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How to Push for “Yes” (Without Being Pushy)

I remember being in a presentation where the speaker told us that the average retail store only closes two out of every seven customers, and that five out of seven walk away without buying. As I was researching for a new presentation I did a couple weeks ago at the Independent Garden Center, I came across some numbers that were disheartening.

That conversion rate is getting worse.

According to ShopVisible, LLC conversion rates for typical brick & mortar stores are now only 20%, two out of ten instead of two out of seven. (Online is less than 2%.) Eight out of ten customers are walking out of your store having said, “No.”

The scary thing is that at least eight out of ten walked through your door hoping to say, “Yes,” yet somehow you let them down. Why do I believe that many wanted to say Yes? Most independent retailers are destination stores. You don’t sell milk, eggs, and bread. You don’t sell diapers and formula. No one had to walk through your doors. They chose to walk through your doors, hoping to find a solution to a problem or be enticed to buy something they didn’t yet know they needed.

You let them down.

You let them say No and didn’t take the steps necessary to turn it into the Yes they wanted to say.

I have just published another FREE eBook in the Free Resources section of my website called How to Push for Yes (Without Being Pushy). If you want to see your conversion rate and sales go up, you’ll want to download and read this eBook several times. If you want to see more happy, satisfied customers walking out your door, you’ll want to download and read this eBook several times.

If you want to teach these principles and ideas to your front line sales staff, you’ll want to read the rest of today’s blog post.

(Hint: download and read How to Push for Yes (Without Being Pushy) first. It will help the rest of this post make sense.)

NO, I DON’T WANT IT

To overcome this objection you have to go back to trying to solve the customer’s problem. You need to ask more questions and get to the heart of the matter. The QUESTION GAME from The Meet and Greet is a great place to start.

Another game is the PARROT GAME. The goal of this game is to work on listening skills. Pair off your team and have them each tell a fun story about themselves to the other person. Then get back together as a group and have the person who heard the story relate it back to the group. Do it a second time, but this time have the person hearing the story repeat it back line by line as it is being told. When they return to the group a second time, they find their memory of the story and their accuracy of retelling it both go up dramatically.

NO, I CAN’T AFFORD IT

Often the reason for this objection is the customer doesn’t see how the item will truly Benefit her. Playing the DUTCH AUCTION from Assumptive Selling is one way to get your staff more attuned to offering Benefits instead of Features.

Another activity is to have the staff identify the items that cause customers to balk at the price the most. Then work as a team to find ways to raise the Perceived Worth of the item either through better signage, better displays, or simply coming up with better Benefits.

NO, I CAN’T MAKE THE CALL

Since Analysis Paralysis is often the culprit for this particular No, play the BEST SOLUTION GAME from The Meet and Greet. The better you solve the problem, the more likely she will justify the purchase (and ask for forgiveness instead of permission).

NO, NOT RIGHT NOW

Once again, the customer is not seeing the Benefit of owning the product. Work with your staff to find the Benefits that truly speak to the customer for all of your top products. (Read the post Closing the Sale with Assumptive Selling.)

NO, NOT FROM YOU

One big reason for this No is the fear a customer has of paying too much. She is going to check it out in your store and buy it cheaper online (in theory). We call this Showrooming. If this is the No you are facing, you’ll want to download the FREE eBook Selling in a Showrooming World that talks about the two types of customers, their motivations, and how to appeal to each one based on their needs and desires.

THE SILENCE GAME

Here is a simple activity you can do with your staff that serves double-duty. While discussing any of the topics from the past three blogs, ask your staff an open-ended question. Let them answer it freely without having to raise their hands. When they have answered it, don’t say anything. Just sit intently quiet, staring at them for one minute. Count to sixty in your head if you need to. At some point within that minute someone will start to talk again and the discussion will continue. Afterward explain the concept of White Space and show them how easily it worked. You’ll not only get a deeper discussion from the second go-around, you’ll be able to make the point about letting the customer talk to really get to the heart of the matter.

GENEROSITY

What can you give away for free without expectation of return? Show them the Johnny the Bagger video and then ask them for ideas. This might take two meetings before you get really good ideas worth implementing.

