Friday, October 30, 2009

More Than One Way to Say It

I wrote two articles for a local organization's newsletter about Shopping Local. The first was soundly rejected. The second was roundly praised. Funny thing is, both said pretty much the same thing. The difference is that one said it powerfully, one not as strong.

Yes, it was the more powerful message that was rejected. The fear was that it would be seen as offensive to some. Of course, that was my point. No, not to offend, but to attract.

A message is like a magnet. It's power to attract is equal to it's power to repel. The stronger the attraction, the stronger the repulsion.

If you are writing to attract, write powerfully and pull no punches. If you are writing not to offend, don't be upset if your message doesn't get through as strong as you would like. Those are the trade-offs in making a memorable message.

I understand the reasoning behind the newsletter's owners wanting not to offend (otherwise I wouldn't have written the second article). Some of my original points were directed right at some of their membership which wouldn't have gone over well. And that's a fair reason for the rejection.

But there's a lesson here worth remembering. The most powerful messages will offend as many people as they attract. And that's okay.

Here are the two articles. You tell me which one was more powerful...

What Does it Mean to Shop Local?

There are differing opinions as to how we define a Local Business. Here is the definition that counts…

A local business is one that is owned and operated by someone actively involved in this community.

If in doubt, ask yourself, “Where does the profit go?” Locally owned businesses invest their profits back into Jackson. Chain stores send their profits back to headquarters (usually to pay for some CEO’s golden parachute). Online stores never let the money spend a moment in town.

Studies continually show that locally owned independents and locally owned franchises give back far more to the community than big box chain stores and online sites. They employ more people per sale, pay them a higher wage, pay more in taxes and give more in charity than the chain stores*. They also do more business with other locals keeping the money flowing through Jackson many times over.

A study in Grand Rapids showed that just a 10% shift in shopping habits from big chains to locals would create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity, not by spending more, just by spending it locally.

Your local businesses sponsor local events. They sponsor your son’s Little League teams. They supply most of our local leaders. They don’t run at the first sign of trouble. They are rooted in our community.

Christmas is a time for giving. As you plan your giving, think about the businesses who have given back to Jackson, who have invested their livelihood in Jackson.

You can find a bunch of them at

Merry Christmas!

Phil Wrzesinski

*Studies cited at

Keep Your Dollars in Jackson

They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. It also takes a whole village to raise an economy. But first you have to invest in the village. You have to put your money where your house is. Spend your money in Jackson.

The holidays are a time for increased spending. They are also a time for increased everything else, increased traffic, increased stress, and increased demands on our time.

For some, that’s a compelling reason for shopping online. Sure, you might save a buck or two, but the money you saved was money that left Jackson with no benefit to the local economy. And if you didn’t pay sales tax, that’s a loss of revenue for our schools.

When you shop local - when you stay in Jackson to make your holiday purchases - you are investing in your neighbors. You are employing people in your community. You are adding to the available dollars for charity. You are growing Jackson’s tax base and economy.

Washington, D.C. does not have a silver bullet to kill the recessionary beast. Lansing cannot fix what ails us.

But you can.

Spend your money in Jackson and it will make a difference – a big difference. A study in Grand Rapids showed that just a 10% shift in shopping local would create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity, not by spending more, just by spending it locally.

Keep your dollars in Jackson this holiday and you’ll be giving a whole lot more than just presents.

Merry Christmas!

Phil Wrzesinski

See the difference?


Saturday, October 24, 2009

A New Twist on Training New Employees

I just hired seven new employees for the store. Now comes the fun part - training.

My standards are high. My customers' standards are even higher. They have an expectation about our store that may seem unfair in these days of self-serve retail. They expect to be waited upon. They expect to have their questions answered quickly, correctly and with good cheer. They expect the staff to be friendly, knowledgeable and efficient. They expect us to have what they want, get it through the checkout quick, giftwrap it for free and have them on their way before their child has time to even think about a meltdown.

Oh yeah, and they want to have FUN while doing it.

In short, my customers are expecting the world, and I am planning on giving it.

The seven new employees had two things in common - a desire to help others and a strong work ethic. Those were the characteristics I required in this round of hiring. Now comes the task of teaching them about the toys, about our services, about our policies, about our cash registers, about our philosophy. There is a lot to learn. More than I can remember. More than I have time to teach.

I did two things you can copy for your business when you have to hire & train new employees.

