Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Big Yellow Taxi

"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot..."

There are some songs that no matter who covers them, no matter where I am at the time, no matter what's on my mind, I stop and listen.

"Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell is one of those songs. From Joni's lilting voice to Amy Grant's smooth vocals, to the Counting Crow's more gravelly sound, I just love listening to that song.

I've tried to play it myself but could never do it justice.

It is one of those songs that transcends generations, too. The line in the refrain is all too familiar. Sing along with me...

"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got til it's gone..."

Okay, a little off key, but the point is made. Many times we don't know what we've got until we no longer have it. I had two moments like that recently.

While reading a trade magazine I came across a reference of a new book on branding. The book was right up my alley. I checked it out online and found multiple sites selling it. I was about to order it online but my Buy Local button kicked in. So I started to shoot an email over to Nomad Bookhouse to see if they had it before realizing they were gone, closed. I miss them.

At the same time, my wife and boys were visiting Fun 4 All Kids, a big inflatable playground where we have celebrated both boy's birthdays. It was their last visit. As you read this, F4AK has closed.

One of our friends made the comment, "If I had known they were in trouble, maybe I would have stopped by more often."

I heard the same things said about Nomad.

The point I want to make is this...

What are we waiting for? If there is a store, restaurant, or hangout that you particularly like, what are you doing to ensure it's success? If there is a business you would hate to see go away, have you told your friends about it? Have you touted their virtues, sung their praises, shouted their benefits to the world?

Seth Godin, one of my favorite bloggers, said that we too often keep our favorite stores to ourselves, maybe fearful that if too many people know about it, it won't be special anymore. (Read his blog on the subject here http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/11/dont-know-what.html) But how special are they if they're gone?

In today's economic climate, when traditional advertising is less and less effective, the one tried and true, always works, form of advertising is word-of-mouth.

Don't let any more of your favorite places go away. Start talking about them now before they're in trouble. As my friend, Bridget can attest, the outpouring of wonderful sentiments was incredible when she announced the closing of Nomad. Just think what might have happened if that outpouring of sentiment happened three or six months earlier, and not just to her but to everyone you know?

Make it your New Years Resolution to sing the praises of your favorite stores ten times more this year than last. You might be surprised how much impact and influence you can have.

Happy New Year!

-Phil

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is Price the Only Game to Play?

In earlier posts about Black Friday I made the claim that only half of all shoppers are driven purely by price. Some of you might disagree. But look at this study done this past fall.

According to the National Retail Federation's 2008 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, 40 percent of shoppers say that sales or promotions is the largest factor when determining where to shop. Another 12.6 stated that everyday low prices were most important.

One story I read quoting these statistics concluded that price was the most important factor in where people shop. Of course, Winston Churchill once said that, "the only statistics you can trust are the ones you falsified yourself."

Let's look at the numbers more closely...

If 40% said sales and promotions were most important, then 60% did not believe sales and promotions to be most important. Three out of five people were not choosing where to shop based on sales and promotions! Selection, quality, service and location were higher up on those customers' lists.

Remember... Transactional Customers look for sales, Relational Customers look for trust. Aren't quality, service and selection trust factors? Of course they are. And the National Retail Federation has the statistics to prove that there are as many Relational Customers as Transactional Customers.

Just take the 40% wanting sales plus the 12.6% looking for low price and the split is 52.6% Transactional versus 47.4% Relational. In politics that's a landslide. In business that's a virtual split.

Yet, all the big retailers were going after the 52.6%, leaving a huge portion of shoppers not getting their needs met. It's no wonder so many retailers are struggling. Here's a tip. Go after the forgotten 47.4% Meet their needs and watch your business grow.

That's what we do.

-Phil

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Do You Believe in Santa?

I wrote this three years ago, but the question has come up again with my boys. Is Santa real? When Parker, now 10, was told by a classmate this fall that Santa isn't real, he responded, "I know he's real. My dad knows him!" So since I "know" Santa, I better tell you what I know about Santa...

My son, Parker, turned seven this fall, the age where doubt about Santa starts to creep in. Last week he told me that some kids in his class say that Santa isn’t real, that parents just “pretend to be Santa” and put out the gifts themselves.

I asked him, “What do you believe?” After some careful consideration he decided that he believed Santa was real.

After a lengthy discussion about video cameras, he decided that he wants to check the roof Christmas morning for sleigh tracks “just to be sure.” (Anyone have a tall ladder?)

I knew this conversation would come up at some time. I recall vividly the Christmas when I was six and my eight-year old sister and I started having our doubts. We decided one night, while sitting on my parents’ bed that we were just going to keep on believing in Santa because 1) if he was real, then we kept the faith and (hopefully) would be rewarded handsomely for it, 2) if he wasn’t real, there was no harm done, and 3) it was way more fun to believe in Santa than to not believe.

Funny thing is I still believe in Santa. No, it’s not because without Santa the Toy House wouldn’t be in business (although that helps).

I believe in Santa for the same reasons I believed in him at age six – to keep the faith, because there’s no harm in it, and it’s much more fun than not believing.

