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Author: Phil Wrzesinski

Phil Wrzesinski is the National Sales Manager of HABA USA toy company, a Former Top-Level, Award-Winning Retailer, a Thought-Provoking Speaker, a Prolific Author, a 10-Handicap Golfer, an Entertaining Singer/Songwriter, and a Klutz Kid who enjoys anything to do with the water (including drinking it fermented with hops and barley), anything to do with helping local independent businesses thrive, and anything that puts a smile on peoples' faces.

The October 1st List

Do you have an October 1st List? If you’re a holiday-driven retailer, you should.

What is an October 1st List?

An October 1st List is all the things you need to remember to do for the busy fourth quarter. It is a growing list, one you add to each fourth quarter when something comes up that you forgot to do.

An October 1st List includes things you need to buy like:

  • Place orders for all those 4th Quarter Only items
  • Double check all post-dated shipping orders you placed at a show this summer to make sure it is what you really need
  • Identify and re-order the Must-Haves, the Hot Sellers, and the giveaways you’ll need for your events
  • Stock up on extra bags, giftwrap, tissue, bows, tape, etc.
  • Order extra blank name tags for seasonal help
  • Salt for the parking lot and sidewalks

An October 1st List includes things you need to schedule like:

  • Carpet cleaning
  • Holiday Window decorator
  • Snow plowing for parking lot/Taking the snow blower in for preseason tuneup
  • Special Guests for events and trainings
  • Radio deejays for events
  • Charity events
  • Time for interviewing, doing background checks, hiring, and training seasonal staff

An October 1st List includes reminders like:

  • Remind the staff to get flu shots
  • Remind the staff to order new shirts for the season
  • Remember to buy more coffee for the break room
  • Remind staff to create new lists of suggested products

An October 1st List includes things you need to update like:

  • Refresh all printed signs in the store
  • Update hours on Website, Google, and Facebook
  • Re-evaluate Team Member Handbook before seasonal help starts
  • Replace welcome mats by front door
  • Remove summer flowers in pot by front door and replace with fall decorations

An October 1st List is that final reminder to make sure all your i’s and t’s have been dotted and crossed.

There is nothing more frustrating than getting into the busy season and finding out there is something you forgot to do.

So today, October 1st, start writing down all those reminders of things you’ve forgotten in the past. Start writing down all those items on the never-ending to-do list that are strictly fourth-quarter oriented. And keep the list handy to write down things you forgot as the season progresses. Next year, the list should be pretty solid.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” -Seneca

The fourth quarter starts today. May it be a lucky one for you!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I got this idea from a friend who had an October 1st List for himself with things like wash the windows, prep the garden for winter, take the snow blower in for preseason service, etc. He said every year around Thanksgiving, just as his life was getting hectic, there would be something he forgot to do, so he started making a list. As a small business owner, you wear so many hats that lists like this are essential.

The Conundrum of Choice

I used to advertise the heck out of the fact Toy House had the largest selection of toys under one roof of any store in the area. In our heyday we had over twice the selection of a Toys R Us and five times the selection of the Walmarts, Targets, and Kmarts of the world. Back in the 80’s and 90’s when bigger was better, this seemed to be the perfect calling card.

And it was—at least for drawing traffic.

Paradox of Choice cover.jpgSometimes, however, the super large selection was also a detriment to sales. Having too many options can lead to Analysis Paralysis. Barry Schwartz called this the Paradox of Choice (in the book by the same name).

While we like having freedom of choice, when we have too many choices, the process of selection bogs down.

I was thinking about this the other day while I was out shopping. I needed a closet deodorizer. The store I was in offered nine or ten different options. I had no clue. They all seemed to do about the same thing. I didn’t recognize any of the brands so I made my decision based on price.

I eliminated the most expensive item figuring that it probably wasn’t any better than the others, especially since it didn’t have a brand name I recognized. I threw out the least expensive item figuring the company probably cut corners to make it, so it likely wouldn’t be as effective or last as long. I then chose something toward the bottom of the prices left, figuring they were all similar, why spend any more?

