Last night my bracket got busted. As a diehard University of Michigan Wolverine fan, my NCAA tournament bracket lasts until the Wolverines bow out. (I know, I know. I shouldn’t always pick them to win it all, but then I would have to root for them to lose, and I can’t do that.)
Brackets for the NCAA tournament are fun. They are also an easy tool to implement for a promotion or event in your store.
One year we had a “March Games Madness” where every Friday at Game Night we played four games and voted on the best. After four weeks we had a “Final Four” and in week five we crowned a champion. We had brackets for people to fill out and seedings for the games. Not only was it fun and attracted a decent (and returning) crowd, it gave us fodder for social media marketing. (This game is a “Final Four Game.”)
Another year we set an unofficial world record for having the most people playing the game Snake Oil at one time.
At a Breyer Horse event we had a stick-horse obstacle course complete with a bale of hay and a water element.
For our Disney Princess Day we had a quartet from the local symphony play Disney songs on our stage.
Go big or go home.
Put some kind of Wow Factor into your events and two things will happen. First, your events will get customers talking about your store, coming back more often, and bringing their friends with them.
Second, and more importantly, you will separate yourself from the influence of negative experiences at other brick & mortar stores.
It doesn’t just have to be an event, either. Go big in other ways. I knew a jewelry store that had a $30K diamond engagement ring and special “throne” to sit in to try it on. I just visited a toy store recently with an eight-foot tall Steiff giraffe that sells for $20K.
Take the money from your advertising budget if you have to for a splash item because that’s what those two pieces represent.
Go big in your services, too. Serve food/drinks. Have valet parking. Do a coat check. Have expert demos. Have someone with a large golf umbrella walk customers to their cars on rainy days.
Those are the actions that set you apart, that insulate you from being lumped in with all the other retailers out there. Your toughest competitors now are not the other stores that sell what you sell. Your toughest competitors are the horrible experiences people have at other brick & mortar stores that keep them from shopping in any brick & mortar.
Set yourself apart and you become a category all to yourself, insulated from those negative experiences that drive people away.
PS Actions speak louder than words. Do these things. Don’t advertise these things. Talking about them makes them less special. Just doing it and letting your customers talk about it is what sets you apart. (Yes, you should advertise your event, but don’t give away all the surprises in how you’re going over-the-top. In time, your customers will be showing up just to see what crazy stunt you’re going to pull off this time.)
When the recipe calls for 1 cup Vegetable Oil do you reach for a teaspoon? When it says 16 ounces Sour Cream do you grab a scale? Of course not. Sure, you can get close with those tools, but it won’t be as accurate nor as handy.
Yet we do that in retail all the time. We use the wrong tools to measure our business.
For instance, most businesses look at Sales Growth as a barometer of their business health. If sales went up, business is good. If sales went down, business is bad.
The problem with that tool is that it doesn’t take into account what happened in your local marketplace. If your sales went up 5% but your market grew by 10%, then your business is not on the right path. If your sales were down 2% but your market shrunk by 5%, you captured a larger share of your market.
You have to know how to calculate Market Share to truly know the health of your business.
RECIPE FOR MARKET SHARE
Market Share: your percentage of the Market Potential for your trade area. Calculate Market Potential by finding the Annual Sales for your entire industry, divide that by the population of the United States and multiply that answer times your own trade area population. Then adjust for income levels. The math looks like this …
Industry Sales = $20.2 billion
US Population = 325 million people
Your Trade Area = 150,000 people
US Average Household Income = $59,039
Your Area Household Income = $63,026 (6.75% higher than US average)
$20.2 billion / 325 million = $62.15/person
$62.15 x 150,000 = $9.3 million
$9.3 million x 1.0675 = $9.9 million Market Potential
(Note: that number can be adjusted again for one other factor dependent on your industry. For instance, if you’re in the toy industry you can adjust for the number of children in your area compared to the national average. If you’re in the boat industry, look for something along the lines of percentage of boat owners nationally and in your area.)
Figure out your percentage or share of that market and whether it is growing or shrinking. That will be a more accurate measurement than your top line sales.
CUSTOMER SERVICE MEASUREMENT
How do you measure something as abstract as Customer Service? One tool is Units Per Transaction (UPT). While several factors can influence this number including your merchandising skill of impulse items and whether the items you’re selling have more or less accessories than last year, the largest influence on this number is your sales force. Are they taking care of the customer properly? Are they completing the sale? Are they making the customer feel welcome, comfortable, and happy? Are they building trust?
The calculation for UPT is simple. Take the total units sold during the year and divide that by the number of transactions.
75,000 units sold / 22,000 transactions = 3.4 Units Per Transaction
If that number is going up, your team is doing their job.
Another measuring tool that is slightly harder to quantify, but equally effective in telling the true tale of your customer service is Repeat and Referral Business.
Repeat Business is a sign of Good Customer Service. Referral Business is a sign of WOW Customer Service. Your service was so good they had to bring their friends back with them. If you’re tracking transactions by name in your POS, you’ll know your Repeat Business. You can also ask when you enter someone new into your POS how they heard of you. If they say “from a friend” mark them as Referral.
The ideal business has a majority of their customers as Repeat and Referral. The raw number of Repeat and Referral Customers should hopefully be growing and should be a larger percentage of your traffic. The larger, the better.
MARKETING AND ADVERTISING MEASUREMENT
Sure, you can run a coupon or a Call to Action in every ad to see how many people it drives to the store. But if you have been reading this blog or following the wisdom of people smarter than me like Roy H. Williams or Seth Godin, then you know that kind of advertisement leads to short term gain and long term pain.
