Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It Took a Surgery to Learn This

My wife has been harping on me about this for 18 years.

"The store is too big," she says.

"Your plate is too full," she says.

"There are other people who can do that," she says.

You know what? She's right!

I used to think I was pretty good at delegating. My father? Not so. He didn't like to teach so he would rather do it himself. I like to teach, so therefore I teach it and delegate it.

Or so I thought...

The Staff is Capable
But over the past two weeks, while I sat at home recovering from surgery, I finally had a revelation. I have an extremely talented staff capable of far more than the responsibilities I have given them so far.

Not only did they keep the store running smoothly, they came up with some ideas on how to do things better. Not only did they keep the customers happy, they came up with ideas to draw in more customers. Not only did they step up when I needed them, they showed that their potential is still miles higher.

I need to give them more to do.

The Toughest Part
But let's face it. Delegation is hard. You know the excuses...

  • They won't care as much as me

  • They aren't as skilled, experienced, talented (insert your own adjective here) as me

  • It will take me longer to teach them than to do it myself
And still you're paying them to work for you. So make them work for you.

Maybe they won't care as much as you. What may surprise you is when you give them ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of a project they will care a lot more than you expect.

Maybe they aren't as skilled as you. But how do you build those skills? By using them. With a little time, they can grow to your level, and possibly beyond.

Maybe it will take longer... the first time... but there will probably be a second time, a third time, and so on. Make the investment today and it will pay off down the road.

Reap What You Sow
Your staff is your largest expense after inventory. And if you treat it like an expense, you'll get what you pay for. Your staff is also your largest asset. If you treat it like an investment, you will reap the benefits beyond what they cost.

See if you can delegate one new responsibility each week for the next four weeks. That's my plan. Excuse me while I go check on our new Birthday Club we're hoping to unveil in a few weeks.


PS There will always be some things you don't want to delegate. I love teaching the Shopping for Baby 101 classes at the store, and I'm pretty darn good at it. If it's both a strength and a love, keep doing it. Everything else should be on the table.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stats Lie, Trust Your Own Numbers

The only numbers that really count are yours, the ones you make, the ones you manage.

The weather service says Jackson County has only received 3" of rain (as of May 27) yet my dad had a bucket of 8" of water from just the previous week (including evaporation).

The various reports have retail sales up, down, or flat, so many different ways that you could get dizzy trying to follow.

Even Winston Churchill says, "The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself."

And as Seth Godin pointed out in his last post, none of these reports on the economy really matter.

The only economy that counts is your local economy. The only statistics that count are the numbers you create and measure.

Are you tracking Customer Counts? This is a good sign of the health of your marketing campaign.

Are you tracking Average Ticket? This is a good sign of the ability of your sales staff?

Are you tracking Gross Margin Return on Inventory? This is a good sign of the ability of your buyers.

Are you tracking Cash Flow? This is a measure of the ability of your company to react to changes in the local economy.

Those are the numbers that count.


PS Need help in understanding those numbers? Help is available in the Freebie section of my website. Need more help? Send me an email. You can be successful in any economy when you track the right numbers.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Teaching Your Staff to Connect

Let's plan a staff meeting together...

Every meeting needs to have a goal.

Our Goal:

This will be a successful meeting if... The staff learns a better way to create relationships with our customers.

Doug Fleener, the Retail Contrarian, believes you should find out three things about a customer before you try to sell them anything. That way you know more about the real needs of the customer, not just the surface needs they might readily ask.

Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, teaches that the easiest way to make a connection is to find a point in common and share about yourself because you become more human and memorable. ("I see Johnny had a soccer game today. Did you win? You know, my son plays soccer, too. What league are you in?")

I believe that customers enter stores like Toy House because they want solutions. Maybe it is a gift idea, maybe it is to solve an educational issue, maybe it is to complete a project, maybe it is to fulfill a desire. Our job is to help them define the problem before we can find the solution.

The Task:

So we need Tasks - activities that help us teach this skill of relating to customers. Let's brainstorm...

Task Idea #1 - Show a Movie
Movies are fun. You could search the web and check other resources for movies that either teach
customer interaction, or show lousy interactions from which you can learn. (Google "lousy customer interaction videos" and you get 8.6 million choices)

Task Idea #2 - Lecture
Give a talk about the importance of interaction, how making connections makes you more real and trustworthy. Quote Mr. Phibbs, or Mr. Fleener, or George Whalin, or any host of other retail consultants on why making such connections are important. Give examples of good connections versus bad connections. Ask for critique of the bad ones, how they could have been done better.

