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The Fallacy of Foot Traffic

I was at Great Lakes Crossing Outlet Mall in Auburn Hills, MI the other day. It is one of the few malls I truly enjoy, partly because it has an aquarium (I have an oceanography degree), a LEGOLand (I used to sell toys for a living), and a Bass Pro Shop (I used to lead wilderness trips and still love to go camping). With Haggar, Levi, and Bose stores, and tons of seating in the walkways in front of the ladies clothing stores it is definitely a man-friendly mall.

The place was hopping. Whoever said malls are dead hasn’t been to this mall. The main aisles were jammed with people on a lazy Sunday afternoon in late August. It wasn’t a back-to-school crowd. It was just people out shopping and having a good time.

The food court was especially crowded. The line at Starbucks snaked all the way around their kiosk. Almost every restaurant in that food court had a line four or five people deep.

The key phrase there is “almost.”

Two restaurants in particular had no lines at all. As I sat eating my pizza, I watched both restaurants with interest. Three young girls approached one restaurant, stared at the menu, and walked away. A mom with a kid in a stroller stopped at the other restaurant and ordered her meal. In the time it took me to eat my pizza, that was the only paying customer at either of those two restaurants.

All the other restaurants had lines of people.

It wasn’t like these restaurants were serving fried crickets on a stick or something else not on the American palate. In a busy mall they weren’t getting the benefit of any of that foot traffic. Somehow, either through previous reputation, the signage in their restaurants, their pricing, their selection, or their attitude, they were idle—even with plenty of customers all around them.

All the foot traffic in the world won’t help you if there is a flaw somewhere in the business. It might hide the flaw for a little bit, but until you find and fix that flaw, you’ll never grow.

The reverse is also true. If you have a fabulous business, your location may hold you back a little, but not nearly as much as you think.

Schlenker’s Sandwich Shop
1104 E. Ganson St.
Jackson, MI 49201

One of my favorite burger joints has been in the same location since 1927. The road was a dirt road back then and the location is still well off the beaten path. The only foot traffic they get is the traffic they generate themselves. The restaurant is just a counter with limited seating. Yet the business is still going and growing after 91 years.

Just last week new owners took over. Yes it was a viable enough business to sell (something very few restaurants can say). The big change the new owners are planning? They are thinking about adding a drive-thru to handle all the takeout traffic.

My point is that too often we think, “If only I had a better location with more traffic …” or “If only I could find that silver bullet in my advertising that would draw more traffic …”

Neither of those thoughts is the true path to success. I predict those restaurants at Great Lakes Crossing will be replaced by next summer. They had all the traffic they could stand but weren’t able to convert it into customers.

I also predict that when Schlenker’s builds their drive-thru it will be filled with cars every day without them having to spend a dime on advertising.

If you have ever heard yourself saying, “If only we had more foot traffic …” the better question to ask is …

“What do I need to do to make my business better so that people want to come here?”

You are a destination store. When you act like one, you’ll draw all the traffic you need without any silver bullets or malls to do it for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Even with a steady, solid, faithful customer base and a burger that was rated the seventh best in the entire state of Michigan, the other change the new owners of Schlenker’s are making is to switch suppliers to a higher grade and quality of the ground sirloin that makes their burgers so good. They have all the traffic they can handle, yet even they are answering that one question above. Are you?

Is it the Best Place to Spend Your Money?

“It’s only $400. What have you got to lose?”

If you’ve ever run a small business you’ve heard that question before, usually spoken by an advertising sales rep trying to sell you on some new marketing fad, or maybe an add-on to a package you’ve already bought. You fall for it, too. I know I did, several times.

You fall for it like I did for one of three reasons:

  • You didn’t have a marketing plan
  • You didn’t have a goal, or expected outcome you knew you wanted from your marketing plan
  • You didn’t do the ROI and truly answer that question
Close up of a pen and blank check

What have you got to lose? For starters, the $400 check you just wrote. Secondly, the chance to spend that $400 more wisely. The better question to ask is …

“Is this the best place to spend that money?”

When you have a plan, you have a better idea of where you want to spend your money, how that money will be used, what you hope to accomplish, and how you’ll measure the results. You’ll also have a budget that you’re checking regularly so that you’ll know if you even have that $400 to spend in the first place. When I started budgeting, I had set amounts to spend in certain places where I knew I would get the best bang for my buck. I also had some flexible money for opportunity buys.

