Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top Viewed Blog Posts 2012

Everyone loves Top Ten Lists.

Here is my list of my Top Ten Most Viewed Blog Posts from 2012

1. Two Thing You Can Correct Right Now - Two simple things you can do that won't cost you an arm and a leg, but will make the next year better than the previous year.

2. Lessons From MLK Quotes - Five of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and how they apply to independent retailers.

3. Two Days to Take Your Customer Service to Shareworthy Levels - Announcing a class I am teaching alongside Tim Miles at Wizard Academy on January 29-30. (You really should go!)

4. What to Do About Showrooming - We all face the problem of customers walking in with smart phones, checking out our product, asking our advice, getting our knowledge, scanning the UPC codes and buying it online. You might be surprised at my answer to this ever-growing problem.

5. This Will Be a Successful Year If... - A different, better approach to the dreaded New Year's Resolution (Appropriate that this would make today's list. By the way - I accomplished three out of four!)

6. Is JC Penney Making a Mistake? - They announced their new pricing policy at the beginning of last year. I had my opinions on whether it could work or not. Go see if I was right.

7. The Goldilocks Effect - I was egged on by a friend in another online group to discuss this inventory management topic about how to stock and merchandise your store to fit the needs of your customer base better. Apparently other people liked the topic, too.

8. Tell Me About a Time When... - The absolute best interview questions you should be asking!

9. Shopping Local Benefit Salt Lake City - Mostly a link to a great article about a study done in Salt Lake City. Either I have a lot of fans in Salt Lake City or people love to read more articles about the positive impact of shopping local. (You should forward the article to everyone you know in your local and county government economic development positions.)

10. Fair and Square - Another post about the JC Penney pricing fiasco. Their idea was right. Their implementation was wrong, wrong, wrong. Don't look at their failure as a policy problem, only an implementation problem.

Definitely an interesting mix of posts, don't you think? Covers a wide gamut from Hiring to Customer Service to Inventory Management to Shop Local to Pricing to Leadership.

Thank you to all who are following publicly, lurking quietly, or just plain stumbling onto this blog by accident. If there are topics you would like me to write about more in 2013, please let me know. I get the feeling the indie retail movement is on the cusp of some serious positive growth over the next few years.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One of the reasons I believe we'll see more people Shop Local, Shop Independent is because of a sense of community that they feel at your stores. If you have not yet read the book Pendulum, you need to go get it today. "Sense of Community" will be a driving force for the next decade at least. You should be playing up that aspect of your business.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Trust is Broken

Does it frost you that people shopping online are significantly more willing to trust an anonymous customer "review" than what your well-trained sales staff might say about a particular product?

According to Nielsen, although 92% of people surveyed will trust word-of-mouth from friends and relatives, online reviews are close behind at 70%. No form of advertising from the store could even break 50%.

Yet, according to research, 10% of all online reviews are fake.

Still the customer is more willing to trust anonymous customers online than they will trust the store. And it is easy to see why.  Just look at this picture.

This was the sign outside of an Eddie Bauer store at Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor. We all know "Exclusions Apply". In fact, if the sign hadn't said that at the bottom, we all would have still thought it anyway because exclusions always seem to apply. All the claims made by stores these days are outrageous to get your attention and then filled with so many exclusions and fine print disclaimers that the original deal isn't any deal at all. Heck, every time a radio ad comes on with some special offer, almost half of the ad is filled with some guy speaking the legalese terms and conditions so fast you couldn't understand them anyway.

Even if you haven't personally done this in your store, you are the benefactor of a culture where exclusions always apply and every deal is far less than it is advertised. Nothing is what it seems and there is always some loophole hidden somewhere. In other words, you have to reap what a whole bunch of sloppy, lazy marketers have sown.

There is a way to counter this. There is a way to build back the trust that has been broken for so long.

Tell the truth.

If there is a disclaimer, don't make the claim. If there is an exception, tell it right up front.  Imagine how much more believable and how much more excitement that same sign might have generated if it said...

"150 different items marked 40% off original price!"  

The original way, you walked in already defeated, just knowing the item you wanted would be part of the exclusion. This new way you walked in with excitement wondering which one of the 150 items would be something you wanted. Two signs that basically say the same thing. One creates disillusionment, one creates excitement. Why do so many stores get it wrong? Sloppy, lazy marketers. Don't be one.

The formula is simple... No disclaimer, no exclusions = truth and honesty = more believable = more trustworthy = more excitement = more sales.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This is just the first measure toward building trust. Be truthful and honest in your advertising and marketing. Then teach your sales staff to be truthful and honest in their presentations. You'll stand out in the crowd of exclusions and disclaimers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Asking the Right Question

Seth Godin writes one of my favorite blogs. His post for today was so short and sweet and thought-provoking that I want to share it with you...

Question the question
The best creative solutions don't come from finding good answers to the questions that are presented.
They come from inventing new questions.
-Seth Godin

Here are my thoughts...

The question most retailers ask is...

How can I get more traffic, more customers, more sales?

Here is a new question worth considering...

How can I create an experience so incredible that people want to come back time and again and bring their friends with them?

Here is another question...

What did I not do to the best of my ability last year?

Here is yet one more question...

How can I make the customer experience not only better, but more consistently better?

I bet if you answer any one of those last three questions, you'll find the answer to the first question.

Merry Christmas!
-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I ask those questions every year for my business. Yes, I will be giving you the answers at the class Tim Miles and I are teaching at Wizard Academy January 29-30. Yes, you will learn enough to make a huge difference in your business - a double-digit difference if history is any indicator.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sometimes You Have to Tear it Down

They are tearing down the hotel across the street. We have a front-row seat for the destruction as a crane takes it down piece by piece.

This is not the first hotel to be torn down in that general vicinity. I watched the previous one be exploded and dropped to the ground. Yes, two large hotels have been built, abandoned, and torn down in the same area in my life.

I guess this blog could be about location, location, location. But you already know that story.

The lesson that struck me driving past this building this morning was how progress and change often require some deconstruction first before you can construct something new.

Too often, we feel like the only approach to growth is to tweak around the edges. Radical changes are dangerous, risky. So we make minor changes, which have minor effects. But if you need major things to happen in your business, you need to make major changes. Or as Thomas Jefferson put it...

"If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done."

That might mean tearing something down. You can tear things down physically such as a wall or a display or an office or a bathroom to make a better version. You can also tear things down metaphorically such as your  return policy, your dress code, your product selection, or your advertising.

The key is to remember that the tearing down, while messy, is necessary for progress.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One of the biggest deconstruction/reconstruction projects can be your staff. Having the right people in the right jobs is the most important thing you can do for your business. If that means firing key people and starting over, do it! Yes, it will be messy in the short term, but the reconstruction will be better than the original.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Preferred Way

I hire a lot of new people for the Christmas season. Then I turn much of their training over to the current staff.  Every now and then we run into a problem. One staff person teaches the newbie one way, another teaches them a completely different way to do the same exact thing.

The poor newcomer isn't sure which way to turn. Do it the way she was taught or the way she was being told to do it at that instant?

In our mid-season evaluation one of my newbies asked me what to do when that situation arises.

My answer surprised her, see if it surprises you. I told her...

Do it the way the other employee is telling you right at that moment - even if it is different than how you have been taught.

The issue here is that too many times we look at policies and procedures as black & white. Do it this one way, every other way is wrong. Yet, many times there are multiple right ways to do something. For instance, you can count back change from a cash sale a number of different ways. One way is better than others, but the others still work.