Is that the way you want customers shopping in your store?

It was the perfect example of the paradox of choice. Had there only been two or three items, I would have studied the differences between them and chosen a product based on features and benefits. But with nine items, instead of seeing differences, I only saw similarities, so I based my decision on brand and price.

This is the Trader Joe’s philosophy …

Limit the selection to make it easier for the customer to choose based on the criteria of the product.

From this you could conclude that it is better to curate a great selection than to just offer more than your competitors. In many ways you would be right.

There is still something to be said, however, for having the largest selection. It is and always has been a traffic draw. Stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Staples, and JoAnn’s still rely on the perception of unlimited choices to drive their business.

The trick to making it work is having a staff that can curate your large selection that drew your customers in into a smaller selection from which they can make a choice.

I worked with my staff to do the following:

  • Ask questions why the customer wants a particular item. What are they trying to accomplish?
  • Curate our selection down to the two or three best “solutions”
  • Always show the best solution first, regardless of price or budget. Often a customer will bust the budget for the item that best fits her needs

When you have too many choices, while the traffic it draws is nice, you’re forcing your customers to shop based on brand and price (and often the lower prices win).

When you curate the choices, you help your customers shop based on features and benefits (and often the item offering the most benefits wins).

See the difference?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you are a smaller store, by all means curate the selection in advance, but if you have the space, don’t be afraid to have several choices based on the different “solutions” they provide. Just make sure your staff knows how to curate the choices down for each individual customer. Remember, everyone walking through your door has a different problem to solve.

A Simple Game to Help You Improve Your Store

I was visiting a good friend and toy store owner in Lawrence, KS (The Toy Store – you should visit if you’re ever in the area) and she asked me, “Does visiting stores like mine make you miss being on the retail side?”

My answer was an immediate and definitive No.

Oh, I get inspired when I see fabulous stores done well like The Toy Store. I love walking through a store thinking, “I could have done that at Toy House.” But while visiting great stores and thinking about what I could have done is something that happens all the time, it isn’t the good stores that make me miss being a retailer.

It is the bad ones that get me going.

The game I play the most is inspired by the famous Dr. Seuss book, If I Ran the Zoo. When I walk through a bad retail store my mind quickly goes to, “If I ran this store, the first thing I would do is …”

It takes a lot of hubris to play a game like this. First, to call a retailer “bad” that is still open in today’s retail climate is fairly judgmental. Second, to think I could make it better takes another level of arrogance. Yet, it is a game and an arrogance I would actually encourage you to have.

It will only help your own business.

First, if you’re playing this game, you’re judging retailers against a standard—your own. Since we all think our store is pretty good, we measure all other stores against what we are doing. So it causes you to truly evaluate your own standards and find ways to raise your own bar.

Second, as you think about what you would do first with someone else’s business, you’re reinforcing what is working for your business. You’re most often going to focus on your own strengths, the things you do that set you apart. Keep that in mind the next time you’re putting together a marketing message. It is the things you do differently that will resonate most with potential new customers.

Third, even though it takes an arrogance to think you can make someone else’s business better, it also lends itself to humility because you get into a mindset of improvement. You get into a mindset of looking for things that can get better. You look more critically at your own business.

I encourage you to play this game. Get someone else to play it with you. Take your manager to visit a few stores to play this game. Then, in the middle of your discussion, change the name of the store you’re discussing to your store, and see how the ideas flow.

The good stores like The Toy Store are fun to visit. The stores that need some work, however, are the ones that get my juices flowing. They’ll get yours flowing, too, when you play this game.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There is value from visiting great stores, too. I wrote a post about it here. Your best lessons come from the best and worst retailers you visit. Average stores can only teach you how to be like everyone else. Visit the best and worst retailers out there. Then apply what you learn. The desire to get better will keep you humble and grounded even as your store starts to rise.

