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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.

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.

Be Yourself, Be a Unicorn!

I love those signs that say, “Be yourself. Unless you can be a Unicorn. Then be a Unicorn.” (Substitute Batman for Unicorn for those who identify that way.)

Be yourself is the best advice I could ever give to any business owner. Know your Core Values, what drives you in your life, and be them so clearly and proudly that everyone knows exactly who you are.

Those who share your values will become lifelong fans and evangelists of your business. You’ll always have a core of supporters.

HABA USA Unicorn Rainbow Beauty

To truly stand out in retail, however, you also have to be a Unicorn. You have to be so different from every other retailer that people believe you to be magical.

I say this in light of the article that came out last month stating that the Retail Apocalypse is still upon us with over 5800 stores closing in 2019 alone (and that’s only through March!)

Before you panic, 2,500 of those stores are Payless Shoes. Another 390 are Family Dollar stores closing after Dollar Tree bought them out. Other big chains with big closures include The Gap, JC Penney’s, Chico’s, and Gymboree.

None of those stores were Unicorns. 

The Gap was the closest, but no one under forty remembers when they made their splash on the retail scene. Their horn fell off decades ago.

The culprit most often blamed is Amazon, followed closely by Millennials. While Millennials probably had a lot to do with Victoria Secret closings (Hey, VS, have you noticed society has mostly shifted away from your idea of sexy lingerie?), they and Amazon are more symptoms than causes of retail store closures.

The real culprit is the stores themselves.

Chain stores are dropping like flies and they only have themselves to blame.

First, we are over-saturated with retail to begin with. Too many chains competing for not enough dollars. The chain stores work on the premise that the more stores they have, the more revenue they would be able to collect to “make it up with volume” which led to rapid growth and expansion well beyond what the market could bear.

Second, these stores invest next to nothing in training for their managers and staff. A couple of my former employees went to work for chain stores and showed me their employee handbooks. Sixteen pages on how to use the time clock and what will happen if you get caught breaking a policy, but not one word on how to create a relationship with a customer or even how to sell.

Third, there is little to differentiate one chain from the next. They all have the same merchandise from the same manufacturers. They all have the same lack of service that begins at the top with poorly trained managers who know nothing about team building, HR, or how to teach and motivate others, let alone how to merchandise and run a customer-centric store. They all fail to grasp how much of the population has moved on from the materialism in the 80’s and 90’s to more sustainable approaches to life. They all think big discounts = loyalty. They all chase the shiny new baubles like omni-channel, big-data, BOPIS, and social media, thinking those will be the big fixes that will help their businesses.

Nothing about any of these stores is or was unique, exciting or magical.

The downside for you is that all of these lousy experiences in other stores are driving customers online and making online shopping more prevalent and convenient.

The upside for you is that it is much easier to become a Unicorn of a store than ever before.

The bar is so low now that stores that care about their customers through their actions and policies stand out like lighthouse beacons on a desolate ocean of crappy retail.

Toys R Us is the only chain store closing where I actually heard customers lamenting the loss. No one is lamenting Payless going away. No one will even remember Charlotte Russ stores once they’re gone (if you even knew they were there). Heck, most people thought JCP was already closed!

Be yourself. But be the most Unicorny version of yourself you possibly can. Amazon is the default when you don’t give your customers a reason to believe in the magic.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If one of your Core Values is Nostalgia, celebrate those nostalgic moments in your customers’ lives with gusto. Ring a 32-pound brass bell on their birthdays and put their picture up on your wall. If one of your Core Values is Education, hit the road and do Free Classes on how to better use the products you sell. If one of your Core Values is Helpful, have a high school kid with a golf umbrella escort customers out to their cars on a rainy day.

PPS If you aren’t well-versed in Team Building, hire someone to help you build your team. (Note: check your local YMCA or Y-Camp.) If you aren’t well-versed in motivating your employees, I suggest you read Drive by Daniel H. Pink or Maestro by Roger Nierenberg. If you aren’t as good at teaching the sales process as you’d like, check out my Free Resources – The Meet-and-Greet, Close the Sale, and How to Push for Yes. The resources are out there to help you grow your horn.

Making the “Experience” Over-the-Top

Last night my bracket got busted. As a diehard University of Michigan Wolverine fan, my NCAA tournament bracket lasts until the Wolverines bow out. (I know, I know. I shouldn’t always pick them to win it all, but then I would have to root for them to lose, and I can’t do that.)

Brackets for the NCAA tournament are fun. They are also an easy tool to implement for a promotion or event in your store.

One year we had a “March Games Madness” where every Friday at Game Night we played four games and voted on the best. After four weeks we had a “Final Four” and in week five we crowned a champion. We had brackets for people to fill out and seedings for the games. Not only was it fun and attracted a decent (and returning) crowd, it gave us fodder for social media marketing. (This game is a “Final Four Game.”)

Another year we set an unofficial world record for having the most people playing the game Snake Oil at one time.

