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Spotlight on Managerial Success – The Class!

You’ve hired a manager. Someone to help you run the day-to-day operations of your business. Someone to be in charge when you aren’t there. Someone to handle personnel issues and make sure all the tasks like stocking, straightening, cleaning, and serving the customers gets done. Someone to schedule (and train) the staff. Someone to give you the free time to do your jobs of buying inventory and drawing traffic and crunching numbers and plotting strategy.

You want a manager who is Reliable, Hard-Working, and Decisive.
You want a manager who is Compassionate, Empathetic, and Service-Oriented.
You want a manager who can build a Team, Communicate Effectively, Teach and Resolve Conflicts.

They have to bring some of those skills to the table. That last line of skills can be taught.

Here is the program I have designed to teach those teachable skills to you and/or your managers.

First we’ll start off the morning by doing some Team Building exercises, both to break the ice, and to show you how to incorporate such exercises into your training programs. You’ll learn a handful of activities you can run yourself, including how to choose the right activity for the level of your group, the steps necessary to build a team the right way, and the techniques used to apply the lessons from the activities to the actual workplace. This is the stuff big corporations pay big bucks for. This is the stuff I did almost exclusively in the late 80’s and early 90’sand incorporated into all my staff trainings over the years at Toy House.

Second, we’ll spend some time doing Communication exercises that help you become a better listener and a better, more clear communicator. You’ll learn how to make yourself easier to understand, how to persuade people to see your point of view, and how to get your directions followed more precisely. Poor communication is most often the cause of breakdowns of teams. It starts with you. Get this right and you have won more than half the battle.

That will get us to lunch. We’ll take a break.

After lunch we’ll delve into identifying and fixing problems. You’ll learn how to settle Conflicts between staff members that makes everyone feel valued. You’ll learn how to get others to buy-in to your philosophies and ways of doing things. (You’ll learn skills that top FBI negotiators use to always get their way even while creating a win-win situation.) Plus, you’ll learn how to keep your team motivated to do their best work. Here’s a big hint – money is not the only or even the best motivator. In fact it ranks fourth. You’ll learn the other three in this class.

Finally, you’ll design your own training programs both for new hires and for continued training & development of your current team. You’ll learn skills that help you Teach in a way that everyone remembers. Some people are born to teach. Others have to learn. You can learn.

If you are the owner and you have a manager…

Ask yourself how much time you would save having a manager trained in those skills.
Ask yourself how many headaches you would save having a manager trained in those skills.
Ask yourself how much money you would save having a manager trained in those skills.
Ask yourself, would you be willing to give up your manager for just one day to save all that time and money and headaches?

The first SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS class will be in Jackson, MI on Wednesday, April 26 from 8am to 4pm.

Because this is the inaugural class, the regular price of $250/business has been lowered to only $50/person. Yes, only $50/person!

I am offering it through the Jackson Retail Success Academy™ in association with Spring Arbor University. The class will take place in the Hosmer Center for Entrepreneurship at the SAU Downtown Jackson campus. (Take this class and you’ll become a JRSA™ Alumni which gets you discounted pricing on many other JRSA™ offerings.)

Space is limited to the first 18 people to register. Click here to sign up today.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you’re not in Jackson or can’t easily get to Jackson, get in touch and we’ll figure out how to do this training closer to your home.

PPS If you’re not sure if you should take this class, answer this question. Do you manage three or more people? If you said Yes, take this class.

My Team Lost (And What We Learned)

Today my team lost at the CEO Challenge Junior Achievement event. Each team had six weeks to come up with a viable business idea and then present it to judges in a competition against twelve other teams. I worked with one of the teams from my alma mater, Jackson High School. The students came up with their idea. I helped by giving them a little guidance here and there. My team had a great idea, practiced hard and gave a great presentation.

But they lost in the first round. The judges didn’t think they had their numbers right.

Image result for number thirteen

It wasn’t that their idea wasn’t good. It was is a great idea. In fact, if they stick with it, they will all be multi-millionaires. It wasn’t that their numbers weren’t good. The numbers were solid. The lesson from today was all about trust. They couldn’t convince the judges to trust them and their research.

