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“Everything Cheaper Somewhere Else”

I used to hate anonymous commenting on news articles and blog posts. It is so easy to hide behind a pseudonym and take unsubstantiated potshots at people and businesses, spread rumors, and even spread downright lies.

As a retailer, I took every negative comment and review of my business personally. Some of them hurt, especially when they weren’t true. The misunderstandings were one thing but the outright lies were the worst. They cut to the bone.

I remember one day in the infancy of online news when a fellow downtown business owner alerted me to comments posted on an online news story that attacked both my store and me personally. He warned me not to read them. I didn’t heed his warnings.

One person had taken it upon him or herself to just rip the business up one side and down the other, calling us, among other things, price-gougers who were just out to destroy the little people in town. This person claimed that he or she could find everything we sold in our store cheaper online.

I took offense to the first part. The person posting the comment had no idea what I paid myself or my staff or our profit margin or what we gave to charity or what causes we supported. I am a forgiving person, though. I will forgive them their ignorance.

The second part, however, was pretty much true. Not only could that person show you the items cheaper, I probably could, too. After all, I had Internet access. I could also show you sites and stores where just about everything we sold was more expensive than our prices. That exists, too.

In fact, if prices weren’t fluid across different channels, Retail would look a whole lot different and be a lot less fun. Everyone would pretty much do the same thing and charge the same for it. Yawn.

Image result for valueRetail is a game, and the game can be boiled down to this … Find the Value you can give the customer that will make it worthwhile for them to pay the price you wish to charge.

At the ballpark they charge you more for a single beer than you would pay for a twelve-pack at the store. You buy it because you want to drink a beer during the game. There is enough Value in enjoying that beer while watching the game that makes you pay the price. (Don’t want to pay their outrageous prices? You can eat before you go to the ballpark. Most people can handle 3-4 hours between eating. You can also drink water for free. They have to provide it to you.)

People call them price-gougers all the time. It doesn’t stop them from raising their prices and making money. They offer you the Value of being at the game and watching the action in person.

The real question you need to ask yourself as a retailer is … What Value are you adding to the equation and will that Value be enough to get people to pay your prices?

You can add Value in several ways. You can:

  • Offer services other stores don’t have (i.e. layaway, free gift-wrapping, assembly, delivery)
  • Curate the selection to help customers get only the best solutions
  • Align your business with a social cause
  • Offer follow-up services (such as the free 30-day riding tuneup that we used to offer with every bike we sold)
  • Build relationships to the point that the customer feels as much ownership in your store as you do.

Any one of those is a way to “play” the Retail Game. Play more than a few of them and you’ll never worry about how someone can find “everything cheaper somewhere else.”

Were we the lowest priced game in town? Nope. Never tried to win that race to the bottom. But in a 2007 survey of Jackson County residents about stores that sell toys in Jackson, we were rated as having the highest “Value” ahead of Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, Kmart, and Meijer (all whom love to advertise their “lowest prices”.)

What Value are you adding to the equation?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I have a good friend also named Phil who also ran a toy and baby store in the other Jackson (MS) who never liked MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) because it made everyone price their goods at the same price. He said true merchants have no problem with the undercutting of prices on the Internet because they know how to offer Value and make sales at higher margins. As much as you hate to admit it, he’s right. MAP only protects you at the margin the vendor thinks you should make, not the margin you deserve for all the value you offer.

PPS As for anonymous negative comments online, if they are an attack on your character or the character of your business, ignore them completely. Your actions speak louder than your words. Use your actions to prove that person wrong. If the comments are simply something misunderstood, you can respond for clarification, but only if you can substantiate your claims without putting down the person who made the comment. More often than not, however, it is best to ignore anonymous comments, period. I’ll talk about how to respond to Reviews in a future post.

PPPS A few of those ways to play involve the skills and training you give to your front line staff. As I pointed out before, that is probably the easiest way to add the kind of Value your competitors are not adding to their equations.

Earning Trust One Holiday at a Time

I walked into a large chain furniture store. There was a line of salespeople waiting to pounce on anyone walking through the door. It reminded me of the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin’s character was waiting in line to use an ATM while another line of muggers waited to mug everyone after they got their money. It was almost that comical.

I wasn’t there to buy anything, just to gather information. (I’m the guy. Of course I don’t get to make final purchasing decisions on furniture. If they had been trained on personas, they might have suspected that in the first place.)

