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The Thirty Questions to Find Your “Silver Bullet”

I got suckered in once. Long before the phrase “fake news” came into existence, back in the days when Norton and MacAfee were the only names in anti-virus protection, my computer started slowing down.

Then up popped an ad for a free diagnostic test of my computer, guaranteed to clean it up and take it to speeds the factory settings never could. I downloaded it and immediately all these warnings came flashing on the screen telling me I was infected and needed to download this fancy, official-sounding fix right away before I lost critical data.

Yeah, you can probably guess the rest.

I took the computer to a local shop who cleaned several viruses and Trojans off the hard drive and got me back to my normal, plodding, limited-by-my-service-provider-not-my-computer speeds.

We’re all looking for that quick-fix, aren’t we? That guaranteed, take-you-to-the-next-level tool that will transform your business? That’s why scams like that computer virus one worked so well. We all keep thinking there is that one silver bullet we’re missing that will make all our ills go away.

Here is where I’m supposed to tell you there isn’t a silver bullet. Eat less and exercise more, right?

The truth is there is a silver bullet. And a bronze one. And a gold one. And a titanium-plated, platinum-infused, diamond-encrusted, gold-leafed, emerald-cut, space-aged aluminum, time-released-capsule one.

The problem is that every business needs a different bullet. In retail there is no one-size-fits-all bullet.

You might be struggling with cash flow while your neighbor down the street needs help with a better marketing message. The store on the next block has a customer service problem, while the store across the street is in a market with too many competitors.

What retailers really need is a good diagnostic tool to help you identify the true problem(s). Unfortunately your business isn’t like an automobile where you can plug it in and see what’s wrong.

You can hire a consultant, but unless they have a background in understanding independent retail, they might not be able to diagnose your true problem either. You can try to do it yourself (I gave you a few Measuring Cups to use in an earlier post), but it is often hard to read the label from inside the bottle.

Since I am the DIY guy of retail, though, I want to show you the approach I would take to diagnose where your business needs work so that maybe you can find the demon holding you back. If you were to hire me, I would look at your business in this order …

  1. Core Values – Is your business aligned with your Values? If not, how and where can we change things?
  2. Market Potential – Where do you stand in your market? Who are your competitors? What is your share of the market? Is it shrinking or growing? What local factors influence your market presence?
  3. Customer Service – How much of your business is Repeat and Referral? How much training do your front line people have? What skills do they have? How well do they greet, meet, and interact with customers? How are their “closing” skills? What services do you provide? Do your services lean customer-friendly or business-friendly? Do you meet and exceed expectations?
  4. Inventory Management – How is your cash flow? What is your Profit Margin, Turn Ratio, Accounts-Payable-to-Inventory Ratio, Cash-to-Current Ratio, etc? What are the “must-haves” and how was your stock position on those items last year? Where is the fat that needs to be trimmed from the inventory? What systems do you use to keep from over-buying?
  5. Marketing & Advertising – What is your Marketing Message? Is it consistent across all platforms (including the in-store experience)? How can we make that message more powerful and effective? Where are you spending your marketing money? Are there cheaper, better alternatives for reaching the people you want to reach? Are there collaborations that make sense? Are you harnessing all the free publicity available to you?

Notice the order of things. Most businesses come to me saying they need help with their Marketing because they aren’t getting the traffic they want. Yet sometimes the problem is their business isn’t aligned with their values so they aren’t attracting the right types of customers. sometimes the problem is there aren’t enough customers in their market to sustain their business. Sometimes the problem is their service is so bad, those who do visit are telling friends to stay away.

Better Marketing won’t fix those other problems or help the business.

If you want to run your own diagnostics, there are several hyperlinks to articles and blogs related to the thirty questions posed above.

If you want to hire me to run your diagnostics, I’m going through that list in that order until we find the first problem.

There is no single silver bullet to fix any and all retailers, but there is a bullet to slay the specific demon holding you back. I encourage you to run your diagnostics on your own to see if you can isolate your problem. When you do find it, send me an email and I’ll help you brainstorm several solutions to solve your problem on your own or with help.

There is a bullet for you, but it’s buried in the haystack next to the needle.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I hired a consultant once. He compared my Turn Ratio to Walmart’s and told me my problem was inventory control and that I needed to go to “just-in-time” inventory where I had at most a one-week supply of inventory on hand. My dad hired a consultant. He compared our prices to Kmart and Toys R Us and said our prices were too high and then pitched a total revamp of our sales floor into a circus theme (not sure what that had to do with prices). If you’re going to hire someone, make sure they have extensive experience working with indie retailers. Make sure they have a list like this one, too, that spells out what they’re going to evaluate.