Recognizing and embracing the No is the path to Yes. When you empower your front line sales staff to push for that Yes in the ways described in the eBook How to Push for Yes (Without Being Pushy) you’ll see your conversion rate rise. Think what would happen if you consistently turned just one of those eight Nos into a Yes. Yeah, that’s growth we all could live with.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here’s a little food for thought … Most customers feel good when they walk out of a store having made a purchase. Most customers feel bad when they walk out of a store and haven’t made a purchase. Wouldn’t you rather have happy customers who feel good? That’s why you want to turn that No into a Yes. It is as much for them as it is for you.

PPS I have two more new FREE eBooks I’ll be publishing in the next few days. I’ll have the training idea blogs for you at some point next week. Happy Labor Day!

Closing the Sale with Assumptive Selling

Our realtor turned to us and said, “Now, where would you put your couch in this room?”

Immediately we started mentally arranging the furniture in the house she was showing. By the time we had visualized the family room, kitchen, and office we were ready to write the offer.

Visualization is the key to getting a shopper to move from gathering information to making the purchase. Realtors know this technique. You should, too.

I have just posted a new FREE eBook on the Free Resources page of my website titled Close the Sale with Assumptive Selling based on the presentation I did for the Independent Garden Center Show a couple weeks ago. The eBook shows you how to get customers into Visualization Mode and also shows you other smart things you need to do at the close of each sale to help your customer solve the problem that brought her into your store.

Today’s post talks about how to teach these concepts and techniques to your front line and sales staff.

(Hint: you should read the eBook Close the Sale with Assumptive Selling before reading the rest of this blog. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

FINDING THE BENEFITS

If you have ever been involved in sales training you have heard about Features and Benefits. You have to show the customer the Features and Benefits to make the sale. While I agree wholeheartedly with that approach, the real problem is that most sales people spend all their time on the Features without showing the true Benefits. Why? Because Features are easy to explain. The packaging often tells you everything a product does. Benefits are a lot harder to determine, especially because the Benefit for one person might be completely different than the Benefit for someone else.

DUTCH AUCTION

The best game I ever played with my staff to get them to think about Benefits was a “Dutch Auction.” I broke the staff into teams and asked each person to pick three items off the shelf. Each team ended up with a dozen items. Then I would call out a Benefit. The team had to bring me one item from their collection and explain to me how that item offered the prescribed Benefit. If they were successful with their explanation, they got a point.

Some Benefits you can use are:

Show me an item that …

  • Saves a customer time
  • Makes a customer healthier
  • Keeps a customer from having to bend over
  • Helps a customer feel smarter
  • Helps a customer feel stronger
  • Will make all of her friends jealous

This game gets your staff into a different mindset away from just what an item does, but how that will help a customer.

A Feature is what an item does. The Benefit is why that is important.

Another quick way to get your team up to speed on the Benefits is to bring your top ten new items to the next meeting and have the staff brainstorm all the possible Benefits of each item. Write up the list after the meeting and give a copy to everyone.

COMPLETING THE SALE

Have a contest at your next meeting. Have each person pick one item off the shelf. When they bring that item back to the group, explain the importance of Completing the Sale. Then send them out to collect every possible item related to the original item that a customer might need. Once they return, tally up the prices and reward the person who had the highest total. (Note: if no one has Completed the Sale to your satisfaction, send them back out with a total amount they have to reach. This will stir their creative juices.)

Follow up: Have each person create a checklist for their item of the complimentary items you’ll want to ask the customer to see if she has. Do that with your top ten items in your store. Those checklists will bring you gold.

TIPS AND HACKS

There are certain items you sell that people often misuse. There are certain items you sell that have a downside to them that sometimes kills the sale. There are certain items you sell that get the most negative feedback post-sale. Identify these items and bring them all to the next meeting.

Assign a different product to each person and have them research how and why each item is misused, mistrusted, or complained about. At the next meeting have them do a quick presentation with two points:

  • Here is the issue
  • Here is the tip you can give to make the customer enjoy the product and get the best use out of it

Nipping objections and complaints in the bud before they even happen makes happier, smarter customers who will return more often and bring their friends with them.

Now you know how to get your team to Close the Sale with Assumptive Selling.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One Assumption I am making is that you have read and followed the steps in The Meet and Greet eBook I published yesterday. If you Meet and Greet properly at the beginning it is far easier to Close the Sale at the end.

