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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.

Lessons From Sears – Retail is Always Changing

“Phil, you know this store is going to put you out of business, right?”

My grandfather heard that first in 1962 when Shoppers Fair, a discount department store chain, opened in Jackson. We heard it when Westwood Mall opened in the 1970’s with a Circus World store (eventually becoming a KB Toys). We heard it in the 1980’s when Meijer opened their second store on the east end of town and Kmart opened a new store on the west end of town. We heard it in 1990 when Target came to town. We heard it in 1993 when Toys R Us opened.

Shoppers Fair Jackson, MI 1962

Shoppers Fair closed in 1974. KB Toys is gone. Kmart left when we did. Toys R Us left only a year after us. Montgomery Ward left Westwood Mall a couple decades ago. Younker’s is leaving Westwood Mall as I type.

Retail changes.

Jackson used to have a Woolworth store, a Field’s department store, a Jacobson’s department store, and an A&P grocery store—all defunct retailers now.

Retailers come and go. The retail landscape changes. Stores open and close.

We can look at Sears filing bankruptcy as just the natural evolution of retail. They had a good run, but now it is over.

In fact, I’ll go out on a limb right now and predict the eventual demise of Walmart. It might be fifty or one hundred years from now, but history shows us no retailer lasts forever.

The only problem with simply dismissing Sears as an eventuality is that Sears was once on top of the world, both figuratively as the largest retailer in America as recently as 1989, and literally when they opened their tower in Chicago in 1973. Their fall is far more educational to the independent retail world than Toys R Us and their debt problems caused by venture capitalists.

As a student of retail, I see two turning points for Sears starting their downward slide that incorporated the other five “lessons” I listed yesterday. One was in 1993 when they discontinued their catalog. We’ll talk about the other one tomorrow.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There are several reasons why an independent retailer closes shop including retirement, illness, death, boredom, new opportunities, local market collapse, and competition. The big boys close for one reason and one reason only—Cash Flow. It is the decisions that lead to cash flow problems that I find most interesting.

RIP Sears

There is a group on Facebook for people who grew up in Jackson, MI. The posts are mostly, “Who remembers …?” so that former Jacksonians can reminisce about days long past. A recent post was about Toy House. A couple hundred people waxed nostalgic about visiting the original store in the 50’s and 60’s.

Several people mentioned the Catalog Sale, something my grandfather started early on.

The Catalog Sale was a two-weekend sale, once in October, once in November, where people brought in their catalogs and we matched the catalog price on any toy we had in stock. Our goal was to keep the sales in town.

The Sears Catalog

The most common catalog was the Sears Christmas Wishbook.

We ended the Catalog Sale in the early 1980’s when it turned out our prices were usually sharper than the catalogs at that time. The event was no longer a draw. By 1993 even Sears had stopped producing their catalog.

Times change. Retail shifts. Today Sears has filed bankruptcy.

Sears was Amazon before Amazon with their mail-order catalog business that allowed you to buy almost anything you could imagine from the comfort of your own home.

Sears was Walmart before Walmart when they dominated the retail landscape in the 1940’s and 50’s by offering a wide variety of merchandise at low prices. By 1969 Sears was the largest retailer in America with a larger market share of categories like home appliances than any retailer has ever had since. Four years later they completed construction on the tallest building in the world.

Sears also was a pioneer in retail, with legendary sales training, teaching their sales staff how to upsell and not sell from their own pocketbook. They were taught how to sell on features and benefits. They had their own credit card (which eventually became the Discover Card). They had their own insurance agency (which became AllState). 

Today they filed bankruptcy.

The easy blame is going to be Amazon and Walmart. Amazon out-Searsed Sears in the mail-order business. Walmart out-Searsed Sears in the commodity goods business.

Yet when was the last time you truly thought of Sears as a convenience-based place to buy goods? They dropped their catalog back in 1992, two years before Amazon launched.

And with well-known economy brands like Kenmore, Craftsman, and Diehard, tons of cash, and superior vendor relationships, Sears was well-positioned to destroy Walmart in the race to the bottom. Yet they dropped faster than a greased baton at the blind relays. 

So what happened?

The answer is quite simple. Sears got away from their competitive advantages and Core Values. Convenience and Commodity Brands were only two of them. The one I believe they truly missed was their sales training.

When was the last time you were blown away by the customer service at Sears?

