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The Death of Mom & Pop Retailers?

Do you remember when the Sears Catalog was going to destroy all the Mom & Pop Retailers? Yeah, probably not. That was back in the early parts of the 20th century when you could even buy a house (IKEA-style) in the catalog and have it delivered right to your property.

The last year of the Sears catalog was 1993, coincidentally right around the time AOL and the Internet were coming to fruition. The last year the Sears catalog was of any consequence to the toy industry was in the late 70’s. We used to hold a “Catalog Sale” every fall where you brought in your catalog and we matched the prices. By the late 70’s the prices in these catalogs were the same or higher than they were in our store.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

Do you remember when the big-box category killers like Staples, Home Depot, Barnes & Noble, and Toys R Us were going to destroy all the Mom & Pop Retailers? That was a more recent development in the 1980’s and 90’s. A lot of our vendors left us for the supposed greener pastures. Heck, they even stole our moniker and still to this day, many in the media call those stores “specialty stores” because they “specialized” in one industry.

Yet we all found ways to compete around them, by changing our product mix, out-servicing them, and staying current to trends in our industries.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

Do you remember when the big-box discounters were going to destroy all Mom & Pop Retailers? Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart would be the death of us all through their discounted buying, bullying practices with vendors and suppliers, and their sheer size (and deep pockets). 

They ended up being even less of a threat than the category killers as they raced to the bottom selling only the cheapest of the cheap. Our customers realized cheaper isn’t always better. Instead those stores fed on each other until K-Mart was eaten alive.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

Do you remember when the Internet—and especially Amazon—were going to destroy all the Mom & Pop Retailers? How could we compete with their prices? How could we compete with their selection? How could we compete with their convenience?

Yet many retailers either embraced them or learned to work around them. And in reality, the biggest bite Amazon took was with the department stores, the category killers, and the big-box discounters.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

Yes, there were some casualties along the way. Technology disrupted and destroyed the record store industry. But it wasn’t another retailer that did them in. It was a fundamental change in how we consumed music.

The same can be said for the video stores. It wasn’t Netflix’ DVD mail service that did video stores in. It was online streaming.

Heck, those industries aren’t even completely dead. Video stores still exist. Vinyl is on the rise. Independent book stores withstood Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon and are back on a growth trajectory. Independent toy stores outlived Toys R Us. Pet stores are multiplying faster than the bunnies they sell.

Mom & Pop Retailers survived.

The point is that pundits have predicted the death of Mom & Pop Retailers several times over the last century, yet you’re still standing.

You’re still standing because you adapt to change.

Change is inevitable. The death of Mom & Pop Retailers is not.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not all change is detrimental. We computerized Toy House in 1989 with an IBM AS/400 that needed a custom-built cabinet large enough to house it. The sales reports took hours to run. I planned my afternoon work by running reports all morning and my morning work the next day by running reports all night. Nowadays my retailers can pull up reports in seconds on their phones while in the booth. Technology, when properly embraced, has made being a mom & pop retailer much easier than ever before.

PPS Yes, most of my blogs are about “tools” you can use to make your business better. Think of this post as a “mental tool” to use. When you take on the mindset that change inevitable and go out looking how to use the changes to your advantage, you will always be more successful than the businesses that run around screaming the sky is falling.

Competing with Amazon

I sit here typing about Amazon while millions of people are shopping on Amazon, taking advantage of the Amazon Prime Days specials. To say that Amazon disrupted the retail climate would be like saying Jesus got a few people to think differently about God.

Here is something Amazon didn’t do. It didn’t kill brick & mortar shopping. Sure, many stores closed and keep closing. Many stores keep opening, too.

Oh, everyone thought it would kill brick & mortar. That’s what we all heard behind the gnashing teeth of the worry mongers. But it didn’t happen. E-commerce was only 13% of all retail shopping in 2017 (source).

Some retailers learned how to adjust to the new retail climate. Some didn’t. Those that survived and thrived did it using one or more of these four tactics.

FIND NICHE PRODUCTS

In the early days, before everything was online, savvy retailers looked for products on which they didn’t have to compete online. Customizable products, hard-to-find products, bespoke products, and niche products from vendors who recognized the value of the brick & mortar seller filled these showrooms.

Unfortunately, as e-commerce expands, those products become harder and harder to find. Most new vendors now launch directly online (and through Amazon).

Niche products are still out there, though, Artisan works, hand-crafted items, impulse buys (no one does price comparisons on impulse items), and truly hand-sell items that need to be shown still sell best in specialty brick & mortar.

OUT-SERVICE AND OUT-SELL THEM

One area Amazon will never be able to compete with a top-level brick & mortar is Selling (and by Selling, I mean Serving the customer). Oh, hey, they do know a thing about being customer-friendly and customer-focused. But there is only so much you can do online. Having a customers-who-bought-this-also-bought-that section is not up-selling or, as I prefer, completing the sale.

