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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.

When a Raise Isn’t a Raise

A friend of mine posed an interesting question a few weeks ago. He asked, “How much of a raise should you expect each year?”

In light of what is happening with the Sonic restaurants in Ohio, that is a valid question.

The problem is that the answer has too many variables to fit into a Facebook comment.

For instance, is the employee hourly, salary, or commission-based? Does the employee get any benefits such as healthcare (and how much does the employee have to pay out of their paychecks for these benefits)? Is the company experiencing growth or decline? How is inflation (and not just the overall number, but also locally)?

TAKE HOME PAY

A salaried employee is the easiest to figure out an appropriate raise. The employee should be getting at least enough of a raise so that his or her take-home pay is larger than the previous year adjusted for inflation.

If it only equals inflation, it isn’t a raise, it is a cost-of-living adjustment. If it is less than inflation, it is a pay cut.

I say take-home pay because if the employee has to pay any portion of his or her benefits, those often go up much higher than inflation. I heard the story of an employer who gave everyone a 4% raise because inflation was 3%. Unfortunately, because healthcare premiums went up 15% and the employees paid a portion of that, they had less take-home pay than the prior year to cover their other increased expenses.

Hourly employees follow the same rule, but the issue then becomes one of how many hours do they get? If you’re keeping the hours roughly the same, the same rules would apply.

Commission-based salary is different. In theory, the increase in prices of the items they are selling should lead to higher pay through higher average tickets. But if your prices didn’t go up (even as all other expenses did) you put your employees in a position where they have to work harder just to pay their bills. You may have to reconsider either their commission or offer them a base salary to compensate.

I tell you this because I always want you to think of your employees as assets to your business, not expenses.

I had another friend of mine get told in a review exactly how much this person had “cost” the company in terms of salary and benefits. The boss made no mention of how much this person had “made” in revenue for the company. Do you think the employee felt valued after that? Do you think the employee felt like the company had the employees’ backs?

EMPLOYEES AS ASSETS

When you think of your employees as assets, you invest in them to get the kind of return you want. You educate and train them. You give them actual raises, not just cost-of-living adjustments. You focus on the value they bring to your company, not the costs. You treat them as partners, as living, breathing, full-of-dignity human beings.

Do that and your staff will never walk out on you. In fact, you’ll rarely ever have to advertise for help again.

My grandfather always said, “You can never overpay for great help.”

He was right.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I was reading a Forbes article on 13 Employee Benefits That Don’t Actually Work. The second line in this article tells you all you need to know … “[Employees] like to feel valued and appreciated by the company they work for.” If your business doesn’t have the resources for raises, find other ways to invest in your team and make them feel valued and appreciated.

PPS If you’ve invested heavily in someone and that employee doesn’t bring you value, you need to cut him or her and move on. If you’ve invested heavily in several people that haven’t brought you value, you need to revamp your hiring and training programs. The problem is you, not them.

Upgrades Versus Shifts – Choose Wisely

Back in the 1990’s we had four big spiral notebooks on a table in the office. I’m talking huge, four-inch-wide, thick plastic covered, heavy-duty spiral notebooks. They contained our Inventory Sheets and tracked all the inventory in our store by vendor, item number, and price.

My dad created these sheets. Designed them himself and had them printed by the ream. There was a stack of blanks in the office right up until the day we closed.

These sheets were awesome for tracking purchase orders, receiving, and sales. If you wanted to place a new order, just do a quick physical inventory of that vendor, enter it onto the sheet and you could see what we had sold and needed to reorder.

That’s my dad with some old school cash registers behind him

Prior to the computer, this system was a godsend for us to keep track of 500 plus vendors and 30,000 skus. After the computer it was a relic.

When we switched to our second computer system in 1998, the inventory sheets were completely obsolete. My dad held onto them until he retired, but the computer streamlined the process so much that the sheets became a waste of time. In the old days it took my dad three days to write a Mattel order. With the computer I could do it in under an hour.

Sure, there was a learning curve to the computer. But the end result was a huge savings of time and resources. It was a major Upgrade.

I’m going through another form of Upgrade in my new job. Today I have been learning how to use Microsoft Teams. In my role I have to communicate with several people about several issues all day long. Often I have found myself sending out multiple texts and emails to try to stay in touch and get info. Teams is going to help me keep that organized and eliminate a lot of the time I spend tracking down old email threads, texts, and contact info.

