Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I'm Hiring Part 2 - Identifying the Right Traits

Facebook & Email Newsletter ads sent.

Radio ad running.

Applications coming in.

Now for Part 2...

My goal is to find genuinely helpful people. The application/resume only gives me hints at this. The kinds of jobs they held before tell me a little. The organizations they've joined tell me a little more. But I need to find out in a short period of time (the interview) if they have the traits I want.

How do I do that?

As we speak I'm working on interview questions to help me identify these traits. I posted my needs in an online group where I belong and received this list of questions from a friend who also does a lot of hiring...
  1. What are you looking to do next, and why?
  2. What type of people (team) do you want to be with and why?
  3. What would you like to learn?
  4. What are you an expert on? What are you the best at?
  5. What is the worst decision you ever made?
  6. Describe your most remarkable project/achievement.
  7. Leadership- How did you move your last organization forward? What did you do to move those around you forward?
  8. Imagine you had your own business...what would you do to improve service, improve morale, improve the bottom line, etc.?
  9. Describe an interesting problem and how you solved it.
  10. Describe a problem you foresaw, and how you helped avoid it.

Good questions, but how do you get good answers? How can I make it comfortable enough for the interviewee that she gives me honest answers?

One suggestion I received was to walk around the store with the person, a less formal setting than the office and desk approach.

Another was to put all the applicants together at once and have them talk about their experience and traits together, that you'll see their true character show up in a group setting like this. You'll see the ultra-competitive, the back-stabbers, the talkers, the listeners, the shy, the loud.

Another was to put them right on the job as part of the interview. See how they do cold and you'll have an idea if they have the traits you want.

And one more intriguing idea is to ask each applicant to bring in one object that truly reflects who they are, and be prepared to explain why. Their dedication to this task will tell me a lot about their dedication to the job, not to mention a lot about who they are.

I'm leaning towards the first and last approaches, but would love to hear your thoughts...

How would you make it so that interviewees give honest and forthcoming answers that are not canned?


Saturday, March 27, 2010

I'm Hiring, Part 1 - Attracting the Right People

I need 2 or 3, or maybe 4 more part-timers to round out my staff and keep customer service levels at our high standard.

Here's how I'm going about finding them.

First, I announced it on our Facebook Page and Email Newsletter. Here is what I said...
Do you like to interact with adults and kids alike? Are you self-motivated, dependable and reliable? Do you get satisfaction from helping others? Do you love to learn and grow personally?

You might be just who we're looking for. As our business continues to stay strong, we need more friendly, helpful people to make our customers smile.

Stop in and fill out an application by April 10th. We're looking for some part-time helpers to make you smile.

By doing it in those locations I'm reaching out to people who already know and love our store, and also know the committment to customer service we expect.

Next, I'll be running a radio ad that says the following...
It’s not easy joining the Toy House Team. Oh, the application is standard, but your handwriting better be good and the info complete and accurate. And if you’re lucky enough to get an interview, you gotta prove that you’re friendly, helpful, and motivated. Training? Our expectations are tough, but the customers’ are even tougher. When you make it, though, you’ll be part of the best retail team in town. So if you have what it takes, stop by Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re looking for people who make you smile.
You'll notice something in both of those ads. Never once did I mention retail experience as a prerequisite for employment. But I did mention some traits I DO want. Words like "friendly", "helpful", "self-motivated", "dependable", "reliable", "love to learn" fill out my ads.

The purpose is to speak to the people who might have the traits I want and also keep away some of the people who read those descriptions and say, "That's just not me."

The best applicants will put on their resumes and applications some sort of proof that they have those characteristics. And if they don't it's either because they didn't hear/see my ads (which, of course, I'll ask them) or they didn't care.

Oh yeah, caring is one of those words, too. If they don't care to speak to my needs in the application, they won't care to speak to my customers' needs on the job.

When you do your next round of hiring, spell out the traits you most want in your new employees directly in the ad. You'll attract more people with those traits and fewer people without them.

Sir Walter Raleigh said it best, "The employer generally gets the employee he deserves."


Friday, March 26, 2010

The 3/50 Project - Are You On Board?

Cinda Baxter had a good idea. A really good idea. An idea that sprouted wings only seconds after she hit "publish" on her blog.

Pick 3 local retailers you would really miss if they closed. Spend $50 in those stores this month. Repeat.

It's The 3/50 Project and it all started with a blog post on March 30th, 2009. Now, less than a full year later, The 3/50 Project is an international juggernaut with over 17,000 independent retailers registered at her website, over 53,000 fans on Facebook, and a boatload of resources you can download for FREE to help promote your fellow independents.

Cinda came to Jackson last Wednesday night to talk about the project and how it can help promote local Jackson businesses. She gave us the history behind the idea and a laundry list of great ways to bring this positive message to our community.

