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Self-Diagnosis Tool #5 – Marketing & Advertising

My favorite class segment in the Jackson Retail Success Academy was always the Marketing and Advertising Segment. One portion of that segment was dedicated to Media, Myths, and Money. We would discuss all the various forms of media and how/when to use them properly. We also discussed several myths about advertising. One of the biggest myths was this …

Advertising will fix your business.

No it won’t.

If your customer service sucks, advertising will only draw in more people to find that out and tell their friends to beware.

If your product selection sucks, advertising will only find you more disappointed and empty-handed customers.

If your market isn’t big enough to support your business, advertising will only drain your coffers faster, and hasten your demise.

That is why, of all the Diagnosis Tools, this one is last.

Abandoned Boat on the Pond by the House

Think of your business like a boat. Your Core Values are the hull and body of the boat. Your Market Potential is the size of the body of water. Customer Service is the driver of the boat. Inventory is the engine/oars. Advertising is the launching of the boat. Would you launch if you knew you had a leak, didn’t have a driver, or had an engine not working? Of course not.

You need to make sure your boat is rock solid and ready to go before you launch. (Check out Tool #1 Core Values, Tool #2 Market Potential, Tool #3 Customer Service, and Tool #4 Inventory Management if you think your boat has even the tiniest of leaks.)

Advertising will not fix your business, it will only speed up what was going to happen anyway. If your boat is leaking, advertising will just sink you faster.

DEFINE THE TERMS

First, let’s understand the difference between “Marketing” and “Advertising”. Marketing is everything you do to attract customers to your store. Advertising is a subset of Marketing. It is the paid marketing you do through a form of media.

MARKETING

Marketing includes your building, your signage, your front door, the “Open” sign on your building, the events, activities, and classes you hold inside and outside your building, the networking you do by joining clubs and being involved in your community, the free publicity your garner, etc.

One of the first steps in this self-diagnosis is to list all of the ways outside of Advertising that you are Marketing your store. For some ideas of different things you can do, check out the FREE eBook Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

You should have a healthy list of ways you are marketing your business outside the realm of traditional advertising. Fortunately most of these ways cost more time than money. If you don’t have enough customers—the whole reason you’re marketing your business—then you should have the time.

Once you have that list, see which Core Values are evident in each activity. All of your Marketing efforts must be aligned with your Core Values to be most effective. If there is anything you are doing that doesn’t speak to your values, change it or drop it for something else.

ADVERTISING

The next thing to do is to look at your paid advertising through the same lens as your other Marketing efforts. Pull out all of the ads you ran last year. Look closely at the message you sent. Ask yourself these six questions …

  • Does it look or sound like an ad? Chances are good that it does. Did you know our brains are hard-wired to ignore advertising? Maybe you should create something that doesn’t look or sound like an ad to keep from being ignored.
  • Does it tell a story? Stories are more interesting, get people to pay attention, and are more memorable than facts and figures. Your ad needs to tell a story if you want it to work best.
  • Does it make only one point? The person seeing or hearing your ad will only remember one point at best, so only give her only one point to remember.
  • Does it speak to the heart? Emotions always trump logic. Always. What emotion does your ad invoke?
  • Does it speak to your tribe? Does it align with your Core Values? If you want to attract better customers, speak more directly to those people who share your values and ignore everyone else.
  • Does it make your customer the star? Ads about you will be ignored. Ads about your customer and what you can do to help her will gain her attention.

The message is more important than the media. Here is another big myth in Advertising …

You must reach the right people.

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. You can reach all the right people but if you don’t say the right thing, all is for naught. Also, everyone you reach is potentially the right person because even if they aren’t your customer, they know someone who is your customer.

It isn’t who you reach that matters. It is what you say to the people you reach.

Get the message right and everything else will follow.

(Note: to help you choose the right media for your business, go to the Advertising Media Reference Guide and check out your options.)

