Friday, December 30, 2011

Do You Want Fries With That?

McDonald's gave us the best punchline for the upsell.

"Do you want fries with that?"

But that one little phrase made them a lot of money because it increased the average ticket, the average dollars per transaction.

It makes intuitive sense that if every customer spends just a little bit more your store will be more profitable. That is why you want to track your Average Ticket.

In the last post we counted the number of transactions you had for the year. Simply divide your gross sales by this number and you have the Average Ticket. Now compare that number to last year's number. Did it go up or go down?

Simple knowledge of the world tells you that it should go up just to keep pace with inflation. Your prices went up a little so even if you sold the same amount of items to the same amount of people, that number should go up.

But what if it went down?

There are three big reasons why your average ticket might go down.

  1. You do not have the right merchandise.

  2. Your staff is not selling the merchandise you have.

  3. Your customers are in a hurry to leave.
Let's explore those.


If you do not have the merchandise customers want to buy, then they are not going to buy from you. That is simple enough. But one easily fixed mistake some retailers make is not having the necessary accessories to complete each sale.

This is something I preach to my staff constantly. Make sure that a customer making a purchase has everything she needs to use that product the moment she gets home. Is it an electronic toy that needs batteries? How about a model that needs paints... and glue... and paintbrushes... and thinner... and a display case?

If you do not sell all those accessories then you are leaving money on the table by not having the right merchandise.


At least the McDonald's clerks are offering more products with their fries statement. Are your sales staff doing the same? There are plenty of less offensive ways to do that. The first is to do what we just discussed - complete the sale. Make sure the customer does not have to make a separate trip to get everything she needs because if she does, it won't be to your store (and neither will the next trip she makes to shop).

You also want to keep asking the customer if there is more you can do. Keep asking until the customer says no. Here are some simple questions any sales person should be comfortable using:

  • Who else is on your list today? (thanks, Bob)

  • Is there anything else I can show you?

  • What else can I do for you today?
If you are not asking, you are not selling. Anyone can point a customer to the product for which they asked. The better sales people lead them to the product, asking questions as they walk. The best sales people then offer two or three best options to fit the needs of the customer. And then those sales people show them matching, coordinating and accessory products. And then they ask for more.

It costs way too much to acquire a customer to let them walk out without being given every opportunity to buy. They will let you know when they are done shopping. Always let the customer end the shopping, never you.


It is a simple axiom of retail. The more time a customer spends in the store, the more money she will spend, too. So you need to encourage your customers to stay longer. You do that by making them feel more comfortable. Offer to take her coat. Offer her a beverage. Engage her in conversation. Get her to talk about herself. if she has kids with her, make sure their needs are met.

The right music, the right lighting, the right temperature are also important. If it is too cold your customers will not stay. Sure, you might save a penny or two in heating costs, but you'll lose all those pennies in customers who did not stay. Likewise, too hot makes customers just as anxious to leave. They may not even know why they want to leave. But they will leave. If you made a change in your thermostat to save some money and your Average Ticket went down, you might want to change it back.

Odors are also powerful drivers. Heavily perfumed areas can be as much a turnoff as bad odors. Don't mask the bad smells with perfumes, find the source and eliminate those odors. If you must use a scent, food scents are better than florals. They tend to be more comforting.

The layout of your store also affects the length of stay. Walk in your front door and see what captures your attention. Where does your eye go? Is there anything to attract a customer deeper into the store? The deeper they go the longer they stay.

Also look at your traffic patterns. Are the aisles wide enough to handle the flow? Do the aisles make sense? Is it obvious where to go? Confused people will not shop long. Do not confuse your customers.

Number of Transactions is something over which you only have partial control. Average Ticket is completely up to you. Whether it is going up, down or staying flat is a quick indicator of how well you are performing in the store. Raise the performance and you'll be punching a higher ticket.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS For more on merchandising, download my free eBook Merchandising Made Easy. To raise the bar of Customer Service so high your customers are singing your praises to everyone they know, download my free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW! The books are free, but the information in them is priceless. (Why would I give away such information for free? I want you to succeed. When one independent retailer improves, we all improve.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

How Many Customers Does it Take to Change a Retailer?

Two numbers every retailer should track are Number of Transactions and Average $ per Transaction. (Yes, if you know the first number then you can calculate the second).

Number of transactions is simply how many times you rang up someone on your register. Did that number go up or down? If it went up, life is probably pretty good. You can skip the rest of this post and wait for the next one talking about the Average Ticket.

If it went down, read on...

There are two reasons for your number of transactions to go down:

  1. You didn't get enough traffic through the doors

  2. You didn't convert that traffic into purchases


There are a number of reasons why you might not have as many people coming through the door. Here are the most obvious ones...

The market shrank. The population in your area decreased or at least the population that shops your category decreased. We have seen a decline in births in county for four straight years. Since we sell baby products it is not surprising that the number of transactions has declined. Fewer babies being born means fewer people buying cribs.

You can get population information from your local government. They track things like foreclosures, house sales, rental property availability, unemployment claims and taxes to determine what is happening with the local population.

In a similar vein, did your market dramatically change? Was there road construction outside your door? Was there a major shopping center constructed somewhere else (even if they didn't have a competing store)? Was there a fundamental shift in traffic patterns? all of these could have an effect on the amount of traffic coming through your doors.

The competition increased. Did a new competitor come to town? Did a current competitor step up their game? Although I often tell retailers to focus more on what you can do than on what your competitors are doing, you still have to watch them. In 2010 Toys R Us opened a pop-up temporary store in our market. It only took a small piece of the pie, but in our shrinking market every crumb counts.

Your advertising did not work. Did you cut back on your marketing efforts? Did you change your message? Did you forget to change your message? If you cut back or made major changes to your message you may have caused the drop in traffic. (Not sure what your message should be? Download this free eBook "Understanding Your Brand")


Two main reasons why this happens:

You didn't have the right products. When there is a hot product in your market and you don't have it, you'll get plenty of lookers, but no buyers. Nothing cures more retail ills than having the product everyone wants. Did you have a bunch of calls or requests for a particular item? I know one store that has a daily worksheet that all the staff fill out including what requests were made to which they had to say NO. From that worksheet she often finds new products and categories to carry. Her rationale? Customers come in thinking she should have it. Why disagree with the customer?

Your sales staff wasn't up to par. How much did you commit to training? How much did you work with the staff on what great customer service looks like? How much did you leave to a manager to do? Does the manager care at the same level as you care? Not only does a poorly trained sales staff cost you in conversions, it costs you in average ticket (which we'll explore in the next post), and it costs you in repeat business (traffic coming through the door).

More than likely, if your transactions are down it is a combination of many of these factors. The two you can control the most are your Advertising and your Sales Staff Training. Get working on those right away. In fact, even if you had a good year, you can still raise the bar in both of those categories.

And that will make it a Happy New Year for your business.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One other thing that could happen... Your POS could change the way it tracks transactions. Our new release of our POS software did just that. Took us two months to figure out why our number of transactions spiked all of the sudden. Got that figured out so now we're comparing apples to apples again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You ARE Making a Difference

Sometimes it is good to take your eye off the big picture for a moment and focus on those little things you do that are so wonderful.

This is a good time of year to do that.

The customer in front of you is one of those moments. She is stressed. The holidays can do that to a person. She has a million things on her mind. Give her your full attention. Let her know you understand, you care and you can help.

Solve her problem.

And be thankful for that moment to make her life just a little easier and a little less stressful.

Her family will be thankful, too. They may not know to thank YOU for that. But they will be thankful nonetheless. And you will know it. And that is all that counts. Enjoy all those little moments. There will be time to look at the big picture soon enough.

Merry Christmas my friends! Thanks for all you do.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Here is a video of a song I wrote when my first son was born called The Greatest Gift

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Be the "Hot" in Your Category

Seth Godin pointed out something the toy industry has known for a few years...

