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Good Idea, Poor Execution

I need new tires for my vehicle. I’ve been through this process before. It used to be easy. I had a downtown Goodyear Tire place. I went there. Supported my fellow downtown business. They always took care of me. Knew me on a first-name basis. It was only two blocks from Toy House. No worries.

They’re closed now.

Image result for goodyear assurance tripletred all-seasonSo I did what a lot of people do these days. I went online.

Let’s face it. Tires are scary. There are so many different makes and models. Each vehicle has its own requirements. Without trust between buyer and seller, it is easy to feel afraid of being ripped off. I wanted to know more about tires before I set foot in a store. I wanted to research different models, check prices (last time I got tires there was a $250 difference between the tires I got and a couple other places offering the same tire), and be prepared.

I’ve always been a fan of Goodyear, probably because of the Goodyear store downtown, probably because there used to be a Goodyear plant in Jackson that spent a lot of money at Toy House both as a company and the individuals that worked there. I found myself on the Goodyear website comparing different models the right size and style for my vehicle.

The website was good. It had side-by-side comparisons, reviews and ratings, plus all the specs like warranty, fuel-efficiency, season, comfort, etc. I narrowed it down to a couple choices and felt a whole lot smarter.

GOOD IDEA

Then the website took it a step farther. I had the ability right then and there to purchase the tires online and have them installed locally. Before I clicked, however, I went to a few local tire place websites to compare prices. No one had the tire I wanted as an offering, but their pricing on the other Goodyear tires was similar to the Goodyear site. I felt a little more confident that I was getting a fair deal.

The good idea at Goodyear was to get the purchase right away. Don’t let me go to a local shop and have them sell me on some other brand. When I clicked on the purchase button, it then gave me a choice of shops in the area where I could get those tires installed. Even better! I knew most of them, but didn’t have a relationship with any of them, so I chose the place closest to my home.

Then the Goodyear site let me choose an appointment time. It had to be two days or more later. That made sense to me, since the shop might not have the tires in stock. I chose two days later at 10am, paid for my tires, and got my confirmation email.

I will be willing to bet this website drives a lot of traffic to these tire shops because of people like me shopping online.

POOR EXECUTION

This morning I arrived for my appointment. No tires. The delivery truck doesn’t arrive until the afternoon. Plus, even if the tires were there, the shop had already booked all their bays for the morning. The shop had only received the email from Goodyear about the shipment and appointment this morning.

The guy at the shop was quite apologetic. He said he has this problem with Goodyear all the time, even though he has called them several times trying to get minor changes to their program like scheduling out three days instead of two so that he was sure he would have the tires on time and be able schedule installers. They tell him, “Sorry, that’s the way we do it.”

Fortunately for this shop, and for me, I have a wide open schedule this afternoon. So does the shop. As soon as the tires land I’ll be back and they’ll be able to get me right in. But just imagine the person who had to work their whole schedule around this appointment.

Maybe you had to drop off the car before work and find someone to take you to work, then pick you up after. Maybe you had to get a babysitter because you didn’t want to take your two-year old to sit in the waiting room of a tire shop. Maybe you had a business meeting out of town in the afternoon and really wanted those new tires before making a two-hour drive. Maybe you were leaving on vacation and were waiting on another paycheck to afford the tires, scheduled the purchase as soon as possible, but now had to delay your entire vacation a day because of this fiasco?

Can you imagine any of those people being completely upset and irate? Can you imagine any of those people taking their frustrations out on a tire shop manager for something that was totally out of his control? Can you imagine any of those people writing bad reviews of the tire shop on Yelp?

VENDORS ARE PARTNERS

As a retailer, I understand the flow of products. If I had called this shop directly, placed the order, and made the appointment, only to find that morning that they didn’t have my tires, that would have been one thing. But these guys were at the mercy of Goodyear (and, by my guess, the mercy of Goodyear’s web guys not knowing how to add holidays into their calendar).

I applaud Goodyear for taking the steps to offer this service online. That’s what a good partner does—drives traffic into your stores.

