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The Ad Everyone is Talking About

By now you’ve probably already seen this ad. You may love it. You may hate it. You may wonder what all the hype is about. You may wonder who the heck is John Lewis and why should you care?

Since it is getting all the hype (and it made me cry, something very few ads do to me these days) I figure I would break it down for you to show you why it is going viral.

If you haven’t seen the ad, you can watch it below or follow this link here. It is just over two minutes long. (Note: spoiler alerts below.)

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know I teach six principles that anyone can follow to make your ads more memorable and effective. Those principles are:

  1. Don’t Look or Sound Like an Ad
  2. Tell a Story
  3. Make Only One Point
  4. Speak to the Heart
  5. Speak to the Tribe
  6. Make Your Customer the Star

Don’t Look or Sound Like and Ad: Check! When I first clicked on a link for this ad that a friend shared with me, I thought I had accidentally linked to a trailer for the new Elton John movie Rocketman. This definitely doesn’t look or sound like any ad you’ll see on television outside of the first Sunday in February—if even then!

Tell a Story: Check! I love how they tell the story in a reverse timeline. Like any good storyteller, they take you from what you know to something you don’t know.

Make Only One Point: Check! I’m sure John Lewis sells all kinds of products and offers all kinds of services. They don’t talk about any of that. The tagline “Some gifts are more than just a gift” is about the thought you give into gift-giving and the thought John Lewis gives into the products it sells.

Speak to the Heart: Check! John Lewis is known for their touching, moving Christmas commercials. This one brought me to tears. Twice. Once at 1:45, again at 2:12.

Speak to the Tribe: Check! If you read the comments below the video on YouTube you’ll notice that not everyone is gushing over this ad. In fact, while 90,000 have given it a thumbs up (at the time of this typing), 8,500 have given it a thumbs down. Several people have written comments that they don’t get it. That, in my humble opinion, is the most telling point of how well John Lewis is speaking to the tribe.

Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, has been teaching for years that, like a magnet, an ad’s ability to attract is equal to its ability to repel. The more powerfully you speak to your tribe—your customers, the people who share your Core Values—the more likely others won’t get it or like it. Roy also says, “Choose who to lose.” Don’t try to speak to everyone, just the most important ones.

This particular ad speaks to several tribes—Elton John fans, Musicians, people with Nostalgia as a character trait, Christmas saps, and people with Giving Gifts as one of their Love Language. I happen to be all of those. If you’re not one of those, you might not get why the rest of us are grabbing a tissue.

Some people loved the ad just because it was Elton. Some felt at the end he was lamenting the loss of his parents more than he was waxing nostalgic on the gift—another tribe. Some were remembering their own favorite Christmas gift that inspired them or that they still own today.

The ad evoked powerful emotions from several groups of people.

Make Your Customer the Star: No Check. I do have to agree with one comment on YouTube where the person said it looked more like an ad for Elton John’s next tour or movie than it did an ad for John Lewis. It certainly did feel that way up until the scene with the little boy coming down the stairs Christmas morning. Prior to that scene it was all about Elton. but in that one moment it was any one of us who has ever come down the stairs wide-eyed and full of excitement on Christmas morning.

That scene at 1:45 was the first part that really got to me emotionally. My first blog post ten years ago was about my favorite Christmas gift—a six-string guitar.

I’m okay that this ad didn’t fully make “you” the star. It works because of the story. The story works because we all know of Elton. You don’t have the budget to get Elton John into your commercials and that’s okay. John Lewis did and it worked for me.

Five out of six boxes checked. That’s why everyone is talking about this ad, and John Lewis.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Want to do a fun exercise? Go through all the John Lewis commercials here and write down the different tribes each ad is speaking to. It will help you when you start crafting your own powerful ads like these.

PPS If you didn’t get this ad or like this ad, that’s okay. It just wasn’t written for you. I watch ads every day that make me scratch my head until I remember, they weren’t written for me. Speak to your Tribe with your ads. That’s what really matters.

Change or Stay the Course?

I read a quote the other day and it has stuck with me. I’ve been trying to figure out how to work it into a worthwhile post. The quote is from author William R. Inge. He says …

“There are two kinds of fools. One says, ‘This is old, therefore it is good,’; the other says, ‘This is new, therefore it is better.’ “

“This is old, therefore it is good,” is the trap we get into when we say things like, “We’ve always done it this way.”

“This is new, therefore it is better,” is the trap we get into especially whenever a new form of advertising comes along. We think we need to be on the cutting edge or we will get left behind.

The problem with both of those statements is that they are completely right and completely wrong at the same time. Some old things are really good and shouldn’t be changed. Some new things are truly better and will disrupt your industry and kill your business if you don’t adopt them.

I was at a presentation a few years ago when the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we had any employees that had been with us twenty or more years. I raised my hand.

He said the best thing we could do for our business is to fire those people the day we got back. They were the keepers of the flame of everything old. They were the standard bearers for, “We’ve always done it this way.”

I didn’t fire those people (I had two at the time), but I took to heart his meaning and paid close attention to who was willing to change and who wasn’t.