Toys R Us got away from their Core Values in 1992 when Walmart surpassed them in total toy sales. Sears did the same thing over the years as they gave up the advantages that brought them to the table.

There are several (contradictory?) lessons in all of this.

  • Retail is always changing.
  • New competitors will try to beat you at your own game.
  • Stick to what you do best.
  • Don’t give up your advantages.
  • Adapt or die.
  • Stay true to your Values.

We’ll explore these concepts over the next few days and try to learn from their mistakes.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It is never a good day when a legacy retailer such as Sears files bankruptcy. If we don’t learn from their mistakes, though, then we’re likely to make the same ones ourselves. As I’ve always said, Retail is not Rocket Science. Rocket Science is actually math for which you can solve all the variables. Retail has variables and equations that never fully resolve. The lessons, though, are fascinating.

Three Stats to Tell You All You Need to Know

I went to a presentation last night. As you know, I am all about continual learning. Education is one of my Core Values. This presentation was at TechTown Detroit, a small business incubator that helps launch tech and retail businesses. Mary Aviles of Connect 4 Insight put on the presentation. Mary is also the Director of Strategic Development for Tech Town.

The presentation was “Designing the Customer Experience.” (I’m sure you can guess why that piqued my interest.) The goal was to give these start-up and pop-up retailers some ideas to help them be ready for the holidays.

Mary gave out three stats I want to share here. (Note: I was not able to get the source from her on these stats but I know she did her research.)

STAT #1

24% of all Amazon Sales are from customers who went to a brick & mortar store first.

What does this mean? Nearly one-fourth of all of Amazon’s business is from customers who were disappointed by their in-store experience. Nearly one-fourth came from customers who chose to go to a store first but didn’t get their needs or expectations met.

In other words, customers are choosing brick & mortar, but our lack of selection or lack of service or super high price is driving them online.

STAT #2

40% of customers change their minds in the store because of the in-store experience. 

What does this mean? The in-store experience affects a large number of sales both to the good and to the bad (some of those 40% are more inclined to buy, some are less).

In other words, almost half of your customers are going to make their final buying decision based not on the product or the price but on your ability to offer them a quality shopping experience (or not).

STAT #3

80% of customers report that they would be willing to pay up to 25% more for an item because of a quality experience in the store.

What does this mean? Experience actually outweighs price. Four out of five customers say experience combined with the desire to own the item right away can get them to pull the trigger, even if the price is a little higher than online.

In other words, you can win over a lot of customers with your in-store experience, even if your prices are a little higher than the Internet.

The bottom line to all of these stats is this …

The in-store experience you are providing has more of an effect on your sales than pretty much everything else you do.

If it isn’t your number one focus, you might want to change your gaze.

The good news is that you still have time to schedule The Ultimate Selling Workshop for your team prior to this holiday season. Mary has the stats to convince you why you need to improve the customer’s experience. I have the nuts and bolts of exactly how to do that. Call me.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You have four days to lock in the special fall savings offer of only $2,000 for The Ultimate Selling Workshop. At 12:01am October 1st the price goes up to $3,500 (or more depending on time and travel). It is still a steal at the regular price. We already did the math. I’m offering the incentive price to get you to book now so you can have your best holiday season ever.

PPS If you are a retailer in Detroit or considering starting a retail business in Detroit, TechTown has amazing resources and programs, and a dedicated, smart, caring staff. You should check them out.

How Fast Do You Solve Her Problem?

You call a number. You get a recording, a menu of options. You listen to all the options before pressing two. Another menu. This time you press one. Now a recording offers you yet a third menu. You select three and a recorded voice comes on to say, “Please hold while I try that extension.”

Twenty minutes of horrible music and a voice interrupting every so often to say, “Please stay on the line and the next available representative will help you,” you finally get a live person on the other end of the phone. You explain your problem patiently only to hear …

“Hold on while I transfer you to someone who can help you.”

Aaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhh!!!!

Another fifteen minutes or so later you get someone equally unhelpful. You’re ready to hang up except you now have over forty minutes invested in this call. Your frustration levels are through the roof. Your anxiety is peaking. You’re about to rip someone’s head off if you don’t eventually get satisfaction.

We’ve all had that experience. Many of us have experienced it more times than we care to count.

Then we walk into a retailer with what we believe to be a simple problem, find a clerk to help us, explain our problem, and hear …

“Hold on while I find someone who can help you.”