I chide Goodyear, though, for not understanding the levels of frustration and complaint they also cause their retailers because they don’t listen and adjust the system to fit the retailers. I hope the tire shop makes their full margin on these tires, if nothing else but for the hassle of having to work around Goodyear’s “system.”

In fact, I’m going to ask if that’s the case so that next time I need tires, I can find a way to make sure my local stores get what they deserve.

If you have a vendor who is truly your partner, driving traffic into your store, thank them and support them!

If you have a vendor who is causing your customers to hate you because of things out of your control, send them this blog post. 

If you are a vendor, recognize that you can do just as much damage as good, especially when you don’t listen to your retailers.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Just a cautionary tale for vendors … I have known several vendors over the years who have offered programs to try to drive traffic into stores, but either didn’t consult the retailers first, or ignored their suggestions. The programs always fell flat and often turned the retailers off from buying their products. Many of those vendors are now out of business.

PPS This goes for retailers, too. You are a partner with your customer. Before you start offering something you think is good for the customer, you might want to first ask your customer exactly what she wants. I’ll tell you a tale tomorrow about what I learned when I asked my customers questions.

The Internet Isn’t Winning

You’re losing.

Case Study #1

Image result for a5 scooterMy son wanted to buy a scooter for getting around campus. Not an electric scooter, mind you, but a simple two-wheeled scooter similar to the one he had as a child but with higher handlebars and a larger weight limit. He is a college student with Amazon Prime. He researched it online as do most kids his age. He could have bought it and had it in two days. Instead, since the website said Walmart had it, he asked if I would take him to Walmart.

Two stores later, no scooter, no sign of that scooter having ever been in either store. Guess where he’s going?

Case Study #2

A friend needed a specific type of blood sugar test strips for the machine she got. The store where she used to get them had an empty slot on the shelf for over a week. Two other stores she tried didn’t have that style. Another store had them but for over double the price.

Guess where she went?

Case Study #3

I went shopping with my other son. He has particular tastes when it comes to pants. The last style that he liked has been discontinued. After trying several stores and pants we finally found another style he liked at REI. They had one pair—in one color—in stock in his size.

“You can get more colors and sizes online,” said the clerk.

Case Study #4

Another friend was in Dick’s Sporting Goods. She found a pair of shorts she liked but not her size. The clerk, after telling her they didn’t have her size, didn’t even offer for her to go online where she not only found her size, but also found they were on clearance, even though no one had bothered to mark them as such in the store.

Case Study #5

Another friend told me she stopped shopping at Younkers because the prices at the register never matched the prices on the shelves. Sometimes the prices were higher, which meant she had to get someone to go look at the shelf tags while customers lined up at the register behind her, and then fight for the right price. Sometimes the prices were lower, which, had she known, she would have bought more than one. Either way, each trip to the checkout was fraught with anxiety and stress.

I could go on and on about several times the customer service was so poor, the selection so lacking, or the experience so frustrating, that the best solution is to avoid going shopping in brick & mortar stores at all.

When I moved back to Jackson in 1993 the Jackson YMCA was transforming one of its squash courts into a rock climbing gym. Because I had led rock climbing trips before, they hired me to supervise it. When I met with my new staff for their first day of training I explained to them that there were NO regulations guiding how rock climbing gyms should be run, mainly because these gyms were relatively new and there hadn’t been enough injuries or accidents or insurance claims to force those regulations.

I told the staff that we would NOT be the cause of any such regulations. Our gym would be run at the highest standards of safety. We only had two incident reports in eight years and no major injuries.

Today you need to have the same conversation with your staff.

Your store will not be the cause of driving anyone to the Internet to do their shopping.

  • Your store will have the must-haves in stock.
  • Your store will have the merchandise properly displayed, priced, sorted, and available.
  • Your store will have a staff that knows the products inside and out including not only what you sell, but the most popular products you don’t sell (and why you don’t sell them).
  • Your store will be the store that offers solutions to problems.
  • Your store will be the store that makes checkout a breeze.