But there’s one more reason, one much more compelling reason that I believe in Santa. I have proof that he exists!

No, I haven’t seen him with my own eyes. Nor have I ever been to the North Pole. But I know he exists as surely as I know my own heart pumps in my chest. (I’ve never seen that, either.)
Some people say that it would be impossible for Santa to exist because he would have to be magic to accomplish all he does. Those same people say that magic doesn’t exist.

Oh, but I know it does. I’ve seen Christmas Magic happen before my very own eyes. Like my first Christmas Eve in 1980 when the travel-weary, broken-down man from Detroit showed up at the game counter looking for a Simon game just seconds after one had been returned. Or the customer in the early seventies who had his trunk frozen shut in an ice storm and needed my dad to help him out late one Christmas Eve. Or the time my father picked up the tab for all of his out-of-town nephews’ and nieces’ Christmas presents when his sister’s husband was dying from a brain tumor.

Every time I hear of a family that has been “adopted”, or I read about the community Christmas Dinners, or I watch the outpouring of the community into the red buckets of the Salvation Army, the boxes for Toys for Tots, or the Food Drives all over town, I know that Christmas Magic exists.

You see, Christmas Magic is all about the Spirit of Giving, with no greater example than the gift given to us all over 2000 years ago.

And since Christmas Magic exists, then so does the magician who keeps the Spirit of Giving alive.

Call him Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, or whatever you want. He’s as real as anything. Just as you can’t see your heart beating in your chest, you can still feel the pulsating rhythm that gives you life. And deep down in that heart lies the feeling of joy called the Spirit of Giving.
That, my friends, is where you’ll find Santa.

Merry Christmas and Happy Shopping!

Phil Wrzesinski
12/20/05

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Overpaid Stock Boy?

This is a fun time of year. Lots of customers, lots of smiling faces, lots of full shopping carts, lots of empty shelves that need to be filled with more product.

I used to laugh at my dad every Christmas saying he was the highest paid stock boy in town. Now it's my turn.

Now I get to make multiple trips to the warehouse in search of more products to fill the spaces emptied by customers finding just the right toy or game. It's both a challenge and a sense of accomplishment when I can take an aisle decimated by shoppers and turn it into a fully-stocked, well-merchandised display.

More importantly, I understand the necessity of making sure the job is done quickly and done well. Our product is our lifeblood. And the way we merchandise it goes a long way towards the success we have as a business. Since most of our toys don't have a movie or TV license, or a heavy ad campaign, customers aren't coming through the door asking for them. It isn't until they see the toys on the shelf that many people even know they exist.

Without merchandising, they might never see the product. And if they don't see it, they don't buy it. Merchandising is one of the most important elements of any successful retailer.

Yet, the stock boy is always perceived as the low man on the totem pole, the dish dog of retail, the private in the sales force army. Tell someone you're a stock boy and hear them apologize for your plight in life as they fill you with encouragement for bigger and grander things to come.

But with the importance that merchandising plays in our success, the shelves should not be left to the lowliest, least-trained, least experienced of the staff.

I finally see what my dad knew all those years. The shelves are our silent salesmen. The shelves are where many decisions are made on which toy, game or puzzle to buy. The shelves make or break our season.

Merchandising is not just a job, it's an art form. My dad was one of the best. He didn't need a planogram. He could look at the product, look at the shelf and instantly see in his mind exactly how it should go.

Me? I'm getting better at it. I'm not to the grand master merchandising level of my dad yet, but getting close. More importantly, I'm trying to put all I've learned into our staff training so that we all become master merchandisers. It's not just enough to make the shelves look full. They have to be enticing and inviting.

I believe it was George Whalin who said, "advertising brings products to the customer, but merchandising brings customers to the product." Yes, merchandising is one of the most important aspects of retailing. It's not an afterthought or a minimum-wage job.

And for the holiday season, the shelves are my domain. I love the challenge. Not only do I get to know the products better, (hey, it's hard to keep track of 32,000 different items) I get to be out on the floor meeting and greeting all the happy customers.

So if you see me pushing around a cart full of toys, it may look like I'm busy, but really I'm just having fun. And I'm always available to answer a question or too.

Merry Christmas!

-Phil

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Toy House IQ

If you've been following the recent conversation, you're probably already guessing IQ doesn't refer to Intelligence Quotient. And thank God for that. When people use the word smart around me it usually includes alec after it.

But in being transparent about how we do our advertising, today is a great day to discuss one more term in Roy William's Advertising Performance Equation - SoV x IQ x PEF x MPo = Sales.

From before we learned SoV=Share of Voice=Your ad budget and PEF=Personal Experience Factor=How well you exceed customer expectations.

IQ stands for Impact Quotient or how memorable or attention-getting your ad might be. The more memorable, the higher the IQ.

To better understand, answer this question... Where were you when you first heard about the Twin Towers?

You remember the exact moment, who told you, how you reacted. That is off-the-chart high IQ. Sorry, but your ads will never have that high of an IQ.

Now answer this question... What companies' ads have you heard or seen today that really stood out, that made you pay attention?