Task Idea #3 - Play Games
Since the key to learning is asking questions, steal this game from the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? One person starts by asking a question, but you can only respond with another question. Pair off your staff and have them see how long they can keep it going until someone goofs. Trade partners and do it all over again.

Another game is to have your staff try to find ten things they have in common with each other person on the staff.

Task Idea #4 - Role Play
Split up the staff into pairs to do simple role play. Make one person the customer. Give her a typical customer profile. Have her enter the store and have another staff person interact with her with the goal to find out three things about the customer before showing a product. After each role play talk about what was awkward, easy, could be done differently. Continue until everyone has played both roles at least once.

Task Idea #5 - Bring in an Outsider
Hire someone to come in and teach these skills. Sometimes an outside voice makes it stick better with the staff than hearing your same voice time and again. For a skill like this, a person who teaches Networking Skills is a good alternative to a retail consultant. In fact, maybe even a better alternative because the same principles of networking apply to meeting and relating to customers, and there are tons of people who teach Networking (contact your local Chamber).

That's a pretty good list, five potential Tasks that could lead us to reach our Goal. With a little creative thought you might come up with a few more ideas. The more the merrier.

To pick one you have to ask three questions...

  1. What are my constraints? (Space, Time, Money, etc.) Eliminate any Tasks for which you do not have/cannot get the resources necessary.

  2. What will be the most effective Task? (Pick one)

  3. What will be the most fun Task for my staff? (Pick one)
So now you should have two Tasks from which to choose. Look closely at the Task you picked for question #3. Will it accomplish the goal? If yes, then run with it. If no, then go with the Task from question #2. (note: if the answer to #2 and #3 is the same, you're golden:-)

The Plan:

You know what you want to accomplish (the goal) and how you're going to accomplish it (the task). Start your planning. What else do you need? A date and time. A place. Any props necessary (a projector for a movie, a stage area for role play, rules to games, etc.). Collect everything you need to do your Task.

You also need questions. Questions that lead your staff from doing to learning. The technique I use is the What? So What? Now What? method.

  • What? These are the concrete questions. What did we do? What happened when...? How did that work?

  • So What? These are the abstract questions. What did we learn? What did this teach us? Why did we accomplish this?

  • Now What? These are the application questions. How do we apply that lesson to our situation? How does that compare to here? What can we do with this knowledge?
Write down two or three questions of each type appropriate to the task you have chosen.

Then post your plan. Put out the agenda. As much or as little info as you wish. Extroverts just need to know when and where. They'll do their best thinking then. But Introverts need a little more. If you want feedback from them, you need to give them a topic so they have time to formulate thoughts prior to the meeting. Introverts do their best thinking beforehand.

The Surprise:

Have some unexpected element planned in your meeting that will be a pleasant surprise. Maybe a gift certificate to a local restaurant given to the staff person who does the best in the games. Maybe a special treat like a pizza party as soon as the meeting is over. Maybe a costume that you wear as part of the Role Play. Maybe lottery cards for everyone just because you thought it would be fun.

Surprises make meetings more memorable, and it is not just the surprise they remember. The surprise becomes the anchor which triggers memory of the meeting and its lessons.

The Summary:

Your meeting will be a success. You've pretty much guaranteed that in your planning. But to make that success long lasting you need to write up a summary. What did we do? What did we learn? Try to use quotes from the staff as much as possible. Pictures are good, too. If any further action steps are required, list them. If certain future tasks are assigned, list them.

Then post the summary where all can see it.

That's all it takes to have a successful staff meeting.

Are you ready?

Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I go through this process for every staff meeting I plan. Believe me, it gets easier the more you do it. But for starters, here's a worksheet I use for planning. It's just one of the many Free eBooks I've written with your success in mind.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Convenience Versus Experience

A Convenience Store is always located on the easiest side of the road to pull in or pull out, no-hassle driving.

An Experience Store has you drooling with anticipation as you wait at the light to pull in.

A Convenience Store carries all the same merchandise you would expect to find anywhere, the most popular items, the most requested items.

