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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 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.

What Emotion are You Selling?

I have a new game I play when I walk into a retail establishment. I try to guess the “emotion” that store is selling based on the look of the store, the approach to the store, the front door, and what hits me when I walk through the door.

One store I went to was selling “disgust.” There was trash all around the front door. There were old, faded, torn signs in the window. There was an ashtray right by the front door and the staff obviously used that location to smoke while on break.

As I mentioned before, retail is a game of managing emotions. The last thing you want is a customer who feels scared, frustrated, or disgusted walking through your front door.

Have you ever had a serious discussion about emotions with your team? Have you ever looked at your store through the lens of “emotion?” We did all the time when we talked about our Smile Stories.

Now, when I play my game, I try to think about not only what emotion the store is selling but what emotion they should be selling.

Did you ever wonder why insurance companies build these beautiful buildings with waterfalls in the lobby and nice brick facades? They are selling Security and Peace of Mind. They are selling Trust. How trusting would you be if your agent was in a run-down double wide at the end of a dirt road?

If you’re a shoe store, depending on the type of shoe, you might be selling Confidence or Performance or Comfort. Does your store design echo that concept? Does your staff embody that ideal through their dress, actions, and attitude?

If you’re a grocery store you might be selling Fresh or Healthy. Does the store look Fresh or Healthy? Are your signs up-to-date? Are your displays neat and clean? Nothing undoes a grocery business more than the feelings of “old-and-stale.”

Clothing stores have lots of options for the emotions they could sell including Comfort, Joy, Confidence, Relaxed, Hip, Elegant, etc. The trick is to develop and train a staff that exudes that emotion.

The same is true in my new role working for a vendor. If I want HABA USA to be known for the high-quality products we sell, then everything we do from our catalog to our website to the displays we create for our retailers has to be done with the same high-quality standards. Our team has to be one of high-quality, too. Extra training, extra knowledge, and extra care must go into every hire.

One of HABA’s strongest traits is Caring. In my short time on the team I’ve been able to see it in several forms such as how our products have multiple levels of design to give children the most opportunity for growth.

I’ve seen it in how HABA cares for the environment by only sourcing wood from sustainable growth forests, by only using non-toxic, environmentally-friendly stains and finishes that exceed safety standards the world over, and by using renewable energy sources at their factories.

I’ve seen it in how HABA gets involved in organizations like ASTRA and the All Baby & Child Expo serving on boards, offering sponsorship, and lending expertise.

(Since one of my Core Values is Helpful, can you see why I was so excited to have this opportunity?)

No matter what you’re selling, at the core of it, you’re selling an emotion. The better you align with that emotion, the better your sales.

Roy H. Williams said it best, “We use logic of the mind to justify what the heart desires.”

Sell the heart.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sorry if this felt like a plug for HABA USA. I’ve been studying all the lessons I learned as a retailer and applying them to my role as a vendor. As you can see, the principles are still the same.

PPS It is hard to overcome a negative emotion. In a couple days the brewery where I would often play guitar will be closing. When it first opened three years ago, they didn’t have everything up to the standards they are today. I had several friends who never came to see me play because they had a negative experience early on. As hard as the brewery tried, it couldn’t overcome the early impressions. I will miss his beers and whiskies.

Your Signs Tell Customers More Than You Think

I snapped two pictures of signs recently. I probably could have taken several. Apparently proof-reading is a thing of the past.

One sign I drive by regularly is on too busy of a road to safely snap the pic. It says “Comeing Soon.” I cringe every time I pass it. I know two of my regular readers who cringed just reading it here.

TYPOS/GRAMMAR

I took the following pic on a recent trip to Las Vegas:

I’m not sure whether auto-correct or the sign maker doesn’t know the word tarot. Maybe there is a new type of cards made out of potatoes? The real question is, would you trust the readings of a psychic who couldn’t foresee this typo on her sign?

Typos and grammar mistakes are so common on signs now that we almost take them for granted. In fact, some might argue that the mistakes make you look at the sign longer, making the sign more effective.