When you have a goal or expected outcome, you have another measuring tool. When I finally got smart about my budget, the question I would always ask before spending that flex fund was, “Would this money be better spent on this new thing or just added to the money I’ve allocated elsewhere?”

The ROI is the hardest question to answer. One truth about marketing, advertising and even sales training is that there isn’t a simple plug-and-chug equation that says if you spend X your results will be Y. Anyone who tells you otherwise has a good ROI—for him, not necessarily you. At best you have generalizations based on previous experiences, trial-and-error, and hope. Yet being able to figure out the ROI, even in the most general sense, is the only way to really know what you have to lose.

DOING THE MATH

I’m going to do a math problem to give you an idea of how to calculate ROI. To do it, I will be using some basic assumptions. You can adjust your numbers accordingly.

  • Traffic = 200 people/day
  • Conversion rate = 20% (40 people/day)
  • Average Ticket = $50
  • Sales for 30 selling days = $60,000 (40 people x $50 x 30 days)
  • Profit Margin = 50% ($30,000 on that $60,000 in sales)

If we do the math backwards, it might look like this: I need to do $60,800 in sales just to break even on the $400 I’m going to spend. Realistically, though, to make it worthwhile, I’d like to make back at least an extra $400, so I need to do $61,600 to get any kind of return worthwhile. Therefore, at $50/per ticket, I now need an extra 32 paying customers over the 30 days. Since my conversion rate is only 20%, however, I need to attract an extra 160 customers over the month just to break even. So the real question becomes, “Will this $400 attract an extra 5-6 people a day or more (3%)?” Considering one of the most highly measured advertising models—direct mail—has only a 1-2% expected return, that might be asking a lot of any marketing effort, especially something new and untested.

Remember, too, that the effects of this advertising will likely end with the season. If it isn’t already in your budget, being able to do the math like this can save you from losing a lot.

You can play around with this basic formula to find out all kinds of cool things. For instance, if your Profit Margin was 52% instead of 50%, you’d have an extra $1,200 in your pocket. (To find out how to increase your profit margin through a better pricing strategy, download the FREE eBook Pricing for Profit.)

What if you raised your conversion rate from 20% to 22%? (By the way, that’s converting 4 out of the 160 people that didn’t convert before.) Now, instead of 40 people a day, you have 44 paying customers. Over 30 days that equals $66,000 in sales, or an extra $3,000 in profit.

What if you also raised the average ticket just 2% to $51? Now you have 44 people x $51 x 30 days = $67,320 in sales, or $3,660 in extra profit.

Wait. Did I just show you the ROI for The Ultimate Selling Workshop? Maybe I should add in a few other benefits.

Unlike most advertising that ends when the season ends, Sales Training keeps creating results long after the season ends. Your staff will learn new skills that they will use the rest of their lives. You’ll see your culture change for the better as your staff focuses more on relationship-building, not only with your customers, but with each other. They’ll also be more intrinsically motivated because you’ll be offering them Mastery and Purpose, two of the three elements (along with Autonomy) that Daniel H. Pink, in his book DRIVE, says motivates people to do their best.

Better Sales Training also leads to happier, more satisfied customers which leads to more Repeat business as your happy customers want to come back more often and Referral business as those happy customers tell all their friends about you. Yes, you can actually “buy” word-of-mouth by teaching your team to be better at selling. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Here’s one last nugget for you to chew on …

If your customer service is substandard—and let’s face it, a lot more stores have lower levels of service than they’re willing to admit—then just increasing traffic through advertising will only help speed up your demise as more and more people will talk about you in a negative way. Shore up your Customer Service first. Teach your staff how to build relationships, how to surprise and delight, how to convert more of your traffic into paying customers, and how to make your customers happier. Then you’ll have all the money you need to attract more people through the door.

The ROI is there.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If your business is going to do $60,000 or more this December, The Ultimate Selling Workshop is a really good deal for you. In fact, the higher your traffic count, the better the investment becomes. I’ve shown you how this pays for itself and then some with just a modest growth of 2-2.5% in conversions and average ticket. Now do that math over the whole year to see the true benefit.

PPS Yes, you can download the FREE eBooks on Selling that I’ve posted and you can read my blogs to do this yourself. You’ll save the $2,000 you would have spent on me. You’ll instead spend it on time and energy planning your own trainings and extrapolating all those idea to your industry. Or you can hire me and not only will I do all that work for you, there is something about bringing in an outside expert that gets your staff fired up even more. They might love you, but they’ve heard you speak before. I know when I brought in new people to my meetings the staff perked up and listened even better. The introductory price ends at midnight September 30th. Let’s make this your best December ever and kick start 2019 all at once.