Do it the way you were just told is the only correct answer because of one thing and one thing only... The customer is standing right in front of you.

If someone who seems to have authority tells a new employee how to do it, you do it that way for the sake of transferring confidence to the customer. It may not be my preferred way, but if I have trained my staff well enough, it is still an acceptable way, which for the moment is good enough. The customer is happy, confident and still trusts us.

I then told her that the next time something like that happens, come tell me which two methods you have been taught. I'll tell you which is my preferred method and why.

Two benefits from doing this... First, they rarely ever do it any way other than the preferred way after that. Second, when they are unsure of how to do something they can more often fake their way through it, keeping the customer's confidence in the process, until they find out how to do it better.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It makes evaluations easier, too. If you lead off with everything they've done wrong, it makes them defensive. Instead tell them they did it right, but there is a better way to do it, and you will see them grow faster and stronger in skills and confidence.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How Late Are You Open?

This is our number one request from phone callers.

How late are you open?

Most people don't know our hours in the first place. Plus, they expect that we will have longer hours for the holidays.

How late are you open?

It is an easy question to answer when you are open and already answering the phone. But what about when you are not?

We have extended hours for the holidays so we post our hours on a big banner we hang on the side of the building. Easy to read for anyone who drives by.

We also have an answering machine. A simple, cheap, $20 answering machine that I bought at Radio Shack. It gets the job done for people who call when we are not open. Surprisingly, many indie retailers in my town do not have an answering machine.

Last night my wife called a number of stores in our downtown just to get their hours. None of them had an answering machine.

If she doesn't know your hours, she cannot plan you into her shopping trips.

Even if your hours haven't changed for decades, do not assume that every customer knows them.  Unless you are open 24/7, make sure you give your potential customers every opportunity to find out when you are open.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I have a complex phone system, five lines, sixteen phones, etc. There are plenty of expensive phone answering systems out there that include phone trees and customized messages. Since I'm not a fan of phone trees and I don't have the budget for those systems, the $20 cheap-o answering machine accomplishes my main goal of telling people our hours without breaking the bank. You cannot afford to NOT have one.

PPS Wanna know how I made our message also consistent with our Character Diamond? Call us after 9pm Eastern Time (or before 9:30am Eastern time) (517) 787-4500. I promise it will make you smile.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Head Cheerleader (re-posted from Dec, 2010)

(This was first posted Monday, December 20, 2010, but worth repeating)

(Nine) shopping days until Christmas. In the home stretch. You're tired, run down and stressed, just counting the days. Your friends and family are encouraging you to "Hang in there, it's almost over." 

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you need to do more than just hang in there.

Of the hundreds (thousands) of customers who come through your door this week, many are entering your store for the first time.

Now is the time to WOW them so they become lifelong customers.

So no matter how tired you and your staff are feeling, no matter how many hours you've worked, how many sleepless nights you've had fretting about the business, you have to find that reserve inside you that makes this week the most special experience your customers have ever had!

And you need to fire up the staff, too. Your new role for the next 5 days is Head Cheerleader. Here are three things you can do to keep your staff going strong until the end.

  1. Praise them. Tell them specific things you have seen them do right in the last few days. Share their praise with everyone. 
  2. Cater lunch. Not just some sandwiches and chips but a real sit-down meal with silverware.
  3. Hire a masseuse. Give the staff 20-minute breaks to get table massages.

These next few days are not only critical to your holiday sales, they are critical to your future because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Get your store ready, get your staff ready and get busy!

You can do it. Rah rah rah, Sis boom bah!! I'm pulling for you!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Regardless of whether your business is doing well or not, you need to adopt the attitude right now that this is the best Christmas ever. Fake it until you make it? Sure! The better your attitude now, the better your results later.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Handling Multiple Customers at Once

This is the time of year when the customers outnumber the staff. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because extra traffic means extra sales. Bad because you cannot give each customer the time they need to maximize those extra sales and you often lose a customer while you're working with another customer.

Years ago I read a tip in a book for how to handle multiple customers at once. I hated the book and have long ago forgotten the title and author, but that one tip has remained with me.

Understand that just like multi-tasking where you actually do not do two things at once, you cannot (or should not) try to sell two people at once -unless they want the same product for the same reasons. So if you have two customers who need help, an easy way to handle that is to ask the first customer permission to greet the second customer.

"Excuse me, but would you mind if I go greet that other customer and let them know that I will help them after we are done here?"

Your first customer will agree, which accomplishes two things. First, they have given you permission to talk to the other customer. Second, they have given implicit acknowledgment that they will stay until you return.

When you get to the second customer, say...

"Hello, thanks for coming in. My name is Phil. I am working with another customer at the moment. As soon as I am done, I will be right over to help you. Is that okay?"

That last question is the kicker. When customer #2 says yes, they have now given you explicit permission to go finish up with customer #1 and also acknowledged that they will stay until you are back. Sometimes, however, they will say no because they have a simple request that only takes a second or they are in a big rush. If that is the case and you believe you should serve them ahead of the first customer, simply ask their permission to go back to customer #1 to explain.

When you ask your customer's permission, you get them to commit to getting your assistance. Everyone gets helped and everyone leaves the store happy. Win-Win.

Phil Wrzesinski

PS Tips like these are easy. Setting up a culture where shareworthy customer service happens every day all the time takes a little bit more work. The payoffs for that work, however, will show up in big ways on your bottom line. Want to learn how to set up the right culture and the right systems for delighting customers enough that they brag about it to others? Come to Austin, Texas in late January.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Measuring People

"What gets measured gets done." Frances Schagen

This is not a post about Financials. You can read more about financials here.

This is not a post about Inventory or Open-to-Buy. You can read more about those topics here.

Numbers are important. Very. Important. But at the end of the day it is people who create those numbers. If you are measuring your numbers, you also need to be measuring your people. Here are some ways to measure your greatest assets.


Do you regularly observe your staff? Do you stand back and watch them interact with customers? Without their knowledge that you are watching? One way to do that is rearrange a display within earshot but not directly facing the employee. Get busy with your work. But keep an open ear for the conversations they have with customers. Another way is to grab a clipboard and start counting something.

Seem sneaky? Sure. Here is what makes it worthwhile... When you catch them doing something well and praise them immediately after it happens, two majorly good things happen:

  1. You reinforce that behavior and get it far more often.
  2. You make them more comfortable having you on the floor with them.


Have you ever sat down with an employee and interviewed them again? You would be amazed at the different answers they will give you than when you first interviewed them for a job, especially when you ask such questions like, "tell me a time when you went above and beyond the required work just to help a customer out."

We hire a lot of seasonal staff that I have to train in a short window of time. I make it a point to meet with them from time to time and let them talk. I also make it a point to interview them at the end of the season. The Exit Interview can be a valuable tool because people on the way out the door are often more willing to share the negatives.


Do you set goals? Number of interactions they should make per hour? Sales goals per day? or even a checklist of daily duties? Goals are great, but often goal-setters forget two very important elements.

After you set a goal you need to come up with tasks to meet that goal. Tasks are simply the activities used to reach the goal. For instance, if my goal is to sell 25 yo-yos by the end of the day, my task is to play with yo-yos all day until I can learn three new tricks, and also to teach at least half of the kids who come through the door how to do one trick on a yo-yo.

At the end of the day you have to be accountable to the goal. Did you reach it? Yes? Good job. No? Why not? What can you do differently next time?

For goals to be successful, you need to assign tasks and evaluate progress.