The other side of the coin was fascinating, too. Back in the early 90’s we had newsprint, radio, TV, billboard, yellow pages, and direct mail as our advertising options. There was no social media, email, or mobile marketing. The movie theaters weren’t running pre-show ads. Most of us didn’t even know the word Google, let alone have our own website with SEO optimization.

Yet each one of those was going to disrupt the advertising industry and change it forever (or so we were told).

The sales pitch from every rep was the same. “If you don’t jump on this bandwagon, you’re going to miss out on the biggest change the industry has ever seen, and you’ll be left in the dust by your competition.”

Some of those new things (like email and having your own website) really have changed the game for small businesses. Some, like closed-circuit TV, haven’t been quite as lucrative as promised.

How do you know when to change and when not to change? For many of us, that is the biggest question and hardest task. I wrote about it once before and came up with these three points of what to change …

Never Change: Your Core Values, Putting Your Customer First

Don’t Change Now: Anything that is productive and efficient

Change Now: Everything else

The best way avoid becoming one of the two fools above is to have a process for when and how to change.

WHEN TO CHANGE

When someone asks you to change something you’ve always done, you get defensive. That is a natural reaction. Here is a process to help you decide when to change the old (or chase after the new.)

First ask this question …

  • Is this a tweak or a wholesale change?

If it is a tweak and the tweak makes the current process more efficient and/or more customer-friendly, you should do it.

In fact you should always be looking for tweaks, small changes that make things work better.

If it is a wholesale change—some shiny, new bauble—then you have to ask a few more questions …

  • Does the new process/system fit within our Core Values?
  • Is it customer-friendly?
  • Is it faster or more efficient than the old way?
  • Can it be easily taught to everyone on the team?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, then it is a good change.

If you answered no to either of the first two questions, you’re better off staying the course.

If you answered no to the third question, but a strong yes to the first two, it might be worth considering. sometimes it is worth giving up a little efficiency on your end if it helps delight more customers.

If you answered yes to the first three but not the last question, just understand there will be some growing pains to get the new system implemented, but it is still worth making the change.

If that isn’t enough to help you decide, you can do what I did. I always liked to ask two more questions …

  • Is the old way no longer working?
  • What statistics were slain to make this bauble look enticing?

Change costs time, money, and other resources. Change is not always easy. In Seth Godin’s book THE DIP, he shows how change often causes a dip in productivity at first, followed by the gains you were hoping to get when you made the change.

Sometimes it is better to keep the old ways. Sometimes it is better to embrace the new.

The true fool, however, is the business owner who doesn’t have a process to evaluate when and how to change your business for the better.

Fortunately, you’re no fool.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We’ll explore how to change later this week.

PPS I had one more technique I used for making decisions on the shiny, new baubles presented to me, especially in advertising. I slept on them. If something new is good, it will still be available tomorrow. In fact, if it is really good, tomorrow there will be two more people trying to sell you on it.

When it came to new advertising methods, I would also ask …

Make Change with a Purpose

While I know I should probably avoid the drive-thru restaurants, I don’t. I go even though I don’t particularly like the drive-thrus. It isn’t the food. It is the experience, or more accurately the final moments of the experience.

Two things happen far too often at the end of a drive-thru experience that shouldn’t. One is partially my fault. One is simple training that would make the experience far more pleasurable.

Don’t you just hate when they give you your change?

They always stack the bills on your hand first and then drop a wad of coins on top of those bills. My only hope is that when the coins start sliding off (as they always do), they will slide into my vehicle and not on the ground.

There is a far better way to give back change. I’ve highlighted it here.

The second problem is making sure I got the right stuff. I don’t want to hold up the line so I rarely ever check the bag. Sometimes they are polite enough to tell me what they are handing me. Sometimes they aren’t.

Yesterday, however, I found a third reason to be annoyed.

This picture is the dollar bill I got in change for my meal yesterday. I actually flattened it out some for the picture. It was pretty crumpled. I was afraid to put it into my wallet.

All I could think about as I drove away was why wasn’t this drive-thru cashier instructed to put the nasty, slimy, crumpled, torn, barely readable dollar bills at the bottom of the stack and only give out the good ones as change?

You do that, don’t you?

If there was anything I was OCD about at Toy House, it was clean dollar bills in the drawer. Every morning when I counted out the drawers I held back the nasty ones for the deposit and put the clean ones in the drawers. I used to beg the teller at the bank to give me the clean bills whenever I bought bundles of ones. (She used to hold the better bundles aside just for me—that’s customer service!)

It seems like a silly, minor thing, but it is those little details that set you apart from your competition.

Your customers won’t notice you did it, but sometimes the best customer service is doing something nice they don’t notice rather than having them flame you on Yelp for something not so nice they did notice.

Teach your staff to give back the right kind of change the right way. It quietly makes a difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Oh, I would love to go into a fast food joint and whip them into shape. After giving back change, the other thing I would teach them to do is to put the lettuce in the sandwich, not in the outer folds of the wrapper. I would have taken that picture of me becoming a salad yesterday if I wasn’t driving.