We immediately go back to the frustrations and anxiety of all the other times this has happened to us.

Sure, you’re not a phone tree with endless menus and unhelpful people. Sure, you solve the problem with the second person she sees. Sure, your customer doesn’t have to wait thirty minutes like she did on the phone with that other company.

None of that matters. You still caused your customer to feel all those negative emotions first.

This is why the best stores empower the first person who greets a customer to be able to solve all of her problems and take care of all of her needs.

The customer walking through your door with a problem is already worked up. She brings with her the baggage of every forty-minute phone tree fiasco. She brings with her all the frustrations and anxieties of all the interactions with untrained, useless “salespeople.” She’s loaded for bear and ready for a fight.

Then you spring the, “Hold on while I find someone,” phrase on her.

When she explodes on you, it isn’t really you. You’re just the straw on the camel’s back. But those feelings she has are now associated with you whether you like it or not.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can empower your front line staff to solve her problem by teaching them this simple three-statement approach:

  1. “I’m so sorry you have this problem …”
  2. “Let me see if I have this straight …” (explain the problem back to her as your heard it and ask for clarification)
  3. “What would you like us to do?”

Always apologize. Notice that the apology doesn’t necessarily imply guilt or fault. The apology simply acknowledges that she has a problem and sets her at ease.

Then repeat back her problem to show that you were listening. Sometimes just being heard is all a customer really needs. It also gives you a chance for clarification to understand the problem better and time to think about how you would want to solve the problem.

The last phrase is the kicker. Great Customer Service is when you meet a customer’s expectations. The best way to know what she expects is to ask. And since an unhappy customer is your worst enemy because of the negative reviews and bad word-of-mouth, it is vital you know exactly what she wants.

Once she tells you what she wants, the best thing to do is give her that … and a little more.

More often than not, when you first put the customer at ease and show her you are listening to her problem, by the time you ask her what she wants she will ask for less than you were likely prepared to give. Even if she does ask for a lot, instruct your staff to give it to her. It is worth it in the long run because of how it makes your customer feel.

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Empower and train all of your staff to handle all of the problems immediately and you will control how your customers feels. Speed does matter. (Plus, if your staff are handling all the problems, you’ll have fewer interruptions throughout the day to get your work done. Win-win!)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Every now and then a customer will make an outrageous request. It is still worth it to meet that request the first time. If she becomes a repeat problem then you have the right to adjust what you do for her. But since these requests will be so few and far between, they won’t cost you nearly as much as you think. Plus, since you’ll be better managing the way customers feel about you, you’ll have more happy customers than ever before. Instead of worrying about the cost, think of it as an “advertising” expense where you are buying positive word-of-mouth (or at the very least buying the lack of bad word-of-mouth), and the fact you just made a customer’s day. Those are two benefits that will help any business.

Give Them a Title

There are two series of books that have influenced my business life directly. One is a series of five books I first read as a child and have re-read several times since, until the books are barely holding together. I have read them twice to my own sons and am now reading the first book to a friend’s son. The second is a trilogy that came to me as a gift and I have talked about in this blog quite often.

This blog is about that first series of books. (You can follow the link in the previous paragraph to read about the trilogy.)

The Chronicles of Prydain Book #1

I don’t think Lloyd Alexander was thinking about business lessons in 1964 when he wrote The Book of Three, the first in his five-book children’s series The Chronicles of Prydain. Having read the entire series more times than I have fingers, however, I keep finding lessons on every page.

The opening chapter of the first book introduces us to the lead character, Taran of Caer Dallben. We don’t know much about him other than he helps tend a garden and take care of an oracular pig, but he wants to be a big hero. He wants a title to go with his name, so Coll, his mentor, gives him one … Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper.

For the first three books, he is known as Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper. (In book #4 he becomes Taran Wanderer. This book was the light bulb idea that sparked my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art.) Although he desired to be a warrior of noble blood, mostly what he wanted was to be something, anything, to simply have a title and purpose.

Your staff have that desire, too. They HATE wearing a name badge that says “Trainee” because they know it means customers don’t trust them or treat them with respect. They want a title, preferably one that sounds important, that gives them some respect.

I see this as a creative opportunity.

