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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.

When a Raise Isn’t a Raise

A friend of mine posed an interesting question a few weeks ago. He asked, “How much of a raise should you expect each year?”

In light of what is happening with the Sonic restaurants in Ohio, that is a valid question.

The problem is that the answer has too many variables to fit into a Facebook comment.

For instance, is the employee hourly, salary, or commission-based? Does the employee get any benefits such as healthcare (and how much does the employee have to pay out of their paychecks for these benefits)? Is the company experiencing growth or decline? How is inflation (and not just the overall number, but also locally)?

TAKE HOME PAY

A salaried employee is the easiest to figure out an appropriate raise. The employee should be getting at least enough of a raise so that his or her take-home pay is larger than the previous year adjusted for inflation.

If it only equals inflation, it isn’t a raise, it is a cost-of-living adjustment. If it is less than inflation, it is a pay cut.

I say take-home pay because if the employee has to pay any portion of his or her benefits, those often go up much higher than inflation. I heard the story of an employer who gave everyone a 4% raise because inflation was 3%. Unfortunately, because healthcare premiums went up 15% and the employees paid a portion of that, they had less take-home pay than the prior year to cover their other increased expenses.

Hourly employees follow the same rule, but the issue then becomes one of how many hours do they get? If you’re keeping the hours roughly the same, the same rules would apply.

Commission-based salary is different. In theory, the increase in prices of the items they are selling should lead to higher pay through higher average tickets. But if your prices didn’t go up (even as all other expenses did) you put your employees in a position where they have to work harder just to pay their bills. You may have to reconsider either their commission or offer them a base salary to compensate.

I tell you this because I always want you to think of your employees as assets to your business, not expenses.

I had another friend of mine get told in a review exactly how much this person had “cost” the company in terms of salary and benefits. The boss made no mention of how much this person had “made” in revenue for the company. Do you think the employee felt valued after that? Do you think the employee felt like the company had the employees’ backs?

EMPLOYEES AS ASSETS

When you think of your employees as assets, you invest in them to get the kind of return you want. You educate and train them. You give them actual raises, not just cost-of-living adjustments. You focus on the value they bring to your company, not the costs. You treat them as partners, as living, breathing, full-of-dignity human beings.

Do that and your staff will never walk out on you. In fact, you’ll rarely ever have to advertise for help again.

My grandfather always said, “You can never overpay for great help.”

He was right.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I was reading a Forbes article on 13 Employee Benefits That Don’t Actually Work. The second line in this article tells you all you need to know … “[Employees] like to feel valued and appreciated by the company they work for.” If your business doesn’t have the resources for raises, find other ways to invest in your team and make them feel valued and appreciated.

PPS If you’ve invested heavily in someone and that employee doesn’t bring you value, you need to cut him or her and move on. If you’ve invested heavily in several people that haven’t brought you value, you need to revamp your hiring and training programs. The problem is you, not them.

Upgrades Versus Shifts – Choose Wisely

Back in the 1990’s we had four big spiral notebooks on a table in the office. I’m talking huge, four-inch-wide, thick plastic covered, heavy-duty spiral notebooks. They contained our Inventory Sheets and tracked all the inventory in our store by vendor, item number, and price.

My dad created these sheets. Designed them himself and had them printed by the ream. There was a stack of blanks in the office right up until the day we closed.

These sheets were awesome for tracking purchase orders, receiving, and sales. If you wanted to place a new order, just do a quick physical inventory of that vendor, enter it onto the sheet and you could see what we had sold and needed to reorder.

That’s my dad with some old school cash registers behind him

Prior to the computer, this system was a godsend for us to keep track of 500 plus vendors and 30,000 skus. After the computer it was a relic.

When we switched to our second computer system in 1998, the inventory sheets were completely obsolete. My dad held onto them until he retired, but the computer streamlined the process so much that the sheets became a waste of time. In the old days it took my dad three days to write a Mattel order. With the computer I could do it in under an hour.

Sure, there was a learning curve to the computer. But the end result was a huge savings of time and resources. It was a major Upgrade.