Measure your people and your numbers will be even more fun to measure.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You might be asking yourself when will you find time to do all this measuring. Here is sometimes the hardest lesson to learn. The more often you measure, the more time you will have because your employee productivity will skyrocket.

PPS Want to learn new and better ways to measure your people? Join Tim Miles and me at Wizard Academy for our two-day workshop on Shareworthy Customer Service.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Snapshots in Time

One thing that used to drive me crazy in retail was when we had just finished with a huge rush of customers, finally got a moment to breathe, and at that exact moment my father would walk out, see us standing around and yell at us to get busy since we were obviously loafing.

Had he walked out two minutes earlier, he would have seen poetry in motion as the staff expertly handled all the customers, the giftwrapping, the phone calls, and the interruptions with grace and ease. But no, he caught us two minutes later taking a deep breath.

I made a pledge that when I was boss I would never make snap judgments on the snapshot in time.

One brush stroke does not make a masterpiece painting. One snapshot does not make a complete album.

Let's play a little math game (feel free to skip the next paragraph if you're not up to math today).

Yesterday we had a decent day serving 256 customers. I had 97 employee hours scheduled which breaks down to 2.6 customers per hour per employee.  The average actual interaction with a customer is around ten minutes of their time in the store, or 26 minutes out of each hour.  That means each employee had more non-interactive time than interactive time. The likelihood of me walking out of my office and catching them not engaged with a customer was greater than catching them engaged.

(Okay, math over)

The key for me is to walk out enough to catch them when they are engaged and observe how they handle that engagement.

There are ebbs and flows of customers in any retail business. If all you ever do is catch your employees goofing off, before you yell at them, realize that the real problem might be that you aren't leaving your office enough.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I reminded one of my new hires today that we are not just creating sales today, we are creating sales a generation from now when the kids in the store today have kids of their own.  Kinda changes the engagement when think like that, don't you think?

PPS Remember also that there is a fine line between goofing off and having fun. Since Having Fun is part of our Character Diamond, it is almost impossible for me to catch them goofing off. Such is life in a toy store:-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why You Should Go to Austin, Part 2

Yesterday I told you my three answers to Wizard Academy Vice Chancellor Michele Miller's questions about the Shareworthy Customer Service class I am teaching with Tim Miles January 29-30.

Here are Tim's answers...

Michele: How did you two come up with the idea of teaching this class?
Tim: About a year ago, two things happened in the same week.

One – one of my clients said to me, “Tim, I’m a liar.” He was becoming aware that his employees weren’t living up the promises we were making in his ad campaign. Since then, his customer service scores (measured by the same Net Promoter Score system used by Amazon, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and countless others) have risen to twenty points higher than Apple’s.

Two – Best Buy made my mom cry. Well, the CEO didn’t make her cry, but one of their Geek Squad members was so rude and condescending to my 76-year-old-non-cryer mother that I couldn’t sit idly by. I did what lots of people do: I took to the Internet and blogged about it to a couple thousand people, and I put it on all my social media outlets. Now, Best Buy’s stock is tanking. Is Trish the reason? Not specifically, but it got me wondering if something systemic was causing companies like Best Buy to miss the proverbial boat.

Michele: We see lots of workshops on creating good customer service. Your course description looks intriguing – what is one thing that sets this course apart from others out there?
Tim: Is our course different? I think so.

For one thing, it’s not just about “being nicer to people,” but rather it’s about building a system that measures and rewards customer delight. It’s about budgeting for it. It’s about where that budget comes from and how to implement it and how to build a culture of ownership among your employees.

Additionally, we went through hundreds of accounts of delightful customer experiences from the very best companies – large and small – in the world, and we deconstructed what made them great. Turns out there are only fourteen different defining characteristics to customer delight, and you can tune them to suit your business.

Michele: What is the most important thing students will walk away with?
Tim: They’ll have a customized plan to build and implement a program that’s currently working for every one of our clients that began using it this year. They’ll begin to spend less in advertising. They’ll create a culture where employees love coming to work BUT aren’t working longer hours or particularly harder while they’re working. They’ll be the one company in town where the best specialists in their business category WANT to work.

Not a bad way to spend two days, huh? Come join us in Austin.

-Phil Wrzesinski

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why You Should Go to Austin in January

You should go to Austin, Texas at the end of January. Really, you should. It will be more than worth your while.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, January 29th and 30th, I’m teaching a new class about Shareworthy Customer Service at the 21st Century Business School known as Wizard Academy with a fellow named Tim Miles. It’s a magical place in the hill country just southwest of Austin, Texas. This week, Vice Chancellor Michele Miller asked me three questions about the class so she could promote it in the newsletter that goes out to thousands of alumni. Here are my answers. (Tomorrow, I’ll share Tim’s answers.)

Michele: How did you come up with the idea of teaching this class?
Me: Tim asked me:-)

(I believe Tim asked me because Tim reads this blog, follows the work I have been doing to teach multiple aspects of customer service to retail businesses, knows that I know what Wizard Academy is all about, and because Tim's expertise, while far greater than mine, leans more heavily on service-based businesses. Remind me, and I'll ask him when we get there if this is true.)

Michele: We see lots of workshops on creating good customer service. Your course description looks intriguing – what is one thing that sets this course apart from others out there?
Phil: I see two problems with most customer service training programs...

First, there is no standard definition for what is Great Customer Service. Everyone seems to have their own opinion ranging from "slightly better than what my competitors do" at the low end to "WOW-ing my customers beyond their wildest expectations" at the upper end. And most businesses have an unrealistic idea of their own level of customer service.  Without a definition, it is hard to objectively see where you stand. Without a definition it is hard to measure results. Without a definition it is hard to create consistency. What drew me to Tim's teachings and made me want to partner with him is that he and I share the same definition of great customer service - so good, the customer has to share it with others. We both teach from that upper end and show businesses how that level of service is within their grasp once they identify it.

The second problem with most customer service training programs is that they often focus solely on the interaction between employee and customer, creating scripted interactions that eliminate the worst elements of customer service but don't really delight customers in a Shareworthy way. Although employee/customer interaction is one of the most important elements of customer service, it is not the only one. You can improve your employee/customer interactions exponentially and still be undone by a poor website, a confusing policy, a complicated form, or even a dirty restroom. Tim and I both recognize that to reach the pinnacle of customer service, it takes more than just employee/customer interactions, and it takes more than just scripted role plays. We'll address all of those elements and show businesses how to make sure everything is aimed at delighting the customer.

What sets our program apart is that we break down the whole concept of customer service - every single element - into understandable and measurable parts. We help each business create a definition by which success can be measured. Then we teach those attending how to create a culture that reaches that level of success consistently and in every aspect of their business.

Michele: What is the most important thing students will walk away with?
Me: There are so many walk-aways that it would be hard to name just one. The segments I will be teaching include four topics that stand alone on their own merit. Add in what Tim will teach and there will be more walk-aways than most people can fit in their luggage. The cool thing is that much of what the attendees will learn can be implemented right away and will start showing a return right away. Instant ROI!

At the end of the two days, what will really take place is an understanding of this whole new definition of customer service, of where the bar can and should be raised. After that, the businesses will have a tool box full of ways to consistently hit and exceed those standards.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I forgot to add... Not only will you make back your investment many times over, you'll make new friends, eat great food, and have more fun learning than you ever thought possible!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Non-Mystery Shoppers (Group Therapy)

I was asked recently for my take on the Mystery Shopper program - hiring anonymous people to be shoppers in stores and rate those stores on their appearance, helpfulness, and all other aspects of retail.

