Thursday, May 31, 2012

Raindrops Keep Falling on My (Son's) Head

For the last 2 hours my 13-year-old son and I have been on a search of a raincoat.  We live in Michigan, one of the top ten states for # of rainy days per year.  All we wanted was a simple raincoat with a hood, size adult small.

We went to four department stores, no luck.  Only one even had a raincoat of any kind and only in L or XL.  One of the stores told me they sold them but only during the season.  What season?  April showers?  Last I checked we get rain in MI from January through December with the bulk of it from March to October.

We went to both sporting goods stores.  One had only ponchos.  Really?  The other had the same style and brand as the department store, oh yeah, and same sizes, too - L and XL.

We went to two mass market discounters.  400,000 square feet, zero raincoats.

With gas prices the way they are, I don't see us driving 45 minutes to Lansing or Ann Arbor to the bigger sporting goods stores.  Hello Internet.

The Lesson In All This
Do you have seasonal items in your store ALL season long?  Do you have seasonal items even after the season is over?  Do you have hard-to-find items that the national chains just don't think is worth carrying any more?  (Do you have a plain colored simple raincoat with a hood in an adult small?)

Are you advertising that knowledge like crazy?  You should.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  If you need a raincoat in Jackson, MI, don't go to Target, Meijer's, JC Penney, Sears, Elder Beerman, Kohl's, Dunham Sports or MC Sports.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Way to Get This Blog

Okay, full disclosure... My wife made me do it, lol.

Over on the right of this blog is a new feature - Follow by Email.

My wife was complaining that she only follows this blog so it wasn't worth opening up an RSS feed just for me.  She wished she would get the blog via email.  So last night we found this app that allows such a feature.

Note: when you sign up it will ask you to verify by typing in some funny text and then send you a confirmation email.  Just click on the link in that email and you should start getting email notifications of this blog.  I don't know for sure how that will look (until this post gets published, that is).  But it is one more way for us to stay connected.

Try it out and give me some feedback.


-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One thing my wife mentioned was that she can forward an email quite easily.  And since she is not on Twitter, that is her preferred method of interaction.  One more lesson for all of us... Meet your customers where they are.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don't Make Them Guess

Have a different way of doing things?  Don't make your customers guess.  Tell them right up front.  Here is how we do things.  Put it on a sign.  Put it in a brochure, flier, or even a simple handout.  Make sure every employee tells it to every customer.  Never assume they know.  Never assume they will figure it out on their own.

I took the family to one of our favorite restaurants this past weekend.  They have a lovely outdoor patio overlooking a beautiful lake - great way to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend.  In previous visits we learned that the wait staff will serve drinks on the patio (slowly, but eventually), but not food.  You have to go to their take-out window.  So when we walked in, knowing we wanted to sit on the patio and enjoy the sunshine, we first stopped at the take-out window.

But when we entered the patio there was a server bringing food out to all three of the occupied tables.  Okay, we thought, now they serve food.  Cool!  Drinks ought to come faster now.  Except the waitress never once stopped by our table.  Not. Even. Once.

I ended up going to the bar to get our drinks.

And guess how I felt?  Yeah, shunned, ignored, and confused.  Do they serve on the patio or do they not serve on the patio?  Do they serve only the southern end of the patio or only groups of six or more?  Do they serve if you ask but not if you don't?

Confusion can be your enemy when you are trying to delight your customers.  For the most part, we only do the things we feel comfortable doing.  Confusion negates comfort.  And not only was I confused, I most certainly was not delighted.

Do things differently.  I strongly encourage it.  But let your customers know plainly and simply how you do things differently so there will be no confusion.  Only comfort.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Ikea is a classic example of doing things differently and letting you know up front through signage and brochures.  In fact, I think their signage is some of the best in the retail world.  Apple is another example who does it through staff training.  You have to interact with the staff to learn their ways, though, and not everyone wants to interact with the staff (men and introverts).

Monday, May 28, 2012

It's Not a Battleship at War

"To open a shop is easy, to keep it open an art." - Chinese Proverb

"If making a profit were easy, everyone would be doing it." - Roy H. Williams

My grandfather, who founded Toy House in 1949, served on the USS Arkansas Battleship during World War II.  68 years ago today he was training for D-Day.  67 years ago today he was preparing for Okinawa.  His tour of duty aboard the Arkansas was his first ever experience on a boat of any kind.  Yet, before his tour ended he earned his way up to being Officer of the Deck Underway (OOD), in other words, the top person in charge of the ship at sea.  

"Once you have been OOD on a battleship during wartime, well... everything else seems pretty easy in comparison." - Phil Conley

Thanks for putting it all in perspective, Gramps.

Happy Memorial Day everyone!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  I interviewed my grandfather on a couple occasions and am currently working on a book about some of the more interesting stories in our history and some of the lessons we have learned along the way.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Tough Question

I have been asked to apply for a position on an advisory board for a new retail organization.  Part of the application process includes a questionnaire.  I am stuck on the last question...

Without regard for funding, what is one area of concentration or program you would implement today to help independent specialty stores survive? 

There are so many ways to go with this...

