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How to Find Out Your Business Reputation

Some of you read them. Some of you don’t. I often get asked why each blog post has a Postscript (PS) or two. Postscripts are also called “afterthoughts.” In the case of my blog, I use them to reinforce different points made in the post, without clunking up the writing. I also use them to clarify and/or sum up something I’ve said. Often the PS is an action step or an application of the idea posed by the post. Sometimes it is a humorous anecdote or story from my past experiences.

Sometimes the PS hints at the next post. That was the case yesterday.

According to Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, your brand is “every single interaction someone has with your business, plus how they feel about it.”

In other words, your brand is not your slogan, your color scheme, or your logo. It is the way people feel about your business. It is your reputation.

In 2005 I wanted to know what people thought and felt about Toy House. Before I could create a stronger brand, I had to know from where I was starting. To do that, I needed to do a survey. Here is what I did.

LOCAL COLLEGE STATISTICS CLASS

Image result for phone surveyI contacted a professor at Spring Arbor University who taught statistics. Fortunately I already knew him. We had met at a networking event (one more reason why you should attend those events).

I told him what I wanted to do. I had a survey. I had the questions. I just needed someone to figure out the sample size, do the calling, and compile the results. It would be a live exercise for his statistics students. I agreed that I would write a letter of recommendation for all the students who participated, and that I would host a pizza party for the students when they had the results.

The professor thought it would be a fun exercise, and put it into his lesson plan at the appropriate time.

The students did the math and figured out we would need a sample size of 400 Jackson County residents to accurately measure the entire county within an acceptable margin of error. They also devised a random way to find those 400 people using the phone book. Each of the twenty students was then tasked with getting twenty survey results back within a two-week window.

QUESTION #1

The script I gave the students came from Roy. In a class I took, he showed me how to get an accurate assessment of where Toy House stood in the minds of Jackson County residents. It also showed how I compared to other stores selling toys in the area.

When someone answered the phone, the student would say …

“Hello, my name is (____). I am a Spring Arbor University student. My statistics class is doing a survey on toy shopping habits in Jackson County. Can I ask you a couple questions?”

If they said yes, the first question was this …

“Please name all the stores you can think of that sell toys in Jackson.”

The students had a worksheet with all the possible places listed and a few blanks for some out-of-the-box thinkers. As the person named stores, the student would number them in the order they were named. After the person stopped, the student would say, “You named (list of all stores they named). Can you think of any others?” This went on until the person said they could not think of any others.

The beauty of this question is that it helps you see how much awareness people have of your existence. You also see how you compare to everyone else in your town. It was eye-opening to see what percentage of Jackson County shoppers knew we existed. The results looked like this.

  1. Toys R Us 84.1%
  2. Meijer 82.3%
  3. Walmart 69.5%
  4. Toy House 64.8%
  5. Kmart 59.1%
  6. Target 45.2%

Thirty-five percent of the population could not think of us when asked to name a store that sold toys in Jackson. That was a shocker. (So was the fact the 16% couldn’t name the iconic national brand of Toys R Us and over half the population didn’t think of Target as a place to buy toys.)

QUESTION #2

Once the first question was answered, the student would then say, “For the second part, I am going to read you a few words. From the list of stores you just gave me, I want you to tell me the first of those stores that comes to mind with each word. There is no right or wrong answer. Just blurt out the first store you think of.”

The list of words I had the students read included positive words like Affordable, Caring, Clean, Friendly, Fun, Helpful, Knowledgeable, Quality, Value, and Welcoming.

The list also included negative words like Arrogant, Cluttered, Confusing, Dark, Deceptive, Dirty, Expensive, High Pressure, Indifferent, Over-Priced, Pushy, and Rude.

The list also included one word that upon reflection could be considered either positive or negative—Cheap.

The deal here is that whoever is mentioned the most for that particular word owns that word in the minds of shoppers. That is your reputation, good or bad.

  • We owned the words Caring, Clean, Friendly, Fun, Helpful, Knowledgeable, Quality, Value and Welcoming from the positive list, and Expensive and Over-Priced from the negative list.
  • Walmart owned the words Affordable, Deceptive, Indifferent, Rude, and Cheap.
  • Kmart owned Dark and Dirty.
  • Toys R Us owned Cluttered, Confusing, High-Pressure, and Pushy.
  • Target and Meijer didn’t own a single word on the list.

(Note: in that first survey, no one owned Arrogant. We were in a virtual tie with both Walmart and Toys R Us for that word.)

The one thing I didn’t include in my list of words was all of our Core Values, but mainly because I didn’t know them in 2005 like I did in 2007. We did a second survey in 2007 adding Education and Nostalgia to the list and owned those words hands-down. The only other changes in 2007 were that Walmart tied us for Value, and we took over Arrogant.