PPS Sorry for the mixed metaphor at the end. It sounded good in my head.

How Your Core Values Influence Your Work

For a short period of time I was between bookkeepers. The job fell on my shoulders for a few months. While this was a godsend in one way because it helped me better understand the job and the skills necessary to do the job well, it also frustrated me because one of the most important tasks was filing papers. I hate filing papers.

I would have a small stack of papers, a nice, neat, organized set of file drawers, and folders already labeled and waiting, yet I couldn’t muster the energy to spend the ten or fifteen minutes to put those papers away.

Mock me all you want (those papers did) but it just wasn’t something I liked to do. My desk at Toy House was almost always a mess of piles.

That’s me attempting to clean my desk once again! (Yes, that’s my Core Values Character Diamond in the background)

I’m still that way. My keyboard is surrounded by piles of papers that just need to be put away. My mouse has the barest minimum of space to work. No one would look at my office here at home or at the store and accuse me of being a neat-freak.

Yet when I was out on the floor I was constantly straightening products on shelves, cleaning up messes, and rearranging merchandise to keep it organized and pleasing to the eye. I detested a messy store and worked long hours to keep it clean and neat.

Why the Jekyll and Hyde?

The office was for me. The sales floor was for my customers.

As you remember, one of my Core Values is Helping Others. Keeping a clean and organized office helps me. Keeping a clean and organized sales floor helps my customers. When you look at it through that prism, you can see why the former was so difficult and the latter was so easy.

This is just one of the many reasons why knowing your Core Values is so important. It helps you understand the decisions you make. It helps you understand why you put your priorities in a certain order.

As you’re evaluating the previous year and plotting your course for 2019, I encourage you to evaluate last year’s results through the prism of your Core Values. See just how much influence those values have on your everyday existence. You’ll be surprised to see how much of your pain was from when your business and your values were at odds and how much of your joy was when they were aligned.

When you begin to see it, you realize you have the power to harness your Values to bring you more joy.

I hired a bookkeeper to do the stuff that helps me and spent my time doing the stuff that helps others.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sometimes you have to do the painful stuff yourself. I wrote about how to muscle through that here. Sometimes you need to hire someone to do the things you don’t like to do, don’t want to do, or don’t have the talent to do. I wrote about how to find those people here.

PPS If you aren’t sure of your Core Values, here is a worksheet I use to help people identify them. You’ll know it is a true value of yours when you see it in your business, too.

When Do You Become an Expert?

Back in December I published my thousandth blog post. Each post takes about an hour and a half to compose on average, so I’ve dedicated about 1,500 hours to blogging. According to Malcom Gladwell’s “10,000-Hour Rule” in his book OUTLIERS I’m 15% of the way there to being an Expert blogger.

I spent twenty-three plus years working full time retail at the management level. Assuming 2500 hours/year (50/week), I have 58,750 hours of experience working retail. Believe it or not, but that still doesn’t necessarily make me an Expert on retail.

One of the reasons is that the 10,000-Hour Rule requires you to “practice the right way” for those 10,000 hours. Just having years of experience in retail doesn’t mean you’re any good at it or getting better at it—especially if you aren’t practicing it the right way.

It is the continual practice that Gladwell believes is the key. Continual practice, however, is severely lacking for most retail employees.

Just because you trained them back when you hired them does not turn your staff into rock stars.

Experience is only valuable if you are also Learning and Evaluating while Experiencing. 

Famed scientist Niels Bohr had his own take on how to become an Expert … “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

That is awfully hard to do, so as John Luther said … “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

According to Bohr and Luther, you have to fail and learn from your failures (or at least learn from everyone else’s). 

Here is my own recipe for becoming an Expert:

  1. Learn
  2. Do
  3. Evaluate
  4. Repeat

Follow those steps over and over. Learn, Do, and Evaluate. The third step is the trickiest because it requires brutal honesty to really be able to Learn more. Yet it is also the most vital because because your future Learning requires proper Evaluation.

Sometimes that Evaluation leads you to the conclusion, “I need to Learn from someone else.”