I could focus on vendor programs slanted in the favor of indie stores such as Minimum Ad Pricing policies, exclusive products, not selling to online discounters, etc.
I could focus on advertising and marketing to promote the value of shopping local and shopping independent.
I could focus on websites to help customers find their local indie store, or even website design for all local stores so that everyone would have that electronic presence required necessary to compete in today's electronic world.

But the first place my mind went when I read that question was Training.  In many ways, we are our own worst enemies.  We undermine our own stores through weak customer service, bad inventory management, or ignorance of our financials.  We put out horrible ads that do nothing to attract customers.  We hire poorly, neglect training and wonder why our staff doesn't get it.

Sure, most indie retailers do one or two things well, some impressively well.  But often that is not enough.

Dr. Ernesto Sirolli believes independent businesses need to be strong in three areas - product, marketing, and finances - to be successful, but most individuals have a passion for only one, maybe two of those.  It takes all three to be successful so his approach is to pair people with different strengths together.

I believe you can learn to be good at all three, but you have to first want to learn.  And that may be the hardest hurdle to overcome.  You can lead an indie retailer to training, but you can't make him learn.

I guess in the end I will probably go with Vendor Programs in my answer.  But just imagine a world where every independent shop truly had WOW customer service, excellent cash flow, strong finances, and magnetic marketing...

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I was talking about you... and me, too.  I have a whole bunch of areas I need to improve.  Are you seeking yours out as actively as I am seeking out mine?

PPS Have you seen my 2-day Retail Success Academy course?  Get your business friends together and you can hire me to share what I know.  (The offer for 4 hours of training with the purchase of 60 books is still available, too)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pulling for Karen

I'm pulling for Karen.

I wasn't at first.  But now I am hoping Karen succeeds.

Karen was our bus driver for a fifth-grade field trip to Gettysburg, PA, Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC.  And she was the worst tour bus driver I have ever encountered.

Missed turns?  Every. Time. We. Got. On. The. Bus.  We saw places in Washington and Baltimore that aren't even on the maps.  And this was with a GPS device sitting next to her.  The big joke was that the GPS was programmed with an I-hate-bus-drivers mode.  On our way out of Washington, we made not one but two turn arounds where we got off the highway and went in the opposite directions.  We had to cancel one item on our itinerary because of all the lost time from getting lost.

Curb Jumping?  A few of us were ready to warn nearby pedestrians every time we got on the bus to watch their toes.  In her defense, there were a couple tight turns I would not have wanted to attempt.  But many of the curb hops were in bus lanes.  Someone in planning thought there was enough room for a bus there.

Whiplash? There was no problem with the Don't-stand-while-the-bus-is-in-motion rule.  Standing while she drove was taking your life into your hands, or at least the part of your anatomy that was about to be lurched into the seat back nearby.

At one point we were all roasting because the air-conditioning was not turned on.  Our leaders did not want to distract her to ask about it because they had seen her inability to drive and turn on switches at the same time (assuming she knew which switch to turn on).

As we said goodbye (riddance?) to Karen for the last time, however, I learned something that changed my mind.  This was Karen's very first trip behind the wheel.  She had her license, passed the tests, but never had actually taken a group out on tour.  Yet they sent her out with a group of fifth-graders on a tight schedule to three very busy areas, including one famous for its gridlock (both traffic and otherwise).

That is in direct violation of Step #6 in my process for creating strong, long-lasting employees.  Step #6 simply says... Give them a safe place to practice their new skills, a safe way to get on-the-job experience.  

Karen should have been making the simple drive through the night from Jackson, MI to Breezewood, PA and back again.  Get a few of those under your belt before you try to tackle a city like Washington, DC.

It would be akin to you training a brand new person on the staff and then handing her your most difficult customer under the most difficult circumstances right out of the chute.

Karen's company did not do her any favors.  It will now be up to her own strength of character and how bad she wants this job, that will determine whether she decides to stay in this profession or moves on to something else.  She might end up being one of the best drivers ever.  She might walk away feeling like a failure. The worst is that she might walk away even though she could have been one of the best drivers ever, all because her company put her in a position to fail.

Don't do that to your employees.  Set them up for success.  There is a simple, intuitive way to do it.  I've written it down for you here.

In the meantime, I'm pulling for Karen to succeed.  Wouldn't you?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Kudos to the adult chaperones and leaders on this trip.  The kids never fully knew what was going on (other than the constant lurching and curb-hopping).  And at the end of it all we had a safe and successful field trip.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Waiting Game

Speaking of what to do while waiting...

I took this picture in the stall of the men's bathroom at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. (sorry for the poor cellphone quality of the pic)

There were animal poop and pee facts in every stall.  (Did you know a blue whale can hold over 55 gallons of urine in his bladder?)

Some of the kids in my group were going into every stall of every bathroom just to read the facts.  Now that is a WOW Factor!

Bathrooms are great opportunities to surprise and delight.  This is just one way.  How many more ways can you create?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One of the brilliant things about what the National Aquarium did is that fun facts like this are easy and desirable to share.  And we love to share!  If you're going to steal this idea, Give your customers something share-worthy

PPS  This is a great project for the staff.  Show them this blog. Then set them free to create a bathroom that gets talked about... in a good way!  (Plus, if they create it, they will take more ownership to keep it clean.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

From the Mouths of Babes

I'm on a field trip with my fifth-grade son to Washington DC.  I get to watch over three young boys this evening.  So I asked them after a full day of touristing... What would you consider to be the best and worst customer service you received today?

