Friday, February 25, 2011

The Weatherman's Curse

Once again the storm wasn't what we expected. Depending on your source, we braced for 3, 4, 5 or even 6 inches of snow last night.

At best I shoveled an inch and a half off the drive before heading to work this morning

My boys were devastated. They had already put their brains into "snow day" mode. Right now they hate weathermen (as do all their teachers who have rooms full of snow day kids).

The poor weatherman has over-promised and under-delivered once again.

Fortunately for him, however, he gets to keep his job. We don't often get that second chance.

Mistakes Happen
If you have a retail store it happens. You will over-promise and under-deliver. Maybe it is a special order that didn't arrive in a timely fashion. Maybe it is a product that wasn't as advertised. Maybe it was a bad day for one of your employees and the great customer service you advertise wasn't there.

How do you handle those moments?

I think the best thing to do is say, "I'm sorry. We made a mistake."

No matter whose fault it is, no matter that you did everything right but your vendor failed you, your shipping company goofed, or your employee was totally misunderstood, it is still your mistake. So own it.

The customer doesn't care about all that other stuff, the excuses. She put her trust in you and you failed her. So say you're sorry, admit you made a mistake, then go about trying to fix it. That's all she wants.
  • An apology
  • An admission of guilt
  • A solution
Give her those three things and I promise you the sun will come up tomorrow. Heck, I'm certain of it. My weatherman told me it would.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Short Term Pain for Long Term Gain

What sacrifice are you willing to make today to help you succeed tomorrow?

At some point this spring I am having surgery to correct some physical abnormalities that will have a profound impact on my health going forward. The procedure is not fun, and the recovery is worse. Two weeks of excruciating pain followed by two more weeks of slow recovery, followed by 4 months of getting used to the new me.

I spent most of last night reading reports online of how bad those first two weeks are, a true living nightmare by everyone who experienced it. Yeah, it's scary.

But what is two weeks compared to 6 decades?

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has proposed sweeping changes in the business tax structure in Michigan. In the short term, it's going to hurt. But it is necessary to the long term health of the State.

I just posed the same scenario to one of my major vendors. I showed them how their current practices, while profitable now, would hurt them long term and gave them some suggestions on how to fix those problems. The fix will hurt them short term. But it won't hurt nearly as much as going out of business will.

You have this problem in your business, too. There is a change you need to make. You don't want to, because you know it's going to hurt in the short term.

But ask yourself this question... How long do you want to be in business?

Kinda puts it all into perspective, doesn't it?

Go ahead and make the changes you need to make. You already know how it's going to work out in the long run. You'll get done. Everything will be okay. And you'll wish you had done it a whole lot earlier.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Finding Help in Strange Places

Yesterday my wife had seven friends over for "Healthy Group". Eight women around a table talking about vitamins, allergies, hormones and health care. Sharing stories, articles and anecdotes about the latest findings in the worlds of regular and alternative medicine.

None of them are doctors (although I think one of them stayed at a Holiday Inn Express recently) and none of them think they are the be-all-know-all expert when it comes to this stuff. But together they are learning at a rate far greater than they could all by themselves.

There is strength in numbers, especially when everyone is looking out for each other.

Tomorrow I'll be heading to the International Toy Fair to see all the new toys for 2011. I'll also be meeting up with a bunch of fellow toy store owners to "talk shop". Those informal gatherings are every bit as valuable as the trade show. I've learned more about running a retail business in those get togethers than I could ever learn in a book.

We are all in the same boat so we are all looking out for each other.

The students of the Jackson Retail Success Academy are forming bonds with each other, and already sharing their own ideas or thoughts on the class work and how it applies to each unique situation.

The shared experience of taking this class will make them look out for each other.

Too many times I see retailers miss out on these opportunities, these chances to hang out with other retailers, other people who share their concerns. Either they say they are too busy to meet with others, or they say that no one can fully relate to them and their problems.

Sometimes it is the person who can relate the least to your problems that can give you the clearest insight. Sometimes it is the simple task of setting aside time for these activities that you learn better organizational skills or set different priorities that will help you farther down the road. Sometimes it takes a little kick in the butt to get going.

Here's your little kick in the butt. Go find a group of people who can share in your journey and help you grow while you help them. See if your chamber of commerce has a group, or your industry, or just go knocking on some neighbor retailers' doors. You might be surprised to find there are many more like you out there thirsting for knowledge.

Most of all, don't be a martyr. Don't try to succeed at retail alone. Not only is it easier with friends, it's a lot more fun!


PS If you need something to kickstart the conversation, download one of my Free eBooks and get everyone's opinions on the topic (and be sure to tell me what they thought).

Friday, February 4, 2011

What Kind of Store are You?