Sure, there is a learning curve. But I can already see the end result being much better communication and less time spent tracking down information. Pretty soon it will be as natural to me as sending out a text or sharing something on Facebook.

Upgrades exist to make your life easier in the long run. 

That is the important distinction. If you look beyond the short-term pain and see the long-term gain it is an Upgrade. If there is no gain, it isn’t an Upgrade, it is merely a Shift.

Shifts can be dangerous. They often are sold as Upgrades because of their newness. They sometimes masquerade as Upgrades because of new features they offer that you’ll never use.

Just like the Upgrade, they take up a lot of time and money at first, causing a lot of short-term pain. Unlike the Upgrade, they have no long-term gain. They only move your resources from one place to another.

You’ll see these Shifts most often in advertising. Online advertising, social media advertising, and mobile-marketing are all Shifts, not Upgrades.

The best way to avoid Shifts is to ask this most important question …

Will this shiny, new tool save me Time or Money?

If you cannot answer Yes, it is most likely a Shift, not an Upgrade, and probably not worth your limited resources. Now you know the difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sometimes you have no choice but to make a Shift because the old way is obsolete and no longer available (think credit card chips). Hopefully you can find a new way that also brings you a benefit (like Apple Pay capabilities.) When someone pitches you a shiny, new tool, ask yourself if it is merely a Shift or truly an Upgrade. Always wait for the Upgrade.

Different Eyes See Products Differently (And That’s Okay)

I got a new laptop. While I was preparing to transfer files from the old laptop, I figured now was a good time to purge. I went through all the document files one by one, deleted all the duplicates, consolidated all the pictures, and opened up files I haven’t seen in over 10 years.

One of them was a staff meeting idea. The concept was to flash certain words on a screen and have everyone write down their own definition of the word. Some of the words would be applicable to our situation like “service”. Others could be words that have dual meanings to begin with like “experience” (noun or verb?). The point of the exercise was two-fold. First, we would see how different people interpret words differently. Second, I would see how the members of my team interpret important words like service.

We all come from different backgrounds with different life experiences, so we see and interpret things in our own unique way.

Never was that more apparent than at Toy Fair last week.

My retail customers came in looking at our brand new offerings. For everything I showed I had some retailers who loved it, some who hated it, and some who just said, “Meh.” Not everyone who loved it, loved it for the same reasons. Nor did those who hated it, hate it for the same reasons. In fact, I had one retailer give me a reason for loving an item and another gave me the exact same reason for hating an item.

Just because the first customer who sees your new offerings hates them doesn’t mean they are bad.

Just because the first customer who sees your new offerings loves them doesn’t mean they will do well.

I missed one of the biggest fads of the last two decades in the toy industry. It was Webkins. I loved the toy. Loved it so much that when it was first introduced, I bought the display and the TV monitor to show the video of how it worked. Got it in August. By December 1st I had only sold 2 of 144 pieces. That night I clearanced them all at 50% off.

Do you know when the craze hit? December 2nd. The first customer of the day walked in and asked, “Do you have any Webkins?”

She bought six. By the end of day on December 4th we were sold out. I never reordered and never looked back.

Some of the negative feedback we got in the booth was really good. It was constructive criticism of things we can (and will) change. Some of the positive feedback was location-specific to the person and store giving us the feedback. Knowing the difference and knowing how to decipher the feedback you get goes a long way.

“You are not a hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

We all see the world differently. When you look through the other person’s eyes, however, you see things in a whole new light.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Normally I like to give you something concrete to do in these posts—an action step or two. This post does not. But it does set up the next couple posts where I’ll try to show you what happens when you look through someone else’s eyes. It will transform your marketing & advertising, your customer service, your staff training, and even your merchandising. Stay tuned.

Merchandising Rules Never Really Change

I was unloading boxes of toys and trying to organize them on the shelves in our booth at Toy Fair. This is a new role for me. I’ve only ever seen these trade shows after everything is set up. I’ve never had to navigate the aisles filled with shipping crates, pallets of product, and forklift and lift drivers beeping everywhere.

I was pulling out all the toys and trying to visualize how they would look best on the shelf. Seconds later I had drifted back to my Toy House days with a cart full of new products, trying to figure out where to show them off best.

Lea, my boss, came over about the time I was on my fourth or fifth box. “I was wondering why you hadn’t been asking me questions. You were a retailer. You did this all the time.”

All. The. Time.