BUDGET

The last thing to check is your budget. How much should you spend on Marketing? Notice how I said Marketing, not Advertising? Part of your Marketing is your location. If you spend a lot in rent to be in a high-traffic area, you don’t have to advertise as much as the guy under the bridge on the wrong side of the tracks. The Cinnabon store at the airport doesn’t spend a penny on Advertising. He just bought a fan to blow that cinnamony goodness out into the terminal. That’s his Marketing Budget.

There are many formulas for calculating a budget. The one I like best came from Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads. He suggests you take 10-12% of your Gross Sales as your “Total Exposure” budget. Then multiply that by your Percent Markup (this is different than Profit Margin – the formula looks like this Percent Markup = (Gross Sales – COGS)/COGS) to adjust for your pricing and profit. Then subtract your rent from that number to find out what you should spend on Advertising.

For many businesses, however, that leaves a budget close to zero as rent is often 10-12% of your budget.

I will tell you to push that upper limit to 15% of Gross Sales, but only if you can find that money without taking it out of Payroll. If push comes to shove, Great Customer Service is always more important than Advertising. It is what drives your boat.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There you go … Five tools for evaluating your business to see where you need to improve as you sail into 2019. Take a critical look at all five in order and you’ll find your silver bullet for success. If you don’t think you can be those critical eyes because you are too busy trying to drive the boat yourself, call me. I’ll come do an analysis of your boat using all the criteria in these five Tools and show you where the boat needs work.

Self-Diagnosis Tool #3 – Customer Service

My favorite Smile Story was actually told to me by a customer, not my staff. Dawn had three grandchildren coming to visit her for five days. She wanted to have a different gift to give each child each day they were there. Fifteen gifts in all. Lakisha said, “I’m on it,” and led Dawn all around the store.

A few weeks later Dawn called me. “Phil, I have to tell you that gal of yours was fabulous. My grandkids loved the gifts. My grandson, he’s seven, turned to me and said, ‘Grandma, these gifts are better than if we had picked them out ourselves!’ Thank you, thank you, thank you! And thank Lakisha, too!”

That’s the phone call every store owner and manager dreams of getting.

If you’re regularly getting that call, you’re doing the right things with your staff and with your customer service. Go back to Tool #1 Core Values and Tool #2 Market Potential or wait until tomorrow for Tool #4 Cash Flow.

If you’re not getting that call at all and would be totally shocked if you ever did get a call like that, read on.

NOT AS UNMEASURABLE AS YOU THINK

Many people say Great Customer Service is not quantifiable, therefore it cannot be measured. I disagree. There are numbers you can run to see whether you and your sales staff are doing right by your customers.

I showed you two ways to measure your Customer Service in the post The Right Measuring Cups – Repeat & Referral Business and Units per Transaction. They are good starting points even though neither of those is completely perfect.

Sometimes your Referral Business is because of a product you sell that is hard to find. Sometimes it is because of some Over-the-Top Design element in your store your current customers tell their friends they have to see. I knew a jeweler who had a $30,000 diamond ring, way out of the league for that sleepy summer tourist town. She had tons of traffic right up until the day that ring finally sold. Once the ring was gone, her Referral Business dried up.

Sometimes your UPT grew because the hot item that year had several accessories or attachments. The following year the hot item had all those things included so your UPT fell.

I would still start there and see what you learn.

OTHER PLACES TO LOOK

If I were to come in to your store to do this diagnosis, here are some places I would look to get a handle on your levels of customer service.

  • Team Member Handbook – Do you have one? What does it cover?
  • Training Videos – Do you have them? If not, how do you handle new employee training?
  • Continued Training – How often does the staff meet for training purposes? What are you covering? How do you measure results?
  • Your Store Policies – Are they Customer-Centric or Business-Centric? Who do they protect?
  • New Hire Process – How do you find new employees? I want to see your Help Wanted Ads, Job Descriptions, and Interview Questions

If you don’t have a Handbook, you should make one. Write out all your policies. Write out all your philosophies. Write out how you will measure their employment. Have an HR professional and an HR lawyer proof it to make sure it is legal. Then give a copy to everyone and use it as your guide. It puts everyone on the same page and helps eliminate confusion from different team members saying, “That’s not how I was taught to do it.”