Inefficiencies Can Derail the Experience

The line didn’t seem that long. I’ve been in longer lines waiting for food. The menu showed three lunch options, likely for efficiency’s sake. I expected the line to move along quite rapidly.

Twenty-five minutes later the line felt more like eternity.

There was one line and two windows (which is the most efficient way even if it “feels” longer). That wasn’t the problem. Shortly into our wait we saw the problem. Once you ordered at one of the two windows you had to wait to the side of the window until your tray arrived several minutes later.

With every group that ordered, I watched them do the dance with the next in lines as the food trays were shepherded out the window. Whose order was whose? Which way do I go? How do I get past the crowd at the window to get to the seating area? Where is the ketchup stand?

The hardest part was the watching and waiting, seeing there was a more efficient way.

With two windows it would have been easy to take the order at the first window and pick up the food at the second window. The line headed toward the first window anyway. The second window was closer to the ketchup and the seating. Those who had ordered wouldn’t feel like they were inconveniencing the line behind them while they waited for their food.

This was one place where an assembly line style of serving would have made total sense.

Here’s the kicker. I was standing in line at the lunch stand at Greenfield Village, part of the Henry Ford Museum campus. I’m pretty sure Henry Ford is kinda known for taking the assembly line concept to a whole new level?

One would think they could take some inspiration from the man whose name was on the building.

The lesson in all this is that you should always be looking at ways to improve what you do. Find the inefficiencies and decide whether they are better or worse for the customer. If worse, look around you for inspiration how to fix them.

Henry Ford got his inspiration for the assembly line from the Chicago meat cutters and their disassembly line. When I needed a better way to hire and train my staff I got my inspiration from the potter. When radio stations had unsold ad slots, they learned from the airlines “standby” passengers.

Your business has inefficiencies, some that quietly annoy your customers. The lunch line at Greenfield Village fortunately wasn’t enough to ruin an otherwise fabulous visit to a fabulous place, but it was enough to make me write about it. And that should be reason enough for you to find those annoyances in your business and clean them up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There is an ice cream place here in town with the same two-window inefficiency. A clerk leans through a tiny window to write your order on a scratch pad. Then you step to the side and wait while she takes the next person’s order. Two or three orders later, there is a crowd hovering around the window waiting to grab whatever cold creamy concoction might get thrust out. Order at one window, pick it up at the next. The fast food joints have all learned this. Why can’t the others?

PPS If you get a chance to visit Greenfield Village (and I highly recommend it!!) make sure you stop by the Working Farm. It doesn’t get the hype of the Model T Ride or Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park recreation, but it was my favorite stop in the village. (Just plan a few extra minutes for the lunch line near Main Street.)

Trying to Give Great Service is NOT the Same as Actually Doing It

Ever have that experience where you know what someone is trying to do, but they just keep missing the mark? You want to give them points for trying, but close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atom bombs.

I had that experience last week at a Barnes & Noble store.

The store was having a sale. Several tables right inside the front door and up that middle aisle were clearly marked 50% off. A few tables on either side had new releases at 20% off. The staff was obviously pumped up for the sale.

I was greeted at the door by an associate who thanked me for coming in (good so far). She excitedly told me all about the sale (also good). But then she committed the one blunder too many sales associates do. She asked me,

“Is there anything I can help you find?”

I was just inside the door. My eyes had barely adjusted from the sunlight to the interior lights. I was greeted and told to browse all these tables for great deals. But before I could even approach the first table I was asked to stop browsing and start finding the item I came in to buy.

The problem with asking, “Is there anything I can help you find?” is it is the first cousin of, “Can I help you?” It causes a knee-jerk reaction that caused me to say, “No thanks, I’m just here to browse.”

Let me repeat that in case it wasn’t clear …

I just told a sales clerk out loud that I did NOT plan to buy anything, I only came in to browse.