PPS I was in a Chick-fil-A restaurant once where the cashier handed me back change the right way. It was so refreshing that I had to thank her. She said it was the way she was taught. See? It can be taught. While that isn’t the only reason why an average Chick-fil-A restaurant does over three times in sales of the average KFC, staff training is definitely a major contributing factor.

Giving Your Staff a Purpose

I’ve told you the story about the Simon Game that happened on Christmas Eve in 1980. I was only fourteen years old and it was a life-changer.

I haven’t told you what happened exactly two years later.

There was a guy, probably late 20’s, in his Carhart overalls staring at an empty place on the shelves. Back in 1982 we were a full-line dealer for this young and growing company called Little Tikes. They were making these amazing rotational molded plastic toys. They had a whole lineup of kitchen appliances including a stove, a refrigerator and a sink. (Yes, they were sold separately back then.)

This guy was staring at the empty hole where we would normally have stocked a sink.

Do you know the look of defeat? With his eyes glazed over, trying to hold back tears, this guy defined that look. I asked him if I could help.

“This hole means you don’t have any sinks left, right?”

In 1982 I didn’t have a computer to look up my stock numbers. I did, however, remember seeing one in a box in the warehouse. I told him to hold on while I checked just to make sure.

The one in back had just recently been canceled from a layaway. You should have seen his face when I brought out the box from the back room. It was magical!

We hugged and cried and I watched this guy literally dance his way out into the parking lot. It wasn’t until years later that I heard the term “happy-dance” but I saw one on Christmas Eve in 1982.

I don’t know if I am blessed, lucky, or just happened to have worked too many years in retail, but I actually have several more stories just like this one.

Twenty years later I had the staff together for our final meeting before the Christmas Season kicked into full gear. I called this our Pep Rally meeting. I liked to have a theme I unveiled at this meeting each year, something easy for the staff to remember.

In 2002 the phenomenon sweeping the nation was Harry Potter. The books were huge and the first movie had just been released. So our theme was Believe in the Magic. I told everyone the Simon Story and the story above. I told them a couple other “magical” stories.

We talked about the difference between service and “magical service.” We discussed the differences between selling toys and creating “magical memories.”

Then I handed everyone their own magic wand that said “Believe in the Magic!”

It was a powerful meeting, and it led to a magical season. The key was the theme.

I didn’t teach them anything new that I hadn’t already been teaching. I didn’t give them new information they didn’t already have. I didn’t introduce new concepts, techniques, or skills. It was the same stuff I always teach. The difference was the word “magical.”

By giving the season a theme and linking it to one single word or phrase, I made the meeting more memorable. I made the concepts come alive. I breathed new life into old teachings. I gave them one simple thing to focus on—being magical.

I gave them a Purpose.

As you prepare your team for this upcoming selling season, give them something to believe in. Give them a Purpose that makes it simple for them to remember their training.

One year I used the Super Hero theme. I told them stories about when we had been the hero for our customers and talked about what heroes do. (I even dressed up in a cape. If you’ve seen one of my live presentations, you’ve seen the picture of me in that cape.)

One year the theme was Become an Expert. We talked about how experts build trust through honesty and accuracy. We discussed how experts do research and know their stuff.

If you have read Daniel H. Pink’s book DRIVE, you know the three ingredients needed for motivation are Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Your meetings give them Mastery. Sprinkle in some Purpose, though, and the recipe gets even better.

Create a theme for your Pep Rally meeting. Not only does it give them a purpose, it makes the meeting more fun and it makes it easier for your staff to remember one big thing rather than several little things.

(For more on planning your staff meetings and trainings, download the Free eBook Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Some of you are jealous. You’re thinking how fun it must have been to be a toy store and play all those games and have fun themes like magic or super heroes or Disney Princesses. You can’t do that because you’re an insurance agency, a dentist, or a doctor’s office so you have to be serious all the time. Or you’re a shoe seller or a pharmacy or a grocer, and there’s nothing fun about that. Oh really? We still need heroes and experts in all those fields. We still want magical experiences. Just imagine the difference when one dental office in your town decides to become “magical” or one grocer puts an emphasis on being your “hero.” That’s a game changer.

This “Free” is Really Free!

I was looking at the Free Resources page on my website yesterday. There are nine eBooks on Marketing & Advertising, twelve on Customer Service, and five on Money. You can download any and all of them for free. No strings attached. No limits to how many or how often you can download them. No limits to how far or wide you can share them. I don’t even ask for your email address first, just credit for having written and produced them.

Yeah, pretty stupid to give it all away like that for free.

Free eBook Icon from Phil's ForumYet, if you read yesterday’s post, you would understand why I do it. Of the three questions and the fifteen answers I gave yesterday to why I am doing what I do, the last question about the problems I want to solve and the last five answers were the easiest.

Helping other businesses succeed drives everything. It is the starting and ending point. If these eBooks can make a difference, you should have them.

  • You’re more likely to download them if you don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops.
  • You’re more likely to read them if they are short and to the point.
  • You’re more likely to share them if they are smaller files that you could even print if you wanted.