Training Videos are another way to make your staff training consistent and thorough. They don’t have to be fancy or even perfect. You can shoot them fast and simple on your phone, post them privately to YouTube, and provide the links to your new hires. If you don’t offer Training Videos, how else can you ensure that training is consistent and thorough? One way is to have the same person do all the trainings. Another is to include a checklist of everything to be covered. No matter which method you use, there also has to be a final check. One person who will verify what the new hire has learned and send him or her back for further training if necessary.

Continued Training is a must. Back in third grade I may have learned how to golf, but I’m still a few million hit golf balls shy of going pro.

“An amateur practices until he can do it right. A professional practices until he cannot do it wrong.” (source unknown)

One way we measured the results of our continued staff training was through Smile Stories. Every staff meeting began with Smile Stories where my team would share the different ways they made customers smile. Those stories not only reinforced the culture and the goal of the store – “We’re here to make you smile!” – but they also encouraged the team to actively seek out opportunities to make customers smile.

Store policies should be Customer-Centric, meaning they are in place to protect and help the customer. Liberal return policies, easy layaway plans, helpful services that make less work and less thinking for the customer are the hallmarks of Customer-Centric policies. If you limit what forms of payment or how much someone has to spend to use a credit card, you’re telling the customer that your nickels and dimes are more important than them. Once your product is no longer exclusive or hard-to-find, they will leave for someone who treats them better.

If you have aligned your business with your Core Values in a market with a lot of Potential, and are taking care of your customers the right way, you should see your Share of the market steadily climbing upward. Rarely does a company get through all three of these tools without recognizing areas that need shoring up. Start working on those.

Tomorrow we do math. (Just giving you fair warning.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If Cash is King, why does it fall all the way down to fourth on the Self-Diagnosis priority list? Because all the cash in the world won’t help you in the long run if your business model is flawed. Those first three priorities are all about your business Goals and Strategies. Buying and selling product is simply a means to the end. Notice how I didn’t say, “We’re here to sell you toys!”? Our goal was much bigger than that. Sometimes your Cash Flow problem is because you aren’t attracting the right customers (Core Values), don’t have enough customers (Market Potential), or are driving customers away (Customer Service). Make sense now? Get those three areas right first. Then you’ll know if your Cash Flow problems are truly Inventory Management problems.

Self-Diagnosis Tool #2 – Market Potential

When my son was in Cub Scouts, his Den Master was the manager of one of our local Kmarts. He gave me some amazing insight into the world of big-box retail including numbers of what the big-box stores in Jackson were doing in sales both overall and for toys.

It was an eye-opener, especially when I learned we were doing more in toy sales than both Kmarts in town combined.

Knowledge like that is game-changing. Knowing where you stand in your market, and what is happening to your market is critical to your success. Heck, just knowing if your market is even viable is quite important.

If you were a start-up looking to get into business, I would actually put this Tool ahead of Tool #1 – Core Values. Let’s go find a viable market before we even begin with the other stuff. As it is, if you’ve made sure your business lines up with your Core Values, the next step is to look at what is happening with your market. How big is the pie and how big is your slice of it?

CALCULATING MARKET POTENTIAL

The best way to find out the potential amount of sales in your area for your industry is to follow this step-by-step formula.

  1. Find the total dollars spent in your industry in the US. Usually a quick Google search can find you this number. For instance, in 2015 the Toy Industry was $19.1 billion.
  2. Divide that number by the US Population. In 2015 there were 322 million people in the US. $19.1 billion divided by 322 million equals $59.32/person
  3. Multiply that number times the population in what you consider your Trade Area. For instance, we considered Jackson County our Trade Area. Population 158,000 people times $59.32 equals $9.4 million Market Potential

For years I did the calculations and stopped right there. It is a close approximation. But it isn’t accurate. I needed to add two more calculations to get a true picture.

