Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Give Your Business a Physical - Track These Numbers, Too

There are many different metrics you need to measure to determine the health of your business. Two of the biggest are Profits and Cash Flow. If both of those are good, your business is probably doing well.

But that doesn't mean you don't look at other numbers, too. That would be the equivalent of a doctor checking your temp and blood pressure and determining you are completely healthy without looking at anything else.

Here are some other numbers you should track to keep a check on the pulse of your business.

Traffic - Number of transactions you had this year compared to last year. Did that number go up or down? If it went down, why? 
  • Did your location get worse? 
  • Was there a change in the types and numbers of stores around you? 
  • Was there a drop in population? 
  • Did you cut back your offerings and categories significantly?
If your traffic was down, but none of these other factors were negative, you have a hole in your Customer Service (repeat and referral business) and/or Advertising (first-timer business). You need to find that leak and fix it fast.

Average Transaction - Take your total sales and divide by # of transactions. Compare to last year. If this number went down, why? 
  • Did you carry fewer high-ticket items? 
  • Did you add more low-ticket impulse items that people might run in and grab? 
  • Did you do anything to attract more youth? 
If none of those factors were in play but your average ticket went down, you have a hole in your staff's ability to sell. You need to fix that fast.

Market Share - This is a little harder to calculate, but an incredibly valuable piece of information that can pinpoint problems - even if you had a great year on paper!
  1. Find the national sales figure for your industry. 
  2. Divide that by the population of the United States to determine sales per person. 
  3. Multiply that times the population of your trade area to determine the market potential for your area.
  4. Divide your total sales by that market potential to find your percentage or share of the market.
  5. Compare it to last year's number.
You can have an awesome year with solid sales growth and decent profits and cash flow, but still be in potential trouble if your market share is slipping. If all your growth was fueled by huge growth in your market, but you aren't holding onto your share of that market, then you are ripe for being picked off by a better competitor entering your market. You need to figure out why your share is decreasing and fix that problem now.

You can also have a lousy year with declining sales and profits, but mostly fueled by a change in the market. Maybe your industry is in decline (smaller sales per person). Maybe your trade area is shrinking. But if your market share is growing, then your big issue is determining whether to cut expenses and inventory and hope the market comes back or move to a new market.

Make sure your Profit and Cash Flow are good. Those are immediate life threatening problems for your business. If those are good, it buys you time to check/fix the other problems.

Give your business a full physical. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

-Phil Wrzesinski
PS Be honest in your evaluations. Even if there are circumstances beyond your control, there are always circumstances you can control and improve while you ride out the storm.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Many Happy Returns

Returns are one simple way to set your store above the rest in terms of customer delight. The more you can do to make a customer happy while making a return, the better.

Here is what I reminded my staff regarding returns...


Actually, we hope we have very few returns, but we do know we will have some returns. I want all of them to be as happy as possibly. Here are some ways to make them Happy Returns.

Yes, we will take it back! Don’t worry about the customer’s motive, whether it is opened/damaged/re-sellable, etc. First and foremost make the customer happy by saying yes. Some items we can re-package to sell. Some we will get credit from the company. Some we can steal parts from to fix others. Some we can use as demos. Some we can donate to places that take used toys.

Yes, we will refund your money! If you have a receipt. Otherwise we will gladly give you a store credit good on anything at any time. This is one area where you might get someone demanding money back even without a receipt. If they are being really pushy about it, just give them cash back and send them on their Merry Way. (Get them out of the store as soon as possible.)

Apologize! Someone is bound to come in saying we ruined their Christmas because we sold them an obviously used/broken toy. Well, no, we didn't. Not on purpose. But that doesn't matter. Apologize. Say, “I’m really sorry that happened. What would you like us to do to fix this?”

Fix it! This can be tough. We might be out of what they need. It might be a part that needs to be ordered. But do whatever is in your power to fix it.

If we have the item in stock—swap it out for them, parts or the whole thing, whichever is easier.