I’m going through another form of Upgrade in my new job. Today I have been learning how to use Microsoft Teams. In my role I have to communicate with several people about several issues all day long. Often I have found myself sending out multiple texts and emails to try to stay in touch and get info. Teams is going to help me keep that organized and eliminate a lot of the time I spend tracking down old email threads, texts, and contact info.

Sure, there is a learning curve. But I can already see the end result being much better communication and less time spent tracking down information. Pretty soon it will be as natural to me as sending out a text or sharing something on Facebook.

Upgrades exist to make your life easier in the long run. 

That is the important distinction. If you look beyond the short-term pain and see the long-term gain it is an Upgrade. If there is no gain, it isn’t an Upgrade, it is merely a Shift.

Shifts can be dangerous. They often are sold as Upgrades because of their newness. They sometimes masquerade as Upgrades because of new features they offer that you’ll never use.

Just like the Upgrade, they take up a lot of time and money at first, causing a lot of short-term pain. Unlike the Upgrade, they have no long-term gain. They only move your resources from one place to another.

You’ll see these Shifts most often in advertising. Online advertising, social media advertising, and mobile-marketing are all Shifts, not Upgrades.

The best way to avoid Shifts is to ask this most important question …

Will this shiny, new tool save me Time or Money?

If you cannot answer Yes, it is most likely a Shift, not an Upgrade, and probably not worth your limited resources. Now you know the difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sometimes you have no choice but to make a Shift because the old way is obsolete and no longer available (think credit card chips). Hopefully you can find a new way that also brings you a benefit (like Apple Pay capabilities.) When someone pitches you a shiny, new tool, ask yourself if it is merely a Shift or truly an Upgrade. Always wait for the Upgrade.

Make Your Lists Now (You Can Thank Me Later)

Our store had 16,000 square feet of carpeting. The original carpeting was laid in 1967. It lasted twenty years. Fortunately for me I was on a canoe trip in northern Ontario in 1987 when my parents decided to replace it.

Replacing carpeting in a store that size while remaining open was no small task. First you have to move everything from one-third of the store into the other two-thirds. All the products and all the shelving had to go. The shelves were made of steel and assembled with nuts and bolts requiring screwdrivers and wrenches and dollies and strong backs. Then the carpet guys would rip up the glued-down carpet and replace it with another glued-down, industrial-level carpet, before the staff rebuilt the shelves and started working on another third of the store.

My dad told me he would retire before he ever did that again. He was right.

Phil W Cleaning the Floor

The next carpet was over 29 years old when we rang the Birthday Bell for the last time. It had lived long past its 15-20 year life expectancy. Yes, by 2016 it looked dated and had some stains no solvent or steam could remove, but it was still in decent shape with all the seams intact. We kept it that way by vacuuming it daily and having it professionally cleaned twice a year—once on Memorial Day Weekend, once on Thanksgiving Eve.

We chose those days for two reasons: first because they offered a full day (or two) for the carpet to dry before being used again, and second because they made the carpet shine for our two busiest seasons.

I almost didn’t get the carpet cleaned one Thanksgiving. I forgot to schedule it. For whatever reason, it wasn’t on my Prep For Christmas Checklist. You know the list. The one that had …

  • Order bags
  • Check giftwrap inventory
  • Go over buying goals with all buyers

… among other things.

I also had my Thanksgiving Eve Checklist, my Christmas Eve Checklist, my Summer Fun Sale Checklist, and my Easter Prep Checklist.

The other thing I had was time. In twenty-four years I found myself adding something to at least one checklist each year because I forgot to buy coffee for the coffee pot we put out on Black Friday or I forgot to change our hours online or I forgot to call and schedule the carpet cleaning. There was always something new I forgot to do.

I was quickly becoming the expert by making all the mistakes I could and learning from them over the years.

You might not be a list person. I admit, I wasn’t. I made those lists, but didn’t always look at them or use them. Fortunately for me, making the list helped burn them into memory so that I rarely made the same mistake twice. But that’s one of the keys.

Just make the list.

The process of making the list does several things …

First, it helps you organize your thoughts. It puts you into a mode where you are thinking about all the things that need to be done.

