Saturday, June 30, 2012

Easier to Shoot Low

It is so much easier to lower expectations than it is to raise them.  So much easier to complain that Obamacare will cost too much, the Republicans will cut too much, the stock market will be too volatile, the economy isn't growing fast enough, our local government is holding us back, the Internet is hurting us, the vendors don't care about us, etc...

But what message does that send your customers?  Does it fire them up to want to shop with you when you complain all the time?  No.  It makes them hunker down in fear.

And what message does it send your staff? Does it motivate them to work harder and be more cheerful? No. It makes them polish off their resumes and start looking for someone who isn't acting like they are about to go out of business.

Now, I'm not saying you need to go all Pollyanna on everyone.  You just need to raise your expectations.

What can you control?

Your attitude.
Your selection.
Your advertising.
Your merchandising.
Your level of customer service.
The experience your customers have in your store.

Raise the bar of expectation in all those areas.  Shoot high.  Really high.  Get excited about your ability to take all of those elements to the next level.  Get your staff excited about it, too.  Make it a game to see who can create a better endcap display.  Make it a contest to see who can come up with the next great event idea.  Make it a badge of honor to see who can create the most smiles in your store.

You might not hit your mark every time.  But just missing a really high mark is far better than easily hitting a really low mark.

Plus, when you aim high all those fears at the top disappear below you.  

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  What prompted this post was an article where Citigroup was downgrading certain high-end retailers' stock grades because of the volatility in the stock market.  Ummm... hasn't the stock market always been volatile?  It is easier for an analyst to shoot low, because no one is mad if she's wrong. You aren't an analyst, though.  So shoot high.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Different Campaigns for Different Customers

I learned this from Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads...

I use radio as my primary source of branding advertising trying to attract the Relational Customer.  But I also use radio for my one and only Transactional Customer event - our Summer Fun Sale.  Both campaigns are on the same medium but trying to reach completely different people.  Sound crazy?  Not really.

Both types of customers listen to the same radio stations.  But they listen to different types of ads.

So each campaign has its very own signature, style, and scheduling.

The Relational campaign is me telling stories in a relaxed voice, carrying on a conversation with people who share my values and the emotions I am selling.  The campaign runs continuously year-round.  The ads change every month, but the message doesn't.  It is all about having fun, helping others, education and nostalgia, told through stories and scenarios painted for the listening audience.

The Transactional campaign is rushed.  I speak faster.  I speak more excitedly.  I speak louder.  I speak with urgency.  I shout out facts.  Date.  Time.  Place.  What's the deal.  The whole tone and tenor is different.  In fact, some of my regular customers ask me what I was "on" when I recorded it.  The Transactional customers don't notice.  They just show up for the sale.

I also stack the sale ads.  They start running three days before the event and run once an hour right into the first couple hours of the event.  The repetition adds to the urgency and fires up the Transactional customer.

Do you have a signature and style to your advertising campaign or is it just whatever the latest ad salesperson sold you?  One way grows your business.  The other way just grows theirs.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS   I use radio.  You might prefer another method.  All mediums have a way they work, and many ways they don't.  Unfortunately, your ad salesperson usually doesn't know (or care) how his own medium works best.  Do your research.  There are 93 posts on this blog about Advertising and half of the blogs I follow are about advertising.  That ought to be enough to get you started. If you need more, hire me (I do more than just seminars).

Friday, June 22, 2012

Schedule to the Peak

I just received my Profit Survey back from the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA).  Every other year they have toy stores submit their financials to help us see what the Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss might be for a typical indie toy store.  It is a fascinating document full of amazing facts and percentages and one of my favorite benefits of belonging to ASTRA.

Going through all the numbers, it is fun to see how a store my size (the largest family-owned indie toy store in America) compares to other stores.  For instance, we buy from more than twice as many vendors as the typical toy store (540 versus 230).

The number that is always fun for me is the breakdown of payroll.  My payroll is much higher as a percentage of sales than my fellow toy stores.  It isn't because I give myself a big bonus.  Owner payroll is significantly lower than other stores.  It is because I have a big staff.

Maybe too many people if you look at what other stores do.