RESULTS

There were several takeaways from these results. The first was the lack of awareness for our giant, colorful store that had been in business for 56 years in the heart of downtown Jackson. More people mentioned Walmart, yet they had only been open a couple months when this survey was done. When we did the survey again in 2007, our name recognition jumped from 64.8% to 76.0%, whereas Walmart’s only went from 69.5% to 76.5%. We were still fourth overall, but had closed the gap significantly. (TRU and Meijer held steady.)

I was okay with owning the negative words Over-Priced and Expensive. That’s a common belief of indie retailers and I expected it. I was especially okay because we also owned Value. Value and Expensive are not exclusive. Value and Over-Priced don’t go together, but for every person that thought of us as Over-Priced, there was someone else who saw the Value in our offerings. I was okay with owning Arrogant in the 2007 survey, too, since I also owned nine of the ten positive attributes.

Most importantly, we owned the things we wanted to be know for. We owned our Core Values of Helpful, Fun, Education, and Nostalgia. We owned the things we were already advertising such as Friendly, Knowledgeable, and Quality. We owned the one word that made my mom the happiest—Clean! So we knew we were on the right track with our advertising, but more importantly we were on the right track with our actions.

Advertising cannot change your reputation. It can only enhance it. Actions speak louder than words.

Now you have the blueprint for doing your own survey to find out where you stand compared to your competition. If you don’t like your results. First change your actions.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The interesting question about doing a survey today is whether to do it online or by phone or both. Back in 2005 and 2007 most people still had landlines. Today, if you only do a phone survey with numbers generated randomly from a phone book (assuming those still exist), you’re missing out on a huge segment of the population. That will be the challenge for your statistics class to figure out. It might cost you a little more than pizza, but it will be totally worth it.

PPS One other benefit from the survey was that I had a classroom of 20 college students who now knew about our store and saw the reputation we had. That alone was worth the pizzas and a quick letter thanking them for running the survey.

If You Want to Be Known for Something …

Back in high school I had a friend who lived in a house that was hard to find. We always went to his house to play games because we could always get free pizza from Domino’s. They had their “thirty minutes or it’s free” campaign going, yet the drivers could never find his house. Thank goodness this was in the days before GPS.

In my high school days Domino’s was known in the pizza industry for fast delivery. Little Caesar’s was known for their “pizza, pizza,” two-for-the-price-of-one deal. Pizza Hut had the Pan Pizza. Everyone had their niche.

Image result for hamburglarThe burger industry was similar. Wendy’s had fresh-not-frozen (and Where’s the beef?). Burger King had flame-broiled. McDonald’s had the Hamburglar.

If you wanted to make a name for yourself in the pizza or burger industry you had to do something completely different. The more you looked for ways to differentiate, the better.

When Domino’s faltered and gave up their fast delivery guarantee, Little Caesar’s stepped in with an even faster claim—pick it up any time, it’s hot-and-ready. Little Caesar’s isn’t going to win any taste tests, but if you have a bunch of kids to feed, a twenty-dollar-bill and a trip through the drive-thru fills a lot of little bellies.

By now you know IHOP wants to be known as “International House of burgers.” They launched a clever viral campaign to highlight the fact that along with all the breakfast stuff, they also have burgers on the menu. It is getting a lot of talk, but not about the burgers. I have yet to hear one remark about the actual burgers good or bad. I have yet to hear one reason why I should try their burgers. They have done nothing so far to stand out in the burger crowd.

If you want to be known for something, you have to do something no one else is doing. 

Pizza Hut offers three different thicknesses of crusts. Little Caesar’s has pizzas ready for immediate pick-up without having to order in advance. They are doing something different.

I originally was going to title this blog “How to Stand Out in the Burger Industry” and help IHOP out. Here are some things no one is doing on a national level with hamburgers …

  • Home Delivery – why is it that pizza and Chinese food are the only foods delivered to our door regularly?
  • Free Sliders with every meal – You want to let people know you have burgers? Put a small, tasty slider on a plate and deliver it at no charge no matter what they ordered.
  • Condiment Bar – Wendy’s tried this at one time. It might be worth trying again, but with really cool and different condiments that make people talk.
  • The 24-Hour Burger – most IHOPs are already open 24 hours. Why not tout the breakfast burger? Heck, we’ve already been putting bacon and fried eggs on burgers for years, just not at eight o’clock in the morning.

Here is the lesson for you, the indie retailer. You don’t have to be known nationally for something. You only have to own it locally. The kicker here is you have to do something completely different from your competitors, preferably something they would never even think of doing.

Be the store known for…

  • Home Delivery
  • Giving away free stuff
  • Customizing things
  • Selling stuff made locally
  • Having live entertainment
  • Having classes and demos

Walmart right now is running a radio ad touting themselves as “The Best Toy Store in America.” Just like IHOb, this campaign is gonna flop big time.

You are judged not by what you say, but by what you do.

