Friday, December 31, 2010

What Difference Did You Make?

Sometimes we forget the impact we have. And this time I'm not talking about the social impact of the products we sell. I'm talking about money. Pure cold hard cash.

Do me a favor... Go read this article .
I'll wait...

Think about the billions of dollars of economic impact that one company has had on the world.

Now think about your own.

There have been studies that say a dollar spent in a local independent retailer circulates seven times through the community. Some have put it as high as fourteen times. Others question if seven is too high. But none dispute the facts that the money spent in your store goes around the community more than once.

So let's use lucky number 7. Take your gross sales for the year and multiply it times 7.

That is the impact you had on your local economy.

That money allowed families in your town to keep their homes, feed themselves, and buy clothes. That money sent kids to college so they could learn to solve future problems. That money plowed the snow on your streets, sent firemen to rescue old Mrs. Hodges, and helped the police make the biggest drug bust in a decade.

That money maintained the park where your kids play, helped your dentist buy a better, safer x-ray machine. That money kept two kids out of jail because they got an allowance from their employed parents.

Sometimes when you look at your business, good or bad, you wonder what it's all worth. As you reflect on 2010 know this... it's worth more than you originally thought!

Happy New Year !


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Sincerity of Taking Risks

The earflaps of his hat were flipped down for the cold. His fingerless gloves seemed appropriate. He was holding a guitar after all.

"Can I play a song for you?"

If he had been on a street corner, my mom would have thought "panhandler" and walked on by. But here he was standing at her front door with a guitar and a satchel full of CD's.

"Can I play a song for you?

"I've produced a CD and I'm selling them door-to-door. I'd like to play a song for you if I can. Your sheriff neighbor liked it and bought a CD."

In today's world of instant connections to thousands of people through Facebook, Twitter, and Email he was going door-to-door to make his CD sales for Christmas. Ten dollars per CD, one door at a time.

Was it efficient? Probably not. One song per door, plus walking, plus explanation, plus rejection meant a lot of time invested for a small amount of sales.

Was it risky? Sure. He put his reputation on the line with every strum of the guitar. He had to face the rejections head on. He had to brave the elements, too.

Was it sincere? As sincere as it gets. One man, one guitar, willing to put his reputation and self-esteem on the line for you just to get a $10 sale.

Did it work? Mom only had a $20 bill. She gave one CD to me, one to my uncle.

Sometimes sincerity and risk outweigh efficiency. If he hadn't taken such a risk, I never would have heard his CD... ...and it's pretty good.

What are you willing to risk?


PS The artist in this story is Rob Vischer. Check him out.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you and your family. May you find joy in the day no matter how you celebrate it or spend it.

As a toy store owner, this is one joke that always brought a chuckle during the season...

The winter break was over and all the kids were back in school. The teacher asked them to raise their hands and share how they celebrated Christmas. Every hand immediately shot to the ceiling.

One by one the teacher called on each child, except for Jacob sitting in the back row. She knew his family was Jewish and did not celebrate Christmas. But still he sat there with his hand enthusiastically waving in the air.

Finally, she could no longer put it off. "Jacob, how did your family celebrate Christmas?"

Jacob said, "Well, our family owns a toy store so on Christmas Eve we counted the money and sang, 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus'."

May you all have plenty of money to count tonight and in the weeks and months to come. And may you have blessings upon blessings on your family and your business.

Merry Christmas,

Monday, December 20, 2010

Head Cheerleader

Five shopping days until Christmas. In the home stretch. You're tired, run down and stressed, just counting the days. Your friends and family are encouraging you to "Hang in there, it's almost over."

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you need to do more than just hang in there.

Of the hundreds (thousands) of customers who come through your door this week, many are entering your store for the first time.

Now is the time to WOW them so they become lifelong customers.

So no matter how tired you and your staff are feeling, no matter how many hours you've worked, how many sleepless nights you've had fretting about the business, you have to find that reserve inside you that makes this week the most special experience your customers have ever had!

And you need to fire up the staff, too. Your new role for the next 5 days is Head Cheerleader. Here are three things you can do to keep your staff going strong until the end.
  • Praise them. Tell them specific things you have seen them do right in the last few days. Share their praise with everyone.
  • Cater lunch. Not just some sandwiches and chips but a real sit-down meal with silverware.
  • Hire a masseuse. Give the staff 20-minute breaks to get table massages.
These next few days are not only critical to your holiday sales, they are critical to your future because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Get your store ready, get your staff ready and get busy!

You can do it. Rah rah rah, Sis boom bah!! I'm pulling for you!


Friday, December 17, 2010

An Excerpt from Hiring and the Potter's Wheel

Another excerpt from the highly acclaimed book "Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art"

Chapter 12: Lessons 4, 5 and 6 Centering, Gentleness & Protection
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless.” – Mother Teresa

“So, how did the conference go?” Mary began.

“Quite ordinary, a bunch of theories using fifty cent words, but nothing that hasn’t already been explored or learned,” Dr. Scott explained. “I’d have rather been in your pottery class. How about you? How was class? Having fun? Learn anything new?”

Mary almost didn’t know where to begin. “The pottery is great. I love it. I think I may have found a new hobby. I can’t thank you enough. And as for business, since we last met, I have learned three distinct lessons.” Mary pulled out some notes she had been taking.

"First, before I can start throwing, I mean training, I have to make sure everyone is centered, that they are starting from the same point. Everyone has to be on the same page. That pretty much goes hand in hand with the earlier lesson of getting out the impurities, the air bubbles. I’ve already developed a clear set of guidelines and expectations, and also a list of bad habits to watch for and weed out, if necessary. But no matter what their previous experience, everyone will start from the same point in their training. That way I’ll be sure not leave anything out.

“Second, once the throwing, oops, I mean training, begins, I have to remember to use a gentle hand, lots of positive encouragement. There’s the old saying, 'you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.' The same is true in teaching. The more positive gentle words, the more likely the student will listen and learn.

“That was tough for me, I mean in the pottery. I kept pushing too hard and watching my bowl flop over like it was sick. It reminded me of how I feel when someone yells at me or pushes too hard. Patience and gentleness are definitely the keys. I wrote myself a sticky note on top of my computer to remind me to praise everything done right during the training to help encourage that behavior.

“But wait, as I think about it, you were never gentle with me, Dr. Scott. You always pushed me hard. You and your, ‘you can do better,’ mantra,” Mary added with a slight sarcastic twinge.

“But did I ever push you too hard?”

“No, I guess not,” Mary replied wistfully.

“You’re absolutely right on this, Mary,” Dr. Scott continued. “Pushing too hard never works. But you have to find the right pressure to get the most out of your clay, and your trainee. If you don’t push at all, nothing gets formed.

“I think you’re getting it. Now what about that third lesson?”

“Well, last night it dawned on me as I placed my bowl in the rack to safely dry, how often do we put newly trained employees into safe positions? Usually, once training is done we throw them to the wolves, so to speak. But wouldn’t it be better if we put them in a safe environment to try out their new skills? If they were in limited roles or carefully supervised, they could safely practice their skills and grow stronger. We know, no matter how well they train, they are going to make mistakes. But this way they can make mistakes under a watchful eye and learn from those mistakes before the errors become costly. That way they’ll be even better when they finally take on their new roles.”

“Kind of how your clay is growing stronger as it hardens?” Dr. Scott asked.

“Exactly!” Mary exclaimed. “Once the training is complete, I’m going to come up with a safe way for my new sales reps to use their skills. But Peter said something curious just as we left. He mentioned that our bowls, although hard, would be quite fragile once dried. I think I’ve got a little more to learn about this step and the steps following.

Mary looked at her watch, “Well, I’ve got to run. Oh, and I’ve got interviews scheduled all next week. Can we meet the following Tuesday?”

“Sure. You know I don’t like to miss any meals,” Dr. Scott said with a chuckle. “See you then.”

Get a copy of this book for everyone on your Christmas List who hires and trains. There is still time to get your order in before Christmas (and I promise to sign every copy.)

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life!

Yeah, watched one of my favorite movies last night, It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Cried like a baby at the end, just like I always do.

Then it dawned on me...

This is a movie about incredible customer service.