That’s what keeps people in the store and off the Internet. That’s what winning in the store looks like.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My son is living proof that even today’s youth still want to shop in a store. The stores just aren’t doing their job of making it worthwhile. Worse yet, each poor brick & mortar experience reflects poorly on all brick & mortar stores, especially when it happens at an indie store that is supposed to be the pinnacle for customer service.
Don’t be that store that brings everyone else down.

What Not to Change

By now you’ve heard the buzz about the International House of Pancakes and their big announcement. They are changing their name from IHOP to IHOb. They made the announcement and asked us to guess what the “b” meant.

The first answer by virtually everyone was “breakfast.”

Image result for ihob logoI could wrap my head around that. I love their Colorado Omelette. They have waffles, French Toast, and crepes too. Pancakes are out of favor because of all the low carb diets. That would make sense.

Heck, I could even have seen it if this was just a marketing gimmick and the “b” was going to stand for bacon. Bacon is trendy and popular right now.

But then in a “Hey, New Coke, hold my beer,” moment they announced the “b” stands for “burgers.” 

Burgers? Really? That was your big marketing gimmick?

First, let me reassure you that they are not actually changing their name. They are doing some temporary signs and making a big stink about it through the media. In one way, it has worked. We’re all talking about them. In another way, they have definitely brought attention to the fact they have burgers on their menu (and have for some time).

But here’s something worth thinking about when it comes to branding. The vast majority of people were going with either breakfast or bacon because that is what the restaurant is known for. That is IHOP’s reputation, which by extension is the restaurant’s brand. No matter how many viral campaigns like this, they will neither change that perception nor ever be known as the burger joint. As much as this campaign has gone viral, it isn’t likely to get too many new customers going to IHOP that weren’t going already. In fact, it might drive some customers away who think they have stopped selling pancakes.

Not only was this campaign confusing to a lot of people, trying to be known as the burger joint is probably the worst arena to enter. It is already crowded with all the fast food joints, the Red Robins, the Inn & Outs, and a slew of other players. IHOP owns the pancake title. Hands down. They own it better than Coke owns Pepsi. Yet Coke tried the exact same tactic with New Coke and watched it become the poster child for failed marketing campaigns.

I know some of why they did it. It is tough being the frontrunner. It is tough getting people excited about your pancakes when you already own the category (and pancakes are not quite as popular as before). The people at IHOP saw this campaign as a brand-extension, a way to be known for more than pancakes. Unfortunately, there was a better way to do that.

Saying that you are known for burgers when you aren’t won’t work. Simply saying your burgers are great won’t change anyone’s mind, either. Having taste-tests won’t move the needle much (or Pepsi would have overtaken Coke during the Pepsi Challenge campaign). But asking your tribe, the people who already love IHOP for your breakfasts, to try a burger next time they are in, might get a few people to switch. Speaking to the people who love IHOPs for being open 24 hours (in certain locations) and reminding them you have more than breakfast might get a few people to try the burgers. Offering small sliders as a side with the pancakes (there’s a little surprise and delight for you), would be far more effective in getting burgers into everyone’s minds.

Then if your burgers really are good, people will talk. That’s the kind of talk that moves the needle. Right now people like me are talking in the wrong direction.

Right now the talk isn’t even about whether the burgers are any good or not. Most of the talk is about what the heck were they thinking? That doesn’t help the brand one bit.

The lesson in all this is simple. If you are known for something already, don’t confuse people by trying to be known for something else. Instead embrace it, amplify it, and become it so fully that no one will know anyone else but you in that category.

There is only one house of pancakes.

There is only one waffle house.

There are dozens of burger and pizza joints.

When you can be the only one, be the only one, and be happy with that.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, there are thousands of great breakfast restaurants including some regional chains and plenty of local joints, but in the national scheme of things, no matter where you go, if someone is asked to name a pancake joint, IHOP will be at or near the top of that list. That’s the power of their brand and the source around which the rest of the chain revolves. Move away from that and the brand will falter.