No one believes Walmart is the best toy store right now, and unless Walmart does something other than have the typical messy, unorganized, poorly-stocked, warehouse-shelved, no-one-to-help-you toy department they currently offer, no one is going to change their minds because of a radio ad. When Walmart opened in Jackson in 2005, the newspaper reporter asked me how I was going to compete with them. I said …

“With free gift-wrapping, layaway services, home delivery, tons of toy demos, weekly events, triple the toy selection, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff on hand to answer all your questions, the better question is, ‘How is Walmart going to compete with us?’ “

Don’t just do it. Be known for it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I was a little arrogant in my answer. Fortunately, thanks to a survey I did shortly after Walmart opened, I reaffirmed what I already believed. In that survey we owned the words Clean, Friendly, Knowledgeable, Caring, Fun, Helpful, Welcoming, Quality, Value, Over-Priced and Expensive. Walmart owned the words Affordable, Deceptive, Indifferent, Rude, and Cheap. Kmart owned Dark and Dirty. Toys R Us owned Cluttered, Confusing, High-Pressure, and Pushy. Target and Meijer didn’t own a single word on the list. What words do you own?

What Not to Change

By now you’ve heard the buzz about the International House of Pancakes and their big announcement. They are changing their name from IHOP to IHOb. They made the announcement and asked us to guess what the “b” meant.

The first answer by virtually everyone was “breakfast.”

Image result for ihob logoI could wrap my head around that. I love their Colorado Omelette. They have waffles, French Toast, and crepes too. Pancakes are out of favor because of all the low carb diets. That would make sense.

Heck, I could even have seen it if this was just a marketing gimmick and the “b” was going to stand for bacon. Bacon is trendy and popular right now.

But then in a “Hey, New Coke, hold my beer,” moment they announced the “b” stands for “burgers.” 

Burgers? Really? That was your big marketing gimmick?

First, let me reassure you that they are not actually changing their name. They are doing some temporary signs and making a big stink about it through the media. In one way, it has worked. We’re all talking about them. In another way, they have definitely brought attention to the fact they have burgers on their menu (and have for some time).

But here’s something worth thinking about when it comes to branding. The vast majority of people were going with either breakfast or bacon because that is what the restaurant is known for. That is IHOP’s reputation, which by extension is the restaurant’s brand. No matter how many viral campaigns like this, they will neither change that perception nor ever be known as the burger joint. As much as this campaign has gone viral, it isn’t likely to get too many new customers going to IHOP that weren’t going already. In fact, it might drive some customers away who think they have stopped selling pancakes.

Not only was this campaign confusing to a lot of people, trying to be known as the burger joint is probably the worst arena to enter. It is already crowded with all the fast food joints, the Red Robins, the Inn & Outs, and a slew of other players. IHOP owns the pancake title. Hands down. They own it better than Coke owns Pepsi. Yet Coke tried the exact same tactic with New Coke and watched it become the poster child for failed marketing campaigns.

I know some of why they did it. It is tough being the frontrunner. It is tough getting people excited about your pancakes when you already own the category (and pancakes are not quite as popular as before). The people at IHOP saw this campaign as a brand-extension, a way to be known for more than pancakes. Unfortunately, there was a better way to do that.

Saying that you are known for burgers when you aren’t won’t work. Simply saying your burgers are great won’t change anyone’s mind, either. Having taste-tests won’t move the needle much (or Pepsi would have overtaken Coke during the Pepsi Challenge campaign). But asking your tribe, the people who already love IHOP for your breakfasts, to try a burger next time they are in, might get a few people to switch. Speaking to the people who love IHOPs for being open 24 hours (in certain locations) and reminding them you have more than breakfast might get a few people to try the burgers. Offering small sliders as a side with the pancakes (there’s a little surprise and delight for you), would be far more effective in getting burgers into everyone’s minds.

Then if your burgers really are good, people will talk. That’s the kind of talk that moves the needle. Right now people like me are talking in the wrong direction.

Right now the talk isn’t even about whether the burgers are any good or not. Most of the talk is about what the heck were they thinking? That doesn’t help the brand one bit.

The lesson in all this is simple. If you are known for something already, don’t confuse people by trying to be known for something else. Instead embrace it, amplify it, and become it so fully that no one will know anyone else but you in that category.

There is only one house of pancakes.

There is only one waffle house.

There are dozens of burger and pizza joints.

When you can be the only one, be the only one, and be happy with that.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, there are thousands of great breakfast restaurants including some regional chains and plenty of local joints, but in the national scheme of things, no matter where you go, if someone is asked to name a pancake joint, IHOP will be at or near the top of that list. That’s the power of their brand and the source around which the rest of the chain revolves. Move away from that and the brand will falter.

PPS Marketing and advertising cannot change your reputation for the better. Only actions will do that. Confusing people or trying to get them to believe something other than what they already believe hurts the brand more than it helps because it erodes more confidence away from what people already believe. Telling people their old Coke they’ve drunk for years doesn’t taste good (even though it was the best seller by a wide margin) wasn’t a smart move. This move by IHOP stands right beside that.

PPPS You’ve heard it said there is no such thing as bad PR. That statement is wrong. Don’t believe it.