All those people who came to bail out George at the end did so because first he had given them incredible, over-the-top, unexpected, bend-over-backwards customer service.

Unlike Mr. Potter, George put helping others above personal gain. George made a difference in other people's lives. Let me repeat that.

George made a difference in other people's lives.

Does your business do that? Does the customer service you offer make a difference in other people's lives? Or is it simply a nicety that makes the exchange more pleasant?

The latter only gets a thank you at best. The former? It is the stuff angels are made of.

If you want your customers to show you the kind of love George got at the end, you better figure out a way to make a difference in their lives. When you do that, you'll find that retail IS a Wonderful Life!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is Your Story? (Here's Mine)

My first official day of work at the Toy House came the day after my 14th birthday. With work permit in hand, I joined the team in November 1980 and took my place behind the glass counter that housed all of our handheld electronic games.

Games like Simon, Coleco Football, Speak & Spell and others.

My parents figured if anyone could explain these games to parents & grandparents, it would be a kid like me. And I was good at it. So good that I could play all the games upside down and backward (that's how they were to me when I showed them to you) better than most of my friends could play them right side up.

What a perfect job - paid $3.35 an hour to play with games!

The hot toy that year was Simon by Milton Bradley. The old Simon with the round black body and four colored lights on top. We owned one at home and I was the champ there, too.

We sold tons of Simon games, as many as they would send us. By early December we were sold out. We started a waiting list in hopes that Milton Bradley would ship some more. They did, but still not enough to meet the demand.

Every day I looked at the empty spot on the shelf where Simon had sat.

The Christmas season flew by fast. It was finally Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year. We stayed busy until about 3pm when my mom started calling people with big layaways still here. You'd be amazed how many people forget about their layaways until the very last moment.

One guy had completely forgotten and had already gone out and bought a whole bunch of other gifts for the kids. He told my mom to cancel his layaway, he'd be in to get his deposit back after Christmas.

At 4:05pm, less than an hour from closing and too late to try calling people on our waiting list, my mom brought over a Simon game from his canceled layaway and laid it at my feet.

"See if you can sell this before we close," she said.

I turned around a minute later and saw him. He was easily over six feet tall. In retrospect I figure he was in his mid-60's but he felt so much older than that. The look on his face was tired and beaten. His shoulders were slumped in defeat.

He explained to me that he had left Detroit that morning because his six-year-old granddaughter he was raising only wanted one thing for Christmas. He had been to Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek but no luck.

The gal in Battle Creek gave him directions to our store saying, "If anyone can help you, Toy House can."

He pointed to the empty spot on the shelf and with a sadness in his voice said, "I suppose you don't have any Simon games either."

There are moments in your life when you know there must be some sort of greater power at work. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it Karma. Call it whatever you want, but I knew instantly I was in one of those moments. I felt it even before I leaned down to pick up the Simon game between my feet.

"Well, today is your lucky day!" I said as I handed him the last of our Simon games.

Thirty years of dust and defeat were shook off in that moment. He started crying, saying "God bless you, God bless you, God bless you." He reached over the counter and gave me a bear hug.
I couldn't help but join him in the moment. With tears now running down my own face we hugged and hugged as though we were long lost relatives. Still he repeated, "God bless you," over and over.

As he left the store, he shouted "Merry Christmas!" to everyone within earshot, and I swear this old man had a dance in his step as he entered the parking lot.

I was fourteen years old at the time. Now I have thirty years of Christmas Eve memories at the Toy House. But none will ever replace that moment in time. I remember the details like it was yesterday.

God bless me?

Believe me, he already has!

Merry Christmas,


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Measuring ROI (or in other words... Did it Work?)

John Wanamaker of Wanamaker's Department Stores in Philadelphia is credited with the famous quote decades ago,

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don't know which half."

Since that quote marketers have spent billions of dollars trying to measure the ROI (return on investment) of their marketing and advertising efforts. Do not follow in their footsteps.

I repeat, Do Not Follow In Their Footsteps!

Trying to calculate the ROI on your advertising is like trying to decide which butterfly in Mexico caused the tornado in Texas. The variables would make a meteorologist's head spin.

Oh, but the experts say measuring ROI for an event or coupon is easy. Oh yeah?

Cause of Success
Was the success of your last event because you posted it on Facebook?
Or was it because you posted on FB at the optimal time; two hours earlier or two hours later and no one of any influence would have seen it.
Or was it because you ran into a friend at the gas station and mentioned the event to her while she was heading to lunch with her very influential girlfriends?
Or was it because you put up the in-store signs just in time for the newspaper reporter who happened to be out shopping on her lunch hour to see them?
Or was it because the road two blocks over was closed for temporary repair and all the traffic came down your street all three days the tent-sign was out on your sidewalk?
Or was it... you get the idea.

(Look, you can come up with a list of excuses twice that long for why you failed, why are you so willing to credit your success to one thing?)

(Note: I didn't address coupons because I don't believe in them, but a similar list of variables can come into play making one coupon offer work while a similar offer fails.)

Marketing doesn't happen in a vacuum. Nor should it.

Cover Your Bases
If you are hosting an event at your store, you need to be plying every avenue you can muster to draw your crowd. Facebook, Twitter, email, in-store signs, and press releases at a minimum (because they are basically free). Radio, TV, newsprint, direct mail as the budget allows. And networking, networking, networking. Get your butt out in public and talk. The more you do, the more success you'll see. And the harder it will be to determine which method made the most difference.

So don't worry about figuring out which method worked best.

First, you never really know. I have on my sign-up-to-win forms a question, "How did you hear about this event?" At one event 30% circled newsprint - even though there wasn't a single mention in any newspaper!

Second, it doesn't really matter, because you can't fully factor all those variables listed above. So anything you learn above and beyond the simple lessons that have already smacked you in your face is no guarantee to move the needle the next time.

Third, you don't have the budget to properly test your ROI.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Let the MBA's falsify their stats to prove whether one form of marketing works better than another. The reality is that if you use your chosen media right, they all work. And if you use them wrong, they all fail. And the best laid plans can be derailed by a snowstorm, an orange cone, a bad news day, or a butterfly in Mexico.

Don't waste too much time trying to calculate ROI. If you're hosting an event, pick the marketing where you feel most comfortable. Put your energies there with all your conviction and the results will follow.

Then get out there and sell the dickens out of the crowd you draw!

Merry Christmas!


PS Some of you might think this runs counter to my discussion of mixed media. That discussion was geared towards long-term branding. This is about short-term event marketing. Different beasts requiring different methods.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Is Social Media Working?

In one of my online communities the question was posed...

Is Social Media working or not working? Is it making anyone's register's ring?

The purpose behind the question was because of mixed reactions from businesses who have found success through Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. and those who haven't.

Personally, I think the question missed the mark. I would have asked...

HOW is Social Media working for those of you who have found it successful?

No matter what the marketing medium, some will find success with it, others will not. The problem isn't in the medium, but in how you use it. If you use it right, the rewards are there. So I would want to know how people are using it right.

My Facebook Experience
We have found Facebook to be a lot like networking. It is about building relationships with people by getting to know them and seeing if there are any mutual benefits to our relationship.

The one thing I have learned in my experience with Facebook is that I get far more response when I ask questions than when I send out announcements. I get far more interactions when I ask for opinions and advice than when I post information. And I get a far better opportunity to interact positively with my customers when they post comments than when I just throw info at them. Most importantly, that viral aspect of Social Media kicks in the more people I include in the conversation.

The one definite ROI that I have been able to track is that my fan base grows faster the more comments and conversations I get on a post.

Mutually Beneficial
The benefits of these conversations are HUGE! We get a chance to learn what our biggest fans are thinking. Sometimes we even learn stuff we didn't know. Sometimes we get to answer questions they forgot to ask in the store. Sometimes we get to clear up misunderstandings.

Most importantly, we have conversations, back-and-forth conversations. And conversations lead to conversions.

Make Your Registers Ring
The best sales people know that the key to successful sales is conversation. As long as the customers keep talking you have more opportunities to solve their problems and sell them what they need. If you treat your Facebook and Twitter programs as conversation starters, not information spreaders, you'll find that the info actually spreads faster and farther and the sales will result.