First, I created a checklist of all the skills the new employees need to learn. I broke it down into main items and subcategories to make sure nothing was overlooked. Simple things like closing procedures or bagging toys were on the list along with educational material like How Toys Teach, and Phil's Top Ten Toys. Cash register procedures, time clock procedures, delivery policies and every other service we offer is on the list.

And next to each item on the list is a blank line.

The second thing I did was empower my current staff to train the newbies on all of these procedures. The only caveat is that the employee who does the training has to put her initials on the newbie's checklist next to that item.

There are three immediate benefits of doing training this way.

  1. The regular staff gets a sense of responsibility in training the new hires. They feel more empowered which leads to even more responsibility.
  2. Everyone is accountable for how well the training is accomplished. If your initials are on the checklist, you better have taught them well. Knowing that you'll be evaluated, too, has the regulars honing their own skills in the process.
  3. We're building camaraderie right from the start. The new staff are interacting more with the old staff and getting to know them quicker than if they were just working along side each other.
Sure, I'm still involved in the training. Some of my involvement is direct teaching the skills I want to teach, but most is just overseeing the process and evaluating the new employees' skills as they learn. Best of all, I get to see who of the regulars has the ability to teach and who needs more work on their own skills.

All in all, through this process everyone is improving their abilities to give the customers the kind of service they expect. And I'm getting seven new smiling faces ready for the frontlines this holiday season.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Google AdWords - Good or Bad for Advertisers?

John Kelley from Google Ann Arbor was in Jackson yesterday telling a room of 150 people about how Google makes its billions of dollars a year. Almost all of it comes from their advertising auction known as Google AdWords.

If you're not familiar with how it works, here's a quick breakdown.

You set up an account with Google, choose some keywords or phrases, and then make a bid of how much you are willing to pay to show up in the right hand column when someone uses the Google search engine with your chosen keyword.

The cool thing is, just showing up on the right doesn't cost you a penny. You only pay when someone actually clicks on the link. And you only pay whatever you were willing to bid.

For instance, you might choose the keyword "toys" and bid a maximum of $7. When someone types "toys" into a Google search, eight links show up in the right hand column on the first page. Those eight are in order by how much they were willing to bid. If two other people bid higher, you'll be third on that list. If no one bid higher, you'll be at the top, and at a rate only slightly more than the next highest bidder.

Again, you only pay if someone actually clicks on your link.

The beauty of this system is that you only pay for the ads that work, that get people to your website. And you only pay what the market will bear. It is supply and demand at it's greatest. A truly capitalist product that allows small mom & pop shops to compete with large national corporations.

And since it regularly brings in billions of dollars it must work well, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Like all advertising, it comes down to how you use it.

Yes, it is one of the most measurable forms of advertising. You know how much you paid to get traffic and how much revenue that traffic generated. Yes, it is relatively easy to get started and easily tweaked to make it work better.

No, it doesn't work for everyone. In fact, there are two groups for which Adwords would be a lousy investment.
  • Businesses who don't have a website (if you don't have a website, you should read this.)
  • Businesses who don't generate revenue directly from their website.
If you fall into either of these categories, Adwords won't help you grow one bit.

Think about it this way...

The person searching online for a retail product willing to click on a right hand sponsored link is looking for an immediate solution. They are typically looking to make a purchase right away. If you don't sell online, they're hitting that back button as quickly as they can.

You won the auction, but lost the sale (and the ad money).

If you're going to do Google Adwords, here are some suggestions:
  • Do reverse searches to see what keywords are most being used in your category.
  • Only sign up for keywords that relate directly to the products you sell online. Otherwise you're getting a lot of the wrong traffic
  • Write many different phrases for your posts (you get 94 characters for your description) and constantly measure and tweak to see which ones get clicked most often.
  • Measure, measure, measure. Change where people land on your website, see how long they stay, if they buy and where they exit. You will learn quickly where your website breaks down in the sales process.
As you measure your Return On Investment you'll get a clearer picture of whether or not this program is working for you. Unlike traditional advertising where your only measurement is if business is going up or down overall, at least with Adwords you'll know what works and what doesn't. The old advertising joke is that half of your ads work and half don't, you just don't know which half. With Adwords you'll know (for better or for worse).

If your retail business is strictly brick & mortar - no online presence - Adwords isn't for you. If you are using your advertising to brand your store, Adwords isn't for you. If you aren't up for constantly measuring and tweaking your results, Adwords isn't for you. But if selling online is your primary goal, it could work - and work well. Billions of dollars can't all be wrong.