“A man who doesn’t read has no advantage over a man who can’t.” -Mark Twain

My sales staff got a copy of everything I had written about customer service at that time either through a staff training or by printing copies for their handbooks. (That included Generating Word of Mouth which is technically a Customer Service issue even though you’ll find it under Marketing & Advertising.)

My buyers all got copies of the Inventory Management and Pricing for Profit eBooks (the latter of which is the second most downloaded after Understanding Your Brand). 

While the stats counter shows how many times each gets downloaded, it doesn’t tell me how you’ve used them.

Would you do me a favor?

Drop me a comment on this post or an email and tell me which eBooks you’ve used and what, if any, difference they have made for your business. I’d like to know which ones have been most useful and which ones need to be revised, revamped, or removed for better content.

Thanks.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The five newest eBooks are:

Those first four make up the basis of the new half-day workshop The Ultimate Selling Workshop. (They also stand alone as great Breakout Sessions!) Yes, the live event for any of these eBooks is a far cry better than the eBook, itself. You get more stories and examples. You get the whole presentation tailored to your specific industry or region. If it is a session with owners and managers, you also get tips and techniques for teaching it to your staff. If it is a session with the staff at your business, you get hands-on activities to really drive home the points. While I encourage you to hire me for a live event, please keep sharing and using this information. Together we can tilt the playing field back in your direction.

Why, Why, Why, Why, Why – A Simple 3×5 Question We All Need to Answer

You know me. I like to learn. When a friend of mine offered me the chance to sign up for her new six-week online tutorial for launching a new business, I jumped at the chance.

Frances Schagen has helped over a thousand businesses get started. That’s an impressive number. You might remember her name because I quote her at the beginning of the Free eBook Reading Your Financial Statements.

“What gets measured gets done.” -Frances Schagen

Frances was instrumental in proofing and helping me get the math and concepts right in that eBook and also a bigger financial statements book I wrote for the toy industry. She is a smart lady and I’m lucky to get to learn from her.

You can join Frances’ club, too!

Her new project is “Six Stages to Building Your Effortless Business.” Earlier today she had an online chat with those of us in the current class. She also gave us homework.

With her permission, I am going to do my homework throughout the class live on this blog. 

Not only will you get to see how I am building my business, you’ll get ideas that will help you with your own business.

THE OWNER’S STORY

The first stage is The Owner’s Story. The first worksheet and homework for me to do is the 3×5 Whys Project. I have three questions I need to answer. For each question, however, I need to answer five “whys.” The purpose of this sheet is to really dig deep to uncover my story, why I want to start this business, why I want to go into this field, and what I hope to accomplish. Here are my answers:

Why are you starting a business? Why have you chosen this way to make your living?

Why #1 – I have chosen this way to make a living because of my Core Values of Having Fun, Helping Others, and Education. I find writing and speaking to be incredibly fun, helpful and educational.

Why #2 – I am starting a business because I like being my own boss, calling my own shots, being responsible and accountable for my own mistakes, and choosing my own schedule. As a single parent, it gives me flexibility to be the parent I want to be, too.

Why #3 – I have chosen this way to make a living because I like travel and meeting new people.

Why #4 – I am starting a business because I need to make money. I have one child in college and another starting college next year. I have living expenses and not enough retirement money saved up.

Why #5 – I have chosen this way to make a living because I see a decent income potential. While I don’t ever expect to be one of those high-profile speakers who gets tens of thousands of dollars every time he steps on stage, if I can find two or three opportunities to speak or lead a workshop each month I can make a decent living. I also believe I can do this type of job long past the typical retirement age, which not only gives me more income potential, but also keeps me active and fulfills my own needs for a long time.

Why have you chosen this field? Why are you doing this work?

Why #1 – I have chosen writing a blog and books, and doing workshops and presentations for small business owners because it is the topic I know best and have the most personal experience.

Why #2 – I have chosen this field because I know how little true help there is out there for indie retailers. I have belonged to several retail owner groups over the years and have heard the questions. We all bring some expertise to the arena, but running a retail business requires you to wear so many different hats that it is impossible to know everything. Too much of our learning as business owners is done on the fly, often the hard way through trial & error and learning from our mistakes.

Why #3 – I am doing this work because I believe I have a talent in both the writing and the presenting. I have been told several times that my super power is the ability to break down seemingly complex ideas into understandable thoughts.

Why #4 – I am doing this work because it satisfies me. I take more pride in hearing how something I said or wrote made a difference for your business than I do in just hearing, “Nice job,” or “You did good out there.” My favorite testimonial to date came from a guy at SuperZoo a few years ago who said, “You’ve saved my business AND my marriage!”

Why #5 – I have chosen this field because I have been on the other side of the equation, asking the questions small business owners ask, searching for the resources and answers. I know a lot of the answers from making the mistakes and learning from them. I also know where to go to find more answers because I have done those searches. I want to be that resource for others.

What global problem do you want to solve? (however you define that) What change do you want to make?

Why #1 – I want to help small businesses, primarily indie retailers and entrepreneurs, to find their success.

Why #2 – I recognize that the field is slanted toward big businesses with deep pockets and strong lobbies, but I believe there are plenty of ways for small businesses to compete and thrive. The tools are available, but sometimes we need people to show us how to use those tools. I want to be that person.

