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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.

Making it a Better Place to Work

When the tech world exploded onto the scene, everyone talked about the amazing workplace environments at these start-ups. Ping Pong and Foosball tables everywhere. Open floor concepts and collaboration-fostering layouts ran rampant. Legacy companies started changing their infrastructure to match, thinking it would help them attract better people.

News flash: it didn’t work.

In retail it wasn’t even possible. If you had a Foosball table in your retail store it’s because you sold Foosball tables. Even in my big toy store we didn’t have the room for recreational equipment in the employee lounge.

That doesn’t mean you cannot make your work environment attractive.

If you remember from my last post, the way to attract and retain a better level of workers is to pay them more and make the work environment attractive. While workplace layout and break time activities are nice perks on the job, there are two other things your employees want more than that.

Praise & Recognition

PRAISE IN THE WORKPLACE

Praise isn’t a Millennial thing. Praise has been raising productivity since the beginning of time. It is a basic instinct in the animal kingdom. We use praise and positive reinforcement to train animals. When given with sincerity, it works equally well with humans.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, either. A simple, “Thank you,” every now and then, or a, “Way to go!” or “Nice job!” will do wonders for the overall attitude of your team and the feelings in the workplace. You just have to be looking for those opportunities to give that praise.

Even when someone doesn’t do something perfectly right, finding something to praise about what they did will raise the bar for their next time.

Jim Henson of the Muppets was a notorious task master. When he filmed scenes for Sesame Street, he would often shoot a scene dozens of times to get it right. You would think someone that relentless would be a tough boss to work for, yet those who worked with him regularly still sing his praises and talk about what a wonderful experience it was.

Why? Because after each take, Jim would say something like, “Wow! That was amazing! I really liked how you did that one part of the scene. I’d like to do it again, and this time try to do …”

He used Praise to get what he wanted.

Contrast that to the typical situation where you get called into the boss’s office for something you did wrong, knowing your ass is about to be chewed. How would it feel if the boss started out with, “Wow, that was amazing!”? See the difference?

Sometimes you just need to eliminate the anti-praise in the office.

For instance, IF YOU USE ALL CAPS IN YOUR MEMOS AND EMAILS, YOU’RE YELLING AT YOUR STAFF AND THEY DON’T LIKE IT! Please stop.

Or, If you use a significantly larger font than normal in your inter-office emails, you’re yelling at your staff. Please stop.

Those types of actions negate any praise you might be giving elsewhere.

RECOGNITION IN THE WORKPLACE

Once again, this doesn’t have to be a big deal. I’m not talking about participation trophies. I’m talking about simple things like acknowledging everyone on your team with a Hello each day, a thank you for working for you each day.

People want to be recognized as humans. Your team members have families, have struggles, have illnesses and doctor visits, have bills to pay, have fights with their spouses, have pets that need to be put down, have kids growing up and moving out, have parents moving back home, have weddings to attend, have 80th birthday parties to plan for their parents, have worries and doubts.

Recognizing them as fully-grown humans capable of great things (and big mistakes) and not just cogs in your machine is a must if you want to foster an attractive place to work.

Recognizing their strengths and weaknesses and putting them in the best position to succeed is a game changer for any business.

If you have creative people, give them room to create. If you have by-the-numbers people, give them a good list of instructions. If you have leaders, let them lead. If you have followers, give them a great example to follow.

Most importantly, recognize them for being just as human as you are. Give them a schedule that fits your needs and theirs. Be as accommodating as possible to their requests for time off. Celebrate their victories. Help them learn from their mistakes. Be in their corner to support them. Give them the tools, training, and responsibilities to help them be successful.

That’s the kind of Recognition they desire.

All the Foosball and Ping Pong tables in the world can’t overcome a toxic workplace filled with criticism and uncaring bosses. There isn’t an office layout on the planet that can overcome the hopeless feeling of being an unrecognized cog in a machine.

Those start-ups that were successful did so because they found like-minded individuals and treated them well. That’s what it means to have an “attractive place to work.”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Before you hire your next new employee, look at the culture of your workplace. Do you recognize and praise your team? Do you treat them like humans? Do you put them in positions to succeed? Get the workplace part right first. Then we can work on how to find better people.

PPS You might be surprised to find that when you start praising instead of criticizing, the employee you thought of as useless has just become amazingly useful.

