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The Biggest Thing That Needs to Change

I kept my email address from Toy House. I kept it partly because I have so much history with that address I didn’t want to lose, partly because so many people have it and still use it to get a hold of me, and partly because I don’t really like the Gmail platform. Even though I’ve sent hundreds of emails out letting people know Toy House is closed, I still get emails from vendors every single day.

I got one a couple of days ago with a simple question that made me stop and ponder …

“What is the one biggest change that has to happen in your industry for you to be successful?”

You know me. A profound question like that requires an equally profound answer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have one.

Oh, I had answers …

  • Vendors not competing directly with retailers by selling direct online
  • Communities not giving huge tax breaks to corporate stores and distribution centers unless they give it to all sizes of businesses opening up including indie retailers
  • Transparency in pricing so that a “sale” is actually a sale, not just some inflated discount off a never-used, super-high price that is completely unrealistic

I wasn’t sure any of them were profound as much as simply wishes that likely won’t come true.

Vendors will stupidly compete with their retailers despite the many examples around them of companies who failed miserably doing so. They see the short-term dollars, get consumed by immediate greed, and hurt the very retailers they need to survive in the long run.

Communities will continue to give the giant retailers tax-break incentives to build in their town, hoping upon hope it will spur further development, not realizing that they are bankrupting the future of their community while destroying the identity of their community at the same time.

Thanks to JC Penney’s colossal failure with their everyday transparent pricing, and the addictive nature the customer gets from thinking he or she got a deal, the mark-it-up-to-mark-it-down philosophy will exist until the apocalypse. You’ve been trained by the department stores to never pay full price for clothing (and almost everything else), even though you do every single day because their “sale” is a false one designed to make you feel good. It’s the one tool in the retail toolbox everyone knows how to use.

It took me two days to find the answer I thought would have the most realistic impact on the indie retail channel …

  • Retailers more focused on training their staff to sell and serve rather than just run another discount

The big chains have gotten rid of all sales and service training. First, it’s too expensive. They are all in a cost-cutting frenzy to try to stay profitable with the shrinking margins and growing competition. Second, they don’t have enough staff to make it worthwhile. Third, they are wasting tons of money chasing the wrong things (like omni-channel retailing).

Most indie retailers don’t do any training on sales and service. First, they don’t know how. Second, they don’t have the time. Third, they don’t think it will make a difference. Yet pretty much every indie retailer that decided to hire someone to teach them and their staff how to sell has seen growth.

This is where you can have the most lasting impact for your business. This is where you can stand out. It isn’t enough to just be smarter about the products than your competitor. Thanks to the Internet, your customers are already pretty darn smart about the products. Learning how to take care of your customers better, however, pays better than anything else you might spend your money on.

It pays better than advertising. One universal truth of retail is that it is cheaper to keep a customer than find a new one. Plus, the better you take care of your customers, the more word-of-mouth referrals you get. If you have to choose between spending to advertise and spending to train your staff, you’ll get greater returns spending on your staff.

It pays better than an eCommerce site. Even the buy-online-pick-up-at-store concept doesn’t change the bottom line for the better. It only cannibalizes your in-store sales while eliminating your best bet for creating a lasting relationship with the customer by taking your staff out of the equation. No one has ever bragged to a friend about an amazing experience they had at a self-serve checkout lane.

Invest in on-going sales and service training for you and your staff. This is the biggest change I would like to see in the indie retail industry.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I’ll leave you with one more profound quote from Richard Branson … “Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” 

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