The best?  Happened in the Food Court at the Old Post Office Pavilion.  The guy working the Chick-En-Joy stand had a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and passion for his food.  Got the boys fired up for eating chicken nuggets better than anyone this side of Ronald.

The worst? Waiting in line.  We waited to get off the bus.  We waited to get into breakfast.  We waited to enter the National Archives.  We even waited to go through security to enter a food court.  A lot of hurry-up and wait.

Not earth-shattering revelations, but two good lessons, nonetheless.

Lesson #1
No matter what your age, you will always be attracted to the person who has passion and enthusiasm for his products.  If nothing else, you will stop and listen to his pitch for his tasty chicken strips and nuggets even if you opt for the adobe chicken burrito two stands over.

Lesson #2
No one likes to wait in line.  Disney and other theme parks have learned this and found diversions to keep you occupied during necessary waits and delays.

What can you do distract, divert and delight your customers whenever necessary waiting is required?  Do you offer them a chair while you look something up?  Do you hand them reading material?  My chiropractor does that, always offering a new brochure asking "Have you read this?" at every visit.  Do you give them something to occupy their mind to make the wait go quicker?  We didn't get any of that today, and it showed.

The kids have spoken.  Listen to the children.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  My favorite customer service was our tour guide at Gettysburg (our first stop on the way to DC).  He combined history, storytelling, and passion into a rocked-my-world presentation that makes me want to go back with the rest of the family... soon.  The clincher was the stories.  He knew we were from Michigan so he told us about how the Michigan 16th Calvary held the line against a more powerful Texas group and changed the course of the battle for good.  The details were rich and powerful and credible.  The emotions were palpable.  Tell stories about your business. They will make a difference and make people want to come back.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

You are not in business to make pennies.  You are in business to make dollars, lots of them, over a long period of time.

So why are you getting so upset at the customer who didn't come in right away to use to the free gift certificate you gave her?  Why are you mad at her when she shows up a year later?  She showed up, didn't she?

So why are you arguing with the customer over the return she wants to make because it wasn't the right item for her?  Why are you making her angry just to save yourself from pulling a few dollars out of the drawer today?

So why are you fretting over the one customer who showed a few days after the coupon you sent her expired? Does the fact that 500 other customers showed up on time with their coupons give you a reason to make this one customer angry enough to post on Facebook about you?

Bob Negen of Whizbang Training came to Jackson to speak to our downtown businesses.  He told us a story that has stuck with me a long time.  He was buying an Apple Computer.  He had heard about how great they were.  Unfortunately, his wasn't so great.  After three repairs, it still wasn't working.  Never had worked.  They wanted to repair it one more time.  He wanted to start with a new one.  They said no.  And for the cost of one computer they lost his business forever.

Did I mention that his business had 5 computers at that time?
And he had 2 at home?
And he plans to be in business another 20 or so years?
And he needs printers, cables, mouses, too?
And he likes to upgrade to new stuff every three years?

Seven computers times seven upgrades equals 49 computers.  The Apple guy lost 49 sales because of that one sale.  Oh, but he saved the price of one computer (sarcasm intended).

Look at your horizon.  How long do you want to be in business?  When you take a long view of your business you see that every transaction is simply a means by which you get to earn another transaction.  Sometimes you will make money on this transaction.  Sometimes you won't.  The goal of each transaction, however, is to delight the customer enough so that she will come back and bring her friends with her.  Nothing more, nothing less.

When you begin to look at it that way, you'll be dollars (and sense) ahead of your competition.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS For more ways to delight customers and earn more transactions, check out my free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW!.  

PPS  Thanks, Mary, for inspiring this blog.  Sorry that other toy store didn't get it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not Wide Enough

I pulled into the hospital parking lot.  I had a Daddy Class to teach in 15 minutes.  I hate this parking lot.  Almost with a passion, which seems much too strong a feeling for a patch of pavement with white lines.

My problem is the white lines.  They are too close together.  My Chevy Silverado barely fits between them.  And with the extended cab back doors that swing open, it is impossible to get anything or anyone out of the back seat if a car is parked next to me.

And this is a hospital.  With elderly people.  With wheel chairs and walkers.  With babies.  With car seats and strollers.

If I don't want to go into this parking lot (and it is empty on Saturday mornings when I go to teach my class, yet I still feel this way), I wonder how many other people get filled with negative thoughts before they even walk through the front door.

If you have control of your parking lot, control the emotions people feel when they pull in to visit you.  Make those lines at least ten feet apart, not nine feet (like the hospital) or even nine and a half like most lots.  Make the spaces wide enough so that moms with strollers and elderly with wheel chairs have plenty of room to maneuver.

Sure, you might have to give up a spot or two.  But a few less spaces filled by happy shoppers who feel good when they pull in is far better for your business than putting everyone in a foul mood before they walk through the front door.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Those lost spaces often only come into play at peak times, and peak times are when people expect parking to be more of a hassle.  This is simply an exercise in managing expectations and feelings, the fundamental principle of Branding.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Financials You Can Understand

I told you about the book I wrote for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association called Financials You Can Understand: Building Blocks for Successful Toy Stores.

