Friday, January 30, 2009

Blow Up Your TV, Throw Away Your Papers!

It's time to follow the sage advice of one of my favorite folk singer/songwriters when John Prine told us all to...

Blow up your TV/Throw away your papers/Move to the country/Build you a home...

No, I'm not moving to the country, but I'm getting close to canceling cable TV and my daily read of the local newspaper.

After ten hours stuck in an airport with CNN on the TV, I've had enough bad news to last the year (and it's only January!)

Over and over I heard about Boeing, Dell, AOL and Starbucks layoffs, talking head after talking head wrangle over the pork spending in the bailout bill, all of the cities shutdown by ice storms, and even a lament for poor Tiger Woods that he might lose his #1 ranking in golf because of the long layoff due to his injury.

It was one bad story after another. I even tried sitting facing the other direction. There was a TV on that wall, too. I finally found a spot with a pillar and a baby stroller to shield me from the negativity.

If I listened or read any more bad news, I would wonder how anyone could survive.

Then I got to Florida. Change of scenery, change of perspective.

I'm speaking at the IDEX Show, a trade show for the collectible doll & plush industry. This is a market, that by all signs, should be hard-pressed in these economic times - expensive, non-essential items for adults. Yet, at the buyer's reception last night I asked for a show of hands of how many businesses had growth last year. Half the hands went up. Throughout the evening I met three people who were planning to open stores this year.

Obviously none of them had read the news or watched CNN.

And neither should you.

Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or you can't, you are right."

Avoid those negative thoughts and start working on a positive attitude. That's the first step to being successful in 2009. And you can start by turning off the TV.

Over the next couple weeks I'll tell you what I told that crowd of buyers last night. There are some trends we are following at Toy House with great interest, and I have some strategies for taking full advantage of them.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Customer Policies are for Customers

I'm sitting in the new North Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport. My AirTran flight has been delayed 8 hours because the plane taking me to Florida couldn't leave Ohio.

Sitting in the breast pocket of my sport coat is a $10 gift certificate for food in the terminal, just enough to offset the $7.95 I paid for 24 hours of WiFi service.

Sure, the food voucher is nice. I'm not sure if the $25 travel voucher that came with it is very enticing to future flights. But the real question is this...

Are they really appeasing customers in a way that makes customers believe they care or is there something more or different they could do?

Because of the delay I've already made a number of itinerary changes including missing out on a planned dinner with friends. $10 worth of free food doesn't replace 2 hours with friends I haven't seen in months. And money for food was the least of my worries. I budgeted far more than that for tonight's dinner.

As for me, I would rather have free WiFi than a food voucher. $7.95 for 24 hours feels like a ripoff. I might be the only one who feels this way, but from where I sit there are 6 laptops open nearby, none with one of those cellphone type attachments.

Sure, food is the easy option for the airline, so easy they have the forms pre-printed and stacked underneath the counter. But doing what the customer wants is always the best option.

Are your policies designed so that the customer gets what she wants? Do you even ask? Or do you have a rote response for everything so preplanned that you don't even care what the customer thinks?

It's something worth pondering.

I've got 6.5 more hours till takeoff, I think I'll ponder a while:-)


Monday, January 26, 2009

Are You Real Real or Just Fake Real?

I watched an interesting video this morning. Great way to start the day. It's from the TED Conference. For those of you that don't know TED, TED is a conference of really smart people, way smarter than me, doing really cool, mind-blowing presentations, usually 15 minutes or less.

Joseph Pine did a presentation on "what consumers want" that was quite eye-opening. He led us through the evolution of the marketplace from commodities to goods to services to experiences.

Then he blew me away with a simple graph about authenticity. Is your business authentic? That's what customers really want - authentic experiences. Of course, there are degrees to authenticity. Fake Fake, Fake Real, Real Fake, and Real Real.

Find out what you and your business are. Check out the video at:

But be careful, you can get hooked on TED videos. I know I am.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Year's Resolution for Business

Someone stole my idea.

I was working on blog of a New Year's Resolution list for businesses and someone else beat me to the punch.

And they did a better job at it than I had planned.

Read it for yourself by clicking here. I've already printed a copy for myself for continued consumption. It's good.

Happy New Year!


Monday, January 12, 2009

How Do You Stay Motivated in Tough Times?

I am on the Retail Advisory Board for a juvenile industry trade magazine. Each month we answer a question as a regular feature in the magazine.

The question for February was, "During these tough times, how are you staying motivated and how do you share that motivation with your staff?"