One other way to measure the effectiveness of your advertising is from your Repeat and Referral Business. Add those two numbers together. The remainder of your traffic is your marketing-driven business.
Yes, some of that traffic is based purely on your location. Your location is part of your marketing. Your signs on your building are part of your marketing. Your parking situation is part of your marketing. Your advertising is also part of your marketing. If the raw numbers of people coming through your doors for the first time and not by Referral are growing, your marketing is working.
Which part of your marketing is working? That is a little bit harder to measure. As famed retailer John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
At least you have a tool to see if it is working in general. (Check the Free Resources for Making Your Ads More Effective to figure out how to make all halves work.)
When you use the right measuring tool, you get a better result. That’s true for cooks, bakers, and small business owners.
PS Before you plan for 2019, you really need to know what happened in 2018. Even if your top line sales rocked the world and your bank account is fatter than usual, if your Market Share decreased or your Repeat and Referral Business fell off, you have important issues you need to address sooner rather than later. I’d love to help you address those issues.
I am taking a class to work on my business. It is a class for startups, primarily, but the exercises will not only help me with my business as a speaker, writer, and business coach, they will help me help you become a better business.
My instructor, Frances Schagen, has granted me permission to do all my homework worksheets live here on this blog. You can read the first worksheet here. Time for Part 2.
DISCOVERY DANCE – WHO?
The previous step was about me, what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. This next exercise is for me to think more about who I want to work with. I have three questions to answer …
What problem are you solving?
What are the characteristics of the people you most want to work with? What is it about them that makes them a fit for your solution?
List 20 people who have those characteristics and who you think might need your solution.
What problem are you solving?
Giving tools other than the markdown gun to retailers and small businesses to help them create successful businesses that can compete on a field slanted against them.
What are the characteristics of the people you most want to work with? What is it about them that makes them a fit for your solution?
Business Owners and Managers of small, independent businesses who:
Can make their own decisions
Want to learn new and better ways to run their businesses
Believe in continuing education
Are open to trying new things
Care about their customers
Care about their community
Want a push in the right direction
Want to learn new skills
Notice that these characteristics align with my Core Values of Having Fun, Helping Others, and Education. Your answer should align with your Core Values, too.
Notice also that I did not limit myself to just retailers. I go back and forth on this part of the answer. Although my background is in retail and some of my presentations are strongly retailer-focused, the characteristics listed above are not just limited to retailers. Nor are all my programs and teachings just limited to retailers.
There is something to be said for narrowing your focus so tightly that you become the known expert in a narrow field. There is also something to be said for keeping the net more broadly focused not on any single type of business or individual, but on the characteristics. I love that part of this question. If you own a non-retail business and have the characteristics listed above, I am sure I can help you.
There are still a couple problems with my original answer of “Business Owners and Managers of small, independent businesses.” Most of those people cannot afford my services on an individual basis and I prefer to work with large groups of these people at once.
Therefore, to truly reach them in the ways I can help most, I have a secondary customer that is in many ways my primary customer. I have to go through the gatekeeper.
My true customers are typically Trade and Business Organization Leaders who, along with the mindset above, also:
Plan learning events for their members
Hire people from outside their echo chambers to give fresh perspective, new insights, and sharper tools to their members
Those organization leaders are the gatekeepers to the first group because A) they have the money to plan learning events, and B) they can corral a number of businesses into a group setting.
Therefore, to reach my preferred customers, I have to find these gatekeepers who share these characteristics and reach them.
This is an important understanding and distinction. I write this blog and create the content on my website for you, the small business owner. I have to find another avenue to convince the gatekeepers to hire me. This blog isn’t for them, nor will it ever get me hired by them*.
When you understand your customers at this level, it changes the way you look at how and where to find them.
List 20 people who have those characteristics and who you think might need your solution.
I think Frances wants me to list specific people or businesses here. I’m going to take a slightly different approach in my answer.
I think the following businesses need my solution …
Independent Retailers & Restaurants
Locally Owned Franchise Retailers & Restaurants
Service-based businesses such as insurance agencies and beauty salons
Anyone involved in Sales
who belong to …
Downtown Development Authority districts
Chambers of Commerce
Shop Local Organizations
Industry Buying Groups
Industry Trade Associations
Main Street Programs
and/or attend …
I also think the following people need my solution because it can help strengthen their members, which strengthens their organization …
Chamber of Commerce Directors
Main Street Program Directors
Shop Local Directors
Economic Development Directors
Trade Association Educational Committee Directors
One of the first questions I always ask when I meet this last group of people is,
“Do you offer or have you considered offering any training programs for your members?”
Listing 20 people can be challenging. For your benefit, I thought about my business at Toy House and came up with this list:
Aunts & Uncles
Anyone with a waiting room with kids
I’m sure with enough thought you can come up with a list like this for your business.
Here are my takeaways from this exercise for you.
If you can clearly identify the problem you are trying to solve and clearly identify the characteristics of the person with this problem you would most like to work with, you’ll understand more clearly the advertising and marketing you need to do to get more of the customers you want (and less of the ones you don’t want).
(Having read ahead in the course work, I think Frances will take this info to send us in a slightly different and more fascinating direction than that. Sit tight. I’ll explain it when we get there.)
PS *This blog actually can get me hired by “them,” but it involves YOU. When you tell your DDA/Chamber/Shop Local/Trade Association person about wanting opportunities to learn more and having educational programming available to you, then they are more likely to hire me to do that. Tell your organization directors about me. Send them to this page.
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.
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 businessbetter 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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 lovedoing 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 #1Boosting 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 #1Selling 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 #1Reading 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Especially 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?