The rules for merchandising a trade show booth aren’t really any different than the rules for merchandising your store.

  • Give the stuff you really want to push a special place.
  • Make the eye move. Add verticality to table displays.
  • Put the stuff they need to see at eye level.
  • Put the stuff they already know and ask for by name in the “dead zone” (if you have one).
  • Group products by what makes most sense for how your customers shop.
  • Have a “splash” item or two.
  • If you use a lower shelf, put big items down low that are easier to see or make sure the aisle is wide enough for people to back up to see.

We had seven of us setting up the booth yesterday following all these rules and then some. The booth is done and ready for the sales reps who will visit us today and the retailers we’ll start seeing tomorrow.

One of my favorite things about trade shows was the merchandising ideas I would get from the different booths. And not only for that vendor’s products. We would see display ideas we would then re-purpose for own products.

Great merchandising is all around you. The rules are basically the same, the design is the key. Get your inspiration from wherever you can. (To learn more about Merchandising, download the free eBook Merchandising Made Easy.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It also helps to have someone on your team with that special flair for making displays pop. We have an orange box filled with all kinds of display goodies and props to dress up our displays. When Lea opened up that box and put her magic touch on everything our booth jumped to a whole new level.

Your Sales Rep is Your Best Friend

Twenty-five years ago I invited two sales reps to my wedding. I didn’t know them before I was working at Toy House. I didn’t know them from outside Toy House. Our relationship in life happened purely through our relationship at the store.

Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about sales reps. My new job at HABA USA is to help the sales reps do their jobs.

Product Training with our Rep

I help them help you help your customers.

Can I ask a favor of you?

Can I ask you to help your reps, too?

Here’s the funny thing … I’ve actually been asking this of you for several years. I did a quick search of my blog and found several posts pertaining to sales reps. They all talk about the same thing—the relationship between you and your reps. Most of them focus on you training your reps to work best for you.

Back in 2011 I wrote, Are Your Reps Coming to You for Training? I had a sales rep who, whenever he picked up a new line that we were carrying, knew to visit us first because he would learn about the line from a retailer’s perspective that would help him sell to other retailers.

A year later I wrote, How Good are Your Sales Reps? Mine were incredibly good for the most part. But we also cultivated the relationship and trained them how we wanted the relationship to go. There are some good tips in here of things you can do to help your reps help you.

Then in 2013 I doubled down with, Sales Reps are People, Too. Do you consider your reps to be employees of your business? Do you you send them thank you cards or gifts at Christmas? This post talks about why you should.

Later that year I posted a pretty good To-Do list in, Treat Your Sales Reps as Partners. I got that title from one of my favorite quotes …

“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.” – Jimmy Stewart

Also buried in that post is the link to this article by Tim Miles … Are Sales Reps Partners? He shows a distinct difference between order-takers and true partners. If you are a sales rep, this is a really good read.

Lastly, I wrote this post last year …  Surprise and Delight for Sales Reps showing you ways they can surprise and delight you and ways you can surprise and delight them.

Your sales reps are your partners in your business. They should be bringing you value. If they aren’t bringing you value, the first place to look is at yourself. Have you shown them how they can bring value in the way you want it?

When you build the kind of relationship/partnership you should with your sales reps, you’ll be inviting them to your wedding, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In my twenty-four years we only “fired” three reps. One of them was so offensive we banned him from ever coming into the store again. The other two barely even wanted to be order-takers and didn’t last long as reps. Mostly, our reps were incredibly hard-working people who spent most of the time on the road and the rest of it on the phone. They want you to be successful because the better you do, the better they do. Show them how to help you and they will.

Why Bud Light Had the Best Ad Last Sunday

Hi, my name is Phil and I’m a Detroit Lions fan. It was easy being a Lions fan when I was working retail. Every season we would buy into the hype, get all excited, and then somewhere down the line get our hopes dashed by catch that wasn’t a catch, the pass interference call that wasn’t called (sorry New Orleans, it happened to us first), or the simple ineptitude of a team that couldn’t keep the best running back ever motivated enough to keep playing. It was always something different, but something always happened.

The good years were when it happened before the annual Thanksgiving Day game. Then I could focus on retail.

The bad years were when it happened later and I would get the heart-crushing news from a customer while working a Sunday afternoon in the store.

As a lifelong Lions fan, we are granted the right to pick another NFL team to root for. As a University of Michigan graduate, I chose the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. Y’all can hate me for that, but you can’t argue the numbers.