But there is a purpose for that.  I like to schedule my staff to the peak.  In other words, when the peak moment of the day happens, I want enough staff here to handle it easily and smoothly without a single drop in levels of service.  The hard part is trying to guess when that peak will happen.  As you know in retail, there are no certainties on when the customers will show up.

So I schedule more than enough staff to handle the average moments, knowing that I will be able to give customers a great experience even when we're "crazy busy".  Sure, it drives up payroll costs.  But it helps me save it in other areas.  WOW Customer Service brings Word of Mouth, which saves on advertising.

Still not sure it is worth scheduling that way?

Think about it from a customer's perspective.  If you don't schedule to the peak, here is what your customer sees.  She doesn't know what your peak looks like.  All she knows is that you don't have enough staff to help her right now.  Your staff might tell her, "Sorry, we got really swamped.  We'll be with you in a moment," but what does that tell her?  Some of those customers will think, Wow, that is great that they are so busy.  Others will think, Wow, they didn't expect to do much business. I wonder how things are going.

Schedule to the peak and when that busy moment happens, she might think, Wow, they expected to be busy.  This store is the happening place.

Just make sure when it isn't the peak that you have plenty of projects to keep the staff occupied so that they always look like they are working.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Make a checklist of everything that needs to get done for the day and give it to each person on the staff.  Challenge them to see who can do the most on the checklist without ignoring a customer.  Reward your winners.  You'll get more people trying to accomplish more on those checklists every single day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Same Advice, Different Day

Seems like I have been giving the same advice to many different types of businesses lately.  I hope I'm not becoming a one-trick pony.  The advice is solid, though.  In fact, I believe it is the foundation to everything else you do for your business.

It is the foundation to the type of products you sell.
It is the foundation to the type of services you offer.
It is the foundation to the way you design and decorate your store.
It is the foundation to the type of people you hire.
It is the foundation to the training you give your staff.
It is the foundation to the way you serve your customers.
It is the foundation to the way you market and advertise your business.
It is the foundation to every decision you make for your business.

Do you know your Core Values?  Do you have a Character Diamond?  (Hint: they are one and the same.)

Read this eBook first (it's free).  Then download these worksheets (also free).  You'll have a Character Diamond to guide you in everything you do. (If you have any problems with this, send me an email.)

Why do I give this info away free?  So that all the rest of the stuff we discuss will make infinitely more sense. I have way more than one trick* in my stable.  This is just the first one you have to figure out to be able to get all the other ones right.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS *It really isn't a "trick".  I don't believe in tricks.  I believe in a solid foundation based on smart principles that never change.  And this foundation is the basis of everything I do both in my toy store and right here on this blog.  That is why it is the first download on my Freebies page.

PPS  I also have to give a lot of credit to Roy H. Williams aka The Wizard of Ads and David Freeman for teaching this stuff to me in the first place.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What Your Employees Really Want

Don't you love it when the keynote speaker tells you to do three things and you're already doing them?

I had that experience last Wednesday at the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy.

Our closing speaker was Barbara Glanz.  You might remember her from the YouTube inspirational customer service video Johnny the Bagger.  Barbara talked about a number of topics, mostly on the culture you create in your workplace.  I had three basic takeaways from her presentation...

Create a Positive Culture
Barbara recommended that you start every employee meeting with what went right rather than what went wrong.  Share the positives first because it puts the staff into a good, high-energy mood.

Yeah, we're doing that.

Recognize Your Employees Have a Life
One of the number one things employees want from their bosses is to be recognized as being human beings and having a life outside of work.  How often do we neglect that, worrying only about what they can do for us instead of what we can do for them?

Because my staff work retail, they aren't exactly giving the 1% a run for their money.  I'd like to pay them more, but with the limited resources there is only so much I can do.  To give back, I focus on two things.

First, much of our staff trainings are on life skills more than Toy House-specific skills.  I want them to walk away with more than they brought to the job.

Second, at the beginning of the year I offered each member of my staff some money towards a goal they have set for themselves.  It could be used for dance lessons, for computer training, for a gym membership, or some other personal goal.

Make Their Jobs Interesting
People want to work where jobs are fun, where work is interesting, where they get challenged to achieve, where they know they are making a difference.  I think this is an area where all indie retailers can improve.