You can have the greatest product, the most perfect solution, the best option, but if you don’t build trust with your customer you won’t make the sale. The team had the data, but not the relationship. The winning teams won the relationship/trust battle.

You spend a lot of time and research looking for the right products. If you want to grow your business, spend an equal amount of time learning how to create relationships and build trust. In fact, today’s presentations showed that it might even be more important.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Sorry, I can’t tell you their idea. The first thing I told them was to clamp up and not talk about it to anyone without a Non-Disclosure Agreement to prevent someone with more resources from stealing the idea. The second things was to find a way to build a prototype, a working model of their product. It is a life changer for the end user. I really hope they stick with it.

PPS The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. These high school teams blew the judges away with their creativity and ingenuity. If you aren’t doing what you need to do to stay on the top of your game, there are some folks coming up behind you at great speeds.

Anticipating Your Customers’ Needs

I had the slot right after lunch. A lot of speakers hate that slot. People are tired after lunch, or they got an email that morning that required them to spend their lunch hour putting out a fire, or they have so much swirling around their brains from the morning sessions they can’t stay focused. You know what I mean. Siesta time.

The host took the microphone to introduce me, and as she had for the morning speakers, started with her obligatory blah blah blah, turn-off-your-phones, surveys-are-on-the-table, housekeeping announcement.

I could see heads already starting to nod off.

I switched on my microphone, put up my first slide of me in a super hero costume and said,

“Thank you, Margaret. Yes, I am Phil Wrzesinski and I am going to be your Super Hero today. First, since I know you just finished lunch, I am passing out dessert. Chocolates. Dark chocolates to be exact. The healthy kind. Full of antioxidants to get you going. Second, I have some housekeeping of my own. Go ahead and turn your phones back on. If I can’t keep your attention for the next hour, then frankly, I am not doing my job. And today I feel up to it. You’re going to learn some things today that you’ll want to share. Please do. Finally, go ahead and grab those surveys. Under the section about handouts go ahead and mark that a 5. I have complete notes of this workshop available for everyone right after I’m done. You might as well mark that first question a 5, too. We’re going to have fun. You ready?”

Do you see what I was doing? I was anticipating my audience’s needs before I even got on stage. I knew they would be a little groggy. I knew they needed something to pick them up. The chocolates served multiple purposes. It got them engaged right off the bat. They were opening packages, opening candies, passing them from table to table, doing something active. It woke them up, both from the small sugar fix and more importantly from the here-is-something-you-don’t-see-every-day-maybe-I-better-pay-attention opening of my talk.

The bravado in my speech was to transfer confidence to them that what I had to say was worthwhile. It also was a bet. I just bet them I could keep their attention enough to keep them off their phones. They were paying closer attention just to see if I could make good on that bet.

I knew the crowd would be restless, sluggish and unfocused. I anticipated that. Then I took steps specifically to help them change their mood to the mood I needed to sell my product. You can’t sell the unwilling. You also can’t sell the unprepared-to-buy. You have to get them in the right mood first. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling toys, pet supplies, floor tiling or ideas. If you don’t anticipate your customers’ needs and take care of those needs, you cannot build the relationship necessary to make the sale.

Here is a simple exercise for you and your staff to do. Answer the question, “What does my customer need the moment she walks through the door to get in the right mood for shopping?”

If it is cold and snowy, she made need a place to take off her coat and boots. If you are off the beaten path and you get customers from a long drive, she may need to use the bathroom. If you are downtown or in a mall where she has been shopping other stores, she may need a place to put her packages. If it is early morning, she may need a shot of caffeine. (Heck, that could work late in the afternoon, too.) Solve that need and your customers will be ready to buy what you’re selling.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Getting my audience to fill out the survey in advance, while bribing them with dark chocolates, not only got me a higher score on the survey, but more importantly gave them more time after the talk to come up to me to do the real buying. I was speaking to group of downtown development directors. None of them were there looking for speakers, but out of the 60 groups represented I got a dozen opportunities to speak because I made them more open to buy.

