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I Thought She Was the Owner

Often someone from my staff would enter my office and say, “I have an idea.” Often I would answer, “Great! Run with it!”

“But don’t you want to hear it first?”
“Is it consistent with our Core Values?”
“Yes.”
“Will it cost the company a lot of money?”
“No.”
“Run with it. I hired and trained you. I trust you.”

In Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive, he shows how “autonomy” is one of the key elements for motivating your staff to do their best. Autonomy gives them a feeling of ownership and a sense of pride. Autonomy also empowers them to make decisions and take care of customers the best way they can.

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

I know. This is scary. But what if they screw up? But what if they don’t make good decisions? But what if they aren’t as good as I am?

Have you ever thought if you hired well and trained well, they just might end up being better than you?

Sure, giving autonomy to your staff is scary, but in the long game it is how you build a winning team.

I was in Athens, GA recently when my tennis shoes died. I went to the New Balance store where Cameron helped me find the perfect pair for my needs. (Did I mention I have odd-sized feet? Oh yeah, yesterday.)

She was smart. She was well-versed on the products she sold. She studied how I walked. She asked questions about what I did when wearing these shoes. She listened, repeated things back to me, asked more questions, then told me why she was suggesting the pairs she suggested. She was amazing!

As I was checking out, I just had to ask, “Are you the owner or manager?”

“Oh no, I just love working here.”

Cameron had the autonomy to make decisions and act as if she owned the place. She was in such control that I believed she was the owner.

That should always be your goal—to hire and train so well that your customers are so impressed by your staff member that they think he or she must be the owner.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Autonomy is letting your team members do the jobs they were hired and trained to do without someone breathing down their neck or constantly looking over their shoulder. Note the word “trained.” Don’t give them autonomy until they are trained, but once trained, set them loose. They’ll make a mistake or two at first, and you’ll help them learn from those mistakes, but in short order they will become the person you expected them to be when you hired them.

How to Not Frustrate Your Customer

I don’t fit in this world very well. My body wasn’t made for standard sizing. I can’t fly certain airlines without being completely miserable, cramped, and in pain. There are some cars I just don’t like to drive because not only does the seat not adjust to my size, the blindspots hit in all the wrong places. And clothing shopping, while nowhere near as crazy as it is for women, is often a struggle for a long-torsoed, long-armed, small-but-wide-footed, heavyset guy like me.

(There’s an opportunity for a women’s clothing manufacturer to start making more custom-fitted clothing instead of the archaic even-numbered-fits-no-one sizing they currently use, but that’s another post for another day.)

I currently own shirts that are XL-Tall, 2XL, 2XL-Tall, 3XL, and 3XL-Tall. Yet my pants and shorts are typically XL. My head is XL, too (I don’t think that’s what people mean when they tell me I have a big head, though.), but gloves and socks are either medium or large. I keep telling myself I will know when I’ve “made it” because I’ll be buying custom-tailored shirts.

One frustration is going to a store, finding a style I like, yet they don’t have it in stock in my size. Either that or the department is such a chaotic mess that I wasn’t going to find the one item left in my size without an army of hunters. That happens often.

Another frustration is not finding a style I like. I’m not very picky, so that only happens occasionally, but there are simple things too often missing in men’s clothing like pockets in the right ergonomic places. (I prefer function over fashion. Keep it simple, stupid.)

The third frustration is not finding someone to help me when either of the first two frustrations happen, or at the very least, not finding someone knowledgeable enough or willing enough to help me. This, more than Amazon or the Internet, is what is killing department stores these days.

Saturday I found a store free of frustration. I’ve talked about this store before because their advertising is a case study for how to advertise right. In fact, it was their advertising that got me into their store. (Sadly, there isn’t one in Jackson, so this trip took way longer than it should.)

The store was Duluth Trading Post. Their shirts have an extra 3″ in length so that they cover and prevent “cracking.” Their 2XL fit me better than any t-shirt I have tried in any size. They even had the same sized shirt in six different styles and dozens of colors.

In fact, for all of their clothing, they had several styles, all deeply stocked in several sizes. If you’re looking for casual men’s clothing, they eliminated the first two frustrations perfectly (plus, if you’ve looked at their ads, they are answering many of the style frustrations people like me who prefer function over fashion desire).

On top of that, they took pretty good care of that third frustration, too. The staff was friendly, helpful, and available. Not pushy, not bored, not preoccupied with other tasks that kept them away from helping me. They were all busy straightening and stocking, but ready to drop what they were doing to answer a question, find another size, or make a suggestion at a moment’s notice.

One major component of a successful advertising campaign is when the experience you have in the store matches the expectations set by the advertising.

In this case, they blew me away. I expected the product to be good based on the ads. I didn’t know the store would be this well staffed and trained, too.

Here is a sign I saw posted throughout the store. Even the way they advertise for help-wanted goes a step above the normal.