Don't worry if you're struggling to think of one advertiser today that stood out. Most ads have a very low IQ.

Why?

Because we are conditioned to tune out all advertisements. We are bombarded with thousands and thousands of advertising pitches daily. It's like aiming a fire hose at a teacup. We can't possibly absorb them all so our brain learns to filter. If it isn't relevant, we don't see it or hear it.

You can read an entire newspaper cover to cover and not remember a single ad because nothing was relevant to you. You can listen to an hour of radio and not remember a single company because they didn't say anything important or relevant or interesting. In fact, as soon as they came on, you automatically tuned out.

But isn't that the goal of advertising - to get people to notice you?

Unfortunately, too many companies don't understand this. They produce lousy ads with low IQ that no one sees or hears. They are told by their ad sales reps that all they have to do is get their name out there and people will notice. Hey ad guys, haven't you figured it out? We need something other than your name. We're too busy to notice.

In the equation above, SoV x IQ is a sub-equation. SoV x IQ = Share of Mind, in other words, how much the consumer thinks of you compared to your competitor.

If you have a 10% SoV and run average ads, you have 10% of Share of Mind. If you have 10% SoV and run lousy, invisible ads, you might only get a 5% Share of Mind. Remember, SoV is linked to your ad budget. If your ads are lousy, you need to spend twice as much to get the same Share of your customer's mind.

However, if you have high impact ads, you can gain a greater Share of your customer's mind than your budget allows. That's the power of IQ.

In the next post, I'll explain how we try to gain your attention in our ads. In the meantime, you can listen for yourself. All of our radio ads are now posted on our website. Go to http://www.toyhouseonline.com/ and click on the Radio icon to hear all of our 2008 ads.

Have an impactful day!

-Phil

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What in the World is SoV?

In the last post I mentioned Roy Williams' Advertising Performance Equation - SoV x IQ x PEF x MPo = Sales.

We talked about how PEF stands for Personal Experience Factor. In this equation, to grow your business, a customer's personal experience must exceed her expectations. That's what creates loyalty and fandom, and is our staff-training goal every month.

Today "SoV" is the relevant part of the equation for me. Why? I just agreed to terms with Jackson Radio Works for running a year-long radio campaign next year.

Wait. Still confused?

Let me explain...

SoV stands for Share of Voice - in other words, how much of the advertising being done in your category is yours. Think of it as a percentage. If in your market and category there is $1 million being spent on advertising and you are spending $100,000 of it, then you have a 10% SoV.

So, by that definition, SoV is equal to your marketing budget as a percentage of the total ad money being spent. Therefore, the more you spend, the higher your SoV.

Most of you upon reading this are saying, "Great, Phil, but I don't have any more money. What if I want a higher SoV and don't have more money to spend? Can I increase my SoV other ways?"

Yes you can. I just did.

There are many ways to advertise - TV, Radio, Newsprint, Internet, Email, Yellow Pages, to name a few. How many of those media do you own? By that, I mean, are there any media that when people think of the media they think of you?

If you listen to radio in Jackson, you know the Toy House owns some of the stations. No other toy or baby product seller comes close to running the frequency that we do on those stations. Ask someone who is the toy store on the radio and they'll tell you Toy House. We own it. That was our goal last year and will be our goal again this year.

I don't have the budget that my competitors have. I don't have the power of national advertising, printing on a mass scale, or the clout to demand huge rate savings from the media. But I do have an understanding about perception. While all the big chains compete with each other with their multiple inserts, none of them gaining a perceptual advantage, I've got the airwaves to myself, allowing Toy House to get a perceptively larger Share of Voice than what we are spending.

Think of it this way. Most people, when thinking of advertising think (in order), Newspaper, TV, Radio, Yellow Pages, and maybe Internet. If I perceptually own Radio, I perceptually have a 20% SoV. No, it's not perfect math. Neither is the equation (I'll get to that in another post). But it is an improvement over my actual percentage of the SoV (about 5-7%).

Are you daring enough to get more out of your advertising budget? Are you willing to go for it by owning a media no one in your market is using?

Wouldn't it be better to have a nice quiet conversation alone with a client than to be part of the shouting and screaming that all your competitors are doing?

Of course it would.

-Phil

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Setting the Bar Too High?

One of my favorite lessons learned from the Wizard of Ads is the Advertising Performance Equation. This equation gives a quick lesson into the factors that influence how well your advertising works. The equation looks like this: SoV x IQ x PEF x MPo = Sales

I won't go into details about the equation right now, but one of those factors has been weighing on my mind.

PEF stands for Personal Experience Factor. Roy Williams (the Wizard) teaches that your advertising creates an expectation of your store. And when a customer experiences your store it will have an effect on the power of your ads. If you do not meet the customer's expectations, all future ads will be seen/heard with disdain and not work as well. If you exceed the expectations created by your advertising, your business will grow.

The goal, then, is to ALWAYS exceed the customers' expectations.

This can be done two ways. Set a really low bar that is always easy to beat or set the bar higher and higher with each passing day.

As Stewart B. Johnson said, “Our business in life is not to get ahead of others, but to get ahead of ourselves – to break our own records, to outstrip our yesterday by our today.”