That’s what happened to me in 1996 when I took over the hiring and training for our staff. I started reading all the books I could find on hiring. When those didn’t match my own evaluations, I wrote my own book.

It happened to me again in 2005 and led me to take classes on Advertising and Branding from Wizard Academy where I learned whole new tools for measuring my business, many of which I share in this blog.

It happened to me once more in 2012 when the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association asked me to write a book about the Financials of a typical toy store. I spoke with several accountants until I felt comfortable enough to translate accountant-speak into retail-speak.

It happened to me in 2013 after having already written three hundred blog posts and knowing I still needed to learn more, so I hired a writing coach to help me understand and write more clearly for my audience.

When do you become an Expert? I think the real answer is … When you’re smarter than most of the other people in your field.

How do you get smarter than most of the other people in your field? When you Learn, Do, Evaluate, and Repeat.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The idea for today’s post came late last night. I was thinking how much I would rather write about “winners” this year than write about the mistakes others have made. Those posts are more fun. Those quotes, however, reminded me that learning from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others is our best path to becoming better ourselves. Hopefully I’ll still have plenty of winners to highlight this year. Please send me stories of the retailers and small businesses doing it right in your area. We can learn from them, too. Please forgive me if there are a lot of posts about businesses doing it wrong. My hope is to save you from being one of them.

PPS If you feel stuck in your Marketing & Advertising, Hiring & Training, Customer Service, or Inventory Management, let me know. If I can’t be the resource you need to get to the next level of Learning, I often know the right direction to point you to find that resource.

The Right Measuring Cups

When the recipe calls for 1 cup Vegetable Oil do you reach for a teaspoon? When it says 16 ounces Sour Cream do you grab a scale? Of course not. Sure, you can get close with those tools, but it won’t be as accurate nor as handy.

Yet we do that in retail all the time. We use the wrong tools to measure our business.

For instance, most businesses look at Sales Growth as a barometer of their business health. If sales went up, business is good. If sales went down, business is bad.

The problem with that tool is that it doesn’t take into account what happened in your local marketplace. If your sales went up 5% but your market grew by 10%, then your business is not on the right path. If your sales were down 2% but your market shrunk by 5%, you captured a larger share of your market.

You have to know how to calculate Market Share to truly know the health of your business.

RECIPE FOR MARKET SHARE

Market Share: your percentage of the Market Potential for your trade area. Calculate Market Potential by finding the Annual Sales for your entire industry, divide that by the population of the United States and multiply that answer times your own trade area population. Then adjust for income levels. The math looks like this …

  • Industry Sales = $20.2 billion
  • US Population = 325 million people
  • Your Trade Area = 150,000 people
  • US Average Household Income = $59,039
  • Your Area Household Income = $63,026 (6.75% higher than US average)

$20.2 billion / 325 million = $62.15/person

$62.15 x 150,000 = $9.3 million

$9.3 million x 1.0675 = $9.9 million Market Potential

(Note: that number can be adjusted again for one other factor dependent on your industry. For instance, if you’re in the toy industry you can adjust for the number of children in your area compared to the national average. If you’re in the boat industry, look for something along the lines of percentage of boat owners nationally and in your area.)

Figure out your percentage or share of that market and whether it is growing or shrinking. That will be a more accurate measurement than your top line sales.

CUSTOMER SERVICE MEASUREMENT

How do you measure something as abstract as Customer Service? One tool is Units Per Transaction (UPT). While several factors can influence this number including your merchandising skill of impulse items and whether the items you’re selling have more or less accessories than last year, the largest influence on this number is your sales force. Are they taking care of the customer properly? Are they completing the sale? Are they making the customer feel welcome, comfortable, and happy? Are they building trust?

The calculation for UPT is simple. Take the total units sold during the year and divide that by the number of transactions.

75,000 units sold / 22,000 transactions = 3.4 Units Per Transaction

If that number is going up, your team is doing their job.

Another measuring tool that is slightly harder to quantify, but equally effective in telling the true tale of your customer service is Repeat and Referral Business.

Repeat Business is a sign of Good Customer Service. Referral Business is a sign of WOW Customer Service. Your service was so good they had to bring their friends back with them. If you’re tracking transactions by name in your POS, you’ll know your Repeat Business. You can also ask when you enter someone new into your POS how they heard of you. If they say “from a friend” mark them as Referral.