I tell you this to let you know I had more than a passing interest in the game as well as the ads last Sunday. Some of you who tuned in just for the ads were likely sorely disappointed at both the game and the ads. I know the ads let me down more than ever.

Still from Bud Light’s 2019 Super Bowl ad

In fact, there was only one ad that truly stood out to me for being effective. It was the Bud Light Corn Syrup Delivery Ad where the king took a large barrel of corn syrup back to Miller Lite and Coors Light since Bud Light doesn’t use corn syrup and the other two do.

The ad wins for several reasons:

  • They made only one point. We don’t use corn syrup but our competitors do.”
  • The humor was tied to the message. Humor is good in an ad because getting people to “feel” something is good. But too often the humor is gratuitous and doesn’t connect you to the true message. (The mint fox ad left a bad taste in my mouth both literally and figuratively and now I have no recollection what the ad was even about.)
  • They spoke to their tribe. The ad gave all the Bud Light drinkers one more reason to feel good about drinking Bud Light.
  • They got people to complain. Remember, your ad’s ability to attract is equal to its ability to repel. This ad repelled a lot of people including Miller Lite who felt compelled to take out a full page ad in the NY Times defending their use of corn syrup, and the corn growers of America who also complained. Those two actions alone testify to the power of that ad.

You can debate all you want about whether using corn syrup is good, bad, or indifferent. Bud Light recognized a clear difference between its ingredients and its competitors’ ingredients and found a fun, funny, and pointed way to get that message across.

There is one more thing Bud Light did right …

They told a story.

No matter what the year, the ads that get talked about the most all have one thing in common. They tell a story. Stories sell because stories make us feel (speak to the heart) and stories are easier to remember.

One of my sales reps for HABA USA emailed me to talk about the “story” for selling HABA this year. She knows that the better the story, the more products she will sell.

The lesson here is that when you can tell a story that makes people feel something while also getting across the one point you want people to remember, your ad is going to be more effective. Yes, you’ll get haters and complainers. Consider them a badge of honor that your ad was strong enough to get them to react.

I want to leave you with one more resource on storytelling. I ran across the following TEDx talk and was blown away. I highly encourage you set aside 17 minutes to watch it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Just because an ad doesn’t make you compelled to take action doesn’t mean it wasn’t an effective ad. The story just wasn’t for you. The smart advertisers have figured out they don’t need to convince masses to grow. They need to convince niches. Target your stories and your message to a very narrow audience and convince that group incredibly well. You’ll be surprised how much more effective your advertising becomes.

A New Beginning for Me, An Old Lesson for You

Today is an exciting day for me! Today I start a new job as the National Sales Manager for HABA USA, a wonderful toy and game company I used to sell at Toy House. I will be responsible for helping the sales reps get more HABA toys into more retailers.

What does that mean for this blog and the resources on this page? Not a whole lot.

I will be blogging less, but the resources will remain, and the insights will only increase as I expand my scope of understanding of all aspects of the retail market. I will still be available for presentations and workshops (albeit my schedule will be a lot tighter and less flexible). And I will always be looking for new ways to help indie retailers and small businesses succeed.

In fact, because of my new position, I had this experience happen last Saturday that we all can learn from.

SATURDAY AT THE MALL

I needed to updated my wardrobe. After years of wearing Toy House logo shirts, and two years of working at home 85% of the time, my wardrobe isn’t ready for trade shows and meeting with retailers and reps. That meant shopping.

I went to a large mall with several of my favorite stores. I used to be a Dockers guy, but have found Haggar pants to fit me a little better. The outlet store was having a sale on pants, too! Road trip.

Of course, when you study retail for a living, you don’t shop like a typical guy—run in, grab, and go. Don’t get me wrong. That’s exactly what I did at Haggar. But then I walked the rest of the mall to see what was happening. Plus, there was a toy store in the mall. I wanted to know if they had HABA in their store.

The store was nice. Decent traffic as would be expected midday on a Saturday. A sales clerk approached and asked if I was finding everything okay (cringe). I said, “I was wondering if you carry HABA toys?” I had seen a few of HABA’s competitors on the shelves but not HABA at that point.

She said, “I don’t know. Let me check.”

While I kept browsing, she went up to the registers and looked it up. A few minutes later she came back and said, “No we don’t.” Then she walked away never to be seen again.

