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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.

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 #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.

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.

Invest in Your Education

Yesterday I gave you seven things you could do with your money when you have a windfall because of a better-than-expected season. Here is one more thing to do with that extra cash …

Invest in Your Education.

Invest in making yourself and your team smarter and better. Invest in training to equip your team with better tools for selling. Invest in classes that teach you more about advertising and marketing. Invest in programs that help you better manage your money.

“Always invest in this thing (your brain).” Darius Foroux

If I were to put “Invest in Your Education” in the priority list from yesterday it would solidly be #3 right behind Cash Reserves and Pay Down Your Debt.

My real recommendation, though, is that this should be a fixed part of your yearly budget. You and your staff are simultaneously your largest asset and your biggest expense. Whether you look at this as the former or the latter will make the difference whether you are truly a customer-first business winning the race to the top or not.

If I were to prioritize where to spend the time and money on training, the list would look like this …

  1. Selling/Customer Service: You’ll reap the benefits of this right away because your staff starts converting more of your current traffic into sales.
  2. Hiring/Training: You’ll see quickly who is cut out to be a retail sales clerk and isn’t when you up their game. Next it is time to up your game and find better people.
  3. Marketing & Advertising: I’ve heard many business owners lament, “If only I had more traffic …” First learn how to better take care of the traffic you have. Then, when you spend your money to learn how to get more traffic, you’ll reap twice the rewards.
  4. Managing Your Money: Good sales and a growing market cover a lot of sins. Those sins get exposed at the first downturn. Make sure you are measuring and managing the right numbers to protect yourself for the long run.

In a few days the dust will settle on 2018. As you set your priorities for 2019, keep this list in mind. I’m sure you can probably think of a few retailers (cough, Sears) that didn’t (cough, Toys R Us) invest in (cough, Kmart) becoming better at (cough, Bon Ton) what they do.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I will be rolling out some new training programs based on the list above. Last fall, if you recall, I launched The Ultimate Selling Workshop designed for working directly with you and your team. Next month I will have newly revised programs, some designed specifically for working with business owners, some to work with managers and assistant managers, and some to work with your whole team. The priorities you set for 2019 will dictate much of the success you reap this time next year.

Christmas Quick Tip #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.