An Experience Store is full of unique and wonderful treasures, amazing merchandise you haven't seen.

A Convenience Store is open early and late, enough hours to be there exactly when you need it.

An Experience Store is open long enough for you to be able to take the time to explore all those treasures leisurely and when it fits in your schedule.

A Convenience Store has a staff that knows where everything is, and can get you through checkout in a hurry.

An Experience Store has a staff that also knows what everything is and how each product fits or doesn't fit in your lifestyle, an can also get you through checkout in a hurry (because when the shopping is done, there's no time to waste).

A Convenience Store wants your trips to be quick, painless, anonymous.

An Experience Store wants your trips to be comfortable, engaging, and relational.

A Convenience Store treats the customers as transactions, maximizing speed in the process.

An Experience Store treats the customers as people, maximizing comfort in the process.

A Convenience Store is measured by how little time you want to spend there.

An Experience Store is measured by how much time you want to spend there.

A Convenience Store is on the way to or from a Destination Store.

An Experience Store is a Destination Store.

Whichever you choose, now you know what is expected and what you need to do.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Don't Bring Me Down

At the trailer on the Manistee River where my family spent many a summer vacation there was a printed piece of fabric full of cliches. I loved reading those phrases and spent many a night asking my dad to explain what they meant.

One of my favorites was "Before you run in double harness, look well to the other horse."

There is a reason we haven't done a lot of collaboration marketing and promotions. Quite often the other horse wasn't up to our speed. We weren't willing to use (lose) our reputation because of an inferior partner.

We are All in Double Harness
The Shop Local movement has challenged all that. To get the benefits of a Shop Local campaign we have to allow ourselves to be defined under the umbrella of all local businesses. We have to allow ourselves to be defined by the local florist, the local shoe store, the local tailor, and many other businesses over which we have no influence or control.

That's scary.

Especially when I read stories about local retailers failing their customers like this one by Rick Segal, this one by Cinda Baxter or this one by Bob Phibbs.

I'm not sure I want to run in harness with all those other businesses.

At the same time, however, I really don't have a choice. The Shop Local movement is here to stay, whether it gains a lot of momentum in our area or not. We also face the issue of being defined as a downtown business, so I'm lumped in with all other downtown businesses and the perceptions they are giving customers (good or bad). And I'm a specialty toy retailer and specialty baby product retailer.

That's a lot of horses tied together. And if we all run well, we can travel far. But if we don't...

I'm Counting on You, You're Counting on Me
We are in double harness whether we like it or not. And it raises the stakes for all of us. Not only do we have to do right by the customer for our own sake, we have to do it for every other retail channel we represent.

Makes you realize that more customer service training isn't such a bad idea after all.


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Emperor Has No Clothes

That's where Roy H. Williams found himself in today's Monday Morning Memo talking about Facebook & Twitter - as the boy in Hans Christian Andersen's tale telling the truth nobody wanted to hear.

Facebook and Twitter are not the be-all-end-all fix to your marketing & advertising woes.

They are just the latest dazzling jewels being passed on as our next marketing saviours. But like many jewels that have blinded us before, Facebook and Twitter will not be your knight in shining armor. They will not lead you out of the dark. They will not transform your business into greatness.

Oh they might help a little bit. But alone they are as naked as Andersen's Emperor. They need to be clothed with the right message.

Remember the message? Your message? The one relevant, salient, memorable point that speaks to the heart of your customer? The message that makes them feel not only a connection with you but a partnership? A loyalty?

If your business isn't growing there are only two things to blame.

  1. Your market is shrinking. If you sell typewriters, sorry, dude, but the game is up.

  2. Your message isn't connecting.
And not just the message you give through your advertising, but the message you give through the experience in your store. Do you echo your marketing in your services? In your attitude? Do you show the same heartfelt caring towards your customers in person as you do online (and vice versa?)

Figure out your message. Put all your time and energies into coming up with that one relevant, salient, memorable, heartfelt message. And once you have your message, make it sparkle in every single element of your business from the bathroom floor to the phone message to the way your employee says Hello.

Then it doesn't matter which jewel you use. With the right message they all shine. Even Facebook & Twitter.


Yeah, I like to call this "Branding". And when you understand your brand, you have all the jewels you need.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Staying the Course

Another lesson from surgery...