In her mind she thinks she gave me good customer service. She approached me and answered my question.

In reality she missed the boat completely. I handed her the most perfect opening for starting a conversation and building the relationship that could lead to a sale. She could have asked me one of several questions …

  • What does HABA sell?
  • Why are you looking for HABA?
  • What product in particular were you hoping to find?
  • Who are you shopping for?
  • Can I show you some alternatives?

Instead she walked away. 

This is a problem we all have with our sales clerks. At best, they make an attempt at the low-hanging fruit, but never reach beyond that first branch. They shy away from actually helping a customer and making a sale. They back off at the first hint of rejection.

Last summer I created a new presentation for the Independent Garden Center Show called How to Push for Yes (Without Being Pushy) (click the hyperlink to download the FREE eBook) just to help with this situation.

If you want your sales team to go after the better fruit on the higher branches you have to first equip them with the tools to do so. Then you need to motivate them to step out onto the limb. That’s what HABA has hired me to do with their team. I am looking forward to it!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I love the IGC Show! Last summer they challenged me to create five new presentations from scratch that collectively went on to become my half day workshop The Ultimate Selling Workshop. this summer they have challenged me to create five new presentations on selling. As always, I am looking forward to that challenge. As long as I live there will never be a shortage of new lessons (or takes on old lessons) for us to all collectively learn.

Making the Most of Trade Shows

In two weeks the world of toys will be on display in New York City for the International Toy Fair. All the vendors will be there showing off their new products. Retailers from around the globe will be there to take a peak.

New York City is a fun place to visit. Oh sure, February might not be the optimal time. I trudged through three 12″ plus snowstorms over the years and braved wind chills that matched the polar vortex of the last couple days here in Michigan. (Unfortunately I missed the unseasonably warm 2017 where temps got into the 60’s.) But with all the fine dining and top-level entertainment, it is fun no matter the weather.

My friends outside the industry would hear our tales of fine dining, bar-hopping, and Broadway. The partying was legendary.

The work was legendary, too.

We just never shared those stories.

There are countless articles about how to prepare for a trade show including tips that tell you to …

  • Run reports
  • Map your course through the show
  • Bring comfortable shoes
  • Don’t forget your business cards

There aren’t as many that tell you what to do at the trade show. Here was my approach …

WALK THE FLOOR

I rarely ever made appointments at the big shows. I didn’t want to be crisscrossing a large floor and adding a couple extra miles to my day.

Instead I chose one end of the floor to start and walked the whole showroom aisle by aisle, stopping in at my regular vendors as I passed them by. When I had to make appointments (LEGO wouldn’t let you in without one) I tried to make them either first thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon so that I could walk as much of the floor as possible without interruption.

LOOK FOR NEW

The main purpose of a trade show is to find new items. You don’t need to see the stuff you’ve already seen, bought, and sold. Included in that “new” is new vendors. You should plan to visit several new vendors at any trade show.

This is where my affiliations with industry associations paid off handsomely. As a member of American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) I would look for new vendors who were supportive of ASTRA. ASTRA also had a special meeting one night at Toy Fair called Share the Fair where several retailers gathered to highlight the cool, new stuff they had seen. Those resources alone more than paid for my membership.

Every year you should be replacing your bottom 20% performing merchandise with something new. Trade shows are one of the easiest ways to find those new items.

TAKE NOTES

I learned this from my father. He would always ask for a catalog and two price lists. The first price list he used for notes. As he walked through a booth he would scribble notes on the price list next to each item. He had his own system. Mine was easy. I would star things I liked, circle things I knew I wanted to buy, cross off things I wanted to avoid, and write down short, descriptive words of the new items to remind me later what I thought of them. (Too small, price?, copycat, super cute, etc.)

Every night I would sort through all my notes and write down my thoughts on each vendor I visited. I would then sort the catalogs and price lists into two piles. One pile was going home to look at later. The other pile was for lines I might possibly write orders while at the show.

SAVE ORDER WRITING FOR YOUR LAST DAY

At some trade shows I brought orders I had already created. As easy as it would be to simply drop those orders off as I walked by the first time, I always held them until my last day. I wanted to see everything before I made any decisions.

More than once I added to an order because I loved all the new stuff the vendor was showing. More than once I canceled an order because I saw something I liked better from another vendor.

As soon as I finished my first walk-through of the trade show floor I found a table to sit and process my notes. I had three criteria for which orders I would place at the show and which ones I would take home to write later.