The idea behind these is that often what a shopkeeper thinks is great customer service is not perceived that way by the customer. This is true. As Roy H. Williams has often said, it is hard to read the label from inside the bottle. It is hard for a shopkeeper to be objective about the customer service his shop offers.

What I see as inherently tough about the Mystery Shopper program is getting the buy-in from the retailer.

Because of the aforementioned problem, many of the retailers who could benefit from a Mystery Shopper program won't partake because they don't believe anything is wrong. Denial is a river in Egypt.

Other retailers, those not on the river, will be afraid to partake because they don't want to be judged. We know we have faults. We don't need someone else to expose them. Those retailers fear the results more than they fear the lost customers from not improving.

Still other retailers will sign up, be shopped, and then explain away all the criticism. We were short-handed. They got our newest employee who was still in training. The store got really swamped. The shopper didn't know what she was doing. The shopper wasn't fair. No one does it that way...

So although a Mystery Shopper program might have value, at the end of the day, few retailers will take advantage of that value and fewer still will make significant changes.

What if there was another way?


I am working on a different way for local independent retailers to help improve customer service - Group Therapy.

The concept is simple... A group of other shop owners goes together into a local business who has signed up for this critique. Using a simple checklist worksheet, the group of owners critiques the store from the front door on. For instance, they may be instructed to...

Look at the front door. What catches your eye? Are the hours clearly posted? Does the front door/window/signage tell the potential customer what to expect on the inside?

Walk through the door. Note the odors. Note the lighting. Is it appropriate for the type of store? Note what catches the eye first. How deep can you see into the store?

Walk around the store. How easy is it to navigate? How good is the signage? How easy is it to find an employee if you have a question? How logical is the arrangement? How tidy are the displays? How enticing are the displays?

By having a group of peers doing this, they will be better able to communicate any criticism in a way the business owner will be more receptive to hearing. And by knowing that the business owner will get his turn to critique, he will be less defensive and more open to discuss ways to improve the overall shopping experience.

What do you think? Would you allow your store to be critiqued by a group of your peers? Would you trust what they have to say more or less than a Mystery Shopper? If you were given the opportunity to critique, would you be able to be constructive? Would it be helpful if there was a checklist of things customers might notice that you could use to do your own self-evaluation?

I plan to have the checklist finished by the end of January. I will let you know when it is posted.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you don't want to wait until the end of January, I can tell you right now that the checklist would follow many of the same concepts or thoughts found in my free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW. You can use that as a way to see where you can make improvements right away.

PPS Some of you may have already noticed the other benefits of Group Therapy. Think of the camaraderie that will be built by a group of shop owners working together like this. It will become the start of a great referral program better than any networking event might offer. Plus, you will all become invested in each other's success.

PPPS Thanks, Travis, for asking the question about Mystery Shopper programs. It helped me clarify my own thoughts and was just the push I needed to pursue this idea.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Get in the Paper or On the Air

Rarely does a month go by that I don't have my store mentioned in the local newspaper, on local radio, or local TV. Heck, rarely does a week go by, especially during the holidays, that I don't get some complimentary coverage for something we are doing.

I don't think it is because I am more newsworthy than anyone else. I think it is because I do a few things most retailers don't.

Here are my top three secrets for getting into your local media.

  1. Make friends with the reporters
  2. Help them out for free
  3. Show them why/how what you're doing is newsworthy to everyone else

Make Friends

You can find local reporters at business meetings, at city council meetings, or simply by reading the bylines of your local paper. Those of you who still have print papers will find that those reporters list their email with every story.

Make it a point to attend those meetings and sit next to the reporters. Ask them questions. Find out their take and their opinion on the topics at hand. Listen. Strike up conversations every single time you see them, whether at a meeting or not. Call them by their first name. Comment positively on things they have written.

When you become their friend, they will learn to trust you as an easy source for information when they are on a tight deadline.

Help Them Out

Read all of what they write. Send them an email with your thoughts. If you agree with them, tell them so. If you don't agree with them, give them facts and sources for information why you might politely disagree. In fact, help them out. Send them information related to articles they have already written - information that has nothing to do with your business. Send them links to articles you have read and liked. Give them content totally unrelated to your store but in the same vein as what they typically report.

Most importantly, expect nothing in return.

If you think of the reporter as a friend, you are just trying to help your friend do a better job. Do this enough and they will help you in return when the time is right.

Show Why/How it is Newsworthy

The editor gets the final say as to what stories get run. The number one thing an editor wants to know is, why is this important to my readers? If the answer to that is because it will make you money, they will tell you to buy an ad. If it is only important to you and your business and your customers, it isn't newsworthy. You have to find the angle that makes it newsworthy to everyone.

When you finally get around to sending your press releases to all your friends in the media, you need to find that angle or your friends won't get it past the editor.

I had a chance to interview a local newspaper editor a few years ago about this topic. She gave a classic example. Having the president of Rotary International coming to your next Rotary Club meeting is only important to you. Having five hundred people drive from up to four hours away and stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants to hear him speak is newsworthy to everyone.

Find the slant in your story that is newsworthy to everyone including people who would never be a customer of yours. That is the story to tell. (If you don't have one, tweak your event until you do have a newsworthy angle.)

Yes, all of this takes time. That time, however, pays off quite well. You are in this for the long run, aren't you?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It might seem like I am only talking about newspapers (print & online). The same applies to bloggers - flattery and complimenting information gets you far. The same applies to TV and radio - find out who the program directors and news directors are. They are your ticket in. The same works with networking - get to know the movers and shakers without expecting anything in return. Take the time. It is well worth your investment.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Take a Stand For Something

Want to get some FREE publicity? Take a stand for something. Draw your line in the sand and make it known on which side you stand. The press loves stories like that.

Want to get some Word-of-Mouth publicity? Take a stand for something. Be adamant about what you will, and sometimes more importantly, what you won't do. Customers love to share that kind of information.

Want to grow your brand faster and get better known? Take a stand for something. Share your strong point of view with the world, knowing that some will hate it and some will love it, and soon you will be known for it.

I know what you're thinking right now. The weasel or lizard in your brain is saying, but won't I alienate some of my customers? 

Yes, you will. The stronger your stand, the more you will alienate part of the potential customer base. But the same is true of those you ignite. The more powerful your stance, the more you fan the flames of passion in those who share your point of view, and the more loyal they become.

I know another thing you're thinking right now. I can't afford to anger any customers. I need them all.

Hate to burst your bubble but you don't have them all. At best you have one in ten. More likely you have one in twenty - five percent of your market. Nineteen people have decided not to shop with you. Why? Either because they already know you or they don't already know you. Those are the only two reasons. Well, there is a third reason, kinda. They think they know you.

When you take a stand you eliminate all doubt as to who you are. You may convert a few people who thought they knew you. More likely, though, you'll get a better chance at converting the large percentage of customers who don't know you.

How? Through the media, through word-of-mouth, through building a reputation.

Don't be wishy washy. Be yourself, be yourself openly, be yourself all the way. Pretty soon you will own your corner of the market.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Don't know really who you are (in a business sense)? Follow the directions on this worksheet. It will help.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Perception or Reality?

Another toy store owner was interviewed recently for a local news story on shopping local. The interview was great. The store looked great. The troubling part was a simple comment made by the anchor after the interview was done.

She said, "The mom and pop stores, sometimes they don't have flexible return policies should something not work out..."


Or is it?

Perception is reality for most people. If a news anchor feels that this is true enough to actually say it on the air, then enough people must think this is true. The general perception, therefore, is that mom & pop stores have strict, non-flexible return policies.