The sales lady was pleasant and helpful, finding all the information I needed. She was also trying all the closing techniques you read in all those books on sales. She definitely was trained in the Always Be Closing mindset. When it looked like I really wasn’t going to buy, she played the trump card.

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends today?

I thanked her for her time and kept browsing. Then, as the playbook would dictate, her manager came over to try to close the sale she couldn’t close. It wasn’t happening. He left me with this …

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends tomorrow?

For more ways to earn your customer’s trust, buy this book!

This is why customers don’t trust us. They know we are all about the sale. We’ll say anything to get that sale.

Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities we used to earn back some trust by showing we cared about more than just the sale. We posted every year on social media that we were choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving and open at our regular time Black Friday morning. We did it so that my staff could enjoy the holiday and/or go shopping for Black Friday deals themselves. We’d have coffee ready when the shoppers visited at our normal hours.

This willingness to forego opportunities for sales paid off long term because it strengthened our reputation of caring more about people than money. Lose the battle to win the war.

Plus, that post went viral almost every single year.

Twice our local newspaper wrote about it. The radio and television news people talked about it several times.

Trust is fragile, yet it is a critical element for winning customers’ hearts and minds (and eventually their pocketbooks). When you sacrifice sales for the purpose of serving your staff, your customers, and/or your community, you build that trust up. When you say or do anything just to get the sale, you lose that trust. Your choice.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you are in a mall, you have no control over your hours. If you are in a strip mall or shopping center where there is a big draw that brings in a lot of traffic, it behooves you to be open for all those customers the other store is attracting. That’s smart customer service. But if you are a stand-alone or in an area where no one else is drawing traffic, you can choose to not be open early. It won’t cost you as much in sales as you think, but it will win you a ton in trust.

PPS If you cannot control your hours, there are other things you can do and state publicly such as pay your staff overtime, grant them extra comp time, have food for them while they are working, serve coffee for staff and customers, and donate to charity. Show the public what you truly value. Those that share your values will find you.

Friends With Benefits

Align yourself with charity. Pick one or two local organizations (or more if you’re up to it) that you feel strongly about. Do something special for them. Help them out. Be their friend and ally.

You’ll both benefit from the friendship.

Santa Paws 2015 #1

This is a picture of the Cascades Humane Society doing their annual Santa Paws event – pictures of your pet with Santa Claus. They called me a few weeks ago looking for a space to take the pictures. I have a stage. I love dogs – especially rescued dogs. I said yes.

They coordinate getting Santa here. They hire the photographer. They set up the backdrop. They sign up and schedule the photo shoots. They work the tables. They get the profits.

We get the traffic. We get the goodwill. We get the customers telling us how nice it is that we are doing this for them. We get the social media exposure. We get exposed to everyone on their mailing list. We get our name mentioned in their press releases (and non-profit press releases get picked up far more often than for-profit press releases).

Our friendship with them brings benefits to both of us.

When you partner with a charity, you expand your reach. You get exposure to a crowd of generous people who love to give to charitable causes (can you think of a better demographic for the independent retailer?). You get touchy feely goodwill because you are helping out. You don’t just look like a greedy merchant. You strengthen your community (the better the non-profits do, the better everyone does).

Make friends with a charity or two. You’ll reap the benefits.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Your charity doesn’t have to be aligned with what you sell. We don’t sell pet toys or pet food. Pick charities based on a few different factors such as…

  • Do they have an active base of followers?
  • Do they want to “partner” with you (or simply have you do all the work)?
  • Do they align with your own personal core values?
  • Are they well-respected in the community?

Those are all good reasons for making friends.

9 Ways to Draw Traffic With Only $400 a Month

A fellow store owner was contemplating an advertising deal offered to her from Yelp that was going to cost about $400 per month. That got me thinking about what different things you could do to draw traffic with $400/month.

  1. You could rent a bouncy house and run it in your parking lot every Saturday.
  2. You could run a customer survey poll in your store and donate that money to the charity your customers vote on every month.
  3. You could give away eighty $5 gift certificates to people who have never been in your store.
  4. You could buy an espresso machine and give away free espressos every day.
  5. You could have your customers help you invest it in the stock market and track each investment on a big board in the store with proceeds going to a local charity.
  6. You could use it to send eight $50 gift baskets to your top customers each month.
  7. You could use it to hire a valet parking service for your busy days.
  8. You could use it to host classes and meetings at your store.
  9. You could use it to pay top-level local entertainers to perform at your store.