The ideal business has a majority of their customers as Repeat and Referral. The raw number of Repeat and Referral Customers should hopefully be growing and should be a larger percentage of your traffic. The larger, the better.

MARKETING AND ADVERTISING MEASUREMENT

Sure, you can run a coupon or a Call to Action in every ad to see how many people it drives to the store. But if you have been reading this blog or following the wisdom of people smarter than me like Roy H. Williams or Seth Godin, then you know that kind of advertisement leads to short term gain and long term pain.

One other way to measure the effectiveness of your advertising is from your Repeat and Referral Business. Add those two numbers together. The remainder of your traffic is your marketing-driven business.

Yes, some of that traffic is based purely on your location. Your location is part of your marketing. Your signs on your building are part of your marketing. Your parking situation is part of your marketing. Your advertising is also part of your marketing. If the raw numbers of people coming through your doors for the first time and not by Referral are growing, your marketing is working.

Which part of your marketing is working? That is a little bit harder to measure. As famed retailer John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

At least you have a tool to see if it is working in general. (Check the Free Resources for Making Your Ads More Effective to figure out how to make all halves work.)

When you use the right measuring tool, you get a better result. That’s true for cooks, bakers, and small business owners. 

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Before you plan for 2019, you really need to know what happened in 2018. Even if your top line sales rocked the world and your bank account is fatter than usual, if your Market Share decreased or your Repeat and Referral Business fell off, you have important issues you need to address sooner rather than later. I’d love to help you address those issues.

Looking Back at the “Top” Ten Blog Posts From 2018

Somewhere around the first of the year a lot of writers like to publish their “Top Ten” list of most viewed posts from the previous year. Wouldn’t it be smarter to post the least-viewed posts, the ones most people missed? Give people a second-chance to read your wisdom. As it is, just because a post is the most-viewed doesn’t make it the best.

This year I’m going to give you a variety pack of posts from 2018 and why you should read them (again).

The post you didn’t miss: Yes, I have Heard About Toys R Us. This was the post with the most views last year. I made a prediction in the PS of that post that has turned out to be right. Go read the post to see what I predicted.

The post you missed: Few Things Go as Planned. This was the post with the fewest views. I wrote this at the beginning of the year to remind you to plan, but to also understand that things don’t always work out the way you plan them and that you have to be able to adjust on the fly. Ask yourself, “Did 2018 happen the way you planned?” I’m betting right now your answer is No. Go read this post.

The milestone you didn’t know about: Christmas Quick Tip #3 – Sign ‘Em Up Before Checkout. This was post #1000. To some people, those numbers are kinda cool. I didn’t make a big deal about it then because it was the busy holiday season and those posts were designed to be short and sweet. by the way, this isn’t just a Christmas time tip. It is a smart business practice.

My favorite post of 2018: Five Proven Recipes. In this post I give you Paul Harvey’s recipe for a backyard mosquito spray, an all-natural weed-killer that works (if you spray regularly), and simple, tech-free recipes for raising the bar on your Hiring, Advertising, and Customer Service. Sometimes the simple ways are the best.

The post that got the most social media interest: So You Got a Bad Review? This post had the most comments on social media and was the first post of mine that was “shared” on LinkedIn (a new feature they’ve added). Best of all, it had no negative reviews, lol. If you’ve had a negative review, you might want to read this.

The best question you will ask your staff all year: How to Learn From the Best. This was actually the second least viewed post, yet the most telling about where you stand in your local retail marketplace and what you need to work on the most. Ask your staff this question and listen to their replies.

The post I wished you had commented on: This “Free” is Really Free. The site stats counter tells me I get hundreds of downloads of the different Free Resources each year. I’d love to know how you’re using them and what success you might be seeing because of them. Go ahead and leave some comments there (or here).

That’s your lucky seven posts you should have read (and hopefully did). I’m going to leave three more links in the PS below for the adventurous souls among you to round out the “Top Ten”.

Happy New Year!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I triple dog dare you …

How to Use Humor in Your Advertising the Right Way

Quit Making it So Hard for People to Buy From You

“Customer Service” is Dead

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
www.PhilsForum.com

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 …

MOVE STUFF AROUND

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.)

Go!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

EMPTY HER HANDS

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
www.PhilsForum.com

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

LEAD WITH THE BEST

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
www.PhilsForum.com

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

GIVE THE COINS BACK FIRST

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.

Ugh!

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
www.PhilsForum.com

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.