When I told the guy I wanted to take a picture of the sign, he said, “Oh, are you going to come work for me?” I told him I didn’t think I could help him much. The company seems to have figured out a lot of what I teach all on their own.

While it is easier to show you what not to do (because there are so many examples out there), it is fun to show you when a store gets something right. Want to do something fun with your staff? Take them on a staff-training field trip to a Duluth Trading Post (they have women’s clothing, and free coffee and water, too.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When I say the experience should match or exceed the expectations caused by the ads, just be cautioned that you shouldn’t go out bragging about your top-notch customer service. That’s a quick recipe for raising the bar of expectation too high to be able to meet it consistently. Instead of telling me you’re great, show me examples of what you do differently. Let me make the determination of how great you are. (And if I believe you are truly great, I’ll tell everyone about you like I just did for Duluth Trading Post.) Fair enough?

Having Fun, Helping Others, Eating Lunch

For the past three weeks I have been making several drives from my home in Jackson to the Oakland County area for lunch. For those of you not in Michigan, Oakland County is one of the three counties (including Wayne and Macomb) that makes up the Greater Detroit Metropolitan area. Oakland County is the northernmost of the three and includes several cities, villages, townships, and lakes.

Oakland County is home to twenty-one Main Street programs in the various cities, villages, and townships, and also home to one of the largest county-wide Main Street support programs. It was Main Street Oakland County (MSOC) that hired me to make these drives each week to do a “Lunch-and-Learn” series of workshops. The workshops are four-week-long tracks on one of three topics: Selling & Customer Service, Marketing & Advertising, or Retail Math.

We rolled this out to three different communities. Two of the communities chose Marketing & Advertising, one chose Selling & Customer Service. All three are reporting back with incredibly positive feedback. Other communities are already bugging MSOC to be included in the next round.

The fun part for me is that I like driving and I love doing these presentations, mostly because I know the difference one or two good tips or techniques can make for a small business.

The fun part for the attendees is that they get a free lunch (or breakfast) and four 45-minute presentations jammed with eye-opening ideas, out-of-the-box thinking, and surprisingly simple techniques to improve their businesses.

The fun part for you is that there is still time to plan a Lunch-and-Learn in your neck of the woods (as long as you are within two hours driving time from Jackson which would include Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Fort Wayne, Toledo, Detroit, Flint, and Lansing areas).

Here are the three tracks with class titles and descriptions.

Option A: Marketing & Advertising

  • Week #1 Boosting Your Brand to Attract the Right Business – A quick lesson in branding to show you how a well-crafted brand makes a huge difference in attracting the right types of customers and business. You’ll learn how to uncover the true value in your brand and make your brand stand out in the crowd
  • Week #2 Marketing Your Business on a Shoestring Budget – Seven different ways you can get the word out about your business and draw traffic in without spending a fortune. You’ll learn how to leverage your talents and time to attract more customers to your business right away.
  • Week #3 Making Your Ads More Effective – We hate ads, not because there are too many, but because most ads suck. This presentation will show you the six principles that make the difference between your ad being remembered and acted upon or being simply ignored. You’ll learn techniques even the most highly paid professionals sometimes get wrong, and how you can apply them to your own advertising efforts
  • Week #4 Generating Word-of-Mouth Advertising – We all know Word-of-Mouth advertising is far more effective than traditional advertising, but do you know what it takes to actually get your customers to talk about you? This presentation shows you four proven ways you can generate word-of-mouth advertising. You’ll walk away with tips and techniques that get people talking the very next day.

Option B: Selling and Customer Service

  • Week #1 Selling in a Showrooming World – Online shopping is here to stay. So is the concept of Showrooming, where a customer uses your store to touch and feel the product before ordering it online cheaper. This presentation shows you the two types of customers, how to recognize them, and the very different ways you sell to them. Learn this and you’ll close far more sales than ever before.
  • Week #2 Raising the Bar on Customer Service – Every store thinks they offer Great Customer Service, but every customer can regale several stories where the customer service fell far short. This presentation gives you a different perspective on customer service and shows you how to up your game so that Great Customer Service is only the minimum. You’ll learn how to surprise and delight customers at every turn.
  • Week #3 Building the Perfect Salesperson – Finding the right salesperson is the key for any organization. But how do you identify the perfect fit? This presentation will change the way you look at interviewing and hiring and even training. When you’re done you’ll have a better understanding of how the best companies find the best employees time and time again.
  • Week #4 Training and Motivating Your Team to Perform Their Best – The carrot and stick might be good for a donkey, but it won’t get the best out of your team. This presentation will show you what really motivates people to do their best work and how to get the kind of creativity from your team that sets you apart. You’ll also learn how to turn staff meetings and training times into something your staff looks forward to attending.