Last summer LEGO made a decision to stop selling their architectural series of LEGO sets to toy stores. They believed that the product didn't belong in toy stores like mine, that it was only appropriate for certain stores. Specifically in their words...

...appropriate distribution channels include the categories of gifts, souvenirs, museums, specialty bookstores, collectibles, art, architecture, tourist and visitor centers, hotel gift shops, transportation centers, college/university union centers, science centers, specialty gift and specialty department stores.

Knowing that I fit under a number of those channels, I sent the following to LEGO.

What Kind of Store Are You?
I am a Science Center - I sell science kits and teach science concepts all the time.

I am a Specialty Bookstore - I sell more children's books than some bookstores in my area sell all their titles combined.

I am a Specialty Gift Store - Most every single sale in my store is a gift for someone

I am a Specialty Department Store - Furniture, baby products, clothing, crafts, science, sporting goods, construction, role play, education are just some of the departments in my store

I am a Tourist Center - Families who come to Jackson, Michigan typically make sure to visit two places - our store and the local ice cream parlor. Over half of our mailing list are people who reside outside of our metro area's zip codes.

I am a Museum - The store has been around for 61 years. We carry many items considered to be "classics" or "historical". Even our building and signs are considered "historical".

I am a Collectibles Store - Hot Wheels, Barbies, Madame Alexander Dolls, Star Wars, GI Joe's, Webkins, Beanie Babies - have there been any hotter collectibles in the past 3 decades?

I am a Transportation Center - I sell wagons, strollers, bikes, trikes, scooters, skateboards and other forms of transportation. I have a river, a railroad, a street, and a walkway adjacent to my property, and many people use my parking lot to access all four.

I am a Souvenir Store - Many of the items I sell are held onto purely for nostalgic reasons.

I am an Architecture Store - I sell many items including books and kits for learning about construction techniques and for building architectural structures from bridges to houses to castles to historical buildings.

I am an Art Store - I sell art supplies. I sell art and decorations.

I am an Education Center - I sell items to teachers and students alike to assist in education such as project kits for school projects (including the exact same items found in science centers), teaching aides, and modeling kits (including clay, wood, metal and plastic materials used for building whatever the teacher requests). I work with preschools, elementary schools, secondary schools and colleges.

I am a Hobby Store - I cater to hobbyists who build models of classic structures such as cars, planes, boats and even buildings.

I am a Toy Store - I sell toys that encourage creativity, toys that spur on the imagination, toys that teach, inspire and help people to grow - yes, people. My toys are for ages 1 to 101. I sell toys for tots, teenagers and twenty-somethings. I sell toys for infants, adolescents, and adults.

I am a LEGO Store - I sell virtually everything LEGO that I can get my hands on because my customers expect me to have those items. They expect me to be able to get them anything from LEGO they want. They expect me to have new and unique LEGO items. They expect me to have off-the-beaten-path LEGO items. They expect me to be current with everything LEGO. They don't care about categories of distribution. They just want to find their LEGO at a store that is convenient, friendly and takes good care of them.

Redefining Your Greatness
Yeah, I probably could have added another dozen definitions - Smile Store, Psychology Center, Daycare, Meeting Center, Problem Solver... What about you? What kind of store are you? Might you be defining your business (your box) too small?

Do this exercise. Using criteria similar to what I did with LEGO, see how many ways you can define your store. You just might find a niche you haven't been using to your advantage.


PS Still waiting to hear their decision - hopefully at Toy Fair next week.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Neighborhood Kids Causing Trouble? Involve Them in Your Business

My grandfather served on the USS Arkansas Battleship in WWII. Fought at D-Day and Okinawa. Shortly after the war, with three kids and nowhere in town to go for toys, he opened our store.

The original Toy House was not in the best shopping location, but rent was cheap on the edge of downtown near the residential neighborhoods.

One of his friends told him, "Phil, you're crazy for going there. The neighborhood kids will vandalize the heck out of your store... when they're not in shoplifting you blind."

Oh, my grandfather was crazy. Crazy like a fox.

Every morning he raised the flag outside the store. Every evening he lowered the flag. And he did it with all the pride and honor of a decorated WWII veteran. Oh yeah, and he included all the neighborhood kids in the routine. Taught them how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, how to stand at attention and salute, how to fold the flag and pay it respect. Showed them how to raise the flag quickly and lower it slowly. A true adolescent color guard.

At first there were a couple kids involved. Then a few of their friends joined in. Pretty soon it was a small crowd of young patriots standing at attention with their hands over the hearts.

Vandalism? Never a problem. Shoplifting? Are you kidding? He had an army of young men that took pride in the success of Toy House. No one was going to hurt the store on their watch.

How are you reaching out to your community and getting them to stand behind your store?