Monday, May 31, 2010

Here's Something I'm Watching

Yesterday's paper had an article about a new strategy Wal-Mart is rolling out. They've decide to do... wait for it... price cuts. Yeah, they're cutting prices again (you'd think with all the price cuts that their prices should be zero about now, right?).

Here's the interesting part of the article... They are only cutting prices on 20-30 key items - mostly groceries like cases of Coke. Twenty to thirty out of 100,000!?! And that's gonna change people's perception and drive traffic to new levels?

Either Wal-Mart thinks the general public is really gullible, or perception truly is reality.

I predict they'll get a little bit of a traffic bump from people who only want the specials, but with such a small selection of price cuts, I also predict their competitors will have no problem matching them. (In fact, according to the article, Target and Kroger already had.)

But in the long run it won't move the needle. But if it does...??

Yeah, that's why I'm watching it.


PS Apparently Wal-Mart has run out of ideas. Hopefully you haven't.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Successful Stores Have Meetings

Most people consider it a universal truth - no one likes to go to meetings. They're boring and a waste of time. Nothing sucks the life out of a room more than a scheduled meeting.

Yet, the most successful stores have regular meetings. Maybe their meetings aren't the same as your meetings. I know my meetings are different. Because if you ask my staff, they look forward to our monthly meetings. It's one of their favorite activities.

I do two simple things to charge up my meetings that you can do, too.
  1. I make them Useful
  2. I make them Fun
I make them Useful because for every meeting I establish one Goal. I establish the one most important point I want to get across, the one lesson I want them to take away, the ending to the statement...
"This will be a successful meeting if..."
You're lucky if your staff remembers anything after a meeting. The more you try to accomplish, however, the less likely they'll be able remember that one most critical point. Therefore, my meetings all have one and only one Goal. I write that Goal at the top of my meeting planner worksheet and make sure that everything I do is built around that one Goal.

This way I guarantee that even the least attentive of the staff will know exactly what the meeting is about and what point I want to drive home.

I make the meeting Fun by coming up with creative and clever ways to reach that Goal. I call those the Tasks. Then I come up with the most crazy, off-the-wall, different, fun Tasks that will accomplish the Goal. The Tasks that seem to work best at making the meeting fun are Tasks that:
  • Involve the staff actually doing something
  • Have a competitive nature
  • Push the staff slightly out of their comfort zones
  • Give the staff a chance to be creative
  • Give everyone room to be light-hearted and have fun
Some of the Tasks we have done include skits, storytelling, game show games, role playing, trust & communication activities, movies & videos, songs, and food. (Once I even served them ice cream at 8:30am!)

And my staff love it! (And they learn, too!!)

So if your meetings are dull, uninspiring, and dreaded, spice them up by clearly defining your Goal and using clever, creative Tasks to reach that Goal. You'll be surprised at the transformation just one meeting like this can have on your entire staff.


PS For a complete breakdown of all the steps for having incredible Staff Meetings, download my FREE eBook "Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend"

PPS If you have a particular Goal but can't come up with a task, send me an email outlining the Goal and the group of people. I'll help you brainstorm a few different Tasks to try.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Avoid Ad-Speak in Your Ad Copy

I've talked about it before here and here and here.

When your radio or TV ads sound like ads, people will tune you out. We've become immune to ad-speak. We don't hear it. We don't see it. We don't believe it. It is the white noise in the background of our lives.

You've heard my radio ads and you know they don't sound like a typical ad. Now I have proof!

Tom Wanek, author of the book, "Currencies That Buy Credibility" has created a new tool to help you check your ad copy for ad-speak.

Go here to read his blog on it (the George Carlin video alone is worth a click), then check out the Carlin Ad-Speak Calculator. I did.

Every single ad I ran through the calculator came up with ZERO Ad-Speak!

Check it out and let me know how well your ads stack up.


PS Sorry about all the hyperlinks. Sometimes it's easier to send you somewhere else than repeat everything here - especially when it's said better elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Give 'Em What They Want

Next week I'm sending out a coupon. $20 off a $100 Purchase. I need to generate some cash flow and get some traffic through the door.

For the past two months we've been shut off from the community on two sides by federally funded construction projects (Mr. Obama, I'm not feeling very stimulated). So I'm sending out a coupon - givin' it away - to generate some sales.

As I've said before, sometimes you gotta choose between profits and cash flow. This time I'm choosing cash flow.

The toughest part for my staff (besides ringing up the coupons properly:-) is dealing with the customers who want to skirt the system.

Even though the purpose of the coupon is to stimulate some new business, I'll have a handful of customers who want to use it on a previous sale they did in the last few weeks.