In prepping for the surgery I had this past Wednesday, I read a 56 page thread on people recovering from this procedure.

Time and again the pattern of recovery emerged the same. The first five days get gradually worse before it starts to turn around.

Doing that research and having a realistic expectation of what will happen has made the last couple days much more tolerable. Today is day 4. If I hadn't read that entire thread, I might be wondering why I'm not getting demonstrably better yet. I might be sweating things out and worrying too much (which wouldn't help the healing).

Instead, I'm hunkered down doing what I'm supposed to do - take my meds, drink lots of water, get nutrients, and plenty of rest.

Do your research, be realistic, and stay the course (and take your meds, drink lots of water, get nutrients, and plenty of rest.)

Life lessons, business lessons.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bigger Rewards Require Bigger Risks

Tomorrow I am taking a huge risk. I am undergoing surgery to correct two physical abnormalities, an elongated soft palate and uvula, and a tongue that is positioned farther back in the throat than normal.

I suffer from sleep apnea. And in the long run, if I don't treat it, it will kill me.

I tried the easy routes...

Tried all the over-the-counter fixes, Breathe Right Strips, Anti-snore sprays, etc. Not worth the money or aggravation.

Wore a CPAP mask for three years religiously. But the mask came off 15 times a night no matter what mask I tried or how tight I cinched it.

Wore two different oral appliances. One didn't work worth a darn (don't buy them over the Internet), the second almost worked but just couldn't overcome the odd physical circumstances of my throat.

So tomorrow I will have my tonsils removed, my soft palate trimmed, and my tongue pulled forward. The surgery is long, painful, and the recovery brutal. And there are risks, too. Any surgery involving the throat runs serious risks for breathing. Although the surgery itself will have no negative effect on my voice, the anesthetist will have to run a tube down my throat past the vocal chords. For a guy who makes his living with his voice (speaking, teaching, singing), those are some serious risks.

But those are the risks I need to take to set myself up for long-term health.

There's a business lesson in here, too. Your business has some long-term health issues. Are you addressing them? Are you willing to take some serious risks to set your business up for long-term health?

Have you extended your hours to meet the demands of convenience-driven customers?

Have you tightened your pricing to stay competitive in your field?

Have you raised the Experience level in your store to the point people are bragging about their trips to see you?

Have you made the necessary investments in technology to keep you current with best practices, and help you manage your inventory and cash flow better?

Have you made the necessary upgrades to make your store look fresh, new and exciting?

Sure, there are some risks spending the money necessary to make those kinds of changes. And there is no guarantee you will succeed. Even my surgery only has an 80-90% chance of success.

But without those changes, your business will die a slow (?) death.

Take the risks necessary to ensure you are set up for long-term health. That's what I'm doing both personally and at Toy House.

When I recover from surgery I'll let you know what we have in the works for Toy House. It's every bit as exciting and scary as tomorrow.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Seth is Wrong, Brand Exceptionalism is Easy to Innovate

I have to take exception with Seth Godin's post today. (Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.)

For those of you who don't want to read it, his basic message is that once your brand becomes exceptional (whether in your own eyes or in the eyes of the public), you lose ground because you won't change. Why would you change "perfect"?

He says... "The problem with brand exceptionalism is that once you believe it, it's almost impossible to innovate."

Unless your brand is set up on Values.

The truly exceptional brands are those based on a set of core values, not on a particular product or service. Values are timeless. Values remain the same through the ages. How you show those values, however, changes from time to time.

For instance, our core values are Fun, Education, Helpfulness, Nostalgia. The products we sell are constantly changing and improving. The services we offer have to adapt and innovate with the new needs of customers. The way we market our store, the way we merchandise our products, even the way we ring you up at the checkout goes through countless innovations. We are constantly looking for innovations in how you Experience our store.

But Fun, Education, Helpfulness, and Nostalgia will never go out of style. And as long as we stay true to our values while staying current with ways to implement those values, we can have Brand Exceptionalism and Innovation.

They are not mutually exclusive when you set your Brand up on Values.

Wanna learn how?


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Just For Baby Stores (and Anyone Interested in Marketing)

Last week I gave a couple presentations at the All Baby & Child (ABC) Spring Educational Conference in Fort Worth, TX.