There is no singular HOT toy to drive in the traffic.

Hasn't really been one since the first Tickle Me Elmo back in 1997. Oh, sure, there have been some hard-to-find items, a few crazes here and there, but nothing like the way people went bonkers over that furry red guy that vibrated and laughed. They stood in long lines, got into fist-fights, paid hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to get one.

Those days are over. And that is good news for you.

The traffic still craves direction and guidance. The traffic still wants to know where to go and what to buy. The traffic is still looking for something Hot.

So instead of the Hot item, be the Hot store.

You do this by being innovative.

Are you in a downtown location with limited parking? Offer free valet service. Are you in a winter weather environment? Offer coat check and coffee or hot cocoa. Are you in a category that requires special knowledge? Offer classes and tutorials. Do you get a lot of out-of-town traffic? Offer local maps to interesting sites, fabulous restaurants and other great shops in your area.

Rotate your merchandise regularly. Make fun and surprising displays that get people to talk about you and want to see what you are doing.

You do this by being iconic.

You know that every woman in the room pays extra attention to the package wrapped in the turquoise blue. Tiffany owns that color. What can you own?

You do this by being fun.

Smiling and saying hello makes people happy. Genuinely having fun gets those happy people to talk about you. You could play guessing games. You could have quick polls and sign-in books. You could run contests. You could have giveaways. Just make sure you hire fun people.

Regardless of what the media tries to promote, there is no hot toy anymore. Only hot stores. Be one of them.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It is no longer about Customer Service. It is all about Customer Experience. The better the experience, the more people will want to have that experience.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Be Good for Goodness Sake

(Yes, Christmas music has taken over my brain...)

Just a quick reminder that during this busy season it is easy to dismiss problem customers. It is easy to not give your full attention to a needy customer. It is easy to blow off that demanding customer.

You are already plenty busy enough. What difference does it make if you do not give everyone a great experience? Your numbers are good.

This year.

But you are also planting the seed for next year.

Retailers are farmers. We plant seeds, water and fertilize all year long so we can reap the harvest at Christmas. But unlike the real farmers who plant in the spring and harvest in the fall, we plant during the harvest.

We plant the seeds for next year in how we treat the customers this year. Treat them well and they will become perennials. Treat them poorly and your harvest next year will suffer (and you won't know why).

This is your busiest time of year, the time when you see the most people. Do whatever you have to do to make sure every single one of them gets the best possible treatment. Next year's harvest is counting on it.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you want some good ideas on how to fertilize that crop, download the FREE eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW! The one card you can consistently play and always trump your competition is the Customer Experience card.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Someone Is Lying to Me

My favorite gas station just changed all their pumps to Pre-Pay.

The clerk told me it was a corporate decision. She had no choice in the matter. She also told me that she had been getting flak all day long for it. She did not like it. Neither did the customers.

But somebody at the home office thinks that pissing off customers and upsetting the employees is a necessary way to do business.

The part I really do not understand is that every time the general public complains about price-fixing in gasoline, we are told by these gas stations that they do not make any money on the gas, only the soda and snacks they sell inside the store.

Yet, they just gave me an excuse to not have to set foot in the store again. I just swipe my card at the pump, get my gas, and go. Probably will be good for my diet. Probably will not be good for their bottom line.

So either they are having a rash of drive-aways or they really are making money on the gas. I think we would have heard about the former. Somebody is lying to me.

But it begs the question we all should ask about our business. Where do we make the money? And are we setting up barriers to our customers that keep them from giving us that money?

I think that second question is the driving force behind this corporate decision.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, you should put your best, most profitable merchandise in the best location in the store. Start there and build everything else around that focal point. That is the number one rule to merchandising. For more rules and thoughts on merchandising, download my FREE eBook Merchandising Made Easy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Two Ways to Look at the Amazon Deal

Amazon announced it is offering up to a $5 incentive for someone to walk out of a brick & mortar retailer this Saturday and shop online.

Facebook and blogs are lighting up on this topic.

Retailers are obviously outraged by Amazon's blatant attempt to use their stores as free showrooms.

Before you get your panties in a bind, however, here are two different ways to look at this...


Statistics show that about 35% of the US population uses a smart phone. And only a quarter of those people use it for primary browsing purposes.

So now we are down to only 8.75% of the population are likely to use their mobile phone for this purpose. Now figure out how many of those have that Amazon price check app. Let's be generous and say that 80% of those people have the app. Now we are down to 7% of the population.

It has been shown before that only about half the population are price shoppers, which gets us down to 3.5%. Then figure out your share of the market. 5%? 10%?

Assuming you are rocking it in your market and have 10% market share, then you can expect about 0.35% of your customers to be using such an app.

But wait, you say. Many of your customers are early adopters. They make up a higher percentage of the smart phone owners. Yes, but at the same time, a larger percentage of your customers are not price shoppers. So it is a wash.

Bottom line? Do the math and you will see that about 1 out of every 225 customers in your store this Saturday will take advantage of this offer.


And when that customer does pull out her phone and zap an item, you get a unique opportunity. You get the chance to show her how wonderful and helpful your store is.

As long as you approach it the right way.

She is zapping for information. Not just price but also product specs and reviews. You can win her over by also being a knowledgeable font of information.

Help her understand if the item is right for her needs by asking important questions like, "What are you hoping this item will do for you? What problem are you trying to solve?"

Embrace the information she finds online. Ask her to share what she reads. Quite often you will find that the information is either faulty or useless. Then you have the opportunity to engage with her and steer her straight.

It is all about winning the customer's trust. You do that by being friendly, honest and open. You do that by acknowledging the downside to a product. You do that by showing the upside, too, the benefits of shopping with you and keeping your purchases local. You do that by understanding the customer is a person with needs and fears just like you. Find out what is her fear and you know how to build her trust.

Heck, you don't need to wait for them to use a smart phone app before you do all that.

Just saying...

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you feel the need, you can always play the Amazon-doesn't-care-about-the-local-community card. Just ask your customers how much Amazon contributed to the fire and police departments in your town. But the best approach is to not worry at all. Just do what you do so well that your customers want to support you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Statistics Falsified for Your Benefit

I love December!

The statistical anomalies are so much fun.

Most businesses look at their sales in comparison to last year. And most businesses compare Thursdays to Thursdays, Fridays to Fridays, etc. This comparison works great right up until December 1st.

As you know, you only get 24 days in December prior to Christmas. Those 24 days are extremely important. So you might be tempted to compare December 1st to December 1st for this month to see how you are doing instead of Thursday to Thursday.

Just to show you how misleading those numbers might be...

If I compare day to day for Thursday 12/1 and Friday 12/2 to the correlating Thursday & Friday from last year (12/2/10 and 12/3/10), my sales are down 21%.

But if I compare those same days this year to 12/1 and 12/2 from last year, we are up 11%.

Being an optimist, I'm going with up. Two days down, twenty-two to go.

Keep smiling and keep making memories. Those are the numbers that really count.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS No, there really isn't a lesson in this post, unless you want to take away from it that the most important thing is to keep a positive spin on everything this time of year. There will be time to evaluate how you really did when the season is over.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Should You Still be Ordering?

My dad always said...

"There are 24 days in December before Christmas EVERY year. Make the most of those days because they are the days that count the most."

With that said, you only have a couple days left to check your inventory to make sure you have what you need to make the most of those days.

To borrow another cliche, strike while the iron is hot.

As much as you might be needed on the sales floor this weekend, take some time to check your inventory for fast movers and hot products. Make a list of the top ten items you are seeing fly off the shelf. Prioritize that list and start emailing/calling your reps right away. Get those hot movers on order and back on your shelves as soon as possible.

Don't worry about making great terms, worry about getting the products that will make your customers smile. That is your goal this time of year.