Why #3 – I want to encourage shopping local. I have seen enough studies to know a strong local retail presence will further strengthen the local economy. But I also believe local businesses need to be better than they have been if they want to keep the local dollars in town.

Why #4 – I believe small business owners care more than large corporate CEO’s. CEO’s focus solely on the shareholder. Small business owners don’t have shareholders, so they care more deeply about their employees, their customers, their community, and even the environment. If I can help small business owners develop, grow, and find success, I can bring caring back to this world.

Why #5 – I believe in generosity. When we give more of ourselves, we encourage others to give. Whether they pay it forward or pay it back. I want to live in a world where generosity is the default, not an outlier. It starts with me. That’s why I have this blog and the Free Resources page. That’s why I answer every question emailed to me.

 

Whew! That was a little harder than I thought. Coming up with five answers to each of those questions was not as easy as I originally thought. But I can see the importance of this exercise. In our online chat today, Frances helped us try to clarify what we want to do and why we want to do it. Some of those answers above have helped me realize what I really want to do.

I would encourage you to answer these same questions for you and your business. Often we get into business because of one reason, but once we get there and have to juggle all the day-to-day problems and wear the many hats, we forget why we’re here in the first place. That’s when business is no longer fun and you’re merely in the game for survival. As you can see from the above answers, I don’t want that for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You can still get in on this class if you want. We only just started today. The real meat begins next week. Contact Frances if you want to play along.

PPS Now you also know a little more about what drives me to do what I do. The ultimate goal for me would be to have two or three paid events each month where I am presenting or leading a workshop, leaving the rest of my time to write and mentor other business owners. If you know of any organizations such as your Chamber of Commerce, DDA, Main Street, Shop Local, or trade association looking for a professional speaker, please let me know. I’d love to do a live event in your town or at your next event.

What Value are You Selling?

Sell “Play Value”

That’s the first line of the business plan my grandfather wrote back in 1949 when he founded Toy House. I found his spiral notebook with the plan while looking for something else in the archives of the store. Page two outlined the possible names for the store including Toy House and House of Toys.

Having written a few business plans over the years, what fascinates me is the simplicity of what he started out to do. He didn’t say he was going to open a retail shop. He didn’t even say he was going to sell toys. He was going to sell something of value—“Play Value.”

In an interview I did with my grandfather a couple years before he passed away I asked him what he thought was the reason for the long success of Toy House. We were about to celebrate our 60th year in business. He said, “I think its because we didn’t set out to be just a toy store. We wanted it to be a store of value. I’ve always sold on the value.”

In a 2005 survey I sanctioned about toy shopping in Jackson, the survey respondents were asked to name the first store that popped into mind when certain words were read. We were mentioned most for words like Friendly and Helpful. Walmart owned Affordable and Cheap. Kmart owned Dark and Dirty. Toys R Us owned Cluttered and Confusing.

The most surprising result from that survey was that we also owned the word Value.

While my competitors were advertising low price, I was talking about Play Value. While my competitors were offering discounts, I was teaching customers how to calculate the True Cost of a Toy (Cost per Hour of Play).

Value.

Products come and go. Nothing is exclusive anymore. You’ll never make it in retail if your only calling card is exclusivity of product. You need to be clear on what you are really selling.

Your competitors are going to advertise the heck out of brands and discounts. If you want to stand in stark contrast to them, advertise the Value your customers are buying.

For instance …

  • A shoe store customer is really buying health, comfort, or safety
  • A clothing store customer is really buying self-esteem, success, or comfort
  • A jewelry store customer is really buying love, romance, or gratitude
  • A candy store customer is really buying happiness, comfort, or indulgence
  • A gift shop customer is really buying nostalgia, relationships, or contentment
  • A sporting goods store customer is really buying health, happiness, or even time

What Value are your customers buying?

Does your staff know this? Do you talk about it daily, weekly, monthly? Do you do things to reinforce this ideal?

Do your customers know this? Are you making sure your social media posts, email newsletters, and other advertisements all portray this message?

Here are some radio ads I ran back in 2016 …

Happy Dance
Last year, a professor said the toys that are most open-ended and creative are the toys kids play with the longest. My grandfather was saying that back in the 50’s. Another professor last year said that a toy should be 10% toy and 90% child. My grandfather was saying that back in the 50’s, too. When the professors confirm something you’ve already known, there is only one thing to do… A happy dance. Toy House and Baby Too in downtown Jackson. Come join us in our happy dance.

Real Play Value
Remember that toy your child saw on TV that he begged and pleaded and wore you down until you bought it? Only to find he never played with it again? Quit making that mistake. Anyone can make a toy look good for 30-seconds. Do your child a favor, don’t cave. Get toys with real play value. Your kids will be playing, laughing, and growing. They won’t even turn on the TV. Go to Toy House in downtown Jackson, the largest selection of toys in America. We’ll make you smile, while your kids play

Play is Important
Everyone is talking about education and how to fix it. The answer is easy – Play. Google Play. You’ll get thousands of studies why kids who play more do better in school. Don’t wait for the politicians to figure this out. They don’t win votes stumping for recess. For the greater good of this country and your child, you need interactive, open-ended, creative play. The same kind we’ve been advocating for sixty-seven years. Toy House in downtown Jackson, because Play is actually quite important.