Some customers will try to use it on sales less than $100 (It's $95, isn't that close enough?).

Others might buy $100 worth of stuff and bring $50 back the following week.

So how did I instruct my staff to handle these situations? Simple...

Smile and say, "Okay!" Yep, give it to 'em. Don't hassle them, don't belittle them, don't upset them. Just do it and move on.

You see, the customers who do that are so few and far between - maybe 3% of the totally coupons used - that they aren't worth the complaints they could generate. And they aren't worth your energy. At worst, they aren't profitable customers at all so don't waste your time. Just give 'em what they want and move on. At best, they might return the kindness you show them later.

It's not about "playing fair", it's about taking care of your customers - all of your customers.

As my good friend and fabulous writer, Becky Blanton said,
"When there are no score cards you're not tied to a specific game. You're free then to succeed"
Don't get sucked into those kinds of games with customers, don't get caught up in what is fair or not fair. And most certainly don't keep score.

That's how you win at customer service.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Thieves in the Night

Got an earlier than usual start today - the alarm company called at 5am. Northwest warehouse motion detector went off.

Normally I wouldn't have them dispatch police for just a motion detector without another zone, especially one of the outer doors, going off. But this morning I did.

Last night at 2am someone broke into the restaurant/gift shop across the street.

Or more specifically...

At 1:58am the alarm went off
At 1:59am 9-1-1 was notified
At 2:02am two police arrived on the scene - too late!

The thieves had picked up two cash registers, slammed them on the ground and made off with the loot.

Later today my staff will get a reminder of why we remove the drawers from our registers every night and lock them up in a safe. Plus, we leave the drawers wide open so anyone looking in the window can see there ain't nuthin' there. I hope you are doing the same.


PS - Just a false alarm for us... hope I don't get another one. I've only got one more false alarm dispatch before the city starts charging for the police calls.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Practice How You Play

My son's Little League baseball game was rained out last night. Too bad. We worked hard Sunday on his throwing arm, getting him to throw more overhand and less sidearm.

But he said something to me Sunday worth discussing here. After telling him that it was important to focus on making every throw the right way because how you practice is how you play, he said, "But dad, it's only during the games when you gotta be serious."

What do you say to something like that?

Here's what I told him...

You've got that backwards. The time to be serious is practice. The time to work hard and give your absolute best effort is practice. The time to focus your strongest is practice. Practice is where you create the good habits that carry through to the games so when the game begins you can have fun.

How you practice is how you play.

I think some of it stuck. His throws got better, his focus improved, and he really worked hard. I was looking forward to seeing how it carried through to the game. Darn weather!

How well do you practice? How much emphasis do you put on training? How seriously do you take it?

If you feel like your trainings and meetings are ineffective at best, and simply an excuse to slack off, check out this eBook - Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend and the accompanying worksheet.

How you practice is how you play. The good news is it doesn't take much to make the game more fun!


Monday, May 17, 2010

I Served Them Ice Cream

Staff Meeting. 8:30am. Ice cream served.

Ice cream for breakfast?

Some loved it. One employee had two bowls.

Some hated it. Who would eat ice cream for breakfast?

Some were indifferent. "No thanks, I had a bagel."

Kinda like your business, right? Some love you, some hate you, some are indifferent.

Do you know what causes people to love you - the proverbial ice cream for breakfast that you serve?

Are you willing to serve that ice cream at 8:30am just for those that love it against all conventional thinking? That's what the best stores do (metaphorically speaking). And their best customers reward them with loyalty and evangelism.

Think about it...

Apple Stores - you can't have a store without cash registers!
Whole Foods - there's no long-term market for expensive, organic/natural/gluten-free foods being pushed upon the public through fancy displays
Nordstrom's - you can't take everything back no questions asked - people will take advantage of you

Yet, those three stores were ranked #1, #2, #3 in RetailWire's survey of best customer shopping experiences.

They are all serving ice cream at 8:30am.

As Seth Godin recently pointed out, it's easier to serve ice cream to those who want it than to change the mind of those who think it's weird.

What are you scooping out for your best customers?


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stopping Employee Theft

According to the National Retail Federation, 44% of your shrinkage is caused by Employee Theft. Yep, your own staff is stealing you blind!

Quit being in denial and do something about it.

Here's what you should do...

Background Checks - It starts with the people you hire. Did you look up their court records? (They're available online for free.) Did you call references? Did you verify employment? One of the best applicants I ever interviewed had a string of "retail fraud" charges a mile long. If I hadn't checked, I would probably have been added to her list of conquests.