Should you still be ordering? Yes! Get the hot stuff in now. Don't worry about the rest.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The goal all year long should be to make your customers smile, but this time of year, with the increase in customers, it becomes twice as critical. Make your customers smile now and you will smile in January.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Black Friday - Good News or Spin?

The reports in the media for Black Friday have a lot of good things to say.

Sales up 7%
Traffic up 5%
More buyers, more sales, economy must be good.

But as we all know, statistics can be misleading. For instance, Black Friday used to be from 4am to 12pm - eight hours long. Now it starts at midnight or even earlier.

The Mall of America opened at midnight instead of 5am and had a 5% increase in traffic. A 71% increase in hours (from 7 hours to 12 hours) for a 5% increase in traffic. Toys R Us, Wal-Mart and Target are all touting record days, a few percentage points higher than last year. And all three of them were open anywhere from 50% to 114% more hours.

That means at least 50% more payroll, more security, more electricity than usual, all for a 7% increase in low-margin sales. Really?

Yes, really.

What you and I, as independent retailers, fail to realize is that Black Friday for the major retailers is not about traffic, sales or profits. It is all about winning the media.

Think about it.

Is it ever a good strategy to piss off your employees by making them give up a major holiday? Is it ever a good strategy to force your customers to wait in long lines for hours fighting crowds and surly employees only to get shut out because that store only got 12 items and you were number thirteen? Is it ever a good strategy to run an event that makes people pepper spray other people in your store, have fist fights in your aisles, and attract muggers to your parking lot?


...Unless your goal is to get as much FREE publicity as possible.

Go back and look at the newspapers for one week prior to Thanksgiving and see how much press was given to the deals and the hours. Then grab the papers from last weekend and see how much press was given to the events of Black Friday. Who was pictured? Who was talked about? Who got the story?

Those are the winners. And that's what Black Friday has become. A media grab. Every big retail chain wants to be New Hampshire and Iowa. What they pay in extra payroll, extra security, lost profit margin is more than made up by what they get - national media coverage.

So brace yourself. As far as the big box stores are concerned, Black "Thursday" was a rousing success. The media said so.

At least that is my spin on it:-)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS What does that mean for independents? Time to start planning for Small Business Saturday. Most of the independent retailers to whom I spoke over the weekend had better Saturdays than Fridays. We were one of those. Only the second time that has happened in the last 42 years. But I believe it will become the new norm for us. And frankly, I am okay with that. Gives me room for one more piece of pie Thursday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tell 'em What You Stand For

(title written with apologies to all my English teachers)

If you read my free eBook Understanding Your Brand, you know that I am a firm believer of being true to your Core Values and showing them off whenever and wherever you can.

The stronger you take a stand for something you believe in, the more you may be criticized. But more importantly, the more you will attract a loyal following.

Just recently I took a stand on Facebook, posting what I felt about the big-box retail stores that are opening Thanksgiving Day and what those stores must think of their staff (not much). Not surprisingly, I got a lot of love from my fans - the people who share my values. You can read what they had to say here.

What was interesting is that our local newspaper picked up on it and wrote an online story about what I wrote on Facebook. You should read the comments there.

If you want some love, take a stand for something. Those who agree will love you even more. And they will defend you against the ones who disagree. Don't worry about the ones who disagree. They weren't going to be your loyal followers anyway.

If you want to know who are your real fans, take a stand. They are the ones who have your back.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 11, 2011

How Much You Care

Just to finish up the subject of motivating your employees...

We have all heard the phrase... The customer doesn't care how much you know until she knows how much you care.

Same can be said of your staff.

You should care how they are doing. You should ask what you can do to make their job better. You should know what is going on in their lives.

I was talking to someone whose boss did not acknowledge her when her father-in-law died. Do you think she's going to the mat for him? Would you?

Care for them and they will take care of your business.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS At the very least you better celebrate their birthdays. Think about it like this. They are going to celebrate it with or without you. Better the former than the latter.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Almost As Hard As You

So your employees won't work as hard as you. But you can get them to collectively come pretty close.

We have all seen the sign that says "The floggings will continue until morale improves." Apparently Amazon still works under that philosophy (Read this article about the shocking conditions at an Amazon warehouse).

And Amazon also has extremely high staff turnover. As do most companies that treat their employees like cogs in a machine instead of like people.

Yet employee turnover is one of the most costly mistakes you can make. It takes time and money to train an employee. It takes experience for them to become great. You cannot afford to be training someone new every few months.

So the first step is to make great decisions on who you hire. I've clearly outlined how to do that in my book, Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art.

The second step involves motivation.

Daniel H. Pink, in his book Drive, talks about how people are motivated. The old carrot and stick method - do this and you'll get a reward - doesn't work any more. People want more than that.

The two most important things that motivate workers is to know that the work they are doing is valued and that it is making a difference.

You can show that to your staff easily by doing these simple things.

  • Constantly praise them for what they do right. We love to hear what we did right more than hearing what we did wrong. Sure, you need to correct the mistakes, but heap the praise for what they do right and they will do more of that.

  • Invest in their training. You show them they are valued when you constantly help them to grow and improve.

  • Teach them why. With every step of the training, with every task you ask them to do, if they can see the bigger picture of how this project fits into everything else, they will be more motivated to do the project well.

  • Have goals bigger than yourself. Align your store values with something that helps your community, whether a charitable cause or a general improvement of the quality of life and your staff will be motivated to work harder.
We want to know our contributions make a difference. Help your staff see the difference your company makes, and they will make a difference for your company.

I have 15 year-round employees. They have an average of over 10 years employment with me. They know the difference we make in the community. They know the importance of even the simplest tasks. They know when they have done a good job. And they know the next Staff Meeting will be fun, informative, and worth their while.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One more thing... If you make your employees get up at 3am Black Friday or the day after Christmas to work for you, you get what you deserve. They are people. They have families and lives. Let them enjoy as much of the holidays as they can.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

As Hard As You

"If only I can get my staff to work as hard as me, it will be a great season."

Have you said this? Heard it? Thought it?

You are not alone. Every small business owner has the dream of hiring hard working employees that do the work so you don't have to. They do the heavy lifting, you count the money.

Here is the reality check. Your staff will never work as hard as you do. Why?

They aren't the owner. They don't have a stake in the business other than a job. And they can get another one of those.

Oh, some might work that hard. You might get one or two workaholics so dedicated to your success that they work their tails off for you. But they will be the exception to the rule. Collectively your staff will probably work at about 60-70% of the level of dedication and efficiency you put forth. That is just human nature. Plus, if they were any better they would be running their own store.

The first most important point to take away is this. The more you slack off, the more your staff will do the same. If you are only giving 90%, their efforts will go down, too.

Yeah, sucks to be you.

But then again, it really doesn't. You get to control the level of effort your staff puts out. It starts with the model you put forth. Raise your own bar. Show how you are striving to get better and improve. Model the kind of behavior and effort you want through your own actions and your staff will fall in line.

Monkey see, monkey do.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There are some other ways to get your staff to perform almost as hard as you. Most importantly, treat them as human beings. I'll tell you more in the next post.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Purpose of Your Advertising

One of the best lessons Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, taught me was to look at where I get my traffic. Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. How much of my business is repeat business?

  2. How much of my business is referral business?
The remaining is the business you got from your location and your advertisements (which by now you know are one and the same - location is one of the greatest forms of advertising.)

The typical independent retailer gets most of his or her business from Repeats and Referrals. The best way to get more of that is through your customer service. WOW your customers and they will come back and bring their friends with them.

Yet much of the advertising we do is geared towards preaching to the choir, trying to get our regulars to come back. It is much cheaper to service them extremely well than to spend a lot of money advertising to them. If you feel you need to reach out to them, use Facebook and email. They are better (cheaper) for speaking to your regulars because they are one-to-one and personal.

