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Invest in Your Education

Yesterday I gave you seven things you could do with your money when you have a windfall because of a better-than-expected season. Here is one more thing to do with that extra cash …

Invest in Your Education.

Invest in making yourself and your team smarter and better. Invest in training to equip your team with better tools for selling. Invest in classes that teach you more about advertising and marketing. Invest in programs that help you better manage your money.

“Always invest in this thing (your brain).” Darius Foroux

If I were to put “Invest in Your Education” in the priority list from yesterday it would solidly be #3 right behind Cash Reserves and Pay Down Your Debt.

My real recommendation, though, is that this should be a fixed part of your yearly budget. You and your staff are simultaneously your largest asset and your biggest expense. Whether you look at this as the former or the latter will make the difference whether you are truly a customer-first business winning the race to the top or not.

If I were to prioritize where to spend the time and money on training, the list would look like this …

  1. Selling/Customer Service: You’ll reap the benefits of this right away because your staff starts converting more of your current traffic into sales.
  2. Hiring/Training: You’ll see quickly who is cut out to be a retail sales clerk and isn’t when you up their game. Next it is time to up your game and find better people.
  3. Marketing & Advertising: I’ve heard many business owners lament, “If only I had more traffic …” First learn how to better take care of the traffic you have. Then, when you spend your money to learn how to get more traffic, you’ll reap twice the rewards.
  4. Managing Your Money: Good sales and a growing market cover a lot of sins. Those sins get exposed at the first downturn. Make sure you are measuring and managing the right numbers to protect yourself for the long run.

In a few days the dust will settle on 2018. As you set your priorities for 2019, keep this list in mind. I’m sure you can probably think of a few retailers (cough, Sears) that didn’t (cough, Toys R Us) invest in (cough, Kmart) becoming better at (cough, Bon Ton) what they do.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I will be rolling out some new training programs based on the list above. Last fall, if you recall, I launched The Ultimate Selling Workshop designed for working directly with you and your team. Next month I will have newly revised programs, some designed specifically for working with business owners, some to work with managers and assistant managers, and some to work with your whole team. The priorities you set for 2019 will dictate much of the success you reap this time next year.

Christmas Quick Tip #10 – Move Stuff Around

For the holiday season I am keeping these posts short and simple. You’re busy. I’m busy.

Here is tip #10 …


By now you’ve had a pretty good taste of what people want. You already know the slow movers, the stuff you had high hopes for but haven’t seen the sales. Now is the time to move it.

Here is how you sell that merchandise without heavy discounts …

  • Move it around
  • Put it in a better location
  • Give it a spotlight and a sign
  • Treat it like it is special
  • Talk it up to your customers
  • Talk it up to your staff
  • Give your staff a spiff for selling it

It is better to mark it down a little and move it now while you have a lot of customers than try to move it in January at really deep discounts when you don’t have the traffic.

You have from now until Friday to identify those slow movers and relocate them in the store. (On Friday the men start their Christmas shopping.)


-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Remerchandising should already be the busiest thing on your schedule as you constantly shift inventory to make the store look full.

Christmas Quick Tip #9 – Empty Her Hands

This month’s blog posts are short and simple because you’re busy. They are also reminders of tips, techniques, and tools you can use to increase sales, increase profits, and increase customer delight. This tip does all three.

Here is tip #9


If you don’t have shopping carts or baskets, your customers are limited to buy only what they can carry. Therefore, it should be a mission for all of your team to help unburden your customers whenever their hands are full.

Offer to take her items up to the checkout station.

This is good for two reasons. First, it frees up her hands to shop for more items. Second, it helps close the sale because when she agrees to your request to take the items up front she is giving her implicit acknowledgement that she has decided to buy those items.

When her hands are free she will shop longer, buy more, and be happier.

Don’t believe me? Believe Paco Underhill. He researched it for decades and chronicled it in his book Why We Buy. If you haven’t read it, ask Santa to bring you a copy.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Come up with a system for your team when they bring items up front—put a sticky note with a name on the pile and/or have a designated place for piles—something that helps you keep piles organized so that the wrong items don’t go home with the wrong people.