PPS Marketing and advertising cannot change your reputation for the better. Only actions will do that. Confusing people or trying to get them to believe something other than what they already believe hurts the brand more than it helps because it erodes more confidence away from what people already believe. Telling people their old Coke they’ve drunk for years doesn’t taste good (even though it was the best seller by a wide margin) wasn’t a smart move. This move by IHOP stands right beside that.

PPPS You’ve heard it said there is no such thing as bad PR. That statement is wrong. Don’t believe it.

Reaching the People Who “Think” They Know You

I’ve been out at YMCA Storer Camps the last couple days teaching sailing again. This time, instead of teaching the kids, I’m just working with the staff to make sure everyone is on the same page for teaching the kids. While walking to the waterfront, one of the new instructors asked me where I sail when I’m not at camp.

“Nowhere,” I replied

They called me Admiral Graybeard!

I have sailed other places in the past. I sailed for the University of Michigan Sailing Club. I sailed on the Great Lakes with a different, larger boat that the camp used to own. I’ve even sailed in races hosted by the San Diego Yacht Club (no, not The America’s Cup) a long time ago. But for now, my only chance to sail is out on Stoney Lake in camp boats.

Sailing is not my true heart’s desire. Teaching is.

At the camp I have taught Archery, Riflery (bb guns and pellet guns), Canoeing, Kayaking, Sailing, Swimming, Horseback Riding, Snorkeling, Wilderness Survival, Ropes Course Climbing, Rock Climbing, Backpacking, Biking, Team Building, Cross-Country Skiing, and Nature. Out in California I taught Earth Sciences, Astronomy, Geology, and Ecology. At Toy House I taught Car Seat Installations, How to Buy Toys, How to Buy Baby Products, How to Sell, and How to Work With Children of Special Needs. At Henry Ford Allegiance Health I teach new and expectant fathers how to be better dads. On the speaking circuit, I teach Marketing & Advertising, Customer Service, Hiring & Training, Inventory Management, Retail Math, Team Building, and Management Skills.

“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” -Theodore Roosevelt

(Forgive me if it sounds like boasting. I’ve just said, “Certainly I can!” several times.)  What I’m really trying to do is find new and better ways to Help You (one of my Core Values) so that I can convince you that I can help you even more. Therefore, I teach.

Teaching is not only a love, it is a means to an end. If I can teach you one thing, hopefully you’ll trust me enough to want me to teach you other things. That’s one way I generate new business.

Last weekend I taught a group of toy store owners looking to capitalize on the disenfranchised Toys R Us shoppers that there are two reasons those people didn’t shop with independent specialty toy stores like theirs.

  • They don’t know you
  • They “think” they know you

That first group is fairly easy to reach. Any extra marketing or advertising you do will find them because they will be looking. That second group will be a lot harder. They have opinions about you (usually wrong) that won’t be swayed by a fancy radio or TV ad.

The best way to reach that second group is through Word-of-Mouth. Do something big to get your current customers to talk to them about you.

I told the toy retailers last week that was the only way to reach them. I was wrong. 

While I was walking down the trail to the waterfront with these soon-to-be sailing instructors I realized there is a second way … Teach!

Seriously. Just like me, you have some crazy, cool knowledge you could share. You have some wisdom and understanding of the products you sell that they won’t find just surfing the Internet. You have some tips and techniques for using and maintaining those products that might be a lifesaver for those customers.

The people who “think” they know you can be enticed to attend a free training program about the products they don’t know.

That was our Shopping for Baby 101 class. Free information about how to buy certain baby products including what to look for, what questions to ask, and what criteria to use when making buying decisions. The class was never a sales pitch, just useful information.

We picked up a lot of new customers that way who only thought we were a toy store.

We also began changing the way they thought about toys. Many of those same people who bought into our teachings about baby products also bought into how to buy toys, and became lifelong customers.

What do you include in the class? Answer these questions …

  • What info do most customers either misunderstand or not know about our products?
  • What info separates the smart customers from the average customers?
  • What questions does your staff have to answer over and over and over about the products?
  • What info would be fun and shareworthy?

