Monday, May 25, 2009

Tooting Your Own Horn

My son plays trumpet in the 5th grade band. He's been tooting his horn since October and has improved greatly. The school pointed us in the direction of an online program called Smart Music that has helped his practice time immensely.

In fact, he has even taught himself how to play Happy Birthday and Hail to the Victors. He loves to toot his own horn both literally and figuratively, willing to show off his talent for anyone within earshot.

Sometimes it makes my wife and I uncomfortable the way he brags and boasts about his accomplishments. Which begs the question... When is it okay to toot your own horn? When does it cross the line from importance to arrogance?

There is a new book coming out this Thursday by national retail consultant and best-selling author George Whalin titled, Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America. Toy House and Baby Too is one of the 25 best.

Is it bragging and boasting for me to highlight this accomplishment? Is it arrogance to shout to the world about being in this book? Believe me, we are humbled to be included. But at the same time, I have an opportunity with this book to make some noise.

If my son doesn't blow his horn, it makes no noise. No one is going to blow it for him. Likewise, as a business owner, when presented with a trumpet like this book, I need to toot loud and clear. My son will play for any audience anywhere. Shouldn't businesses do the same? Especially when you get a chance to reach a new audience.

No one remembers the seventh trumpet in the back row quietly playing along with the rest of the band. We remember the soloist who stands up and plays loud and proud.

Yet too many of us are afraid of the spotlight, afraid of what some might say about us. Every soloist has his critics. But far many more praise his talents and enjoy his music.

Should you toot your own horn? Of course you should! Play it loud and proud. You'll gain far more fans than critics.

But don't forget to practice.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Doing it the Right Way

My wife hit her goal today. In the fall of 2007 she set a goal - lose 50 pounds... the right way.

Yep, eat right, exercise more.

No fad diets, no magic fat-burning pills, no surgeries, meal deals or other gimmicks. Just eat right and exercise more.

Yes, she enlisted help. She signed up for Measure-up Monday through Allegiance Health to give her someone to which she would be accountable. She also signed up for exercise classes, figuring that if she paid money she'd be more apt to attend.

And it worked! It took her eighteen months, but she has dropped 50 pounds, 7 dress sizes, and a load of unhealthy self-esteem.

Best of all, because of the changes in lifestyle, she's going to keep that weight off for good.

So what does this have to do with your business?

Just like losing weight, there is no miracle cure to make your business profitable. You have to change your habits. You have to...

Eat right and exercise more.

Eat right means control your inventory. You need to bring in the right products in the right amounts. You need to calculate and closely follow your Open-to-Buy. You need to manage your cash flow. It might mean making a wholesale change to how you run your business. It did for my wife. She reads labels more carefully, understands nutrition much better, and makes smarter choices based on new information. Oh, she still has dessert every night, just not as much and not as often. She changed her eating habits. Can you change your buying habits? Of course you can.

When your business eats right, you'll find your business is leaner and more agile, able to make changes to meet the needs of the marketplace faster.

Exercise more means get out and work. Retail is not for the lazy. As Roy H. Williams said, "If making a profit were easy, everyone would be doing it." It takes work. It takes paying attention to the details of your customer service. It takes following your finances closely and knowing what each number is and what affects them. It takes doing your due diligence in the hiring and training of your staff to make sure they represent you as well as possible. It takes scrutinizing your marketing to make sure it portrays the message you want it to portray.

In short, it takes effort. The good news is that the work becomes habit forming. After a few months of working out at least 5 times per week, my wife now feels horrible if she doesn't work out. And the same will be true for your business. The more you work at it, the easier the work becomes.

One of the biggest drawbacks to losing weight is simply getting started. The same is true of the pile in your inbox. But if you make small changes daily to pay just a little more attention to the details, to focus just a little more sharply, your inbox will be less daunting and easier to manage.

If you want lasting profitability, you have to make changes to your business lifestyle. There are no shortcuts. You have to eat right and exercise more. And if you do, it will work!

Just ask my wife.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

What I Learned in Louisville

The All Baby & Child Spring Conference just wrapped up. It is a conference for stores who sell baby products. Over 3 plus days we had speakers, presentations and a mini trade show. I was asked to be a presenter when the conference was scheduled but got bumped for a presentation on the new CPSIA law and how it affects baby products.

Twenty of the four hundred plus attendees dragged themselves into a room set up for 300 to hear the latest interpretations of this expensively pointless law. But since I wasn't presenting, I chose to carefully observe the other presenters to see what I could learn. Here are the Do's and Don'ts from Louisville.

Don't give a presentation where all you do is read the ample text on your wordy slides. Give me the handout and quit wasting my time. I'm not two any more. I can read. Yes, one presenter put up slides full of text and then read them to us, often poorly because he couldn't decide whether to read his laptop with reading glasses or turn his back and read the screen without. It's been a long time since I rated a presentation poor. I pray it will be another long time before I do it again.