Don’t be limited by your media choices for getting the word out. There are far more options than just online, broadcast, print and billboard. There are as many ways to draw a crowd as your mind can conceive when you let it get creative.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS My favorite is #2. Just imagine all the charities sending their people in to your store to stack the vote each month.

A Bad Day at Golf

Those of you who golf know this saying…

A bad day at golf beats a good day at work anytime.

I put that saying to the test today.

I played in a charity golf scramble for The Exchange Club of Jackson to benefit the Jackson County Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.  It was low 50’s and rainy all day including one driving rainstorm early in the round.  I never expected we would even play so I did not dress properly for the round.  By the end of the day I was soaked and chilled to the bone.

Yet to everyone who asked me, “How was the golf?” I responded, “Great!”

Was it out of reflex?  No.  I actually had a lot of fun.  And the reasons why hold lessons we can apply at work.

I had fun because I was doing something I love to do.  I love to golf.  I love the challenge of mastering the elements, mother nature, and my own body all at the same time.  I love the exhilaration of making a great shot, sinking a long putt, and bouncing back from a bad hole.

Do you love your work, the challenges, the exhilarations and the bounce backs?

I had fun because I was in good company.  We laughed, we joked, we lifted each other up.  We kept a positive attitude after every missed birdie opportunity, after every rain shower.  We helped each other out, picked up each other’s errant shots, encouraged each other to excel.

Do you work with good people who help each other out and lift each other up?

I had fun because I knew we were making a difference.  The regional president of the Exchange Club was there.  The former president of the National Exchange Club was there.  The people who were going to benefit most from the fundraising were there.  Just seeing the difference my paying to play golf would make was fun.

Do you make a difference in the work you do, too?

I had fun even though the weather was lousy, our golf was barely up to par (pun intended – we were three under par, the winning score was seventeen under par), I lost six golf balls, and I didn’t win the 32″ TV they gave away as a door prize.

But I cannot say it was better than a good day at work because I do love my work, I do work with great people, and we do make a difference.  If you have those three things, you have the envy of everyone.

I’ve had some pretty awesome days at work.  Now, had the sun been shining, though…

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  If you want to love your work, commit to a mighty goal.  If you want to work with great people, hire them.  If you want to make a difference, make one.

Community Involvement Pays Off

You have already been asked to sponsor seven walks, three golf outings, two spaghetti dinners, a pancake breakfast, and forty-five silent auctions.

Every non-profit thinks your pockets are lined with gold.

And they all promise the same thing. “We’ll put your logo on our t-shirt. Thousands of people will see you.”

Yeah, right.

The only people who see the logo on a charity event t-shirt are other charity event planners looking for potential suckers, I mean, sponsors. No one has ever made a purchasing decision because of a logo she saw on a t-shirt.

But that does not mean you should not be involved in the community and involved in helping out your local non-profits. You HAVE to get involved. If you do not support your local charities then you cannot call yourself a local store.

Here are two ways you can be involved in your community, support local non-profits, and still remain profitable.

First, give out gift certificates freely. For any local non-profit fundraising event, offer a $20 gift card. You are not out anything unless the card is redeemed and most customers will spend more than the amount of the gift card. Think of it as a customer-acquisition expense. It makes the non-profit feel supported and it gets your name out there in a way that guarantees you some return on your investment.

Second, for those groups who want money, not gift cards, hold a special day just for them. Tell them to pick a day that they can promote to all their followers. On that day you promise to donate to them 5% of whatever sales they bring you. Now the burden is on them to advertise your business for you. Yet look at what you get…

  • Publicity for doing something good for the non-profit.
  • A fixed return on your charitable donation.
  • Exposure to a whole new group of people.
  • Stature as a community supporter.

We have done this for different groups for a number of years. It is always a feel-good day, which gives an added benefit to your staff. They get fired up about it, too.

So get involved in your community. They need you and you need them. Pat their back. They will pat yours in return.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You can even have multiple non-profits on the same day. Our DDA is doing that with all the downtown businesses on Saturday, November 19 (National America Unchained Day) with fifty non-profits signed up.

Doing a Charity Event Right

We just hosted a fundraiser with our local radio stations for Toys for Tots in Jackson yesterday morning. We raised over $6500 in donations of money & toys and all that money was quickly turned into sales at our store. For a one-day event in a market like ours, that was a pretty good day.