While not everyone can be a store or department manager, you can make them managers of specific things like:

  • Manager of Smiles
  • Manager of Problem Solving
  • Manager of Question Answering
  • Manager of Greetings and Salutations
  • Manager of Product Knowledge
  • Manager of Finding Lost Products
  • Manager of Sunshine
  • Manager of Giving Customers an Experience They Will Never Forget That They Will Have to Tell All Their Friends About and Drag those Friends to the Store on Their Next Visit

Okay, maybe that last one won’t fit on a name tag, but you get the idea.

The point is that a title gives an air of respect. A title like the ones above also gives a fresh air of cheer, sets a customer at ease, and lets the customer know this person is (hopefully) trained to help. Most importantly, the title gives your employee a sense of importance, a purpose, and even a goal to aspire to.

One other benefit is that when you make a big deal out of giving your employee a title, especially when it is something cool and fun and even personal with layers of meaning, it shows that person that you care.

The more you care for your staff, the more they will take care of your customers.

Yeah, I got all that from a children’s book.

“Take inspiration from wherever you find it, no matter how ridiculous.” -Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads (yeah, that other series of books)

Decorate your staff by giving them fun, meaningful titles and watch how they grow into those roles.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The more personal and fun you make the title, the more benefits you will see. Your employees will work harder and your customers will be quicker to trust them with just this simple little act. It is the little things that make a difference.

PPS Get rid of your assistant managers (the titles, not the people). Make everyone a manager of something, even if it is simply a “Shift Manager.” The word “Manager” says authority. “Assistant” says “not yet good enough.” Make them all good enough to solve the customer’s problem and take care of her every need, and give them the title to declare it.

How to Learn From the Best

Yesterday, I buried this little gem in the post. Let’s take it out and polish it a bit.

“If your store isn’t the store everyone points to in town for having the best customer service, your service isn’t good enough. Yet.”

There is always that one business everyone believes is the best retailer in town. Several years ago, when I did a full-day workshop on Customer Service in Manistee, MI, a sleepy little Lake Michigan town with a year round population of around 6,000 people and summer visitors measured in the hundreds of thousands, I found their best retailer.

I came into town a day early to check out the shops. I braced myself against the sleet and snow on that cold, wet, wintery March day and made the rounds. The shops were open, but mostly empty. It was off-season, and not the best day to be out on the streets. One store, however—Snyder’s Shoes—was hopping. They had several customers in the store when I entered, but the staff still made a point of greeting me. Even in a sleet storm it was obvious who was the king of retail in town.

Snyder’s Shoes, Manistee, MI

The next day, as the attendees were filing in, I got the confirmation as I overheard one person say, “What is Snyder’s doing here? They’re already the best retailer in town.”

At the end of the day, however, when he was asked what strategies he hoped to implement from the day-long training session, Dan, the co-owner of Snyder’s said, “Every single one I possibly can.”

I feel for the other retailers in Manistee. They aren’t being measured against their competitors. They are being measured against Snyder’s.

Customers don’t measure you against your competitors. They measure you against every retail experience they’ve ever had.

So how do you compete against that? How do you raise your bar that high?

You have to do your homework. Ask your staff to name the stores they think offer the best customer service in town, then plan a road trip to visit them. Watch how those stores interact with their customers. Look for the differences between what they do and what you do.

Visit all the stores your staff named. You can do it in groups or pairs. Take notes. Ask these questions …

  • What do they do better than us?
  • What do they do different than us?
  • What do we do better than them?

The first question shows you what you need to tweak or improve. We all have things we need to tweak or improve. Getting a list by comparing to what other stores do is far better than just trying to brainstorm it yourself.

The second question shows you where you are different. Sometimes different is good, sometimes it isn’t. You have to decide, based on your core values, if you want to change things or highlight the difference.

The third question is your calling card. This is the area where you’re winning in the minds of your customers. If there isn’t anything you are doing better, you have serious work to do. If there is something you’re doing better, find out how to do it BEST. Raise the bar so high no one will be able to match it.

Now is a good time to take this road trip. You have time to visit stores before you get too busy. You have time to implement those changes before the holiday season hits. You have time to tweak your advertising message, your promotions, and your marketing to highlight your strengths and differences.

Two more questions you might also want to ask …

  • What do they do that we can’t?
  • What do they do that we won’t?

The first shows your limitations. The second is your biggest differentiating factor. Both answers give you power and show you where you stand not only in the retail landscape, but also in the eyes of your customers.