Have a free class. Serve refreshments. Give out vendor-donated prizes. Make it fun and informative. You’ll sway a bunch of skeptics in the process.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Teaching is a lot like leading. Think of your lesson plan as a path. You want to guide your audience by starting with what they know and building onto their knowledge and assumptions until it is time to break those assumptions. Then lead them back to safety with new knowledge that shows them why their assumptions were false in the first place. This template works time and time again.

PPS Teaching leads to word-of-mouth, especially when you weave in a lot of stories for your audience to share.

PPPS If you didn’t see a topic up there that might work with your group, follow this link. That list above was already way too long.

What Time Do You Close?

Twenty-six years ago this week I was living in California working for the Orange County Public Schools teaching Outdoor Education at Camp Edwards in the mountains above San Bernardino. It was the last week of the school year, our last group of fifth and sixth graders up at camp.

You know what that last week of school is like. There is a giddy anticipation of summer break from both the students and the teachers. The whole week feels different than any other week of the school year.

We felt it up at Camp Edwards, too. That’s why our director sat us down a couple hours before the buses arrived and made it crystal clear that we would make NO reference to this being the last week. We would do NOTHING different to celebrate the end of the school year. We would act as though this was as normal as a week in March.

Her reasoning for this was the kids that week deserved to have the same kind of experience every other student had throughout the year. Equally important was the kids from previous weeks not missing out because we made the last week special.

She wanted consistency, whether you were the first group at camp, the last group at camp, or the middle group during the January snowstorm. She wanted the highest level of standards for every single group of students under her care.

It was tough, but we got through the week without a single reference to the end of the school year.

It’s kinda like closing time at your store. If there is one thing I did completely wrong at Toy House for many years, it was closing time. When the last customer exited, we went home. We didn’t hang around to clean or stock shelves. We left. Out the door. See ya, bye bye.

That in and of itself wasn’t a problem. A lot of businesses leave right after closing and do all the other stuff the following morning before opening. The problem was how this get-out-the-door-quick mentality affected closing time and the experiences we gave our customers.

In our minds we treated last-minute customers the same as everyone else, offering to help them find what they needed, gift wrap all their packages, carry everything out to their car for them, etc. It was the subtle clues, however, that sent the strongest messages.

For many years we closed at 6pm, but we started closing around 5:30pm. At that time the staff began emptying wastebaskets, using glass cleaner to wash fingerprints off the front doors, cleaning off the counters, and even shutting down one of the three cash registers.

At 5:55pm we would turn off half the lights in the store to warn people that we were getting ready to close. (I debated the whole lights vs. PA announcement several times and never came up with a good answer for one over the other.)

We also put our “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign on the door. By that time the staff was shutting down the second of three cash registers. They were all huddled up front, waiting to checkout the last customer and get out the door.

If you were a customer and saw the lights go out before closing time, or saw the staff doing cleaning and end-of-day prep, or noticed how all the staff had left the selling area, or felt the staring eyes wondering when you were going to leave, no amount of friendliness from the staff was going to remove that initial feeling.

First and last impressions are the most powerful and most remembered. We were leaving our customers with a less-than-pleasant last impression.

It was only in the last couple years that it dawned on me what we were doing. I needed to adopt the lesson I learned from Camp Edwards and make sure we were “open” the hours we said we were open. No more pre-cleanup. No more lights out or hanging the sign before closing time. No more huddling up front, waiting to get out the door. The last customer of the day deserved the same experience as the first customer of the day and the customer who came in during the middle of the day.

We immediately switched to not starting our closing routine until the actual closing time and not a second before. (I say immediately but in reality old habits were hard to break. It took us months to get into the new routine.)

If your sign says you are open 9am to 7pm, your first customer at 9am and your last customer at 7pm deserve the exact same treatment as the customer who came in at 2:23pm. Anything less and you are hurting the relationship-building you’re trying to do.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, there are those customers who walk in at 6:55pm to start leisurely browsing the aisles, in no hurry to make a decision, expecting you to stay open thirty, forty, even sixty minutes past your closing time. Those people are rude. There are also people who rush in at 6:55pm because they got out of work late and need one quick item. Those people are worth their weight in gold. It is worth putting up with one or two rude people every now and then to make sure you are leaving a strong lasting impression on everyone else.