You Can’t Overpay Good Help

My grandfather stole one of his best employees away from another job. The young high schooler was making 75 cents an hour. My grandfather offered him $1.05 to work at Toy House. He took it.

I still recall the big grin on my grandfather’s face when he told me the end of that story. The other business owner was furious and called him. “Phil Conley, you can’t afford to pay him $1.05!! What are you thinking?!?!”

Oh, but he could.

Toy House Birthday Party May 1974
My dad and grandpa are on the left in white. I’m the clown in the middle.

That was one business adage my grandfather lived by. You can never overpay good help.

Just yesterday I heard the same advice from none other than Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads. He was speaking in a podcast and addressed the issue of how to find good employees in today’s market. (If you have to make an hour drive, this podcast will be the best way to spend that hour by far!)

Roy said there are two things you need to do to have a great team:

  1. Pay way more than the market price to attract better people
  2. Make it an attractive place to work to keep them

It’s that simple.

I know what you’re already saying. “But Phil, I can’t afford that. I don’t even pay myself.”

First, if you’re not paying yourself, go read this blog post from last summer. Second, start paying yourself.

Third, and most importantly, do the math. Ryan Deiss of The Digital Marketer said in the same podcast that the business willing to pay the most for customer acquisition will have the best customers. The same is true for employees.

The business willing to pay the most for employee acquisition will have the best employees.

If you have the best employees, if you have a full staff of rock stars, how will that affect your sales? You better believe they will go up.

Repeat and referral business are directly the result of your Customer Service. They are directly the result of your employees and their ability to rock your customer’s world.

They are directly the result of your ability to attract, hire, train, and retain the best staff.

Overpaying for good help creates an upward spiral. Cutting employee costs leads to a downward spiral. Don’t believe me? Just walk into any of the declining department stores and look around for someone to help you.

And before you go telling me Millennials aren’t the same quality of workers, I’ll counter with several Millennials I’ve hired over the years that will outwork anyone you’ve ever met.

Last month I did a presentation on how to Attract, Hire, Train, and Retain Millennials. You could sum up most of the talk like this …

  1. Pay way more than the market price to attract better people
  2. Make it an attractive place to work to keep them

Thanks, Roy, for saying what my grandfather taught me decades ago. It works!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS That young guy my grandfather hired was my father, one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known.

PPS The podcast with Roy H. Williams and Ryan Deiss is full of other great insights from two of the most amazing marketing minds on this planet. Normally you would pay tens of thousands of dollars to have an audience with either one of these guys. Here is the link to do it for free.

What Emotion are You Selling?

I have a new game I play when I walk into a retail establishment. I try to guess the “emotion” that store is selling based on the look of the store, the approach to the store, the front door, and what hits me when I walk through the door.

One store I went to was selling “disgust.” There was trash all around the front door. There were old, faded, torn signs in the window. There was an ashtray right by the front door and the staff obviously used that location to smoke while on break.

As I mentioned before, retail is a game of managing emotions. The last thing you want is a customer who feels scared, frustrated, or disgusted walking through your front door.

Have you ever had a serious discussion about emotions with your team? Have you ever looked at your store through the lens of “emotion?” We did all the time when we talked about our Smile Stories.

Now, when I play my game, I try to think about not only what emotion the store is selling but what emotion they should be selling.

Did you ever wonder why insurance companies build these beautiful buildings with waterfalls in the lobby and nice brick facades? They are selling Security and Peace of Mind. They are selling Trust. How trusting would you be if your agent was in a run-down double wide at the end of a dirt road?

If you’re a shoe store, depending on the type of shoe, you might be selling Confidence or Performance or Comfort. Does your store design echo that concept? Does your staff embody that ideal through their dress, actions, and attitude?

If you’re a grocery store you might be selling Fresh or Healthy. Does the store look Fresh or Healthy? Are your signs up-to-date? Are your displays neat and clean? Nothing undoes a grocery business more than the feelings of “old-and-stale.”

Clothing stores have lots of options for the emotions they could sell including Comfort, Joy, Confidence, Relaxed, Hip, Elegant, etc. The trick is to develop and train a staff that exudes that emotion.