What?! Stay motivated?!

In tough times you either stay motivated or close up shop. There really isn't anything in between. In fact, you don't need tough times for this adage to work. If you aren't motivated, you shouldn't be in business, whether the economy is good or bad.

But I can see where this question originates. We have been bombarded with negative story after negative story from the credit crisis to the auto industry to the Chapter 11's to the so-called National Bankruptcy Day on Feb. 9, 2009 when the CPSIA law goes into effect.

That's a lot of bad news and can be a big drain on anyone's psyche.

But if you're in business and want to stay in business, motivation is in ample supply in a tough economy. More so than in a good economy.

When times are good, we become complacent. So what if we screw up with a customer here or there? Another customer is waiting in line right behind her.

When times are tough, we know we have to maximize every single customer. We have to be at the top of our game every single time. It's like being up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with your team down by one, or standing at the free throw line with 8.6 seconds left and your team up by one. Concentration is at a peak. Every muscle is locked into the task at hand. You know there is no room for error. Motivation? When the game is on the line, motivation is sky high.

The same is true for business. When times are tough and your very existence relies on you doing your job well, you don't have to search for motivation, it finds you.

Then again, some stores don't get this. You've probably been to one. The sales clerk barely looks up from his station to acknowledge your presence. If he says anything at all, it's to gripe about how slow is business. He blames it on the weather, the economy, the media.

That is the difference between the successful stores and the stores just hanging on. Successful stores look at the tough times as opportunities. There is more market share to be won during tough times than in good times.

Customers who are tighter with their money are shopping around more to find better shopping opportunities. And it's not just about price. They're looking for stores who best meet their needs, whether it is advice, selection or convenience.

The best stores recognize that tough times are when you make your move, when you go after disgruntled customers, when you expand your selection, your hours, your services to meet their needs. Tough times are when you ratchet up your training programs to keep your staff on their toes and in tip top shape. Tough times are when you differentiate yourself from the crowd by "risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible." Tough times are when you pull out all the stops to make your business better - not just better than the competition, but better than your own standards, better than the highest standards in your industry. Tough times are when you sharpen the ad campaigns, not throttle them back. Tough times are when you work a little harder, a little longer, a little smarter.

The stores that do best during tough times are the stores that embrace the motivation all around them and see the opportunities that are inherent. And when the good times finally arrive, these are the stores that will be standing the tallest.

Tough times are as Darwinian as it gets. The strongest survive. What more motivation do you need?


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

One Thousand Dollars Back!

Do you know any retailers who would like $1000? (Better yet, do you know any that wouldn't?)

The Jackson Retail Success Academy (JRSA) is looking for retailers who want to earn $1000 by taking ten three-hour classes to make their stores better, stronger and more successful

JRSA is looking for retailers willing to learn tips and practices that will help them better manage their inventory, their finances and their cash flow, making them more profitable.

JRSA is looking for retailers willing to learn marketing tips, practices and ideas that will drive the right kind of traffic into their stores and increase their fan base.

JRSA is looking for retailers willing to learn about solid hiring practices and training tips to raise their customer service to a level that creates raving fans that talk about their store to everyone they know.

Do you know a retailer who wants to improve in marketing, customer service and profitability?

Yes, it will take some work - 30 hours to be exact - ten Mondays from 6 to 9 pm. Yes, it will cost some money - $750 to be exact - payable prior to the first class.

But look at the bennies...

First, there is 30 hours of top-level classroom instruction on topics like financial statements, inventory management, cash flow, marketing & advertising, hiring & training, customer service and a whole lot more. This alone is worth $6000 (top level consultants earn $200/hour or more).

Plus, there are actual cash-back benefits.

JRSA Graduates get:

  • $250 in reimbursements for joining a trade organization or attending an industry trade show
  • $400 in reimbursements for advertising expenses
  • A one-year membership in the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce ($300 value)
  • A one-year membership in the Midtown Association of Jackson ($50 value)

Add it up and it's $1000 back to any retailer who signs up and attends the Jackson Retail Success Academy.

Oh yeah, and a pretty good chance you'll learn something new to make you a whole lot more money on top of that.

The next class starts Monday, March 16th.

Tell your retail friends about this offer and have them contact Susan Franck ( at the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce (517) 782-8221 to sign up.


PS JRSA is a collaboration of Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Local First, Midtown Association of Jackson, The Enterprise Group, The Small Business Technology Development Center, and the Jackson DDA