PPS If you aren’t open until at least 7:00pm or later, you’re likely going to have a lot of last-second customers (and equally a lot of missed customers). Retailers that close at 5pm are catering to the ever-shrinking stay-at-home crowd and the unemployed. (But I’ll leave that rant for another day.)

If You Have to Ask …

I stood up on stage in front of a crowd of retailers and said, “If you have to ask how much it costs, …”

The crowd answered in unison, “You can’t afford it!”

That quote is attributed to J.P. Morgan and is so common and pervasive that if you say the first half, almost everyone can tell you the second half. So why do so many stores put out merchandise without price tags forcing customers to ask?

Michigan was the last state in the union to get rid of its pricing rules where every product that could be priced had to be priced. The Michigan Retailers Association was against this rule because it put an undue burden on large retailers having to price out every single item.

Imagine the cost of all those price tags and the staff necessary to tag all those items. Oh the outrage! (sarcasm intended)

Frankly, as a consumer, I loved that law. I hate having to walk around the store looking for a scanner to verify if the price on the shelf is correct (if there is a price on the shelf at all!) I find it annoying when items aren’t priced. Many of your customers do, too.

Putting price tags on products is not a cost issue. It is a customer service issue.

I’ve talked before about how signs increase sales because a large percentage of the population would rather read a sign than interact with a salesperson. Price tags are the lowest hanging fruit on the sign tree.

Price tags are one half of the Value Equation (Perceived Worth versus Actual Price). Without a price, a customer cannot finish that equation and make a decision to buy on her own. Many of those customers walk away without asking an associate for help.

Image result for if you have to ask how much it costs you can't afford it“If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” J.P. Morgan

That quote popped into my mind last weekend while I was shopping in Dillard’s. They have a nice Big & Tall section that has mostly served me well since I discovered it. Several items, however, were not priced. I couldn’t help think how often I moved on to the next item that was priced rather than look for a sales associate.

I’m not your typical male shopper. I will ask for help … if it is convenient enough. Unfortunately, more and more stores are cutting back on their sales force, leaving fewer and fewer sales associates even available to help me.

This is the downward spiral of customer service that is driving customers to the Internet. Yes, pricing your items is a Customer Service thing. If you aren’t pricing every individual item that you possibly can, you aren’t offering good customer service.

If you aren’t pricing every individual item you possibly can, you’re losing sales.

In the big box stores I can take an unmarked item to a scanner somewhere on the floor. In a smaller store I may just scan the UPC with my phone and buy it online right in front of you.

I hated when Michigan finally gave up the price tag rule. It meant worse customer service for consumers in general. It meant lower costs for all those big-box competitors that didn’t care about customer service in the first place, and it drove more people to the Internet for shopping just to avoid the lousy customer service they got from the big retailers.

Yeah, it gave me a chance to outshine the competition with superior service, but for most people it lowered their overall perception of brick & mortar shopping in general. All boats sink with the tide, too.

You might think buying all those price tags and paying staff to tag all those items costs too much. I will tell you that by not properly pricing your merchandise, it is costing you far more.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The last thing you ever want a customer to think is, “I probably can’t afford it.” Yet since that J.P. Morgan quote is so pervasive, that is exactly the thought in their head every time they can’t find a price. I can’t make that quote or that thought go away, but I can encourage you to eliminate that thought in your store. Make your pricing crystal clear.

PPS One other benefit of pricing all your merchandise is Trust. If your stuff isn’t marked, it looks like you’re hiding something or playing games with your pricing. That undermines trust, which undermines relationships and loyalty.

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.

Frigidaire Made Me Say a Bad Word

I installed a dishwasher today. It only took me four trips to the hardware store. The first one I cussed all the way there. I had to crank up the music to make the people in cars next to me think I was singing. The next three were my own fault and I take full blame. (I still had the music turned up, but that was just for my listening pleasure.)