ADJUST FOR HOUSEHOLD INCOME

We didn’t sell groceries. We didn’t sell commodities. We didn’t sell basics like clothing. I needed to adjust the Market Potential based on the local economy. The number I used was Average Household Income (AHI). Find out the AHI for your Trade Area and compare it to the national average.

Back in 2015 the national average was $55,775. Jackson County was $43,170 or 22.6% less.

That adjusted our Market Potential down to $7.3 million.

If you sell luxury items, this is a critical step for understanding your Market Potential.

ADJUST FOR INDUSTRY DEMOGRAPHICS

You may also need to adjust your numbers based on a demographic specific to your industry. Since we started with total US sales and total US population to get a sales/person amount, we get a number that might be skewed for your area.

For instance, if you sell boats, your market is much bigger in Michigan with the Great Lakes or Minnesota with ten thousand lakes than it might be in Nebraska or New Mexico. You might look into average boat ownership per population and compare your Trade Area to the national average.

If you sell books, you might want to look at the educational level in your Trade Area compared to the national average.

If you sell toys, you might want to look at the youth population in your Trade Area.

This number may be harder to find. I was able to cross-reference the US Census to find that Jackson County had 6% fewer children than the national average. That dropped our Market Potential down to $6.8 million. 

Notice how those two adjustments really changed our Market Potential?

CALCULATE YOUR SHARE OF THE MARKET

Once you know your Market Potential, it is easy to find your Market Share. Simply divide your sales by the Market Potential. In 2015 our sales were 15.7% of the Market Potential.

I used a spread sheet for all of these numbers. I put in the formulas for calculating percentage differences. All I had to do each year was find the raw numbers and plug them in.

The power of doing this math is two-fold.

Not only do you know exactly where you stand in your market at any given time, you also know how your market is changing.

WHERE YOU STAND

Walmart has 25% of the grocery market and around 10% of the entire retail market in America. As sobering as that may sound, at one point back in the 1950’s Sears had over 50% of the appliance market. That’s a mind-blowing number—especially when you consider where Sears is today.

The real Gold Standard for any retailer is to achieve 30% of your Market. It will likely take a perfect storm to get any higher than that. Back in the early 1980’s before we got a second Meijer, a Target, a Toys R Us, and a Walmart, we were pretty close to that mark. For most independent retailers the more likely expected number is 3-5%. Our 15.7% was a combination of store size and longevity in the market, along with all the other things we were trying to do right.

The interesting point here, though, is not in how many people shop with you but in how many people don’t shop with you. Almost 85% of our Market didn’t shop with us. That’s a lot of potential customers. If I wanted to grow my business by 10%, I only needed to convince another 1.57% of the 158,000 people in the county (2500 people) to walk through our doors. If you only had 5% of your Market, you would only need to convince another 0.5% of those people to shop with you to achieve 10% growth.

Trying to convince 2500 people is far easier and much different than trying to convince 158,000 people. You only need to find 2500 people who don’t yet know you, but share your Values.

CHANGING MARKET

The other critical piece of information you can gain is by doing this calculation year after year and watching how the numbers change. Is your Market Potential growing or shrinking? Is your share of the Market growing or shrinking?

We watched two critical numbers during the Great Recession. One was Average Household Income. One was Youth Population.

From 2007 to 2016 our Youth Population for Jackson County dropped over 40%. I drilled down into those numbers and saw even worse news. While national birth rates were dropping during that time, our birth rates were even lower than the national average except for one glaring segment—teen births. The city’s birth rates, thanks to this segment, were similar to national averages while county birth rates were well below average.

Average Household Income didn’t fare much better. At one point the AHI in the city limits was hovering around the poverty line at $27,000. Our closest customers had no money for toys. The outer areas of the county where the money was had no children. Not a good recipe.