First, if you do have a strict return policy, go read this blog I posted about why that is a bad idea.

Second, if you have a liberal and customer-friendly return policy (and you should), make sure you have it posted prominently. Don't leave it up to chance or your customers might think and believe otherwise.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I also cover Return Policies in the free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Coolest Store in Town

I was walking out of the grocery store a couple nights ago and caught my reflection in the window. I had on my Toy House jacket and saw our distinctive logo staring back. At that moment it dawned on me.

I own the coolest store in Jackson.

Oh sure, there may be a few people who would argue that point. But there would be just as many who would argue for us. Of course, we have some distinct advantages.

First, we sell toys. Second, we've been in business a long time so there is a lot of nostalgia built up. Third, we have a lot of inclusive fun here. And fourth, we're fairly unique to the toy industry. There just aren't a lot of stores quite like us around the country.

But that got me thinking...

Are you the coolest store in your town?
Are you even in the discussion?
What can you do if you don't have toys or time on your side?

There is an easy way to get into the discussion. Treat your customers better than even they expect to be treated. That's cool enough to get you a seat at the table. Then do some truly unique things that no one else has even considered doing. You'll be the coolest store in your town to everyone who knows you.

Best of all, they'll tell everyone else.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Want some ideas on how to do the unexpected? Download my free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW.

PPS Want more ideas? Sign up for the 2-day Shareworthy Customer Service class I'm helping teach at Wizard Academy. You'll know about how to exceed customer expectations because Tim Miles and I are going to exceed yours.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fair and Square

My wife is frustrated (and thankfully, it is not my fault). She used to love going to JC Penney. Well, love might be a strong word for someone who finds shopping a chore. But now she finds that JCP rarely makes it on her list. And she is not alone. JC Penney just reported that same-store sales fell a whopping 26.1%!

Many are blaming their new Fair and Square pricing policy.

My wife is one of them.

She says it is neither Fair nor Square. As she pointed out to me last night, our prices are Fair and Square. They are clearly marked on every package. There are no misleading header cards on the racks. There are no surprises at the register. There are no gimmicks, exclusions, mark-it-up-to-mark-it-down contrived sales. There are no hidden fees, add-ons, hoops or loopholes. The price you see is the price you pay.

That is what JC Penney promised us when they launched this new pricing policy at the beginning of the year. The problem isn't in the policy. The problem is they failed to deliver what they promised.

Many pundits will wrongly claim that customers want sales and deals and JCP's failure is because they aren't offering enough deals. I will argue that their failure is because they didn't actually make their prices Fair and Square. Every time my wife went in, the prices were not clearly marked, some items had no price at all!  The header cards rarely matched the price on the product and even less the price at the register. The prices seemed to fluctuate faster than the stock market.

Before you listen to the pundits try to tell you that customers only want sales and discounts, understand that many retailers are quite successful offering pricing that is fair, clearly marked, and not jumping all over the place. JC Penney promised us that back in January. Empty promises lead to empty stores.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There is a Fair and Square pricing policy that keeps your customers happy and your margins strong enough to be profitable. Download the free eBook Pricing for Profit here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tell Me About a Time When...

I'm doing interviews for seasonal staff. Since actions speak louder than words, my favorite questions tend to all start the same.

Tell me about a time when... went above and beyond the call of duty on your last job. received customer service so great you had to tell someone about it. had to work with another person to overcome a difficult obstacle. were so proud you were almost embarrassed. made a lasting impression on a customer.

Asking about a specific experience helps in a number of ways.

First, if they cannot think of anything, then they haven't done anything. Don't hire that person.

Second, details matter. The more detailed they are, the more the event stuck in their memory, the more they will create memorable moments.

Third, you get to see how they define those terms. If their answer to the second question was, "I got an extra discount on my clearance items because I complained about the stitching," you can get a pretty clear picture of how they will treat your customers.

Past performance here is an indicator of future performance. Ask questions that draw out what they have done. The answers are telling.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS As important as it is to ask about their experiences, it is their character that you need to hire.  I use those questions above to look for particular character traits. In the case of today's round of interviews, I was looking for compassion, drive, problem solving, and friendliness.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Date Change

We changed the dates on the Shareworthy Customer Service class that Tim Miles and I will be teaching at Wizard Academy.

The new dates are now Tuesday and Wednesday, January 29-30, 2013.

Plan on being there.  It will be the best investment you make in your business next year.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  What will it take for you to make an extra $2,500 in profit next year?  An extra $25,000 in sales?  That's the break even if you take this class (class fees plus travel expenses).  This year.  The stuff you learn will grow your business next year and the following year and the year after that, too.  Go sign up today.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mixed Message

I was in Louisville, KY last week for the ABC Expo, the biggest trade show for the juvenile products industry. A trade show this big deserves decorations just as big. And sure enough, right outside the Expo Center was a twenty foot tall rocking chair...

...with an unfortunate sign in front of it.

This was the first thing we all saw when we arrived at the show.  This was our first impression.

They might as well have said "Go Home!" or "Unwelcome!" or "Stay Out!" 

That sign was not there the first day. My best guess is that someone tried climbing on the chair which prompted someone from the organization to draw this crudely lettered five foot tall sign. Don't you think it could have been handled in a far better way? Maybe a couple small signs attached to the legs for anyone who got close enough to think about climbing on the chair? Maybe better wording like, "For display purposes only," or "Do not try this at home,"?

There are two lessons in all this.

First, go outside and walk up to your building. Be a customer. Look around you. See where you might be giving off a bad first impression. Fix it now.

Second, make sure everyone on your team knows the message you want to send. Make sure everyone knows the Core Values that drive you. Make sure everyone knows the impression you want to make. Even the most bottom person on your totem pole should know enough not to make this kind of mistake.

Yes, the little things like this do make a huge difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Managing your Brand means managing the impression a customer has of your store. When you send out a mixed message, your customer gets the wrong impression. Control the message and you control the way people feel about you.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Two Days to Take Your Customer Service to Shareworthy Levels

I've written about Wizard of Ads partner - the incomparable Professor Tim Miles.

He wrote the e-book on Shareworthy Customer Service. He also wrote a book called Good Company. He's tall. He's smart. He makes up (really cool) words. And he knows more about how to improve your Customer Service than most people walking this planet.

In fact, he is teaching it to businesses all around this planet right now and they are posting growth numbers that would make you blush.

I've done my own writing about Customer Service. Most of you have already downloaded my free e-book Customer Service: From Weak to WOW! Some of you have seen the live presentation. Many of you have found new ways to raise the bar in your business because of it.

Tim likes what I'm doing to raise the bar.  I like what Tim's doing to take the bar galactic.  So we are combining forces and taking what we know to Wizard Academy!

Announcing a new class!

January 29-30, 2013
Austin, Texas

Two full days of instruction from two likable guys who have been transforming businesses through better customer service for years.  (Click the link above to read a full course description.)
Two full days of a true Wizard Academy experience (which in its own right is more than worth the price of admission.)
Two full days of learning what, why, where, who and how to make your customers' experience so memorable they write books about you and your company (and you don't have to give either of us the credit!)

Go sign up.  The investment is deep.  The return is deeper.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  If you're one of the first people to sign up for the class, you get FREE LODGING on campus at Wizard Academy.  That is soooo worth it! Soooooooo worth it!! Soooooooooooo worth it!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Don't Hide Your Agenda

I was about to write a blog about the importance of the little details, like a clean bathroom, and how even those small things need to be consistent with your branding, your Core Values, otherwise they could undermine all the good you do.