Social Media, like all other forms of marketing, works when it is done right. If all you do is post info and tell, tell, tell, you won't get the kind of return you want. If you think of it as a two-way conversation where you ask more than you tell, then you are on your way to doing it right.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Doing a Charity Event Right

We just hosted a fundraiser with our local radio stations for Toys for Tots in Jackson yesterday morning. We raised over $6500 in donations of money & toys and all that money was quickly turned into sales at our store. For a one-day event in a market like ours, that was a pretty good day.

In fact, it was a win-win-win. Toys for Tots won because of the incredible exposure and the huge outpouring of the community (not to mention $6500 worth of toys). We won because of the incredible exposure and the $6500 in sales. The kids won because we made a major impact on not just the quantity of toys they will receive but also the quality.

Using a charity as a way to draw traffic is a huge marketing tool. Here is a how-to:

Find a Charity
First, you need to find an appropriate charity. We chose Toys for Tots because we sell toys. If you sell coats, line up with a Warm the Kids campaign. If you sell eyewear, contact the local Lion's Club. Somewhere there is a charitable group that needs what you sell.

Then meet with the coordinator for your local organization. See if he/she has a radio station that is willing to support them. Local AM talk-radio stations are good for this. Their listeners include lots of business people and community-minded people who are more willing to support local causes.

Plan an Event
Next, have the charity contact the radio station to plan a morning event at your store. For our event we had both the AM and FM stations do their morning shows from our store 6am to 9am. They read the news, announced the weather and talked about the charity all morning long while encouraging people to come to our store or make donations by phone.

But be sure to have the charity make this call. Since they are a charity, they are more likely to get the radio station to do the promotion for free on their behalf. You just happen to be the location of the event.

After that, contact your local bakery and local coffee house. They might be willing to donate coffee & donuts for the free plugs on the air. If not, still support them and buy a few dozen donuts and brew a full pot of coffee. Get some OJ for the kids and non-coffee drinkers.

Set up an Account
Then set up a special account for the charity. That way you can take donations all year long. If someone wants to "tip" you, encourage them to instead make a donation to the charity through you. We actually raised over $500 this way in the past year. (Note: make sure your bank will accept checks from you that are made out to the charity.)

When you have your event date, promote the heck out of it through your own channels, too. FB, website, email, etc. The radio station usually talks about events like this on the air for about a week prior. You should spend at least a week or more promoting it too. Send out press releases. Call/email your favorite reporters.

Be Gracious
And finally, when you get the chance to be on the air, remember to make it all about the charity, Thank everyone who makes a donation. Shout-outs are great, especially when they are community leaders. We had half of our city commission come in this year so on the air we challenged the other half to step up - and they did! Our DDA director showed up minutes later to make a donation, afraid that he would be called out next.

Teaming up with charities is always a positive. It also makes your staff feel good. And at the end of the day, not only will you have done something wonderful for the community that benefited you, too, you will have created a perception of your business as the experts in town.

Merry Christmas!


PS Email me if you want more details of what we did.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Don't Panic

You're at sea in the middle of a storm. Waves are pounding you from all sides. First from the right, then from the left, then two more from the right. You never know where the next wave will hit. You brace yourself for whatever impact will come and hold on tight.

The only way out of the storm is to keep a steady hand on the helm and keep the ship pointing in the same direction.

Okay, captain?

Economic Storm
We are in an economic storm right now. Ups and down without any predictable pattern. Customers spending more, customers cutting back. Positive and negative news from the media. Positive and negative signs at the register. Sales up big one moment, down big the next. promotions that work and promotions that fall flat.

Want an example from the weekend?

Black Friday I put out some doorbusters - really good sales on some of last year's Step2 kitchens. Even had a $10 coupon from the company to sweeten the deal. Didn't sell a single unit all day! Customer count was exactly the same as last year, but average ticket was down 8%.

Fast forward to Saturday - Small Business Saturday as promoted by American Express. 5% decrease in customers but 10% increase in average ticket. You might think the Amex promotion helped. Yet we had less American Express charges that day than a typical lazy Tuesday in August!

Stay the Course
Some businesses, after a weekend like that, will start twisting and turning every which way thinking that they need to chart a new course with every passing wave. But doing that will never get you out of the storm.

Keep a steady hand on the helm of your business. Adjust the sales as necessary, but always keep heading in the direction you have plotted for your success.

One thing we have learned in sixty years of retail. Smoother seas are always just beyond the storm. You just gotta stay on course.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rocked My Week!

It has been a fun week here and it just got better...

Not only are we just moments away from Black Friday - the real point when the Christmas shopping season begins... (no matter how hard some stores try to push the holidays)

Not only are we just hours away from my last day off for weeks... (I'll only be at the store for a couple hours Thursday, I promise:)

Not only are we closing in on one of my favorite meals of the year... (it's actually creamed turkey on Sunday at my mom's house)

But I just got two bits of news that have rocked my week, so forgive me for doing a little tooting.

Entrepreneurial Vision
The Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce just named me the 2010 Entrepreneurial Vision Award Winner for helping entrepreneurs and businesses in Jackson County.

Coolest thing about the award is it has nothing to do with what I do for the Toy House, but everything to do with how I share that knowledge with you.

Running the Jackson Retail Success Academy, working with the FasTrac start-up businesses, doing workshops for the Chamber, doing leadership and teamwork training for other local businesses, speaking at the Michigan Downtown Conference, writing this blog, publishing my book has all been a labor of love for me. Being recognized is just icing on that delicious cake.

More importantly, the award spotlights the importance of helping out other businesses, using the skills that have made us successful to help others reach their success. I just love that the Chamber has created such an award, and honored to be this year's recipient. Cool!

Highlights for Hiring & Potter's Wheel Book
The second thing to rock my week was an online interview I did for Business Info Guide. The book is getting rave reviews, but this interview will help me open it up to a whole new (bigger) audience.

If you haven't read it yet, there are excerpts here on this blog. And if you are responsible for hiring and training, it is a book you definitely should read. Heck, at $19.99 it makes a great Christmas gift.

So I'm having a good week. How about you?


Monday, November 22, 2010

Black Friday Deals - A How To

Okay, you're gonna venture into the murky waters of Black Friday with some doorbuster specials at your retail store. You better know what you're getting into. Do it right and you'll see your registers ring. Do it wrong and you just might be borrowing trouble.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the seas of this retail extravaganza.

First answer this... Why are you having Black Friday doorbusters? Is it to draw traffic? Grow market share? Move out some slow sellers? Because your shopping center makes you?

Knowing this makes all the difference in the world.

Going After Market Share
If you're trying to grow market share and draw in new traffic, you have to have a really good deal on a whole lot of good stuff. And you need to share that info with the whole marketplace, not just your fan base. Email and Facebook won't help you grow traffic and market share. They are only preaching to the choir. You're going to need a flier in the newspaper or an ad on radio or TV. And that deal better be a killer deal because you're up against a whole bunch of killer deals from a whole bunch of deep-pocketed retailers.

Still not afraid? Good.

Now you need to make sure you have enough product to keep the momentum going. Run out of your best deals in the first few minutes and the rest of the day is sunk. You need to have enough merchandise to last the first couple of hours minimum, otherwise you'll send away far more unhappy people than happy ones - not a good marketing plan this close to Christmas.

And lastly, you have to make sure your staff is ready for the challenge. Do you have traffic flow under control? Is everybody up to speed on the deals and how to ring them up? Is everybody okay with the new hours? (especially if you're opening up extra early) Are they trained for dealing with unhappy customers, unruly customers? It's a given that you'll have at least one or two.

That's a minimum of what it will take to attempt to grow market share on Black Friday. (And there's no guarantee it will work. The competition is pretty savvy.)

Moving Out the Dogs
Maybe all you need to do is get some slow movers off the shelf, make those dogs bark. You can give the appearance of having a Black Friday type event without all the expense and risk, just by marking down some merchandise that you were probably going to mark down anyway.

First, this is a good day to start those markdowns. The Transactional Shoppers are out in force and looking for a deal. Second, you won't have as many unhappy customers, seeing that it was older, closeout merchandise in the first place.

Plus, you can advertise that kind of sale purely to your fan base and make them feel even more special because they knew what was happening before the general public who has to show up Friday to see what is on sale.