PPS Sure your product has to be good.  At the end of the day it is always about the product. But no matter how good your product, if you don’t get people in the mood to buy, they won’t be buyers.

Be Confident in Your Prices

Have you ever asked, “How much?” and you could tell the person selling you believed the price was too high? They usually start with something like, “Before I tell you the price, let me tell you all you get.” They might as well say, “I’m afraid to tell you how much because you’ll just think it is too much and walk out on me.” When they start out justifying the price, they have no confidence in their pricing at all.

This is especially common when selling high-ticket items. You know it is expensive so you feel a need to justify before you say how much. The problem is that the more you try to justify, the more over-priced the item is perceived.

There is a better way…


First, you need to have faith in your prices. Most people, especially if they are selling themselves, such as artists and presenters, tend to undervalue themselves and their products or services. Maybe it is because you wouldn’t personally pay that much for the item or service being sold. Maybe it is because you are afraid of rejection and being told No. Maybe it is because you see the value but you can’t afford it yourself because of your own financial hardships.

You have to get over whatever is holding you back. You have to understand that you are offering a fair price for the item or service. You have to accept that you have to charge a certain amount if you want to pay your bills and stay in business. You have to tell yourself that your items and services are worth more than you think.


Second, understand there is a market for your products or services at that price. Not everyone buys solely on price alone. In fact, in your industry, as in any industry, about half the shoppers make their decision based on price, and half don’t. That second half looks at factors like Trust and Expertise and Convenience. If you’re not confident in your pricing, you’re losing the trust and expertise crowd, too.

If your price is higher than others in your category, hopefully it is because you baked your expertise and some customer conveniences into the price (hence the justification you tried to make before stating your price). At the end of the day, you really are offering a fair value. You just need to learn the proper way to state that value.


Learn to state your prices first. When someone asks, “How much?” the next word out of your mouth better be a number. Take a deep breath, say the price, and then tell them all you will do for that price.

How much? Five-hundred-and-ninety-nine-dollars-and-for-that-you-get-our-white-glove-treatment-which-includes…

Say it with confidence and pride. You might not win the price-only folks, but you’ll actually build trust and show off your expertise while telling your customer about how you’ll make it convenient for them. (Make it convenient enough and you’ll win some of those price-only customers, too!)

Change the way you answer the How much? question and you’ll close a whole lot more sales.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Pricing and negotiation are tricky. We are all driven by fear. The fear of rejection, the fear of losing the sale, the fear of making a bad impression, all drive away our confidence. You are worth more than you think. Your prices are fair. Heck, if you’re the typical indie retailer, you’re offering up a whole lot of expertise and convenience for your prices making them more than fair. You won’t win them all, but if you show more confidence in your prices, you’ll win more often, and that’s all it takes to grow.

Not All Retail Experience is the Same

It dawned on me what a hypocrite I was last week. I was doing some talks to retailers at a conference and in my introduction I bragged about getting my start in retail at the age of seven when my grandfather paid my sister and me ten cents an hour to put price tags on boxes. My official start in retail came just after my fourteenth birthday back in 1980 and my full-time career in retail began April 30, 1993 – as if all those dates were important.

I say that because at the end of my talk I share a quick story about my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel and how all other books on hiring say Hire For Experience. As I tell the audience in my presentations, I used to hire for experience until I realized you can have twenty years of retail experience and still be lousy at it.

See the hypocrisy?

In my book I teach that you should hire personality traits suited for the job. Without those traits, there is no amount of training that can turn them into the kind of staff you want. Experience can sometimes be a negative because that means you have a lot of bad habits to break.

Yet I sell myself on exactly that – being experienced. It begs the question… When is experience bad and when is it good?


The only truly bad experience in retail is when someone is put in a job that doesn’t match his or her personality traits. Fortunately, since you will be hiring for personality traits first and foremost, that won’t be an issue. Sure there will be applicants who worked at stores with lousy (or non-existent) training programs. Sure there will be applicants who worked at stores with low bars of expectations. Sure there will be applicants who worked for less-than-stellar managers who never recognized and developed the talent below them. None of those are deal killers if your applicant has the character traits you need. Just remember that you’ll have to break a few more bad habits early on.