I saw a headline and a survey that said 62% of customers think a dirty restroom is a sign of poor management.  Odor, dirty or clogged toilets, and bathrooms that looked old were the three most common problems.

Then I read the source... A plumbing supply company.  Made me pause for a moment.  Made me wonder if there was some sort of bias in the survey.  Made me wonder if there was a hidden agenda.

You, too?

And that, in a nutshell, is why consumers don't trust us.  They think we have a hidden agenda.  That Hot Toy list that Toys R Us recently published? I watched it get trashed in a blog for being self-serving.

What if the plumbing supply company said... Hey, we're in the bathroom supply business so we did a poll to see what the main complaints were that people had about public bathrooms.  Not surprisingly, smell and odor was number one.  We also learned some other interesting information about bathrooms.  They make a big impression on your customers, both good and bad.  Sure, we're telling you because we want your business.  More importantly, we're telling you because we want you to stay in business.  Without you, there are no public bathrooms for us to update.

Wouldn't seem so self-serving, would it?  Just by being up front and honest about being self-serving, they sound less self-serving.  Ironic? Yes. People trust an open agenda.  They distrust a hidden one.

How can you be up front and honest so that you don't seem to have a hidden agenda?  Here is one way we do it.  I constantly tell customers that we will help you install your car seat no matter where you bought it.  I then tell them up front that I have an ulterior motive for doing it.  If the car seat is installed safely, your child is safer.  If your child is safer, your child lives longer.  If your child lives longer... wait for it... you have to buy more toys.

Always gets a smile (we're here to make you smile, remember?).

Be honest about why you do what you do.  Tell your ulterior motives.  Tell the downside.  It helps build trust instead of destroy it.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS But please be sure to clean your bathrooms!  It does make a difference.  In the book Retail Superstars George Whalin talks about the bathrooms as a positive feature in a number of the stores in the book.

Monday, October 8, 2012

No One is Buying the Hype

Greatest (biggest, best...) ever!

As soon as you hear it, you dismiss it.  You've been burned too many times.  If it sounds too good to be true, you know it probably isn't.

Hype is dead.  Hype has been laid to rest.  People aren't buying it anymore.

If your advertising campaign is built on the next biggest, greatest thing, good luck with all that.  You'd be better served to drop all the overblown hyperbole and talk about the downside.

Yeah, the downside.

One of the easiest ways to instill trust in your customers is to be open and honest about what you or your products won't do.  As in... "This bottle claims to eliminate gas in your baby's stomach.  We all know that ain't happening.  Your baby will need to burp no matter which way she feeds.  But here is why you really should think about this bottle versus that other one.  If you are nursing..."

In other words, be honest.

Everyone knows that every product has an upside and a downside.  If you don't show the downside up front, the customer will wonder what you're hiding.  They will look for that downside and form a strong distrust of you in the process.  But if you show that downside right up front, first they begin to trust you and second, they are far more willing to listen to everything else you say.

At the end of the day, it is all about Trust.  No one trusts the hype.  No one trusts the salesperson who hides the downside.  So drop the hype, tell the downside.

I'm waiting for the furniture store to run this ad.

"This isn't our biggest sale ever.  In fact, we'll probably have another sale next month.  But the items we are selling today won't be in that sale.  If you're looking for a great deal on a couch, wait til next month.  But if you need a dining room set, we have a few closeouts we want to move off our floor.  Nothing wrong with them, just not a style that sold well at regular price..."

I think it would resonate far better than the current hype with the circus tents and balloons and shouting MC's.  Especially to anyone who wants a new dining room set.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Not only should you reconsider your hype ads, make sure you are training your sales staff to tell the downside first.  Be upfront and honest in your advertising, marketing, and in your store.  Your customers will trust you far better.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Third Time's a Charm

I did a new talk for the Monroe Chamber of Commerce's Business Summit three weeks ago called "Better Your Business by Being Your Business Better".    It is a mix of lessons and case studies of companies that are staying true to their Core Values and reaping the benefits.  Works well as a keynote or workshop.  Full of stories to make you laugh, make you cry, make you understand how Values play a key role in your success.

The audience loved it!  I have received multiple requests to do the same talk to other groups.  In fact, I've already done it twice more since then.

As much as I liked the first presentation and the positive feedback it received, there were a few rough spots the audience didn't notice but I knew were there.  There were a few transitions that needed polishing, a couple slides that were unnecessary, and a few stories that needed tweaking.  I made some changes and the second presentation received equally strong praise.  But I knew it still wasn't where it could be.  More tweaking followed.

The third time I knocked it out of the park!  The crowd was completely into it.  They were laughing out loud.  They were nodding in approval.  They were clapping and carrying on.  They were getting all the inside jokes.  They were in tears.  They were fully vested.  Every transition flowed perfectly.  Every story and lesson fit like a well-cut jigsaw puzzle.  Yes, the third time was the charm.

Don't get me wrong.  The first two were pretty darned good.  One person told me after the first presentation that it was the best thing he had ever seen.  So unless his bar was really low...

I could have stopped there and left the presentation alone.  Good enough.  Both of the other groups would have been every bit as pleased seeing the first version.  But I didn't.  I knew I could do better.

I think many business owners, myself included, are guilty of this.  We know we are already pretty darned good at what we do.  We know we are already doing a better job than our competition.  We know we are giving the customers a really good experience.  Why try harder? Where is the return on investment?  Will the customer even notice?

Here is the nugget of truth... Good enough is only good enough today.  Right now.  Tomorrow you have to be better.  Olympic Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton reminded us "...the gold-medal performances of today are just the compulsory exercises next time."  Yes, the customer will notice. So you better take notice, too.

What are you doing pretty darn good today that you can make better tomorrow?

I'm already working on how to make the fourth version of this presentation (which is already booked) even better.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS   Better Your Business by Being Your Business Better is now up on my website under Speaker for Hire.  If you are looking for a talk that will motivate, get people to take ownership, and teach everyone two lessons that they can take to the bank, this 50 minute presentation rocks!  Works for owners and employees.  Works as a keynote or as a workshop.  Works with twelve people or twelve hundred.  Get in touch.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Every 80 Years

"The reason history must repeat itself is because we pay so little attention to it the first time." -Blackie Sherrod

Go back in time to the early 1940's.  What was happening?  Easy question... World War II.

Go back another 80 years to the 1860's.  What was happening?  Another easy question... The Civil War.

Go back another 80 years to the 1780's.  What was happening?  If you said The Revolutionary War, you get an A for history.

See a pattern?

It goes back for centuries through the Western World.  1700's? Great Northern War. 1620's? The Thirty Year War and so on...

Every eighty years, like clockwork.  In fact, there is a well documented pattern of a shift between two general mentalities of the population of the Western World, a shift between the two extremes of "Me" and "We" that has been swinging like a pendulum for the last 3000 years.  It takes eighty years to complete a cycle from one extreme to the other and back again.

We're currently heading toward the peak extreme of another "We" generation, one that has caused wars and conflicts for centuries.  Knowing these two extremes, how we get there as a population and what to expect as we approach another peak is possibly the most important information you can have.

I want you to have this info.  

I have been studying this pendulum swing since the first time I heard about it from Roy H. Williams at Wizard Academy in 2005 and the evidence blew me away.  I've seen it in the toy industry, in the baby industry, in retail as a whole.  I've seen it in politics, in advertising, in the movies and music.  I've seen it in our schools, in our homes and even online.  Now Roy has teamed up with Michael Drew to present you with two ways to understand this pendulum shift and how it affects the world around you better than ever before.