While Target was trying to cram as many brand logos into one TV spot as possible, we were talking about making a difference. Value.

When you make it clear what Value you are selling, you’ll find plenty of customers who want to buy those Values.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Does selling Value really work? When we closed shop in 2016, our Market Share was at 16%—far larger than the typical indie toy store, the largest in our market, and the same it had been for several years even as Amazon was growing. It was only the shrinking local market that helped us decide to hang it up.

PPS This “value” is only slightly different than your Core Values. I know the terms can be confusing because of similarity. Think of your Core Values as being the driver behind what you do. Think of the Value you Sell as being the Benefit your customers buy.

What’s In Your Training Packet?

There used to be a locally-owned office supply store in downtown Jackson. I bought a lot of stuff from them over the years. They had a storefront but most of their business was done by phone from their catalog. I’d call in an order today and it would be delivered to the store tomorrow. I loved going in their store even though the selection in stock was only a tiny fraction of their available merchandise.

One thing they always had in stock was three-ring binders. I bought several of them every fall to put together my Team Member Handbooks for the new hires. I spent the better part of a day prepping these books for my new employees (until I finally learned how to delegate this task).

Here is what went into this binder …

THE WRITTEN HANDBOOK

The written handbook was the basis of the binder and consisted of five sections:

  1. Policies
  2. Store Procedures
  3. Layaway
  4. Evaluation Process
  5. Addendum

Policies included all of the policies of employment including dress code, terms of employment, employment status (full-time, part-time, etc), vacation and holiday pay, sick leave, tornado warnings, and anything else related to them being an employee.

Store Procedures included all of our major services like free gift-wrapping, delivery, assembly, UPS shipping, etc. It gave explanations of how to offer and perform these services, including guidelines for each one.

Layaway was such a large and detailed service that it garnered its own chapter in the book.

Evaluation Process talked about the criteria by which an employee would be evaluated. (Note: this one should be screened by an attorney familiar with HR laws.)

Addendum was a color copy of the major forms we used with detailed instruction how to fill them out. I also included our delivery map and delivery service guidelines here.

You’ll notice there wasn’t a section for Cash Register. The instruction book that came with our cash registers was thicker than the 1-inch binders I used for the Team Member Handbook and would have been too costly (and pointless) to reproduce for the Handbook so we left it out and kept it as a separate book.

The purpose of all this information was to make sure everything was spelled out not just for the employee’s sake, but for our sake as well. It helped make sure we treated everyone fairly and equally within the guidelines of the law.

I am a huge fan of having such a handbook for your employees. It helps clear up confusion and solve disputes—as long as you follow what is written in your handbook. I had an attendee in one presentation tell me his attorney friend makes a living suing businesses because of their handbooks. Those lawsuits are almost always when a company doesn’t follow its own rules. I advised this guy to hire his attorney friend to review his handbook. That would ensure the handbook was crafted within the laws and that his buddy could never be the one to sue him.

I’ll give you the same advice …

Have a lawyer familiar with HR Laws review your Handbook before you publish it.

 

THE BROCHURES

We had seven different brochures that we handed to customers over the years. With each new hire I made sure there was a copy of all of the current brochures in the back pocket of the binder. As I sat down with new hires the first day, I would show them each brochure and tell them since customers were reading these it was important that they knew what each brochure said.

(Here is a link to three of those brochures from the Toy House website.)

 

THE eBOOKS

In the back pocket, along with the Brochures, I printed out three eBooks that customers could also download for free from our website titled:

These fully explained our philosophy on toys, including why we sold what we sold. These documents, more than anything else, helped teach our staff how to find the best solutions for our customers time and time again.

If you have a different philosophy than your competitors for why you sell what you sell, you need to have a vehicle for sharing that with your customers. It might turn some people off, but for everyone else it creates a higher level of trust and loyalty. Just make sure your new hires know this philosophy right away, too.

I also included an article I wrote about why I believe in Santa. I wanted my new hires to better understand me and our store’s official position on the jolly old elf.

 

THE PAPERWORK

The front pocket contained the paperwork including:

  • IRS W-4 Form
  • Schedule
  • Parking Lot Map with assigned parking spot
  • A key to the employee entry door
  • Employee Training Checklist
  • Employee Handbook Reading Slip

The first four are fairly self-explanatory.

The Training Checklist was a worksheet with all of the areas of necessary training the seasonal employee needed to complete. Each section had a blank line in front of it. As one of my regulars taught the new person a skill, the veteran would initial the line next to that skill. That way, if the new person didn’t have a skill down to my satisfaction, I could go back to the employee who trained him or her to see how to improve the training. (Page 3 of this pdf is a copy of an older version of that Training Checklist)

The Employee Handbook Reading Slip was a half-page piece of paper with the following paragraph …

I acknowledge that I have read the Toy House Team Member Handbook and understand its provisions.  I understand and acknowledge that my employment at Toy House, Inc. is indefinite and for no specified length of time.  I understand and acknowledge that my employment can be terminated at-will by myself or by Toy House, Inc. for any or no reason, with or without previous notice. 