The bulk of your advertising, however, should be focused on getting new customers. Farming. Planting seeds that will bring you a new bumper crop to harvest in the future.

Take a good look at your marketing efforts and see how much is geared towards Repeat and Referrals and how much is farming for new customers.

Take those dollars spent on the R& R and bump up your level of service. Then spend the rest on farming. You will reap the benefits.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Not sure what to say in your farming? Start by downloading my free eBook Understanding Your Brand. The people most likely to shop with you are the people who share your values. Once you identify clearly what you value most, you'll be able to reach the like-minded customers.

PPS I'm going back to see the Wizard in February. Want your world rocked? Join me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Educating the Customer

Most independent retailers fully understand the impact of a customer coming into your store, browsing all the aisles, asking questions, getting information, then walking out and buying the item online.

We know how that action, beyond killing your own business, is also eroding the local workforce, the local tax base, and the local economy. We know how our own communities are struggling to make ends meet, how police & fire departments are being gutted, how budgets for schools and education are being slashed.

We know how tough it is to pay your sales people to be a showroom for some out-of-town, faceless Internet site. It demoralizes the staff to do all that work and not get the sale. And they know that without the sale you won't be able to pay them for much longer.

We get all that.

The customer doesn't.

There are only two reasons for this. The customer doesn't know or the customer doesn't care.

The Customer Doesn't Know
One way we have failed our customers is by not letting them know the positive impact they make on our community when they shop with us. We have not educated them that they are supporting jobs in their neighborhood, they are supporting the tax base that pays for their protection and their education and they are making the community stronger when they shop local.

The best way to educate our customers is one at a time. Thank each and every customer who chooses to shop with you for making a positive impact in your community. Engage each customer with a positive message about how together you are making your town a better place to live.

If you choose to post any messages, either on your website, Facebook, in your advertisements, or in the store, make sure they are positive about all you (and they) can do to make the quality of life in your area better.

The Customer Doesn't Care
But do remember that the message, no matter how positive, will not resonate with everyone. Most of your customers are too absorbed in their own worries and cares to even give a single thought to the impact of their decisions. Don't lose sleep over them.

Just remember to always keep your message positive. A positive message may not change the mind of these customers, but a negative one will make them feel bad about your store - something you never want to do.

Most retailers get it. Most customers do not. We have a lot of work to do. Just keep it positive.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One way to make the message positive... "Thank You for Shopping Local. Today you made our city a better place to live." At its best, it will get customers to engage you in conversation. If nothing else, it will make them feel good about shopping with you. And that is always a good thing.

PPS But if you use that phrase, you better back it up. Pay your staff more than your competitors. Give more to your local non-profits. And get involved in your community. It is a two-way street after all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ripping a New Ad Part 2

Time to take another critical look at some radio ad copy. This is my ad for November...

The Toys They Play With
It wasn’t on his list. In fact, he’d never heard of it. Christmas morning, it did not get the same exclamation of joy as those other toys he thought he wanted. But when the excitement of those TV-advertised toys turned to disappointment because they barely engaged him longer than their ads, he picked up this other toy. Guess which one he’s still playing with. There are the toys on their list and the toys they play with. You know which ones we carry. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

Like before, let's break down this ad on the five points that turn okay copy into great copy. As a reminder, the five points are:

  1. Make only one point

  2. Speak to the heart

  3. Speak more of the customer than you do yourself

  4. Back up all your claims with evidence

  5. Tell a story

Make Only One Point
The point on this ad is clear. The toys we sell have more play value than the ones your kids see on TV. Those are the types of toys you should buy.

Speak to the Heart
This ad has an emotional appeal because it talks about Christmas and both the excitement and disappointment of the toys/gifts of Christmas. Telling it from the perspective of a child adds to the emotional tug. Telling a story that speaks to a fear all too familiar to many parents - getting a bunch of toys that just aren't as fun as they looked on TV - also resonates emotionally.

Speak More of the Customer Than You Do Yourself
In this ad, neither the customer nor the store dominates the copy. The boy does. Story formats, however, help the customer picture herself in the midst of that story. Therefore, this ad speaks implicitly just as often of the customer as it does the store. Informational formats should be more explicit and focus more heavily on the words you and your.

Back Up All Your Claims
The claim in this ad is that toys do not meet the expectations set up by their TV ads. In this case, you either agree with that statement and the ad resonates with you, or you disagree with that statement and therefore disagree with the premise of the ad. I am not trying to convince you of that statement. I only use the claim to define my audience. I am willing to take that polarizing stand because I know that the people who believe that statement will like what I have to offer. Those that do not, will not be interested in my ad or my business.

Tell a Story
Going back to my favorite form of advertising here. Stories beat facts every single day. We are skeptical of facts (hence the importance of backing them up). But we love stories. We are more willing to listen to a story than to hear a bunch of facts. Stories get attention. Stories move people to action. Stories make people feel. Wouldn't you like your ads to get attention, move people to action and make them feel something?

Don't let your radio ads sound like everyone else. Do and say something different.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Based on the five criteria, I gave my last ad a B. How would you rate this one?

PPS I have to give my son, Ian, credit for the inspiration for this ad. Ian told me that one of his favorite Christmas gifts was the large stuffed dog he got in 2005 that still stands guard over his bed every night. As he says... "It wasn't even on my list!"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Resume Versus Application Versus Online

You're hiring. You need applicants. What do you require those applicants to fill out?

Some have a basic paper application.
Some have a lengthy questionnaire.
Some have an online application.
Some require a resume.

While each have their merits, I am still a fan of the basic paper application.

Resumes, in my opinion, can be misleading. Supposedly they show that the potential applicant has computer skills, but how do you know they created it themselves? Plus, resumes are not standard. They don't always include all the same info.

Questionnaires can be great for weeding out the not-so-serious candidates, but might also be a barrier that keeps a great potential employee from making that first leap.

Online applications are cold and impersonal. They are faceless and give the message to the applicant that they are simply a number. Plus, there is little effort required on the part of the applicant. She doesn't even have to get out of her pajamas.

The paper application requires penmanship. If your employee has to write anything, wouldn't you love to know if you could read that writing?

The paper application reinforces or refutes education. Spelling and grammatical errors may or may not be a deal-killer, but if her education says she has a degree in English but she cannot spell "customer service", you need to be concerned about the veracity of all her claims.

The paper application shows her short-term attention to detail. Anyone can put detail into a resume. Time is not a factor. But sitting with a clipboard filling out a piece of paper shows you what she thinks is important. If she fills it out hastily and sloppily, chances are good she will work the same way.

The paper application requires completeness. If she does not fill it out completely, you can bet she will not do her job completely.

Computers are great. I love them. I use them all day long. But they cannot replace everything. Especially the amount of hidden information you get from an applicant asked to put pen to paper.

Just my opinion...

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The questionnaire makes for a great second-round application process. If there is nothing on the first application to make you say no, give them the questionnaire and see what responses you get.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Radio Ads That Don't Sound Like Ads in 30 Seconds or Less

The other day I was on a Facebook page with other toy store owners. The subject came up about writing radio ads.

My biggest advice about radio ads is to make them not sound like other radio ads. Say something unique that grabs the listener's attention and then tell a story from that. So I took a line from everyone's comments in that thread on FB and tried to make a radio ad out of it.

I'm posting them here for you to see the creative process. You can say just about anything in the opening line and craft an ad around it. The more outrageous the opening line, the more people will pay attention.

My best ad ever started with the line... "I couldn't believe it. They were taking customers into the men's bathroom!"

For your amusement and motivation, please read on... (and remember, I took a line from everyone's comments and used it for my opening - I especially like the Margarita ad)

The one investment guaranteed to pay off is your child's toys. Before you laugh, hear me out. The quality of the toys you buy is what shapes your child's ability to think and learn. And it isn't just about educational toys. It's about toys that foster creativity and imagination. Invest in those and your child will reap benefits one hundred times greater than the money you spend. Come see me at Toy House and I'll find you the best investment for your child.