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.

Making the Most of a Street Event

Tonight the classic cars cruise into downtown Jackson. The fourth Friday of every month May through September is a Cruise-In. Most every downtown in America has some type of event that closes the streets and draws a lot of traffic. Many malls have special events also designed to draw new traffic.

The key phrase in there is “new traffic.”

DDA’s, Chambers, and other groups organize and host these events for three reasons:

  • As a fundraiser
  • To draw new traffic to the area
  • To make the area seem like a hip and fun place to be
Market sign by artist Laura Joy Warrior

That first reason explains why these events are not always retailer-friendly or in the best interest of you, the downtown business owner. Sure, you might be a downtown restaurant, but they brought in food trucks. Sure you might be a downtown gift shop but they brought in crafter booths. Sure, you might be an expensive luxury store but they brought in a middle income crowd (or vice versa). Those things are bound to happen.

But those other two reasons more than offset the problems of the first if you embrace the event and turn it into farming for new customers.

There are two types of new customers you’ll meet at an event like this:

  • People who don’t know you
  • People who think they know you

THEY DON’T KNOW YOU

That first group includes out-of-towners, newcomers to town, and people you haven’t yet reached with your marketing efforts. What do they need to know about you to be enticed to come back? What special services or products do you offer that would make someone want to drive to visit you? (Note: if all you can say is, “we’re friendly,” that isn’t enough to make people drive.)

You need to highlight what makes you unique, special and worthwhile.

  • Have large signs outside your business that are easily readable telling people about your unique brands they won’t find elsewhere.
  • Have large signs outside your business telling people of special services they won’t find at your competitors.
  • Put a table outside with the kind of products on it that make people want to cross the street to see.
  • Put a table outside with the kind of products on it that make people want to drag their friends over to see.

Put your best, most friendly people out front. Make sure they are fired up about the event and ready to meet new people. Make sure they are well-versed in what makes your store special. Make sure they understand how critical is their mission to make a positive first impression. (Notice how I didn’t say how critical it is to make a sale? Sales are secondary to impressions during an event.)

THEY THINK THEY KNOW YOU

The second group has already formed an opinion (usually negative) about you. Either they’ve previously had a bad experience, or someone they know had a bad experience, or it just might be a perception that because you are an indie business you have to be more expensive.

With this group you have to change their minds if you want to turn them into customers. You have to begin building trust with those people. One of the easiest ways is to use the concept of FREE. It doesn’t have to be FREE product, but just some giving of your time and energy away for free.

  • If you are a jewelry store, for instance, you could put out a sandwich board that says “FREE RING CLEANING WHILE YOU WAIT!” Get people in the door, clean and polish their rings while they look at all the fancy display cases, and make them feel more comfortable with your business.
  • If you are a shoe store, have a free gait analysis or foot sizing. Show them you really know your stuff when it comes to getting the proper footwear for them.
  • If you are a hardware store, have a power tools demonstration. Show people how to safely use different saws, drills, or yard equipment.
  • If you are a toy store have a make-and-take demo. Or even easier, give away free helium balloons from inside your store. When kids see other kids with helium balloons, parents will ask where they got those balloons.
  • If you are a restaurant, set up an appetizer or quick-bite stand outside. Serve only your best stuff. Give away tastes for free or a stupidly small fee. Set up some outside seating, too, for people who want to hang out and watch the other people at the event. (If it is a family-friendly event, put out a special family-friendly menu.)
  • If you are a clothing store, have a fashion show in front of your store. (Use local celebrities or kids from the high school sports teams as your models for added excitement.)
  • If you are a comic book store, have a comic swap, a drawing contest, or a photo op with one of your best cardboard cutouts.

Be creative, understanding that you are trying to make a positive first impression on a crowd of “new traffic.”

WHAT NOT TO DO

  • Don’t be closed. No matter what your normal hours, be open for the event. This will be the cheapest form of marketing and advertising you will get all year because the event organizers are paying all the money to draw the crowd.
  • Don’t put out a table of just your clearance stuff. Your tired, worn-out, dead merchandise is not the best first impression you can make.
  • Don’t be open, but do nothing. More people switch from their favorite stores because of perceived apathy than any other reason.
  • Don’t give away coupons and discounts just to try to make sales during the event. You’ll only attract a small handful of transactional customers who won’t spend much, and likely won’t be back until the next offer.