PPS Yes, you can hire me to do these presentations for your organization. You can even hire me to do a workshop with your sales staff using some of the activities I have shown above and in yesterday’s post. A training workshop like the latter takes about 1.5 to 2 hours and will transform the way your staff works with your customers. When you’re ready to make your customers happier to buy more, contact me.

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.

Convenience Versus Experience (One More Time)

Yesterday I posted a blog titled “Convenience Versus Experience.” Today in my inbox I get an email from one of the retail news outlets I subscribe. The subject line?

“Convenience vs Experience: What matters most to shoppers?”

It was a white paper on shopping habits. Yes, I had to download it.

Oracle Bronto did a survey of shoppers’ habits by age, income, children in the house, and need, to see how frequently people shop online, in stores, or both. Excluding grocery and convenience stores, the survey covered a lot of ground and revealed some interesting stats. (You can click on the link at the beginning of the paragraph to download the full results yourself. Just beware that Oracle is going to ask for all your info and try to sell you on their Bronto email software.)

One surprising stat was that Millennials were most likely of the age groups to shop often, and they shopped equally in stores and online. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Another surprising stat was that Boomers were the group most likely to go online when they did go shopping. (They also shopped the least.)

Not surprising was that the more money you made, the more likely you would shop often.

Here is what the survey didn’t tell me …

It didn’t tell me how many times a customer went shopping in stores for Convenience versus Experience. One of the assumptions was that people shop online purely for Convenience and shop in stores purely for Experience. Unfortunately that assumption is false.

I’ll bet you know people who shop online for the experience, or at least to avoid the experience of shopping in stores. I’ll bet you also know people who shop in stores because they want the item today (convenience).

Hardware stores, for instance, were not excluded from the survey. When I go to a hardware store, it is for the convenience of getting the part I need to get the job done now (or at least within the next three trips.)

The one takeaway worthwhile is that people shop a multitude of ways by choice.

The only question you have to answer is if you are giving them enough reasons to choose you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Even though their original question of “Convenience vs. Experience?” is flawed, the results of the survey are quite fascinating. It might be worth coughing up your spam-folder-email-address for the download.

Move Your Dogs Before the Dog Days

Every year right after Memorial Day my staff and I would go on a dog hunt. No, not the little stuffed animal dogs we sold by the packs (although that would be a fun staff training exercise), the slow-moving merchandise that was holding back our cash flow.

Every retailer has these dogs. We all wish we could be perfect buyers, always choosing the right items in the right quantities at the right time. Unfortunately that rarely happens. The great retailers, however, know that the sooner they clean up the mistakes, the better.

The key is to recognize the mistakes, find the dogs, and make them hunt. If you’re a fourth-quarter-driven retailer, you know it is a dog if …

  • You bought a case last year and couldn’t sell the entire case by Christmas.
  • You bought it earlier this year and haven’t sold a single item in two or more months.
  • The item is discontinued by the manufacturer.
  • The packaging has changed.
  • The box is crumpled.
  • Your staff hates it and won’t sell it.
  • A better solution is coming in soon.

If you’re a smaller retailer with a tighter inventory that needs to turn over faster, you might have more strict criteria than that. The key is to find the laggards, the slow-movers, the merchandise you’ve already paid for that isn’t paying you back, and turn it into cash.

Toy House and Baby Too in downtown Jackson
The Summer Fun Sale!

We pulled all our dogs in June for our annual Summer Fun Sale in July. We took the items off the floor, marked them half-price, and put them back out on special shelves in the middle of the store the night before the sale started.

Half-price?

Yes, half-price (or thereabouts, for instance $14.99 became $7.99). Our goal was to move merchandise quickly.

Get it out of the store fast, get the cash, and get back to restocking with new, better inventory that might actually make you some money.

I know some retailers like to do a gradual price reduction. I’ve never been a fan of that. First, it costs you time and money to reprice things. If you have to do two or three markdowns, you’re spending way too much. Plus, if an item has been marked down two or three times, the customer gets the perception that there must be something seriously wrong with the item. Third, by going deep on the first cut, we get hoards of Transactional Customers right off the bat. Three of our five busiest days in our 67-year history were actually the first days of our Summer Fun Sale. One big sale creates a lot more excitement than a gradual death march of price reductions.