At a Breyer Horse event we had a stick-horse obstacle course complete with a bale of hay and a water element.

For our Disney Princess Day we had a quartet from the local symphony play Disney songs on our stage.

Go big or go home.

Put some kind of Wow Factor into your events and two things will happen. First, your events will get customers talking about your store, coming back more often, and bringing their friends with them.

Second, and more importantly, you will separate yourself from the influence of negative experiences at other brick & mortar stores.

It doesn’t just have to be an event, either. Go big in other ways. I knew a jewelry store that had a $30K diamond engagement ring and special “throne” to sit in to try it on. I just visited a toy store recently with an eight-foot tall Steiff giraffe that sells for $20K.

Take the money from your advertising budget if you have to for a splash item because that’s what those two pieces represent.

Go big in your services, too. Serve food/drinks. Have valet parking. Do a coat check. Have expert demos. Have someone with a large golf umbrella walk customers to their cars on rainy days.

Those are the actions that set you apart, that insulate you from being lumped in with all the other retailers out there. Your toughest competitors now are not the other stores that sell what you sell. Your toughest competitors are the horrible experiences people have at other brick & mortar stores that keep them from shopping in any brick & mortar.

Set yourself apart and you become a category all to yourself, insulated from those negative experiences that drive people away.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Actions speak louder than words. Do these things. Don’t advertise these things. Talking about them makes them less special. Just doing it and letting your customers talk about it is what sets you apart. (Yes, you should advertise your event, but don’t give away all the surprises in how you’re going over-the-top. In time, your customers will be showing up just to see what crazy stunt you’re going to pull off this time.)

Getting Internet Customers Back Into Your Store

I did a mash-up of two presentations at an event for the pet store industry last week. I took elements from Selling in a Showrooming World and Generating Word-of-Mouth and put them into a new presentation we called “Getting Internet Customers Back Into Your Store.”

It worked.

One of the reasons it worked so well was because it went beyond Showrooming. Showrooming is less and less of a thing as people are becoming more and more comfortable with shopping online. Customers used to showroom a lot when they didn’t feel they could trust what they saw online, but easy return policies and trustworthy sites are changing that.

Customers are going online first and staying online to buy.

The real issue today is that many people have become so comfortable with shopping online that it is now the default position. They would rather order it from Amazon than stop in and see you or the product.

That’s scary.

The problem is that you and I are partially to blame. Although roughly half of the population would love to shop for reasons other than price (“trust” and “experience” being the two biggest of those reasons), in the absence of those other reasons, price becomes the default, and, right or wrong, Amazon has won the minds of people believing them to be the best price.

ONE BAD EXPERIENCE SPOILS THE WHOLE BUNCH

The real culprit is the collective experience your customers have in all their brick & mortar shopping. Every time they step foot in a store, that store influences whether they keep shopping brick & mortar or go online.

Yes, you get hurt because JCP didn’t train their sales staff very well, because Macy’s cut back on payroll, because Walmart installed self-checkout stands. Yes, you get hurt by experiences out of your control.

How do you win those customers back that are defaulting to the Internet? By doing the kind of things in your store that get people excited, the kind of things that get people talking about you to their friends.

In short, you do the same things you would do to generate Word-of-Mouth advertising.

GO OVER-THE-TOP

Make your services, your events, your store design, your displays, and even the simple little interactions you have with your customers so over-the-top and unexpected that they can’t wait to tell their friends and are already planning their next visit to see you.

There are four words that pretty much define most peoples’ choices for where to shop—Price, Convenience, Trust, and Experience.

All the big chains have been fighting over those first three (well, really, the first one or two) to the detriment of the Experience, not realizing that Experience is the one thing that brick & mortar can always win over the Internet. Plus, Experience is a short path that leads to Trust.

Want to win the Internet customer back to your store? Give her an Experience worth sharing. She’ll be back and will be bringing her friends with her.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You and I both know Amazon isn’t always the best price. You and I both know the hassles and inconvenience of shipping (lost or stolen packages, missed deadlines, etc.). You and I both know no one cares as much about their customers as you do. No other retailer frets over a mistake or bad experience like an indie retailer. Yet your customers don’t judge you solely on you. You are judged three ways—as yourself, as part of a collective known as “indie retailers”, and as a collective of “brick & mortar stores.” One bad experience in those latter two groups hurts you. Your best defense is to play the Experience card. Play it hard and play it often until you become the unicorn in those other two groups.

PPS Indie Retailers used to own both Trust and Experience. Go read that third paragraph again. I shuddered when I said it last week in the presentation. I shuddered when I wrote it today. If we lose that word to the Internet, it will be a game changer.

How to Get a Block of Time to Work ON Your Business

The phone rings. The email dings. The customer clings. The UPS driver brings.

When you run a retail store, your schedule is not your own. Too many distractions, too many variables, too many interruptions for you to get any kind of time to work ON your business.