Option C: Retail Math

  • Week #1 Reading Your Financial Statements – Your accountant will be glad you attended. This presentation will show you in layman’s terms how to read the two most common financial statements – the Profit & Loss and the Balance Sheet. You’ll learn how they are calculated, what they show, and an intuitive way to use them to check the financial health of your company. It isn’t as scary as it sounds.
  • Week #2 Inventory Management – Cash is King. In retail, the biggest use of your cash is your inventory. This presentation will show you simple and smart ways to manage your inventory levels better including how Open-to-Buy programs work and easy ways to increase cash flow. You’ll learn how to turn slow moving merchandise into cash and make your inventory work for you.
  • Week #3 Pricing for Profit – Most businesses leave thousands of dollars on the table because they don’t understand the principles behind how to properly price their products or services. This presentation shows you how you can raise prices and increase unit sales by harnessing the power of perception. Learn these techniques and you’ll start making more money the very first day.
  • Week #4 Unlocking the Hidden Cash in Your Business – There is more to retail than just buying and selling product. This presentation will show you some different ways to measure your business and some simple ways to make a little extra cash that might just be the difference you need to pay yourself a bonus this year.

If you just read those and said, “Dang, I could use this!” pass this post along to your DDA Director, your Chamber of Commerce, your Main Street Director, your Economic Development Director, your Shop Local director, and tell them, “Dang, we could use this!”

(Heck, you don’t even need one of those organizations. Just get a few other small businesses together and give me a call.)

Then contact me. We’ll go over what it would cost, creative ways to finance it, how to get the food and venues, and what dates to schedule this fall to have some fun helping small businesses grow and thrive, all while having lunch.

Sound yummy to you?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not within that two-hour drive? No worries. Instead of four lunches, we’ll do one big brunch and put all four lessons into a three-hour workshop. Call me.

PPS The beauty of what you’ll learn in these tracks is that the dividends are immediate. With many of the lessons you’ll see results right away. Having this information fresh in your mind leading into the busy holiday season will make a huge impact on your bottom line this year. Lets get some dates locked in now.

PPPS If you’re in Oakland County, MSOC is already working on the budget for 2019. Contact John Bry at MSOC and let him know you want in. If you want something this fall, however, check with the other organizations in your community to see if they will help you organize this.

Delegate to Make Two People Happy

I started working full time at Toy House on April 30, 1993. It wasn’t my first job at Toy House. That started when I was the cute kid on the float in the Rose Parade through downtown Jackson at the age of three. At seven I was getting 10 cents and hour to put price tags on boxes. At twelve I got paid to mow the lawns. In 1980 I showed up the day after my 14th birthday with work permit in hand to work on the sales floor selling handheld electronic games.

My dad convinced me to come back to the store full time in 1993 to help expand the baby department. We had a baby department since 1962 when my grandfather bought out Bennet’s Furniture that had been located across the street from the store at the corner of First and Franklin Streets. Dad felt there was a lot of room for growth in that area. (He was right.)

By 1996 the baby department was growing fast. Dad decided it was time to shed more of his responsibilities. The first was marketing. Dad never really liked marketing and advertising. He wasn’t the creative type. He didn’t want to deal with the salespeople. He didn’t want to craft any messages. On the other hand, I loved it.

The second task dad turned over to me was hiring. My dad is introverted. He likes his alone time to recharge his batteries. Oh sure, he can be outgoing and friendly when he wants, but he prefers to work alone. Interviewing employees, hiring them, and training them were not high on dad’s list of favorite things to do.

Although my dad was fairly quick to delegate certain tasks over to me, it took me time to appreciate how he delegated. Prior to my arrival I had heard he had a hard time letting anything go. Partly because he knew he could do it faster and better, partly because he didn’t want to spend his time teaching someone else. I felt both of those as I took over my first two roles. He lamented how much time and energy I put into those roles yet left me to my own devices to figure things out for myself.

In retrospect, I appreciate how he delegated because he gave me room to develop my own style and systems for doing those tasks. Sure, we butted heads often on how and what I was doing in those roles, mostly over budgetary concerns as he still controlled the purse strings. And there were days I felt he was holding me back. But in the long run it worked out quite well for both of us. He got rid of two tasks he never really liked and I got to do two tasks I really loved.

That’s what this post is about—delegating the tasks you don’t want to do to someone who wants to do them.

If you truly want to make your business more fun, hire someone who loves to do the stuff you hate to do.

 

That used to be my office!

I hate filing papers. My desk is a mess. My piles are everywhere. I know what is in each pile, but I still need to pick up the pile and sort through it to find what I want. At Toy House my desk was equally as messy. So I hired an office manager/bookkeeper who loved filing and keeping things organized.

By giving her free reign to clean up my office, I made both of us happy. It also freed me up to do the things I loved to do.

I know there are some things you have to do that you cannot easily delegate such as paying bills, taxes, etc. But you can always ask yourself this question. “If I pay someone else to do that stuff, will it free me up to make more money so that I can afford to pay that person?”