Christmas Quick Tip #7 – Lead with the Best

Of all the Christmas Quick Tips I will give you, this one will be the hardest to master and quite possibly the most rewarding when you and your team do master it …

Here is tip #7


Your customer is looking for solutions. Yes, at this time of year we call them gifts, but at the end of the day, they are really solutions to problems.

When you offer suggestions, unless the customer has given you a price range right up front, ignore price altogether and start by showing the best solution you have.

It doesn’t have to be the most expensive. It just has to make the most sense.

The tendency of most retail salespeople is to sell from your own pocketbook and start by offering the cheapest solution. That doesn’t win hearts (or build profits). You can use the cheapest solution as the fallback when they balk at the price of the best solution, but always lead with the best.

A customer will expand his or her budget if the product offered truly fits her needs.

You are a solution provider. Your job is to provide the best possible solution first. Then the customer can decide what she’s willing to compromise to fit her budget.

Teach your team that goal number one is to solve the problem in the best way possible. Always lead with the best.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Never open with the question, “What’s your budget?” First, they almost always lowball you well below what they would actually spend for the right product. Second, it pigeonholes you and often keeps you from showing her the right product. She’ll tell you when it’s out of her league, and you can adjust your offerings from there.

PPS Some of my favorite stores have successfully talked me into buying a more expensive item than I planned. I love those stores because in each case the solution was worth the expenditure. On the flip side, there are stores I won’t visit again because they tried to upsell me something that wasn’t the best solution to my problem. Always lead with the BEST.

Christmas Quick Tip #6 – Coins First!

Keeping it short and sweet, here is another simple, easy tip you and your team can do to make the holiday experience a better one for your customers.

Tip #6


If you’re a regular, you know this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. It shows both a lack of caring and a lack of training when the cashier hands me the bills first and then dumps the loose change onto my already occupied hand. The coins inevitably spill and now I’m wasting time on my hands a knees for a couple dimes.


The best thing you can do is teach your staff to “Count Back” the change.

The second best thing you can do is to at least have them place the coins in the customer’s hands first, followed by the bills.

Please, please, please teach and do this. Not only will you avoid those awkward hands-and-knees moments, you’ll subconsciously make your customer’s day (or in my case, you would consciously make my day and I would probably let out a rebel yell of joy!)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I do think it is a big deal. There are little things that have bigger meaning. This is one of training and caring. A cashier taught the right way instills far more confidence than one who is bumbling around and making you drop stuff.

Christmas Quick Tip #5 – Start Closing at Closing Time

Since your time is tight, now through December 21st I’m keeping these blog posts short and simple with tips, tools, and techniques that make a difference.

Here is tip #5


Not before.

Yes, you’re tired. Yes, these are long days and you want to go home. Yes, waiting until closing time to wash the counters, count the change, empty the wastebaskets, etc. will make you have to stay a few minutes later.

Yes, your last customer of the day deserves the same enthusiasm as your first customer of the day.

Make it taboo for anyone on your team to mention how tired they are. This is your moment to make hay. This is what your whole year has been built around. You’re supposed to be tired at the end of the day. Just don’t let it show.

Treat the last customers with the same enthusiasm as the first customers. Don’t go around the store closing things down and making them feel unwelcome. Instead think of them as the icing on your sales cake and give them the red carpet treatment.

Even if you have to fake it.

It not only pays now with bigger sales at the end of the day, it pays down the road as a customer treated well is more likely to come back than a customer treated like a nuisance.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I was guilty of this far too often. It is the one mistake I wish I could go back in time to fix. Yes, they are long days for you. Have you ever considered it has also been a long day for your customer? Treat her with kindness and enthusiasm and not only do you get the sale, you just might make her day.

Christmas Quick Tip #4 – Never Say No

For the rest of the Christmas season I am keeping these blogs short and simple with one tip, tool, or technique you and your team can use to make this season rock!

Here is tip #4 …


You are going to be asked quite often for products you don’t have. Either you’re out-of-stock or you don’t carry that product (or maybe you’ve never heard of it). 

When the store is busy and you have other customers waiting to be helped, it is easy to simply say No and move on to a customer you can help.

Resist the urge.