I reinforced it in her ears and in my mind. I took buying off the table before I even began browsing.

Obviously the gal was trying to be helpful. In her mind she was giving me awesome customer service. The greeting and mentioning the sales table were a good start, but then she ruined it with a deal-killing question.

Worse yet, she didn’t realize she was asking this of a guy. When guys shop, once we get what we came for, we’re out of there. Browsing comes to a complete halt once we get what we wanted.

It would have been better if she left me to browse after mentioning the sale and then approached me later. Give me a moment to catch my breath and take in my surroundings. Give me a moment to plan a course of action. Give me a moment to collect my own thoughts.

Instead she pounced and turned me into a liar or a non-shopper—neither of which are good.

It wasn’t just her. Four times over the next ten minutes I had associates approach me and ask if I was finding everything okay. It was getting creepy. I almost wanted to walk away from the sale tables just to get away from them.

One even asked me if I wanted him to price out the book in my hand. It was clearly marked with the price, and the sign clearly said 50% off marked price. (I was in a bookstore so you would think he would assume I could read and do the simple math?)

In their minds, these associates were thinking they were giving me great customer service. Instead they were creeping me out. I knew it was a direction from above, too, because the manager approached me not once but twice with, “Are you finding everything okay?”

A LITTLE FOREPLAY FIRST

Here is where they were missing the boat. The first gal notwithstanding, the others all approached me while I was perusing the sale tables. That isn’t where I would expect to find what I came in to buy, so it wasn’t even an appropriate question there. The question would make more sense if I was scanning titles in a particular section.

Even then it would have been better if they first asked a question or said something to engage me in conversation. They could have used phrases like:

  • Who’s your favorite author?
  • What are you reading currently?
  • I see you were looking at a spy novel. Have you read the Red Sparrow trilogy?

I would have answered those questions. We would have had a dialogue, a conversation, the beginning of a relationship. I would have felt they were actually interested in my reading habits.

I would have believed they could do more than just point me to an item I already knew I wanted.

Isn’t that the point of selling? Isn’t your job to gain the trust of the customer and then help her solve problems? Anyone can lead a customer to a product they already knew they wanted. A true salesperson shows you the stuff you didn’t yet know you absolutely had to own.

You’ll never get there asking, “Are you finding everything okay?”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I applaud them for trying. Unfortunately, without proper sales training, they’ll try this for several weeks, see no improvement and probably fall back into their old habits. Worse yet, they’ll think approaching the customer is overrated and pooh-pooh any further suggestions otherwise. “We tried that and it didn’t work.”

PPS I did actually engage the fifth time I was asked if I was finding everything. I told the guy they didn’t have my favorite game in stock. He asked which one? I told him Honga, one of the HABA games I sell. (It really is my favorite right now.) He looked it up and is going to bring a couple in now. So at least I got that out of the experience.

The Death of Mom & Pop Retailers?

Do you remember when the Sears Catalog was going to destroy all the Mom & Pop Retailers? Yeah, probably not. That was back in the early parts of the 20th century when you could even buy a house (IKEA-style) in the catalog and have it delivered right to your property.

The last year of the Sears catalog was 1993, coincidentally right around the time AOL and the Internet were coming to fruition. The last year the Sears catalog was of any consequence to the toy industry was in the late 70’s. We used to hold a “Catalog Sale” every fall where you brought in your catalog and we matched the prices. By the late 70’s the prices in these catalogs were the same or higher than they were in our store.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

Do you remember when the big-box category killers like Staples, Home Depot, Barnes & Noble, and Toys R Us were going to destroy all the Mom & Pop Retailers? That was a more recent development in the 1980’s and 90’s. A lot of our vendors left us for the supposed greener pastures. Heck, they even stole our moniker and still to this day, many in the media call those stores “specialty stores” because they “specialized” in one industry.