The same is true in my new role working for a vendor. If I want HABA USA to be known for the high-quality products we sell, then everything we do from our catalog to our website to the displays we create for our retailers has to be done with the same high-quality standards. Our team has to be one of high-quality, too. Extra training, extra knowledge, and extra care must go into every hire.

One of HABA’s strongest traits is Caring. In my short time on the team I’ve been able to see it in several forms such as how our products have multiple levels of design to give children the most opportunity for growth.

I’ve seen it in how HABA cares for the environment by only sourcing wood from sustainable growth forests, by only using non-toxic, environmentally-friendly stains and finishes that exceed safety standards the world over, and by using renewable energy sources at their factories.

I’ve seen it in how HABA gets involved in organizations like ASTRA and the All Baby & Child Expo serving on boards, offering sponsorship, and lending expertise.

(Since one of my Core Values is Helpful, can you see why I was so excited to have this opportunity?)

No matter what you’re selling, at the core of it, you’re selling an emotion. The better you align with that emotion, the better your sales.

Roy H. Williams said it best, “We use logic of the mind to justify what the heart desires.”

Sell the heart.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sorry if this felt like a plug for HABA USA. I’ve been studying all the lessons I learned as a retailer and applying them to my role as a vendor. As you can see, the principles are still the same.

PPS It is hard to overcome a negative emotion. In a couple days the brewery where I would often play guitar will be closing. When it first opened three years ago, they didn’t have everything up to the standards they are today. I had several friends who never came to see me play because they had a negative experience early on. As hard as the brewery tried, it couldn’t overcome the early impressions. I will miss his beers and whiskies.

Show Me Something New

I was talking with one of my sales reps earlier today when she reminded me of the most common phrase every salesperson hears (one I uttered several times)

“What have you got that’s new?”

Every smart vendor knows they have to be showing new stuff all the time to keep the buyers’ interests. We do that at HABA USA with new product releases at least twice a year.

It is this obsession with, “Show me something new,” that has me thinking today.

Does this obsession actually help us or hurt us?

“New” does not always mean “better”. For instance, there hasn’t been a better overall toy made than the basic wooden block. The same holds true for the LEGO block invented 70 years ago. At the end of the day, all the themes disappear into the simple bliss of imagination and constructive play.

Sure we have new ways to communicate via email, text, and social media. But building relationships with your customers has never changed. In fact, I could argue building relationships is more important now than it ever has been. (I will make that argument on the floor at the ASTRA Marketplace and Academy in June. Hope to see you there.)

“Show me something new” also takes on a different meaning based on the person asking the question. An Early Adopter wants to see something no one else has seen. An Early Majority person wants to see something that has recently been given the stamp of approval by the masses.

When I was a buyer at Toy House, I asked that question a lot; partly because I had already seen the rest of the line, partly because I didn’t have time to go over items I had already rejected, and partly because my sales reports would tell me what was and wasn’t selling of the older stuff I had bought.

As a store owner/manager, however, I had to be more careful with the “new”. Not every new marketing scheme was a winner. Not every new POS system or credit card processing offer was a worthwhile program. Not every new technique for hiring/training/managing a team was a time or money saver.

I had to have a prism through which I would I would view everything new. Once again that Early Adopter/Early Majority dichotomy came into play. (If you don’t know those terms, click the link back there for an article explaining the Diffusion of Innovation.)

I am an Early Majority type person. I don’t need the newest, latest innovation. I prefer the tried-and-true. Here is how I viewed “new”

New Products:

  • Does it have the same Play Value as what it replaces?
  • Does it meet the needs of my customers in both play value and monetary value?
  • Is it from a vendor with whom I have a relationship (or want to have a relationship)?
  • Does it fit with our Core Values as a company?

New Services:

  • Is it proven to work as or more effectively than what I am currently doing?
  • Does it save me time or money or both?
  • Is it consistent with our Core Values as a company?

If I were an Early Adopter I might look at “new” like this …

New Products:

  • Does anyone else have this or a similar product already?
  • Is it considered “cutting edge” in any way, shape, or form or simply a twist on something old?
  • Can I get an exclusivity on this product?
  • Does it fit with our Core Values as a company?

New Services:

  • Is anyone else in my category already using this service?
  • Does it enhance the company image of being “cutting edge”?
  • Is it consistent with our Core Values as a company?