Ask not what your toy can do for you, but what you can do with your toy. That's the problem with most toys. They do so much your kid rarely gets to play. Except for the toys at Toy House. We specialize in toys your kids actually play with, toys that foster their creativity and expand their minds. Don't buy toys that do, buy toys that make your kids do. Trust me, they'll thank you for it later.

We have a great Christmas party every year. The best part is that the kids are off playing, leaving us adults alone. Of course, when they get toys from Toy House there is so much more play value that they want to play with their toys. In fact, at our Valentines’ Party they're still playing with those toys. Toys for Christmas that last through Valentine's. You will find them at Toy House.

Given the current stock market roller coaster, I would tell you to invest your money in your child's toys. Buy toys that will expand his imagination. Buy toys that will spark her creativity. No matter what the economy... imagination and creativity are the two skills your kids will need to compete in the future. And you’ll find the best selection of these toys at Toy House in downtown Jackson. That's one investment guaranteed to make you smile.

I never used to have time for Margaritas. I was always busy trying to find new things for my self-proclaimed bored kids to do. Then I found Toy House. They taught me so much about how to evaluate the play value of toys. Now I buy better toys and my kids keep themselves busy. And I have time to relax with my friends sipping our favorite drink. Go to Toy House. They'll teach you everything you... and your kids... need to know.

I was so freaking uninspired. My kids never played more than a couple weeks with all of the toys I bought. I figured, I would try that little toy store down on Mechanic St. Talk about mind-blowing! They showed me how to pick toys that matched my kids skills and interests, how to find toys that had longer lasting play value. You might think being a smaller toy store, it wouldn't have what you want, but Toy House has the kind of toys my kids play with for months on end. Thanks Toy House. You rock!

It's not like buying underwear. Your kids will wear whatever you buy them (if you can get them to wear any at all). But buying toys takes a little more thought. The right toys will grow their brains and put them at the top of their classes in school. The toys that simply entertain them with asking them to do much if anything will create selfish little brats that will cause you to meet with their teachers way too often. So go to Toy House and get top of the class toys. Unlike the underwear, your kids will actually want to use these.

Have fun with your radio ads. Say something interesting and outrageous and people will pay attention. It isn't as hard as you think.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS For more on advertising, check out the Freebies section of my website. Seven FREE eBooks to help you spread the word about your wonderful business.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Customer is NOT #1

Yes, I said it. Go ahead and crucify me. But I stand behind it 100%.

The #1 person in your company is your frontline staff. You take care of them, they will take care of the customer. You don't take care of them, they won't take care of the customer. Plain and simple.

But how do you take care of them?

Salary and benefits are nice. Other perks like a parking place, uniforms, an employee lounge, are helpful. But those are simply the starting points. Even the ping pong tables and video games and perceived fun that places like Google brag about only go so far.

What your frontline employees really want is to know that they are valued and they create value for others.

In an interview Google did with its employees, what the employees valued most was, “even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.” (source)


Your staff wants to know you value them as individuals and as team members. There are three easy things you can do right now that will show your staff how much you value them.

First, invest in education and training. The more you do to help them become better employees and better people, the more you show them that they are important to you. You should be training them anyway. But are you offering continual training? Are you offering advanced training? Are you offering personal training? Are you preparing them for work above and beyond their current responsibilities? The more you invest, the more valued they will feel (and the better trained and capable they will be).

Second, listen. Listen to their concerns. Listen to their stories. Take an interest in their lives, in what motivates them. They are giving you clues every time they knock on your door and say, "Got a minute?"

Whenever possible, say YES and turn away from your computer, your catalog, your phone. Give them exclusive one-on-one time where they have your complete, undivided attention. Your body language alone sends a powerful message that you value them as an individual.

Third, praise them. People love to be praised. People love to be told they did something right. Our favorite word to hear is our own name spoken lovingly. When someone does something well, praise them openly and in front of others. Not only will they continue to do well, the other staff will raise their own game in an effort to get that same praise.

Do those three things and your frontline staff will feel valued. Only then will they be able to make your customers feel valued, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There is a great book on motivation called Drive by Daniel H. Pink. I highly recommend you read it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Community Involvement Pays Off

You have already been asked to sponsor seven walks, three golf outings, two spaghetti dinners, a pancake breakfast, and forty-five silent auctions.

Every non-profit thinks your pockets are lined with gold.

And they all promise the same thing. "We'll put your logo on our t-shirt. Thousands of people will see you."

Yeah, right.

The only people who see the logo on a charity event t-shirt are other charity event planners looking for potential suckers, I mean, sponsors. No one has ever made a purchasing decision because of a logo she saw on a t-shirt.

But that does not mean you should not be involved in the community and involved in helping out your local non-profits. You HAVE to get involved. If you do not support your local charities then you cannot call yourself a local store.

Here are two ways you can be involved in your community, support local non-profits, and still remain profitable.

First, give out gift certificates freely. For any local non-profit fundraising event, offer a $20 gift card. You are not out anything unless the card is redeemed and most customers will spend more than the amount of the gift card. Think of it as a customer-acquisition expense. It makes the non-profit feel supported and it gets your name out there in a way that guarantees you some return on your investment.

Second, for those groups who want money, not gift cards, hold a special day just for them. Tell them to pick a day that they can promote to all their followers. On that day you promise to donate to them 5% of whatever sales they bring you. Now the burden is on them to advertise your business for you. Yet look at what you get...

  • Publicity for doing something good for the non-profit.

  • A fixed return on your charitable donation.

  • Exposure to a whole new group of people.

  • Stature as a community supporter.
We have done this for different groups for a number of years. It is always a feel-good day, which gives an added benefit to your staff. They get fired up about it, too.

So get involved in your community. They need you and you need them. Pat their back. They will pat yours in return.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You can even have multiple non-profits on the same day. Our DDA is doing that with all the downtown businesses on Saturday, November 19 (National America Unchained Day) with fifty non-profits signed up.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

One at a Time

I was on a bus full of rowdy kids with a brand new leader sitting in the front seat. In a voice slightly above a whisper, the leader said, "If you can hear my voice, touch your nose with your thumb."

About five kids nearby put their thumbs on their noses.

Then, with the same voice she said, "If you can hear my voice, put your palm on your cheek." Another half dozen kids joined the first group.

Then, with a normal voice she said, "If you can hear my voice, clap your hands twice." About two-thirds of the bus clapped their hands twice. A few seconds later every voice on the bus went quiet and every child was paying attention.

She never once raised her voice. She never yelled, never cajoled, never forced anyone into being quiet. Instead she invited the kids into her world a few kids at a time. As some kids joined, more kids became interested. In no time at all, she had everyone's rapt attention.

Marketing works the same way.

You can yell and scream and force all the people into listening to your message. They might listen, but they will not hear. As soon as you are done yelling they will go back to what they were doing.

Or you can speak quietly to those closest to you and invite them in. Get them to commit and they will help you get others interested.

The lesson here is easy. First sell to your fans, your VIC's (very important customers). Speak to your current customers. Invite them in. Make them feel special. They will get other people interested in you.

It is a slower growth, but a far better return.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I'm talking about Word of Mouth. You do not get that just by being good. You have to give your customers something to talk about. First check out this free eBook - Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget. There is a wonderful explanation of the four ways to generate word-of-mouth. Then download the free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW! to see how you can raise your service to a talk-worthy level.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Example of WOW!

My wife was shoe-shopping. A friend told her to try this shoe store at the mall. You all know the kind of service found in a mall chain store, right?

Be amazed.

The sales clerk happened to also be the manager. He was thoughtful, engaged, knowledgeable (all words my wife used to describe him). He asked questions, listened to her, brought her shoes that matched her needs. All the things you expect a good salesperson to do, and especially the manager.