Second, it reminds you of things to do. It helps cement all those actions into your memory. I know writing things down always helps me remember them better—even if I never look at the paper again. I have encouraged both of my boys to take copious notes in college and rewrite them daily to help remember what they are learning.

Third, it helps you delegate. When the list is only in your head you are less likely to assign other people to do things. When the list is on paper you can easily see tasks that others can do to lighten your load.

Fourth, it helps you visualize all the things that need to get done. Visualization helps with execution. We are more willing to do that which we have already seen ourselves do in our own mind.

Fifth—and most importantly—it helps you be ready to put your best foot forward for your customers. The last thing you want is to be running around Black Friday like a chicken with your head cut off because you weren’t prepared. You don’t want customers thinking this is your first rodeo.

You want them thinking you are at the top of your game.

Right now, while you’re hunkered down in your office lamenting the weather and the lack of traffic, pull out a notebook or open up a word doc and start writing out those lists. Whether you ever look at them again, just this one little act will improve your business dramatically. (Hopefully you will write it all down and then use those lists. That would be best. But just the act of writing it down is so much better than trying to wing it every year or season. Baby steps.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When I started writing about the carpet up above, I thought maybe I would take this blog in a different direction and talk about regular, preventative maintenance. We got an extra nine years out of our carpet and I avoided a retirement-inducing carpet replacement through preventative maintenance. We took our snow blowers and lawn mowers in for preseason and postseason maintenance every year. We took our vehicles in to winterize them and followed all the maintenance schedules to the tee. Those, of course, were all items on the Checklist along with Order Salt for the Sidewalks. (Yeah I forgot to do that once. Once!)

PPS Black Friday is November 29th. Christmas is December 25th. Neither of those dates should surprise you. You know they are coming. Get your lists ready for them now. (For those of you in industries where it matters, Valentines will be February 14th again, Easter is April 21st, and Halloween will be October 31st again—although I’d love to see it moved to “last Saturday of October” but that’s a discussion for another day.)

When to Close for the Weather

Right now the Weather app says it is minus ten degrees outside. The “real feel” is minus thirty-five. Thank goodness I don’t have any presentations or travel scheduled for today. My office is only a wall away from my bedroom. I’m going to work today.

But if Toy House was still open, would I be going in?

That has always been the question. We’ve done really good business on snow days when the schools were closed. We’ve also been really slow as traffic crawled to halt on the slippery roads. Sometimes we have opened only to close early so that my staff could get home safely. Sometimes I have staffed the store with a skeletal crew by volunteer. Who wants to brave the conditions to make a few bucks?

One thing I always looked at with bad weather days was that the mail was still coming, the phones were still ringing, and the email never stopped.

Today, however, we would have been closed.

Why?

The guys and gals who brave rain and snow and sleet aren’t even going out. You know it is bad when the USPS takes a day off for weather.

Another reason is that the governor declared the cold weather a “state of emergency.”

Now that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have braved the cold to go in myself. I have been out in this cold several times before in my life (I used to go winter camping—there’s an activity for brave of heart or insanely stupid). That’s what scarves and face masks and hats and gloves are for. But I wouldn’t want to put my staff in serious danger. When the governor or the mayor declares a state of emergency for the weather, they want you off the roads.

The interesting thing about weather days in Michigan is that some people see them as a good excuse to cuddle up with a blanket and a good book. Others see it as a challenge.

(“What do you mean it was cold outside? I shoveled my walk, went to the gym, ran some errands, went to the grocery store, and came home and made French Toast with all the bread, eggs, and milk I bought. It wasn’t that bad.”)

When do you close for the weather? 

  • When USPS says Nope.
  • When your local government says Nope.
  • When it is a danger to you or your staff to be on the roads or outside. (If you can’t make it in, you shouldn’t ask your staff to come in, either.)

If you’re the kind of defiant person like I was and are going to brave the elements no matter how stupid, make it voluntary for your staff. When we would close early for bad weather I sent those who lived the farthest away or had the worst cars for snow home first. Then I’d ask, “Who wants to stay? Who wants to go?”