Don't plan a 90 minute presentation when you only have 60 minutes scheduled. As much as I like the information, I also want to get to the next presentation on time.

Don't start your presentation until you know the audio is working. Twenty minutes into a talk is way too late to find out half the room can't hear you.

Don't talk too fast. Yeah it may be your style, but I was out of breath just trying to keep up with you. I haven't learned shorthand and taking notes was useless.

Don't promote your book until the end. I'm not interested in buying until I know what you're selling.

Do something surprising to get my interest. Rick Segel giving away a copy of his book to the first person willing to go against the crowd was a brilliant idea (and I'm not just saying that because he gave the book to me). It got everyone to pay attention and realize that dissenting voices exist and are not always wrong.

Do give me action steps. Paint me a picture of what to do next. Mike Rayburn taught me to say, "What if..?" whenever I am presented with a challenge. It was our buzzword fr the rest of the evening. George Whalin gave me a list of traits of a great manager, things I need to develop in myself or hire & train in my employees. I like concrete stuff that helps me plot a course of action.

Do something unique. The most fascinating presentation was by Mike Rayburn. He's a guitar virtuoso, a comedian, and a motivational speaker. One of my colleagues asked me after the presentation if he was a musician who did comedy or a speaker who did music, or a comedian who did motivation. I asked what was the point. You see, there are plenty of guitar virtuosos, tons of motivational speakers, and a plethora of comedians. But there is only one Mike Rayburn who can combine all three seamlessly. If there had been a box above Excellent, I would have checked it for his presentation.

Do something fun. Rick Segel told great jokes that made us laugh out loud and helped get his points across. George Whalin put up a slide of a crazy guy in a superhero outfit that got a lot of buzz afterwards. Mike used humor and music, two of my favorites.

Do give me something to take home. I have a book, a DVD, two CD's, and three handouts of notes. Reading material for bedtime, listening material for the drive home, and training material for the next staff meeting. It's the trifecta of a great conference.

If you are doing a presentation, whether for a handful of co-workers in a staff meeting or a crowd of conference attendees, keep these Do's and Don'ts in mind. And if you're not doing any public speaking soon, why don't you come to my talk on Wednesday, May 20th. It's at 7:30 am at Jackson Coffee Company. The topic is How Ads Work: Understanding Branding and the APE. Not only will you learn some really cool stuff for your business, you'll get the chance to critique me on the stuff I've just posted and tell me how well I did.

See you there.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Deep Versus Wide

In just about everything you do, you have a choice. Go Deep or go Wide.

In business that could mean a number of things...
  • Stock a few things Deeply or stock a Wide assortment.
  • Try to create Deep relationships with a few special customers or shallow relationships with as Wide a group as possible.
  • Advertise Deeply in one media or spread yourself thinly across a Wide variety of venues.
Obviously, the best choice is to do both. But it is rare that any independent business has the resources to go Deep and Wide at the same time.

So with limited resources which is better? Deep or Wide?

This is the question that came up last Monday at the Jackson Retail Success Academy. One of our panelists was asked about advertising and what he felt was most effective. He said mixing up the media, doing a little in a lot of areas worked best for him. At which point every head turned towards me.

Two weeks earlier I instructed the same group of students to go Deep with their advertising, not to mix it up too much. Pick one media, I told them, and do it to the best of your budget and ability.

Every eye was now staring at me to see what I had to say.

And here's what I said...


First, I did not want to discount what a fellow local business person whom I respect had just said. Second, I already had my say on the matter. Third, it wasn't the time or place since we were supposed to be talking Inventory Management at the time. And finally, none of the students in that group had the kind of advertising budget this retailer had.

But the question still begged to be answered. Is mixing up the media a viable option or is it better to focus on one media done right?

Okay, I cheated. I phrased the question with a serious slant. I used the words, "done right".

You see, the key to successful advertising is not how much you do or where you do it so much as how well you do it. Do you have a powerful message? Do you craft that message to speak directly to the heart of your audience? Do you pound that message over and over and over until the customers are thinking of nothing else other than you?

When I talk about Deep in advertising, I'm talking connection. How deeply do you connect with your audience? How well do you move their who-gives-a-crap meter? If you can do that in more than one media, good for you. Some businesses don't have the money. Most don't know how to craft the right message.

Your customers are your business relationships. The deeper the relationship, the more business you'll do. And that starts with a deep and long lasting connection through your ads. If you're dabbling in a little radio here, a little TV there, with a little newsprint on the side, how can you make any lasting impressions? How can you stay with it long enough to move the meter?

With all due respect to my fellow retailer, mixed media is rarely the answer. While he runs a successful business, Roy Williams, who taught me about going Deep, has turned other businesses in his category into rock stars (for those who know, pun intended).

Would you like to learn to go Deep? Join me for an hour on Wednesday, May 20th at 7:30am. I'll be holding court at Jackson Coffee Company upstairs in their conference room doing a presentation that will change the way you advertise for good (or better).