The book is finished, published and available for purchase.

Here is what the editors wrote about the book...

"After reading this book you will know and understand all of the numbers in your Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss Statement – from where they came, what they mean and how you can make them stronger. You will know what other numbers you should be tracking and how they compare to other specialty toy stores. If you understand the basics, look for special boxes with advanced, in-depth knowledge on more detailed ways to track your numbers. Most importantly, you will know how to make your business better."

Who should buy this book?

Anyone who owns a retail store and (or) feels clueless when the accountant starts talking about your financial statements will find this book amazingly helpful.

Although much of the discussion is designed around the toy industry, the information, insights, and analysis will translate well to any type of retailer.  If you struggle to understand your accountant when he talks to you, or struggle to wrap your head around all the numbers on your financial statements, this book will be like taking the coolest, easiest, most practical accounting class ever that makes it all something you can understand.

You can buy the book here.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  You can still download my Financials eBook for free.  It does not have the detail or analysis that this new book does.  But it does cover some basic stuff.

PPS  Yes, the book might seem expensive at first glance, until you see the value in it.  Even a small retailer will gain enough knowledge to recoup that investment in short order.

PPPS  Full disclosure.  I do not gain financially from the sale of this book.  I have received my compensation for writing it.  But like with everything I do, there is no satisfaction for me until you benefit from my efforts. Please buy a copy for yourself or as a gift to a fellow retailer who could benefit.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tell Me a Story

Quick, tell me a story about a recent transaction in your business that made you laugh...

Didn't take long to think of something, did it?  The hardest part was probably deciding which story to tell.

We all have a backlog of stories we can share; some touching, some hilarious, some that get your blood pressure up.

Do you have a place to share them?

Stories are powerful because stories evoke emotions.  Emotions move the needle far better than facts and data.  Stories are more memorable, too.

Quick, tell me the phone number from your dorm room your freshman year in college.  Don't remember?  How about three stories from your freshman year about dating?  Much easier.

If you want your customers to relate to you, tell them stories that evoke the emotions you want them to feel.  Tell them stories that will stick in their minds long after the data is gone.  Tell them stories that they will share with others.

You have plenty of stories to tell.  Start telling them.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  You can tell stories on your blog, on FB, in your advertising, on signs in your store.  For as many stories as you have, you can find a new way to share.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Grandfather's Wisdom

Back in 2008 I interviewed my grandfather, Phil Conley, who, along with my grandmother Esther, founded Toy House, Inc. back in 1949.  Check out this exchange about Customer Service and return policies...

Phil Wrzesinski: But, as far as the competition, did you give them [competitors] as much mind or did you say, “We’re going to do our own thing and let them worry about them and we’ll worry about us”?

Phil Conley: Well, I was worrying about us. I wasn’t worrying about them. I didn’t worry about them. They can do what they want, but we wanted to do what we want, the right way, and that is give service, give price, good selection. The other thing, at Hudson’s, they had a very liberal policy. You could take stuff back and get credit, but you might have to go up a floor or down a floor. I wanted to do it better and so I empowered [the staff], in the early days, and it always went, that if there was a complaint the salesperson could make an adjustment then. The adjustment could be “refund the money” or... whatever would satisfy them.

PW: They had the empowerment to do that.

PC: Yes. It would be easier to return something than it was to buy it, because what I know, at Hudson’s [doing a return], it took you an hour or a half hour to go to the other floor, that’s when you’re not going to be spending money. You’re going to be trying to get money. It should be easier to [make a return].

PW: Don’t waste your time. We want you shopping.  You’re here at the store. We want you to spend as much of it shopping.

PC: Yes. That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.

PW: Wonder how many of these stores get that today?

PC: Well, don’t you?

PW: Well, I think I do.  We do our returns right up front at the register. A lot of other stores you’ve got to go to the back. You have to go wait in line.

PC: Do you empower your people?

PW: Oh, yeah. They take care of it. I rarely have to deal with any returns.

PC: Well, it’s just common sense, for Christ’s sakes.  Somebody comes in your store and they’re unhappy, make them happy quick! Then get on to sell them some more. Isn’t that right?

Now you know where I got all my retail smarts.  Thanks, Gramps!

Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Let me know if you would like more of Phil Conley's wisdom.  He gave me a few good nuggets and a few interesting stories in our interview.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Open For Business?

It is 5:26pm as I type this.  My business is still open a little bit longer.  But the local appliance store where I need to go to get the replacement filters I ordered will be closed before I publish this post.

They won't be open this weekend when I have time off either.

Guess it is a lunch hour trip one day this week.

Are your hours designed around the lifestyle of your customers or your own life?  Are they built to accommodate the primary shoppers for your category?  Or are they designed around the old 9 to 5 work day just because that's how you always did it?

If you sell large-ticket items like appliances that might require a joint decision by a couple shopping, you may need weekend and evening hours.
If you sell primarily to the bread-winner, you may need weekend and evening hours.
If you sell primarily to working folk, you may need weekend and evening hours.
If you are located in a theater or restaurant district with lots of evening traffic, you may need weekend and evening hours.
If you are located in a region with lots of two-income families, you may need weekend and evening hours.