  • We definitely have jobs that are fun.  
  • Most of our customer base comes to our store by choice, not necessity, which makes for a much more pleasant time.  
  • We sell fun and unique products not found in every discount warehouse.  
  • We have the ability responsibility to have meaningful interactions with customers.

Sometimes, however, we neglect to show our staff how we do all this and why it is important.  Two things you can do to remedy this...

  1. Share all your customer reviews with your staff.  Let them know when they make a difference.
  2. Give your staff important tasks and let them run with those tasks.  They'll take ownership, be more invested in the outcome, and see firsthand what a difference they make.

Three for three.  Heck, even I'm impressed.  Thanks, Barbara!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Need help making the job more fun?  You can start by making your staff meetings more fun.  Culture takes time to build.  Make small changes and you will eventually see bigger results.

Friday, June 15, 2012

When and What to Change

Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender challenged me and a whole bunch of other toy store owners to change 10% of our store each and every year.  The premise being that what you do that is special today will seem ordinary and expected tomorrow.

The famous gymnast Mary Lou Retton tells the same thing.  What wins Olympic Gold this year will be the compulsory routine at the next Olympics.

But what do you change and when?

Let's start with what not to change.  Don't change your Core Values, your Character Diamond.   Not.    Ever.

But everything else is fair game.

You should be changing your product by at least 10% each year.  Did you know that Mattel changes over 75% of its Barbie lineup every year?  A classic toy like Barbie goes through a major makeover every single year.  Look for new items that compliment your mix, too, not just the latest version of last year's commodity.  Look for the latest and greatest on-the-edge products that fit within your Character Diamond.  You are the indie retailer.  People expect cutting edge from you.  Don't disappoint them.

Raise the bar!  Those special services you started offering a few years ago are now part of the expectation.  If you want to WOW your customers you have to go above and beyond their expectations.  Do things unexpected and wonderful.

Move things around.  Shake things up.  I know a store that paints one wall a new color every quarter and then merchandises that wall to match the color.  You think people notice?  Of course they do!  Take down every sign that has been up more than a year.  No one is reading it any more.  Make new signs to replace the worn and faded ones.  Change your window displays regularly.  Make them fascinatingly attractive.

Staff Training
I have more ideas on that than worth writing in this blog.  Download my free eBook Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend and you should get enough ideas to change way more than 10%.

There are plenty of ways to make changes for the better.  After a little thought, I'm not sure 10% is enough.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  Not sure that change is necessary?  Ask yourself what is different about the way you do retail compared to ten years ago?  A whole lot has changed around you.  Change with the times or they will pass you by.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Working ON vs Working IN (Part 2)

At the panel discussion at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) this past week, we discussed the concept of working ON versus working IN your business.  To clarify the concepts I asked the audience to define which of the following were IN and which were ON.  The results were interesting...

Marketing & Advertising - ON
Hiring the Staff - ON
Training the Staff - IN/ON
Buying - IN/ON
Receiving Merchandise - IN
Stocking Shelves - IN
Selling - IN
Bookkeeping - ON/IN
Financials - ON

As you can see, there were mixed opinions on Training the Staff, Buying, and Bookkeeping.  Some of it was based on what a manager can do, versus what an owner can do.  I think some people felt that managers can only work IN the business.  Do you agree? (I don't.)

My own personal belief is:

IN is anything done that moves your merchandise out the door.  So Receiving, Stocking and Selling are the IN's.
ON is anything that gets the merchandise you sell (buying), the people who sell it (hiring and training), and the people to whom you sell it (marketing and advertising).    ON also includes taking care of the money your business provides.

(But what about Bookkeeping?  I'm still on the fence about that one.)

Using that definition, how much time do you spend ON versus IN?  In our panel, the average was about 80% ON and 20% IN for the first 11 months of the year, and then swap that for December.  You, too?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Not only do I think managers should work ON the business, too.  I highly encourage it.  They take more ownership for the success the more they have a hand in creating that success.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Working ON or Working IN?

The big dilemma for most independent store owners is...

How much time should I spend working ON my business versus working IN my business?

I am going to be moderating a panel discussion at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association Academy & Marketplace this coming Sunday on that topic.  I have asked my panelists to answer three basic questions...