Doing Nothing At All
Then again, you don't have to do much of anything to make Black Friday special. Put out a pot of coffee for those early risers. Dress up the store in your best Christmas spirit. Make sure your shelves are fully stocked & straightened. Put your happiest smiling faces on the sales floor and let them do their magic.

The day after Thanksgiving has always been a strong shopping day, and it wasn't the discounts that always drove the traffic. Only in the last couple decades have we seen this day become the who-can-open-earlier-and-sell-it-cheaper event that it is. You don't have to join that fray to be successful.

In fact, if you take the hands-off approach, make sure you staff your store stronger in the afternoon and evening, and be ready for another big rush Saturday. There are a lot of customers choosing not to fight the long lines Friday. To them, no deal is worth the hassles of long lines, unhappy people and early mornings. They'll be out in force later and don't want to deal with those been-up-since-three-don't-bother-me sales people.

This Black Friday, whatever you decide to do, do it consciously and do it right!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Love is a Given

Tiger Woods was on ESPN radio this morning and mentioned a lesson his father, Earl, taught him.

Love is a given. Trust and Respect have to be earned.

That is true not only in people, but in businesses too.

You have customers who love you. We all do. Sometimes it is just the nature of our store. Heck, who doesn't love a toy store? But have you earned your customer's trust?

Earning Trust
You can earn their trust a number of ways...

By always doing what you say you will do. If you promise to call someone back with information, you better call them back with that info. If you promise delivery at a certain time, you better deliver at that time.

Sure you might slip up along the way. We all do. but if you can't do what you said, you better be upfront and honest with why you didn't perform. When you make a mistake, admit it quickly and apologize profusely.

By always being consistent in who you are. If you stand for quality, you have to drop the products that don't meet your standards and stand behind the products you do sell. Whatever your principles, you have to show that you are willing to give up some of your profit to be consistent with your values.

By always looking at your business from a "what's-in-the-best-interest-of-the-customer" point of view. Is your cash wrap set up for quick and easy checkout? Does your return policy favor you or the customer? Are you willing to do what is right by the customer even when it costs you money?

Earning Respect
To earn respect you have to be respectful. Do you always have a positive outlook or are you a skeptic who sits back and take potshots at everything? Do you join in on the solution or just talk about the problems? Do you help out others or only look after yourself?

Your attitude goes a long way towards your ability to earn your customers' respect.

We all have customers who love us. But if you want to grow your business, you have to earn their trust and respect. And you have to earn it anew every single day.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Preaching to the Choir

This morning I gave a presentation to my staff that was the same one I've given three times in the past week to customers. It was a 30-minute presentation on Smart Toy Shopping.

My staff already knows this information. Some would say I was merely preaching to the choir.

And they would be right!

Sometimes you have to preach to the choir to get them to sing. Sometimes you have to remind your staff about the stuff they already know. Two quick advantages to preaching to the choir.
  1. The choir gets to refocus and get their eyes back on the ball.
  2. The choir feels good about themselves for knowing the answers to the questions you're about to ask.
Can we agree that both of those outcomes are worthwhile?

Don't ever discount the notion that you're only preaching to the choir. Sometimes the choir is the most important group of people who need to get your message. And in retail, they are the ones in direct contact with your congregation.


PS If you have a group of toy shoppers in this area, the talk is free, the lessons timeless. (It's the same presentation my grandfather was doing over 50 years ago.)

PPS If you are a toy store owner and want a copy of the PowerPoint - send me an email at

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why You Should Care

Saturday, November 13th is Neighborhood Toy Store Day - a day to celebrate the wonders and delight of your neighborhood independent toy stores.

The genesis for this day comes from the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA).

Yes, it is a contrived celebration, not unlike the Hallmark holidays like Bosses Day and Sweetest Day. Yes, it is a marketing ploy designed to get shoppers into these local toy stores ahead of the Black Friday fiascoes. And yes, it is a lot of work for these toy retailers to plan activities, run promotions, and market themselves.

There are pretty much three responses from toy store owners on events like this:
  1. Some are going to ignore it and decide it isn't worth the effort. They figure it won't move the needle much and won't be around for long so they won't get sucked into the hype.
  2. Some are going to go half-ass and do just enough to say, "Yeah, I did something, but it didn't work out for me."
  3. Some are going to embrace it fully, plan wonderful events, inspire their staff to get excited about it, inspire their customers with their own creativity, and make this one of the most special days of the year.
Which of the three do you think will reap the most benefits?

The big difference is PASSION. When you show passion in your business, those around you cannot help but be sucked in by it. Your staff will mirror it. Your customers will embrace it. And your sales will show it.

So embrace those moments where you can let your passion for business shine through. If your industry creates a special holiday, put some passion into celebrating it. Your customers will notice and react accordingly.


PS We are celebrating in style on the 13th with one of the biggest Playmobil Play Days we've ever had! The staff is excited. The buzz is building. Yeah, it's going to be an awesome day!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It Just Isn't Fair!

There's an uproar in the toy world and I want to give you my take on it - be sure to read the whole article.

One of my major vendors, a long time player in the specialty toy industry, just gave a whole bunch of exclusives to Toys R Us. Many independent toy stores are understandably upset. Not only does it cut into our margins, it makes us no longer look like the experts - one of the factors we use to compete against the big box stores.

Someone asked my opinion on it. I figure I'd share it with you, too. It's pretty simple.

S**t happens...

Yeah, it was the specialty stores that helped build this brand in the US. So what? Yeah, it was a major difference between us and our big box competitors. So what? Yeah, it was a huge customer draw for us. So what?

If I had a dollar for every toy that used to be exclusively sold in specialty stores that eventually found its way onto the shelves at TRU, Wal-Mart or Target, I'd be retired by now.

Unhappy Customers Equals Unhappy Store?
No, it's not fun when a customer comes in wondering why the "school" you're selling is almost twice as much as the "school" at TRU. She doesn't care that their school is smaller and doesn't have all the accessories. She also doesn't understand why you can't get all the other stuff she saw at the other store. And she really doesn't care that some of the price difference is because of their buying power - heck, that's reason enough for some customers to go running from your store immediately.

All she knows is that she has a problem and you're not being part of the solution.

But like I said before, this happens all the time. And there are pretty much only two reactions I can have.

  1. Be pissed and angry and let everyone see how unhappy I am with my lot in business (life).
  2. Accept it as part of doing business as an independent retailer and put a smile on my face while trying to show the customer what I do have and what I can do.
Of course you are going to choose #2. That's what the smart retailers do.

Not Their Fault
It isn't the vendor's fault. The vendor needs to make money. Selling to the big chains is one method of doing that. And you don't know what is driving their actions. Maybe the indie stores haven't supported them enough. Maybe there is pressure from a silent partner or parent company. Maybe there is enough demand that going big is a necessity.

Whatever the reason, it happens all the time in the toy and baby industries, and I would guess it happens in your industry, too. It just isn't worth getting your panties in a bind.

Take the High Road
You can choose to drop that vendor. Just don't think it will show them any lessons. If anything it will embolden them that they made the right choice going mass.

You can choose to evaluate the vendor financially. Are they still drawing customers and making you money? Then keep 'em. If not, drop 'em.

You can choose to tell your customers what a horrible company they are in doing that to you. You might win some sympathy, but you might also come across as sour grapes. Remember that it is about the customer and her problems, not you and yours.

The better approach is to see if what you have will fit her needs. Focus on solving her problem with what you have, not what you don't. Focus on what you can do, not what you can't.

Bottom Line
In the end you have to take care of your own bottom line. That means first and foremost taking care of the customer, making sure she has a positive and rewarding experience in your store and that you do whatever you can to solve her issues and make her happy. No matter what a vendor does, there is no excuse for a poor attitude from you.

It also means evaluating your vendors from a strictly financial sense. Is their product still drawing customers and making you money? Good. Don't let your emotions get in the way of a proper evaluation of a potential profit center.

At some point a vendor's actions will not be in your best interest. Rarely do those actions cause major damage to your business. Your reactions to their actions are usually the culprit. So take control of your actions now, and reap the benefits later.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Two Classic Election Ad Mistakes

I hate politician advertising! I turn off the radio, change the channel, or flip the page.