The issue was a small part that is required on all dishwashers, standard for pretty much all new models, and sold separately for every dishwasher manufacturer out there. The part cost me a whopping $6.35. It is a simple elbow (pictured) that attaches to the dishwasher, to which you hook up your water supply line. I already had the water supply line from the old dishwasher, but the elbow on the old dishwasher wasn’t the right size for today’s new dishwashers.

Why isn’t this part—that is required and now universal—included with the dishwasher? It’s like buying a car for $25,000 and then they tell you it will be another $50 to get the keys.

Why didn’t the person who sold the dishwasher tell us that the dishwasher was sold a la carte and that we’d have to buy another piece to make it work?

Why did I not have everything I needed to “complete the sale?” All I did was curse the store that sold the dishwasher and gave the rest of my business to another hardware store.

The first problem was obviously Frigidaire’s. If I was them, I would include the $6 piece with the sale of every dishwasher. I would build it into my price and then go advertise that only my products come with everything you need to complete the project. The other companies sell you an incomplete product.

The second problem was the sales clerk’s fault. After watching a YouTube video on installing dishwashers, I found out this missing part is known and expected to be missing. Since none of the dishwashers come with this part, there should be a HUGE display of them next to the dishwashers with a big sign that says, “DON’T FORGET THESE EXTRA PARTS YOU WILL NEED!!!!” At the very least, the sales person should have known to suggest the part before we got to checkout.

This is what I mean when I say “complete the sale.” It is what Bob Negen means when he talks about “the perfect sale.” It isn’t an add-on, it is a necessity of great customer service.

When your customer gets home, she should have everything from you that she possibly needs to use the main product she bought.

If she doesn’t, not only will she think poorly of you, she may very well go to another store to get the stuff you should have sold her! (That’s what I did.)

Frigidaire made me angry for not including the part. Lowe’s made me angry for not selling me the part. Hammond Hardware is my hero for not only finding me the right part, but also helping me when I found out the old supply line was no good either because it didn’t have standard fittings, nor did the pipe to which it attaches. (To John at Hammond, who helped me out, you’re a true customer service hero. To Dave, the boss, your whole crew deserves praise. I wish you guys sold the dishwashers in the first place!)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Plumbing is one area where I know I don’t suffer from Dunning-Kruger Effect. I knew I didn’t know. That’s why I went to my local store when I needed help. I didn’t trust that anyone at Lowe’s would know more than I did and I wasn’t in the mood to try to teach myself. Buying the dishwasher was transactional by default. None of the stores that sold dishwashers had won my heart. Buying the parts, however, was relational.

PPS If Lowe’s had told me I needed the part and I said no thank you, then two things would have occurred. First, I would not have blamed them for not having what I need. Second, and more importantly, my levels of trust with them would have gone up considerably. Since they didn’t say anything, my levels of trust dropped dramatically. Not good when you’re trying to build relationships with your customers.

So You Got a Bad Review?

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

If you don’t already have a negative review online about your business, either you’re still too new to have any reviews or you just haven’t found where they posted it. No matter how nice you are, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much training you do, someone somewhere is going to have a beef with you and post it online for the whole world to see.

Image result for hundred dollar billThe big chains get them daily by the hundreds. If I told you those soulless corporations didn’t care, you’d believe me. They do care, but not nearly as much as you do when someone writes something bad about you.

To you, a negative review is like a kick in the gut. It is a dagger to the heart. You read it over and over, fretting about what you could have done differently. You worry about it, lose sleep over it, and turn a few more hairs gray. You’re ready to fire staff members and change everything you’ve done. At the very least you’ve gone out back behind the building where no one can hear you and let a few choice words fly.

Before you start drinking heavily and contemplating a mass firing of your team while writing a nasty reply to the reviewer, STOP!

Bad reviews are part of the game of being a retailer. How you respond to them is part of your brand image and marketing. Before flying off the handle with a criticism of the reviewer, stop and take a deep breath. In fact, the best thing you can do with a bad review is not respond right away while you’re still emotional. Instead take a moment to review the review.