  1. How do you divide the work between yourself, your managers, and your staff?
  2. What are your guiding principles for your management/leadership style?
  3. How do you learn to "let go"?

I'm curious.  How would you answer those questions?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  I'll give you my answers next week after the panel.  Don't want to give away the presentation quite yet.  (And yes, look for an eBook on the topic later this summer.  Maybe your answers will be part of it.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Better Than Brainstorming

I just finished reading an amazing book, Imagine by Jonah Lehrer.  His was not the first book, but simply the most recent to dispel the notion of brainstorming, how it has been proven to be one of the least effective methods of creativity.

I admit, I was a brainstorming junkie.  As a typical extroverted, talk-to-think person, I bought into the concept, and often wondered why my staff couldn't come up with as many great ideas as I thought they should.  My first breakthrough in weaning off of brainstorming came when I had my staff plan an event for us back in May.  The ideas they came up with were far better than any we would conjure up in our meetings.

This morning I put the final nail in the coffin of the traditional brainstorming by trying a new twist based on some ideas from Lehrer's book and others who have helped me along the way.  Instead of the typical shout-out-ideas-while-I-write-them-on-an-easel-pad session, I split the staff up into partners with one rule - it had to be a new partner with whom you had not previously been paired.  I gave them a pad of paper and ten minutes to come up with as many ideas as possible for a new event we are considering.  After the ten minutes they brought their ideas to the group where we shot down the ridiculous ones immediately and added to the good ones.

By the time I was done we had pages upon pages of notes and people fired up wanting to get started.

Not only was the quantity of ideas better, not only was the quality of ideas better, the staff was motivated and ready to take up arms to get the best ideas off the ground right away.  Contrast that to your last brainstorming session.

Hi, I'm Phil.  I'm a recovering brainstormer.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  I used four new ideas this morning that I believe made the difference...

  1. Team up in small teams - collaboration is good and helps take the pressure off the individual without bogging down the process when too many people have to agree
  2. Pair up with someone new - fresh is best to get new and interesting perspectives
  3. Shoot down the obviously bad ideas right away - everyone knows they are bad, let them die a quick and noble death.
  4. Expand on the really good ideas right away - strike while the iron is hot!

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Bad Day at Golf

Those of you who golf know this saying...

A bad day at golf beats a good day at work anytime.

I put that saying to the test today.

I played in a charity golf scramble for The Exchange Club of Jackson to benefit the Jackson County Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.  It was low 50's and rainy all day including one driving rainstorm early in the round.  I never expected we would even play so I did not dress properly for the round.  By the end of the day I was soaked and chilled to the bone.

Yet to everyone who asked me, "How was the golf?" I responded, "Great!"

Was it out of reflex?  No.  I actually had a lot of fun.  And the reasons why hold lessons we can apply at work.

I had fun because I was doing something I love to do.  I love to golf.  I love the challenge of mastering the elements, mother nature, and my own body all at the same time.  I love the exhilaration of making a great shot, sinking a long putt, and bouncing back from a bad hole.

Do you love your work, the challenges, the exhilarations and the bounce backs?

I had fun because I was in good company.  We laughed, we joked, we lifted each other up.  We kept a positive attitude after every missed birdie opportunity, after every rain shower.  We helped each other out, picked up each other's errant shots, encouraged each other to excel.

Do you work with good people who help each other out and lift each other up?

I had fun because I knew we were making a difference.  The regional president of the Exchange Club was there.  The former president of the National Exchange Club was there.  The people who were going to benefit most from the fundraising were there.  Just seeing the difference my paying to play golf would make was fun.

Do you make a difference in the work you do, too?

I had fun even though the weather was lousy, our golf was barely up to par (pun intended - we were three under par, the winning score was seventeen under par), I lost six golf balls, and I didn't win the 32" TV they gave away as a door prize.

But I cannot say it was better than a good day at work because I do love my work, I do work with great people, and we do make a difference.  If you have those three things, you have the envy of everyone.

I've had some pretty awesome days at work.  Now, had the sun been shining, though...

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS  If you want to love your work, commit to a mighty goal.  If you want to work with great people, hire them.  If you want to make a difference, make one.