It isn't so much the politicians and the political process that bothers me. I love a good political debate and discourse. It's the horrible advertising that drives me crazy.

Most political ads make the same classic mistake - they make claims without evidence to back them up.

Sometimes they do it because they can't back up their claims with facts. Sometimes they do it because they don't give themselves enough time in their ad because they are being too clever. Sometimes they think the evidence is obvious enough to not need to be included.

To Tell the Truth
We currently have a hotly contested US Congress Race and one candidate parades out a whole bunch of seniors telling the other candidate not to mess with their Social Security and Medicaid. One after another we hear old people chiding the other candidate saying he will ruin their benefits. But not one of them tells us what he did, said or proposed that will ruin their benefits. No evidence means no credibility. I'm not buying it. (In fact, the truth of the two candidates' actions is that the one being chided has done more to protect SS & Medicaid than the one running the ad, which makes the first candidate either completely ignorant or a bald-faced liar - neither of which I want representing me in Congress).

Tell Me Why
Another ad in a state race included a candidate telling me all about his endorsements. Endorsements are apparently great, yet I see many candidates win without them. Those endorsements would mean a lot more to me if I knew why he got them.

Did he give favors?
Did he promote one of their projects?
Did they give him the endorsement in exchange for publicity?
Are they backing him because he's a surefire winner and they want to curry favor?

I could surmise all of those reasons for the endorsement, none of which are positive, because he never gave me evidence to tell me why these endorsements make him the better candidate.

Would you like your audience to make up their own (probably false) conclusions about a claim you make?

Give Us Reason to Believe
If you make a claim in your ads such as "We're the best (insert claim here)..." back it up with evidence. Your ad becomes more credible and your claim more believable when you tell me why. If you don't have time, don't make the claim. A claim no one believes will make people doubt everything else you say.

Down and Dirty
The second mistake most politicians make is the dirty, negative attack ads. You can't play in the mud with getting dirt on yourself. Sure, the mud-slinging might win you a few votes now, but the stink stays with you and ruins your credibility long term.

Politicians might not care. But independent retailers can't afford to have 45% of the population hating their guts and everyone else feeling kinda uneasy about them, too. If you're going to mention your competitors, keep it to the facts. Point out what they do, then tell everyone why what you do is better - and back it up with evidence.

A Winning Formula
Be honest, be ethical, be positive. Back up all your claims with evidence. Do those two things and the credibility and effectiveness of your ads will make you a winner this fall.


PS To make your ads more believable, I highly recommend the book Currencies That Buy Credibility by Tom Wanek (no, this is not an affiliate link - I make no money promoting this book, I just like it. A lot.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Christmas Sales Predictions

It's time to make your predictions. What do you see in your crystal ball for Christmas sales?

Shopper-Trak is predicting a 2.9% increase.
National Retail Federation says it will go up 2.3%.

But what does that mean?

Not every retailer is going to hit that 2.3 to 2.9% mark. In fact, I predict that very few retailers will be up 2-3%.

Double-Digit Growth
Some retailers are going to have double-digit growth this holiday. Others are going to see double-digit declines. And a whole bunch of retailers are going to be within 1% either way of last year's sales.

Those numbers NRF and Shopper-Trak are predicting are national totals. They take into account overall population growth, spending habits, surveys of customer moods, etc. - on a national basis!

None of that has any relevance in your local market. Your population might be growing faster than the national average. It might be declining. Your competition might be doing more in your market (or less). You might be doing more (or less) to grow your own business.

The Only Number That Counts
The best thing to do about those numbers is to forget them. Ignore them. Don't give them the time of day. Focus only on your own number, the growth you want to make happen in your business. Pick a number that works for you. Then set about doing what you have to do to hit that number.

For me, I am predicting 15% growth in November. I have acted accordingly. I have planned my marketing and my inventory to meet this goal. I have indoctrinated my staff that this is what we are going to accomplish. I have trained them, scheduled them, and inspired them to make this happen.

Planning and Action Make it Happen
It isn't a wish. It is a plan. We looked at what we did last year. We looked at what we are capable of doing historically. We looked at what was realistic based on this year's trends. We looked at what the market would bear. We chose a goal that we knew we could make. Then we set up actions to put us in the right position to meet this goal.

It doesn't matter what NRF or Shopper-Trak believes. It only matters what you believe. Do you believe you can reach double-digit growth this holiday? If you believe it, you can achieve it. You only have to act upon those beliefs.

If you're just sitting back waiting for your 2.3% increase, I promise you, you won't get it. Be proactive and go get the sales you want for your business.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Spelling Counts for Something

There is no Spell-Check for an application someone has to fill out by hand.

Don't get me wrong. I like resumes. They show that the customer has some basic computer skills (sometimes really basic). But I like having a handwritten application for two reasons.
  1. You see if you can read their writing. In my business this is important because we have forms that have to be filled out. If I can't read your writing on an application, I know I won't be able to read it on a delivery form.
  2. You see if they can spell. Spelling plays a part in the evaluation process. Poor spelling might not be a deal-killer but it can tip the scales between two equally qualified candidates.
Spelling is not so much an education thing to me as it is an attitude thing. A tough word misspelled here or there, no problem - we all make mistakes. But someone with tons of poor spelling and horrible penmanship on her application shows me she doesn't care about appearance. If she doesn't care how she appears to me, how much will she care about how she appears to my customers?

Just today I sent a rejection letter to an applicant that it took four of us to decipher his name and address. A sloppy application will almost always equal sloppy work.

Even if you require resumes for your applicants, have a simple addendum they have to fill out by hand. You'll be amazed at how much you can learn from their handwriting (without needing a psychology degree).


PS Feel free to use this post to encourage your children to work on their spelling and penmanship in school. I stress it with my boys this time every year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How Hard Will They Really Work?

It seems like every applicant to our store lists "hard working" as one of their attributes. But if they really were "hard working", why would they be looking for a part-time, seasonal job in a toy store?

Here are two questions you can use to see how much hard work your applicants are willing to do.
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of? Tells you whether they take pride in hard work, talent, dumb luck or any combination of the above. If their pride is in something they worked hard to achieve, you know they're capable of doing hard work and will take pride in the hard work they do for you.
  • What is the hardest task you have to do in your current (previous) job? Easiest? Tells you what they think of as hard work and what they find fun and enjoyable. If your hardest tasks fall into the fun and enjoyable category for them - hire 'em!
Hard work is a subjective notion. Until you know how they define hard work, you'll never know if your applicants are willing to work as hard as you need.

Note: If you have questions you've used on this subject that have proven effective, please share. The more questions we can put in our interviewing arsenal the better.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do They Really Care?

Seasonal hiring is upon us. You want people who will truly care about your customers. Here are some questions you should ask in an interview...
  • What are your priorities in life? This can tell you what matters most to them. Watch out, though, this can also be a tell 'em what they wanna hear question. Follow it up with, How do you show this?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough decision. What happened? This helps you see their thought process on their priorities and decision making. Did they put themselves or others first?
  • Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty. What happened? Yeah, we used this question before. It is important to know what they think above and beyond is. Plus it shows you what they care about.
  • Who have you helped in your life? Why? This question can give you insight into both helpfulness and caring - and whether they focus more on themselves or others.
Add these questions into your interviewing arsenal and see what you find. The person who cares about others will care about your customers. And that's always a good thing!


Friday, October 15, 2010

Men and Women Do Shop Differently

He stormed out of the store, mumbling how he would never return. Yeah, it was our store, and I was in the department that made him so angry.

I was talking with the baby department staff about the new items I saw at a recent trade show. At some point he slipped into the department unnoticed. The three of us continued our conversation, pausing briefly to greet the customers we saw, offering assistance as needed.

But we never saw him. And he never came over to talk to us. He just left angry that no one bothered to help him with a question he had. He even made a few comments as he left about how my grandfather would never have treated him that way. Ouch.

Frankly, we never saw him enter the department, otherwise we would have greeted him as we did everyone else. Then again, he never came up to us, even though he came in with a question to be answered. Which is the point I want to make.

Men and women shop differently because they communicate differently.