I disagree.

I’m not stopping for a psychic card reading, no matter whether it is fried, mashed, hashed, or julienned. I don’t trust her. I also lost trust in KFC the other day while reading a grammatically incorrect sign behind the counter. It just set me off.

Those signs are the easy ones to fix. Proof-read them. Give them to a writer to proof-read them. Then proof-read them again. Don’t trust your print-shop people or your computer to fix any mistakes you’ve made. You have to fix the easy stuff yourself.

If you can’t get the easy stuff right, your customers won’t trust you with the more difficult stuff.

The second sign I want to show you is a little different. I found this on the door of a McDonald’s restaurant.

This sign has a different message (or two).

On the surface it basically says to anyone under 18, “you are being judged and labeled by the actions of someone else who happens to share one characteristic of yours—age.”

The second message, however, may be the more damaging. To everyone over 18 it also says, “this establishment gets visited by young hooligans and we have no way of stopping them short of trying to keep them from coming in—eat at your own risk.”

Do you see the problem?

One picture I wish I would have taken was a toy store I visited years ago. The front door was covered in small hand-written signs each starting with the word No. “No Public Restrooms.” “No Pets Allowed.” “No Backpacks” “No more than 2 unaccompanied minors at a time.” “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service, No Exceptions.”

You couldn’t even see in through the door. You just were bombarded with handwritten placards saying No, No, No, No, No.

The last word any retailer should want rattling around in a customer’s brain is the word No.

Whether the McDonald’s management or the “No” toy store understand it or not, they are changing the emotions of the customers entering their establishments.

The two questions you should ask before posting any sign are:

  1. Is the sign free from typos or grammatical errors?
  2. How does the sign make my customers feel?

Retail is a game of managing emotions. Happy customers who trust you will spend way more than uncomfortable customers who don’t.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There are positive ways, even fun ways, for any store to post all its restrictions. “Please leave your backpacks up front where our staff will guard them with their lives.” “Our carpet cleaner thanks you for leaving your food and drinks outside.” “For our customers who have allergies, we thank you for leaving pets outside.” Manage the emotions to win the sales.

9 Out of 10 People Don’t Recommend Your Store

I think a lot about Market Share. Maybe too much. I find it the most fascinating piece of data you can track because it tells you so much more about how you are performing than just sales, profits, or cash flow.

For one, it tells you how well you are competing in your market. If your share is growing, you’re obviously doing something right. If you’re losing share—even if your business is growing—you have a leak in your ship that needs fixing.

It also helps you focus your marketing. Once you realize that 9 out of 10 people in your area don’t shop in your store (results may vary but most indie retailers have less than 10% share of their market), you can hyper-focus your marketing on just one of those nine “people.” Win that one and you’ll double your sales.

Make the “one” the loudest voice in the crowd.

Let’s talk about those nine people for a moment.

I was at an event recently that had a panel of expecting moms. They were asked where they went for information to buy baby products. All six answered Friends and Online Reviews. None of them answered Sales Staff in a Store. None of them said Advertisements for Baby Stores. None of them mentioned Informational Fliers at the doctor’s office. Not one of them discussed Emails from brands or stores. They barely talked about Instagram influencers (and not in a positive way).

Friends and Online Reviews.

Even the online reviews didn’t get a favorable viewing. Most of the panel said they didn’t fully trust online reviews but would read the negative reviews in detail. They trusted most the information from friends who already had children.

From this panel you might conclude that the most important form of advertising for your business is the word-of-mouth referral from your happy customers. You would be right.

Yet nine out of ten people don’t refer your business to their friends. That’s a lot of friends telling their friends to go elsewhere. Not one member of our panel had visited an independent specialty baby store. Only a handful had gone to a Buy Buy Baby chain store. Most did their shopping/registering at Target because nine out of ten of their friends went there.

It didn’t help that there was only one indie specialty store in their town and it had a limited selection. I would have loved to see the responses of a panel like this in a town with a powerful indie store. I think Sales Staff at a Specialty Store might have made the list of trusted sources.