Yet we all found ways to compete around them, by changing our product mix, out-servicing them, and staying current to trends in our industries.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

Do you remember when the big-box discounters were going to destroy all Mom & Pop Retailers? Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart would be the death of us all through their discounted buying, bullying practices with vendors and suppliers, and their sheer size (and deep pockets). 

They ended up being even less of a threat than the category killers as they raced to the bottom selling only the cheapest of the cheap. Our customers realized cheaper isn’t always better. Instead those stores fed on each other until K-Mart was eaten alive.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

Do you remember when the Internet—and especially Amazon—were going to destroy all the Mom & Pop Retailers? How could we compete with their prices? How could we compete with their selection? How could we compete with their convenience?

Yet many retailers either embraced them or learned to work around them. And in reality, the biggest bite Amazon took was with the department stores, the category killers, and the big-box discounters.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

Yes, there were some casualties along the way. Technology disrupted and destroyed the record store industry. But it wasn’t another retailer that did them in. It was a fundamental change in how we consumed music.

The same can be said for the video stores. It wasn’t Netflix’ DVD mail service that did video stores in. It was online streaming.

Heck, those industries aren’t even completely dead. Video stores still exist. Vinyl is on the rise. Independent book stores withstood Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon and are back on a growth trajectory. Independent toy stores outlived Toys R Us. Pet stores are multiplying faster than the bunnies they sell.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

The point is that pundits have predicted the death of Mom & Pop Retailers several times over the last century, yet you’re still standing.

You’re still standing because you adapt to change.

Change is inevitable. The death of Mom & Pop Retailers is not.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not all change is detrimental. We computerized Toy House in 1989 with an IBM AS/400 that needed a custom-built cabinet large enough to house it. The sales reports took hours to run. I planned my afternoon work by running reports all morning and my morning work the next day by running reports all night. Nowadays my retailers can pull up reports in seconds on their phones while in the booth. Technology, when properly embraced, has made being a mom & pop retailer much easier than ever before.

PPS Yes, most of my blogs are about “tools” you can use to make your business better. Think of this post as a “mental tool” to use. When you take on the mindset that change inevitable and go out looking how to use the changes to your advantage, you will always be more successful than the businesses that run around screaming the sky is falling.

Competing with Amazon

I sit here typing about Amazon while millions of people are shopping on Amazon, taking advantage of the Amazon Prime Days specials. To say that Amazon disrupted the retail climate would be like saying Jesus got a few people to think differently about God.

Here is something Amazon didn’t do. It didn’t kill brick & mortar shopping. Sure, many stores closed and keep closing. Many stores keep opening, too.

Oh, everyone thought it would kill brick & mortar. That’s what we all heard behind the gnashing teeth of the worry mongers. But it didn’t happen. E-commerce was only 13% of all retail shopping in 2017 (source).

Some retailers learned how to adjust to the new retail climate. Some didn’t. Those that survived and thrived did it using one or more of these four tactics.

FIND NICHE PRODUCTS

In the early days, before everything was online, savvy retailers looked for products on which they didn’t have to compete online. Customizable products, hard-to-find products, bespoke products, and niche products from vendors who recognized the value of the brick & mortar seller filled these showrooms.

Unfortunately, as e-commerce expands, those products become harder and harder to find. Most new vendors now launch directly online (and through Amazon).

Niche products are still out there, though, Artisan works, hand-crafted items, impulse buys (no one does price comparisons on impulse items), and truly hand-sell items that need to be shown still sell best in specialty brick & mortar.

OUT-SERVICE AND OUT-SELL THEM

One area Amazon will never be able to compete with a top-level brick & mortar is Selling (and by Selling, I mean Serving the customer). Oh, hey, they do know a thing about being customer-friendly and customer-focused. But there is only so much you can do online. Having a customers-who-bought-this-also-bought-that section is not up-selling or, as I prefer, completing the sale.

Smart retailers sank extra money into training their employees, paying for better employees, and creating a culture where those people want to work. Their staff are rock stars and their customers become so loyal, they do all the marketing for these stores in terms of repeat and referral business.