I've always believed that success for Toy House falls more into line with Mr. Johnson. We need to constantly be striving to be better. Not better than our competition, but better than we were yesterday.

But with that said, there is some validity to setting a really low expectation. We see this every year in political debates. Who "won" the debate is primarily based on who met or exceeded the expectations.

In advertising, some say that you should never brag about your customer service because you raise a really high bar of expectations that will be increasingly difficult to exceed.

I'm not sure I'm fully in that camp. Raising the bar of expectations attracts a lot of customers. Plus, it gives you incentive to train harder, to prepare more, to be more creative in ways that you can please customers.

So, I'm just gonna lay it all on the line. I believe my staff are some of the finest retail workers in the toy industry. They are informed, helpful and friendly, and will give you the best shopping experience you can find in Jackson.

There. I've said it. The bar has been raised. I double dog dare you to give us the chance to exceed those expectations.

-Phil

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Building Customers by Making Friends

Your friends are those with whom you have a relationship. Everyone else is just an acquaintance. No matter how many times you see someone, if you don't interact, you aren't friends.

So have you made friends with your customers? (Or if you are a customer, have you made friends with the stores where you shop?)

We have. In fact, at Toy House it is expected. We want to know you and we want you to know us.

Yes, it sounds a little nosy, even a little scary when I put it like that. I believe, however, that building friendships is the best way to build loyal customers.

So how do you build friendships?

Be Honest: You are honest with your true friends. You tell them how you feel. You share your secrets. You admit your faults.

How many stores are willing to say, "Yes, we screwed up. It's our fault,"? Yet, during a recent staff training we discussed how even if the customer actually is at fault we need to apologize because that means that somewhere along the way we didn't communicate clearly enough to prevent the customer from the misunderstanding.

Listen: Your best friend listens to all your stories, positive and negative. And you listen to theirs, as well.

The best stores have a staff that listens, that repeats back what a customer says and asks questions to clarify everything so that there is no misunderstanding. We may not be the best listeners all the time, but we're working on it. Would you be surprised to know that the last ten staff trainings were on communication?

Share: Your best friend lets you try on her clothes, shares her french fries, mascara, or book collection. You and your friends share ideas, experiences and information.

The stores that make friends also share. They share ideas and experiences, they share products through samples and hands-on displays. They offer loaners when applicable. Have you played with the wooden and electric trains, Rokenbok, Calico Critters, Wedgits, puppets, playhouses, teaser games, knights, animals, or any of the other toys on display? Have you told your child's classroom teacher about our Teacher Loaner Program - products that teachers can use in the classroom for free? Yes, we like to share. Plus, we are all parents or grandparents ourselves. We know what our kids and grandkids have enjoyed. And believe me, we aren't shy about sharing what works and what doesn't work.

Laugh & Have Fun: Isn't that what friendship is all about?

Do you have fun where you shop? What makes it fun? If you're like most of the customers I see, it is the interactions you have with the staff that have a major impact on your fun. We have fun here. But we should. We work in a toy store. The cool thing is that our fun is not exclusive. We are always looking for ways to include you in the fun.

Some people wrongly accuse me of being in the "toy business". The reality is that we're in the friend business.

Wanna be our friend?

-Phil

PS We're not exclusive in our friendships, either. We have lots of bff's and plenty of room for more.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why You Love (Or Hate) Black Friday

Are you Relational or Transactional? Chances are, you’re probably both. You just don’t know it. And whether you’re more Relational or more Transactional tells you everything you need to know why you either love Black Friday or were part of the Buy Nothing Day crowd.

Let me explain.

A Transactional Customer (TC) is someone who has done all of the research, knows exactly what she wants, and now is on the hunt to find the best price on that item. And once the best price is found, the TC makes the purchases.

The driving force behind a TC is the fear of paying too much. The TC sees all the research and price-shopping as part of the transaction, and each transaction is a single event, a conquest to beat the system. Transactional Customers love to brag about the deals they found and are great at word-of-mouth. But TC’s are loyal only to the price, not to any particular store or brand.

Black Friday was made for Transactional Customers. The newspaper flyers are the research. The early bird deals are the attraction. Finding the right item at the right price and getting it before anyone else is the conquest. And making it to five or more stores by 9am is the Mount Everest of Transactional Customer shopping.

The Relational Customer (RC) is a different breed. Unlike the TC, who believes she is the expert on the product, and only needs to find the best deal, the RC knows she is not the expert. In fact, the driving force behind the RC is finding that expert that she can trust, the one that will help her make the smart purchase, because an RC’s biggest fear is buying the wrong item.

Relational Customers don’t tend to brag as much (they don’t want to show their lack of knowledge), but their loyalty to a store or particular brand is especially strong. Once an RC finds that expert, all other stores disappear. If you’re second on an RC’s list, you’re just first loser – there is no second. The Relational Customer sees each transaction as one in a long line of transactions – a relationship between herself and the store.