You might be surprised how many times you can actually answer yes to that question. When you do delegate those things, you find you enjoy your business that much more.

When you delegate you have a couple options. You can teach them how you want it done or you can let them figure out their own way. My dad did the latter. Since I loved those two tasks so much, I spent a lot of time learning new and better ways to do them. I did the same with my office manager. I showed her what we had done, but then let her figure out better ways to do it.

After my office manager got me organized!

When you find people passionate about doing a task you hate, they will often find a better way to do it than you ever could.

When you run your own small business you wear many different hats, often too many hats. See how many of the hats you hate to wear that you can pass on to someone else. Not only will it free you up to wear your other hats better, the people you delegate to will wear those hats you hated better than you did.

That will make a lot of people happy, you most of all.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Once I saw the light, delegating became a lot easier for me. Whenever a team member came in and said, “I have an idea,” I would often respond, “As long as it is consistent with our Core Values, run with it.”

“But don’t you want to hear what it is?”

“No. I trust you. After all, I hired you.”

PPS It seems almost too simple, but so many people get this one wrong. Hire people who love to do what you want them to do and they’ll not only work their tails off, they’ll find better ways to do what you want them to do, and they’ll be happy to do so.

Are You Managing or Leading?

It dawned on me yesterday as I was writing the post on when to bend the rules, that you first need to be able to teach the rules and why the rules exist. It is that “why” that makes all the difference. It is that “why” that allows your staff to know when the “why” doesn’t apply.

If you go to Google Images and type in “leader versus manager” you’ll get dozens of graphics that all say similar things. One of those things they say is …

“Managers do things the right way. Leaders do the right things.”

I will tell you that not only do you want to be a leader, you want to lead your team to be leaders. You want everyone to do the right things by your customers all the time—even if that means bending the rules.

Especially when that means bending the rules!

Related imageTo do that, you need to do three things.

First, empower them to make decisions on the floor. Give them authority to bend rules as they see fit. Give them the ability to make the call so that they don’t have to constantly go “ask a manager.” Let them say Yes to the customer’s request and then figure out how to do it.

Second, train them to be able to make those decisions. Everyone on your team needs to know the rules, but also the purpose behind the rule and situations when the rule doesn’t apply (because it no longer serves the purpose). If you hire sheep, they’ll follow all the rules and could even be “manager material”, but if you hire compassionate problem solvers who love to help other people, they’ll be leaders once you arm them with the knowledge to know when and how to serve.

Third, encourage them every time they step out and lead. The first time your employee bends a rule to surprise and delight a customer she will be scared. Did she do the right thing? Was that what you wanted? Is she going to get yelled at? Those are normal reactions. How you react makes the difference between whether she bends another rule ever again.

Here is where your leadership comes into play. Chances are pretty good that her first bending of the rules won’t be perfect in your eyes. It won’t be how you would have handled the situation. But if you lead with, “That’s not how I would have done it,” I can promise you she won’t bend any more rules in the future. If, however, you lead with, “That was great to see you making that call! You made a difference for that customer. I might have done it a little different. The next time you do that, keep in mind …”

That second approach not only encourages her to do more, it green lights her to do more because you said, “The next time you do that …” She’ll be so excited, she’ll be looking for the next chance to surprise and delight a customer.

Remember, when it comes to rules …

  • Bend the rules when it will surprise and delight the customer
  • Break the rules if they aren’t customer-centric in the first place.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Most retail chain stores no longer do any serious training for their employees. Oh, they have a sixteen-page manual for how to do things right (especially when it comes to sexual harassment or anything else that might embarrass the company), but nothing about how to surprise and delight a customer. Just because they do it that way doesn’t make it right. If you want to be better than your competition you have to do things differently than the competition. Lead your team and turn even your part-time sales clerks into leaders. Don’t manage them into managers. Not only will your team perform better, you’ll make the world a better place.

PPS The big question is always, “But what happens if I spend all that time training them and they leave?” The better question is, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

Pay Yourself a Salary

Twice a month I teach a class for expectant fathers at Henry Ford Allegiance Health W.A. Foote Hospital. Fifteen years ago there was a guy at the hospital who pitched the idea of a class for new dads to show them how to change a diaper among other parenting skills. The hospital scheduled the class and then that guy took a job out of town. They called me because I was teaching classes on baby products at the store and because I had two young boys, both whom had interesting paths into this world.

This two-hour class is now one of my favorite activities each month.

I always start each class with introductions and I remind the guys sitting around the table that I am NOT a medical professional, nor have I ever played one on television. I just happen to be the father of a couple wonderful boys who has an interesting perspective on becoming a dad.

So let me preface this blog post … I am NOT an accountant, tax attorney, or payroll specialist, nor have I ever played those characters on television. I’m just an entrepreneur who has owned several small businesses and tried several different practices to see what worked best.

