Tuesday, September 29, 2015

This Blog is Moving, Will You Move With Me?

This will be the final blog I do at philstoyforum.blogspot.com. I have moved everything over to my new website - PhilsForum.com.  The only people who will see this post are those of you who subscribed via feedburner on this blog page.

That means you...

I looked into multiple ways to move your subscription over to the new site without you having to do anything. I didn't like the options.

I would rather have you opt-in than move you without your permission.

I may lose a few of you along the way, but at least I know those of you who move have found value in what I'm posting. If you wish to continue getting email updates every time I post, I am asking you to jump through two hoops.

  1. Follow this link to my new Blog Page. You will see a section near the top that says, "Subscribe to Phil's Retail Blog".
  2. Type in your email address in the appropriate spot and click the box "Subscribe".

That's it. You'll get a confirmation email and you'll be good to go.

Thank you for following me on this journey. Support your local independent stores. When one of us succeeds, it raises the tide for all of us.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You should get an email this coming Friday with my first blog post on the new platform. Something about a little window I saw on a recent trip to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Newly Redesigned PhilsForum.com Website

I told you I was working on a new version of my PhilsForum.com website.

It just went live a few minutes ago.

Everything is up and running except this blog (which should be migrated over by late Thursday).

In an effort to make it more search engine friendly, some of the pages you're used to seeing have new names.

  • Freebies is now Free Resources and still includes links to free pdf's you can download on a variety of topics
  • Speaker for Hire is now Hire Me to Speak and focuses on the top programs I am most often hired to do
  • Products is now Phil's Books and focuses on my two books, Hiring and the Potter's Wheel and Welcome to the Club Daddy
  • Media is now About Phil and yes, it is about me

You'll also find a few fun things hidden here and there on the site including a page of radio ads I have run for Toy House and Baby Too.

Check it out and let me know if there are any issues with the site (tell me what browser/platform/device you're using, please).

Every time an independent retailer grows, we all grow.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Supposedly all email subscribers will be migrated over, but I will be looking into it directly. You may get an email from me asking you to resubscribe to the new blog site. Just giving you a heads up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two New Social Media Platforms and How You Could Use Them

(Note: this post has been edited)
Video is HUGE. Go look at your news feed in Facebook and count what percentage of posts are videos.

Pretty high, isn't it?

If you aren't using videos - Vine, YouTube, iPhone videos loaded to Facebook, etc. - then you might not be reaching all the people you want to reach.

There are two new video services - Periscope and Blab - that might have some benefit to indie retailers. Here is a look at the two and how you can use them...


Periscope was launched by Twitter and is live, streaming video you do that allows for people to comment on your video as you're streaming and send you love through the form of little hearts that float up your screen. The video can then be replayed for up to 24 hours before it disappears.

The upside... This is an easy way for you to do timely videos of things happening in your store in an interactive way. Simply send out a notice through your other social media channels (especially Twitter) that you'll be doing a Periscope in a few minutes, then grab your phone and go live. Anyone watching you can post comments and questions that show up on your screen. It is kinda like having a FaceTime call with dozens of people at once.

One of the best applications I can see for this medium is behind-the-scenes looks at your business. People love to go behind the curtain. They love to see what is happening there. Best of all, they feel more attached to your store and more likely to share what they know when they feel like they got a peek into something not everyone else gets to see.

You could do Periscopes on products that have just come in.
You could do Periscopes on staff meetings.
You could do Periscopes on the process you go through to ship out an item.
You could do Periscopes on the prep work you put into having a big event at your store.

The downside... The videos are only up for a day. You might do some great footage, but you have to keep doing great footage to grow your presence. In fact, best practices in the early stages of this medium show that you should post something daily, even if it is only a 30-second post each day that says you'll be back on Friday with a longer video. (Note: they do have ways for you to save the videos, but you do have to jump through a few extra hoops.)


Unlike Periscope where only you talk and everyone else comments by typing, Blab is another live streaming video that allows for four people to be in the conversation at once. It kinda looks like Hollywood Squares with four boxes on the screen showing you and the three people you invited to sit in the conversation.