“Show me something new” has been the mantra in sales long before I arrived and will still be there long after I am gone. At least now you have the questions to ask to know if something “new” is worth it to you in the long run.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There were times where I wanted to ask the sales rep, “Show me something you’re about to discontinue.” We had stretches where our best sellers from several lines were discontinued by the company because we were the only store able to sell those items. As a large store in a small, blue-collar community, I had to do a lot of volume to pay the bills. We did best with Early Majority, tried-and-true products. That knowledge helped us be better buyers for the long run.

PPS Did you ever wonder how something could be both “New” and “Improved” at the same time? Yeah, me too.

Removing Barriers and Obstacles the Toledo Museum of Art Way

I could probably go back through the records of Toy House and tell you when the first nice Saturday of spring hit every year. You know the day. After a long winter, it is finally sunny and warm enough to not need a coat.

We never had much traffic on that first nice Saturday. People were doing yard work, taking down Christmas lights they had unplugged months before, and pumping air into bike tires that hadn’t seen pavement since Halloween. Our busiest part of the store was the back door where the air compressor sat.

It was the cold, rainy Saturday that followed that was usually our best day.

Last Saturday was one of those cold, rainy days. The temperature hit 41 degrees for the high. The rain was steady all day. I did the other thing you do on cold, rainy spring days when your shopping is done. I went to the Toledo Museum of Art.

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend the TMA. The museum has a fabulous collection including a couple Van Gohs, a couple Renoirs, some amazing sculptures, and a fascinating glass display. It’s fairly easy to find, too. There is a nice parking lot behind the museum that has several covered spaces (perfect on a rainy day) near the back door entrance.

We crossed the street, checked our umbrella and coats, and spent a couple hours lost in the amazement of art. There were docents and security guards at every turn (sometimes it was hard to tell one from the other as they all seemed to know everything about everything) to make the trip more enjoyable.

All of this was quite impressive for a museum where admission is free and parking is only $8.

But before you think this is just a plug for a museum, I want to tell you the part of the story that blew me away. Here are the three key factors to remember so far. It was raining. We walked in the back door. We checked our umbrella because umbrellas are not allowed in the museum.

For those of you not familiar with Toledo, OH, it is known as Glass City. Owens-Corning and Libbey Glass both have their origins here and a long history with Toledo. One of the coolest parts of any trip to the Toledo Museum of Art is right out the front door and across the street at the Glass Pavilion.

Here you can see a demonstration on glass blowing and some of the most beautiful works of glass you can imagine.

Our dilemma was that it was raining and our umbrella was downstairs by the back door.

I stood staring out the front door through the rain to the Glass Pavilion, at which point a security guard handed me a large red golf-style umbrella with the words “Toledo Museum of Art” printed on it. He had a whole rack of them by the door. Across the street I could see a similar rack inside the door of the Glass Pavilion.

We grabbed an umbrella and off we went.

Without the umbrella, we might not have made that trek. It would have involved heading out the back door and walking around a massive building in the rain. Or it would have involved putting raincoats to the test. Not everyone at the museum had a raincoat that day.

Yet the museum director had the foresight to recognize this obstacle, order a bunch of umbrellas, and make it easier for patrons to enjoy all aspects of the museum.

The lesson in this is to look at your business with the same eye. Look for the obstacles and barriers that keep people from shopping at your store. Is it your hours? Is it your location? Is it your lack of parking? Is it your restrictive return policy or the limitations on how people can pay?

The more barriers you can remove, the better.

Change your hours to better accommodate the times your best customers can shop. If parking is an issue, create valet parking (get your neighboring businesses to pitch in because they’ll reap the benefits, too). Change your policies to make it easier for customers to pay.

Every barrier you remove adds to your bottom line—no matter what it costs.

Why? Because of the word-of-mouth. Do things no one else is doing to make it easier for your customers and they will tell their friends. Do the same thing everyone else is doing and there is nothing to say.

In fact, the two questions you should be constantly asking are:

  • What barriers or obstacles keep my store from getting more shoppers and buyers?
  • Does this new policy/procedure/campaign/tool/tech/program make it easier or harder for customers to shop and buy?