The first is their book which launched today - Pendulum (link to Amazon order page but don't go there until you read the next paragraph).

The second is the creation of the Pendulum in Action website.  Follow that link and it will take you to a special offer where you can get the book for only the cost of shipping ($7) and also get access to five modules/presentations on the Pendulum Swing and how to understand it from the perspective of your business.

Talk about ROI?  Those will be the best seven dollars you spend.     Ever.      Go click that second link now.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  If it isn't the best $7 you spent on your business, tell me why.  I'll send you something else also worth more than $7 to make up for it.  Yeah, I believe it that much I'm willing to stand behind someone else's work with my own money.

PPS Yes, the pattern says in the 2020's we could most certainly be at war.  I'm not trying to sound apocalyptic or anything, but the pattern has existed for millennium   Knowing it and knowing what to do about it are the first steps to preventing the worst from happening.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm Gonna Raise Your Sales 300%!

I was at a conference where one of the speakers promised us he could raise our sales 300%!

Yeah, like me, you're all laughing at him.  Huckster, Snake Oil Salesman, Liar Liar Pants on Fire and other derogatory terms crossed your mind.  But after further review, I think his plan was solid and would probably work.  Short term.

His plan was simple.*  Slash your prices by 50%.  Increase your advertising by 400%.  In short time your sales will be 300% greater than the same period last year.  You'll be broke and filing bankruptcy, he was quick to note, but you'll be happy because sales are up!

And therein lies the problem...

Ask any retailer, "How's biz?" and they'll either be happy because sales are up or sad because sales are down.  Folks, we're tying our mood to the wrong numbers.  It isn't about Sales.  It is about Profits.  Sure, increased sales make it easier to be profitable.  But they don't guarantee it.

I'm still waiting on the savvy retailer, who when asked, "How's biz?" tells me, "Awesome! I was able to cut three points off my COGS and finally got a handle on expenses.  Profit this year is well ahead of last year."

Then again, I think most retailers are not even calculating such numbers.  They are just waiting until the year end when the accountant tells them if they made any money or not.

I get that.  Retail accounting can be scary.  Even though I've written a book on the complete financial analysis of the typical toy store and have also written an easy guide to reading your financial statements (those reports Quickbooks and all other accounting software can print with just a couple clicks), I'm still constantly trying to wrap my head around our financials.

But that is far better than putting my head in the sand and ignoring those numbers.  Especially now with the 4th quarter finally under way.

Now is the time to figure out a new pricing structure that might increase your gross profit.
Now is the time to figure out which expenses are out of whack and need attention.
Now is the time to figure out what inventory isn't moving and needs to be marked down.
Now is the time to figure out where are the holes in your training program.

-Phil Wrzesinski

*PS  Don't try his plan.  Please don't try his plan.  Even he didn't want anyone to try his plan.  He was just trying to make a point (and I was, too).  If you try anything, try measuring your financials once a month.  Yeah, it's more work on your part.  Yeah, it's way more rewarding when you do that work right!  Waaayyy more rewarding.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is 90% Good Enough?

Last night I went to a Band Parent Meeting for my freshman trumpet player.  The band instructor set up the cafeteria so that he could teach a class and let the parents see how he teaches.  It was a fascinating glimpse into the world of musical instruction.

At one point the instructor talked about his grading policy.  He said everyone will get an A in his class, but not to worry, they will earn that A.  We sat with puzzled looks.  So he explained further.  He has a terminology test coming up next week.  Everyone has to get at least 90% on that test.  If they don't, they take the test again.  If they don't on the second try, they continue taking the test until they score at least 90%.  As he told us, if the students don't know the terminology, they can't play the music correctly.  Ninety-percent is the minimum and every student has to get there or they can't become a band.

Then, for further emphasis, he had the band play a piece of music they had just begun rehearsing.  The goal was mastery.  It is not enough to practice it until you can do it right; you have to practice it until you cannot do it wrong.  After playing a few bars, the instructor told the members of the band to purposefully make one mistake and only one mistake while they played the same melody again.  The difference was horrifyingly obvious.  Fifty kids all making only one mistake was painful to our ears.  Fifty kids all getting an A- was difficult to hear.

All students will get an A.

All students will get an A because that is what is expected and they will practice until they cannot do it wrong.  I believe the instructor. I believe him when he says all students will get an A.  I believe it because he has set up his classroom to make it happen.

Have you set up your store so that all your employees will get an A?  Are they expected to master their jobs?  Are they practicing until they cannot do it wrong?  Have you ever heard a band where every musician made one and only one mistake?

Thank you, Mr. Shaner.  I'm thrilled you will be my son's instructor for the next four years.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Homework in his class is simple.  Have you mastered it? No? You have homework.  Let me ask you... What are you trying to master?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

When it Rains...

Yesterday afternoon I watched my son run a cross country race in the rain.  Some of the hundreds of spectators had umbrellas, some had raincoats, some had no protection at all.  I read the weather reports.  I had an umbrella and a raincoat.

After the race that same son had to rush to the football stadium to march with the band.  The band wore full length rain jackets with hoods.  It rained so much the woodwinds didn't even play.  I added rain pants, a warmer shirt and a hat to my umbrella and rain coat.  Some people in the stands had nothing more than a jacket without a hood.

This morning my other son had a soccer game.  He was the only kid on the soccer field wearing a rain coat.

Sometimes it rains.  Life still goes on.  The cross country team runs. The football players play.  The band marches.  The soccer game happens.

Some people are prepared for the rain.  They read the weather report and dress appropriately.

Some people don't.  They hope the game or meet is canceled.  They pray the weather will change.  They make do the best they can and pretend it doesn't bother them.

Are you reading the weather report for your business?  Are you prepared for the storms?  Or are you just praying and pretending?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Storms can be economic crises in your hometown, vendor issues, competition coming to town, over-buying, or even under-buying, cash-flow problems, profit problems.  Every business has storms.  The best businesses have umbrellas and rain coats ready to handle those storms.  One way to stay prepared is to make a list of storms you might have to face and find the appropriate "umbrella" for each one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An Article You Should Read

I just finished reading a fascinating study done by Forbes on Middle Market Companies (click here to get the study - yes, you need to give your email to them, their rules, not mine.)

In spite of the economy, middle market companies are growing and they are creating jobs.

One telling statistic was when they were asked...

What do you think have been the most critical factors contributing to your organization's successful growth?

The runaway number one answer was... "Focus on Customer Experience".  Pricing was way down at tenth on that same list.

And when asked where they were focusing their resources, once again Customer Service was the number one answer.

What do these companies know that you don't?

Oh yeah... nothing.

Want to grow your business?  Focus your resources on Customer Service.  Find ways to make a better Customer Experience.  Works great in a down economy.  Works just as great when the economy is rocking, too.  Just sayin'.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  For a start on how to make your Customer Experience better, download my FREE eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW!  You will learn changes you can make today that won't cost you a dime (but will start earning you many more dimes!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two Ways to Use Facebook Better

Social media is not a new form of advertising.  But it is a new method for branding your business.

Facebook is not a new avenue to talk at your customers.  But it is a new method for talking with your customers.

The biggest mistake most businesses make with social media (heck, with all forms of advertising) is using them the wrong way.  With social media, the specific mistake is thinking it is a platform for you to talk about your business.

If you think that way, you have it backwards.  Social media is for your customers to tell you about their lives and how you fit in them.  Therefore, the best way to use social media is to help your fans and followers start the conversation and then let them do all the talking.  Ask questions.  Ask for feedback.  Tell them what you're thinking and ask if they agree.