A great example of the difference between the TC and the RC happens in the arena of auto repair. If you always take your car to the same mechanic, even if it means waiting an extra day or two, you are probably a Relational Customer. You’ve found the expert you can trust. But if you call around just to find the best price on an oil change and take your car to a service station you’ve never visited before just to save $5, you’re probably a Transactional Customer.

Wait, you cry! Do i have to be one or the other? Can't someone be both? Aren’t there people who get all major repairs done by the same mechanic who also drive around looking for the best price on an oil change? Yes! You can be both.

In fact, we are all both TC and RC depending on the item in question.

Studies also show that not only are people both Transactional and Relational, every category of product is also split quite evenly between TC’s and RC’s.

The big theory (and myth) of the Internet is that it is all about price. Students from MIT once did a study to prove this theory. They studied the buying patterns of people who shopped for videos and DVD’s through DirectLink - a website that helps you locate items available for purchase online. You type in the item, and DirectLink pulls up all the places that item can be purchased online and lists them from cheapest to most expensive. The students theorized that if you were not the cheapest price, you wouldn’t get the sale, that 99% of customers would probably click on the first link.

To their surprise 51% of the customers they tracked did NOT buy from the cheapest website. Instead they spent about $3 more per item buying it from someone other than the first site listed. Why did they spend more? Because they didn’t trust the websites offering the lowest prices. The vast majority of those higher price purchases were done at websites like Amazon.com, WalMart.com and other recognizable names. Final Score? Price 49%, Trust 51%.

Here’s another example as told by Roy H. Williams, aka Wizard of Ads. Roy was speaking to a roomful of marketing directors for grocery stores. When Roy asked how many believed that price was the major driving force behind their sales, 290 of the 300 people raised their hands. Roy then asked how many offered loyalty cards, discounts for people who swiped or scanned a special card at the checkout. About half the room raised their hands. When asked how well it worked one person stood up and explained that 43% of his customers used such a card, higher than the national average for such programs. Did each customer get asked if they had or wanted such a card? Yes, the cashiers were well-trained to ask everyone. Yet, 57% of the people in that store basically said “No thanks, I’ll pay more.” When Roy asked again how many thought price was the driving force behind their sales, a lot fewer hands were raised. Final Score? Price 43%, Trust (or convenience) 57%.

Yes, everyone of you is both Transactional and Relational. Yes, every category has both Transactional and Relational customers. You’re probably trying to figure out right now in what categories you are RC and TC. Me? I’m mostly RC. The mere thought of getting up early to fight crowds, wait in lines, and have no chance of finding a clerk to answer my questions is downright frightening. Then again, I would never want to get in the media’s way of hyping up Black Friday into the shopping day it has become. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

If you’re still puzzled, here’s a quick quiz to help you figure it out.

Do you drive all over town to save 3 cents on a gallon of gas or always stop at the same convenient station on the way home? Do you top off the tank every time you see the price drop, or do you fill up only when you’re empty? Do you grocery shop at five different stores based on what’s on sale, or shop at only one store because you know the layout? Do you decide to do without something because the only store in town that has it is one you wouldn’t be caught dead entering? Do you continue to shop for a better deal even after you’ve made your purchase? Do you believe you know more than the sales staff or do they know more than you?

The fun thing is that there is no right or wrong way to be. You just are what you are. And it’s interesting when we understand why we do what we do.

And now you have a better understanding why you were out early Friday morning (or why you thought all those people were crazy).

And now you also know that while some stores only play the Price game, we’re going after that 50% plus who want an Expert to Trust. Yes, we’ll win some and lose some in the Transactional Customer game (our prices are more competitive than some people think), but you can guarantee that we’ll always be here to answer your questions, help you make great choices, and share the joy you have watching your children grow. That's the RC in us, and part of the reason why we had such a big Black Friday that continued all weekend long.

The other stores went after TC customers. Once their sales ended, so did their traffic. The TC's were off to look for more great deals. The RC's, on the other hand, avoided the Friday early morning crowds and filled the stores Friday afternoon, Saturday & Sunday. Unfortunately, their presence wasn't recorded in any of the major media stories because they typically don't shop the big box chain stores and discounters where those numbers are gathered. But ask your neighborhood retailers, your local independents, how they fared. According to Michigan Retailers Association, more than half reported better than expected sales.

The other factor driving this is that there isn't that one "must have" toy driving Christmas sales this year. No Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch Doll causing a retail frenzy. So without a "hot" product, the advantage goes to the stores that know their products best, the stores that cater to the RC's.

As Paul Harvey would say, "Now you know the rest of the story."

Good day!

-Phil

Monday, December 1, 2008

Black Friday Myths Revisited

The results are in. Here is how my 5 myths about Black Friday stood up to the weekend.

Myth #1 These are the best deals you'll see.

As reported in Market Watch and the LA Times, the deals were all that drove Black Friday business in the big stores. Saturday traffic was way down across the board for these stores, which means what? More deals to come, and probably pretty soon.

Myth #2 This is the busiest day of the year.

The verdict is still out on this one, but just you wait. Not only will the last two Saturdays be the biggest days of the year, but this year they'll be especially big. Why? People aren't using credit cards so they're waiting for cash to come in. People are doing more layaways, which show up in most accounting systems as sales when picked up. People are waiting for better deals. All that adds up to a huge last week. (And we'll be ready.)