Some businesses have a reputation for high levels of service. That experience works in an applicant’s favor. If you have an applicant with the right character traits and five years of experience at Nordstrom’s – ka-ching! If you have an applicant with the right character traits who worked for a company who holds regular training exercises – ba-da-bing! If you have an applicant with the right character traits who moved up the ranks at a business known for service – rama-lama-ding-dong!

When we announced our closing I had several businesses reach out to ask about the availability of my staff because those businesses knew what I expected and how I trained my team. Many of my staff moved on to bigger and better things in part because of the reputation of our store.

Experience by itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. When you find someone with the right personality traits and the right kind of experience you will find some real superstars (if you can afford to pry them away from their current jobs). It is all about getting the right traits for the job first. Their experience only tells you how many more bad habits you may or may not need to break.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The non-hypocritical part is when I explain what I did with my experience at Toy House including getting the store named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars (George Whalin, Penguin 2009), winning the Entrepreneurial Vision Award in 2010, and how my Core Values of Fun, Helpful, Educational and Nostalgic were a perfect fit to toy retail (and a perfect fit to my new role as a Retail Educator).

Always Be Practicing

Besides writing this blog and doing workshops and seminars and presentations, I have a few hobbies. One is singing and playing guitar. Tonight I get to perform in front of tens of people at the Poison Frog Brewery.

I’ll be performing songs I’ve played hundreds of times in the last 30 years, including dozens of times the last two weeks. You would think by now I could just pick up the guitar and play a number of these songs without a lick of practice. You’d be right. But it wouldn’t be my best.

Are you practicing?

I know I could phone this performance in and still be somewhat entertaining. After all, beer is involved. I also know that the more I practice and prepare, the better I will sound and the more fun we will all have.

The same holds true for the presentations I’m doing next week. I’ll be talking about Word-of-Mouth, Customer Service and Advertising – all favorite topics of mine. I’ve been practicing for a couple weeks so that these talks will be favorites of my audience, too.

The same holds true for retailing, especially selling. You always have to be practicing if you want to stay sharp. You always have to be researching and finding out better ways to do what you’ve always done. Out of the 150 or so slides for my presentations next week, only two or three are exactly the same as when I first did these presentations. Things change and there is always a way to be better.

My high school homeroom teacher and swim coach, Mr. Pultz, had two key phrases that anyone who ever spent more than two minutes around him heard – “Can’t never did nothing,” and, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Are you preparing for the opportunities awaiting you in 2017, or are you just going to settle with something less than your best?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Hope to see you tonight. Or next week. Or whenever you’re ready to take your game to the next level.

Issues in the Mid-90’s

Here is another treasure I found while cleaning out old folders and files. I can tell since this is in cursive that I wrote this in the mid-90’s. I went back and forth between cursive and Small Caps in my notes for many years until switching to Small Caps almost exclusively in the late 90’s. Here is what we were discussing at that time…

Here is the transcript of my chicken scratch above…


-Seen as lacking/not as strong as should be

-Change in “training” and emphasis on friendliness & service

-Promotion of all services

-More direct & noticeable push within community
–Toys for Tots
–Camps (?)
–Biking Safety
–Parenting/Safe Toys
–Books (Book of the Month Club)

-Addition of “child care” area

-Changing rooms for babies
–(Maybe revamp bathrooms?)

-Returning phone calls – special orders, etc.

-Emphasize Baby Registry


-Link sales to service*
–Camp day sign-up w/sale on sleeping bags
–BSA & Girl Scout promotions
–Bike Accessory sale w/Bike Safety Class

*Can have “sales” without being “gimmicky” by linking sales to services and promoting the service over the sale


Key takeaway… Two decades ago we were talking about how to do more for our customers – more services, more knowledge, and more activity – to get better sales. The late George Whalin once said, “A sale is what happens when you have served the customer.” Retail hasn’t changed much. Those rules still apply. Do more in your community. Do more for your customers. Tie your sales into servicing. It still works.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I found this note in a folder of old store manuals. Shout out to my sister, Laura, who wrote the first Employee Manual for Toy House back in the 80’s.

