagination.

When you Pay it Down to your staff, you show them how much you appreciate them. We learned from Charles Dickens that’s the better way to act this time of year.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Little things mean a lot. Hire a masseuse for a day. Cater a big lunch on busy days. Bring in coffee. Give extended lunch hours. Give gift cards to local restaurants and shops (you can often get those businesses to trade gift certificates with you.) Share treats from sales reps with the team. Bake cookies and make a few extra for everyone to take home. Say thank you. A lot.

PPS Be amazingly grateful if someone pays it up. You owe them a lot more than they owe you. Without you, they don’t have a job. Without them, you don’t have a business.

It is an All-the-Time Kinda Thing

One of the phone calls I dreaded most while running Toy House would happen occasionally on my lunch hour. I’d look down at my cellphone and see “Toy House” was calling. It rarely was a “problem.” My staff knew exactly how I liked problems to be handled. The phone call I dreaded was most often this simple question …

“When will you be back? We have a customer waiting to get her car seat checked.”

I hated that call. Not because it meant cutting my lunch short. If you’ve seen me, you know I could stand to skip a few meals now and then. I hated that call because it meant a customer was not getting served properly. If you offer a service, you need to offer it every single moment you are open.

That’s me teaching a class on car seats and stroller.

Although we started checking car seats back in the late 1990’s, we didn’t publicize it as a service until 2005 because I didn’t have enough people trained to offer that service full time until 2005. With the exception of trade show weeks and vacations, I made sure someone was scheduled to offer this service almost every single moment we were open.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I stopped in a Meijer store early one morning. I was in this store that is open 24/7 at 7:50am to do a return. They have a Customer Service desk where you go for returns. I went there and spoke to the nice lady behind the counter. She informed me they weren’t open yet. Not open? The store is open 24/7!

“Could I take my items to a cash register lane to do the return?”

“No, you’ll have to wait until 8am.”

The store may be open 24/7 but the Customer Service desk is only open 8am to 10pm. Apparently they only offer service for 14 of those 24 hours.

It reminded me of the time I once went to a Sam’s Club. They had the item I wanted in stock, but it was “up in the steel.” Unfortunately there were no forklift drivers to get it down for me. I would have to wait until morning. Really???

I point these out because these are the kinds of stories people like to share with their friends. These are the negative stories that get passed along from person to person, growing in scope and stature with each re-telling.

That’s why I hated to get that phone call. That was one more customer who could potentially have a negative story to share about my store. 

If you advertise you offer a service, you have to offer that service the entire time you are open. Period. Otherwise you open yourself up to that other kind of advertising that is extremely difficult to overcome.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you have a service that is impossible to offer the entire time you are open, make sure the restrictions are known well in advance. Let people know clearly if it is by appointment only, or limited hours, or only on certain days. Control the stories people tell about your business and you’ll control the growth of your business. Oh, and always keep your cellphone on when you go to lunch.

Not Everyone Is Expecting the Same Thing

A couple weeks ago I did a Customer Service workshop with the staff of Kingman Museum. In a workshop for a single entity I get to do some different things than I do in a presentation to a large and varied group, including focusing in on different elements of customer service that will truly make a difference for the types of customers you’ll see.

As you know …

Customer Service is a measure of how well you meet your customers’ expectations.

The minimum bar is simply to give the customer exactly what she expected. Anything less and she’ll tear you to shreds on Facebook or Yelp or in the hallway outside the MOPS meeting. Anything more, however, and she’ll sing your praises to the mountain top.

It is a fine line between failing and winning. Worse yet, the line is constantly shifting because not every customer is expecting the same thing.

In the planetarium at Kingman Museum. You should check it out.

Our first exercise, therefore, was to figure out the different personas that visit the museum. We came up with eight basic personas; The Member, The Young Family, The Homeschooler, The Field Trip, The Tourist, The Senior Citizen, The Passer-By, and The Donor. We then described the general characteristics of each persona, listing them on pieces of easel paper taped around the room.