Ask these questions internally …

  • Was it an attack on an employee and what he or she did? If so, talk to the employee and make sure they know the right thing to do. (Don’t accuse them of doing the wrong thing, just focus on doing the right thing in the future.)
  • Was it an attack on a policy you have and how it was enforced? Take a look at the policy and see whether it needs changing, it needs flexibility, or it just is what it is and there is nothing you can do.
  • Was it a misunderstanding between the reviewer and what your staff meant to say/do? See how you can eliminate this misunderstanding in the future.
  • Was it a legitimate complaint that needs a follow-up? See if you can contact the reviewer individually and settle the problem.
  • Was it just completely unfounded and patently false? (See below)

Be honest in your answers to these questions. Often a negative review is a legitimate complaint about a policy you have that might be more business-friendly and less customer-friendly. It might also be exactly what you needed so that you knew what your staff was doing behind your back, and how certain team members were treating your customers when you weren’t around.

If you respond to a negative review (and that is a huge IF), you should only do so for one reason—to thank the person for their review and apologize for their experience.

People are going to read your bad reviews. More importantly, they are going to read how you responded to those reviews. If all you do is get defensive and try to combat the reviewer, everyone else will believe that you’re hostile and not open to suggestions. If all you do is stoop to the level of the reviewer, you’re no better than them.

Instead say something like, “Thank you for making us aware of [the situation.] I am sorry that you had such an experience. The staff and I have discussed this at length to make sure we don’t have this problem again. We hope that you will give us the opportunity to serve you in the future.”

You don’t have to admit there was a problem. (Most often, negative reviews are based on misunderstandings.) You only have to own up to the fact that a customer, whether by her own actions or yours, had a bad experience in your store. “I’m sorry,” goes a long way to healing that experience and making others believe you are a caring company.

Most importantly, when you respond like this, the other people reading the review will see that you responded and apologized and took steps to correct the problem. That not only reassures them that they won’t have the same problem if they visit your store, but also that you are willing to listen to customers and put their needs first. That perception is what wins hearts and loyalty.

THE OUTRAGEOUS NEGATIVE REVIEW

You’ll get a bad review from time to time that has no basis in reality. It is simply bashing you for no reason or a made-up reason. Those don’t deserve a response. Leave them alone. The people that write these kinds of reviews probably won’t respond, even if you do try to engage. If they do respond, someone willing to write something that false will continue to write BS so you’ll never win. Either report them, block them, or ignore them. Don’t ever try to engage with them.

Most people who read reviews online will do like the judges in certain sporting events. They’ll throw out the best and worst reviews and read all the ones in-between.

There is only one response to those completely unfounded, totally false, negative reviews. Simply say, “Thank you for this review. We will look into it.” The other readers will see that you take all reviews seriously, and that is far more important than getting into a shouting match, being defensive, or calling someone out for being a loon.

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

Negative reviews, like credit card fees, are part of the cost of doing business. Don’t take them personally. Don’t attack the reviewer. Don’t go on the defensive. Do answer a few questions internally and see if there are steps you can take to reduce these types of reviews in the future.

If you make your policies customer-friendly, your staff highly trained, and your store an experience of wonder and delight, those negative reviews will be heavily outweighed by the positive ones.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sometimes your policy is the way it is for reasons beyond your control. We got a negative review for not taking back a used breast pump. Because of bodily fluids, we weren’t allowed to take it back. Occasionally you’ll have something like that. A short, simple, it-is-out-of-our-control explanation is okay in a situation like that. Otherwise, take the high road Every. Single. Time. Period. Period. Period. Other people are more concerned with your response than with the actual review, and what they think is all that matters.

PPS If someone has a legitimate complaint, see if you can solve it offline. Once solved, go back to the review (if they haven’t taken it down) and thank them for the opportunity to work with them to solve the problem. To the people reading the reviews, this is sometimes more powerful than having zero negative reviews. The average person knows you aren’t a one hundred dollar bill, too.

Policies for the Minority Hurt the Majority

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

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

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

Does that sound far-fetched?

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

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

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

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

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

Here is where the retailer went wrong …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set your policies up to be customer-first.

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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