Here's the clincher...

While she was deciding whether or not to make a purchase, he picked up the shoes she had worn in and washed them.

He cleaned her old shoes. No expectations on his part, he simply picked up her old shoes and washed them with a special cloth. She was not yet decided on making a purchase, but that definitely closed the sale. Yeah, she's talking about this experience to everyone she knows. Totally unexpected service that costs the store almost nothing, but buys the store a ton of advertising.

That is WOW!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you are a jewelry store you should be cleaning the rings of every customer who walks through the door. If you are a stroller store you should be lubricating every squeaky wheel. If you are a store that caters to moms and babies you should have a fully-stocked changing station. What unexpected simple little nicety can you offer?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Busy Season

As a toy retailer everyone expects that my busy season is December. They would be wrong.

December is the store's busy season. My busy season is right now. Here is my October To-Do List:

  • Place all my orders for product I expect to sell in December. If I wait too much longer, many of the best items will already be sold out.

  • Hire and train my seasonal staff. This involves writing and placing ads to attract applicants, weeding through all of the applications, scheduling and doing interviews, doing background and reference checks, setting up a training schedule, updating the employee handbook, and doing the actual training. It also includes refresher courses for the regular staff.

  • Place orders for all selling supplies. I need to make sure I have plenty of bags, giftwrap, price tags, receipt paper, toilet paper, paper towels, layaway string, tape, etc. to get through the holidays. Do it now or forget and not have it when you need it.

  • Prepare my marketing campaign. I need to write/create/produce/schedule all of our marketing for November and December. This includes promotional events like Neighborhood Toy Store Day, the Downtown Christmas Parade, Discover Downtown Again Day, and the Toys for Tots Breakfast. This also includes writing radio ads and planning a Facebook campaign.

  • Carefully plot out cash flow. The money rolls in during December. The money rolls out during October and November as we stock up for the holidays. That means I have to pay close attention to every penny I spend.

  • Clean up. The entire store needs a fresh and thorough dusting. Displays need to be upgraded or moved out. Merchandising needs to be plotted and planned for all the new products coming in.
Yes, my busy season is right now. After I accomplish all those things over the next few weeks I'll have plenty of free time in December to do what I do best - sell toys.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I wrote this list as much for MY benefit as for YOURS. For me, it is a reminder to stay focused on the tasks at hand. For you it is a reminder of all the things you need to do to make this the most successful selling season ever.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Being an Expert is Easy, Sharing is (not) Hard

You already are an expert.

According to the famous physicist, Neils Bohr, "An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field."

I take a more liberal approach.

An expert is someone who knows more than me on a given topic.

Most of your customers would agree. If you know more about a topic than they do, you are an expert to them. If it is a topic of which they would like to learn more, they will seek you out.

So accept the fact that you are an expert. The next step is to learn to share that expertise.

Here is a three-step process for learning how to share your expertise well:

  1. Boil down your ideas into two or three main points. Make them simple points that are easy to remember. Label each point with some catchy phrase or title.

  2. Find evidence to support each point. Reports, quotes, examples and especially anecdotes all work well for this.

  3. Choose products you sell to help make your points. Your products bring the points closer to home, help establish your position as the expert (you are walking the walk), and connect your expertise to your store.
Once you have done those three things, you can then choose the platform(s) you wish to use to share. Here are just some options you can use:

  • Facebook - The plus side is that you can use pictures, the downside is that you have to be brief and to the point.

  • Email Newsletters - A little more room to make your point.

  • Your Website - Give yourself a page on yor website just for sharing your expertise. It helps brand you as the expert in your field for your locals, and helps build trust with non-locals who have never heard of you till they clicked you in a search.

  • A Blog - Wordpress and Google have blogs you can set up for free in seconds.

  • Youtube - Another free service, you can even post your videos to Facebook, your website and your blog.

  • Press Releases - Pass your information along to journalists and bloggers. Let them promote your expertise.

  • Speaking Engagements - Your local service groups (Lions Club, Rotary, Exchange Club, Kiwanis, etc) are always looking for speakers. Plus, most towns have women's clubs, mother's clubs, networking clubs, etc.

  • Classes in your store - Probably the easiest of all. Clear out a space in the store. Announce the topic and time. Share.
There are plenty of opportunities to share what you know. And share, you must. Sharing builds trust with your customers. Sharing makes your customers smarter and more loyal. Sharing creates opportunities to reach out to potential new customers.

Be the expert you already are. Be it willingly and generously. To paraphrase Carl Rogers, Who you are is good enough, if only you would be it openly.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Afraid to speak in public? Start simple. Practice your presentations by first giving them to your staff - a friendly crowd. First, you empower them with that knowledge so they can be experts, too. Second, they will be forgiving of your mistakes, but also quick to point them out, which will help you improve. Third, because of the familiarity, you will be less nervous.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Is Your Staff Laughing?

Laughter truly is the best medicine.

Laughter decreases stress hormones.
Laughter decreases the risk for heart disease.
Laughter oxygenates the cells and helps fight cancer.
Laughter boosts serotonin levels which helps your mood.
Laughter releases interleukins that boost your immune system.
Laughter releases endorphins that can even cause temporary pain relief.
Laughter works your core muscles, which promotes better spinal alignment.

Laughter also strengthens relationships. Someone who is laughing and smiling immediately looks more "attractive". The key part of that phrase is "attract". Smiles and laughter "attract" other people. You know this. You would much rather approach a person who is smiling than someone who is frowning.

Laughter opens the mind, too. People who laugh are more willing to listen, more willing to see things from other points of view, more willing to engage with other people.

So to recap... People who laugh are healthier, happier, more attractive, more engaging and more approachable. People who laugh are more open-minded and listen better.

Sound like the perfect sales staff?

Encourage and foster laughing in your staff and not only will they see benefits, so will your business.

We have three rules of laughter on the sales floor.

  1. Laughter has to be inclusive. If you are laughing at instead of with, then it has to stop.

  2. There are no inside jokes. If it isn't funny to everyone, it doesn't belong on the sales floor.

  3. Appropriate laughter should be encouraged at all times.
Not only is laughter good, it fits into our Core Value of Having Fun and our mission - We're here to make you smile.

So I leave you with this one final thought...

There was a captain sailing on the sea during a battle. His servant came up to him and the captain said, "Bring me my red shirt."

So, the servant did as the captain said.

After the battle the servant came up to the captain and said, "Why did you say bring me my red shirt?"

The captain said, "Well if I got shot the crew wouldn't see the blood and be demoralized."

The next day the servant came up to the captain and said, "There are 50 ships on the horizon."

The captain said, "Bring me my brown pants."

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One way to encourage laughter is to play. Have game nights with your staff or join a sports league like softball or bowling. Another way is to have a joke session at your next meeting. Whatever it takes, set up a culture where appropriate laughter is the norm.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Driving Traffic to Your Site (SEO)

I had a local entrepreneur contact me about her website. When she launched she was getting regular sales. But she hasn't had a sniff in months. She thought maybe something was wrong with her site and asked me to take a look.

She sells Made in Michigan, lead-free, lightweight, high-quality, reusable shopping bags, something worth a look for stores like ours. Check out her site, It will be helpful in understanding the rest of this post. (Full disclosure - nothing to disclose. I am not promoting her site or products, did not know her other than as a customer before she approached me, this is purely for educational purposes, but if you like what she's selling, by all means, buy it.)

I took a look at her site and did not see anything inherently wrong with it. But I am not the best judge of that. I do not shop much online, prefer to buy local whenever possible. So I ask you to check it out and tell me what you see that could be done better.

Her biggest problem, however, is one we all face.

I Googled her product category "Reusable Shopping Bags". Thirty five pages deep, I gave up. She was nowhere to be found.

So I gave her the following list of things to do to raise her site in the rankings of Google and other search engines...