Image result for salaryToday I want to talk to you about the emotional and practical sides of why you, as a small business owner, should pay yourself a salary.

PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS

When you put yourself on the payroll, it legitimizes your business in the sense that you are working for money. It is no longer just a hobby. Sometimes that move alone will spark a renewed enthusiasm for you to work on growing the business. Sometimes that move will be what the bank needs to see before they loan you money. They want to know whether this is a hobby or a business.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Pay yourself what you would have to pay a manager, knowing that you can also take owner withdrawals from the profits. The top CEO’s at big corporations make a decent salary, but the bulk of those golden parachute deals is in stock options.

BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR FINANCIALS

When you put yourself on the payroll, you have a far better understanding of your costs. It helps you compare your business to industry benchmarks. It helps you understand just how much money you need to make to be successful.

At the end of the day it is an expense. If you’re on the payroll, it is easier to track that expense.

PEACE OF MIND

There is some peace of mind for getting a check every two weeks (or however often you pay). It helps your personal finances and takes some burden off the financial stresses at home.

MOTIVATION

At the same time there is also some new financial stress at work now because you have to make enough money each month to cover that new expense. This helps you dig down a little deeper to sell more, run a tighter ship or a tighter inventory, or just run a smarter business in general. When you know your expenses, you work a little harder to cover them. When you are only taking a withdrawal if there is profit, you might let a month or two slide.

SOCIAL SECURITY

The federal government does require you to pay into social security to receive social security when you retire. If you have only worked for yourself you might not have enough quarters of paying into the system to be eligible to receive from the system. Talk to your accountant or tax attorney for better advice on this.

PROFIT SHARING

If you are offering any profit-sharing with your employees, but your only source of income is the profit, you’ll be taking a much larger share of that profit than they get, which could cause some grumbling or misconceptions among the staff. If you take a salary, then your share of the profit, while still larger than theirs, won’t seem so astronomically large.

YOU GET PAID

At the end of the day, the main reason for paying yourself a salary is so that you get paid. You deserve to get paid. You’re working your tail off. If you don’t pay yourself a salary, it is easy to also not take a withdrawal because you’re worried about some bills coming up, or construction that just started, or some new equipment you want to purchase, or whether you are reinvesting enough profit back into the business, or, or, or …

There is always something that needs money. You are one of those somethings. You deserve to get paid. When you put yourself on the payroll, that happens. Plus, you find the ways to make all those other payments.

OWNER CONTRIBUTION

Sometimes you will need to give that money back because you don’t have the sales to cover the expense or you need to make that big inventory purchase, or you do have some new equipment you want to buy. Still pay yourself, then make an Owner Contribution back to the business. Talk to your accountant about the pros and cons of doing that.

DISCIPLINE

If you don’t have the discipline to make your quarterly tax payments, or keep solid records of your withdrawals, or keep money saved for taxes, putting yourself on payroll can also help with those issues. I know some people who gladly give more in taxes for the big refund check in April because, even though it isn’t the best use of that money, they know they are no good at saving it.

The bottom line is that you need to pay yourself one way or another. There are some distinct advantages for putting yourself on the payroll and paying yourself a salary each pay period. But like I said, I’m not an accountant or tax attorney. Talk to yours and figure out what will work best for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have had several doctors take my Daddy Class over the years. They have given me incredible feedback to make sure what I teach is medically accurate. I would love your feedback from your accountant if they believe anything I have said here is patently false or harmful. Thanks.

PPS Like I said yesterday, you should be making as much or more than your landlord. If rent is around 12%, shoot for at least a 6-7% salary and take the rest through owner withdrawal from profits. If you can get net profits around 10%, then you’ll have plenty to pay yourself and also reinvest in the business.

Roll With the Punches

I picked up my son from summer camp today. He was in the Counselor-in-Training (CIT) program out at YMCA Storer Camps. As I have always done with my boys after a session at camp, Ian and I sat down to talk about the experience right away while it was still fresh in his mind.

After regaling all the experiences, I asked my son what was the one thing he felt he really learned at camp these past two weeks?

“How to roll with the punches.”

Image result for roll with the punchesRolling with the punches is a boxing technique. As a punch is about to land on you, you turn or roll your body away from the blow to lessen the impact. At freedictionary.com they also define it as, “to adapt to setbacks, difficulties, or adversity so as to better manage or cope with their impact on one’s life.”

I’m pretty sure Ian meant the latter definition. His first cabin of kids had a few setbacks, difficulties, and adversity for him and his lead counselor to handle.

For business sake (this is a business blog after all) let’s break that definition down further …

We know what setbacks, difficulties, and adversities are. In business we all have them. Local economic woes, street construction, your favorite line of products suddenly discounted online, a bad review on Yelp, a 20% jump in insurance costs, the landlord wanting to raise rent, a new competitor in town.

You’re never without setbacks, difficulties, or adversity.