Here is another way to think about it … If you bought a crib for $299 and put it on your sales floor at $599 for six months and didn’t sell a single one, how much money did you make on that space? If you answered zero, you’re wrong. You’re actually at negative $299. You’ve lost money on that space. You could try $499 for a month or two and see if it sells. If it sells, you made a little. If not, you’re still negative $299. Or you could mark the crib down to $299 where you know it will sell right away, get back to zero, and then put something else in the space that will make you money.

I also know some retailers who have a clearance section year-round. That is a shrine to the Transactional Customer. It is also a sign that tells your regular customers that everything gets marked down eventually, might as well wait. Since my focus was on my Relational Customers, I wanted my sale to be quick and the dogs gone so that I could put my store back together to look great for the customers I was trying to impress.

The Dog Days of Summer are coming. It’s best for you and your dogs to get them out of the store before then.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We always started our sale on the third Thursday in July. People planned their vacations around it. Our parking lot was typically full fifteen minutes before we opened. By Saturday afternoon we had moved 75% or more of our sale stuff. After two weeks we went to BOGO on the remaining clearance items. The ultimate goal was to not have to have a Summer Fun Sale. We never got there. We always had dogs. You do, too. Make those dogs hunt.

PPS There was another reason for the timing of our sale. A lot of new merchandise comes out in August and September. That’s a typical cycle for fourth-quarter retail. By having our sale in July, we cleared space just in time for the new merchandise to arrive.

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.

Taking a Deep Breath of Perspective

We all meet interesting people from time to time. For one year I had a person enter my life that gave me a world’s worth of perspective. At the time he was the store manager of one of the big-box discounters in town. While our sons shared activities together, he shared amazing information not only about his store, but about all the big-box discounters in town. It was eye-opening to say the least.

If you have only recently found this blog, you should know that I am a big believer in calculating and understanding your overall market size for your category and knowing your share of that market. The easiest way to find the size of your market is to find national numbers for your industry, divide by the US population and multiply that result times your market population.

For instance, if you are in a $20 billion industry, divide that by 323 million people in the USA to get $62/person. If your market is 150,000 people, then multiply $62 x 150,000 to get a market size of $9.3 million. You can adjust that number up or down based on your local economy (your average household income versus the national average). You can also adjust for other factors like geography (more boats are likely to be sold in Michigan or Florida than Nebraska), or demographics (your percentage of children compared to the national average if your category is marketed primarily to children). It gives you a rough estimate, that if you calculate the same way year after year shows you exactly where you stand in your market.

I’ve been doing this in the Jackson market for decades and measuring our share over the years.

My big-box friend handed me numbers of what the big-box stores were doing in toy sales in our market. Adding them up, the math fit what I already knew about the size of the market in Jackson. The part that made my heart flutter was knowing that I was doing more in my single store than any one of those big guys.

 

Is it a Vase or Two Faces?

Here’s the perspective part … 

All of these stores do way more volume overall than I do because they also sell grocery, clothing, hardware, electronics, and household goods among other stuff. All of these stores have way more traffic on a daily, weekly, monthly basis than I could ever imagine. All of these stores run weekly sales and discounts with huge flyers in every Sunday’s paper to go with their national TV campaigns and other advertising efforts. All of these stores focus on the hottest TV-advertised toys every year, adding the vendors’ marketing efforts to their own. All of these stores get full-blown media coverage, too.

Think about that last one for a second. This holiday season you are going to hear stories about Amazon, Walmart, and Target. All. The. Time. You are going to hear about their sales. You are going to hear about their overall volume. You are going to hear about their strategies to draw more traffic (more discounting—you read it hear first!) Your customers are going to hear all that, too.

Yet locally, without the discounting, without the hot items for your industry, without the national TV campaign and Sunday flyers and vendors marketing for you, without all the grocery-driven traffic, without all the media hype, you’re going to stand toe-to-toe with these big giants and still do amazing numbers in your category, maybe even equal or better than they do individually.

When people tell you it is all about price, and that discounting is the only way to get sales, go ahead and nod your head in agreement until those uninformed people walk away. Then remember that a guy in a small, depressed, blue-collar city in Michigan with all the inherent disadvantages was able to beat all the big guys through better service, better staff, product knowledge, smarter marketing, and higher prices.