Speaking Vertical
Men speak vertically. Did what I say make you think higher of me or lower of me? For a man to ask a question is to admit that he doesn't know, which makes you think lower of him. That's why we guys don't want to stop and ask for directions. It is also why he entered our department with a question, saw the three of us conversing, and avoided us hoping that we would see him and engage him separately. That way he would have the upper hand in the conversation and wouldn't have to engage three of us at once.

Speaking Horizontal
Women, however, speak more horizontally. Did what I say draw me in closer or push me further away? Asking questions just draws a woman into the inner circle and makes her feel like she belongs. She wants to ask for directions as much as a man doesn't want to ask.

A woman with a question in a retail store will usually ask the first person she sees and keep asking until the question is answered.

Signs Sell
One quick way to remedy the male aversion to asking for help is signage. Put answers to the most frequently asked questions on visible signs where someone might pose those questions. Not only will the men thank you, the introverted women will appreciate those signs, too.

Just watch a man in a store. He walks in, stops, looks around to get his bearings. What is he looking for? Signs to tell him where to go next. He finds his sign, heads off and continues his search. If he doesn't find what he wants, he looks for another sign. Even when someone asks if he needs help, his gut reaction is to say no. He wants to figure it out before having to admit he doesn't know.

Paco Underhill, author of the fabulous book Why We Buy has highlighted this behavior from countless hidden camera recordings.

Men and Women Do Shop Differently
When you approach men (and today's example is a reminder that you have to approach them), they want to speak vertically. Make them feel important and smart and you'll be able to engage them in a way that gets them the help they need without them feeling bad about it.

Women, on the other hand, just want to be part of the inner circle. Invite them in and you'll be golden in their eyes.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Would You Attend This Workshop?

The Jackson Retail Success Academy is now signing up retailers for our 2011 class that starts in January. This 8-week program has been a huge help for new retailers to get the foundation they need to be successful.

Some have asked if we could run this academy in their community so I put together a 2-Day Workshop format.

Would you sign up for this workshop if it was offered in your town?

Retail Success Academy 2-Day Format

Day 1:
8:00am Meet & Greet - goal setting, expectations
8:30am Understanding Your Brand - definition of branding, character diamond workshop

9:30am (break)

10:00am Character Diamonds Revealed
10:45am Traditional Advertising - Creating an ad budget, How Ads Work, Advertising ROI, Ads with Impact

12:00pm (lunch)

1:00pm Marketing on a Shoestring Budget - Word of Mouth, Social Media, Cause Marketing, Networking, Public Relations

2:30pm (break)

3:00pm Understanding Your Financials - Balance Sheets, Income Statements, Ratios & other important numbers
4:00pm Cash Flow Sheet

5:00pm (break for evening)

6:00pm Dinner/Drinks someplace fun in your town

Day 2:
8:00am Resources Breakfast - meet the local Chamber, DDA, Buy Local groups
8:45am Inventory Management - GMROI, Pricing for Profit, Turn Ratios, Open-to-Buy, Cash Flow

10:45am (break)

11:00am Customer Service - The Basics, The Best Practices, The Wow! Service

12:00pm (lunch)

1:00pm Hiring & Training - Identifying the Perfect Employee, interview questions that work, developing a training program

2:15pm (break)

2:30pm Staff Meetings/Training Sessions - hands-on workshop to learn how to plan and run successful meetings & training sessions
4:15pm Final Q&A
4:45pm Evaluations

5:00pm Go be successful!!

Tell me whether you think it would be worth two days to you to attend a business-altering event like this and how much you would expect to pay. (You'll be surprised when I reveal what it would actually cost.)


PS All those links take you to free eBooks I've already written on those topics. The eBooks are extremely helpful but not nearly as much fun and motivating as the live presentation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Who Wants to Help?

Signs are popping up all over.

Help Wanted

But shouldn't the sign say "Helpers Wanted"?

When you begin the process of hiring seasonal workers, look for truly helpful people. Look for people with a track record of doing more for others than expected.

You can find these people by asking the following questions...
  • Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond what was expected of you. (helps you see what they consider above and beyond)
  • Give me an example when you made a difference in someone's life. (shows you how helpful they can be)
  • What is the best customer service you have ever received? What made it so special? (shows you what they think is good customer service)
At the end of the day, a person who isn't truly helpful is not the kind of help you want to find.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lesson #1 Raw Ingredients - Excerpt from Hiring & The Potter's Wheel

(Here is another excerpt from the book Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art)

Chapter 4 Lesson #1 Raw Ingredients
“The first ingredient in conversation is truth, the next good sense, the third good humor, and the fourth wit.” – William Temple, Sr.

Mary arrived at the deli early and sat at the same table she and Dr. Scott had shared last week. She had worked herself up to really let Dr. Scott have it when he arrived. But as he walked through the door, seeing Mary already seated, Dr. Scott waved in her direction and exclaimed with a broad grin, “Wasn’t that fun? I just love digging my hands through clay. Forget pottery, I could just play in the mud and be happy.”

Dr. Scott’s outburst disarmed Mary, but she gathered herself enough to respond, “Sure it was fun, but I didn’t learn a thing about human resources, and I still don’t have a plan for how I’m going to be successful hiring twenty new people. I think you set me up just to fill up your brother’s class. You owe me for that.”

Dr. Scott could see Mary was upset, but he peered over his glasses and started in, “Mary, you can…”

“Stop, I know what you’re going to say. I can do better,” Mary replied. “Don’t go there right now. I’m not happy about all this. I’ve got this job to do and you’re toying with me.”

“Okay,” he said. “I probably should have warned you about my brother. But he is a great teacher, and I stand behind what I said about this class being the best program on human resources.

“Tell me, Mary, what did you learn last night?”

“I learned about clay. Not people, just clay.”

“But what did you learn about clay?”

“That there are three main types of clay, and you must choose the right raw ingredients to get the right final product, otherwise your pottery will be flawed before you even start.”

A thought hit Mary… the right raw ingredients. It dawned on her. Yes, that’s it! It was there all along. You have to have the right raw ingredients before you even start.

Dr. Scott could see Mary’s face dawning with realization. “Something’s coming to you, isn’t it?” he said with a grin.

“It’s all about the raw ingredients. If I want to find the right twenty people for the job, I have to know what raw ingredients I’ll need. Otherwise, I may pick people without those ingredients and they’ll be flawed at best.”

Dr. Scott smiled with approval. “I always said you were one of the smart ones. You are absolutely right. It’s all about starting with the right materials. You have to identify the right traits your potential applicants should have. So, the next step… how are you going to do that?”

Mary thought for a moment. “I’ll need to make a list of all the traits the perfect person would have for the job.”

“And what else?”

“What else? Isn’t that it?”

“You did say there would be a training program, right?”

“Yes,” she confirmed.

“What will you teach in that program?”

“Oh, I get it. I need a list of traits or skills that will not be taught in the training. Sort of the… uhh… ‘non-teachable’ traits.” Mary thought further. “I know. I’ll make a complete list of traits and break them down into two lists, non-teachable and teachable. Then I’ll know first, what I’m looking for and second, what we’ll be training.

“Dr. Scott, I must apologize. I take back all the mean thoughts I’ve had about you since last night. This is great. I feel so much better about this.”

“One more thing,” Dr. Scott added. “After you make your list of traits, draw up a list of questions for the interview that will help you identify if the applicant has those traits. You have to have some means to truly find out if your applicants have what you want. If you need, you can email your list of traits and questions to me for review. Maybe that will make up for the little deception you feel I played on you,” he added with a slight grin.

Lunch was served and Mary spent her meal making mental notes of how to get her staff to brainstorm a list of teachable and non-teachable traits. Mary was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t notice that Dr. Scott had already paid the bill and was ready to leave.

“Have fun Wednesday night,” Dr. Scott said as he departed. Do you want to meet again Thursday?”

Mary was so excited about her new discovery she had forgotten about the next pottery class. “Sure, I’d love to meet Thursday. But this time I’m paying.”


Mary felt like skipping back to her office. The rest of the day she and her staff interviewed the current sales reps trying to identify all of the traits necessary to be successful in that position. By the end of the day Wednesday, they had their list, and Mary had the start of her plan.

Here is what people are saying about the book...