Train yourself and your staff to Never Say No. Try out these phrases instead …

  • I have some coming in soon. Can I arrange to have it sent to you as soon as it comes in?
  • Are you looking for that particular item, or can I show you something similar?
  • We prefer this brand instead (be direct)
  • What are you hoping to do with that item? (if you know this isn’t just meant to be a gift)
  • Can you show me what it is? (if you’ve never heard of the item)

All of these phrases are conversation starters. Often a customer is looking for a specific item because she doesn’t know alternatives exist or she has an idea in her head and can only think of one solution. When you start the conversation, sometimes you find better solutions than the one she asked for.

If all you do is say No, they often quit asking.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Here’s another tool I stole from a fellow toy store owner. Create a “No List.” Put it on a clipboard up front. Every time an employee gets asked for a product you don’t have or a service you don’t offer, write it on the No List. If one thing ends up on that No List several times, you should consider selling that item or offering that service. Your customers already think you would.

Christmas Quick Tip #3 – Sign ‘Em Up Before Checkout

You’re busy. I’m busy. Our customers are busy. So in the interest of time, I’m keeping all the posts from now through Christmas short and sweet.

Here is tip #3


If you have a loyalty program, birthday club, or email list that you normally ask customers to join, you need to get in the habit of doing that long before they get to check out.

By the time the customer gets to checkout, they are in a hurry to leave. Anything you do then to slow down the line is an aggravation and leaves a bad taste in their mouth. They are not in a sharing mood then.

The best time to sign someone up is during the sales process. Not only are they in a friendlier mood, they are in less of a hurry and more willing to say yes.

Once you get them to say yes to your program, you make closing the sale that much easier.

Now is a good time to farm for your lists. Hire a seasonal person to wander your store with a tablet and/or clipboard and sign people up for your loyalty/birthday/email list. You’ll get more takers, close more sales, and keep your registers humming at optimal speed.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you don’t have enough salespeople to have them all doing this job as part of their sales process, hiring a seasonal person for this will more than pay for itself down the road. Plus it gives you one more person on the floor to direct customers where to go and deter shoplifters.

Christmas Quick Tip #1 – Thank You

It’s the busy season. You don’t have time for a lengthy blog with stories and explanations. So to make your life easier, now through December 21st I’m going to post simple, quick tips you can use and share with your staff to raise the bar for your customers. (Don’t ask questions. Just do these things and it will make a difference.)

Here is tip #1 …


Remind yourself and your staff to always say, “Thank You,” to every customer. Never say “Here you go,” or “No problem.” 

Even when a customer says Thank you to you first, you respond with a thanks or use Chick-fil-A’s, “My pleasure.” Say it and mean it. Those customers have choices and they chose you. Be sincerely thankful.

One study showed that 68% of people switched loyalty in stores because of indifference. Be grateful and you’ll never have that problem.

You cannot say “Thank you!” enough!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Thank you for reading and sharing this blog.

Small Business Academy Homework – The Interviews

I’ve been taking an online class for startup businesses. Frances Schagen, my instructor, is allowing me to do my homework live on this blog. You can read the first two installments here and here.

In the last assignment I had to identify twenty potential customers. I identified customer profiles, but Frances wanted actual potential customers because part three of this business-building class is to interview these potential customers to see if they would even be interested in the product I am offering, and what advice they might give me to help me refine my offerings.

Panorama of Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a large crowd
Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a packed house in Grand Rapids, MI

If you read Part 2 you know that I identified two different groups of customers for my Phil’s Forum speaking business—Small Business Owners and DDA/Main Street/Trade Association Directors.

I spoke to several of the former and three of the latter group to ask them what they thought about what I was offering.

The insights I got from both groups, while not exactly eye-opening, were helpful.


I spoke to several retailers, some who have seen my presentations and some who have not. They fell into three categories …

  1. Those who actively seek education
  2. Those who take advantage of it when it fits into their schedule
  3. Those who don’t see the value in it.

That last group was interesting because it included people who used to be in the first two groups but have become skeptical or disillusioned because of the lack of value in programming they have tried or speakers they have seen.

One person told me he stopped going to educational events like the presentations I offer because they always seem to include a sales pitch.