Getting People to Talk – Part 3 (Domino’s for the Win!)

A new restaurant opens in town. Fine dining. The early reviews are good. Everyone is talking about it. Expensive, but worth it. The desserts are extraordinary. You call up some friends and the six of you make a reservation. While you’re waiting for your meal you see desserts going past. It looks like every table has ordered something scrumptious. You look at the menu and your mouth begins to water. Then you look at the prices and the six of you decide maybe you’ll share a couple of them instead of everyone buying one.

The meal is done and you’ve picked up the dessert menu one more time to choose a couple to share when your waiter walks over and says, “You guys have been such a fun table, I’d like to buy everyone a dessert on me.”

Would you be talking afterward about a meal like that? Of course you would! For the price of some sugar and flour (that the restaurant has already baked into the price of the meal), the restaurant is buying word-of-mouth through Generosity.

The key here is that they did not advertise it, it was given with sincerity, it had value, and it was unexpected. When you can give something away like that, people will talk.

Yesterday my son pointed out to me something that fits that criteria. He told me Domino’s Pizza is filling potholes. I had to Google it right away.

Image result for domino's pothole
Image from Washington Post

Domino’s Pizza is paying communities real money for their crews to go out and fill potholes. All the community has to do is take a few cellphone pics of the crew and spray chalk the Domino’s logo with the phrase, “Oh yes we did” onto the newly filled pothole when they’re done.

The city manager of Milford, Delaware explains how they gave him $5,000 to fill potholes in his town. With a budget of only $30,000 for fixing potholes to begin, an extra $5,000 goes a long way. The spray chalk on the logo might seem offensive to some, especially if you don’t like Domino’s Pizza, but the talk they are generating from that money is unbelievable.

Yes, it was unexpected. Yes, it brought value. Yes, it was done without advertising. You can argue sincerity all you want, but the comment from Kate Trumbull, VP of Advertising for Domino’s is spot-on …

“This idea came from when you hit a pothole and you have a pizza in your front seat. It’s kind of a dramatic moment and dials up the fear factor that something would happen to your delicious pizza,” said Trumbull. “It came down to how we’re so passionate about pizza – and every single piece of the experience.” (from Yahoo)

Here is the clincher. They spent $5,000. Their logo was washed away with the first rain. The town of Milford, DE was just under 10,000 people in 2010. You can look at it as only 50 cents to reach everyone in that city. You can look at it as a way to make the roads better for their delivery vehicles. But the best way to look at it is that the city manager wrote an article in the Washington Post about it. The news stations all did stories about it. People who saw it on the road all told their friends about it.

The word-of-mouth—even from the people who hated it—is through the roof! Everyone is talking!

Even the haters are probably acknowledging that the potholes needed filling. Their complaint is likely just about the commercialization of it and where that may lead.

I give Domino’s a hearty win for this campaign. It is the kind of creativity that helps a campaign budget reach far beyond the money you spend. That’s the power of Generosity.

Four elements to make Generosity work for you:

  • Don’t advertise it
  • Give freely from the heart
  • Give something of value
  • Give something unexpected

You don’t have to pave the roads to get people to talk, but I’m sure you can find something of value you can give away for free.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We gave away free helium balloons all day, every day. It helped parents get crying children out of the store, and helped them come in more often for “looking trips”. When helium balloons became expected, I brought in an art teacher to teach my staff how to draw doodle animals on the balloons. We never got the kind of talk Domino’s did, but people still talked, and that’s all that mattered.

PPS No, if you don’t like Domino’s Pizza, it probably won’t make you rush out and buy a pie. But it just might make someone on the fence, buy a “thank-you pie” just for fixing that pothole at the end of their street. It also has a long-term effect of making you feel just a little better about Domino’s as a company, and that ripple effect, while hard to measure, will be huge. Now, if they double-down and add some generosity to their product when they deliver it, they’ll knock it out of the park.

Origin Stories – Getting People to Talk Part 2

We were sharing our origin stories at the hotel lobby bar last weekend. I was attending the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy as a speaker instead of a retailer. As a speaker I get to meet a whole bunch of new retailers.

One of them asked me how I got my start as a speaker. Another asked me how I got into the toy business. Pretty soon we were all sharing those stories. They were all quite fascinating.

Phil Wrzesinski on Toy House Float in Rose Parade 1970
Phil Wrzesinski, age 3, riding the Toy House float in the Jackson County Rose Parade 1970

One guy had an earlier career working for Publishers Clearing House. Another was a nanny. Several toy store owners I have met over the years were former teachers. I was working with juvenile delinquents before selling toys full time, but my first job at Toy House was riding on the float for the Rose Parade. When we get together we share those stories with flair and pizzazz.

Yet outside of our industry get-togethers I never seem to hear those origin stories.

Stories are fun to share. Stories posted on websites or told in ads or shared on social media come with an implicit authorization to share them. And many of these stories are Shareworthy.