Do you agree or disagree?


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Apple Have You Eaten Today?

This post is totally off topic, intended only for those who want a little brain exercise and reflection time.

Last night I watched the movie Phenomenon with John Travolta & Kyra Sedgwick. There was a particular scene that stuck with me.

John Travolta's character George Malley is dying from a brain tumor. He has just befriended Kyra Sedgwick's character & her two children. The kids, however, are upset at becoming his friend only to find out he's about to die. George has a fascinating way of handling this topic with the kids.

He takes an apple and explains that if the apple was just thrown on the ground, it would rot away and be gone forever. But if you were to take a bite of the apple, that bite becomes a part of you forever.

In a touching moment in the movie, the kids both end up taking huge bites of the apple.

The scene got me thinking... What bites of *apple* have I taken that are still with me?

The first thought that came to my mind was my homeroom teacher & swim coach from high school who had two phrases he repeated often. The first was, "Can't never did nothing!" To this day, if you say to me, "I can't," I'll respond instinctively and immediately with that quote. His second quote was, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The harder you practice the luckier you get."

Both of those quotes must be in the forefront of my unconscious mind because of how fast they jump into the conscious when the opportunity presents itself. And every time I say them, I picture Coach Pultz standing next to me.

That is just one of many apples I've eaten in life. Other apples include every camp counselor who put up with my shenanigans as a kid, every speaker who inspired me to try something new, every writer who wrote something I wanted to remember.

I'm curious to hear about your apples. What apples have you eaten in your life that are a part of you forever? And have you eaten any apples today? Also, what apples are you offering for others? How far does your orchard spread?

You might be surprised when you stop to think about how wide an influence you already have in this world because of those who have eaten your apples.

Sure gives a new meaning to the phrases, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," and "You're the apple of my eye," doesn't it?


Friday, October 2, 2009

Breaking Trust the AT&T Way

Two letters have undone all trust I ever had with AT&T. For 60 years we have used AT&T in one form or another for our store. That's a lot of trust built up.

The first letter came on August 24th saying that my account with them was about to expire. With 16 phones, 8 business lines, and a business open 7 days a week, you can believe I called them right away. After jumping through a bunch of online menu hoops I got a guy who informed me that my account was not about to expire, but that he had some great offers of other products I might want to buy.

Yeah, the letter was a total scam to get me to call so they might sell me some services I didn't want. Apparently the hundred plus phone calls from sales reps that I had blown off wasn't enough for them to get the message that I was completely happy with my current level of service and didn't want anything more.

Trust meter down 50%.

The second letter came today. It informed me of the "new services you have requested" and that my new bill would be $106.35 more for the new services.


Apparently, even after explaining that I was happy with my current services and didn't want anything more, AT&T thought I should have Caller ID for my 8 lines (two which are purely modems, not even used for receiving calls). And somewhere over the past month, they decided to add that to my account for an extra $106.35 a month.

Yeah, I got back on the phone. Only this time it took 5 calls and umpteen hoops before I found a live person. Unfortunately, the phone number led me to a live person that had no clue how to help me with my problem. Yes, she finally transferred me to someone knowledgeable on the subject, but even then, he couldn't help me. (What's the point of giving out a phone number if the people answering that phone can't deal with the issues for which the number was given?)

Bottom line? They changed my account because they changed program I was on. It wasn't anything I had actually requested. I just wanted to stay on the old plan, but the old plan now had Caller ID bundled in it and I was getting Caller ID even though I don't need it, don't want it, can't use it. No option. It was now in the plan, and I had to pay for it.

I suppose AT&T's idea was, if you can't get someone to buy your products, just bundle them in and tell them they have no choice but to pay for them.

Trust meter down 100%.

On Monday I'll be calling their competitors.

There are so many lessons in this, I don't think one post could cover them all. Here's the one I want you to remember...

Trust takes time to build, but only seconds to shatter. We have used AT&T in our business for over 60 years. We have never had any issues with our phone service. Yet it all was destroyed in 39 days, and now I'm shopping around.

Trust is precious. The trust you have built with your customers is gold. Remember how hard it was to get that trust, and then do everything in your power to keep that trust. Make sure all your policies, procedures and ventures are designed to build trust, not break it.


PS If you sell phone services, call me Monday.