You can run your store on a skeletal crew on bad weather days because your traffic won’t be as busy. You can also get a lot done in the office and re-merchandising the floor. Just don’t turn your staff into skeletons by forcing them out on those days.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One other criteria that always seemed to play into the equation was the time of year. It was a lot easier decision to close for the day in January than in December. Stay safe and warm out there.

(Repost) What to Do with the First Quarter Blues

(Note: this is a repost from March 2, 2018)

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.

Another Phrase You Need to Quit Using

One downside to being a speaker for the retail industry is that there aren’t a lot of speaking opportunities in December. (It is also an upside in that I had a lot more time around the holidays, but I digress.) With all that free time, I took on the project of replacing the cabinets in my friend’s kitchen. He had a broken cabinet, plus wanted to do some simple remodeling and moving of appliances. It was a fun project.

One day shortly after finishing that project, I happened to be walking through the cabinet section at Lowe’s with my girlfriend. We were talking about some of the cabinets we might have chosen for the project.

A sales clerk approached us and asked, “Are you finding everything okay?”

“Yes, we are. Thanks.” I cringed as I said it because it rolled off my lips without a moment’s hesitation. It was as knee-jerk a reaction as “Just looking,” or “I’m fine. How are you?”

The annoying thing is that I often asked that same question of customers at Toy House. I often got the same response. Until I learned a better way.

We all know not to ask a customer, “Can I help you?” Now asking the customer, “Are you finding everything okay?” is the new no-no.

Why? Because the knee-jerk response kills the conversation with the finality of a Clint Eastwood Smith & Wesson.

OTHER WAYS TO OPEN

There are a whole bunch of other ways the salesperson could have opened the conversation.

He could have used a question about the product we were admiring …

“Are you admiring that set for the color or the style?” I would have answered color. My girlfriend would have answered style. And we would be talking.

He could have led with a feature …

“Have you seen the new soft-close drawers on that unit? You have to try it.” I would have opened a drawer and he would have had the opening (both figurative and literal) to talk to me about features and benefits.

He could have used a personal statement …

“You’re looking at my favorite style. I’ve been dreaming of remodeling our kitchen with those. What style would you put in your dream kitchen?” We probably would have talked for several minutes.

He could have even led with his name …

“Hi guys. I’m Carl, your kitchen remodel expert.” I would have responded, “Hi, Carl.” I might have even taken his card.

The point here is that there are many ways Carl could have opened a conversation that might have led to a sale. Big sales like kitchen cabinets rarely just happen out of the blue. They take time and effort, and a relationship you build with the customer first.

“Are you finding everything okay?” implies that the customer is in control, you don’t really want to help unless absolutely necessary, and a relationship isn’t even on the salesperson’s mind. The customer really only has to give you one of two responses—Yes or No. If she says Yes, you’re out of the game before you even got in. If she says No, there still is no guarantee she’s going to ask for your help because she still doesn’t know or trust you.

Half the time she will lie and tell you Yes when she means No just to not have to deal with you.

The next time you and your staff get together for training, work on alternate openings to “Are you finding everything okay?” and strike that phrase from your vocabulary. It will help you convert more customers into relationships which will lead to more sales.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sure, I wasn’t in the market for cabinets that night. The salesman didn’t know that. And with that opening he was never going to find out. The opening of the relationship is not only crucial to making today’s sale, it also sets the foundation for a long-term relationship and customer loyalty. For more ways to meet and greet your customers, check out the FREE eBook The Meet-and-Greet: Building a Long-Term Relationship with Your Customers.

Don’t Make the Simple Things Difficult

I borrowed my buddy’s Ford Transit Van. You’ve seen these vehicles. Big, tall, lots of seats, or in my case, lots of room for hauling stuff when the seats are removed.

When I got to my first destination a warning light came on telling me the tire pressure was low. It didn’t say which tire, but no problem, right? I’ll just check them all at a nearby gas station.

Unfortunately the tires on this vehicle required 86psi and $1.50 later I found out the little silver box at the far side of the gas station parking lot didn’t have the power to get me more than halfway there.