In fact, many of the origin stories of the products you sell are Shareworthy, too. You probably have already heard how the Slinky was supposed to be a spring for keeping sensitive ship equipment safe and steady. You also may know that Play-Doh was originally designed to be a wallpaper cleaning compound.

When I launched the new and improved Toy House website a few years ago, I included a less-than-brief history full of pictures and details of our 67+ years of business, including how and why we got our start. I did the long form of our history with all the photos because Nostalgia was one of our Core Values.

I was surprised how much word-of-mouth it garnered, too.

On several occasions I had customers tell me how they had heard one of the facts from that page. That was an unexpected benefit.

We love to share stories.

Men love to tell stories because we speak vertically. For men, communication is like a ladder. Did what I say raise me up in your eyes or lower me down? Knowing and sharing a story raises me up a rung. (Asking directions lowers me down. Ladies, now you know why your guy won’t ask.)

Women love to tell stories because they speak more horizontally. Did what I say draw me in closer or push me away? A story is just an excuse to draw your friends in closer and bring them into your world of knowledge. (Men, now you know why she wants to ask for directions. It gets her into the inner circle.)

If you want people to talk about your business, you have to give them something to talk about.

Start telling the origin stories of your business, your products, and your services. You’ll be amazed at how quickly those stories make the rounds.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Over-the-Top Design and Story Telling are just two of the five different ways you can generate Word-of-Mouth for your store. As I told the audience at my talk last weekend, there are two types of customers who aren’t shopping with you right now: A) Those who don’t know you, B) Those who think they know you. That second group will only change their mind through word-of-mouth from their friends. To learn the other three methods, check out this.

PPS “Our History” was buried as a link off our “About Us” page. The About Us page needs to first establish those Core Values and begin building the relationship before you’ll get people to start sharing your stories. That’s why social media is an even better platform. Those people have already bought into you and your store. It was made for sharing. Give people something worth sharing.

Give Them Something to Talk About (Part 1)

My eyes always glazed over. Didn’t matter if it was Toy Fair, ASTRA, the All Baby & Child Expo (ABC), the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (JPMA) Trade Show, or SuperZoo. By the end of the day my eyes were glassy, my pupils were dilated, and my senses were overloaded. One booth after another melded into the landscape until none of them stood out.

” … until none of them stood out.”

Last Monday I walked the tradeshow floor at the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. The day before, I did a presentation about how to get people to talk about your business. One of the ways is to have Over-the-Top Design.

Have some element of your store (or booth)be it the design of your building (like Estes Ark in Estes Park, CO), an element of your store like the chalkboards or directional signs we had in front and on the side of our building, an element inside your store such as our Circus Mirrors, Electric Train Display, or LEGO building/racing ramp, or even through the products you might sell such as the 32,000 piece puzzle we had that weighed 42 pounds and was almost 18 feet long when finished—be so crazy and unexpected that customers have to tell their friends about it.

Eighteen rows of vendor booths later and only two stood out.

Lenny and Mark from Marky Sparky

The first was Marky Sparky. Mark Rappaport and his company Marky Sparky had been honored earlier that morning as the ASTRA Vendor of the Year, an honor well-deserved. The day before, he and his sales manager Lenny Breeden sat through my presentation on word-of-mouth. Lenny came up afterwards and said, “Wait until you see our booth tomorrow.” He was right.

What they did was simple. It didn’t cost much either. But it was innovative, unexpected, interactive, and fun. Mark created a “target” for their Faux Bow out of straws jammed into a box. Now you could shoot their indestructible foam/plastic arrows into the target and they would stick just like real arrows into a bale of hay. People were lining up to take turns shooting the bow.

At the end of the day, when I asked retailers what they saw that looked cool, the most common answer was, “Did you see the target at Marky Sparky? That was cool!”

Marky Sparky was winning the battle of word-of-mouth.

The second most common booth I heard about was selling jumbo hula hoops. Yes, jumbo! Hoops that were close to six feet in diameter! Apparently the larger the hoop, the easier it is to hula. These were designed to help adults get into hula-hooping (and the fabulous core exercises it offers). The booth stood out, not only because of the number of old people like me trying to hoop for the first time in thirty years, but because they had over-sized a product we all knew and loved. Interactive, unexpected, and larger-than-life fun.

In a trade show filled with 18 aisles of booths and over 500 vendors, only two booths had done something so over-the-top to stand out among the rest. I saw booths without decorations. I saw booths simply filled with chrome or wood shelves and products displayed military-style on those shelves. Some booths had active people manning the booth jumping out in front of us to shove catalogs in our hands as we walked the aisles. Other booths had people sitting in chairs staring at their phones, wondering why no one was stopping. But only two had done something worth talking about.

You have to do something to stand out.

This applies to any business anywhere. Whether you are a booth at a trade show, a retailer in a crowded retail market, or even an advertiser during the Super Bowl, all that matters is at the end of the day, are people talking about you? If they are talking about you, you’re winning. If they aren’t, you’ve melded into the landscape and become invisible, forgettable.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of change. One thing you need to change right now is to add some design element that is so over-the-top that people say, “OMG! Did you see that??!!” 