The successful boxer rolls with the punches. The successful business “adapts … so as to better manage …” Just like the boxer, you have to anticipate the blows that are coming so that you can adapt to them and lessen the impact.

Street closures? Are you following the news, attending city council and planning meetings, or subscribing to government emails? Are you going to public hearings to not only hear what is being done, but have your voice be heard to find ways to lessen the impact these closures might have on your business?

Insurance costs? Are you working with a good business insurance agent and agency that can shop your account around to find you a better deal or work with you when rates go up to help you be aware more quickly? Are staying on top of all your expenses before they blindside you with a punch to the gut?

Landlord raising rent? Do you see your landlord as an adversary or partner? How would that change the relationship? How much sooner and with better intent would a partner inform you of a rent increase than an adversary?

Local economic woes? Are you measuring your market potential for your community by tracking national sales for your industry combined with local household income and population growth (or decline)?

Got a bad review? Are you actively monitoring social media and sites like Yelp and Google for mentions of your business? Do you have a plan in place for how you respond? Do you know the right questions to ask before you respond?

The successful business owner is rarely blindsided with a gut punch. He sees most hits coming and can roll with those punches. The key is to know that there will always be blows. You know which punches hurt the worst, too. Put a system in place to help you see those punches coming before they land directly on your business, and you’ll know how, “to adapt … to better manage or cope with their impact.”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Two of the most profitable years in the Toy House’s 68 years of business were in 2009 during the Great Recession, and 2014 as our local economy and market was dying out. Although we took a gut punch in the fourth quarter of 2008, we saw the punches coming in 2009 and 2014 and were prepared for them. I know you already wear a few dozen hats. Being involved in city politics and tracking other numbers that affect your business might not be in your wheelhouse, but they do make a difference in how well you roll with the punches. Only you can decide how many direct hits you can absorb before you’re knocked out.

PPS Every boxer also knows the better you learn to anticipate the blows, the better you can counter-punch, too. That’s how you get ahead in boxing, in business, as a CIT at YMCA Storer Camps, and in life—by anticipating the blows, rolling with the punches, and throwing counter moves.

Here is What Winning Looks Like – Sweetlees Boutique

Sometimes it is easy to talk about the mistakes retailers make and simply caution you to not make those same mistakes. I’d like to share with you a story of an experience that went right. A long-time Toy House customer, my boys’ piano teacher, and dear friend Jen sent this to me. In her words …

“Well, the basic story was this…. you know where it’s going right?

Image result for sweetlees boutique mason miI went to a small locally owned (in Mason, MI) women’s boutique, Sweetlees Boutique. (Because I will tell everyone about how amazing it was, and where to find them—160 E. Ash St, Mason, MI 48854.) The workers were so attentive offering to find you sizing, suggesting things they thought would look good on your body. They were fitting both my mom and I who couldn’t be more different in that department, and they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try. Amazing experience. Both my mom and I purchased something. It was our first time there and we will definitely go back again.”

Let’s unpack that to see what they did so right.

“The workers were so attentive …”

How many times have you been in a retail establishment where you couldn’t even find an employee, let alone one who seemed remotely interested in helping you? The Wall Street Journal just wrote Monday about the dearth of employees in retail stores. Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers since 2008. Think about that number when you’re looking for someone the next time you visit a department store.

Think even harder about that number when you’re making out the next schedule for your store. Are you making a schedule to minimize payroll or maximize sales? If you think of your staff as your greatest expense, you’ll do the former. If you think of your staff as your greatest asset, you’ll do the latter.

“… suggesting things they thought would look good on your body.”

At one time this was the norm in a women’s clothing store. It was the expectation. Anything less and you would be writing a different review. Today it seems new and different and special.

That’s the one good thing you need to understand. The overall bar for customer service has been lowered so far that just doing the things you’re supposed to do will make you stand out in the crowd.

A properly trained and properly motivated staff can do wonders for the way your store is viewed compared to the competition. While everyone is all worried about high-tech this and omnichannel that, going old-school will win the day more often than not.

“… they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try.”

Once again, a properly trained staff makes a huge difference. This team knew that by asking questions they could get to know the customer better. Getting to know the customer better allowed them to pull better pieces that more closely matched the customers’ needs.

Every customer that walks through your door is there to solve a problem. The problem might be as simple as killing time. It might be as complex as buying the perfect series of gifts for the hardest person on your list. You don’t know the problem until you ask. (And you won’t get the answer you need if you haven’t first made a connection.) This doesn’t come naturally to everyone. You need to train your staff by showing them how, role-playing it, and practicing it. The stores that do that best are the stores that are winning.

“Both my mom and I purchased something.”

You have a lot of hurdles to overcome to get a sale from a first-time visitor. You have to make her feel comfortable. You have to figure out the problem she is solving. You have to present her with a valid solution. You have to overcome her hesitations and objections. You have to make her want the solution more than she wants her money. All of those are actual steps in a process. One misstep and it’s a no sale.