If you are going to give away anything to get customers in the store, give out gift certificates that are only redeemable after the event. If you give out gift certificates redeemable during the event, people will only spend the minimum. If you give them out to be used later, not as many will be redeemed, but the ones that are redeemed will be for a much higher ticket, and you’ll have a much better chance of winning them over with your excellent customer service.  People at an event are not necessarily there to shop. Get them back in the store when they are ready to shop and the promo will be far more productive.

FOOD

A lot of businesses will give away free food like popcorn, bottled water, or cookies during an event to draw customers through the door. It is effective for getting people in the store, but you need to do some of the other stuff listed above to get them to want to come back.

Remember that these events are not about today’s sales. They are marketing events designed to farm for new customers for future sales. Make that awesome first impression and the events will pay off in the long run.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The worst is when the event is taking place downtown, but not on your street. The event may only physically close one block, but perceptually it closes all of downtown to your regular traffic. Unfortunately, since you aren’t in the one block, you don’t get the benefit of the new traffic. If this is your situation, you have two options. First, petition the organizers to have a free booth at the event. Go mobile and make it the kind of booth that drives people to your booth and also to your store. Second, if you can’t have a booth, send people up and down the street with tons of helium balloons and gift certificates that encourage the event attendees to visit you later.

I Didn’t Steal a Bunch of Candy

I didn’t steal a bunch of candy. Oh, I could have. I bought some over-priced M&Ms at a candy shop on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. The checkout was at the back of the store in the most awkward place. I had to walk up a ramp, stand in a line, then stand in the entry way to the nostalgic candy area near the back of the store to pay for my purchases.

I watched customer after customer walk away from the checkout with a decorative paper bag into which they could have tossed tens or even hundreds of dollars worth of loose candy from multiple displays on their way to the front of the store. I don’t think they did. I didn’t. But I could have.

Sure, the store had cameras near the front door. But with the crowd that was in that store on a Saturday afternoon, beating those cameras would have been a breeze worthy of the Windy City.

It wasn’t just the shoplifting aspect that bothered me with the layout of this particular store.

The registers were side by side, but the line to get to them was beside them, not in front of them. If someone was at the first register, by the time it was your turn, you had to scootch around them to get to the second register. If someone big, or a party of two or more was at the first register, you couldn’t even see the tiny little cashier at the open register.

The registers were also poorly placed in the doorway to a special section of nostalgic candy. You know Nostalgia is one of my Core Values. I was excited to enter that section. I was a lot less excited waiting for the gal at checkout with her stroller that was blocking my entry to the area.

I suppose if you’re in a large city like Chicago, catering to the tourist crowd, you can overcharge for your goods to offset your shrinkage and create a layout that frustrates the heck out of customers knowing that they likely won’t be back anyway.

If you’re not in this situation, you might want to plan your layout more carefully.

Put the cash-wrap where you can see everything and everyone in the store, but also close enough so that once people check out, they can easily leave. More importantly, plan the line of customers for checkout so that they don’t block other customers trying to shop. Best of all, make it easy and intuitive for customers to know where to go and what to do when they are ready to check out.

I know there is a train of thought that says you want a layout that gets people to the back of the store. Using your checkout as the lure, though, is not the best way to accomplish this, especially in a store that has a ton of traffic and sells easily-pocketed items.

This kid definitely wasn’t as enthralled with this candy shop.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I will give them props on the centerpiece display. The giant lollipop tree pictured here was worthy of the stop and a good example of Over-the-Top-Design. They also had several choose-your-own-flavor stands for things like Jelly Bellies, M&Ms, and other candies. But then again, the last feeling of the experience is the lasting feeling of the experience. Don’t let your customers walk out unhappy, confused, frustrated, or befuddled.

What to Do With the First Quarter Blues

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

It’s easy to get the blues.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

Few Things Go As Planned

Back in the early 1990’s I ran a wilderness trip program out at YMCA Storer Camps. I had a team of trip leaders who would plot out backpacking, biking, rock climbing, and canoeing trips around the Midwest and Ontario. One of the planning stages for the trip leaders was to build an itinerary showing what they would be doing each day, where they would be camping each night, and what goals they hoped to accomplish on the trip.