It can be outside where people see it driving by. It can be inside that gets people into the store. It can be a display or demo. It can even be a product you “sell” (we never expected to sell our 32,000 piece puzzle, we just used it to get people to talk—and sold three of them!!)

For best effect, make it unexpected, interactive, and larger-than-life fun.

Nice job, Mark & Lenny!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There was one other booth with a WOW Factor. The folks at Spooner Boards had a ramp for their mini-surfboard type toys and were showing off their product by doing tricks and stunts on the ramp. The problem is, they’ve done that every year so it wasn’t unexpected. Change. Once you set the bar high, you need to keep raising it higher to get more word-of-mouth. That’s why we were constantly adding new elements of over-the-top design to Toy House over the years.

PPS This is Part 1. I’ll tell you some other ways to get people to talk about you in future posts.

Five, Ten, Fifteen Years Ago

Do you remember the start of the Great Recession back in 2008? Did you see it coming? Were you prepared in advance, ready for it?

Okay, you can stop laughing. No one saw it coming. Very few were prepared. Yet if you remember it and are reading this blog, it means you likely survived the Great Recession.

No matter how you got through those tough years, I’ll bet your business looks a lot different now than it did in 2007. I’ll bet for most of you, today’s version of your store only merely resembles the store you had fifteen, ten, or even five years ago.

Things change. We learn new stuff. We grow. We adapt.

The business model that worked in the 80’s (open your doors, stand back, and watch the traffic roll in) wouldn’t last a month in today’s retail climate.

Here is another truth …

Flag Raising circa early 1970’s

The store you’re running five years from now will only merely resemble the store you’re running today. 

The name will be the same. The Core Values will be the same. Some of the services will be the same (some will be unnecessary, some will be enhanced). Some of the fixtures will still be there (but hopefully not in the same place as today).

August 6, 2016 Flag Raising

Yesterday, at the annual business meeting of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), the past chairperson, Ann Kienzle, gave a speech. Apparently she had heard from some ASTRA members who were there twenty-six years ago at the first meeting, where less than fifty people got together to do something for the independent specialty toy retailing industry. This past weekend the attendance was measured in the thousands.

Those people noted how ASTRA looks a lot different than it did just ten or fifteen years ago. I wasn’t there to know if they said it with admiration or disdain. I only know what Ann said at the meeting.

“I’ve heard from some of the original members of ASTRA who noted that ASTRA doesn’t look anything like it did fifteen years ago. You should be proud of that. … If we looked the same today as we did fifteen years ago, you should be hugely disappointed.”

The reality for ASTRA and for you is if you look the exact same as you did fifteen years ago, you’re likely already out of business. In fact, it would be harder to stay the same than to change and grow because the atrophy (and apathy) would take you down more and more each year.

If you have been in business the last fifteen years, as Ann said, you should be proud of what you’ve done. Your business has changed and will continue to change.

I have said often that you should always be changing. Here are previous posts that tell you how or what to change …

JULY 6, 2017 – Some Things Change, Some Things Shouldn’t

AUGUST 9, 2017 – The Biggest Thing That Needs to Change

JUNE 15, 2012 – When and What to Change

SEPTEMBER 14, 2011 – A History Lesson About Change

APRIL 14, 2009 – What to Change, What to Keep the Same

I can’t tell you exactly what your store will look like in five years. Like you, I was blindsided by the housing crisis of 2008. But if your store more closely resembles your Core Values and has changed everything else that wasn’t productive or consistent with those values, it will look like my favorite store—an OPEN one!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you change what needs to be changed, do me a favor. Make it Over-the-Top! Go big or go home. Put the WOW Factor into it. Give people something to talk about. I’ll give you some ideas of what I’m talking about later this week.

Convenience Versus Experience (Revisited)

It was seven years ago today that I returned to work after recovering from major throat surgery. I was looking at some posts I wrote during that time and came across one I wrote while lying in bed titled Convenience Versus Experience.

The new buzzword in retail today is “experience.” Just Google “Customer Experience” and you’ll see what I mean. Heck, I’ve been saying it, too.

Here is what I said on May 26, 2011

 

Convenience Store is always located on the easiest side of the road to pull in or pull out, no-hassle driving.

An Experience Store has you drooling with anticipation as you wait at the light to pull in.

Convenience Store carries all the same merchandise you would expect to find anywhere, the most popular items, the most requested items.

An Experience Store is full of unique and wonderful treasures, amazing merchandise you haven’t seen.

Image result for convenience store signConvenience Store is open early and late, enough hours to be there exactly when you need it.

An Experience Store is open long enough for you to be able to take the time to explore all those treasures leisurely and when it fits in your schedule.

Convenience Store has a staff that knows where everything is, and can get you through checkout in a hurry.