Once again, Pricing for Profit was one of the biggest hits of the show. Many vendors were asking, "Who's Phil?" as retailer after retailer showed them better ways to price their goods for more profit because,"Phil said..." (Love that people talk about it that way! That never grows old for me:-)

The other presentation was Baby Store Marketing on a Shoestring Budget. Unlike most retailers who rely on repeat customers, there aren't a lot of repeat visits in the baby world. Stores that sell cribs and dressers have to constantly seek out new clientele.

Similar to Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget, the Baby Store presentation covers eight affordable ways specific to baby stores that they can market themselves without spending a ton or giving away the profits.

And the Stork has arrived!

Everything in the presentation is now available in a newly published eBook. Download it for free. Share it with your friends. More importantly, use it as a guide to get more traffic in your store. (The smart ones among you will easily adapt it to your specific product mix.)


Monday, May 9, 2011

Turning Nouns into Verbs

My friend, Rick Wilson DMD, is writing a novel.

The story features a wonderful brewery in England called Gack & Bacon Brewery, established in the 16th century, now fighting off its conglomerate rival, Slore's. (Their motto? "It's beer.")

Gack & Bacon has an in-house pub called the Pig & Trebuchet. In a recent post (he's sharing tidbits online with some of his friends), Rick shared with us a little of the magic of the Pig & Trebuchet - The Bad Table.

Every restaurant has one, that table by the kitchen or bathroom (or both) that has the built-in annoyances. No one wants to sit at the Bad Table. But the P&T leadership turned that negative into a positive by making the table special for all who sit there. Special menu, special visitors, special activities. Always some little surprise and delight.

And people come in asking to sit at the Bad Table. My favorite line from this part of the story reads...

..."I've been Bad Tabled," was even local slang for being surprised by something excellent and unexpected...

How do you take a negative noun and turn it into a positive verb? The key is in the phrase surprised by something excellent and unexpected.

What are you doing to turn around a negative associated with your business with something excellent and unexpected?

  • If parking is an issue, do you offer a valet service?

  • If price is the driver of all purchases, do you have a lower priced item (from which you can upsell)?

  • If location is an issue do you have billboards or wall signs directing people where to go?

  • If convenience is an issue, do you go out of your way to make the experience memorable?
At this morning's meeting my staff and I decided we are going to turn Toy House into a verb. To be Toy Housed is to be pleasantly surprised and delighted in such a way that you have to smile. We'll accomplish that by first doing four things:

  1. Play More

  2. Listen More

  3. Ask More

  4. Know More
I'll let you know when Merriam-Webster puts it in their dictionary.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Built-in Advantages

Some businesses have built-in advantages.

The big box chain stores have the advantage of Price through buying power and a bully position to demand and extract better pricing out of their suppliers. Some have the advantage of Convenience, too. Great locations and one-stop shopping.

The Internet sites have the advantage of Convenience. Shopping in your pajamas from the comfort of your own home. Some have the advantage of Price through low overhead. Warehouse space is cheaper to build than retail space.

And those two channels are fighting big time for customers who value price and/or convenience.

Independent Retailers rarely have either of those advantages. We work on tighter margins to stay price competitive. We pay higher rents to try to be convenient. And although good to have those things, the one area where we do have the built-in advantage is Experience.

To be successful, we have to out-Experience the competition.

We can offer not just good customer service, but outstanding, bend-over-backwards customer service, the kind that gives people something to talk about.

  • Have a problem? We'll fix it.

  • Have a special need? We'll take care of it.

  • Have a desire? We'll fill it.
We can know more about the products than even the most savvy Internet researcher. And it isn't just important to have knowledge. We can know how to apply it.

  • Let me tell you why the folding mechanism on that stroller is better for you.

  • Did you know that this game teaches skills that will raise your child's math scores?

  • The manufacturer recommends this age because younger children don't have the hand-eye coordination to be successful.
We can WOW our customers every time they step through the door.

  • Yes, I'd be happy to carry that out for you.

  • I'd like to give you this free gift as a token for shopping with us today.

  • Of course we deliver.
If your store isn't built around the concept of Experience, you're missing out on the one built-in advantage you have that your big-box and Internet competitors don't. And if you aren't actively working every day to improve your Experience, you're not only hurting yourself, but every other indie retailer in your town because you're teaching customers that Experience isn't that important.

It is. You can do it. So make it so.