Our Version of the 1%

Lately everyone has been talking about the 1%. In politics that might be the ultra-rich. You either are them, hate them, or on your way to becoming them.

In retail the 1% I want to talk about is your unsaleable merchandise.

We ended our closing with only 1% of our inventory remaining. Yeah, pretty good when you consider during our closing we sold 17% of our merchandise at full price, most of the rest at 20% off, and only went to 40% off those last few days when the inventory got below 10%.

Here are two lessons you can take from this.


No matter how well you think you have your finger on the pulse of your customers, you will make some buying mistakes. That’s a freeing thought. You know you won’t be perfect so don’t try to  be perfect. Take a few risks. Try some new things. Some will work, some will not. 1% you won’t be able to give away. That’s not the end of the world.

You might have jumped in on a fad too late (or even too early). You might have gotten seriously undercut by a rogue retailer online or a vendor dumping the remaining stock through a discounter. You might have simply liked a product more than your customers did. It happens to even the best buyers. There will always be inventory that just won’t move at regular price, and there will be inventory that just won’t move at all.  In fact, make it a game every year to figure out what your 1% will be. Have your staff vote right before the busy season on what they think are the flops. Offer a gas card or local restaurant gift card to the winner.


Knowing you will make mistakes, you have to have a system in place to recognize the slow movers early on so that you can get them moving out the door. The game is actually a fun way to engage your staff as they will be checking to see if their choice is “winning”. One interesting effect of this is that your staff, by paying attention to those perceived flops, will actually help you sell that merchandise.

Your point of sale system is your best set of eyes. Any POS system worth the money you spent will at the very least tell you what items are old and not moving. Be cold and ruthless with that inventory. Don’t invest any emotion. The sooner you recognize bad merchandise, the sooner you can turn it into cash and move on.

When you have to sell off everything you own like I just did, you see the stark reality of your buying decisions. Fortunately, since we had a process for recognizing bad merchandise and moving it out each and every year, we weren’t stuck with a lot of product at the end of our day – only 1%. I can live with that.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Remember all those free displays your vendors gave you that you’re no longer using? You can sell those, too, and make up the money you lost on your 1%. In fact, a fixture/display sale is a good combination to have when you’re moving out the mistakes. It takes some of the sting away (and gives you back some room in your warehouse). Manage your inventory and cash flow and you could be part of that group on their way to becoming a 1%er.

When It Is Time to Move

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

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

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

Here is the short version of this blog…

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

REI Stands Up for Their Beliefs – You Should Too

Your actions speak louder than your words.

Put your money where your mouth is.

Be true to your values.

We’ve had plenty of examples of these platitudes by businesses, such as Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby being closed on Sundays. But never has there been an example as extreme as what REI just announced.

REI will be CLOSED on Black Friday! One hundred and forty three stores shuttered on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. #OptOutside. Do the math and I bet this will cost them a millions in sales.

I love this!

I am already a fan of REI. I just became a bigger one. REI just told me they care about more than money and profits. REI just told me they believe going outside is more important than going shopping. REI just told me they put their employees ahead of their profits (a paid day off to go outside and play? Genius!!)

REI has earned a higher level of trust of millions of customers with this move. They have shown that their Core Values are more important than the bottom line. The funny thing is I suspect this will help their bottom line tremendously. Yes, it might hurt their top line revenue, but they will make that up in margin from loyal fans who share their values.

Being absolutely and steadfastly true to your Core Values is the easiest and most profitable way to build brand loyalty long term. REI’s decision is going to hurt a little this fall. But a little pain now will pay off huge dividends later.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS To be true to your Core Values, you first have to know what they are. Then you have to be them openly. Download my Free Resource – Understanding Your Brand – and the accompanying Branding Worksheet to help you identify the Values most important to you and your business. Then figure out how you can put your money where your mouth is.