Hey, I'm guilty, too.  My store is open 7 days a week, but only one night past 6pm.  We may all need to think outside the box in regards to our hours of operation.

Closed Tuesdays but open Sundays?
Open 7am to 2pm and 4pm to 9pm?
Open Noon to 9pm daily?

Our customers are going to the Internet or the big box stores because of one main reason - convenience.  And the main convenience is time of day.  I work until 6pm.  I get home at 6:30pm, eat dinner, help get my boys to bed.  Now it is 9pm and most of the stores are closed.  Yeah, the Internet looks inviting at that time.

If you believe you are losing market share to the big box stores and the Internet, maybe it is time to rethink your hours.  I know I am rethinking mine.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Some of my mall store friends who are required to stay open until 9pm lament that their type of customer isn't out in the evening.  That may be true.  It also may be a symptom of the perception of the mall being full of teenagers in the evening.  The topic still merits discussion for your business.

Excerpt from Hiring and the Potter's Wheel

Here is another excerpt from my book Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art.

If you buy 60 books, one full carton, at the regular price of $1200, I will travel at my own expense to see you* and give you four hours of my business knowledge in the form of seminars, workshops, training, mentoring, coaching, or whatever you see fit.

Enjoy this lesson, one of the lessons I had to learn the hard way...

Chapter 14 Lesson #7 Smoothing the Rough Spots

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.” – Frances De Sales
As Mary smoothed the rough edges of her bowl she pondered what lesson she could learn from this step in the process.  “If I’ve put them in a safe place to use their skills, what roughness will be left?” she thought.  A smile came to her face.  “Evaluations!  I’ve got to make sure there is time for evaluations during and after the safe zone period.  Even though they are using their skills, there will still be rough edges needing smoothing. 
“I know,” she thought, “I can take the training skills checklist and do follow-up evaluations on each skill just to make sure there are no bad habits, no rough spots.  Oh yes, and the evaluations must be completely positive – show them what to do right, rather than harp on what was done wrong.  They’re still fragile at this time.  Yes, fragile.  That’s what Peter meant.  The bowls, while dry, are still fragile and need to be safe.  The trainees, while trained, are still fragile and need to be in a safe environment where they can learn from their mistakes.  It all makes sense,” Mary concluded.
Peter wandered the room checking up on everyone’s bowls, looking for missed rough spots.  By the end of class he deemed every bowl to be ready.
“Okay, put the bowls safely on the rack.  On Wednesday we fire them for the first time.”
“The first time?” Mary asked. 
“Yes,” Peter replied.  “On Wednesday we are going to do what is called ‘bisque-firing’.  This will harden your bowls so that they won’t be so fragile. 
“By the way,” Peter continued.  “We will not be meeting here.  All of you are invited to my studio.  I’ve put the address and directions on these little slips of paper.  Unfortunately, the directors here at the YMCA will not let me build a kiln inside the Y, so we’ll use my kiln at the studio.  See you Wednesday.”

-Phil Wrzesinski

*PS Although my offer is good only for the continental United States, if you're willing to pay the airfare, too, I'm willing to travel internationally.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Didn't Do It

Last Saturday we celebrated National Train Day.

We had a face-painting booth.
We had a huge train cut-out for photos.
We had train-shaped cookies.
We had train whistles to give away.
We had a train coloring contest.
We had three train play tables out around the store.
We had train storytelling.
We had an electric train display.
We had a model railroading expert talking about train history.
We had a prize drawing for trains.
We had train stickers for the kids.
We even had railroad tracks made out of duct tape lining the floor and leading the kids to every station.

Not a single idea there was mine.  Oh, I am not saying I couldn't have come up with those ideas (although I might not have had as many).  But I purposefully chose to let my staff run this event.  All I did was make signs as requested, send out an email and press releases, and post to Facebook.

The staff did all the rest.  

They found the cookie baker, the story teller, and the face painter.
They picked the coloring pages, the demos and the prizes.
They made the decorations, manned the stations and made the announcements.

All I had to do was walk around and snap photos, talk to customers and have fun.

The smiles on the customers' faces was constant and beaming.  The smiles on my staff's faces was brighter than ever.  But the smile on my face was biggest of all.  All of the team building, all of the staff trainings, all of the coaching was paying off.  They took ownership of the event and made it one of the best events of the year.

Today the staff is still buzzing about it.  More importantly, they have a higher sense of pride in the store and the experience of our customers.  They took ownership of the event and that has translated into ownership of the job they do here.

Would you like your staff to take ownership?  For a limited time, for only $1200 I can show you how to get them to buy-in and work in your store so that you can work on your store. (Plus you'll get 60 signed copies of my book Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art).

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The first step for a great staff is to hire the right people.  But you already knew that.  What you might not know is how to recognize those right people when you find them.  That's why I wrote my book.  I found a way to find the right people consistently.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Same Song, Different Dance?

Let me tell you a cautionary tale, one you probably already know...