I know that this handbook is not a contract of employment and that its provisions are subject to change.  I will ask questions about any issues or areas I do not understand.

Name___________________ Signature____________________________ Date_____________

 

I paid my employees an extra hour of pay for reading their Team Member Handbook and signing this piece of paper. Yes, I quizzed them on its contents. I even played a little game. In each section of the Written Handbook I hid little symbols like this . If they found all of them and included the section and page numbers on the signed piece of paper, I gave them an extra half-hour of pay. (Hey, it was a toy store. Of course we played games. And this game ensured that, if nothing else, they looked at every page in the book!)

Anyone in education knows that people have different preferred styles of learning. Some learn better by reading. Some learn better by seeing. Some learn better by doing. I made sure my new hires got all three.

The Holiday Season is your time to shine. Make sure your new hires are up to that task. Give them the tools they need. Your Training Packet is an important tool in that toolbox.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you would like a word doc copy of the first two sections of my written handbook, shoot me an email. As I said before, however, before you use it for yourself (with modifications, of course) please have an attorney look it over. Times change. Different states have different rules. Different cities have different rules, too. Most importantly, don’t publish any rules you don’t intend to follow.

Reviews: Good, Bad, Necessary Evil?

I remember the first presentation I saw about the power of online reviews. The speaker instructed us how to use our smartphones to take quick testimonials right on the sales floor whenever we had a happy customers. I looked at my notes from the presentation and read …

“Get them to post their reviews before they even checkout. That’s when they are happiest.”

I also remember around the same time reading about Yelp and the problems with reviews there. Yelp was accused of suppressing good reviews and only showing an equal mix of both good and bad reviews. Yelp’s argument was that most good reviews were false anyway and that the people reading the reviews needed to see both the good and the bad.

I had never even looked at Yelp because I thought it was only for restaurants and west coast businesses. I immediately checked out our listing. To my surprise (and delight), there were no negative reviews posted, mainly because we didn’t have any negative reviews.

Then I got the extortion letter from Yelp. If I signed up for advertising with them I could control (somewhat) my negative reviews. I remember thinking three things at that time.

First, I didn’t have any negative reviews to control on Yelp.

Second, I didn’t see the return on investment for running ads on Yelp, partly because I didn’t and still don’t see much return on investment for any brick & mortar running online ads, and partly because I didn’t see Yelp as a big deal for indie retail.

Third, anyone that was already looking me up or finding me on Yelp was either going to visit me because I was an indie toy store or not visit me because I was an indie toy store. The reviews were a minor part of the decision process. More importantly, anyone who didn’t know me, then found me on Yelp, and was debating whether to visit was basing their decision on every single interaction they had ever had with an indie toy store.

The reviews were just the reinforcement of their already-established bias.

That’s the reality of how we read reviews. We first have an established bias based on our own beliefs and previous experiences. We look at reviews to reinforce those beliefs. We’ll justify away negative reviews for places we expect to love, and discount the reviewer’s opinion when it is at odds with what we expect.

In the back of our mind, we’ll also wonder how many of these reviews—good and bad—are simply made up.

About the only time we’ll heed the reviews is when they are heavily slanted to the negative. When everyone is saying something bad, we’ll decide the business is an outlier and shun them.

(Note: I talked about how to deal with negative reviews here.)

Does this mean you should ignore reviews for your business? Absolutely not! You should always be checking your reviews. If they slant negative then you have a problem you need to address with how you run your business. Even one bad review might be enough to warrant a change in policy to make the experience better for your customers.

If they slant positive, great! Keep up the good work!

Only if you don’t have any reviews (because you’re a new business or have only recently claimed your online profile) should you actually go after getting them. If you’re running your business correctly, the good reviews will take care of themselves.

Because of confirmation bias, though, you don’t have to lose sleep over your reviews. Just keep an eye on them from time to time and make sure you run your business so well that the positive organic reviews outweigh the negative ones.

At the end of the day the most important “review” is the one-to-one where your current customers talk about you to their friends.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Of all the reviews online, pay most attention to your Google reviews. These are the ones that most people will see because A) Google is the top search engine. B) Google Maps is the top Map App.

PPS If you are a restaurant, reviews are much more critical than if you’re a retailer. How you respond to each review goes a long way to how people will view your restaurant. Read this about negative reviews.

Two Forks in the Road for Sears

In 1988 Walmart opened their first Supercenter in Washington, Missouri. The Supercenter concept heralded Walmart’s entry into the highly-competitive, low-profit, huge cash flow, repeat-traffic driver grocery business.

Two years later Walmart surpassed Sears in total sales to become the largest retailer in America.

By 2004 Walmart was capturing one out of every four dollars spent on groceries and remains the biggest player in the grocery industry.

Walmart ad in Vogue Magazine

In May 2005 Walmart did something completely unexpected. They ran a full-page ad of their new fashion launch in Vogue Magazine. Yes, Walmart and Vogue. No, it wasn’t a designer pajama line to wear when you visited a Walmart. Walmart wanted to do to fashion what it had done with grocery.