An Experience Store has a staff that also knows what everything is and how each product fits or doesn’t fit in your lifestyle, and can also get you through checkout in a hurry (because when the shopping is done, there’s no time to waste).

Convenience Store wants your trips to be quick, painless, anonymous.

An Experience Store wants your trips to be comfortable, engaging, and relational.

Convenience Store treats the customers as transactions, maximizing speed in the process.

An Experience Store treats the customers as people, maximizing comfort in the process.

Convenience Store is measured by how little time you want to spend there.

An Experience Store is measured by how much time you want to spend there.

Convenience Store is on the way to or from a Destination Store.

An Experience Store is a Destination Store.

 

Let me clean that up for you.

An Experience Store

  • Has you drooling with anticipation as you wait at the light to pull in.
  • Is full of unique and wonderful treasures, amazing merchandise you haven’t seen.
  • Is open long enough for you to be able to take the time to explore all those treasures leisurely and when it fits in your schedule.
  • Has a staff that also knows what everything is and how each product fits or doesn’t fit in your lifestyle, and can also get you through checkout in a hurry (because when the shopping is done, there’s no time to waste).
  • Wants your trips to be comfortable, engaging, and relational.
  • Treats the customers as people, maximizing comfort in the process.
  • Is measured by how much time you want to spend there.
  • Is a Destination Store.

Notice how none of that says you have to offer some crazy, wild, event-based, theme-park-styled type of experience? Seven years ago, this was cutting edge stuff. Today it is pretty much what everyone is talking about. Now you have a list to which you can compare your store.

Are you full of unique and wonderful treasures people haven’t seen? Do you have a staff that knows what you carry, why it fits into someone’s lifestyle, and how they should best use it? Is your store comfortable? Do people want to spend time there?

Experience Stores aren’t accidental. Nor are they easy. You build them by design, staff them by design, and run them with purpose. Which store do you want to be?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If I were to add anything to the May 26, 2011 post it would be …

A Convenience Store has everything you expect.

An Experience Store has pleasant surprises and unexpected wonders of delight.

You’re Going to Offend Someone

I heard someone argue that Memorial Day Weekend shouldn’t be about shopping and big sales at the mall. We need to be properly honoring our fallen soldiers. I also heard someone make the same argument about backyard BBQs and trips to the lake/ocean/river/woods. It isn’t about partying, it is about properly honoring our fallen soldiers. It begs the question … What is “properly honoring our fallen soldiers?” You better learn or you will likely offend someone.

Publix has suspended support for an NRA-favoring political candidate after “die-in” protests in their stores. Pretty soon you will see a backlash against Publix from NRA members for withdrawing that support. Either way, someone is going to hate them.

To some people, if you don’t automatically hate President Trump, then you’re a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, religious nut-job. If you even hint at defending any of the President’s actions (or decry any of the President’s actions), you’re going to have haters painting an unfavorable picture of you (whether true or not.)

Some people are offended by the football players who take a knee out of respect for the flag but to protest injustice in America. Others are offended by the NFL for creating a rule demanding they stand to “show respect for the flag.” The camps are divided and no posting of memes is going to change anyone’s mind. Both sides believe they are right and the other is wrong.

The tough part is that in many of these cases you are being forced to pick a side as if the world was black/white and either/or. No matter which side you choose, someone is going to hate you. Even if you don’t choose, your actions will cause someone to choose your side for you. People are looking for new ways to be offended. Tolerance is missing. Nuance is gone. Thoughtful discussion is rare.

Image result for pendulum book
Pendulum by Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew

How do you, as a business, navigate this world of hatred, intolerance, black/white, either/or?

Two months ago I wrote a post about when to take a political stand. The actions and attitudes since then have made it likely that whether you take a political stand or not, someone is going to assign a political stand to you for an action they perceive.

Since you’re going to offend someone anyway, you might as well do it consciously. 

No, I don’t mean pick a cause and go out there and piss a bunch of people off. What I mean is, become even more true to your Core Values. Amplify the Values and Beliefs you already have in everything you do.

If one of your Core Values is Helpfulness, add more ways to help your customers. If one of your Core Values is Nostalgia, add more nostalgic displays and tell more nostalgic stories. If one of your Core Values is Fun, make sure every single part of your business is fun down to the experience in the bathroom and the answer on your answering machine. If one of your Core Values is Education, add new educational signs and new instructional classes.

Evaluate everything in your business from the signs on the front door to the tagline on your receipt to make sure they accurately and boldly show your Values and Beliefs. The more consistent and observable your Values, the better.

  • First, it is easier to be consistent with your Values than try to be someone you are not. People will see right through you. The more consistent your actions are to your beliefs, the more you boost up the visibility of what you believe.
  • Second, the more obvious you are about what you believe and value, the less likely someone can paint you into a corner you don’t wish to be.
  • Third, yes, you will offend people, but primarily only people who don’t share your Values. That’s okay. Your business is at its best when you strongly attract the people who share your Values. Don’t worry about everyone else.
  • Fourth, the more obvious you are, the more likely you will find those people who share your Values. They are much more fun to work with anyway.