Your company has some burdens, costs of doing business where you live.  Could be property taxes, licenses, etc.  Mandated costs that you have a legal obligation to pay.  You price your product to make sure you cover those costs, but even then you don't have full control over your prices.  There are still limits to the price for which you can realistically sell your product.

Then some business from out-of-state, one who has lower costs because of his geographical advantages and lack of obligations, comes in and wants to sell what you sell, but at a lower price.  Of course, he is only doing it to gain market share and hopefully put you out of business, nothing different than you would do.

Then only difference is that he has no skin in the game.  He pays nothing to your state.  He employs nobody in your area.  He doesn't even have to follow all the same rules you have to follow.

As he takes away your market share, you don't just lose profits.  You lose the ability to cover those fixed costs, those legal obligations.  You have to either find ways to charge more to your existing customers, or go out of business.  It is a lose-lose proposition.

And when you can no longer pay your obligation to the state, the local economy loses and more people are out of work, thus scrambling to find the lowest cost anything, regardless of the consequences.  It is a vicious downward spiral.  To top it all off, at the end of the day, there is no control over what this out-of-stater might do after you are gone.

Seem unfair?

Some of you might think I'm talking about the Main Street Fairness Act, sales tax, and Amazon.  Funny thing is that there is a parallel problem going on that also fits this story all too well.


The State of Michigan has regulations and burdens on the two utilities - Consumers Energy and DTE - including making them invest heavily in renewable energy - a worthy but expensive venture.  The state also requires them to have the ability to offer power to every potential customer in the state.  And the state controls the prices they can charge to their customers.  Currently the state allows a 10% cap on out-of-state electricity to be sold in MI.  Some people want to raise that cap to potentially near 40% - but without releasing our two utilities from their expensive burdens.  Sure, a few people would save money on electricity for a short period of time, but the ramifications to the economy would be felt far beyond the savings.

You would think that with all the discussion on the Main Street Fairness Act and what allowing Amazon to work without the same burdens as other businesses is doing to local economies everywhere, people would get the ramifications.  Instead we have to fight the same old fight one industry at a time.

The song remains the same.  Maybe we need to change the dance?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  This is a departure from my usual types of posts.  I don't like to get political, just want to point out that the same conversation we are having here in retail is happening in all kinds of industries.  Before anyone bashes me about free market, etc., I get the concepts of free market economies and competition and how at the end of the day the customer should be in control.  The two issues here are first, that the market isn't free.  Different companies face different - legally mandated - burdens.  And second, the customer doesn't understand the economic impacts beyond his or her own pocketbook.  Someone somewhere has to pay for lower prices.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Planning an Event

Saturday is National Train Day.

We sell trains... Electric, wooden, and everything in between.  We are celebrating in style.

Activities for participants? Check.  Along with our usual train displays (and a couple new ones we are bringing out) we are doing face painting, coloring contests, having kids sign our almost life-size train poster, train photo ops, train history, a steam engine experiment, and more.

Incentives to attend? Check.  We have free train whistles to give away (thanks to one of our favorite vendors), prizes for two different prize drawings, prizes for the coloring contest and a whole bunch of delicious train-shaped cookies (I know, I tried a sample today.)

Marketing the event? Check.  We have made multiple Facebook announcements, sent out emails, put up signs all around the store, sent out press releases to all the media outlets, talked about it live on TV and radio, made posters to advertise it at two other events going on in town before our event, and created fliers to hand out when out and about in public.

Motivating the staff? Check.  The staff was involved in the planning process from day one.  It wasn't mandated by me, it was conceived and planned by them, so there is 100% buy-in from the staff.  They are fired up and ready to rock.

Anyone see a checklist forming here?  Failure to plan is planning to fail, or as my grandfather always says, "Plan for Success".

Events are a great way to draw traffic and delight customers.  But events require planning.  Make yourself a checklist and get planning some fun events for your store.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Events also cost money.  We have committed about $800 to this event above and beyond our usual expenses (for product giveaways, cookies, fliers, posters, etc).  I consider that money to be marketing and advertising money.  I am not concerned whether I make that money back on Saturday because my goal for this event - the first thing I put at the top of my checklist - is to draw a crowd and make a lot of people happy.  If I do that, the money was well spent.  Always write down your goal, then plan your activities around that goal.  

PPS  The event has been a huge success!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

They Aren't YOUR Customers

You know YOUR customers.  You know their demographics, maybe even their psychographics.  You know their shopping habits.  You know their likes and dislikes.  You talk about YOUR customers lovingly.

But they aren't YOURS.  Even the evangelists.

Yes, they support you.  Yes, they spread the word about you.  Yes, they defend your good name.

Yes, they bought something you sell from somewhere else.  You know that, right?  You've done it yourself.  It was something you needed and it was convenient, or cheaper, or you needed it right away so you bought it from a different store than the one you usually support.

Customers are like that.  Fickle.  Changing.  Or more likely, Practical.

You don't own any customers.  If anything, they own you.  They decide if you live or die.  They decide if you are worth the hassle to visit, to spend money with, to promote to others.

They own you.  And they can swap you for another store in a heartbeat.