1) Make sure you have good keywords and metatags. Whoever designed your website should know what I mean. Basically, you want to have the key phrases people might use to search for your product in the keywords and metatags (behind the scenes) parts of you website.

2) Get some "link love". The more that other websites link to you, the higher your site will rise in Google's eyes.

Ways to get links include asking your friends/customers who have websites to put your logo and a link on their sites. Also, you can launch a Facebook Page, a Google Places Page, a Yelp Page, etc. If you have a profile on LinkedIn or any other type site, make sure your website is referenced there.

Another way to get links is to comment on blogs and articles online. Run a search on all the articles on lead in shopping bags and write a quick comment like "That's why I decided to make and market some Michigan-made, lead-free, reusable shopping bags." Find the bloggers who are writing about this and make comments on their blogs, too.

3) Consider starting your own blog. You can get free blog sites from blogspot and wordpress. It takes time, but you can grow a following. Simply write quick, short, one-paragraph reminders of why using reusable bags is so good. Have links to other articles. Have photos and video. And make sure each post links back to your site.

4) Do a youtube video of the bag and why it is so cool. Most smartphones have video so making a video is easy. It doesn't have to be polished, just has to be clear and informative. Post it on youtube (free), link to it from your Facebook page and website. Email it to friends and clients and ask them to share.

5) Find yourself in the Google Search and "+1" your listing (click on the little box next to your listing and get all your friends to do the same). This is tedious because you may have to search through dozens of pages of Google Search before finding yourself. But if you and 5 friends each do this on their computers, it will make a difference.

All of the above will simply cost you time, not money. If you want to spend some money, consider Google Adwords. You can drive a lot of traffic that way, but you have to convert a large portion of your visitors to be worth it.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I know there are some savvy SEO gurus out there who read this blog. Did I hit the mark? Anything I missed that she could do? Anything with which you patently disagree? Your comments will help all of us grow.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Lesson From Steve Jobs

My son is thirteen. He downloads Apple iPod/iPad/iPhone manuals for "light reading". His favorite thing at the library is the latest edition of Mac World Magazine. His email address is applenerd@_ _ _. This past summer he taught the teachers in his school district how to use their shiny new iPads. We drove him and his brother to Ann Arbor (40 miles away) four days in one week so that they could attend "Apple Camp" at the Apple Store in Briarwood Mall.

Yesterday's news was tough in our household.

Many bloggers will be reminiscing about Steve Jobs and what he did at Apple. Here are two things we, as retailers, can take away.

First, the whole concept of Apple Camp is brilliant. Invite a group of people to come to your store multiple times over a one week period and do a continuous activity with them. Imagine having a dozen of your best customers stopping by at 4pm every day to do an activity you planned for them. Your cost would be minimal - some supplies, a little bit of marketing, time from a staff member. Your benefits would be HUGE. Every single attendee would become an instant evangelist singing your praises far and wide.

Give your customers something to talk about and they will talk about it. Apple Camp is what solidified my child as a lifelong fan of Apple.

Second, the Genius Bar is absolute genius. Most of your customers are coming to you because of trust. One way you gain that trust is through information. Apple, by creating the Genius Bar, made it clear that not only did they have people with the information, those people were available purely for the job of passing along that information.

Two great aspects of retail that Apple did right and we all can emulate. Thanks, Steve!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, you can hold a camp. You are an expert in your field. You know more about your products than your customers do. Figure out a fun way to share that information. If you are a toy store, have toy demonstrations or game nights or puppet shows or dress-up fashion runways. If you are a jewelry store, have a class on gemstones or precious metals. If you are an auto parts store, teach people how to change their wiper blades or even their oil. If you are a clothing store, have an event around Fashion Week in NY. The ideas are endless.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ripping a New Ad

I just recorded my October radio ad. Here is the ad copy...

They gave up on you. They dropped layaway. They dropped a friendly knowledgeable sales staff. They even dropped classic toys like wooden building blocks. Oh, sure, they brought back layaway, but only for a fee. Our layaway is still free. So is our giftwrapping. And with over five times as many toys as any of our local competitors, why would you shop anywhere else? We’ve always been here for you. Toy House and Baby Too in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

There are five things that turn okay ads into great ads.

  1. Make only one point

  2. Speak to the heart of the customer

  3. Speak more of the customer than you do of yourself

  4. Back up all your claims with evidence

  5. Tell a story
Let's break this ad down and see how it does...

Make Only One Point
This ad is what is known as a contrast ad, designed to contrast one business with another. In this case I use multiple examples to make the point that they don't care about you, we do. I open with that point - They gave up on you - and close with that point - We've always been here for you. This message is consistent with our Character Diamond, focusing on the core value HELPFUL.

Speak to the Heart
On this I could have done better. Contrast ads, however, are about information more than emotion. Still, for effect I added emotion into the line, Oh sure, they brought back layaway, but only for a fee. Sometimes emotion is in how you read it as much as in what you say.

Speak More of the Customer
Here is the same copy but with the key words highlighted...

They gave up on you. They dropped layaway. They dropped a friendly knowledgeable sales staff. They even dropped classic toys like wooden building blocks. Oh, sure, they brought back layaway, but only for a fee. Our layaway is still free. So is our giftwrapping. And with over five times as many toys as any of our local competitors, why would you shop anywhere else? We’ve always been here for you. Toy House and Baby Too in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

On this point I did not do well. Spoke of myself six times and the customer four times (and the competitor five times). How could I have spoken more of the customer? Hint: each of the "They" sentences could have included a "you". Oh sure, they brought back layaway for you, but only if you pay a fee.

Back Up Your Claims
My big claim is that they gave up on you. To support that claim I point out how they dropped layaway and only brought it back with a fee. I also point out how they stopped carrying certain toys.

The only unsupported claim I made was about the friendly, knowledgeable staff. This point is a matter of opinion. Without evidence to back that up I am taking a risk that people will not believe my ad. Those people who believe my competitors do offer great service will dismiss my ad.

In this case I am banking on two things. First, that most people generally believe that my competitors have lousy customer service. This is called assumptive reasoning. Second, that because I backed up my main point, people will believe this secondary claim.

Note: The final claim I make - that we carry five times as many toys - is also not backed up by evidence. But mainly because the evidence is in the store. No one would expect me to count it all for them on the air. But since I give a specific number like five as opposed to saying "way more" or "much more" the claim is more believable. Listeners expect that I have done the math before making a claim like that. And I have. It is true.

Tell a Story
Stories are powerful. Many of my radio ads paint mental pictures for the listener. The mental image for this ad is how my competitors are giving up services while we still have them. Although not as powerful of an emotional story as I have written before, this ad is a good alternative because contrast helps lay the foundation for making future stories believable.

Here is an ad I wrote with a much more powerful story...

You do not have to be a fantastic copywriter to write quality ad copy. Just stick to the five points above and your ads will resonate far better than the boring look at me ads most stores run.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I gave myself a B for this ad. But it is also part of the bigger picture. Sometimes I use certain ad styles today to set up ads for tomorrow. When you have a long horizon view, a long timeline for your business, you will make different decisions than if you only worry about the here and now.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Is Somebody Trying to Screw You?

You think your return policy is quite liberal. Somebody still tries to take advantage of you.
You think your layaway policy is quite liberal. Somebody still tries to take advantage of you.
You think your giftwrapping policy is quite liberal. Somebody still tries to take advantage of you.

No matter what wonderful, friendly, customer-oriented, liberally-applied service you offer, there is always that one customer who will try to take advantage of it and you. Don't take it personally. It isn't you, it is her. She does that with everyone. She always pushes the boundary.

There are two ways to deal with her.

Either tighten up your policies so restrictive and enforce them so tough that she stops doing business with you altogether. Or simply allow her to do what she wants and chalk it up to the cost of doing business.