As it is, the lesson for all of us is simple. You have to give that one out of the ten such an amazing experience that her voice drowns out the other nine when the subject comes up where to shop.

Conversely, you cannot allow one bad experience to walk out your door. You’ll be dead to her circle of friends. Yeah, you might have to eat some crow from time to time, but it is better to eat the crow now to get the chance to eat the filet later.

Retail is not a money game. It is a game of the heart. Win your customers’ hearts and the money will follow.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not sure how to calculate your Market Share? Check out the Market Share Diagnostic Tool. It will not only show you how to calculate your Market Share, it will tell you why this is the second most important part of your business to track.

Show Me Something New

I was talking with one of my sales reps earlier today when she reminded me of the most common phrase every salesperson hears (one I uttered several times)

“What have you got that’s new?”

Every smart vendor knows they have to be showing new stuff all the time to keep the buyers’ interests. We do that at HABA USA with new product releases at least twice a year.

It is this obsession with, “Show me something new,” that has me thinking today.

Does this obsession actually help us or hurt us?

“New” does not always mean “better”. For instance, there hasn’t been a better overall toy made than the basic wooden block. The same holds true for the LEGO block invented 70 years ago. At the end of the day, all the themes disappear into the simple bliss of imagination and constructive play.

Sure we have new ways to communicate via email, text, and social media. But building relationships with your customers has never changed. In fact, I could argue building relationships is more important now than it ever has been. (I will make that argument on the floor at the ASTRA Marketplace and Academy in June. Hope to see you there.)

“Show me something new” also takes on a different meaning based on the person asking the question. An Early Adopter wants to see something no one else has seen. An Early Majority person wants to see something that has recently been given the stamp of approval by the masses.

When I was a buyer at Toy House, I asked that question a lot; partly because I had already seen the rest of the line, partly because I didn’t have time to go over items I had already rejected, and partly because my sales reports would tell me what was and wasn’t selling of the older stuff I had bought.

As a store owner/manager, however, I had to be more careful with the “new”. Not every new marketing scheme was a winner. Not every new POS system or credit card processing offer was a worthwhile program. Not every new technique for hiring/training/managing a team was a time or money saver.

I had to have a prism through which I would I would view everything new. Once again that Early Adopter/Early Majority dichotomy came into play. (If you don’t know those terms, click the link back there for an article explaining the Diffusion of Innovation.)

I am an Early Majority type person. I don’t need the newest, latest innovation. I prefer the tried-and-true. Here is how I viewed “new”

New Products:

  • Does it have the same Play Value as what it replaces?
  • Does it meet the needs of my customers in both play value and monetary value?
  • Is it from a vendor with whom I have a relationship (or want to have a relationship)?
  • Does it fit with our Core Values as a company?

New Services:

  • Is it proven to work as or more effectively than what I am currently doing?
  • Does it save me time or money or both?
  • Is it consistent with our Core Values as a company?

If I were an Early Adopter I might look at “new” like this …

New Products:

  • Does anyone else have this or a similar product already?
  • Is it considered “cutting edge” in any way, shape, or form or simply a twist on something old?
  • Can I get an exclusivity on this product?
  • Does it fit with our Core Values as a company?

New Services:

  • Is anyone else in my category already using this service?
  • Does it enhance the company image of being “cutting edge”?
  • Is it consistent with our Core Values as a company?

“Show me something new” has been the mantra in sales long before I arrived and will still be there long after I am gone. At least now you have the questions to ask to know if something “new” is worth it to you in the long run.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There were times where I wanted to ask the sales rep, “Show me something you’re about to discontinue.” We had stretches where our best sellers from several lines were discontinued by the company because we were the only store able to sell those items. As a large store in a small, blue-collar community, I had to do a lot of volume to pay the bills. We did best with Early Majority, tried-and-true products. That knowledge helped us be better buyers for the long run.

PPS Did you ever wonder how something could be both “New” and “Improved” at the same time? Yeah, me too.