“Knowledge is power.” -Sir France is Bacon.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Note: If you ask your staff who is best and they don’t immediately say, “We are!” then you know you have some serious work to do. If they say they are the best, ask them who is second best and go visit those stores.

PPS One more thing you still have time to do … Hire me to do The Ultimate Selling Workshop with your team. You’ll transform your team to the point that when they say, “We are!” you and your customers will nod in agreement.

Connecting Through Stories (Part 1)

When people ask me what was my favorite Christmas gift, I often answer my first guitar. I still have it—an Eterna EF-15 six-string acoustic guitar by Yamaha—hanging on the wall with my other guitars. I get a lot of joy from playing guitar.

When I first got the guitar I wasn’t very good at playing it, nor was I as motivated to learn how to play as I thought I would be. It was harder than I thought. Then I met Tim Murnen.

The Eterna is the second from the right.

Tim and I worked together at YMCA Storer Camps. Tim didn’t teach me to play guitar, he inspired me. You see, Tim wrote his own songs, powerful, emotional, poetic visions. I wanted to do that too. So I started learning how to play guitar. Tim had ignited a passion in me.

Recently I found an old notebook that had several of my early songs in it. I pulled a guitar down from the wall and began picking at a few of the tunes. It was amazing how quickly they all came back into my memory. They weren’t good. In fact, all but two of them would probably fall under the Geneva Convention rules for cruel and unusual forms of punishment. But it was fun to see the progress I have made from those early days.

The other Christmas gift that stands out in my mind was given to me by my radio advertising sales rep. Most years the radio station would give me a mug filled with candy or a clock with the station logo on it or some other tchotchke gift that collected dust on a shelf for a year or two. Linda, however, gave me a copy of Roy H. Williams book, Wizard of Ads.

That book ignited another passion in me. I was only halfway through the book when I found out there were two sequels. I ordered the trilogy the next day and started my journey into the world of advertising and marketing. The books spoke to me in powerful ways.

I was thinking about these two gifts recently, and the connection between them.

Both were about storytelling. Songs tell stories. The best ads tell stories. Tim told stories. Roy told stories.

Both were about emotions. Songs speak to the heart. The best ads speak to the heart. Tim spoke to the heart. Roy spoke to the heart. (My early songwriting didn’t really tell stories or speak to the heart. Hmmm … I’m sensing a pattern.)

One of my favorite singer/songwriters is the late Harry Chapin who wrote such fantastic, heartfelt songs like Cats in the Cradle, Taxi, and A Better Place to Be. He was the ultimate storyteller. His live album is even called “Greatest Stories Live.” It is an album I can never grow tired of hearing.

I’ve always loved stories. Love reading them. Love telling them. Every night when my boys were younger I would tell them a story. Often they would challenge me to make one up on the spot. I would ask them, “Real or made-up?” If they said made-up I would ask, “Funny or scary?” Then we’d get into the story. Those nights are some of my most favorite nights of all.

Where is the lesson in this for retailers? It is understanding the connections we make through storytelling.

Linda gave ten businesses the same book for Christmas. I was the only one who took it and ran with it. The other nine set the book on a shelf with the other tchotchkes and never went down that path. For them, Linda worked the same way she always had, with professionalism to a tee. But our relationship grew by leaps and bounds until I became one of her biggest fans and cheerleaders.

You’re going to tell a story. Not everyone is going to connect with it. But those that do connect will become the spark that sets your business ablaze. Don’t worry about the other nine. Focus on the connections you make, not the ones you miss. Those connections will always be deeper and more profound (and more profitable).

Speak to the heart and the hearts that respond will speak of you the way I speak of guitars and wizards.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My son wrote his college application essay on how he remembers facts and data better when they are in a story than just through plain old rote memorization. There is a lesson in that story for all of you teachers out there, too.

PPS This is the “why” stories work. Tomorrow we’ll discuss “how” to make them work. How to use stories is a big part of my workshops on advertising, but there is also an element of storytelling in The Ultimate Selling Workshop. Make sure you sign up soon.

Did Nike Make the Right Call?

Legendary UCLA basketball coach and hall of famer John Wooden had several rules for his teams. One of them was no long hair and no facial hair.

“One day, All-America center Bill Walton showed up with a full beard. ‘It’s my right,’ he insisted. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. ‘That’s good, Bill,’ Coach said. ‘I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do. We’re going to miss you.’ “  -Rick Reilly “A Paragon Rising Above the Madness”

I have always loved that story. Sometimes, to “have strong beliefs and stick by them” will cost you. Are you willing to make that sacrifice?