The Toledo Museum of Art filled my cold, rainy Saturday with a warm, sunny rainbow of surprise and delight with a simple red umbrella. What can you do for your customers?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The fact it was hard to tell a docent from a security guard because everyone seemed to have so much knowledge was just icing on the cake. I like how the director of this museum thinks.

PPS If your neighborhood shops think valet parking is a good idea, take the lead on this issue and make sure the valet stand is close to your front door and associated with you. That way you reap the full benefits.

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.

Getting Internet Customers Back Into Your Store

I did a mash-up of two presentations at an event for the pet store industry last week. I took elements from Selling in a Showrooming World and Generating Word-of-Mouth and put them into a new presentation we called “Getting Internet Customers Back Into Your Store.”

It worked.

One of the reasons it worked so well was because it went beyond Showrooming. Showrooming is less and less of a thing as people are becoming more and more comfortable with shopping online. Customers used to showroom a lot when they didn’t feel they could trust what they saw online, but easy return policies and trustworthy sites are changing that.

Customers are going online first and staying online to buy.

The real issue today is that many people have become so comfortable with shopping online that it is now the default position. They would rather order it from Amazon than stop in and see you or the product.

That’s scary.

The problem is that you and I are partially to blame. Although roughly half of the population would love to shop for reasons other than price (“trust” and “experience” being the two biggest of those reasons), in the absence of those other reasons, price becomes the default, and, right or wrong, Amazon has won the minds of people believing them to be the best price.

ONE BAD EXPERIENCE SPOILS THE WHOLE BUNCH

The real culprit is the collective experience your customers have in all their brick & mortar shopping. Every time they step foot in a store, that store influences whether they keep shopping brick & mortar or go online.

Yes, you get hurt because JCP didn’t train their sales staff very well, because Macy’s cut back on payroll, because Walmart installed self-checkout stands. Yes, you get hurt by experiences out of your control.

How do you win those customers back that are defaulting to the Internet? By doing the kind of things in your store that get people excited, the kind of things that get people talking about you to their friends.

In short, you do the same things you would do to generate Word-of-Mouth advertising.

GO OVER-THE-TOP

Make your services, your events, your store design, your displays, and even the simple little interactions you have with your customers so over-the-top and unexpected that they can’t wait to tell their friends and are already planning their next visit to see you.

There are four words that pretty much define most peoples’ choices for where to shop—Price, Convenience, Trust, and Experience.

All the big chains have been fighting over those first three (well, really, the first one or two) to the detriment of the Experience, not realizing that Experience is the one thing that brick & mortar can always win over the Internet. Plus, Experience is a short path that leads to Trust.

Want to win the Internet customer back to your store? Give her an Experience worth sharing. She’ll be back and will be bringing her friends with her.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You and I both know Amazon isn’t always the best price. You and I both know the hassles and inconvenience of shipping (lost or stolen packages, missed deadlines, etc.). You and I both know no one cares as much about their customers as you do. No other retailer frets over a mistake or bad experience like an indie retailer. Yet your customers don’t judge you solely on you. You are judged three ways—as yourself, as part of a collective known as “indie retailers”, and as a collective of “brick & mortar stores.” One bad experience in those latter two groups hurts you. Your best defense is to play the Experience card. Play it hard and play it often until you become the unicorn in those other two groups.

PPS Indie Retailers used to own both Trust and Experience. Go read that third paragraph again. I shuddered when I said it last week in the presentation. I shuddered when I wrote it today. If we lose that word to the Internet, it will be a game changer.

How to Get a Block of Time to Work ON Your Business

The phone rings. The email dings. The customer clings. The UPS driver brings.

When you run a retail store, your schedule is not your own. Too many distractions, too many variables, too many interruptions for you to get any kind of time to work ON your business.

It helps to have a clean space to do your work, too.

Yet if you don’t get those orders placed, those forms filled out, those bills processed and paid, you won’t have a business to work on. How do you find the time?

BEFORE AND AFTER

The easiest way is to come in early or stay late. I used to drop my boys off at school at 7:15am and get two whole hours of uninterrupted work before the store opened. I know some retailers who take their work home and do some of it in the evening after the kids are in bed.

Unless you get to leave early or come in late, those time slots make for long days. Use those opportunities accordingly.

HIRE MORE PEOPLE

If you are scheduled to work the sales floor more than 75% of your time at the store, you need to hire another worker ASAP. A part-timer working 10-15 hours a week will give you that much more time to do what you need to do.