"Phil, Just finished reading your book, and I loved it! Perfect length. Easy to follow. Beautifully written. Seriously, pulling off dialogue like that is incredibly difficult to do, and it deepens one's understanding and appreciation for the lessons you taught. The topology between hiring and pottery was spot on. I've done a poor job of hiring employees in the past, and really wish I had this step-by-step process when I owned my retail business years ago. I especially like the tip about giving new employees a safe place to practice their new skills. How true!" Tom Wanek - Marketing Beyond Advertising

"Just finished your book and loved it. A very easy read with a format that will be helpful to many small business owners as it follows a story line with a company in need of hiring fast and hiring right. You take it one step further though and stress the importance of integrating the new employees correctly. I especially love your tying the job to specifics found in the job description and by interviewing the hiring manager to formulate interview questions as well as your stressing having a set process to follow when hiring since all of us HR types understand the importance of following a consistent process too." Karla Dobbeck, PHR - President, Human Resource Techniques, Inc.

Get your copy of the book today!


Friday, October 1, 2010

Seasonal Hiring

I admire Doug Fleener. I follow his blog. I get his daily email full of great advice for retailers.

Recently he sent an email about hiring seasonal employees. I'll recap some of his main tips here:

  • Hire a Specialist - someone just to do one task rather than a jack of all trades - much easier to train
  • Hire a Customer - she already knows your business to some degree
  • Don't Compromise Your Standards - a poor employee does more harm than no employee
  • Recruit Former Employees - some of your good people have moved on, but might have a few hours to give you around the holidays
To that I would add one important point...

Hire Personality, not Experience
Experience does not necessarily mean "good with people". And experience at a national chain is not the kind of experience you want, anyway. Unless that experience is specifically with your store, experience may be as much a hindrance as a help. You can expend more energy untraining than you do training.

When you hire someone who is truly friendly, caring and helpful, they will learn your way of doing things more quickly. They will treat your customers the right way. They will treat their co-workers better. They will find solutions. In short, even when they don't know exactly what to do, they will do it in a way that makes the customer happy. An occasional incompetence is a lot easier to swallow when a friendly, engaging person makes a mistake, a lot harder when done by someone with an attitude of indifference.

Everyone wants their seasonal staff to perform at the same level as their full-timers. Your best chance starts with hiring the right personality for the job. Everything else you can teach.


For more tips on hiring and training get the book that one MBA and HR professional said,

"It is frankly one of the better business books I have read (and I have read quite a number!)"

Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sleep is the Great Eraser of the Mind

Note: Most of the stuff in this post I learned from Roy H. Williams. Please forgive me for stealing.

Okay, you've made one point, spoke to the heart, made it relevant, and didn't look or sound like an ad. Yet, the needle isn't moving. No one is remembering your message, let alone acting upon it. Why not?


Three Levels of Memory
Everything that happens throughout your day is put into electrical or Working Memory (think RAM like a computer). At the end of the day all of your Working Memory that wasn’t relevant or impactful is erased by sleep, including stuff only slightly relevant or impactful.

Declarative and Procedural Memory are chemical memories. These are stored in your brain (think hard drive). They come from repetition. Declarative is the memory of things you can recall if asked (your cousin’s phone number). Procedural is memory that comes without thinking (slamming your brake when a deer crosses the road)

Frequency is Key
With repetition, electrical Working Memory is converted to chemical Declarative memory, and as repetition continues, from Declarative to Procedural.

The amateur practices enough to get it right (declarative). The professional practices until he cannot do it wrong (procedural).

Hitting the Nail on the Head
Another way to think about it is the hammer and nail. If you hit a nail one time, it will make an impression in the wood. But then the big claw called sleep rips that nail out, leaving just a hole. If you put that nail in the same hole, however, and hit it again, the hole gets deeper. Keep putting the nail into the same hole and hit it over and over and eventually sleep will not be able to rip that nail out.

Some of you might argue that you can pound a nail in one stroke. Sure you can. How many of you know exactly where you were when you heard about 9/11? That happened only once, but the impact was big enough to push it directly into declarative memory (plus there was the added frequency of it being talked about for months on end).

Your ads will not be as impactful as a terrorist attack or space shuttle explosion.

The Magic Number
In advertising, the magic number is three. It takes the average person hearing/seeing an ad three times in seven days before it gets stored as Declarative Memory. And they must hear it three times every week until they need the product or service. And when I say "hear" I'm talking about actively engaged in the ad, not the subliminal effect of background noise.

To get that kind of frequency you need to put your message out there as often as possible. Whether you use TV, newspaper, radio, Facebook or Twitter, your success will be tied to the consistent and constant use of the medium every single day. Otherwise, you are just spending your advertising time and money foolishly.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don't Look Like an Ad

My radio ads were roundly criticized when I first started doing them the way Roy H. Williams taught me. The biggest criticism was, "They don't even sound like an ad!"


That was my goal.

Filters In Play
We are bombarded with advertising - over 5,000 advertising impressions a day! Our brains can't handle all that info. Our brains don't want all that info. Our brains realize most of it is useless and irrelevant. So our brains filter as much of it out of our lives as they can. If it looks or sounds like an ad, the brain shuts off and says don't look, don't listen.

The more your ads look or sound like everyone else's ads, the less likely you'll get the attention of your target audience. (Not to mention the less you'll stand out in the crowd.)

Here is the script of the most successful radio ad we've ever run...
I couldn’t believe it. They were taking customers into the men’s bathroom. Yes, my staff was taking men and women, young and old into our men’s bathroom. And the customers were coming out laughing and giggling, oh yeah, and buying, too. I guess when you find a product that cool, you just have to show it off however and wherever you can. The men’s bathroom, gotta love it. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

I ran that ad in August 2008. I still have customers asking about the men's bathroom two years later. It doesn't sound like an ad. There was no music or jingle behind it. Just my voice plain and unvarnished.

It Really Works
It didn't look or sound like anything else on the radio, so people heard it. And people responded. We have now sold over 2200 of the product hinted at in the ad, mostly because of trips to the men's bathroom. That ad had legs because we were willing to be different from all the other advertisements on the air, which got us past the filter and into the minds of our customers.

One of the benefits of such an ad is that we also generated a lot of word-of-mouth from it. Everyone was talking about our ad, the local deejays, the newspaper, the local TV, and oh yeah, a whole bunch of customers.

The Wrong Way
But none of that would have happened if it looked and sounded like an ad. I could have written an ad like this...
It fills up your room with a starry night and puts your mind at ease. The greatest new sleep aids, the Twilight Turtle and Twilight Ladybug, are helping parents get their children happily to sleep. If your kids are struggling with bedtime, make sure you get them a Twilight Turtle or Ladybug for their room and watch the transformation. Bedtime becomes fun time when you have the Twilight Turtle or Ladybug in your child's room. Available at the Toy House.
Sales would be in the dozens, not thousands with an ad like that. And I can guarantee no one would be talking about it.

Your message is good. You just need to deliver it more powerfully. When your ads don't look or sound like ads, more people will pay attention.


PS For more examples of radio ads I have used, click here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Not Relevant Equals Not Seen

Are you a newspaper reader? Quick, tell me all the ads you remember from yesterday's paper. No fair peaking at the recycle pile. And don't just guess the big furniture chain or tire store. They might have been in yesterday's paper, or was it last Monday's?

The Invisible Truth
The truth is, the only ads you see and remember in a newspaper are ads for products in which you currently are in the market. If you need a new couch, all the furniture store ads pop out at you. If you need a new car, every auto dealer suddenly becomes visible. Every other ad is invisible. Heck, newspapers are designed to teach us to ignore the irrelevant. Headlines are written to get your attention. If you don't care, you don't read.

The only ads you see are the ones relevant to you.

Relevant: \ˈre-lə-vənt\
a : having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand
b : affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion

If it isn't important to us, if it doesn't have significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand, we aren't looking, we aren't listening, we aren't paying attention.

Three Roads to Relevancy
You can make your ads more relevant three different ways.

Make it about a product. Your store isn't that important. It's the products in your store that attract attention. If you sell widgets and your ad is all about widgets you will immediately attract the attention of all the people in the market for a widget.