Smart retailers sank extra money into training their employees, paying for better employees, and creating a culture where those people want to work. Their staff are rock stars and their customers become so loyal, they do all the marketing for these stores in terms of repeat and referral business.

OFFER NEW SERVICES

Some stores took the approach of offering services you cannot get from an online seller. Shoe stores have orthotic services. Book and game stores have lending libraries. Clothing stores offer custom-fittings and personal shoppers. Baby stores do car seat installations.

As a toy store, we were already offering programs such as a Teacher Loaner Program that allowed teachers to borrow items for free for a week in their classroom. We also already had layaway, gift-wrapping, delivery, assembly, and UPS shipping. As a team we were always looking for new ways to help the customer.

If a customer asked, “Can you do this …?” we pretty much said, “Yes!”

JOIN ‘EM

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Several retailers took this approach and started selling their own stuff on Amazon either as Merchant Fulfilled (MFN) where it comes out of your stock, or Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) where you send it to them to box up and ship out.

Some are making a killing at it. Some are augmenting the sales they lost. Some are using it to stay on top of trends and shifts in buying habits.

Some are losing money at it. The two downsides to “join ’em” are first, it often becomes its own business with its own rules needing its own time and energy, and second, you can get deep into it only to lose the line that made most of your cash flow.

The real point here is that the smart retailers (and vendors) adapted. They found new ways to work within the new climate. With any disruption in any industry there will always be winners and losers.  You can usually spot the losers because they are the ones gnashing their teeth. The winners are already plotting how to turn it to their advantage.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Our market share in 2007 was 16.5%. Amazon really hit its stride in toys around 2011-2012. By 2015, however, our market share had only dropped to 15.7%. Not quite the retail apocalypse the worry mongers were threatening.

Your Signs Tell Customers More Than You Think

I snapped two pictures of signs recently. I probably could have taken several. Apparently proof-reading is a thing of the past.

One sign I drive by regularly is on too busy of a road to safely snap the pic. It says “Comeing Soon.” I cringe every time I pass it. I know two of my regular readers who cringed just reading it here.

TYPOS/GRAMMAR

I took the following pic on a recent trip to Las Vegas:

I’m not sure whether auto-correct or the sign maker doesn’t know the word tarot. Maybe there is a new type of cards made out of potatoes? The real question is, would you trust the readings of a psychic who couldn’t foresee this typo on her sign?

Typos and grammar mistakes are so common on signs now that we almost take them for granted. In fact, some might argue that the mistakes make you look at the sign longer, making the sign more effective.

I disagree.

I’m not stopping for a psychic card reading, no matter whether it is fried, mashed, hashed, or julienned. I don’t trust her. I also lost trust in KFC the other day while reading a grammatically incorrect sign behind the counter. It just set me off.

Those signs are the easy ones to fix. Proof-read them. Give them to a writer to proof-read them. Then proof-read them again. Don’t trust your print-shop people or your computer to fix any mistakes you’ve made. You have to fix the easy stuff yourself.

If you can’t get the easy stuff right, your customers won’t trust you with the more difficult stuff.

The second sign I want to show you is a little different. I found this on the door of a McDonald’s restaurant.

This sign has a different message (or two).

On the surface it basically says to anyone under 18, “you are being judged and labeled by the actions of someone else who happens to share one characteristic of yours—age.”

The second message, however, may be the more damaging. To everyone over 18 it also says, “this establishment gets visited by young hooligans and we have no way of stopping them short of trying to keep them from coming in—eat at your own risk.”

Do you see the problem?

One picture I wish I would have taken was a toy store I visited years ago. The front door was covered in small hand-written signs each starting with the word No. “No Public Restrooms.” “No Pets Allowed.” “No Backpacks” “No more than 2 unaccompanied minors at a time.” “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service, No Exceptions.”

You couldn’t even see in through the door. You just were bombarded with handwritten placards saying No, No, No, No, No.

The last word any retailer should want rattling around in a customer’s brain is the word No.

Whether the McDonald’s management or the “No” toy store understand it or not, they are changing the emotions of the customers entering their establishments.

The two questions you should ask before posting any sign are:

  1. Is the sign free from typos or grammatical errors?
  2. How does the sign make my customers feel?

Retail is a game of managing emotions. Happy customers who trust you will spend way more than uncomfortable customers who don’t.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There are positive ways, even fun ways, for any store to post all its restrictions. “Please leave your backpacks up front where our staff will guard them with their lives.” “Our carpet cleaner thanks you for leaving your food and drinks outside.” “For our customers who have allergies, we thank you for leaving pets outside.” Manage the emotions to win the sales.

9 Out of 10 People Don’t Recommend Your Store

I think a lot about Market Share. Maybe too much. I find it the most fascinating piece of data you can track because it tells you so much more about how you are performing than just sales, profits, or cash flow.