Removing Barriers and Obstacles the Toledo Museum of Art Way

I could probably go back through the records of Toy House and tell you when the first nice Saturday of spring hit every year. You know the day. After a long winter, it is finally sunny and warm enough to not need a coat.

We never had much traffic on that first nice Saturday. People were doing yard work, taking down Christmas lights they had unplugged months before, and pumping air into bike tires that hadn’t seen pavement since Halloween. Our busiest part of the store was the back door where the air compressor sat.

It was the cold, rainy Saturday that followed that was usually our best day.

Last Saturday was one of those cold, rainy days. The temperature hit 41 degrees for the high. The rain was steady all day. I did the other thing you do on cold, rainy spring days when your shopping is done. I went to the Toledo Museum of Art.

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend the TMA. The museum has a fabulous collection including a couple Van Gohs, a couple Renoirs, some amazing sculptures, and a fascinating glass display. It’s fairly easy to find, too. There is a nice parking lot behind the museum that has several covered spaces (perfect on a rainy day) near the back door entrance.

We crossed the street, checked our umbrella and coats, and spent a couple hours lost in the amazement of art. There were docents and security guards at every turn (sometimes it was hard to tell one from the other as they all seemed to know everything about everything) to make the trip more enjoyable.

All of this was quite impressive for a museum where admission is free and parking is only $8.

But before you think this is just a plug for a museum, I want to tell you the part of the story that blew me away. Here are the three key factors to remember so far. It was raining. We walked in the back door. We checked our umbrella because umbrellas are not allowed in the museum.

For those of you not familiar with Toledo, OH, it is known as Glass City. Owens-Corning and Libbey Glass both have their origins here and a long history with Toledo. One of the coolest parts of any trip to the Toledo Museum of Art is right out the front door and across the street at the Glass Pavilion.

Here you can see a demonstration on glass blowing and some of the most beautiful works of glass you can imagine.

Our dilemma was that it was raining and our umbrella was downstairs by the back door.

I stood staring out the front door through the rain to the Glass Pavilion, at which point a security guard handed me a large red golf-style umbrella with the words “Toledo Museum of Art” printed on it. He had a whole rack of them by the door. Across the street I could see a similar rack inside the door of the Glass Pavilion.

We grabbed an umbrella and off we went.

Without the umbrella, we might not have made that trek. It would have involved heading out the back door and walking around a massive building in the rain. Or it would have involved putting raincoats to the test. Not everyone at the museum had a raincoat that day.

Yet the museum director had the foresight to recognize this obstacle, order a bunch of umbrellas, and make it easier for patrons to enjoy all aspects of the museum.

The lesson in this is to look at your business with the same eye. Look for the obstacles and barriers that keep people from shopping at your store. Is it your hours? Is it your location? Is it your lack of parking? Is it your restrictive return policy or the limitations on how people can pay?

The more barriers you can remove, the better.

Change your hours to better accommodate the times your best customers can shop. If parking is an issue, create valet parking (get your neighboring businesses to pitch in because they’ll reap the benefits, too). Change your policies to make it easier for customers to pay.

Every barrier you remove adds to your bottom line—no matter what it costs.

Why? Because of the word-of-mouth. Do things no one else is doing to make it easier for your customers and they will tell their friends. Do the same thing everyone else is doing and there is nothing to say.

In fact, the two questions you should be constantly asking are:

  • What barriers or obstacles keep my store from getting more shoppers and buyers?
  • Does this new policy/procedure/campaign/tool/tech/program make it easier or harder for customers to shop and buy?

The Toledo Museum of Art filled my cold, rainy Saturday with a warm, sunny rainbow of surprise and delight with a simple red umbrella. What can you do for your customers?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The fact it was hard to tell a docent from a security guard because everyone seemed to have so much knowledge was just icing on the cake. I like how the director of this museum thinks.

PPS If your neighborhood shops think valet parking is a good idea, take the lead on this issue and make sure the valet stand is close to your front door and associated with you. That way you reap the full benefits.