In fact, it was a win-win-win. Toys for Tots won because of the incredible exposure and the huge outpouring of the community (not to mention $6500 worth of toys). We won because of the incredible exposure and the $6500 in sales. The kids won because we made a major impact on not just the quantity of toys they will receive but also the quality.

Using a charity as a way to draw traffic is a huge marketing tool. Here is a how-to:

Find a Charity
First, you need to find an appropriate charity. We chose Toys for Tots because we sell toys. If you sell coats, line up with a Warm the Kids campaign. If you sell eyewear, contact the local Lion’s Club. Somewhere there is a charitable group that needs what you sell.

Then meet with the coordinator for your local organization. See if he/she has a radio station that is willing to support them. Local AM talk-radio stations are good for this. Their listeners include lots of business people and community-minded people who are more willing to support local causes.

Plan an Event
Next, have the charity contact the radio station to plan a morning event at your store. For our event we had both the AM and FM stations do their morning shows from our store 6am to 9am. They read the news, announced the weather and talked about the charity all morning long while encouraging people to come to our store or make donations by phone.

But be sure to have the charity make this call. Since they are a charity, they are more likely to get the radio station to do the promotion for free on their behalf. You just happen to be the location of the event.

After that, contact your local bakery and local coffee house. They might be willing to donate coffee & donuts for the free plugs on the air. If not, still support them and buy a few dozen donuts and brew a full pot of coffee. Get some OJ for the kids and non-coffee drinkers.

Set up an Account
Then set up a special account for the charity. That way you can take donations all year long. If someone wants to “tip” you, encourage them to instead make a donation to the charity through you. We actually raised over $500 this way in the past year. (Note: make sure your bank will accept checks from you that are made out to the charity.)

When you have your event date, promote the heck out of it through your own channels, too. FB, website, email, etc. The radio station usually talks about events like this on the air for about a week prior. You should spend at least a week or more promoting it too. Send out press releases. Call/email your favorite reporters.

Be Gracious
And finally, when you get the chance to be on the air, remember to make it all about the charity, Thank everyone who makes a donation. Shout-outs are great, especially when they are community leaders. We had half of our city commission come in this year so on the air we challenged the other half to step up – and they did! Our DDA director showed up minutes later to make a donation, afraid that he would be called out next.

Teaming up with charities is always a positive. It also makes your staff feel good. And at the end of the day, not only will you have done something wonderful for the community that benefited you, too, you will have created a perception of your business as the experts in town.

Merry Christmas!


PS Email me if you want more details of what we did.

New Freebie for Non-Profits

I’ve just posted a new eBook in the Freebies section of my website titled Non-Profit Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

It’s my notes from the presentation I gave yesterday to the Jackson Non-Profit Support Network about simple ways non-profits can improve their marketing without spending a ton of money.

Thanks, Regina, for the opportunity to speak to your group. They are doing important work and I was glad to have this opportunity to support them.

If you’re in a non-profit or know someone running a non-profit, click here to see what I said.


PS Printing more than one copy – or distributing the free eBooks electronically – is not only legal, but is actively encouraged. Please share the documents in the Freebies Section with anyone you think would benefit. Pass them along to coworkers, colleagues and friends with my blessing. You may also reprint the text in your own writings as long as you credit the author (me:-).

How Much Are You Giving?

Wal-Mart recently announced that it gave $467 million in charitable donations of cash & in-kind gifts to non-profits last year.

Some people will read that and say, “Wow, that’s a lot of money! Way to go Wal-Mart!”

Others will do the math and see that with $401 billion in annual sales for 2009, Wal-Mart’s donations to charity were a paltry 00.12% of revenue. “Geez Wal-Mart, is that all you have to give?”

The bigger question is… Where do you stand? Did you give more or less as a percentage? Are you supporting the non-profits in your town? Are you giving more than 00.12% or are you letting Wal-Mart take the high ground?

I only ask because $467 million is a big number and people like big numbers. You’re not making enough to give that much, but percentage-wise I’m betting you give more. Add it up and see where you stand. If you’re higher, you need to let the community know that supporting you supports them, too. If you’re lower, you have to ask if you’re doing your part to support your community. If nothing else, I guarantee that number will be enlightening.


PS Full disclosure… for 2009 our charitable donations including cash & products totaled 0.55% of revenue – and yeah, I think that’s too low.