You will, too!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Calculating Market Size and Market Share can be incredibly helpful, even if your business is growing. If your market is getting bigger, but your share is decreasing, then even though you are growing, you are still losing out to competitors. Something needs to be fixed. It can also help you understand why sales are decreasing and when to get out of the market. We saw our market shrink to a size that wouldn’t sustain us in our current model. Our options were to shrink to fit the market, move to a different market, or close. We chose the latter so that I could spend my time helping a bigger market … you!

PPS That store manager left Jackson the year after we met to run a larger store in another part of the country, but not before leaving me with a wealth of knowledge and a perspective for which I am eternally grateful.

Lessons From Toys R Us

By now you have all heard about Toys R Us (TRU) filing bankruptcy. I have been personally tagged several times on Facebook linking to articles about the bankruptcy (a couple former staff members have even hinted I should reopen Toy House now.)

Here are some things you need to know.

Image result for sad face giraffeFirst, this is a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy which is a reorganization type of bankruptcy. The giraffe isn’t going away. They aren’t closing all their stores and liquidating. That’s a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Toys R Us is banking on being able to restructure (and relieve themselves from) their debt so that they have the operating funds to continue competing in the toy and baby retail industries.

Second, David Brandon, the former Athletic Director at my beloved University of Michigan, is not the cause of their demise. (Many UM fans who hated Brandon for his poor job hiring football coaches want to scapegoat him for this, too. It’s easy, but wrong.) They were in trouble long before he got there.

Third, this is not a happy day for the toy industry. Even though Walmart surpassed Toys R Us in toy sales in 1998, TRU still does a tremendous amount of business and sells a tremendous amount of toys. There are many vendors in position to take huge losses in this ordeal. While the big guys like Mattel and Hasbro can likely afford it, many mid-tier and smaller vendors would be gone without TRU. That doesn’t help the rest of the industry.

Toys R Us is also important for new toy launches. The big-box discounters want tried and true. Without a large store willing to take chances on new products, there won’t be as many new and innovative products from existing companies.

A lot of people have opinions why Toys R Us is where they are today. Many want to blame Amazon. Still others want to blame the economy. I’ve read articles bashing their expensive new headquarters building, their lack of leadership, and the leveraged buyout by Bain, KKR, and Vornado.

One article wanted to blame TRU for spending too much on their stores and not enough on their website. Considering that TRU reported $912 million in e-commerce and $11.54 billion in total sales, that puts their online sales at almost 8%. (For comparison, Walmart only does about 3% of their total sales online, but that is skewed by grocery.) While 8% is impressive, it doesn’t justify taking money from the part of your business that generates 92% of your revenue and giving it to the part that only generates 8%. 

My opinion is that they didn’t spend the money on their stores the right way.

The real demise for Toys R Us started in 1998. That is the year Walmart surpassed them in total toy sales by dollar (McDonald’s Happy Meal beats them both in units sold.) 

Toys R Us chose at that time to take on the beast to reclaim their crown as king. They didn’t stand a chance. Walmart had more stores, deeper pockets, a larger advertising budget, better operational efficiency, and no need to make money on a category they saw as a commodity traffic-driver.

Seth Godin said it best. “The problem with racing to the bottom is that you might win. Worse, you might finish second.” Toys R Us finished second and we all lost because of it.

Toys R Us allowed Walmart to dictate to the world that toys are commodities, not the valuable educational tools every specialty toy store owner and every educator in America knows them to be. Toys R Us allowed Walmart to dictate that price was the only reason to buy toys. Once Toys R Us decided to compete on Walmart’s terms, they were done.

Hindsight being 20/20, the best move TRU could have taken back in 1998 was to reestablish their position as the “toy leader” and put their emphasis on the value of toys as educational tools, on the value of toys for promoting growth and development, and on the importance of choosing quality toys for your children.

If toys were thought of that way today, Toys R Us would have diminished the commodity role of the big box discounters and strengthened the toy industry as a whole, while firmly establishing themselves as the clear “toy experts” instead of a warehouse full of only toys competing with warehouses full of toys, hardware, clothing, housewares, and grocery. It would have been a win-win for them and the industry as a whole. They weren’t going to beat Walmart at Walmart’s game and likely never would catch Walmart in total sales (Walmart now has over five times as many stores.) But had they played to their own competitive advantage they would still be the king perceptually and the industry would be better off for it.