OFFER NEW SERVICES

Some stores took the approach of offering services you cannot get from an online seller. Shoe stores have orthotic services. Book and game stores have lending libraries. Clothing stores offer custom-fittings and personal shoppers. Baby stores do car seat installations.

As a toy store, we were already offering programs such as a Teacher Loaner Program that allowed teachers to borrow items for free for a week in their classroom. We also already had layaway, gift-wrapping, delivery, assembly, and UPS shipping. As a team we were always looking for new ways to help the customer.

If a customer asked, “Can you do this …?” we pretty much said, “Yes!”

JOIN ‘EM

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Several retailers took this approach and started selling their own stuff on Amazon either as Merchant Fulfilled (MFN) where it comes out of your stock, or Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) where you send it to them to box up and ship out.

Some are making a killing at it. Some are augmenting the sales they lost. Some are using it to stay on top of trends and shifts in buying habits.

Some are losing money at it. The two downsides to “join ’em” are first, it often becomes its own business with its own rules needing its own time and energy, and second, you can get deep into it only to lose the line that made most of your cash flow.

The real point here is that the smart retailers (and vendors) adapted. They found new ways to work within the new climate. With any disruption in any industry there will always be winners and losers.  You can usually spot the losers because they are the ones gnashing their teeth. The winners are already plotting how to turn it to their advantage.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Our market share in 2007 was 16.5%. Amazon really hit its stride in toys around 2011-2012. By 2015, however, our market share had only dropped to 15.7%. Not quite the retail apocalypse the worry mongers were threatening.

Pricing Mistakes That Lose Sales

Almost invariably when you compliment someone on the clothes or shoes they are wearing, they tell you the origin story of how they found that outfit. More often than not, you’ll also hear about the fabulous deal they got when they bought it.

While deals and discounts are great for origin stories of outfits (and other products), how a retailer handles those deals relates directly to how many origin stories get told. Plus, no matter how many deals and percentage discounts you offer, the Value Equation is still in effect.

VALUE EQUATION

While sales and events might draw traffic, the real purchasing decision comes down to the Value Equation. Does the item I’m about to buy seem to be worth the price I am about to pay? Or more simply put …

Do I want the item more than I want the money it will take to buy it?

When we walk into a store we immediately start asking those questions of every product we see. At what price would I buy that item?

For most of the store, the answer is “Free”. So you walk right by those items until you find the item you want. When you find that item you immediately assign a price you would be willing to pay for that item. I often call that the Perceived Worth. Then you look at the Actual Price. If the Actual Price equals the Perceived Worth, the item goes in the cart and your origin story begins.

The problems arise when the Actual Price is not equal to the Perceived Worth. If the price is much higher than you thought, you walk away and keep looking. If the price is much lower, you first have to figure out why. Is the item inferior? Is the quality bad? Does it not do what I thought it would? Did I overestimate its worth? Until you have satisfied that question, there is no origin story.

WHAT’S THE PRICE?

The worse problem is when there is no Actual Price (or at least no clear sign on what the discount might be). Now you have to engage a sales clerk to make a Value Equation decision. Or you might have to take the item up to the register to have them scan it to see if it fits your Perceived Worth.

Many guys will walk away from the purchase of anything that wasn’t the one item they came in to purchase if there isn’t a price on it. Many introverts will do the same.

You’ll lose all impulse sales on the items that aren’t priced.

You’ll also lose sales if the discounts aren’t clearly marked. While the origin story might become awesome when a customer gets to the register to find an extra 30% off, if she had known that discount before she got to the register, she might have bought multiple items. As it is, now she doesn’t want to hold up the line to try to find a couple more in her size or have to get back in line to wait even longer.

You’ll lose multiple item sales when the discounts aren’t fully marked.