Training - How well trained are they? Are you sure? Have you gone back and tested after the initial training? Sometimes employee error, not theft, is the cause of your shrinkage. The more thoroughly you train them and also evaluate them, the less likely you'll have this problem.

The Golden Rule - How well do you treat them? It is no stretch of the imagination that employees who are treated well will be less likely to steal than disgruntled employees. It also makes sense that the type of behavior you model is the behavior your employees will follow. Are you stealing from your own store in front of them? If you're taking product off the shelf, they'll begin to believe that it's okay for them to do the same.

Supervision - When the cat is away, the mice will play. Who watches the store in your absence? Do you have a trusted supervisor that will keep an eye on the mice? Having that one trusted person who serves as your backup eyes and ears works well as a deterrent.

Checks & Balances - It is vitally important that you have a system of checks and balances for counting your cash drawers, verifying sales receipts, and double checking deposits. Sticky fingers get caught quickly when you have a system to double check your money.

Video - Sure, it's the last line of defense. Yes, it can cause feelings of distrust and suspicion. No, I don't recommend it for everyone. But the bottom line is the bottom line and if all the other methods haven't slowed down your shrinkage, this just might be the ticket.

The key is to hire honest, ethical people in the first place, treat them with respect, and model the behavior you want to see.

Do this and your shrinkage will go down and your staff morale will go up. Win-win!


Monday, May 10, 2010

Retail Shrinkage - Where Does it Go?

In doing my research for a presentation on Inventory Management I'm giving at the ASTRA Marketplace next month, I found this interesting little statistic from the National Retail Federation.

Total shrinkage in the retail sector in 2008 was about 1.52% of gross sales. That's $1.52 out of every $100 that mysteriously disappears.

More interestingly, almost half of that shrinkage (44%) is caused by your own employees, either walking out the back door in their pockets or sliding out the front door through consumer-friendly transactions.

Shoplifting accounts for about 35% of that total and accounting errors make up most of the rest.

I showed this to one of my staff members who was amazed. She couldn't believe that our employees (her coworkers) would do this. I reassured her that, although they might do some, our shrinkage was only 0.44% of sales the past two years (up from 0.27% in 2007 - sign of the economy?). We're doing much better than the average retailer.

Here is something to ponder... Wal-Mart has also traditionally done well with a shrinkage rate at only half the national average. How is that possible?

It would seem they would be ripe for theft. Their reputation for how they treat their employees would seem like fertile ground for some "entitlement". Some of their limited income customers might be tempted to partake in a few five-finger discounts, too. Plus, the limited interaction between customers and staff, the huge, cavernous store with plenty of hiding spaces, and the vast quantity of product seems like a recipe for high shrinkage.

Add it all up and their results seem all the more surprising. But the answer is simple. The power to keep the shoplifters away resides in the blue-vested gray hairs standing inside every door.

What is the one thing shoplifters crave most of all? Anonymity. Not being seen or recognized. Recognition is the buzzkill for all but the serial professional shoplifters. Being seen strikes fear in the heart of the amateurs and down-on-their-luck would-be thieves.

Fortunately, we all can learn from this. The lesson is simple...

Greet your customers. Each and every one of them. Not just with a shout-out as you hide behind the cashwrap, but with a sincere "thanks for stopping by," the kind of greeting you would give your best friend.

Not only is it a good way to start a conversation that could lead to a sale, but it is the single biggest deterrent to shoplifting.

And now you know why Wal-Mart has all those greeters. It wasn't to protect them from age-discrimination lawsuits after all.


PS I've got some ideas about how to stop employee theft, too. Will post them soon.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Discounting Question...

I had an interesting debate with the president of a baby product company here at the ABC Spring Conference in Louisville.

His company has a minimum ad price to help protect the integrity of his brand (and keep the low-overhead Internet dealers from discounting so much that the brick & mortar stores drop the product). But lately he has relaxed that policy, because as he puts it, "In this economy we felt we needed to give some relief to the consumers and not have such a high gap between our prices and our competitors' products."

So my question to him was, "If you're so concerned about your prices and giving the customers some relief, why does it have to come out of MY pocket and not yours?"

Still waiting on the answer...

But, at least I'll give him credit for this. He stood up in front of a room of 300+ brick & mortar retailers of his product and said that the decision was completely his and he wasn't going to change it until the economy improved. That took some serious guts.

Is there a lesson in this? Stick to your guns and hold your resolve in the face of adversity? Be prepared to answer your critics? It's not a good gesture unless you share in the pain?

I'll let you decide.


PS We didn't do the discounting. It's a premium brand that doesn't need discounts to sell, just good, smart sales people who know the value of the product. Oh yeah, our sales are up 28% with them ytd.