Myth #3 This is the day stores become profitable.

Nope, not this year. Too many steep discounts. Too little October/November traffic. One day, no matter how big, can't make up for a couple of slow months that have been reported.

Myth #4 The earlier you open, the better you do.

Ask K-Mart how that's working out for them.

Myth #5 Early hours are worth it.

Just ask the family of the trampled worker in the Long Island Wal-Mart if it was worth it. What a sad, sick story. One more reason why I would never want to open our store early.

Oh yeah, and for the record, how did we do? We opened at our regular time of 9:30am. We did not have any contrived door-buster specials, just our every day values and top-notch selection. Yeah, we offered free coffee, but we do that every year, and I doubt anyone came just for the Maxwell's House Colombian Supreme.

And we set a record for busiest Thanksgiving Weekend ever.

While other stores - the ones that offered early hours and big deals - saw their Saturday business fall off, ours grew stronger all weekend long.

Hmmm... You think maybe there's more to shopping than just big sales? We'll explore that in the next post.

Happy December!

-Phil

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turn off the TV!

There is a movement afoot to stop toy companies from advertising their toys directly to the kids. Many parents have written letters on behalf of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to the leading toy manufacturers asking them to stop running ads aimed directly at children.

Unfortunately, I believe their efforts will be about as successful as asking McDonald's to stop putting special sauce on the Big Mac.

Why do toy manufacturers market to children? Because it works! And it works well. TV-advertised toys outsell their less-marketed brethren by astonishing rates. Without TV advertising for toys, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target and Toys R Us would probably get out of the toy business. (Hey, maybe banning ads is not a bad thing at all). The big stores only want toys with quick turnover. That's why most of the toys found in the national chains are either licensed with some TV or movie character or heavily advertised first on TV and then in their Sunday ads.

Of course, nowhere in that equation is there room for discussion on whether the toy is actually good or not. Nowhere in the math does any of those mass merchants consider things like play value, creativity, or imagination. Nope, the only question they have is, "How fast will this move?" And if it's on TV, the answer is fast enough.

Now, I believe it is fair of parents to be concerned about how these toy companies market to children. But asking them to change is pointless. If you don't want the fatty foods of McDonald's you eat elsewhere. The same is true with toys. If you don't want your children bombarded with toy ads, TURN OFF THE TV.

Yes, it's that simple. Be the parent, take charge, and limit your child's exposure.

Some people say that all those ads just help children learn to deal with the marketing realities of this world. I'm not fully in that camp. I do believe that there is a learning process, but I also believe that we, as parents, must control that learning process. We do that by controlling the exposure. We do that by setting limits. We do that by being proactive and explaining to our children how advertising works.

That's what my family has done these past 60 years while running a toy store. In fact, growing up we were taught that most TV-advertised toys were bad toys. The good toys didn't need TV ads to sell. My cousin took this lesson to heart so much that one Christmas he complained saying, "Santa screwed up. He brought me some bad TV toys."

If you are tired of hearing your kids yell, scream, beg and plead for the latest, hottest toy, don't write a letter to the company. Just turn off the TV and go find a toy store that specializes in non-advertised, fun-laden, high play value toys - a toy store like Toy House and Baby Too or any of the hundreds of independent specialty toy stores around the country.

-Phil

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Black Friday?

Sometimes I wonder if we are taking Thursday off to celebrate Thanksgiving or the beginning of Christmas Shopping.

It seems that there is more talk about Black Friday in the news than the turkey celebrations on Thursday. In fact, the only time I see the word "Thanksgiving" is when they announce another store like K-Mart planning to be open that day.

Has it come to be that the thing for which we are most thankful is getting up at 3am to grab a doorbuster special?

I hate to be the mythbuster, but I'm going to let you in on some little retail secrets. My fellow retailers might not be happy that I'm sharing these. They might blackball me like those magicians that gave away their secrets on Fox TV. But here it goes...

Black Friday Myth #1: These are the best deals you will see this shopping season. Reality: Yes, there are some big bargains, but most of those were carefully orchestrated to make you think you are getting a bigger deal than you actually are. These "deals" are planned months in advance. The true deals are the "panic deals" that happen when stores panic because sales aren't as strong as they hoped. Usually these start the week before Christmas. This year, they'll start as early as December 1.

Black Friday Myth #2: This is the busiest day of the year. Reality: Although it is a busy shopping day, the two Saturdays before Christmas always outpace Black Friday in terms of actual dollars being spent. Don't ever underestimate the power of the procrastinators.

Black Friday Myth #3: This is the day that all retailers get back to profitability. Reality: Some retailers won't ever get back to being profitable this year. And with the price-slashing we are seeing, there may be some serious casualties after the dust settles. It's hard to make a profit when you give everything away below cost.