While many of you have downloaded and follow my three rules on Pricing for Profit, here are two more rules to add to your pricing philosophy:

  1. Price your goods based on their Perceived Worth (not on their cost). If it looks like a Fifty Dollar Item, price it at $49.99 and watch it fly off the shelves.
  2. Make sure all your items are clearly marked with their current price. You’re losing sales if you don’t.

Pricing is the one mistake no retailer can afford to make. Fortunately, the pricing rules that increase your sales are easy to follow.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I had two experiences this past weekend where these rules came into play. The first was a pair of shorts. I found the ones I liked and was ready to buy until I saw the price. It was much, much higher than I was willing to spend, so I put them back. The second was an air conditioner unit. I walked into the store with no intention of buying a new AC window unit. Oh, I had the thought of wanting to replace my older, energy-INefficient model eventually. But that wasn’t my purpose of this trip. Yet there was a stack of them right in the middle of the aisle—with NO PRICES! After wandering around the pallet twice, I gave up. If I hadn’t walked past the section of the store with more AC units—this time priced—I would not have made a purchase.

Making it a Better Place to Work

When the tech world exploded onto the scene, everyone talked about the amazing workplace environments at these start-ups. Ping Pong and Foosball tables everywhere. Open floor concepts and collaboration-fostering layouts ran rampant. Legacy companies started changing their infrastructure to match, thinking it would help them attract better people.

News flash: it didn’t work.

In retail it wasn’t even possible. If you had a Foosball table in your retail store it’s because you sold Foosball tables. Even in my big toy store we didn’t have the room for recreational equipment in the employee lounge.

That doesn’t mean you cannot make your work environment attractive.

If you remember from my last post, the way to attract and retain a better level of workers is to pay them more and make the work environment attractive. While workplace layout and break time activities are nice perks on the job, there are two other things your employees want more than that.

Praise & Recognition

PRAISE IN THE WORKPLACE

Praise isn’t a Millennial thing. Praise has been raising productivity since the beginning of time. It is a basic instinct in the animal kingdom. We use praise and positive reinforcement to train animals. When given with sincerity, it works equally well with humans.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, either. A simple, “Thank you,” every now and then, or a, “Way to go!” or “Nice job!” will do wonders for the overall attitude of your team and the feelings in the workplace. You just have to be looking for those opportunities to give that praise.

Even when someone doesn’t do something perfectly right, finding something to praise about what they did will raise the bar for their next time.

Jim Henson of the Muppets was a notorious task master. When he filmed scenes for Sesame Street, he would often shoot a scene dozens of times to get it right. You would think someone that relentless would be a tough boss to work for, yet those who worked with him regularly still sing his praises and talk about what a wonderful experience it was.

Why? Because after each take, Jim would say something like, “Wow! That was amazing! I really liked how you did that one part of the scene. I’d like to do it again, and this time try to do …”

He used Praise to get what he wanted.

Contrast that to the typical situation where you get called into the boss’s office for something you did wrong, knowing your ass is about to be chewed. How would it feel if the boss started out with, “Wow, that was amazing!”? See the difference?

Sometimes you just need to eliminate the anti-praise in the office.

For instance, IF YOU USE ALL CAPS IN YOUR MEMOS AND EMAILS, YOU’RE YELLING AT YOUR STAFF AND THEY DON’T LIKE IT! Please stop.

Or, If you use a significantly larger font than normal in your inter-office emails, you’re yelling at your staff. Please stop.

Those types of actions negate any praise you might be giving elsewhere.

RECOGNITION IN THE WORKPLACE

Once again, this doesn’t have to be a big deal. I’m not talking about participation trophies. I’m talking about simple things like acknowledging everyone on your team with a Hello each day, a thank you for working for you each day.

People want to be recognized as humans. Your team members have families, have struggles, have illnesses and doctor visits, have bills to pay, have fights with their spouses, have pets that need to be put down, have kids growing up and moving out, have parents moving back home, have weddings to attend, have 80th birthday parties to plan for their parents, have worries and doubts.