That is the lesson. Play to your competitive advantage. Play on your terms, not someone else’s. 

Right now the conventional wisdom is that Toys R Us owns too much real estate. Their stores are too big and costly. They need to close them down and sell off the real estate and focus online. I wonder how different the tune would be if back in 1998 they decided to make their stores more friendly and welcoming, filled with toy demos and play areas. What if they turned their stores into educational meccas offering classes on parenting, programs for preschoolers, and events that drew traffic? (According to this article, that is a little of what they are trying to do.) Instead they turned their stores into brightly lit warehouses with minimal staff and an entrance that makes you feel like a common thief just walking through the door.

Real estate is only an asset or liability depending how you use it.

There is still a chance for Toys R Us to turn the ship around. But they need to sail into different waters. I know a little about sailing. If you know David Brandon, tell him to look me up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It may sound like I’m suggesting Toys R Us be more like an independent specialty toy retailer. Umm … Yes! They have a far better chance being successful in that playground than in the big-box-treat-everything-like-a-commodity-warehouse playground they’ve been playing in. They had it right in their Time Square store and oh so wrong in the 865 other locations.

Visualization Makes the Sale

Today I signed the papers to list my house for sale. I did this a little over a year ago, had the house listed for a year without a single offer. I took it off the market at the end of July, put in a lot of work on little things like painting more rooms, upgrading some appliances, landscaping, etc. I also took some time to stage the rooms better, take new photos, and write a new description. We’re doing things differently this time. Today it goes back on the market. I’ll keep you posted on what happens.

Ask any real estate agent the true key to getting a house sold and they will tell you it is getting the buyer to visualize already being in the home. The agent asks you questions like …

  • “How will you lay out your furniture in the family room?”
  • “Which bedrooms will your kids want?”
  • “What do you see yourself doing in this space?”

While facts and data are important in the buying process, visualization is what seals the deal.

I can tell you that the house has 4 spacious bedroom, 2.5 bathrooms, a downstairs office, first-floor laundry, and a three-car attached garage. You’ll analyze that data and process that information. But as long as you are in analytical mode, you’re not in buying mode. You’re gathering data and will continue to gather data.

I have to get you beyond the facts and get you to see yourself doing the behavior I want.

  • “The beauty of this southern-facing driveway is that on light snow days you will be sleeping in while your neighbors are out shoveling because you know it will melt quickly once the sun comes out out in the afternoon.”
  • “With bedrooms this large, when you say, ‘Go to your room!’ your kids will think it is a positive, not a punishment.”
  • “This no outlet road is exactly a quarter mile long. Two loops and you and your dog will have your mile in without any annoying traffic.”

The same is true in all retail. You have to get customers beyond the facts of the item you’re trying to sell and get them to visualize using it.

  • “The battery life of this drill is three times longer. Have you ever been working on a project and run out of battery at the worst possible time? Remember that frustration? Won’t happen with this unit.”
  • “You’ll love this feature of your stroller. You know how annoying the wheels squeak after you’ve used it for a while? These wheels pop off so easily it will only take you seconds to clean them and hit the road running smoothly and quietly again.”
  • “Think of the best picture you ever took with your phone. Now imagine that same picture with twice the clarity and detail. You won’t have to recolor it digitally, either, since this camera picks up twice the color, too. You’ll have more ‘favorite photos’ than you have wall space to hang them all.”

Or simply …

  • “How do you plan to use this?”

Facts have a place. But facts don’t close the sale as quickly and efficiently as visualization. Get your customers to see themselves using the product and you’ll close the sale more often.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here is the new “ad copy” for the listing of the house (1000 character limit). The listing already has the facts so I go lighter on those. The ad-copy adds visualization to why those facts are important.

There is a lot to love about this house. The first thing you’ll fall in love with is the space. Plenty of room for big gatherings and a perfect layout for when you want some time to yourself.

You’ll love your mornings in the sun-filled kitchen, your views from the office, and your sunsets streaming through the trees.

You’ll love the neighborhood—quiet and secure, yet only half a mile from grocery and restaurants.