The upside... First, by having a true conversation, you can now invite experts into your social media world. Maybe you might interview a sales rep or one of your favorite vendors. Maybe you might use it to introduce new staff. Maybe you might use it to talk to someone who can talk more about your industry. For instance, since I sell toys, I could talk to a therapist about the value of play in a child's life. Even better, you could invite your own fans to join in and talk about their experiences in your store.

Just like Periscope, people can type in comments and show you real-time love by tapping the icon on the screen. You can respond to those comments and have a real, live conversation about your store with other people watching. The videos stay up longer than Periscope, too, and can even be uploaded to your YouTube channel.

The downside... This medium is more of a sitting-at-your-laptop-chatting medium than a wander-around-the-store-with-a-smartphone medium, which makes it more difficult to show off products, etc. It is more of a two-way conversation than a one-way talk with you picking and choosing which questions or comments to answer. It becomes less scripted, which can make it more fun and original (and less sales/preachy), but can also go in directions you never intended.

Both Periscope and Blab have some interesting applications. Whether they are right for your business is up to you. Just remember the most important thing about all social media - it is about connecting and creating networks more than it is about selling or pushing your message across.

If used right, both of these channels can grow your network and strengthen your relationships.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I am looking at both of them as ways to grow both Toy House and Phil's Forum. Right now I currently use my Twitter handle @philtoyhouse purely for sharing this blog and Toy House newsletters. Since you use your Twitter account to sign in to both of these services, I am considering setting up separate Twitter accounts and using @philtoyhouse for just Toy House activity going forward. I'll let you know soon what my new Twitter handle for this blog will be.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Preparing Your Staff for Life

One of my talented regulars on my staff just put in her two-week notice. She is leaving me for a new full-time job teaching art.


As much as I love my job and my business and the difference we make in other peoples' lives, I know where Retail Sales Clerk sits on the hierarchy of employment. Unless you're in management or ownership, it is a job, not a career.

When my employee told me what she would be doing next, I gave her a standing ovation. I could not be happier for her. It is a huge step up for her in many ways. Sure, I will miss her and I'll have to find a way to replace her. But in the long run this is a great opportunity for her and a chance for me to bring in some new blood with new energy and ideas, too.

The only real question I had was more internal... Had I helped to prepare her for this next step?

Had I helped her hone and practice skills that would be helpful working with others? Had I helped her hone and practice skills for teaching? (Education is one of our Core Values). Had I helped her hone and practice skills for dealing with conflict? Had I helped her hone and practice skills for finding creative solutions to all kinds of problems?

I believe it is my responsibility as an employer to help my employees prepare not just for working specifically at my store but also for what may come next. Maybe it is a management job. Maybe it is a new career. Maybe it is a new role. Maybe it is to stay home and raise a family. Maybe it is simply to be better than they were last week, last month, or last year. Personal growth is not just an idea. It is part of the culture.


Some retailers look at their employees as their biggest expense. But when Customer Service is your one true advantage over your competitors, your employees are instead your biggest asset. Properly invested, that asset can give you incredible growth.

Training - whether it is done in group settings, one-on-one, by videos or online - is the most valuable and least utilized tool you have in your Retail Tool Kit.

Bob Negen of Whizbang Training is a big fan of videos. Short, simple, raw videos of your best teacher (you?) teaching one technique or skill at a time. No fancy production necessary. Just someone with a smartphone taping you being you.

I'm a big fan of the monthly Staff Meeting. I choose a grand theme and goal for each year and plan step-by-step trainings to reach that goal.

Maybe you do your best work one-on-one or your staff size is such that anything else wouldn't make sense. That's great. Just take the time and keep investing.

Remember, though, that you aren't just preparing them for the job. You are preparing them for life. Take that approach and it changes the way you invest and the rewards you reap.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Here is one of the rewards you might not think about. When employees move on from my store, my reputation goes with them. If they lack the skills, it reflects poorly on me. But when they rock the house, it makes me look like a star, too, and raises the esteem people have of our business.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Free or Gift With Purchase?