For one, it tells you how well you are competing in your market. If your share is growing, you’re obviously doing something right. If you’re losing share—even if your business is growing—you have a leak in your ship that needs fixing.

It also helps you focus your marketing. Once you realize that 9 out of 10 people in your area don’t shop in your store (results may vary but most indie retailers have less than 10% share of their market), you can hyper-focus your marketing on just one of those nine “people.” Win that one and you’ll double your sales.

Make the “one” the loudest voice in the crowd.

Let’s talk about those nine people for a moment.

I was at an event recently that had a panel of expecting moms. They were asked where they went for information to buy baby products. All six answered Friends and Online Reviews. None of them answered Sales Staff in a Store. None of them said Advertisements for Baby Stores. None of them mentioned Informational Fliers at the doctor’s office. Not one of them discussed Emails from brands or stores. They barely talked about Instagram influencers (and not in a positive way).

Friends and Online Reviews.

Even the online reviews didn’t get a favorable viewing. Most of the panel said they didn’t fully trust online reviews but would read the negative reviews in detail. They trusted most the information from friends who already had children.

From this panel you might conclude that the most important form of advertising for your business is the word-of-mouth referral from your happy customers. You would be right.

Yet nine out of ten people don’t refer your business to their friends. That’s a lot of friends telling their friends to go elsewhere. Not one member of our panel had visited an independent specialty baby store. Only a handful had gone to a Buy Buy Baby chain store. Most did their shopping/registering at Target because nine out of ten of their friends went there.

It didn’t help that there was only one indie specialty store in their town and it had a limited selection. I would have loved to see the responses of a panel like this in a town with a powerful indie store. I think Sales Staff at a Specialty Store might have made the list of trusted sources.

As it is, the lesson for all of us is simple. You have to give that one out of the ten such an amazing experience that her voice drowns out the other nine when the subject comes up where to shop.

Conversely, you cannot allow one bad experience to walk out your door. You’ll be dead to her circle of friends. Yeah, you might have to eat some crow from time to time, but it is better to eat the crow now to get the chance to eat the filet later.

Retail is not a money game. It is a game of the heart. Win your customers’ hearts and the money will follow.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not sure how to calculate your Market Share? Check out the Market Share Diagnostic Tool. It will not only show you how to calculate your Market Share, it will tell you why this is the second most important part of your business to track.

Be Yourself, Be a Unicorn!

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

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

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

HABA USA Unicorn Rainbow Beauty

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

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

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

None of those stores were Unicorns. 

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

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

The real culprit is the stores themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

Making the “Experience” Over-the-Top

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go big or go home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

Upgrades Versus Shifts – Choose Wisely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

Don’t Just Go With the Tide

If you have ever studied the topography of Lake Erie, you’ll know it is one of the shallowest of the Great Lakes. It is shaped much like a swimming pool with a shallow end to the west (25-30 feet deep) and a deep end over near Buffalo, NY (210 feet deep).

When the winds come strong out of the west they blow that shallow end all down to Buffalo. Storer Camps used to have a sailboat docked at a marina on the west end and some days the boat would be resting on its keel at the dock because the water had drained completely out of the marina and blown east.

All boats rise with the tide. But also all boats fall.

Your business rides on several tides.

There is the tide of the economy. When the economy is booming, even the mediocre retailers can make money. When it is in the dumps, only the smart retailers who shored up their business rather than just rising with the tide are making any money. (This affects you both locally and globally.)

There is the tide of your sales team. The worst person on your sales team is blowing all the water to Buffalo. Hopefully you have enough good people pushing the water back.

There is the tide of products. A good fad or hot trend can fill the marina fast. You just never know when it will drain.

There is the tide of demographics. As they grow, so does your sales, but as they grow, so does your competition. The competition just doesn’t wash away as fast as the demographics might.

People who live or work along the shores of the Great Lakes and the coasts pay close attention to the tides. Their tides are predictable.

Your tides are not.

But you still need to be paying attention to them.

Are you tracking the local and global economy and adjusting your inventory to match?

Are you measuring your sales people and training up the lower producers?

Are you following the trends in your industry and comparing them to past trends to see how your store fares with each passing fad?

Are you measuring the demographics and watching for any major changes and how those would impact you?

All boats rise with the tide, but only the smart boats know when to set sail to take advantage of the rising (and lowering) tides.

Sometimes it is best to set sail and go get those sales before the tide falls too far.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’m channeling my oceanography degree and sailing background for this post. Just remember that when you’re rising, so are your competitors. In a sailboat race the lead boat always wants to do whatever the trailing boat does to keep that boat from gaining. The trailing boat, however, has their best chance to overtake the lead boat by following a different path.

(Repost) What to Do with the First Quarter Blues

(Note: this is a repost from March 2, 2018)

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.