  • Show Special – if the show special was a good one and only was good until the last day of the show, that vendor went into the write pile. (Note: sometimes I would write at the show even if the show special was extended because I knew I wouldn’t see my sales rep before the deadline.)
  • Excitement – if I was really excited about a product and wanted to get it in right away (or feared there would be limited quantities), that vendor went into the write pile.
  • Sales Rep – if I had a lousy sales rep that I didn’t trust would see me soon enough to get the order placed, that vendor went into the write pile.

I knew I would be busy with all the other aspects of running a business as soon as I got home. Writing orders often went to the bottom of the To-Do List. I relied heavily on my sales reps to get in and help me write orders. My great reps knew that and always stopped in to see me right after a show.

The rest of that day was about plotting the second walk-through.

USING THE MAP

Every vendor would remind me their booth number in the multiple emails they sent before each show. I never cared until that last day. If you’re on the showroom floor, I’ll walk by you at least once.

My second walk-through, however, was plotted. I made a list of every vendor I needed to see a second time. Some of those second visits were to write orders. Some were to ask questions and get clarification. Some were to help decide between two competing products.

This is where the trade show maps come in handy. I always made my list by booth numbers. It minimized my walking and maximized my visit time. The list also made sure I saw everyone I needed to see. I circled all the vendors on that list where I knew I was writing an order. That way, if time got short, I had my priority list.

At our peak, we were buying product from over five hundred vendors. Trade shows were critical to our success in finding the right products, staying on top of industry trends, and building the relationships with our vendors that mattered.

This system served me well for close to one hundred trade shows. And when done right, it made the partying even more fun!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The “partying” served a purpose, too. That’s when I would meet up with other store owners and share all the new stuff we saw. That’s when I would go out with some of my vendors and build stronger relationships. Find a restaurant or bar that is not so loud that you cannot talk. The evening will be much more fun, and as long as you drink lots of water, you’ll feel much better in the morning.

Make Your Lists Now (You Can Thank Me Later)

Our store had 16,000 square feet of carpeting. The original carpeting was laid in 1967. It lasted twenty years. Fortunately for me I was on a canoe trip in northern Ontario in 1987 when my parents decided to replace it.

Replacing carpeting in a store that size while remaining open was no small task. First you have to move everything from one-third of the store into the other two-thirds. All the products and all the shelving had to go. The shelves were made of steel and assembled with nuts and bolts requiring screwdrivers and wrenches and dollies and strong backs. Then the carpet guys would rip up the glued-down carpet and replace it with another glued-down, industrial-level carpet, before the staff rebuilt the shelves and started working on another third of the store.

My dad told me he would retire before he ever did that again. He was right.

Phil W Cleaning the Floor

The next carpet was over 29 years old when we rang the Birthday Bell for the last time. It had lived long past its 15-20 year life expectancy. Yes, by 2016 it looked dated and had some stains no solvent or steam could remove, but it was still in decent shape with all the seams intact. We kept it that way by vacuuming it daily and having it professionally cleaned twice a year—once on Memorial Day Weekend, once on Thanksgiving Eve.

We chose those days for two reasons: first because they offered a full day (or two) for the carpet to dry before being used again, and second because they made the carpet shine for our two busiest seasons.

I almost didn’t get the carpet cleaned one Thanksgiving. I forgot to schedule it. For whatever reason, it wasn’t on my Prep For Christmas Checklist. You know the list. The one that had …

  • Order bags
  • Check giftwrap inventory
  • Go over buying goals with all buyers

… among other things.

I also had my Thanksgiving Eve Checklist, my Christmas Eve Checklist, my Summer Fun Sale Checklist, and my Easter Prep Checklist.

The other thing I had was time. In twenty-four years I found myself adding something to at least one checklist each year because I forgot to buy coffee for the coffee pot we put out on Black Friday or I forgot to change our hours online or I forgot to call and schedule the carpet cleaning. There was always something new I forgot to do.

I was quickly becoming the expert by making all the mistakes I could and learning from them over the years.

You might not be a list person. I admit, I wasn’t. I made those lists, but didn’t always look at them or use them. Fortunately for me, making the list helped burn them into memory so that I rarely made the same mistake twice. But that’s one of the keys.

Just make the list.

The process of making the list does several things …

First, it helps you organize your thoughts. It puts you into a mode where you are thinking about all the things that need to be done.