Black Friday Myth #4: The earlier a business opens, the more business it will do. Reality: Where you shop has less to do with the hours, than with the products. If Kohl's doesn't have what you want, you won't be there at midnight. This whole notion that K-Mart by being open Thursday, or some of the stores opening at 3am or even midnight will gain some big advantage over the competition is ridiculous. The stores that will have the best Black Fridays will be the stores with the best products, services and values. And service is hard to do when the staff is tired and grumpy at missing out on their own Thanksgiving festivities. Ever wonder why the stores that open the earliest have the highest staff turnover rate? I love my staff way too much to ever do something like that to them. We'll open at our regular hours and do plenty of business without any gimmicks or stunts, just smart products, good values, and great service.

Speaking of early hours...

Black Friday Myth #5: The early hours are always worth it. Reality: If you like waiting in long lines, fighting huge crowds, getting pushed and shoved only to be one person too late to get the item you wanted, then more power to you. I like to calculate the cost of my time versus the price of an item.

I hope I haven't burst anyone's bubbles. It's not like I'm trying to convince you that Santa Claus isn't real. (He is real. Want proof ? Click here!) Despite what I have said above, I love Black Friday. It is a fun day filled with wonderful customers and experiences and, oh yeah, a whole lot of business. But there is so much more for which we should be thankful.

So as I tuck in for the night this Thanksgiving day, I will tip my hat to those of you who plan to confront the cold, blustery pre-dawn darkness to fight the coffee-starved crowds for deals, contrived or otherwise. Many of you brave soldiers tell me that it is the thrill of the conquest that drags you out of bed while others slumber peacefully. To you, I say go forth and conquer.

My staff and I will be well-rested and waiting here at the Toy House at 9:30am with a fresh pot of coffee brewing just for you.

Happy Black Friday and Thanksgiving, too!

-Phil

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy America Unchained Day!

Austin, Texas started it with "Austin Unchained", a day in which all Austinians were encouraged to "Keep Austin Weird" by shopping only in local stores for one day.

The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) latched on to the concept and began promoting it nationwide.

Now America Unchained is happening all over, including right here in Jackson. Many downtown businesses are having events today to encourage you to Shop Local. But the question still remains...

Why should you shop local? What advantage does is bring you?

Here are five reasons why you should consider shopping local this Christmas season.

#1 Building Community: The casual encounters you enjoy at neighborhood businesses and the public spaces around them build relationships and local cohesiveness. They’re the ultimate social networking sites! Have you ever been to Jackson Coffee Company and didn't see someone you knew?

#2 Economic Vitality: Each dollar you spend at a local independent business returns 3.5 times more money to our local economy than one spent at a chain—both a short and long-term solution to our local economy. Just a 10% shift in your buying habits from chain to local stores could have millions of dollars of impact on Jackson.

#3 Character: Why did you choose to live here? What keeps you? Independent businesses help give Jackson County its one-of-a-kind personality. Plus, the owners of these businesses are more rooted in the community, more involved in its growth, more passionate about what makes Jackson great.

#4 A Healthier Environment: Independent, community-serving businesses are people-sized. They consume less land, carry more locally-made products, and locate closer to residents—creating less traffic and pollution. With all the talk this election about energy, one of the easiest ways to go green is to shop local.

#5 Lower Taxes: Local businesses put less demand on our roads, sewers, and safety services than most chains and generate more tax revenue per sales dollar, helping keep your taxes lower. Again, another hot topic from this past election could easily be solved by shopping local.

And if those five reasons aren't enough, go to http://www.jacksonlocalfirst.com/ to find out more.

Enjoy the freedom of becoming unchained!

Happy Shopping!

-Phil

Friday, November 7, 2008

Shop Local, Create Jobs

A new study in Grand Rapids confirms what the JXN Local First campaign has been saying. Shop local and you will CREATE JOBS.

According to Civic Economics, an economic research firm, just a 10% shift in shopping from national chains to local businesses would create 1600 jobs in Grand Rapids and an economic impact of $137 million. (see the whole story at http://www.retailers.com/news/retailers/08oct/mr1008shoplocally.html)

Often, I hear the complaint, "but Phil, shopping local is expensive."

Let's look at it another way.

If shifting your dollars from big chains to local stores creates jobs, then the opposite must be true. The more you spend at the national chains, the more jobs are lost. Now that would be expensive. (More unemployment, more welfare, more tax dollars used up, etc., etc.)

There is a high price to low cost - it's called jobs. Your friends' jobs, your family's jobs, maybe even your own job.

Yet, by shopping local just one more time out of the next ten times you shop can make a significant impact on your local economy. If it can create 1600 jobs for Grand Rapids, what would it do for Jackson, or wherever you live?

Will it be more expensive? Maybe not. Many people tell me we are quite comparably priced on many items. I find the same is true with some of the other local businesses where I shop. More importantly, I find more unique items that make the gifts I give more special.

And as my previous post mentions, it isn't about price - it's about value.

Think about it next time you're in the market for something. Give your local store a try and we'll see if we can change this economy on our own. (For a list of JXN Local First members - go to http://www.jxnlocalfirst.com/)

-Phil

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Election Getting You Down?

Relief is coming! In less than a week all will be much better. It will be safe to turn on the radio, open the newspaper, watch your favorite TV show.