Add into that mix, we watched the Sales per Person of toys in the US also decline from a peak of $75.17/person in 2004 to only $59.32 in 2015. People were spending their money on electronics like smart phones, tablets, and computers.

Over the years our Market Share didn’t change a whole lot, but our Market Potential did. In 2007 it was $11.9 million and we had 16.5% of it. In 2015 it was down to $6.8 million and we still had 15.7% of it (even though Amazon had become a major player in toys around 2011-2012). 

COMPETITION

The other barometer Market Potential and Market Share give you is your own business’s health compared to the competition. While top line sales are nice, the true question you need to ask is whether your Market Share is growing or shrinking. You could be up 10% in top line sales, but if your market grew by 15%, someone else is eating your lunch.

If you have done your spread sheet and have several years of data to analyze, plot into the data when major competitors came to town or made major changes to their businesses. See how that affected your numbers. For instance, I can see that when Walmart opened in Jackson in 2005 our share dipped from 16.5% down to 15.9%. I can also see how we jumped back up to 16.4% the following year after the novelty of the new store wore off. I can also see how we dipped down to 16.1% in 2011 and 15.8% in 2012 when Amazon became a serious player in the toy market.

All of these numbers tell a story far more compelling than whether your store’s sales are growing or shrinking. They help you understand your business on a far greater and more important level.

If your Market Potential is growing, there is money to be made, but be cautious. The big guys are tracking that number, too, and might be looking to expand into your market. If your Market Potential is shrinking, you might need to look at moving, changing, or finding an exit strategy.

If your Market Share is growing, you’re doing things right. If your Market Share is shrinking, you have work to do.

That’s why you should make this your second priority to diagnose and understand.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Where does that 3-5% number come from? This comes from looking at average store sales for several different industries including toys, pet supplies, shoes, jewelry, photographic supplies, and flooring. While there are many outliers and the range is quite broad from large to small, the average store for most of these industries has enough sales to grab about 3-5% of their market. I use it purely as a benchmark for start-ups to be realistic about their business prospects in the first few years. Getting to 3% within two to three years is a realistic goal. If you’re in a town with a strong Shop Local movement that might be easier, but you might also have more indie competition. If there are no indie competitors, you have an unusually large store, and you’ve been the fixture in town setting the bar of expectation for over sixty years, your numbers should be much higher.

The reality, however, is that the number itself doesn’t matter nearly as much as what is happening with that number. Is it going up or down? If it is going down you need to find out why.

 

Self-Diagnosis Tool #1 – Core Values

I told you yesterday what I would do if you hired me to look at your business. Thirty questions inside of five topics to figure out what bullets you need to fire to get your business to the next level. Since one of my Core Values is Helping Others, I’m going to use the next five posts going over those questions more in detail so that you can try to help yourself. (Note: you can skip this post and just hire me to do this for you. Or you can read on. Your call …)

KNOW YOUR CORE VALUES

A business not aligned with the owner’s Core Values will not last long. You’ll constantly be fighting against yourself. If you haven’t done so already, take a few moments to read the eBook Understanding Your Brand (free download). Then download the Branding Worksheets. Those worksheets are designed to help you uncover your Core Values.

Toy House Character Diamond and Core Values
The Toy House Character Diamond – our Core Values that drive our business.

Mine are Having Fun, Helpful, Educational, and Nostalgic.

Once you know your Core Values, take a look at your store’s actions. Do they align? Actions speak louder than words.

SHOW YOUR CORE VALUES

You can figure this out two ways. Either first make a list of your Core Values then below each value list all the ways your business shows that value. Or make a list of everything your store does and then group those actions by similarity. That similarity will almost always align with one of your values.

(Note: this is page two and three of the Branding Worksheets.)