Not sure exactly what are your Core Values? Here is a worksheet to help you figure it out.

I’m working on a new resource, too, one that will help you write your Belief Statements. In the meantime, here is an example of I Believe … statements from Toy House. Here is one from LauraJoyWarrior. Here is one from PhilsForum to help you get some ideas flowing.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The stronger a magnet attracts, the stronger that same magnet repels. The more strongly you try to attract people who share your Values and Beliefs, the more strongly you will offend those who don’t share your Values and Beliefs. That’s okay. There are more than enough people who believe what you believe for you to have a rock solid business. Many of them just don’t know about you yet.

PPS This whole black/white, either/or, I’m offended mentality is going to take a few years to disappear. It was perfectly predicted in the book Pendulum by Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew. They predict a lot of other stuff in that book, some that has already come true (including exactly how Donald Trump won the election), and some that won’t be true for another ten, twenty, or forty years. It is a fascinating read and an eye-opener to what is happening around you.

PPPS To show you how easy it is for people to be offended, I saw on social media one person upset because another person thanked a veteran for their service. “Memorial Day is to honor fallen veterans. Veterans Day is to honor the living ones. Get it right!” 

My Second Favorite Retail Conversation

“He left Detroit 9am Christmas Eve. Someone, somewhere had to have the one toy his sweet little six-year-old wanted. Six cities, seven stores later he stood, travel-weary, across the counter from me. ‘I suppose you don’t have any Simon games, either.’ As I handed over the last of my Simon games he smiled and said, ‘God Bless You!’ Believe me, he already has. Merry Christmas from the Toy House in Downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.”

That was the ad I ran as our whole Christmas ad campaign in both 2005 and 2007. The first time I ran it, we smashed every holiday sales record ever. The second time we pushed the bar even higher.

It is a powerful story. More importantly, it’s true. It happened at 4:05pm on Christmas Eve in 1980. It is one of those moments that sticks with you all your life.

Image result for original simon gameI was 14 years old. My parents hired me to stand behind a glass display case and help customers with hand-held electronic games like Simon and Coleco Football. Simon was the hot game that year. We could barely keep them in stock.

Shortly after Black Friday we were completely sold out. We took customers’ names and phone numbers in case we got another shipment in. As I recall, we did get a few in, but we had more names than we had product, so they were quickly snatched up.

On Christmas Eve my mom would always go through the layaway file to see if there were any large layaways not yet picked up. We closed at 5pm and didn’t want someone to miss out on having their gifts. Mom called one such customer who had forgotten he had even started a layaway. He told her to cancel it. He would be in after Christmas to get his deposit back. It was 4:02pm.

One of the items in that layaway was a Simon game. With less than an hour until we closed it was too late to call someone on our waiting list. Mom placed the box at my feet behind the counter and said, “See if you can sell this before we close.” It was 4:04pm.

At just that moment a large man walked through the front doors. One of our staff pointed him toward the glass cases. In my memory he was around 6ft 2in tall but with shoulders slumped by life. He looked tired and beaten when he pointed at the empty spot in our game case and said, “I suppose you don’t have any Simon games either.”

I told him, “This is your lucky day,” while reaching down by my feet to grab the last Simon game. I handed him his prize possession and he couldn’t stop saying, “God Bless You.” He said it over and over and over while leaning over the counter to hug me. Tears were running down his face. Soon we were both crying and hugging.

He told me his story. He and his wife had adopted their 6-year-old granddaughter earlier that year. All she wanted for Christmas was a Simon game. She had asked Santa several times. With all she had been through, he was going to do everything in his power to make her Christmas special. For weeks he checked every toy store in Detroit. No luck. On Christmas Eve he left Detroit, vowing not to return until he found a Simon game. He went to a couple toy stores north of town, then on to Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek. At the Battle Creek store they told him that if anyone had one, it would be Toy House. God was shining down on both of us that day.

I tell you this story, but I could have told you four others almost exactly like it. This one just happened to be the first. It is the one I get the most choked up retelling.

You have stories like this, too. 

If you’ve worked in retail you have had these serendipitous moments where the whole world aligns just right. It is what keeps us going through the hard times. It is what reminds us of the difference we make.

The only question I have to ask is, Are you sharing those stories? If not, you should. That’s what gets your fan base fired up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I call it my second favorite only because luck played such a big role. My first favorite was based more on what we did.

PPS Just to show you how powerful stories are, we ran that as our sole ad for our 2005 holiday campaign. It didn’t tell you our hours or our location. It didn’t tell you about Free Gift Wrapping or Layaway. It didn’t even talk about a product we were selling in 2005. But it did share the emotions and feelings of the Christmas spirit, with a heaping dose of Nostalgia thrown in. Check the boxes. Didn’t look or sound like an ad. Told a story. Made only one point. Spoke to the heart. Spoke to the tribe.

PPPS Yes, God has blessed me many times over.