Then, as we looked at all the interaction points the staff has with the visitor, we talked about how the expectations differ based on the personas. For instance, Tourists are looking for a far different experience than Homeschoolers. Senior Citizens want to see what is very new (because they are frequent visitors) and very old (for nostalgia’s sake). Young Families want activities to keep the wiggles at bay. The Donor wants to see where the money went.

First, by knowing these personas and the different expectations they might have, we were able to create different ways to exceed their expectations.

Second, we spent a lot of time on the importance of communication. It is through the relationship-building process that you learn which persona best fits their needs, and also what personal expectations they might have, so that you can apply those surprising moments.

This is a simple exercise you should do with your staff.

  • Start by describing the different types of customers. Give them each a name.
  • List the characteristics that define each persona.
  • Brainstorm questions you can ask (or answers you can look for) to help you identify each persona.
  • List the expectations each persona might have, especially how they differ from the other personas.
  • Think of what it will take to surprise and delight each persona.

Only when you know the different types of customers and what they expect from your store can you truly meet and exceed their expectations on a regular basis. Giving a group of kids on a Field Trip a list of your favorite nearby local restaurants is not nearly as delightful as it is when you give it to the Tourist.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Some of you are already ahead of me in figuring out that these personas also play a role in your marketing and advertising. When creating new advertisements, pick one persona and write directly to that person. It won’t be as effective for the other personas, but it will move the needle for her in ways you never imagined.

PPS Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is a great exercise to work on over the course of several meetings. Start with simply identifying the different personas and what makes them unique. At the next meeting you can start to talk about their expectations and how you identify them. What you will find between those two meetings is that at the second meeting they may have a sharper definition for each persona. That means they were observing. Praise them for that. By the third meeting, however, you should be working on ways to surprise and delight.

PPPS If the veterinarian staff had done this exercise with the simple personas of Cat Person and Dog Person, they would have been OMG instead of WTF.

PPPPS Go to Kingman Museum and see how they are doing. The museum is really cool with a ton of stuff packed into an architecturally cool building. Plus, they have a planetarium! (Be gentle. This is the first time they have looked at Customer Service as a thing, let alone as a different thing for different people.)

Robots Replacing Workers

I’ve been following the minimum wage hike debate for years. As a store owner, minimum wage had a direct impact on our bottom line. I never wanted to pay minimum wage to my team because I never expected minimum work. Yet, in retail, there are only so many dollars to go around. Add more to the payroll and you have to subtract from somewhere else, or grow your business enough to cover the added expense.

One of the arguments often used by those opposed to minimum wage hikes is that it would lead to more automation. I can envision that reality in big corporate chains for two reasons. The first is that many retail corporations don’t do anything to train their employees to maximum effectiveness. The second is that these same corporations also don’t value their employees or expect anything out of them. (Does anyone see the vicious downward cycle in this thought process?)

Robot scanning shelves in a Walmart pharmacy
Picture from Walmart’s blog

The reality of automation is coming to a Walmart near you. Walmart is testing robots in select stores in Arkansas, California, and Pennsylvania to help scan and stock shelves.

Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce, said that the robots were 50% more productive than their human counterparts but would not replace workers or impact worker headcount.

Are you buying that? Do you really think Walmart is going to invest in robots that are 50% more productive and still pay all the displaced workers at the same time?

Automation is coming to the big stores and it will have a huge effect on their bottom line. First, they get a tax break for investing in capital infrastructure. Second, they get to replace less-efficient employees with robots who have no restrictions on hours worked, overtime, vacation pay, healthcare, etc. That’s a win-win for them.

It can also be a win for you. The more they automate, the more you differentiate. Automation is designed to give a consistent, expected, reliable outcome. It isn’t designed to surprise and delight. (Then again, neither is an untrained team, like what the big corporations are using now.)

Our payroll at Toy House was not only a higher percentage than any of our competitors, it was higher than most independent toy stores. Why?

Amazing customer service from a well-trained staff is the best, most effective form of advertising and marketing you could ever conceive.

What’s more powerful? Me telling you on the radio to shop at Toy House or your best friend telling you why she likes shopping at Toy House? What’s more persuasive? Me on a billboard on your drive home or your co-worker saying you should visit Toy House?