For instance:

  • Having Fun: Toy demos throughout the store, Monthly and weekly events including story times, game nights, and themed parties, Always willing to open a package and see what is inside
  • Helpful: Free Gift Wrapping, Layaway, UPS Shipping, Car Seat Installation, Carry-out and Delivery Service, Assembly, Gift Suggestions, Gift Registry, Bike Repair …
  • Educational: Free classes on buying baby products, Educational brochures on buying toys, Articles and links on our website, Posting of articles to social media, Email Newsletter, Educational signage throughout store, Belief that all toys teach (and knowledge about what each toy teaches)
  • Nostalgic: The Birthday Bell, New Baby, Birthday, and Christmas presents, A permanent history display, Classic toys like Lincoln Logs, LEGO, Barbie, Hot Wheels, and Slinky

You can see from that list how I incorporated all four Core Values into the day-to-day business operations.

ADD VALUE WHERE IT ISN’T

If there is anything on your list of actions that doesn’t fit into one of your values, how can you change that?

For instance, when I first learned about making my own values more apparent, I changed two things right away—my phone message and the bathrooms. Our phone message was very business-like and boring so I injected a little humor into it. Our bathrooms were dark, dingy, and plain. We added new light fixtures, painted the walls, and then posted fun and informational signs on the walls. Neither of those cost much money, but they turned negatives into positives.

We also bumped up those values where we could. Not everything on the above list existed before I decided to make those values more apparent. The history display, the educational signage, and an extra emphasis on toy demonstration stations all came from trying to make our Core Values more apparent and obvious.

ADD IT TO THE BACK END, TOO

I also attempted to make the back-end of the business more in alignment. I used my core Values in the hiring process to find people who shared those values. I tried to make our trainings more fun, helpful, and educational. I encouraged continuing education by helping pay for my staff to take classes and attend workshops on their own (even if it had nothing to do with selling—learning is learning and continued learning is a mindset).

I also used my Core Values in my advertising message. I learned quickly that ads filled with Nostalgia spoke to the heart much more deeply than anything else. I made sure every ad spoke clearly to one of my values.

One truth about human nature is we prefer to do business with people and businesses we like. We like people and businesses who share our values. Look at your strongest fans and followers. They share your values. They are part of your tribe. They figured out the values you’ve only so far been showing subconsciously. Imagine what will happen when you start showing those values consciously?

Here’s one more benefit …

When your business is perfectly aligned with your Core Values it will never feel like work!

I can honestly say there was never a day in 24 years where I woke up and said, “I’d rather be anywhere than at Toy House.” There were days I didn’t want to wake up, but not to avoid going to the store.

Aligning your business with your values helps you enjoy your business even more. It puts you in a better mood which puts your staff in a better mood, which puts your customers in a better mood. It also helps you attract the kind of customers you prefer—people who share your values. It also makes your decision-making much easier. Does what you’re about to do align with your values? Then do it. If not, then don’t do it.

Before you look at anything else, first make sure your business is aligned with your values. Then make sure those values are apparent in everything you do. Often that will solve some of the problems you are facing. More importantly, it won’t get in the way or hold you back from the other problems you’re trying to solve.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS A big shout-out to Roy H. Williams of Wizard Academy and David Freeman from Beyond Structure who were instrumental in helping me uncover my own Core Values and learn how to harness their power. Roy helped me find Having Fun and Helping Others. David helped me find Education and Nostalgia. Yeah, those values were there all along, but uncovering them, dusting them off, and being them more openly and consciously has helped me in more ways than I could have imagined. It will help you, too. If you need help uncovering your values, if you’ve done the worksheets and aren’t clear on your answers, shoot me an email.

PPS What if you are the manager, not the owner? I get this question a lot. If the owner is an absentee owner, the business will likely take on more of the values of the manager. But be forewarned. If those values aren’t in alignment with the owner, the manager will eventually get fired because the business isn’t “going in the right direction.” That’s why it imperative to hire managers who share your values whether you are there or not. Every member of my team had a healthy dose of Fun, Helpful, Educational, and Nostalgic bones in them.