There was only one problem. Fashion isn’t a commodity like groceries. One year later Walmart reported declining sales for the first time (at a time when most retailers and the economy were booming). By 2007 they scrapped their foray into fashion and went back to what they did best—sell mass-produced items at cheap prices. When the economy tanked in 2008, Walmart found itself back on top with sales growth and cash flow.

I tell you this story in our discussion of the lessons from Sears filing bankruptcy (part 1 and part 2because it illustrates what can happen when a company tries to diversify the right way and the wrong way. Walmart’s model is built on selling cheap goods cheaper than anyone else.

Their foray into groceries made sense. Fashion, not so much. When Walmart began selling groceries it vaulted them to the top of the retail mountain. When they got away from what they did best, it caused them to falter.

Sears made the same mistake in the 1980’s and never recovered.

Sears made its living in the same style as Walmart—selling lower-priced items. One difference, however, was that Sears sold “value” more than price. The well-trained staff* would talk you out of the most and least-expensive versions of their appliances by showing you the “value” you got from buying something in-between with a lot of bells and whistles.

Sears also made its living by having stores near urban centers, but also a catalog to serve the less-represented rural areas.

This recipe put them on top of the world.

COMPETITION

While Sears had made a living selling to rural markets through their catalog, Walmart was quickly encroaching their territory with actual stores. Walmart went after the rural markets that didn’t have the retail glut of the urban locations, the same rural markets where the Sears catalog was most popular.

Walmart also used its growing power with vendors to bully them into better pricing to undercut the competition and define the sales in terms of “price”, not “value.”

Whether through hubris or ignorance, Sears ignored this threat and instead focused on diversifying their portfolio.

CORE VALUES

Back in 1930 Sears had launched Allstate Insurance, a value-based insurance company. The success of that led Sears to get into three other industries in the 1980’s—financial planning (Dean Witter), real estate (Coldwell Banker), and credit (Discover Card). 

Like Walmart and grocery, Sears and insurance was a fit. Insurance is a product people have to buy but want to buy it affordably (value). Like Walmart and fashion, financial planning and real estate were not a good fit for Sears because they aren’t sold the same way. Sears was sinking valuable time and resources into ventures that weren’t consistent with their Core Values or their primary business model.

Sears divested themselves of those entities in the 1990’s but by then the damage was done.

Walmart and Kmart surpassed Sears in sales in 1990. Walmart had redefined the lower-priced goods market, begun the serious race to the bottom, and infiltrated the rural neighborhoods where the Sears Catalog had been the lifesaver for so many families.

MAIL-ORDER BUSINESS

In 1993 Sears discontinued the catalog. The catalog business had shifted dramatically in the 1980’s because of the fanatical growth of retail stores in America. Why order it from a catalog when you can pop into a nearby store and get it today? The glut of retail, the cost of shipping, and the 7-10 business days shipping time was enough to kill the commodity catalog shopping that was the Sears catalog.

The only catalogs making it were for specialized companies selling specialized goods not found in stores (LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, REI, Signals, Orvis, etc.).

Then along came Amazon.

In 1994 Amazon launched their site. While there were a small handful of people who recognized the power of the Internet and what it could become (my buddy, Hans, actually pitched Borders Bookstore on the idea of selling online before Amazon launched and was laughed out of the room), I’ll forgive Sears for not seeing the potential.

Kinda …

Sears already had the mail-order business infrastructure set up. Sears already had the cataloging of hundreds of thousands of items done. Sears already had enough stores around the country at that time to set up a BOPIS system that even Amazon can’t yet match. Sears was part of a joint venture with IBM called Prodigy, so it was even involved in the Internet in its infancy!

This isn’t to say that Amazon wouldn’t have eventually cleaned their clock through better data, better customer-centric focus, and better operations, but just imagine if instead of trying to diversify, Sears was instead looking at new ways to do what they already did, only better and with the full use of the newest and latest technologies?

The lesson in all of this is simple.

First, understand fully and clearly who you are and what you do.

Second, don’t let anyone else do it better than you.

Sears let Walmart and Amazon do Sears better than Sears while Sears was busy trying to be someone else. Because of their size, it is a slow, painful death, but the choices that led to the bankruptcy were made in the 1980’s and 1990’s when Sears chose the wrong forks in the road and stayed on those paths too long.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS *I don’t know when it happened, probably in the 1980’s, but at some point Sears got away from their “well-trained staff.” Whether it was a cut in money for training programs, a shift in management away from training as a whole, a cut in payroll, or simply a belief that sales-training didn’t matter (a common thought in the 1980’s when everyone was selling at a high clip), Sears lost this competitive edge it held over the competition, especially Walmart.

PPS I did this exercise a couple times with my staff, but it was a question I asked of myself several times a year. “If I was going to open a store to compete with Toy House, what would I do?” When you ask and answer this question, you find the weaknesses in your model that can be exploited. You find where your competitive advantage is thinnest. Not only does this question help you find where competition could hurt you and shore those areas up before the competition strikes, it helps you constantly explore options for doing what you do better.