“They give you a nugget or two, but if you really want to learn anything of value you have to buy their package.”

Another person told me she was tired of seeing presentations where the speaker didn’t do his homework and knew nothing of her industry. I, myself, have seen speakers like that and know her frustration. Nothing worse than sitting in the audience knowing what you’re being taught won’t apply in your situation.

Group 2 was interesting. They only attend breakout sessions and workshops when they are already at an event for other reasons such as a trade show. When I asked if they would attend a workshop in their town or a special event that was solely focused on education, their responses included …

  • Don’t have the money
  • Don’t have the time
  • Don’t trust the speaker

Group 1 was the smallest, but also the most likely to attend workshops offered by the Chamber or DDA in their town. These people all followed my blog and had downloaded most of my Free Resources and were voracious readers. They still faced the time and money crunch of Group 2, but were able to see value that Group 3 couldn’t, so they made learning a priority.

Interestingly enough I saw successful business owners in all three categories. I also saw fluidity between the groups. Some of Group 3 had been in Group 1 in their early days. Some of Group 1 became that way after attending a presentation at a trade show as a Group 2 mentality.


I also spoke to three different directors, two of whom have hired me for leading workshops, one who hasn’t.

The two who have hired me before both run successful downtown merchant groups and are big believers in continuing education and see the value it offers their constituents, but both lamented the difficulty of finding enough Small Business Owners from Group 1 above to attend these programs. The directors both told me they had a lot of what I will call Group 2 constituents that complained about having time or money for such programming, so although the directors see the value, their difficulty is justifying the expense when only a few will benefit.

The one person I spoke to who hasn’t hired me, is similar to Group 3 above. He doesn’t see any value himself, doesn’t see anyone who would attend, and doesn’t believe the expense would benefit his organization enough to outweigh spending that money. In many ways he projects his own values onto his group in the way that your sales team often sells from their own pocket books.

I got four key takeaways from this exercise.

The first key takeaway for me is that the trade associations that have trade shows with educational speakers will be my best opportunities to find the largest audiences because there will be plenty of Group 1 and Group 2 type businesses there. The hard part is finding enough of these associations hosting this type of programming with a budget to hire outside presenters. Three industries I have approached in the past only hire from within because of Group 3 complaints that outsiders didn’t know their industry.

Other directors, especially downtown merchant groups, will be a harder sell, but still a strong possibility if they believe in continuing education for their members. I will really have to show them the value and help them show their members the value of workshops and presentations I offer. Past experience has shown me that Main Street programs are more likely to believe in continuing education.

The second key takeaway is to make sure I do my research into the industry for which I am presenting. When I spoke to the camera/photo industry I visited several stores before hand. When I spoke to the Garden Center industry the director of that show sent me tons of facts and info.

The third key takeaway is to make sure my presentations have value you can use right away. Fortunately, that has been my goal from the beginning. I’ve been in those audiences where the speaker holds back all the good stuff that you can have for three easy payments. I don’t want to be that guy. I’ve been in presentations where the speaker didn’t know the industry. I don’t want to be that guy, either.

My final key takeaway is to realize that not everyone will want my services, and that is okay.

It is not worth the time and energy to try to convert those people into customers. A quick no and I’ll put my resources elsewhere.

This was a fun exercise. I got to connect with some old friends. I got some valuable insight. I got some reaffirmations of what I am trying to do.

Your key takeaway should be that it is good to talk to your customers from time to time to see how you can make their shopping experience better. You should also talk to people who don’t shop with you to see why not. What obstacles are keeping them from shopping at your store? Those customers may not be worth your time and energy.

Then again, they might give you that one little nugget you need to change your business for the better.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One other thing I learned is that this blog is one of the ways I build trust before a presentation. I went back and noticed a slight bump in blog views every time a trade association named me as one of their speakers. You were checking me out to see if I walk the talk. That’s good info to know.

PPS Since time is a factor—especially this time of year—the next 19 blogs (every weekday through Dec. 21) will have a slightly different format. I will being purposefully making them short and simple with little things you can do that will make a difference. Think of it as your Advent Calendar for retail.