Papa Moose and family on the Missinaibi River, Northern Ontario 1987

Before each trip I would go through their itinerary with them, making sure the trip looked sound on paper. Then I would have them fold up the itinerary, place it in a Ziploc bag, and stick it in the bottom of their rucksack to only pull out if necessary.

Rarely if ever did a trip turn out exactly as it was written on paper. Flat tires, flash flooding, lost canoes, or other unexpected obstacles would always throw the itinerary off track. Sometimes the itinerary had to be adjusted to meet the needs of the group. One of my bike trips added an extra 100 miles to their trip because the kids had the skills to make that extra jaunt. There was always something.

What I learned through this exercise was one simple lesson—the future will not turn out exactly as you planned.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for it. The two most important days of the itinerary were the first and last. The first set the tone, the last got you home. What happened in between was subject to change at a moment’s notice. A skilled trip leader knew when to adjust the itinerary to make the trip fun for everyone. A skilled trip leader expected to make changes mid-stream and was prepared to do so.

So here is my best New Year’s advice to you.

2018 will not turn out how you planned.

I’m not being a Debby Downer here. In fact, 2018 may surpass all your wildest dreams. Or it may take a hard 90-degree turn down a path you never imagined that might be the best path you ever could take. It may be close to what you thought, but there will be plot-twists, obstacles, detours, re-routes, and even a dead-end or two along the way.

That’s okay.

It is impossible for you to foresee that much of the future to meet every challenge perfectly prepared, knowing what will happen before it happens. (If you had that skill, you likely wouldn’t be reading my blog.)

With that said, you still need to plan your itinerary. You still need to plot out where you are today and where you want to be at the end of the year. You still need to put down a plan for how you will get from Point A to Point B. Without a plan, I can promise you won’t get anywhere close to Point B.

A skilled retailer will plan the following:

  • Marketing: What events, what advertisements, what other ways will you draw traffic to your store? At the same time, how will you measure new, unforeseen opportunities as they come along? What will you need to see to jump at an opportunity or take a risk with your advertising and marketing?
  • Staff Training: What skills do you want your staff to learn and strengthen in 2018? At the same time, how will you deal with the sudden change should you lose a key employee or two along the way?
  • Customer Service: Where are the holes in the service you provide and how will you raise the bar for 2018? At the same time, how will you spot new opportunities to surprise and delight customers in the future as their bar of expectation rises as well?
  • Inventory Management: How will you raise margins and turn ratios (to increase cash flow) while keeping prices attractive and keeping enough inventory on the shelf to maintain sales levels? At the same time, how will you respond to fads? What criteria will you use to jump in whole hog when something is going hot (or jump out quickly when something has died?)

 

A skilled retailer like a skilled trip leader knows that the goal is to start the year out on the right foot and make it to the finish line intact. What happens in between will never match the plan, but if you’re prepared, will be a helluva lot of fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Those four categories will be the main focus of this blog for 2018. My goal for the New Year is to prepare you to see the opportunities, the detours, the 90-degree turns, the obstacles, and the dead-ends for what they are so that you can navigate through them or around them. Sound good?

When It Is Time to Move

Maybe it is declining sales in your current location, or maybe you’ve peaked out your sales and don’t have the room to expand. Maybe the demographics of your location have shifted or maybe your store’s product mix doesn’t fit in with the surrounding stores. Maybe a new development has made you an offer too good to be true.

There are dozens of reasons you can justify for moving your store (and just as many for staying put – too costly, lost sales during the move, will the customers still find us? can we afford it? is the grass actually greener? etc.)

The decision to move your store has to be something you research and consider the issues carefully. A bad move will sink you. A great move will grow you. A lateral move will wear you out.

Here is the short version of this blog…

  • Don’t move unless you have to – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
  • Prioritize what you need from your new location – More Traffic? Parking? Accessibility? Visibility? Better Demographics?  Do your research
  • Plan for extra expenses – moving costs, lost sales, etc. all add up quickly
  • Buy what you can afford – yes you expect your business will grow eventually, but make sure you can afford it on day one.

NO LONGER SUITS YOUR NEEDS

The first decision is the desire to move. You move when your current location no longer suits your needs. Your business model is working but your location isn’t the ideal spot. It’s too small, too big, too quiet, too expensive, too hard to find, wrong demographics, wrong part of town. There was an auto dealer in San Diego that was constantly advertising that if you would work with their location, they would work with your price. It became their gimmick, but at a great advertising expense. That low overhead from the lousy location was instead spent on advertising and profit margin.

