I saved one item from the Toy House when we closed. One item that had endured the entire 67 years of our existence. One item that had served one single purpose, unchanging, for the store’s entire life. It was the metal box we used to hold our layaway cards. If you ever had a layaway at Toy House, your name was on a card in that box.
The cards changed over the years. We updated them with different logos. We went to duplicate paper when our printers changed. We added services to our layaway program. We even made a major point-of-sale software provider change the way their programming did layaway so that it matched our level of service.
The layaway program changed, but the box remained the same.
Any business that has been around ten or more years knows how drastically business can change. For most retailers, your product changes every year, sometimes several times a year. Your marketing changes as your market changes. Employees come and go. Customers come and go.
But change is scary. That is why we cling to the known. We hold onto what we remember. We defend the status quo. We use marketing that worked before even if it isn’t working now. We sell products long past their peak. We hold onto employees long past their usefulness.
The layaway box reminds me of one simple truth. When something you are doing is no longer productive, you need to change it. The box did its job quietly, efficiently, and unassuming. The layaway program, however, went through many changes to accommodate the needs of the customers.
Here is your summary of what should change in your store …
Never Change: Your Core Values, Putting Your Customer First
Don’t Change Now: Anything that is productive and efficient
Change Now: Everything else
Change doesn’t have to be major. Sometimes you just need a little tweak here or there to raise the productivity and efficiency of a program or policy or employee. Paint a wall. Try a new product line. Change the terms of a policy. Move a display or two. Upgrade the phone system. Reprint signs. Reword your phone message. Add a new training program.
Notice also that I didn’t say eliminate. Just like you, your customers like what is familiar and comfortable. Make your changes simple, customer-centric, and obviously better for everyone. It will still feel familiar and comfortable, only better and more productive. As credit cards became more common, our layaway program became less used. We tweaked it to fit the needs of those who still loved it, without getting rid of it entirely.
PS The accompanying photo was taken in 1957 at the original store on First Street. That is my grandfather, Phil Conley, who founded Toy House. The layaway box is in the foreground and pretty full. Grandpa taught me a lot about Core Values and Putting Your Customer First.
PPS I don’t know what I am going to do with that box quite yet. I’m open to suggestions.