Image result for Nike 2018 just do it colin kaepernickThat is basically the heart of the new advertising campaign by Nike that features Colin Kaepernick with the slogan …

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.”

Not only is that their campaign, it is what Nike itself is doing. The company has taken a hit for this campaign. Stock prices have dropped. People are threatening a boycott of the company. People are making videos showing them burning and destroying their Nike clothing.

The funny thing is these protesters are doing the very thing the ad purports. They are sacrificing ever buying Nike clothing because they believe so strongly against Mr. Kaepernick’s form of protest.

But I’m not here to talk about the politics. Let’s explore instead the decision Nike made to release this ad.

TAKING A STAND

The ad itself is about taking a stand. Nike had to believe there would be short-term backlash. I also believe they will see those gains comeback in multiples. Why? Choose who to lose.

Advertising is interesting. It works primarily like a magnet. Its ability to attract is in equal proportion to its ability to repel. In other words, for every person out there burning a pair of shoes, there is someone else lining up to buy Nike that wouldn’t before. I saw one post on FB from a friend showing the ad. He wrote one word … “#nikeforever.”

Nike is betting on a large segment of the population becoming more engaged with their brand because of their stand. Millennials and Gen Z are two generations who want to know where you stand, and will use that to influence where they spend their money.

One more thing to understand … Nike never actually endorses Colin’s protests, only his willingness to sacrifice for his beliefs. While not everyone will see it that way, many do notice the subtle difference.

NOT AS BIG OF A RISK AS YOU THINK

The other thing at play here is that general public opinion favors the side Nike has taken. According to a 2017 Seton Hall Sports Poll, 84% of Americans believe it is okay for NFL players to protest. 49% did express that the players should find a different way to protest, but that means 51%, or a slight majority, are okay with what Kaepernick has done. I am pretty sure the Nike advertising team knows those numbers and are willing to piss off a handful of people for a chance to more strongly attract the other 84%.

Plus, when you look at the demographics more closely, the number of athletes, especially African-American athletes, who support the protest is even greater. At the end of the day Nike is an athletic apparel manufacturer. Appealing to athletes at the expense of others is a smart marketing plan for an athletic apparel company. Choose who to lose.

WINNING WORD OF MOUTH

Another positive for this campaign is the way it has gone viral. I’m talking about Nike. Every news channel is talking about Nike. Bloggers all over the world are talking about Nike. Social media is sharing the ad by the millions. Nike has probably now received enough free advertising exposure with this campaign to pay Kaepernick ten times over.

The only question left is to see how strongly are these Nike beliefs and how much is Nike willing to sacrifice in the short run to stand by these beliefs (and the gains they will make in the long run).

The lesson here is that it is okay to take a stand. In fact, the two youngest generations who will be influencing most of the spending over the next couple decades are looking to see where you stand on issues. But you have to do it smartly. Nike took a stand that aligned with their Core Values and more strongly attracted their base customers. Back in March I gave you this post to talk about when you should take a stand. Read that and you’ll see how Nike’s decision to include Colin Kaepernick in this year’s Just do it campaign makes even more sense.

Although Colin Kaepernick probably wouldn’t be allowed on a John Wooden team, I believe John Wooden would have admired him.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The only thing that would make this Nike campaign better, in my opinion, is if the company aligned its own business practices with the same slogan. While founder Phil Knight vowed to clean up the company after reports in the 1990’s of child labor and sweatshop conditions, reports and protests of sweatshops surfaced again a year ago.

PPS Although Nike doesn’t like to see anyone burning their clothing, they probably took into account the fact they have contracts with dozens upon dozens of colleges which will keep some of the demographics of the protesters still in their camp. I doubt too many hardcore University of Michigan fans are going to drop Nike completely. Maybe they’ll cover up the logo, but they already paid Nike for the shirt. I predict Nike’s stock will climb back up by early next year after a strong fourth quarter in sales. They also took into account that many people shop for shoes without a care in the world of the political leanings of the company. Athletic apparel is also a fashion industry. If the fashion fits, people will buy it. If the shoe works because of fashion or design or fit, people will buy it.

PPPS You should see some of Nike’s other ads in this year’s Just do it campaign. From an advertising stance, I love them.