We call it browsing because many times customers want to go into a new store just to get a feel for the place. No pressure to buy, just a scouting trip to see if they like it. Sometimes you get lucky and they fall in love with a product by accident. That isn’t selling. That’s clerking. Anyone can do that.

If your sales team is waiting for the customer to come up to you, many of them won’t and you’ll have lost out. If your sales team hasn’t made a connection, unless she falls in love with a product by accident, she won’t be back, either. That’s on you.

“… we will definitely go back again.”

That, my friends, is what winning looks like. Bravo to Sweetlees Boutique. Bravo! Thank you, Jen, for sharing that story with us all.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In the same message, Jen told me about another retail experience that didn’t end so well. I’d rather leave on a high note and save that tale for later. If you have story of someone doing it the right way, please share. Send me an email or find me on LinkedIn.

Policies for the Minority Hurt the Majority

The date for your annual family picnic has been set. You’re bringing your famous corn casserole. Your mom knows you’re bringing your famous corn casserole. She looks through the coupons from the local and Detroit Sunday papers and finds they both have the same coupon for your number one ingredient. She clips them for you. You also clip both coupons from your copies of the Sunday papers and head out to the store.

You get to the checkout line with your four identical coupons from the newspaper only to be told you can’t use them. The store has a new policy limiting you to only two identical coupons per transaction. You feel like they’re looking at you out of the corner of your eye because you’re trying to cheat them out of an extra fifty cents on a can of corn.

Heck, the time it took you to cut those two fifty-cent coupons probably wasn’t worth it, but now you’re walking out feeling judged, and just a little ticked off that the store has such a ridiculously strict policy for something that seems so innocuous. The cashier, feeling your pain, tried to use the third coupon, but it shut down the register completely and needed a manager’s override which only added to your feelings of shame as you could feel the eyes of everyone else in line behind you judging you as the criminal you appear to be.

Does that sound far-fetched?

That is what has happened at a large, Midwest grocery store chain. Apparently to cut down on extreme-couponers and people printing multiple coupons off the Internet, this large chain has reprogrammed their registers to only allow two of any identical coupon per transaction. Use a third one and the register shuts down. Your only choices in the above scenario is to either cause the people behind you to wait even longer while you make the cashier ring up two cans of corn separately or forego the extra dollar in legitimate savings.

Either way, you feel like crap and are probably thinking you’ll avoid that store the next time you have coupons.

Plus, the store really didn’t change anything. The extreme-couponers are still going where the best deals can be made. If that means they stand in the self-checkout line and ring up thirty seven transactions, then they’ll stand in that line. The money they believe they are saving is worth their extra time (and they don’t care about the people behind them in line.)

The store doesn’t save any money or make their business any better, either. In fact, they slow down the checkout as people with three or more coupons have the cashier do multiple transactions. And unless the coupon is provided by the store itself, the store isn’t saving any money. Jolly Green Giant reimburses them for every coupon plus a little extra for handling.

Most importantly, the store sends a loud and strong message to its customers. We don’t trust you!

Here is where the retailer went wrong …

The retailer saw a tiny percentage of customers taking advantage of a loophole or doing something they just didn’t like. The retailer then enacted a restrictive, me-first policy that negatively affected all of their customers, including the ones who never had any intention of “taking advantage” of the retailer. Those customers were just doing what most would call common sense, using the system in place to save a little money.

As retailers we do that often. We create rules to stop the minority by inconveniencing the majority.

We do it with restrictive return policies. I saw one store that had a 30-day return policy. Period. No exceptions. Remind me not to go Christmas Shopping there before Thanksgiving.

We do it with limits for credit card transactions. (See my recent post on that here.)

We do it with rules. I used to have a rule of certain items we wouldn’t giftwrap for free. When we realized the rule was me-first, we changed it to only restrict items around which the wrapping paper wouldn’t stay (like an assembled tricycle). 

The funny thing is that these restrictive rules never really stop the behavior we intend them to stop.

People who exploit loopholes will exploit loopholes. If you close one, they’ll look for another. Fortunately these people are the exception, not the rule. So treat them like an exception, not the rule.

Set your policies up to be customer-first.

Make your return policy as liberal as possible. If you have one person taking advantage of the situation, deal with that one person. I had a customer bring back fourteen puzzles one year, all because they were missing a piece. As it turns out, I only had fourteen puzzles returned that year. Those fourteen pieces were the only ones out of a million pieces we sold that were “missing.” I pulled the customer aside, explained this fact to her politely and respectfully, and told her she was no longer allowed to return any puzzles.

You may be surprised to know, she continued buying jigsaw puzzles from us.

Make all your rules less restrictive than your competitors. First, very few people will take advantage of you. Second, most of them are still making you money because they are shopping in your store. Third, no one walks out feeling shamed in any way.