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.

Christmas Quick Tip #18 – Cut Them Some Slack

We’re almost to the end of your very busy season. These posts have been short and sweet to keep you moving. Hope you have found them helpful.

Here is tip #18 …

CUT THEM SOME SLACK

I’m talking about your customers. You’re going to get some really rude customers over the next few days.

Some of them are rude people in general. You can ignore them and just be grateful you aren’t living their life. It must be miserable as hell.

Some of them are generally nice people feeling the stress and pressure of the season. You never know what is going on inside someone’s head and heart. They may be worried about the budget and bills they need to pay. They may be mourning a loved one who isn’t with them through the holidays for the first time. They may have problems at work or problems at home. They may be running late or just received bad news. They may have had an Alexander-and-the-Terrible-Horrible-No-Good-Very-Bad-Day kind of day.  More often than not, you’re just the straw on that camel’s back. Heck, it might not even be about you at all.

Cut them some slack.

In fact, the best thing you can do is kill ’em with kindness. Go over-the-top out-of-your way to be friendly, nice, and helpful to them.

To the first group who is always miserable, that’s the best way to annoy them, anyway.

To the second group, you just might turn someone’s day around for the better.

That’s called The Christmas Spirit! Spread it far and wide!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Have a pep rally with your staff and make the next three days all about killing them with kindness. Be the Joy you want people to have this holiday season.

PPS The rudeness tends to go away on the 24th. I’ve always said Christmas Eve was my favorite day to work retail. On the 23rd it was “my” fault for ruining their Christmas because I didn’t have the one toy little Johnny wanted that he put on his wish list in October. On the 24th they were just happy we were open, that we had lots of toys still in stock, and we gift-wrapped everything for free.

Christmas Quick Tip #17 – Give Your Staff a Break

In an effort to keep you moving this busy season, these blog posts will be quick and simple.

Here is tip #17 …

GIVE YOUR STAFF A BREAK

I know the tendency this time of year is to shorten lunch breaks and maximize your staff to handle the extra crush of customers these last few days as they do their last-minute shopping.

Guess who else has to do some last-minute shopping?

Your staff does. If you can give them an extra 15-20 minutes for their lunch breaks or send them home a few minutes early if it has slowed down, you’ll do wonders for their energy and their morale.

You can also plan to have some meals for them. Bring in sandwiches from a local deli. Get pizza from the pizzeria down the block. Those little things that they don’t have to do help them get their errands and last-minute shopping done.

Give them a break and they’ll thank you with more energy for your customers.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Add in a little praise and recognition and they’ll rock these last few days for you.

Christmas Quick Tip #16 – Plan for the Weather

In an effort to keep you moving this busy season, these blog posts will be quick and simple.

Here is tip #16 …

PLAN FOR THE WEATHER

You’re going to get some bad weather. I don’t know what day, but it always seems to happen at least once in the last week. Be proactive about it.

If you’re in the northern climates where it freezes, go buy a few extra bags of salt. Make sure your shovels and snowblowers are in working order. Hire a couple college kids home on break and make it their sole priority to keep your sidewalks and parking areas clean on a snowy day.

If you’re in the southern climates where rain is the big concern, get a few large golf umbrellas and hire a couple college kids home on break to escort your customers to their cars.

Word will spread quickly enough that you were not only prepared for the weather, but knew exactly how to keep the weather from ruining their shopping experience.

An ounce of planning can earn you a ton in sales.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We had a torrential downpour one Christmas Eve. My son made ten dollars in tips escorting customers out to the parking lot with an umbrella. We had an ice storm one Christmas Eve and used our four-wheel drive vehicles to deliver several layaways that day. We had a hard snow on the Saturday before Christmas and I had two guys alternate shoveling and icing the front all day. We didn’t need one of those fans for drying out the front mats because no one was tracking in any snow. Get the picture?