Kinda changes the equation, doesn't it?  What would you do differently in terms of Customer Service for the owner walked through the front door than you would for just some regular old customer?  Would you treat the owner better?  Would you court the owner harder, hoping the owner keeps you?

You don't own your customers, they own you.  Treat them accordingly.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS For a great article on how quickly a customer can change click here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I Can't Find My Desk

Oh, I know my desk is there, buried under papers needing filing, orders that have been placed, reports that were read, catalogs that have come in.  I just don't like spend my time putting that stuff away.

My wife and my employees agree that I need a secretary.  I am working towards that goal.  In the meantime, I let the piles grow and grow until I go on a cleaning binge and clear off my desk, my table and the floor of my office.

Don't get me wrong.  I do a lot of organizing, mostly of thoughts and data.  It takes a mountain of data to keep a store like mine operating smoothly.  But the mundane task of filing away those reports, putting away all the catalogs, and hiding all the need-to-keep-it-just-in-case paperwork is such a low priority to me that I put it aside until the mountain threatens my safety.

Some of you are nodding in agreement.  Some of you are appalled.  I might even lose a follower who believes a stacker like me is a slacker, too.  I am okay with that.

The lesson here is that we all are different.  We all have different priorities.  We all choose where to put our energies based on our Core Values.

That is why I believe so strongly that one of the best things you can do for your business is identify your Core Values.  Once you consciously know your Core Values, you get to be them more openly... in every aspect of your business.

You might alienate a customer or two.  But you will also attract a whole bunch of new customers who resonate loudly with your values - once you share them more openly.

If you would like to uncover your Core Values, I have a couple methods of doing it.  First read my FREE eBook Understanding Your Brand.  Then download the FREE Worksheets that go with it.  (Then email me if you get stuck.)

It won't help you find your desk, but it will help you find everything else you might need to run your business in a way that works for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  My Core Values are Having Fun, Helping Others, Education, and Nostalgia.  Now you know why I write this blog and give away all this info for free:-)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Buy the Book, I'll Speak for FREE

(I know you know someone who could use this.  Please share it with that person.)

My book, Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art comes packed 60 books to the carton.  What would you do if you had 60 of these books?  Do you know some businesses who could use help hiring and training a better staff?

60 books at $19.99 equals $1199.40.  I want to make you an offer.  Round it off to $1,200 even and I will throw in 4 FREE hours of me.

Yes, that's right.  Buy one carton of books for $1200 and I will show up at your door anywhere in the continental USA and give you 4 hours of my business knowledge to use as you see fit.

If you are a Radio Station...
You will get 60 books to give to your clients that will help them hire and train a better workforce, thus ensuring they will be in business (and buying radio ads from you) for a long time.  If you think about it, that's a far more memorable gift than the mug, candy or flowers you have been giving them.

Plus, you will get me teaching your sales staff how to sell your product more effectively, how to create killer campaigns for your clients, and how to craft powerful messages that drive serious traffic to their door.  Plus you can use me to help mentor your favorite clients, teaching them how to powerfully brand their business, and how to uncover their core message that will resonate strongest with your listening audience.

If you are a Chamber of Commerce, DDA, or Shop Local organization...
You will get 60 books to strengthen the quality of employees in your district, making your core businesses rock solid and recession-proof thus increasing your influence and the size of your district.

Plus, you get to choose from a vast array of training programs that will rock their worlds and make your businesses the envy of all the surrounding communities.  You can even ask me to show you how to plan Staff Meetings that people WANT to attend.

If you are a Trade Organization or Buying Group...
You get 60 books to help your members make hiring decisions and develop training programs that will turn them into the shining stars of your industry.  When they see how great your stores are doing, you will have other stores begging to join your proactive organization.

Plus, you get four hours of some of the best retail ideas on everything from Inventory Management to Customer Service to Pricing Strategies that put money in your members' pockets (so that they can pay their dues on time.)

If you are an individual store...
You get 60 books to give away to all your business friends and family for Christmas.  You can even sell them in your store to get your money back if you want.

More importantly, you get four hours to pick my brain.  Use me to help train your staff on the kind of customer service that gets talked about.  Use me to help craft your marketing campaign into a traffic-driving force.  Use me to look over your financials and help you find lost profits and put them back in your pocket.  Use me to teach you how to make staff trainings fun again.

If you are a Nationally Syndicated Talk Show Host... (Stewart? Colbert? Kimmel? Dave? NPR?)
You get 60 business books that are soon to be the talk of the nation.  Heck, I'll bring extra books so that you can hide one under every chair in the audience.

Plus, you will get a guest who is as comfortable behind a microphone as you are.  You get a savvy businessman who knows retail, has opinions, and is not afraid to share them.  Not only did I host my own radio show for three years, I have plenty of camera time sitting in the guest chair.  Plus, you will get top-notch ratings from the Jackson, Michigan market.

You buy 60 books and I'll pay my own way to get there plus one night in a hotel*.  And you get to choose what business training you want for your purchase.

I have four full cartons of books ready and waiting to ship to the first four people/groups who contact me.  Send an email to to set up your four hours of kick-ass, kick-starting presentations and trainings.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  If you want more than 60 books or more than 4 hours, I am more than willing to negotiate.  I will be happy to work with your schedule as much as possible.  Just remember that I have my own store to run, so we might both have to be flexible to schedule something.