You just got some free merchandise from one of your favorite vendors. It was a low cost item that you didn't sell anyway. You want to give them away to your customers.

Do you give them away free, no strings attached, or do you only give them away free with a qualifying purchase?


The upside to simply giving them away is that you will surprise and delight your customers in an unexpected way. They will be talking about your generosity to their friends.

The downside is that you likely won't garner any extra sales and you may end up giving them to people who don't need them.


The upside for GWP is that you are using the freebie to help close the sale of a related product. Plus, you are getting the freebie into the hands of someone most likely to use it.

The downside is that the only word of mouth it generates is them talking about the good deal they got (that others might not be so lucky to get).

Here are some questions to ask...

  • Do you want them to talk about your generosity or the deal they got?
  • Do you want to put them only into the hands of people who will use them?
  • Do you want to surprise & delight or close the sale?

Ask the right questions and you'll get the right answer.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Door #3 is that we just sell them at a discounted price, take the profit and run. The only question is whether you can get more profit using the freebies as a marketing tool than you would by simply selling a low-cost item you didn't want in the first place. My guess is marketing tool pays more dividends in the long run.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mrs. Hinkley Brought Me Doughnuts

I was unloading our delivery van when a car pulled up to side of the store. A window rolled down and a familiar face said, "Hey Phil, I brought you a little something."

It wasn't a "little something". It was Hinkley Doughnuts!! The number one rated doughnut in Michigan!!! Mrs. Hinkley herself was hand-delivering a few leftovers as she called them (a box of my favorites as I called them).

Jackson isn't a small town. We're a city of over 30,000 people and a community of over 150,000 people. It is easy to be an anonymous business owner here. But it pays better to not be so anonymous.

Sure, I'm a regular customer at Hinkley's Bakery. In fact, I never plan big morning events unless it is a day Hinkley's is open (they are only open Wed-Sat). I regularly buy a box for the break room at work. But I'm just one of hundreds of their regulars.

So why a box filled with all my favorites for free?

It is the relationship we have built over the years. I am crazy about shopping local and building relationships with my fellow local business owners. We talk and laugh and share stories and ideas. We get to know each other and each other's families. We help each other out. We send business each other's ways.

If you want to market yourself, the best place to start is to build a network among your fellow local independents. Introduce yourself every time you visit (and visit them often). Get to know them and they will get to know it you. Be generous with your time and resources. Send them business and they will send some your way, too.

It pays. (Excuse me while I go finish my doughnut.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I am getting really chummy with the owner of the downtown brewery right now, too. Yeah, that's how I roll (pun intended).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Media Versus Network?

Social media is where it is at!
Social media is DEAD!
Social media is FREE!
Social media has NO ROI!
Businesses are expanding because of social media!
Businesses are wasting their money on social media!

SOCIAL MEDIA, social media, social media, BLAH blah blah.

Everyone has an opinion on whether Social Media is helping businesses grow or is just a waste of money. And everyone is wrong.

Why? They have the word wrong. Chances are, you do, too.


What happens if we changed the word media to the word network?

Media = an avenue through which you broadcast content and advertising
Network = a connection of people who can help each other out

Which word more accurately describes Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, et al? A network of connected people sharing with each other or a medium with people waiting to be told what to do or think?

Would you use Social differently if you saw it as a networking avenue instead of a medium onto which you broadcast your message?

Would you use Social differently if you were trying to connect to people and connect them to resources and other people instead of just telling your story?

Would you use Social differently if you saw it as a way to have two-way conversations and see how others could help you, rather than just a platform to tell them what you're going to do?

Would you use Social differently if you were trying to help instead of just trying to sell?

Change the word and you'll change your focus. Change your focus and you'll change your effectiveness.

Social Media is DEAD. But the Social Network is alive and kicking!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The best way to grow your Network is TRUST. When you engage without selling, when you help and share without financial gain, when you ask more than you tell, when you show that you are listening, when you are real and genuine and not always "on message" then you will gain the trust of your network.