Ideas like this cross promotion between retail stores and restaurants...
Spend $50 in any/all of these select retail stores this month, get a $10 gift certificate to any of the following restaurants for next month (and vice versa)

Ideas like this window display...
Write on this card 3 locally owned businesses you would miss if they closed. Sign your name at the bottom. We'll post your card in the window with all the other cards and you'll be entered to win one of three $50 gift certificates.
(Think of the impact such a display would cause - the reinforcement to the person who wrote the card of supporting those businesses, plus an easy way to cross promote your customers' favorite businesses to other customers.)

Ideas like this way to create evangelists for your store...
Attach five $5 gift certificates to a 3/50 Project flier with your customer's name on the back and give to her with instructions for her to pass 4 of those gift certificates on to her friends. Tell her that for every gift certificate that comes back she'll get entered in a drawing to win a monthly prize.
(Do you think that would get some new business in your store? Of course it would!)

And many more ideas.

It was a fabulous presentation. Unfortunately only about 15 Jackson business owners were in the paltry audience to hear such a message. But then again, 15 is a start. And we have to start somewhere.

Do you think you could round up 15 local businesses to start some sort of cross promotion in your town? Do you think you could benefit from a campaign that encourages people to think about their favorite local stores? Are you one of the favorites? Will you be in the top 3 on someone's list? (If not, we need to talk. I might be able to help you.)

Do yourself a favor and go to The 3/50 Project. Read all about it. Sign up. Download the freebies. Promote yourself and your local retailers. To steal a phrase from my fellow blogger Jay H. Heyman, it's a good idea, it's a really good idea.


PS I got to meet Cinda Baxter after the presentation. We had a wonderful conversation sharing ideas. What incredible energy and passion she has for local retailers. I'm a fan. I've added her blog to my must-read list. You should too!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Serving the Customers WHEN They Want to Be Served

My wife and I finished a wonderful meal at Pablos in downtown Fernandina Beach, FL. It was 8:15pm on a Friday night. As we strolled the shops of this quaint downtown on Amelia Island, one thing was noticeably absent.

No, it wasn't the people.

The sidewalks were teaming with people out for an early evening stroll. There were easily 12-15 groups of revelers in a short three-block expanse, all of us engaged in the same activity... window shopping... because all the stores were closed!

Except for the two ice cream shops (both full of people), the bars and one jewelry store jammed with browsers, all the rest of the shops were closed, dark, not doing business, not making money. Yet, there were people with money to spend all over the place.

Are you open when there are people available or just when you are available?

And I don't just mean your everyday hours. Do you open for special occasions in your area? Do you open when there are events on your street? Do you open for when the movie or show lets out at the theatre venue next door? Do you open early when there is a parade or morning activity on the street?

I went back this morning to the same area for the farmers market at 9am. Didn't need much. But as we left the farmers market and strolled the same streets (still packed with people), I looked through many of the same windows of darkened shops not willing to be open when the people were there.

When these shops close for good, it won't be "because of the economy". Don't let your shop think like them. When people are there, be ready to open your doors. That's one of the first steps to great customer service.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yellow Pages Online Don't Work Either

I've talked about how Yellow Pages (don't) work here.

Now let's talk about Yellow Pages Online...

Last year I let my sales rep talk me into trying out yellowpages.com for Jackson and Ann Arbor areas (where most of my traffic originates). Now I'm trying to talk my way out of it.

Last year http://www.toyhouseonline.com/ received over 44,000 unique, non-spider referrals. An underwhopping 54 of them were referred to our site by yellowpages.com. That's an (un)incredible 0.1%.

I had 6 times that amount of traffic from a company that supplies a small, obscure type of pacifier we sell. I had twice that traffic from a company that went out of business last year (but apparently their website is still up somewhere?). In fact, there were three referral url's ahead of yellowpages.com that I had to click just to see who they were.

When your yellow pages rep tries to sign you up for their way overpriced online services, JUST SAY NO. There are a lot better ways to spend your ad dollars.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Systems Versus Creativity

Interesting dilemma... Are systems for handling situations and creativity mutually exclusive?

Here is the situation.

One of my vendors informed me that we needed to send in photos of defective parts to get replacements. Makes sense. They need to protect their costs by knowing that they are replacing only that which needs to be replaced.

Our first customer to have a problem after this policy began lived over an hour away. They had flaws in the product that, while usable, were not what they had paid for. It was a special order item so we would need to order new parts for them, no matter which ones were damaged. So we asked if they would kindly take some digital photos and email us to save us a 140 minute round trip. They did and the parts were ordered.

The second customer was a mile away and had ordered an in-stock item. When she called with a problem, we asked her to send photos, which upset her. Why should she have to send photos? Why couldn't we come out there and snap them ourselves? Heck, why couldn't we bring her a replacement and take the photos when we got back to the store?