Groovy Girls versus Barbie Dolls

One way I like to start the conversation on Facebook for Toy House is to post pictures of two competing toys to see which one my customers prefer.  Quick Polls.  People love to give you their opinions, so let them.  One time I posted this pic of Groovy Girls vs Barbie Dolls.

You can see from the comments how my fans were doing the "selling" of Groovy Girls.  Far more powerful than me trying to "sell" my customers.

The other advantage of these quick polls was how easily it was to get a read on what my fans liked and didn't like and why.  They told me!

Not only did I get my customers to do the selling, I got valuable information about what my customers liked and disliked.  I also got a lot of interest.  The more people commented, the more people saw the post.  We found that the number of people who "liked" us grew faster when we did stuff like this rather than just shout out "We have Groovy Girls!"

Furthering Your Brand

Another way to use Facebook successfully is to use it to further your brand.  Make sure all of your posts are consistent with your Core Values.  For instance, one of the Toy House Core Values is Nostalgia.  So I posted this...

In 1949 my grandparents, Phil & Esther Conley transformed a house on First Street into a toy store. Everyone said they were crazy. You can't sell toys year-round in Jackson. 18 years and three expansions later they had outgrown that house. On Monday, September 18, 1967 they re-opened Toy House at 400 North Mechanic Street. Forty five years later, the store is still going strong in our current building, still making people smile. If you like what we've done, share this with your friends. In a world where everything is becoming more disposable, some things are still built to last.

It was one of the most popular posts ever in terms of views and shares and likes.  Nostalgia is a powerful value that resonates with a lot of people.

I didn't tell people what to do.  I didn't tell them where to go.  I told them what I believed in.  I tapped into their own feelings of nostalgia.  I tapped into their own belief systems.  I deepened the connection they might already have and used them, by their comments and likes and shares, for reaching out to others who might share those same values.

I love Facebook.  Not as a means of selling, but as a means of conversing, of learning, of sharing, and of building a deeper relationship.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Want to know more about the right and wrong ways to use all other forms of advertising? Read my FREE eBook How Ads Work Part 1.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fake It Til You Make It

When you smile, the simple act of your muscles pulling the lips upward sends a signal to your brain.  Your brain begins releasing Endorphins that lower your stress.  It also sends a signal to your brain to release Serotonin, which boosts your immune system, gives you energy, and makes you feel good.

Even when the smile isn't genuine.

Isn't that cool?  You really can fake it til you make it.  Fake a smile and in short time you will feel better.

You can do the same thing with other body language poses.

Power posing is another way to fake it til you make it.  According to a Harvard study, when you strike a power pose, a pose where your body is open, not crossed, and in a larger than life position (think Wonder Woman with her hands on her hips), you increase your levels of testosterone while also decreasing your levels of cortisol.

What are the applications of this for independent retailers?

First, remind your staff to smile no matter how they feel.  Just that act alone will make them feel better soon.  Plus, that smile is infectious.  If they smile, the customers will smile and soon everyone will be feeling better.

Second, teach your staff how to Power Pose every morning before the day begins.  Have them hold that pose for a couple minutes before they hit the sales floor.  Their energy will be better, they will have more confidence, and they will seem more likable and approachable.

Yeah, body language actually does make a difference, both inside and out.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  That picture is from the Monroe Chamber of Commerce Business Summit.  I had everyone Power Pose at the beginning of the talk.  Got the energy of the crowd up before I launched a new motivational talk - Better Your Business by Being Your Business Better which includes elements of Understanding Your Brand with more examples of how it works in real life. If you would like your organization fired up and working towards a common goal, contact me.  The presentation takes an hour (there is a 30-minute Reader's Digest version if you're strapped for time) and will do far more than just raise your testosterone or lower your cortisol.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What Did You Do Last Week?

What did you do this past week?  Write it all down.  Short-hand, as a bullet list, paragraph form, whatever it takes.  Write it ALL down.  Go ahead.  I'll wait...

I played golf (twice), won a golf scramble tournament.  I led a group of Emerging Leaders through a Team Building training and then taught them how to be Team Builders on their own teams.  I did a Keynote Address for the Monroe Chamber of Commerce Business Summit on being true to your Core Values.  I helped my two sons with homework.  I taught a class on baby products for expectant parents.  I taught a class for expectant daddies.  I got a quote back for printing my next book.  I placed orders for the store.  I dealt with defects and problems for customers.  I calculated cash flow projections.  I wrote up a new schedule for staff for next month.  I planned a staff meeting.  I met with three sales reps.  I went biking. I went running.  I took my dog to agility class.  I played my guitar.  I set up a sound system for church.  I installed a bunch of car seats.  I ran errands.   I went on TV.  I wrote a bunch of emails.  I read a bunch of blogs. I wrote a blog. I cooked for my wife and kids. I ate. I slept.

Three things come from a list like this.

First, unless you wrote a chronological list, the first few things you listed were likely the items that meant the most to you.  Sometimes this is the easiest way to figure out where your priorities lie, and if they are aligned with your needs.

Second, sometimes it is easy to forget all the incredible things you do in a week.  Pat yourself on the back for all you accomplished.  It is often more than you thought and quite often more than you expected.  Writing it all down helps bring into focus all you do and the impact you make.

Third, it helps you remember all that you didn't do.  Compare one week's list to the next and you will see what you failed to accomplish.  Don't be so hard on yourself.  There is always more to do.  Put those things on this week's To Do list and get busy.

It is good to stop and take your pulse from time to time and make sure you have your priorities straight.  Take a good look at your list and figure out the story it has to tell you.  Then decide what you want to put on next week's list.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Yes, it was a particularly busy week for me with some really fun big events.  But, surprisingly enough, the list is no longer than any other week.  Just different.  Isn't variety the spice of life? And I can quickly see where I need to spend more time next week.

PPS Don't compare your list to mine or anyone else's.  You aren't living those lives.  Live your own.  Just do it consciously and with purpose.  This list exercise helps you do that.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Don't Know What to Do

My son is a freshman on the cross country team.  He needs to do running on his own over the weekend (which, of course, means running with dad).  Time got away from us and the sun was setting on our weekend.  We decided to go to the middle school where they have coin-operated lights on the tennis courts.

The courts were full and the lights on when we got there, but half way through our run the courts emptied and the lights went out.

No problem.  I had plenty of quarters.  I started feeding the machine and pushing the button.  Nothing happened.  I fed more quarters, still nothing.  I used the light from my phone to find a sign.  No sign.  A couple of walkers came by and asked if we needed help.  They had a flashlight.  No sign. No info.  They thought it was one hour for 50 cents, but there was nothing to tell us that.

Three dollars and fifty cents later we left the dark courts for the partially lit parking lot to continue our run.

Five minutes later the lights at the tennis courts came on.  Time delay? I don't know.  They were on and probably going to stay on for quite some time - three dollars and fifty cents worth of time!

I owe an apology to all the residents nearby for the next seven hours of bright lights.  I'm only as good as the info I am given.

So are your customers.  Make sure they know exactly how to do anything and everything you want them to do.  Give them signs.  Give them info.  Give them clear instructions.  They'll be happy because they accomplished what they wanted to do.  You'll be happy because they are happy. (And the neighbors will be happy because the lights will go off at a decent hour - sorry 'bout that.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Our puppy didn't mind running in the dark.  Then again, unlike your customer, she doesn't read signs.  Your customer will get the info she needs somewhere.  Might as well be from you.