If you’re trying to get other work done in between the customers while out on the sales floor then you are NOT giving either your full attention or best service. 

You’re hurting your business if you try to do both at the same time. You’re costing your business the money it would have to pay for that part-timer.

More time to work ON the business means more time for marketing, more time for keeping inventory levels balanced, more time for planning training sessions. All of those lead to more revenue to pay for the extra help and then some.

As long as you …

EMPOWER YOUR EMPLOYEES

Give your employees the skills, the responsibility, and the green light to solve all of your customers’ problems. Let them handle all the unhappy customers who want to speak to a manager.

Teach your employees how to handle cold calls (which ones to blow off, which ones to reschedule, etc.). I had a hard, fast rule on cold calls. If you stopped by my business and this was the only time I could sign up for your program, then I didn’t want it. Period. Anything that has to be decided “under the gun” is never going to be in your favor.

Let your staff know you are in a block of undisturbed time. No phone calls forwarded, no cold calls, no customer complaints, no “quick questions”. Take a message for later. (Note: give them parameters for what is a reasonable reason for a disturbance such as a visit from government officials or the police, a friend in the store from out-of-town, a car crashing through the front window, etc.)

LABEL YOUR TIME

When you make your schedule, label your time. It doesn’t have to be labeled publicly, but you need to label it internally so that you know your priority for each block. It could be something general like “Order Writing” or more specific like, “Order LEGO.”

The better you label your blocks, the more productive you will be.

While it has been scientifically proven that we cannot truly multi-task, some people are better at switching gears back and forth between projects and interruptions than others. Even if you are blessed with that skill, your business will be even more blessed when you build blocks of time solely for the purpose of working ON your business.

Now you know how.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I liked two-hour windows of time. Two solid hours is a long time for you to do one thing. After that your production will decrease over time. If you can get two of those blocks a day, you’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish.

I’ll Get Right Back to You

You know those little red numbers on your iPhone? The ones telling you how many unread emails and texts you might have? I hate those numbers. I am obsessed with getting rid of them.

You should be, too.

I know you’re already too busy. You barely have enough time to read this blog. You find value in it, so you make the time.

Sending back quick acknowledgement emails doesn’t seem to have the same value so you don’t make the time. But it does.

Not counting spam, most of your emails are either questions, answers, or documents. Some require action, some, such as answers to questions you asked or documents you need, just require acknowledgement. I want to talk about the latter.

SAVING TIME

Taking a quick moment to shoot back an email that says, “I got it,” or “Thanks!” or even just “Received,” will actually save you time in the long run.

Why?

Because of the person on the other end of the email.

If your insurance agent, accountant, or payroll specialist sends you a document and you don’t acknowledge receipt, they are going to fret. Did you get it? Did it end up in your junk folder? If you don’t respond, they are going to send you another email, or worse yet, call you and take up your time in another way.

If someone sent you a thoughtful answer to a question you asked, they want the feedback that the answer was received. They’ll also get back in touch at the least opportune time to say, “Did you get my answer?”

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Acknowledging emails will also raise the bar.

Acknowledgements are courtesies. They tell the other person you value the work they did for you. They tell the other person you think about them, too. That makes your relationship with that person even stronger and makes them more willing to go to bat for you should the need arise.

BEING PROFESSIONAL

Little details like this make a difference in how your business is perceived. If you ignore emails, don’t acknowledge receipt of documents, or thank people for answering questions you asked, people will think less of you and less of your business. When the easiest way to grow business is through repeat and referral customers, the last thing you want is for anyone to think less of you in any way.

You know the equation … Time = Money.

Not acknowledging emails sent to you with documents or answers to questions you asked won’t save you time and will probably cost you money.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One disclaimer. It is acceptable for you and the person you’re emailing to set ground rules of when you will and when you won’t acknowledge. Without that conversation, though, you run the risk of wasting your own time, the time of the other person, and the reputation of your business.

PPS In my new job, I know that quick responses to emails is essential. In a customer-centric business, other people’s needs always trump my own. Yes, it does mean I’m constantly starting and stopping the projects I’m working on. I’ve also learned how to plan blocks of undisturbed time to get stuff done. Shall we talk about that next?