Again, no problem. My Honda dealer where I take my Pilot for service has air hoses right inside their service bay drop off. The Ford dealership is right by my house. I assumed they would have the same.

At 4:15 pm I pull into the Ford dealership’s service bay. No hose. I get out of the van and head to the service desk just in time to watch three people walk out of the room, leaving me all alone.

I look for a bell. No bell. So I wait.

Five minutes later I am joined by a lady with a white Ford Taurus. We stand there wondering where everyone went. She mentions the lack of a bell. Just then a guy in a Ford shirt walks in with his head down, goes over to the desk where I am standing, picks up a brochure and starts thumbing through it. I didn’t want to disturb him while he was deep in thought, so I waited to speak.

I never got the chance.

Without ever looking up—as though he was trying to avoid eye-contact—this guy took the brochure and a stack of papers off the desk and walked out of the room. He was gone before either of us could utter a word.

At 4:23 pm another guy walks into the room and starts shuffling papers. I say, “Hello,” for fear he might walk out before speaking, too. “Hello. What can I do for you?”

“I just need to get air for my tires.”

“Oh, you need to go around the corner to the other side of the building to our tire department.”

“Oh, okay.”

As I head to the van I see him exit the room, having never acknowledged the lady with the white Taurus.

I pull the van around the corner. There are several bays, but none that you enter like the service bay, so I find a parking spot and enter an office/waiting area. There is a gal at the counter with the employee.

The employee has the customer sign several papers and they leave together with paper floor mats and a mirror hanger with her service number. I wait.

The employee returns, starts shuffling papers, places them in a folder, then places them in a filing cabinet, not once looking up at me or even acknowledging my existence at the counter. I wait patiently. At least—unlike the service area—someone is actually there.

At 4:35 pm, after doing something on her computer, she finally turns to me and asks brusquely, “What do you need?”

It took every ounce of restraint by now to not blurt out, “Someone who gives a shit?”

Instead, I explained I just needed air in the tires of my van.

“I don’t have an open bay right now. Have a seat and we should have one open in the next hour.”

“No thanks.”

I drove the van down the road to the Honda dealership.

At 4:42 pm I pulled into the service bay. Brad looks at me quizzically in the Ford Transit Van and says, “Hi Phil. What are you doing with this vehicle?”

“I’m borrowing it from a friend. Had to move some furniture. I just need some air in the tires.”

“Give me one second to finish up with this customer and I’ll be right there.”

I knew how to pump air, so while Brad finished with the other customer, I grabbed the hose. I was on the second tire when Adam, one of the other service folks, came over to check on me.

“Hey Phil. Are you trying to take our jobs here?” he joked.

Two minutes later the tires were all filled to 86psi. Brad, Adam, and I had a nice laugh about my trials down the road at Ford. I thanked them. They thanked me. And I drove away.

Wait, did they just thank me for coming in to their building to get free air? Yes. They. Did. And they were upset that they didn’t get to inflate the tires themselves.

The Ford dealership …

  • Didn’t greet me.
  • Didn’t have a way for me to let someone in service even know if I was there.
  • Didn’t acknowledge my presence on three occasions.
  • Didn’t have an easy solution to an easy problem.

I left twenty-two minutes after I arrived without solving my problem.

The Honda dealership …

  • Greeted me immediately (and by name)
  • Told me when they would help me
  • Allowed me to help myself
  • Had an easy solution to an easy problem.

I left five minutes after I arrived with problem solved and some friendly banter on the side.

Which dealership would you rather visit?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I told this story to a friend of mine who drives a Ford. He started defending the dealership saying it was probably just a perfect storm of timing. I told him he was probably right, but they still lost a potential customer because of their inattention and poor attitude. Whether you like it or not, you are often defined by your worst moment—at least on Yelp. If you greet customers and keep the easy stuff easy, you’ll have far fewer “perfect storms.”

PPS I actually liked driving the Transit Van. In fact, I’ve driven several Ford vehicles in the past. I left Ford when this same dealership screwed me over with no remorse on a service call twenty years ago. Doesn’t look like things have changed. Brand loyalty only goes so far.