Moves are risky. There are no guarantees your move will grow your business. If your current location suits your needs, the risk factor for moving goes up exponentially and it is often better to stay put.

WHERE DO YOU GO?

Just making the decision to move is huge, but you have to also know where you want to go. What are you lacking at your current location? Is it traffic? You’ll likely have to pay more in rent to get better traffic. Is it space? You can find bigger spaces, but you might have to give up something else like traffic or parking.  Is it better demographics? Do you know your demographics well enough to know what “better” demographics look like? The most important question is this…

Can you afford the new location with the money you’re making currently?

We all would like to think our business will grow hugely at the new location. But that isn’t always the case. Plus there are a lot of costs involved in moving that eat up any extra sales and profits. You have the lost days of sales while you move. You have the build out of the new place. You have the changing of phone and address and lost mail and lost shipments. You have the revving up of the new location as your regulars try to find you before the newbies have discovered you. You have the advertising of the change of address including the banners at the old location, the grand opening banners at the new location, the advertisements and the big grand opening event itself.

PRIORITIZE YOUR NEEDS

We moved once in our 67 years in business. The store started in a house. We bought neighboring houses and tore them down for a parking lot and a couple expansions. But we maxed out our location at about 10,000 square feet. My grandfather wanted three things in his move. First he wanted a larger building. He drew up two plans for a 20,000 sq ft building and a 24,000 sq ft building. Second he wanted to be along the busiest road in the downtown district (suburban shopping malls were not yet a thing in 1967.) Third, he wanted his own parking lot.

He found his location – an easy right hand turn off the busiest road in the downtown with plenty of room for parking in both the front and back of the building – and opted for the 20,000 sq ft building because that was all his current level of business could afford. He also had the expenses of moving. Even as a big fish in a small town, the newspaper didn’t cover our move. He had to take out his own ad in the paper. He used this picture with the headline,

“But Grandpa, Momma Won’t Like it if We Play in the Mud”

Yes, his business grew – fast enough that he needed that extra 4000 sq ft only five years after moving. Fortunately he also had the foresight to buy a piece of property that would allow such growth, and he now had the money to pay for it.

That location served us well for many decades even as new competition came to town. But when the demographics of the whole county changed, so did the options for moving. The criteria that served us well before were no longer the criteria we needed. Our options were downsizing greatly or moving to a new community, neither of which we wanted to do.

Moving is a big deal and can be a huge benefit for your business. It can also sink you. Make sure you are moving for the right reasons.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I didn’t discuss renting versus owning. That is a topic worthy of its own post (or three).

In Retail it is All About Location

Let’s get the elephant out of the room right away.

How can I write a blog about being a successful retailer when I closed my retail store? I can sum that up in three words…

Location. Location. Location.

Yes, we were having a tough time with cash flow. That’s the usual culprit behind any store closing. Much of that was due to our location.

Location Issue #1

The population of Jackson has been stagnant at best the last several years. The youth population, however, has shrunk considerably over the last several years as birth rates declined for all groups but teens, and school enrollment is down huge since 2007. On top of that, average household income in the city fell from around $35K per household to $27K per household (well below the national average of around $56K).

I have constantly talked about paying attention to your Market Share. To know your Market Share you first have to know your Market. Ours has shrunk over 40% since 2007. Fortunately, our share of that market only dipped a little. We still had our piece of the pie, but our pie had turned into a tart.

Location Issue #2

We own and occupy a large building on the north edge of downtown. We have been a large toy store for decades, carrying toys, hobbies, baby products, sporting goods, scouts, and more. When the market could bear it, we had a ton of inventory, but scaling back inventory to match the needs of the community meant less efficient use of space and less of the “impact” of being that large store that had everything.

We discussed converting to a smaller store, more in alignment with the population and income, but that would have led to many long-time customers lamenting that we just weren’t the store we used to be or the store they remembered. Better to close while the memories were still positive.

Location Issue #3

I am a big believer in downtowns. Call me naive but I still believe downtown shopping districts can be successful. It takes dedication from the shop keepers, the landlords, and the city leaders to make it work. It takes smart policies, united fronts, and strong relationships to make it work. We have some of that in Jackson, especially among the retail owners. We also have a city council dedicated to improving the streets and sidewalks and green spaces in our downtown. Unfortunately, that also means a ton of disruptive construction. Two years of it! (and counting.)