Recognizing them as fully-grown humans capable of great things (and big mistakes) and not just cogs in your machine is a must if you want to foster an attractive place to work.

Recognizing their strengths and weaknesses and putting them in the best position to succeed is a game changer for any business.

If you have creative people, give them room to create. If you have by-the-numbers people, give them a good list of instructions. If you have leaders, let them lead. If you have followers, give them a great example to follow.

Most importantly, recognize them for being just as human as you are. Give them a schedule that fits your needs and theirs. Be as accommodating as possible to their requests for time off. Celebrate their victories. Help them learn from their mistakes. Be in their corner to support them. Give them the tools, training, and responsibilities to help them be successful.

That’s the kind of Recognition they desire.

All the Foosball and Ping Pong tables in the world can’t overcome a toxic workplace filled with criticism and uncaring bosses. There isn’t an office layout on the planet that can overcome the hopeless feeling of being an unrecognized cog in a machine.

Those start-ups that were successful did so because they found like-minded individuals and treated them well. That’s what it means to have an “attractive place to work.”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Before you hire your next new employee, look at the culture of your workplace. Do you recognize and praise your team? Do you treat them like humans? Do you put them in positions to succeed? Get the workplace part right first. Then we can work on how to find better people.

PPS You might be surprised to find that when you start praising instead of criticizing, the employee you thought of as useless has just become amazingly useful.

You Can’t Overpay Good Help

My grandfather stole one of his best employees away from another job. The young high schooler was making 75 cents an hour. My grandfather offered him $1.05 to work at Toy House. He took it.

I still recall the big grin on my grandfather’s face when he told me the end of that story. The other business owner was furious and called him. “Phil Conley, you can’t afford to pay him $1.05!! What are you thinking?!?!”

Oh, but he could.

Toy House Birthday Party May 1974
My dad and grandpa are on the left in white. I’m the clown in the middle.

That was one business adage my grandfather lived by. You can never overpay good help.

Just yesterday I heard the same advice from none other than Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads. He was speaking in a podcast and addressed the issue of how to find good employees in today’s market. (If you have to make an hour drive, this podcast will be the best way to spend that hour by far!)

Roy said there are two things you need to do to have a great team:

  1. Pay way more than the market price to attract better people
  2. Make it an attractive place to work to keep them

It’s that simple.

I know what you’re already saying. “But Phil, I can’t afford that. I don’t even pay myself.”

First, if you’re not paying yourself, go read this blog post from last summer. Second, start paying yourself.

Third, and most importantly, do the math. Ryan Deiss of The Digital Marketer said in the same podcast that the business willing to pay the most for customer acquisition will have the best customers. The same is true for employees.

The business willing to pay the most for employee acquisition will have the best employees.

If you have the best employees, if you have a full staff of rock stars, how will that affect your sales? You better believe they will go up.

Repeat and referral business are directly the result of your Customer Service. They are directly the result of your employees and their ability to rock your customer’s world.

They are directly the result of your ability to attract, hire, train, and retain the best staff.

Overpaying for good help creates an upward spiral. Cutting employee costs leads to a downward spiral. Don’t believe me? Just walk into any of the declining department stores and look around for someone to help you.

And before you go telling me Millennials aren’t the same quality of workers, I’ll counter with several Millennials I’ve hired over the years that will outwork anyone you’ve ever met.

Last month I did a presentation on how to Attract, Hire, Train, and Retain Millennials. You could sum up most of the talk like this …

  1. Pay way more than the market price to attract better people
  2. Make it an attractive place to work to keep them

Thanks, Roy, for saying what my grandfather taught me decades ago. It works!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS That young guy my grandfather hired was my father, one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known.

PPS The podcast with Roy H. Williams and Ryan Deiss is full of other great insights from two of the most amazing marketing minds on this planet. Normally you would pay tens of thousands of dollars to have an audience with either one of these guys. Here is the link to do it for free.