Make it about a felt need. We all have felt needs such as the need for more money, security, prestige. When your message addresses that felt need it becomes relevant to all who share that feeling. If you are filling a specific need, speak to that need and your message becomes more relevant.

Make it about the customer. The most important person in your world is you. The most important person in your customer's world, however, is her. She isn't interested in hearing about you, but she loves to hear about herself. When you can tailor your message so that it puts the customer in the starring role, the relevancy of that ad skyrockets.

When you raise the Relevancy of your message, you get more people paying attention.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Field of Dreams

"If you build it, he will come." -Shoeless Joe Jackson, Field of Dreams

Great movie. Bad advice for business.

Yet too many independents start out that way, thinking all they have to do is build a wonderful little shop and people will climb all over themselves to get in and give them money.

Roy H. Williams said, "If making a profit were easy, everyone would be doing it." But not everyone is making a profit. Those who aren't making a profit are closing their doors. And the first complaint out of their mouth is that they didn't get enough traffic, followed quickly by the blame...
  • The downtown doesn't have enough parking.
  • The Buy Local campaign didn't advertise me enough.
  • The city didn't support me.
  • The newspaper wouldn't write a story about our opening.
  • There just aren't enough people in the area.
  • No one knew about me because of the sign ordinance.
  • Unemployment is too high.
  • People are too cheap.
You know somebody who has made one of these statements. Heck, you probably have thought one or two of them.

Yet there are businesses thriving in hard-hit downtowns, thriving in high unemployment locales, thriving in spite of a lack of support from government, the newspaper, or a Buy Local campaign, thriving without coupons, discounts or cheap products.

You Have To Market Yourself
One of the biggest things they are doing differently is Marketing. Just building a store is not enough. We are over-retailed as it is. The most successful businesses are making a conscious choice to actively and creatively market themselves to the public. They are creating marketing messages, marketing plans, and mapping out new and unique ways to attract customers.

You Can Afford It
And it doesn't cost as much as you think. There are many ways to advertise your business spending primarily time, not money. You can learn seven of them by downloading my FREE eBook Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

And if you have the money to spend, before you drop a dime get to know how the different advertising mediums work with two more FREE eBooks - How Ads Work Part 1 and How Ads Work Part 2.

The movie is wonderful. But it is just a movie. In real life the quote is:

If you Market it, they will come.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Make Only One Point

Our attention spans are short. Our memory is faulty. Heck, I tell my staff that I am not responsible for anything they tell me. Write it down!

So how can we expect a customer to remember more than one point in any of our ads?

We can't. And they won't. So why bother?

Unclutter Your Ads
When you know exactly what your message is, make sure you don't clutter that message with other messages or information that is unnecessary. You don't have to include your exact address and phone in your ads. If you make your point powerful enough, they'll find you. You don't have to give your hours, unless they are the hours for the event you are marketing.

The reality is that the person receiving your message is likely to remember only one point at best. So the more points you try to make, the less likely she will remember any one of them, and the better the odds she'll remember the least important of those points.

Make Only One Point
Here is an example of a print ad that makes only one point. See how uncluttered it is? And if that point resonates with you, you'll remember that ad.

Another example is a bra shop called Bras That Fit. They advertise on the local sports radio program - yeah, advertising bras to guys. Their message?

"Hey guys, are you tired of hearing your wife complain about her bra not fitting? Send them to Bras That Fit to get the right size that makes them feel better."

They don't clutter their ad with their hours, or talk about swimsuits or other services they offer. It's all about getting a bra that fits so your wife won't complain.

You'd be surprised how many guys tell their wives where to go bra shopping.

Concentrate, Concentrate, Concentrate
Think of your marketing as a bottle of perfume. If you mix one perfume with another, you won't notice either (and the result might be toxic). You can add water to your perfume to stretch it out and make it last, but that just dilutes it until the scent is gone. Everyone knows that the more concentrated it is, the more powerful the scent, and the less you need to use.

Your ads are like that bottle of perfume. Keep your marketing concentrated on one message and more people will see it, hear it and remember it.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Say Something Interesting

Your message is fine. But how you are delivering it needs some work. No one is getting it for one simple reason - you do not have their attention. Sure, you could yell and scream, but that doesn't really get you anywhere. We are bombarded with so many advertising messages that it is like trying to fill a teacup with a fire hose. But you can get your message safely into the cup as long as you remember to...

Make your message more interesting than whatever occupies your customer's brain at that moment.

You can do that by telling a story.

Stories are Interesting
We all love stories. They hook us in and get us to listen. Facts are boring and dull, but stories are interesting and fun. Whether you are doing traditional ads like radio, newsprint or TV, or just coming up with a way to get your message across in networking or social media, turn your message into a story.

Here is a copyrighted (meaning don't use it verbatim, copy the style, not the ad) example from Roy H. Williams' book Wizard of Ads (pg 28-29)
Announcer: You are standing in the snow five and one-half miles above sea level, gazing at the horizon hundreds of miles away. Life here is very simple. You live, or you die. No compromises, no whining, no second chances. This is a place constantly ravaged by wind and storm, where every ragged breath is an accomplishment. You stand on the uppermost pinnacle of the earth. This is the mountain they call Everest. Yesterday it was considered unbeatable. But that was yesterday.

As Edmund Hillary surveyed the horizon from the peak of Mount Everest, he monitored the time on a wristwatch that had been specifically designed to withstand the fury of the world's most angry mountain. Rolex believed Sir Edmund would conquer the mountain, and especially for him they created the Rolex Explorer.

In every life, there is a Mount Everest to be conquered. When you have conquered yours, you'll find your Rolex waiting patiently for you to come pick it up at Justice Jewelers, your official Rolex jeweler, on Highway 65 at Battlefield Road.

I'm Woody Justice, and I've got a Rolex for you.

Make Your Customer the Star
Not only does this ad tell a fabulous story, it stars the world's most important person - "you".

When you can tell a story and make the listener/reader the star of that story, they will listen and hear your message. They will become engaged with your brand. They will picture themselves doing exactly what you want them to do.

Here is another example of a story that speaks to the heart:
He left Detroit 9am Christmas Eve. Some store somewhere had to have the one toy his sweet little six-year old wanted. Six stores…seven hours later, he stood, travel-weary, across the counter from me. “I suppose you don’t have any Simon games either.” As I handed over the last of our Simon games he smiled and said, “God Bless You!” Believe me, He already has. Merry Christmas from the Toy House in Downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

This true story was from my first Christmas Eve as an official employee back in 1980. I was 14 years old and will never forget the look on that man's face. We banked an entire Christmas ad campaign on this story. Results? Best Christmas ever. Yet we never mentioned our hours, our address, or our services. But everyone got the message... Looking for a toy? Save the hassle and try us first.

Figure out how to tell the story of your message and you'll begin to see that message resonate a whole lot better.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Definition of Insanity?

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Never change your message, it is the key to your long term branding and growth.

Two truths. Yet, two seemingly opposite statements. How do we reconcile them? It would seem that if your advertising isn't working, then doing the same thing won't change that, therefore the message needs to be changed. But there is a flaw in that statement. Do you see it?

It isn't the message that needs to change, it is the way you deliver that message. You can only change two things in your message delivery:
  • The audience to whom you deliver the message
  • The strength with which you deliver the message
The first one is easy. Just switch mediums or stations, or papers, or magazines. I can promise you that there is an advertising salesperson who has "exactly the right people for your business". But you've already tried that and it didn't move the needle. You have bounced around from newspaper to TV to radio with the same lousy results.

A Stronger Delivery
That leaves you one option. Strengthen the delivery of your message. Your message is good, but the delivery is weak. Common mistake we all make. We water down our message in hope of not offending anyone.

But if you calculated your market share, you already know that 95% of the population are currently choosing to not shop with you. Who are you afraid of offending?

Messages are like magnets. The stronger they attract, the stronger they repel. In fact, your message's ability to attract new customers is in direct proportion to how much it repels others. You can't get everyone to shop at your store, so quit worrying about the people you repel and start thinking about who you want to attract.

Then make your message delivery so powerful that those you want to attract can't help but hear what you're saying.

Insanity is thinking you can attract anyone with a weak delivery of your message.