You’ll love the size of the bedrooms and closet space big enough for everything you own, organized and easy to find.

The huge full basement, first-floor laundry, and easy-entry 3-car attached garage are just icing on the cake. And the sun-drenched southern driveway is like chocolate sprinkles on top!

With a new roof and fairly new appliances, this house has everything you need. The kitchen is dated—but completely functional—and will serve you well until you decide to build the kitchen of your dreams and turn this house into the home you’ve always wanted.

Take a tour today!

PPS Notice how I used the one downside in the copy? The one complaint we received over and over from the first listing was that the kitchen is dated. Sure it is. But it is fully functional with solid cherry cabinets, fairly new appliances, and high quality drawers. I let you know up front that you’ll want to change the kitchen soon so that you’ll walk in knowing that in advance. Now, instead of a negative, it is an expectation and gets you thinking of how you will remake the kitchen of your dreams. Visualization.

What to Do the First Time It Happens

Every July for our Summer Fun Sale we would mark down thousands of old, slow-selling, discontinued merchandise to ridiculously low prices to move out that merchandise, generate some cash, and get ready for the upcoming holiday season. With close to a million dollars in inventory, the process was quite tedious and time consuming. Every single sale price had to be manually entered into our Point-Of-Sale system.

Sometimes we missed one (or three).

The staff was instructed to carefully watch prices as they scanned items at checkout to make sure they were coming up at the sale price, and to make changes immediately whenever a mistake was found. If it didn’t ring up right the first time, it was quickly corrected and the customer sent on her happy way.

Image result for bad retail sale signsYet every single one of us can recall a time in our own lives as customers when something didn’t ring up right and you didn’t go on your happy way.

You get to the register expecting a certain price and it rings up higher. You say something to the cashier. His first response is to tell you that he doesn’t know about the sale or that he can only go by what the computer tells him. His second response is to look you straight in the eye and tell you he doesn’t trust you by phoning for someone else to go check the display. His third response is to tell you that “they” didn’t put the right signs on the display and that the item you had didn’t qualify for that discount/coupon/special deal. Yes, blame it on the faceless “they.” His fourth response is to get a manager who goes through the first three responses all over again before deciding to either give you the discount the signs says you should get or hide behind corporate speak to not give you the discount.

Either way you walk out of the store feeling like a loser.

Do you want your customers walking out of the store feeling like a loser? Of course not. Chicken dinners for everyone!!

Here’s how you do it when you have a pricing mistake.

“Oh my gosh! I am so sorry. Let me go verify what the price is supposed to be.” 

Say all that. Apologize. Go check the price (the above is a safe statement that doesn’t accuse them of lying). Then, regardless of the outcome, give that person the price they expected with another round of apologies for the confusion.

It doesn’t matter if someone did the signage wrong and that item is not supposed to be on sale. It doesn’t matter if the customer was confused because the signage wasn’t clear enough. It doesn’t matter if the customer interpreted the sign to mean something you didn’t intend it to mean. The first time a customer perceives something different than what you intended, you give them what they thought they were going to get. Then you go fix the signs and displays and prices so that there won’t be any more confusion.

Always give the first customer the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t cost you that much in the long run because you keep the customer happy. Plus, you learn quickly how others might perceive your sales or signs, and you fix the problem before anyone else gets upset.

“I’m really sorry about this. Those weren’t supposed to be included in the 25% off sale, but that’s our fault for not putting the signs up correctly. I’ll give you the 25% off on this item. Will that be okay?”

You’re going to make mistakes. Own up to them. Pay for them. Make the customer happy. Then go correct the mistake. That’s the key to winning customers’ hearts.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Even when the customer interpreted the sign wrong, you should still take some of the blame. Make sure your signs, sales, specials are bullet-proof by making them as clear and detailed as possible so that there is little chance of confusion.

PPS Every now and then you get the customer trying to cheat the system. They find an error like improper signage and load up their cart with everything on the shelf. That’s the exception to the above rule. You just better hope it was honest confusion about the sign, otherwise they might have a leg to stand on.

PPPS When you pay for your mistakes, not only do you make the customers happy, you build a level of trust. Your customers will be more likely to take you at your word when you take financial responsibility for your errors.