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.