Good question.

The solution to the first problem was not necessarily the exact way to handle the second problem.

Our mistake was that we implemented a system of "hows" before answering all the "who, what, where, when" and most importantly "why".

How do we get a replacement part? By sending photos to the company. Who takes the photos? Anyone. Why did we ask the first customer to take the photos? Because she was over an hour away and we would need to order the replacement no matter what. Why did we ask the second customer to take photos? Because that's how we did it the first time. Do you see the flaw in this thinking?

Before you implement a new system, make sure you carefully point out why you do things a certain way, and what the ultimate outcome should be. And empower your staff to use their imagination and creativity to come up with solutions that make the customer happy while following the spirit of the system.


PS The very next day the second customer had a replacement, we had photos to send, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Turning Your Customers Into Fans

I've just posted a new Freebie on my website based on the presentation I gave in January at the IDEX Show.

It's called Turning Your Customers Into Fans.

If you want to grow your business, you can use traditional marketing and advertising. But everyone knows that Word-of-Mouth is the strongest form of persuasion. And you'll get far more WOM if your customers aren't just customers, but are stark raving fans, evangelists for you.

Knowing how to turn them into fans, and how to empower that evangelism is now available for you free of charge. Check it out.



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Local Parenting Magazine - Is it Right For You?

My wife and I started a local monthly magazine for parents in Jackson, so I knew exactly what was going on when a colleague of mine asked my opinion about advertising in the magazines like this in his area.

In his city there are multiple magazines distributed through OB/GYN offices and other locations where parents might go. They are printed once or twice per year with a focus on editorial content aimed at their target audience of parents & families.

He had been running full page ads in each under the belief that (in his words) "if we consider ourselves to be the best and we have the most stores, how do we not have the biggest ad in the best location in the book?"

But, as those of you who have been in this situation know, these ads can be expensive. Here are the three specific questions he asked:
  1. Should I continue to be in these publications?
  2. What size ads should I do? My latest opinion is not to do full page ads. I feel like stores that have full page ads seem like they don't need the business because they can afford full page ads. Is that crazy logic?
  3. Should my ads be more branding or should they call for a direct response. Should I feature a product, talk about our unique qualities, or do an ad that talks more about the customer.
Here is my response...

Local parent/family magazines are a lot like yellow pages. They are a print resource that someone might use to find information. The first question is what information are they using it to learn? And the second question is whether or not they are looking at the ads for that information, too.

Our magazine was printed monthly, picked up by parents and brought into the home. The most important element was the community calendar of kid-friendly activities for the month. The advertisers that did the best were those that advertised events and activities.

So to answer the question of what type of ads should you run, the answer is run the kind of ads that people reading these magazines want to see. If the magazine is all about pregnancy issues, run ads about comfort straps or maternity clothes. If the magazine is all about parenting topics, run ads about educational toys. In print ads, the most important element is what is relevant to the customer. You and your business are not relevant, but the products you offer or the events you're holding are relevant. Because of the lack of frequency, events (unless they are continual like "every second Tuesday") won't work in these publications, but products will. Advertise a product that is most relevant to the readers of the magazine (whether or not it is most relevant to you - the goal is to get them to read the ad first).

And yes, running two smaller ads is better than a full page. Roy Williams found that full page ads are often skipped because there is nothing relevant on that page. Half page ads actually get seen more. Since one half page ad beats one full page ad, two half page ads about two relevant products would be exponentially better than running full page ads.

But the bigger question is should you be spending this money at all? Magazines are great at reaching niche markets, but the two killers are expense and lack of frequency. The pitch that magazine sales people give you (I know, I was one) is that you "have" to be in that book to be legitimate. As you said yourself...if we consider ourselves to be the best and we have the most stores, how do we not have the biggest ad in the best location in the book?

But is that advertising or bragging? Yellow pages have made a mint off us using this same approach..."you have to be in our book or no one will see you".

If I were you, I would look at the dollars you spend there and decide if you think it is the absolute best way to spend your ad money. If the answer is yes, make some killer ads about relevant products and proceed forward. If not, decide where best to put your ad dollars and drop the magazines without looking back. Yeah, they'll hound you to get back in, using lots of guilt in the process, but you can't be everything to everybody. You have to look at it cold and calculating. You have limited ad $$. You have to use that $$ in the way that makes most sense for you and your business.

Another thought... Just because your competitors do something is not the reason you should do it. Sometimes it is better to do something completely different that they aren't doing than to try to match them step for step.

If you have ever watched a sailboat race the tactics become quite obvious. The lead boat always matches the trailing boat's moves to cover their position. But the trailing boat knows it needs to do something no one else is doing if it wants to overtake the lead boat. Are you the lead boat or the trailer?

That's what I told my fellow retailer. And now I've told you. Do you agree?