You don’t have the resources to invest in robots like Walmart does. But you do have the resources to invest in training for your staff. You do have the resources to pay your staff more (and expect more out of them in return). You do have the resources to make your customers’ experiences so wonderful they have to tell their friends. Call it your advertising budget if you want. But put your money into your staff. That’s where your ROI will be highest.

Investing in your team will always beat automation and minimum wage hikes. Always.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not sure how to raise the bar on your customer service to the point that people talk? Here are two free resources from my website:

Use those as a starting point for crafting your own training program.

If you need more, I can suggest a few good people to come in and work with you and your staff, including one guy who used to run a pretty cool toy store with a huge payroll.

Sleds, Stories, and Certain Death

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

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

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

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

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

My sled is not most sleds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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

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

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

What is Your $800 Dress?

Sandy was a friend of my parents. He ran a dress store in Jackson for several years. I was an impressionable teenager when he spoke these words, but they have stuck with me for over three decades.

“If you want to sell a $500 dress, you have to show an $800 dress.” -Sandy Pelham

32,000-piece Jigsaw Puzzle!

In my 24 years full time at Toy House I always tried to have an $800 dress somewhere on the floor. We once had a $1,500 round crib with canopy at a time when the average cribs we were selling were about $250 each. More recently we had a 32,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that was over six feet tall and 18 feet wide when finished. It came in a giant box that weighed 42 pounds and even had its own handcart!

We never expected to sell these items. We used them in the same way Sandy did to sell lesser items. It worked! It always works because it works on many different levels.

Yes, the obvious level is that the really expensive item makes everything else look more affordable.

The more important level, however, is the talk value of the item.

A $1,5000 crib isn’t necessarily that special. A $1,500 round crib with a canopy and $1,200 worth of fancy bedding is something you have to drag your friends over to see. A $300 jigsaw puzzle isn’t that impressive. A jigsaw puzzle that comes with its own handcart to move the forty-two pound box up to the register is something you have to drag you friends over to see.

Years ago I was doing a workshop in a small, tourist town along Lake Michigan. I met a jewelry store owner there who was concerned how her traffic had fallen off. She used to be the “it” store on their little downtown strip. People would stop by in droves to see the $34,000 diamond ring she inherited when she bought the store. She had a special chair where women could sit to try on that ring. Thirty-four thousand dollars might not seem like a lot if you live in a big city, but in this sleepy little lake town, that was worth dragging your friends over to see.

Much to the store owner’s delight, she sold the ring one afternoon. I asked her if she had replaced the ring.

“No”

“When did your traffic and sales start to decline?”

“After we sold the ring.”

“Do you see the connection?”

The ring, like our round cribs and ginormous jigsaw puzzle, was the attraction, was the draw, was the WOW factor that people had to drag their friends over to see. The ring was her $800 dress. I told her that her advertising budget for the year better be around $34,000 (well, okay, maybe a little less taking into account her markup, but you get the idea.)

Do you have a product in your store people are dragging their friends over to see? If not, you should get one. Not only will you eventually sell it (we sold 12 of those round cribs and 3 puzzles), it will pay for itself in word-of-mouth advertising and drawing traffic many times over.

What is your $800 dress?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you can sell. We once had a giant Tripp Trapp chair scaled to make an adult feel like he was two years old. People dragged their friends over to see it and it helped us sell hundreds of the regular Tripp Trapp chairs. It just has to have that WOW factor that makes people want to show their friends. My favorite thing I loved to overhear in the store was, “Come over here. You have to see this!”

PPS The one downside people often worry about when putting something incredibly expensive on the sales floor is the “image” it might give customers that your store is the expensive store. Get over yourself. First, customers already believe you are the expensive store because your store isn’t named Walmart, so don’t disappoint them. Second, it is more likely they will think of you as the fun store because you know how to surprise and delight them with products they couldn’t even imagine. Put it in your advertising budget instead of COGS if you want to justify the expense. Just make sure it has the WOW factor for your market.