Barring any Floridian fiascos, the election will be over next Tuesday night, and with it, all of those insipid election ads telling us what liars and crooks are running for office.

It's amazing we can have any trust or faith in government because no matter who wins, the opponent just spent thousands, maybe millions of dollars telling us how bad is the person we elected. At least if it's someone who got our vote we can say we elected our liar and crook.

The worst thing is the cumulative effect of all that negative advertising brings down the American psyche. We see it every time there is a major election campaign - sales go down in October as people lose faith in the country only to return in November as that faith is restored.

But wait, you say. What if my candidate doesn't win? In the short term that won't matter. Your life and my life will be pretty much the same on November 5th as November 3rd. The only thing that changes is the tone of the airwaves.

Remember that old saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"? Never underestimate the power of words.

In the meantime, keep the faith. Gas prices are down, the stock market is coming back, and kind words will soon return. We understand if you're bunkering down until next Tuesday. Don't worry. We'll be here when you're ready!

-Phil

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jackson Local First Website

It's finally up! The website for Jackson Local First has gone live!

Yes, there are still a few more things we need to do, like add some pictures (send me any pictures you have of people shopping local and we'll get them added) and update a few pages.

But, most importantly, it's there and you can see it. And you can get a sense of what Jackson Local First is all about and why I would want to be involved.

Hey, I'm a lifelong Jacksonian. I love this town, despite its faults. And for every fault you name I can come up with something fantastic about Jackson. How many cities our size have a symphony? How many have a museum like Ella Sharp? Or a park system like ours?

Now, we just need to get the word out how shopping local strengthens our economy and helps us support such great institutions.

It's important to know this election year that we don't need to wait on Washington DC or Lansing to help our economy. We can do it ourselves when we support the family owned businesses in our own hometown.

And if you're not from Jackson, that's okay. Support the local businesses wherever you live and wherever you visit. They give more back to their communities than they take. And they make each community stronger and more fun to visit.

Check it out - http://www.jxnlocalfirst.com/

Phil

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Strummin’ My 6-String
It was my favorite Christmas present of all time. I still have it. And I knew I was getting it all along.

December, 1985. My sister and I were both in college. She wanted a stereo for Christmas and Mom and Dad had no clue what to buy her. So they called me in for advice. And since I knew what Mom and Dad were spending on her, they turned to me and said, "What do you want?"

No hesitation. A guitar. Six shimmering strings, a shiny wood top, and a black case. I was gonna be a star.

I always had a fascination with guitars. In fact, I even tried to build one out of an old sheet of particle board. I measured it, drew it out on the board and began cutting. At eleven I just figured that once I cut out the body I could attach some strings and be good to go. Without a jigsaw, though, I never got very far. I think that board with the drawings and a few misplaced saw cuts still sits somewhere in my parents' basement.

But then I started working summers at YMCA Storer Camps in Napoleon. Although I never saw it, there must be somewhere on the application where you check off "guitar player". Almost everyone there knew how to play guitar... except me.

I wanted a guitar. And now I had one. Mom and Dad went to Playford Music and got a perfect starter guitar, an Eterna by Yamaha with a really high action that tore through my fingertips in record time while I adjusted to this new skill.

My college roommate was not nearly as excited as I was about my new guitar. With each new chord I tried to teach to my fingers, Kraig found renewed motivation to go the library to study. And even then, by the following summer I could barely play 3 chords.

Then I met Tim. Dr. Timothy Murnen, PhD, now a professor at Bowling Green, was just a summer camp counselor like me, with long hair, a love for the outdoors, and an ability to relate to kids. And just like me, he had a guitar. But he was doing something I had not even considered. Tim was writing his own songs. Songs I've never forgotten like "Broken Strings" - The day is long and your feet move on/And you're never really ever gonna change your song/Broken hearts and broken dreams/You just got to live with your broken strings.

Man, I was blown away. Now I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my guitar. Write my own music. And I did.

Over the next few years I wrote 40 or 50 songs, although I use that word loosely. With maybe two or three exceptions, none of that early work was approved for human consumption. But when I joined a contemporary Christian music group at the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson in '93 I found a whole new outlet for my writing. Another 40 to 50 songs later I have a few more edible tunes.

Are you ready to hear them?

Yes, I'm going public. I'm going on the stage live at Nomad Bookhouse on Friday, August 29th at 7pm with my guitar, harmonicas and maybe a friend or two.

Some people ask what style of music I play. Is "Campfire" a style? You can call it folk, country, old time rock n roll, blues, Christian, or whatever you want. I promise that there will be songs to make you laugh, songs to make you think, songs to make you tap your toes, and songs to make you want to sing along. And when I hit the wrong note or two along the way maybe even a song to make you cry. I'm going to play a mix of Christian and secular originals with a few covers thrown in for good measure.

Will you dare to join me?

See you Friday, August 29th 7pm at Nomad!

Happy Strumming!

Phil Wrzesinski

PS I’ve told you my favorite present. Now I want hear about yours. Tell me the story behind your favorite gift and if I get enough responses I’ll put them in an upcoming forum.