The first way, however, doesn't solve the problem. The tighter your policies and the tougher you enforce them, the more boundary pushers you will have. Since these customers are a real pain the neck for your staff, all you accomplish is to upset more people including your front line workers who are the face of your business.

The second way is much better. First understand that the vast majority of your customers are not out to screw you. They love you. The few who actually take advantage of you are exactly that - a few. Embrace them. Love them. Shower them with affection for being customers and you very well might even convert them into partners who work for the mutual benefit of both of you.

Plus, when you make your policies so liberal that it is almost impossible for someone to try to take advantage of you, you eliminate much of the negative feelings your staff might have towards certain customers, feelings, by the way, that can be felt by everyone in the store.

Make your policies liberal, then make them even more liberal. Do you allow returns? Instead of 30 or 60 days, give them a year to change their mind. Give them a store credit if they don't have a receipt. We once took back a large boxed item that had our competitor's sticker on it. It was a product I knew I would sell quickly so it was a win-win. The customer was happy and I was, too.

Then empower your staff to make your customers smile by breaking the rules whenever possible. It makes your staff feel more important, makes them happier, too.

Most of your customers will have a receipt, will be in quickly, will not give you any hassles - no matter how you determine your return policy. So make your policy over-the-top liberal and you make everyone happy - except maybe the gal who really did want to screw you.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This goes for return policies, but also any policy you might have. Make it in the favor of the customer. Make it as easy for her to understand and use as you possibly can. The more restrictions and disclaimers, the more it turns her off. More than likely she will never use the most liberal part of that policy. But both she and your staff will be happier when you gladly give so much leeway.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stay the Course

I sailed for the University of Michigan club sailing team. Finished 4th in the nation in the fall of 1986 in a windy National Sloop Regatta on Lake St. Clair outside of Detroit. Winds of 30 knots shifting and changing.

The Naval Academy won that event.

I wasn't a very good captain. My specialty was boat speed. I knew how to sail fast. With every shift in the wind I would shift to maintain optimum boat speed, regardless of direction. That was our downfall.

The Naval Academy team focused on direction, adjusting the sails to meet the changes in the wind, but always keeping their eyes on the prize.

My boat was faster. They won the race.

Retail can be a lot like sailboat racing. If you go chasing every fad (every wind shift), you might be moving fast, but not necessarily towards your goal. You'll feel the wind whipping in your face and everything will feel good. But the ultimate destination remains far away.

Understand that to reach your goal you will have to make adjustments, but don't throw your whole strategy overboard on a whim. You might not be traveling as fast as someone else, but as long as you're heading in the right direction, you will get there.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you don't have a direction, check out this free eBook on branding: Understanding Your Brand. Once you know your core values, just choose one of those values and be the leader in your industry in that value.

Friday, September 30, 2011

You Get What You Ask For

Many of you are putting out classified ads looking for help that read like this...

Help Wanted: Seasonal employees needed. Apply in person at The Store.

Short, sweet, and cheap.

How do you think your application pool would change if your classified looked like this?

Help Wanted: Are you a friendly person who loves to help others? Would you like to work in a challenging environment where your greatest reward is solving problems for other people and making them feel good? Are you a person who will work flexible hours including nights and weekends? Do you have high energy no matter what time of day? We want to see your smiling face in our store. Stop in The Store and fill out our application by next Friday. We need friendly, helpful, caring, flexible people who can make our customers happy.

Sure, it costs a whole lot more. But you get what you pay for. The first ad will get everyone looking for a job (which is quite a bunch of people). The second ad will only get those people who read that description and see themselves in that role. The ad becomes an automatic filter for you, weeding out many of the undesirables.

Plus, that second ad might get the interest of someone who never knew she was perfectly suited to work for you. She would have ignored the first ad.

When it comes to classifieds, you get what you pay for. More importantly, you get what you ask for. So ask for exactly what you want. It is worth paying a little more.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The second ad also gets attention for your business. Someone might read that ad and even though the job is not for them, the description of the position gets them thinking, "Yeah, I'd like to shop somewhere that hires people like that."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fifty Cent Words are a Dime a Dozen

I got this email the other day. Here it is verbatim...

Hi Phil,
May I send you information regarding an upcoming thought leadership summit focused on data driven decision making, integrated business planning and leveraging business analytics?


I don't know about you, but that looks like a bunch of business book vomit to me. A "thought leadership summit"? (who is thinking about what?) "Integrated business planning"? (integrated with whom?) "Leveraging business analytics"? (what analytics from where?)

Even if it was from a company I recognized and trusted, I still might not attend because I would feel left out from the beginning because I don't even know what those phrases mean. I don't want to go where I will feel like a fool.

Your customers are the same way. They will not go where they feel foolish, either. Do not use words or phrases in your marketing, on the phone or in person that might make them feel that way.

Every industry has big words specific to that industry. But do not assume that your customers understand all those words. Whenever possible, use simple words that make the same point without making the customer feel foolish. Your customers will be more trusting, more comfortable, and more likely to act.

Hi Phil,

Can I send you an invitation to a meeting of business owners who want to learn new ways to look at data to make their businesses more profitable?


Alex, I would have allowed you to send me an invitation if you had written your request that way.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One of my favorite Ernest Hemingway quotes... “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Make One Point

As you prepare your advertising for the holiday season, here is one thing you can do to make your campaign work better.

Make only one point in your ad.

That's it. One point. No more.

The truth is, most people will neither hear nor see your ad. They are so bombarded with advertising that they have tuned you out. Those that do hear or see it will be distracted by life so they will not be paying much attention because, frankly, your ad just isn't that important to them either. The remaining few who actually do hear or see your ad and give it the minimal amount of attention will be lucky to remember one point. Which point do you really want them to remember?

Say too much and there is a good chance they will remember nothing or at the most, the wrong thing.

Pick the one most important point you want people to remember and say that. Nothing else. Your ads will be more memorable, and you will get your point across more clearly.

Did I make that clear enough?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Don't know what point to make? Check out my free eBook on branding Understanding Your Brand. Then download the worksheets. You'll know what point to make soon enough.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Customer is in Front of You

I just got back from the All Baby & Child Expo in Louisville, KY. This is the big show for the baby products industry. Thousands of vendors, thousands of buyers, millions of square feet of showroom space.

This was the first time the show had been anywhere other than Las Vegas. Louisville was a big risk. A little harder to get there for those flying. Not the same level of entertainment options. Not the same international cache. Add in the not-quite-stellar economy and the buzz was...

Would there be good attendance?

Apparently not. I lost count how many times I had to listen to vendors complain how the lack of attendees was hurting their business and it was all the fault of the board of directors choosing this location.

Fortunately, I also heard from a fair number of vendors who were having an awesome show, meeting new people, opening new accounts, writing serious orders. It wasn't Vegas, but it was business, and they were doing it.

The difference? Attitude.

At one point, after listening to a lengthy rant about the show location and poor turnout, I looked at the person across the table and said rather indignantly, "I'm here and I'm writing an order. I don't care about all that other crap."

The point is that you can complain about the lack of customers for your business or you can embrace the customers that do show up. Complaining will not drive a single extra person through the doors. In fact, it will drive the few customers you have away. But if you focus on the positives of having a customer in front of you, she will bring you more business.

That is true at both trade shows and retail stores. We like to do business with happy, friendly people. Period. Keep your complaints to yourself.

When the attendance/traffic is not there, you have to maximize the business you do with the customers you have. You do that by being positive and upbeat. You do that by being friendly and helpful. You do that by making sure you focus on the customer in front of you. Make her feel special and welcome. Transfer confidence to her that your since your attitude is good, your business must be good, too.

Yeah, Retail 101. Amazing this past weekend how many people did not get it.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Is it any wonder that the people with the best attitude were having the best show? Your attitude is everything. You set the tone for your employees and your business. Make sure you put your best foot forward every day.