It helps to have a clean space to do your work, too.

Yet if you don’t get those orders placed, those forms filled out, those bills processed and paid, you won’t have a business to work on. How do you find the time?

BEFORE AND AFTER

The easiest way is to come in early or stay late. I used to drop my boys off at school at 7:15am and get two whole hours of uninterrupted work before the store opened. I know some retailers who take their work home and do some of it in the evening after the kids are in bed.

Unless you get to leave early or come in late, those time slots make for long days. Use those opportunities accordingly.

HIRE MORE PEOPLE

If you are scheduled to work the sales floor more than 75% of your time at the store, you need to hire another worker ASAP. A part-timer working 10-15 hours a week will give you that much more time to do what you need to do.

If you’re trying to get other work done in between the customers while out on the sales floor then you are NOT giving either your full attention or best service. 

You’re hurting your business if you try to do both at the same time. You’re costing your business the money it would have to pay for that part-timer.

More time to work ON the business means more time for marketing, more time for keeping inventory levels balanced, more time for planning training sessions. All of those lead to more revenue to pay for the extra help and then some.

As long as you …

EMPOWER YOUR EMPLOYEES

Give your employees the skills, the responsibility, and the green light to solve all of your customers’ problems. Let them handle all the unhappy customers who want to speak to a manager.

Teach your employees how to handle cold calls (which ones to blow off, which ones to reschedule, etc.). I had a hard, fast rule on cold calls. If you stopped by my business and this was the only time I could sign up for your program, then I didn’t want it. Period. Anything that has to be decided “under the gun” is never going to be in your favor.

Let your staff know you are in a block of undisturbed time. No phone calls forwarded, no cold calls, no customer complaints, no “quick questions”. Take a message for later. (Note: give them parameters for what is a reasonable reason for a disturbance such as a visit from government officials or the police, a friend in the store from out-of-town, a car crashing through the front window, etc.)

LABEL YOUR TIME

When you make your schedule, label your time. It doesn’t have to be labeled publicly, but you need to label it internally so that you know your priority for each block. It could be something general like “Order Writing” or more specific like, “Order LEGO.”

The better you label your blocks, the more productive you will be.

While it has been scientifically proven that we cannot truly multi-task, some people are better at switching gears back and forth between projects and interruptions than others. Even if you are blessed with that skill, your business will be even more blessed when you build blocks of time solely for the purpose of working ON your business.

Now you know how.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I liked two-hour windows of time. Two solid hours is a long time for you to do one thing. After that your production will decrease over time. If you can get two of those blocks a day, you’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish.

I’ll Get Right Back to You

You know those little red numbers on your iPhone? The ones telling you how many unread emails and texts you might have? I hate those numbers. I am obsessed with getting rid of them.

You should be, too.

I know you’re already too busy. You barely have enough time to read this blog. You find value in it, so you make the time.

Sending back quick acknowledgement emails doesn’t seem to have the same value so you don’t make the time. But it does.

Not counting spam, most of your emails are either questions, answers, or documents. Some require action, some, such as answers to questions you asked or documents you need, just require acknowledgement. I want to talk about the latter.

SAVING TIME

Taking a quick moment to shoot back an email that says, “I got it,” or “Thanks!” or even just “Received,” will actually save you time in the long run.

Why?

Because of the person on the other end of the email.

If your insurance agent, accountant, or payroll specialist sends you a document and you don’t acknowledge receipt, they are going to fret. Did you get it? Did it end up in your junk folder? If you don’t respond, they are going to send you another email, or worse yet, call you and take up your time in another way.

If someone sent you a thoughtful answer to a question you asked, they want the feedback that the answer was received. They’ll also get back in touch at the least opportune time to say, “Did you get my answer?”

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Acknowledging emails will also raise the bar.

Acknowledgements are courtesies. They tell the other person you value the work they did for you. They tell the other person you think about them, too. That makes your relationship with that person even stronger and makes them more willing to go to bat for you should the need arise.

BEING PROFESSIONAL

Little details like this make a difference in how your business is perceived. If you ignore emails, don’t acknowledge receipt of documents, or thank people for answering questions you asked, people will think less of you and less of your business. When the easiest way to grow business is through repeat and referral customers, the last thing you want is for anyone to think less of you in any way.

You know the equation … Time = Money.

Not acknowledging emails sent to you with documents or answers to questions you asked won’t save you time and will probably cost you money.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One disclaimer. It is acceptable for you and the person you’re emailing to set ground rules of when you will and when you won’t acknowledge. Without that conversation, though, you run the risk of wasting your own time, the time of the other person, and the reputation of your business.

PPS In my new job, I know that quick responses to emails is essential. In a customer-centric business, other people’s needs always trump my own. Yes, it does mean I’m constantly starting and stopping the projects I’m working on. I’ve also learned how to plan blocks of undisturbed time to get stuff done. Shall we talk about that next?