Part of the goal of every transaction is to win the right for another transaction. Piss off your good customers and all you’ll have left are those trying to find another loophole to exploit.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, LL Bean just changed their incredibly liberal no-questions-asked-we’ll-take-it-back return policy because of people trying to exploit it. But if you look at it, the new policy is still far more liberal than any of their competitors, still fits their quality-first guarantee, and doesn’t hurt any honest customers in the process.

PPS I’m still trying to understand why this grocer created this new coupon policy. If the coupons were from the brands, the grocer would get reimbursed, so no harm there. If it was because of online coupons being printed multiple times, there are many ways to avoid that issue with today’s technology, or even by going old-school with a really strong legal disclaimer. Either of those would be preferable to being stuck in line behind someone trying to buy seven cans of corn and not understanding why the coupons his sister gave him won’t work.

Hire Me to Be Your Coach

I played the role of Father in The Nutcracker Suite on stage at the Michigan Theatre. I was in eighth grade. It was part of our LEAP class (Learning Experience for Academic Progress). It was a play more than a ballet, although we did have a dance troupe come in and do some dance numbers. I don’t remember much of anything about the play itself. I couldn’t tell you anything about the story, the other characters, or even my performance. About all I remember was I played the role of Father and I loved being on that stage.

Panorama of Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a large crowd
Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a packed house in Grand Rapids, MI

I’ve never really been afraid of standing on a stage in front of people. Oh sure, I had a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering in my stomach moments before I took the pulpit to do a guest sermon at church. But those butterflies settled down the moment I began to speak.

Whether it is a crowd of 500 at a trade show conference, a group of screaming kids in the dining hall at camp, or a room full of revelers at a brewpub, I love to perform.

That’s why when I began building Phil’s Forum I focused on speaking and presenting, doing workshops and seminars and webinars. That’s what brings me the most joy (and people said I was pretty good at it.) 

But my real goal, my true focus of Phil’s Forum is about YOU. Your success. That’s all that matters.

That is the reason behind all the Free Resources for you to download. That is the reason behind writing over a thousand blog posts for you to consume. That is the reason behind offering all those classes, presentations, workshops, and webinars for you to attend.

That is the reason why you’ll find a new page on my website.

Many of you have contacted me about private, one-on-one consulting and coaching. While I often said yes, I didn’t have a plan in place for how to handle and structure those requests. Nor did I have a firm concept for how I felt I could best work with you.

Until now.

Coach /kōCH/ (noun) An instructor or trainer. A tutor who gives private or specialized teaching.

A Consultant is someone you consult for advice and opinions. A Coach is someone who teaches you how to do what you need to do to be successful.

I am chock full of advice. I give it away freely. You can shoot me an email with a question and it is highly likely I will answer it (for free). If you read this blog regularly then you can probably guess my opinion on a topic before you even ask. Lots of people get paid for their opinions. It always seems a little disingenuous to me. If you make your living that way, you always want to keep your client in a position of needing your opinion. There is almost a built-in need for keeping a client partially in the dark so that they don’t form opinions on their own.

A Coach, however, knows that his role is to teach you something so that you can do it yourself. A coach puts you in the best position to succeed.

I know this is mostly semantics. There are amazing consultants out there who really are more like coaches. They teach. They instruct. They help you grow. They never hold back.

Words, however, are important. Choose the right words and your advertising messages will sparkle. Know which words make up your Core Values and your business will attract the right people. I needed to know which word I wanted to use and why before I could be of best service to you.

I chose the word Coach.

If you want one-on-one, private, specialized instruction to learn how to:

  • Hire Better
  • Train Better
  • Serve Your Customers Better
  • Market Yourself Better
  • Manage Your Inventory Better
  • Manage Your Staff Better
  • Manage Your Cash Flow Better

Let’s get together for an exploratory meeting.

The first meeting is FREE. In that meeting we’ll discuss where you are, what problems you’re facing, what tools you might need to solve those problems, and how best I can help you. After that I’ll send you a few different proposals explaining what I will do, what it will cost, and how we’ll measure success. From there the choice is yours as to how much coaching you want.

While my love is still the stage and I hope to spend as much time there reaching as many people as possible, coaching is the next best way I can help you find your path to success.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I do coaching remotely. We’ll use phone and email to get the job done. (Or if you want to fly me out to meet face-to-face, I’ll let you do that, too. The best way to get me to town is to convince your local Chamber or DDA to hire me for a presentation and have them pay my way.)

PPS One thing I will ask of any client who wants my coaching services is for you to know your Core Values. You can download the new, updated worksheets here.

PPPS Yes, you can hire me to do stuff for you, too. I’ll run a Team Building event. I’ll write your Hiring ads. I’ll write your advertising messages. I’ll teach your staff how to sell. I’d rather teach you how to do those things yourself, though. That’s what serves you best in the long run.