*PPS This deal is good for USA travel only (unless you want to pay for the flight, too).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Price is Right

A recent survey done by The NPD Group states that 85% of customers say that Price will be an extremely important or important factor in where they decide to shop in the future.

I would agree.  In fact, I am surprised it is not higher because almost every single buying decision ultimately ends up being about price.

But before you go around slashing prices, you ought to look at how price influences each purchase.

It starts with what I call the Value Equation.

Does the actual price on the product match the perceived worth of the product?  If it does, the item has Value and you buy it.  That is the decision you and I and just about everyone else makes before we decide to buy an item.  Every single time.  Sometimes that decision takes milliseconds, sometimes it takes days or even weeks.  That is how the buying process works.

You look at an item, decide how much it is worth to you, and then look at the actual price.  If that price is much higher, you are not buying.  If that price is much lower, you wonder what is wrong with it.  Maybe it does not do what you thought? Maybe it is cheaper quality than you thought?  Until you feel comfortable with the reason why it is much less expensive than you expected, you are not yet buying.

The key to successfully pricing your merchandise is to make sure the actual price matches the price the customer has in her mind.  Often you might find you are pricing things too low.

Pricing is important.  So is merchandising (it raises the perceived worth).  So is having the right products.  So is taking care of the customer.

Digging deeper into the statistics from The NPD Group, you will find that...
15% of the population did not list Price as "extremely important" or even simply "important".
56% said Customer Service was extremely important/important.
60% said Convenience of Location was extremely important/important.
60% said Ease of Shopping was extremely important/important.

Get the price right and the do all that other stuff and the sales and profits will come.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS To learn more about how Perception plays a role in Pricing, download my FREE eBook Pricing for Profit.  You will be surprised at how many pricing mistakes you have made that are costing you real money.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Cultivating Ideas

One of my staff came up to me... "Phil, I have an idea..."

Great!  Run with it!

Don't you want to hear it, first?

No.  I trust you.  Just tell me when you're ready to launch.

I could have taken a number of different approaches to this.

I could have...
Patiently listened to the idea, giving my input, tweaking it to my tastes, and telling the employee what to do.  But that would take ownership of the idea away from her.  It would now be our idea and everything would need my approval, input and effort.

If I have not done my job hiring the right people and training them fully about our Character Diamond and how everything must fit, then I might need this approach.

I could have said...  
Do you have it written down?  Get it all on paper first.  Write down everything including costs to the business, benefits expected, time frame to complete, how it fits into the Character Diamond of the store, etc. then bring me the finished idea.  Some of my staff would do that.  Some might lose interest.  Doesn't sound nearly as fun as actually doing the idea.

I could have said... 
Not right now, I'm busy... (I have enough to do... you have another job to do... I didn't hire you to have ideas... we're tight on cash... we don't need any new ideas right now... make up your own excuse here).  And I would never have to worry about her having an idea again.

But what I really said was... 
I am confident that I have trained you well enough for you to know what I want for the business.  I trust that you are capable of doing great things for the business.  I want to empower you to keep coming up with ideas for the business.  I want you to take ownership of your ideas, thus taking ownership of their results.  

If you want your staff to have ideas, first hire idea people.  Then let them run with their ideas.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  The hardest part is not putting your own stamp on the idea.  When I let my staff run with an idea, I save all my tweaking for the end and only as suggestions.  The second hardest part is that my wife comes up with some great ideas and she doesn't work at the store so I have to relay her ideas to the staff by planting seeds so they might take ownership.  The third hardest part is the ideas I have on my own.  I have a lot of them and those are the ideas about which I am the most impatient. Fortunately the staff often takes ownership of those, too.  Especially when I allow them to make their own tweaks and alterations.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shareworthy Customer Service by Tim Miles

I wrote an eBook called Customer Service: From Weak to WOW!.  You've probably downloaded it already (it is free).

Tim Miles wrote one too.  His eBook - Shareworthy Customer Service - is definitely shareworthy.  I have read through it twice and I'm working on a third time.  I am going to use it in my next staff training (and a few more trainings after that).

Yeah, it is that good.  

Go check it out.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Tim and I think a lot alike.  If you have to choose between spending money on advertising or on raising the bar of your customer service, raise the bar every single time.  If you have enough money to do both, do the customer service first.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Monthly Chores

Today I...

  • Balanced the store's checkbook
  • Ran Sales Reports by department
  • Measured GMROI by department
  • Ran current Balance Sheet
  • Ran Profit & Loss for the month and year-to-date
  • Sat down with my buyers to make sure we were on track
  • Monitored Cash Flow*

I'm not bragging.  I'm not even saying I liked doing any of those things.

I am more Big Picture than I am Data & Details.  But it takes Data & Details to draw the Big Picture.  So I spend a few hours on the first of each month drawing the Big Picture with all of that Data & Detail.

Keeps the Big Picture clear in my head.

You, too?

-Phil Wrzesinski

*I actually do this daily, not monthly.

PS  The hyperlinks above take you to a couple really cool documents that help you understand those calculations.  Most people won't bother to click on those links.  But then again, you are not most people.