Our city leaders are not retailers and don’t understand how construction affects retail. They saw an opportunity to get roads fixed and attract new development (all good things), but didn’t see the consequences to the existing retailers and restaurants. When you are trying to dig out of a cash flow hole, having the busiest street in town – the one that goes right by your building – be restricted from three lanes to one with backups that stretch for blocks for an entire spring and summer is not a good recipe for success. At one point we had so much construction downtown that one detour actually led you to another street closure dead-end, and only if you had local knowledge would you know which alley would get you back to open road.

In a couple years, our downtown is going to be new and fresh and repaved and ready for business. But the last two years were pretty tough on the businesses already here, especially for us as our market declined.

Yeah, Amazon is a deal-changer for many retail categories. Yeah, our own vendors are making decisions that hurt the indie retail channel. Yeah, customers are as fickle as ever and have power like never before. None of those are insurmountable. You can still compete. Even as we closed, we were holding our own for our market. We just didn’t like the direction our market was heading.

If your market is your problem, you can do one of four things, Move, Close, Change or Wait. We chose to close.

Now you know.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’ll discuss the other three options and what would make them attractive in future posts. Right now I have to go let the big elephant in the room out to roam the savanna.

Anatomy of a Promotion That Pays

What if I told you that you could market your business to 6,000 customers and instead of costing you a penny, you would actually get paid $328 to do it?

What if I told you that you would also get valuable market data from that promotion?

What if I told you that you would be praised mightily for the campaign?


Here is what we did… (shout out to Bob Negen of Whizbang Training for this idea)

I contacted the local public school district and asked permission to send each of their 6,000 students a $5.00 Gift Certificate. They said yes and sent us a breakdown of how many students in each school. I mocked up the gift certificates as postcards and had them printed locally for $278.

When we got the GC’s from the printer we bundled them in bundles of 30 and made a bag for each school. I delivered them a week ago Wednesday to the main offices. They distributed the GC’s to the schools the following day.

The GC’s had only this disclaimer: “For Student Use Only. One Per Student. Expires 11/15/14”

Here is where it pays…

We are expecting a 10% return on the gift certificates. That’s 600 GC’s we expect to be used between now and 11/15. In the first couple days alone we already had 60 returned and not all the schools had distributed them! The average ticket so far has exceeded $12.00.

So let’s do the math…

600 x $12.00 = $7,200.00 in sales

Minus Cost of the GC’s  (600 x $5 = $3,000.00)
Minus Cost of the Products  ($3,600.00 – 50% of the retail price)
Minus the Cost of the Printing ($278)

7200 – 3000 = 4200
4200 – 3600 = 600
600 – 278 = $322

Here is the bonus…

Not only did we get the word out to 6,000 students (and their parents) about Toy House, but we will get 600 of them (and their parents) into the store right before the prime part of the holiday season where we will entice them with product displays, events, and wish lists for them to fill out and get them back for Christmas shopping.

Not only did we get the word out to 6,000 students, but we also will get 600 purchases to tell us what kinds of impulse items are popular with today’s kids.

Not only did we get the word out to 6,000 students, but I have received tons of praise from parents and teachers for our generosity.

Not only did we get the word out to 6,000 students but I have had friends and customers ask me what is going on that has kept our parking lot so full the last few days.

Here is the kicker…

There are some people who will tell me that I have the math all wrong, that I sold $7200 worth of stuff and only made $322 dollars. Those people are looking at the gift certificate as the be-all, end-all of the promotion. The customer came in once, spent a little money, and left. Promo done. They missed the whole purpose of the campaign, which is to earn top-of-mind awareness by getting them in the store right before the time we really want them in the store. I am banking on my staff’s incredible customer relations skills to earn their repeat business whether they spent $1.62 (our smallest transaction with the GC to date) or $58.02 (our largest).

Frankly, the $7200 in sales, while nice, is just a drop in the bucket. The real value is in getting the word out, getting them in to look around, getting them to buy into our generosity, and getting an idea of what is attracting their attention once they are in the store. The fact that I get paid $322 to get all of that is the icing on the cake.

Do you have any promotions planned that pay you to do them?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you sell stuff for adults, is there a major employer or three that you could contact about giving away gift certificates to their staff? Colleges, hospitals and city governments employ a lot more people than you might imagine.