Second, it reminds you of things to do. It helps cement all those actions into your memory. I know writing things down always helps me remember them better—even if I never look at the paper again. I have encouraged both of my boys to take copious notes in college and rewrite them daily to help remember what they are learning.

Third, it helps you delegate. When the list is only in your head you are less likely to assign other people to do things. When the list is on paper you can easily see tasks that others can do to lighten your load.

Fourth, it helps you visualize all the things that need to get done. Visualization helps with execution. We are more willing to do that which we have already seen ourselves do in our own mind.

Fifth—and most importantly—it helps you be ready to put your best foot forward for your customers. The last thing you want is to be running around Black Friday like a chicken with your head cut off because you weren’t prepared. You don’t want customers thinking this is your first rodeo.

You want them thinking you are at the top of your game.

Right now, while you’re hunkered down in your office lamenting the weather and the lack of traffic, pull out a notebook or open up a word doc and start writing out those lists. Whether you ever look at them again, just this one little act will improve your business dramatically. (Hopefully you will write it all down and then use those lists. That would be best. But just the act of writing it down is so much better than trying to wing it every year or season. Baby steps.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When I started writing about the carpet up above, I thought maybe I would take this blog in a different direction and talk about regular, preventative maintenance. We got an extra nine years out of our carpet and I avoided a retirement-inducing carpet replacement through preventative maintenance. We took our snow blowers and lawn mowers in for preseason and postseason maintenance every year. We took our vehicles in to winterize them and followed all the maintenance schedules to the tee. Those, of course, were all items on the Checklist along with Order Salt for the Sidewalks. (Yeah I forgot to do that once. Once!)

PPS Black Friday is November 29th. Christmas is December 25th. Neither of those dates should surprise you. You know they are coming. Get your lists ready for them now. (For those of you in industries where it matters, Valentines will be February 14th again, Easter is April 21st, and Halloween will be October 31st again—although I’d love to see it moved to “last Saturday of October” but that’s a discussion for another day.)

When to Close for the Weather

Right now the Weather app says it is minus ten degrees outside. The “real feel” is minus thirty-five. Thank goodness I don’t have any presentations or travel scheduled for today. My office is only a wall away from my bedroom. I’m going to work today.

But if Toy House was still open, would I be going in?

That has always been the question. We’ve done really good business on snow days when the schools were closed. We’ve also been really slow as traffic crawled to halt on the slippery roads. Sometimes we have opened only to close early so that my staff could get home safely. Sometimes I have staffed the store with a skeletal crew by volunteer. Who wants to brave the conditions to make a few bucks?

One thing I always looked at with bad weather days was that the mail was still coming, the phones were still ringing, and the email never stopped.

Today, however, we would have been closed.

Why?

The guys and gals who brave rain and snow and sleet aren’t even going out. You know it is bad when the USPS takes a day off for weather.

Another reason is that the governor declared the cold weather a “state of emergency.”

Now that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have braved the cold to go in myself. I have been out in this cold several times before in my life (I used to go winter camping—there’s an activity for brave of heart or insanely stupid). That’s what scarves and face masks and hats and gloves are for. But I wouldn’t want to put my staff in serious danger. When the governor or the mayor declares a state of emergency for the weather, they want you off the roads.

The interesting thing about weather days in Michigan is that some people see them as a good excuse to cuddle up with a blanket and a good book. Others see it as a challenge.

(“What do you mean it was cold outside? I shoveled my walk, went to the gym, ran some errands, went to the grocery store, and came home and made French Toast with all the bread, eggs, and milk I bought. It wasn’t that bad.”)

When do you close for the weather? 

  • When USPS says Nope.
  • When your local government says Nope.
  • When it is a danger to you or your staff to be on the roads or outside. (If you can’t make it in, you shouldn’t ask your staff to come in, either.)

If you’re the kind of defiant person like I was and are going to brave the elements no matter how stupid, make it voluntary for your staff. When we would close early for bad weather I sent those who lived the farthest away or had the worst cars for snow home first. Then I’d ask, “Who wants to stay? Who wants to go?”

You can run your store on a skeletal crew on bad weather days because your traffic won’t be as busy. You can also get a lot done in the office and re-merchandising the floor. Just don’t turn your staff into skeletons by forcing them out on those days.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One other criteria that always seemed to play into the equation was the time of year. It was a lot easier decision to close for the day in January than in December. Stay safe and warm out there.