If we do not have the item, you can offer to order replacement parts. Often we can order them directly through the company and have them shipped to the customer. You can check online or on the phone while the customer is right there.

If we cannot order the part or replace the product, offer them a store credit or a refund. But most of all apologize.

Remember this order…

  1. Make the customer happy.
  2. Tell me later what you did.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You might not make everyone happy. There are always unreasonable people and just plain rude people. If you have tried your best and nothing seems to be working, do whatever it takes to get them and their negativity out of the store as fast as possible before they infect anyone else. Take the loss if necessary. Handle it with professionalism, kindness and respect regardless of how they treat you. Remember that other customers are watching and judging you and your character. Show them what you got!

Friday, December 20, 2013

"No, We Don't Have That"

In these final days, the most common phrase spoken by retail employees everywhere is...

"No, we don't have that." Or its cousin, "No, we're out of stock."

Make sure in tomorrow morning's huddle that you remind you staff that there is a better response...

"Let me show you what I do have."

Learn to say that instead.

Before you say no, lead the customer over to an alternative. Put the alternative in his hand. He doesn't want to drive all over in these last couple days for something that might be hard to find. More often than not he will accept the alternative.

But only if you offer it!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This works well in January, too. In fact, you should always use this approach. Positive beats negative in the retail game.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Maximizing the Final Week

Five Shopping Days left! Internet no longer a viable option. They have to come see you. Here are some things to remember to make this weekend HUGE!

Prep the Store

  • Get everything out of the warehouse and on the floor, even if you're making creative piles in the middle of an aisle or off to the side of another display.
  • Load up on your giftwrap/bags/tape, etc. You don't have time to go to the backroom and get more supplies.
  • Straighten the shelves and pull everything forward to the front edge of the display. It makes the shelves look more full and inviting.

Prep the Staff

  • Schedule breaks for them so that they are fresh when they are on the store.
  • Get food so they don't have to leave to eat.
  • Healthy food so that they don't have a bunch of sugar highs/lows.

Sell Up

  • Show the best first.
  • Limit the options.
  • Complete the sale by showing any and all accessories and add-ons that could possibly needed.
  • Ask this very important question... "Who else is on your list?"
    (nod to Bob Phibbs)

Have Fun

This is why we are in retail. This is our moment to shine. Be in this moment. Enjoy this moment. Have some fun in this moment. That is what retail is all about.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Other cool things you can do for your staff... Give them gifts - lottery tickets, gift cards to restaurants, gas cards, etc. Give them massages - hire a masseuse for the day to chair massages in the backroom. Feed them - order in pizza, or cater a healthy lunch/dinner. Put on Christmas Movies in the backroom to keep them in the mood.

Monday, December 16, 2013

You've Ruined My Christmas!

"You've ruined my Christmas!"

We've all heard it. You can't be a retailer with 4th quarter traffic without hearing that a few times. The problem is that we often let that statement ruin our own Christmas.

Why do we give it so much weight?

Why do we let one customer ruin our day, ruin our holiday, ruin our year? Chances are we weren't even the responsible party.

Most often that statement is said when the customer had an unreal expectation of what you could provide. Or maybe your vendor let you down. Or maybe the customer was just bat-sh#t crazy. Or maybe you did make a mistake, but because your steps to rectify the mistake weren't perfect, you ruined their Christmas.

Why let that get you down?

Unless you're a real f#@k-up, you probably only hear this once every few years. And you're a stand-up person, so you made it right to the best of your powers. Yet you can still remember the day that mom screamed at you in front of six other customers. The hairs on the back of your neck go up every time you see a brunette in a fur coat just like hers. It colors your whole perception of the season.

Why don't we instead focus on the people for whom we made their Christmas?

Go count how many transactions you had between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. Subtract from that all the ruinous statements. Now multiply the remaining number times ten. That's how many Christmases you made last year. (Remember that people are in your shop not just for one person, plus, if you made their Christmas, you made the Christmas of those around them.)

Revel in those Christmases you made. Celebrate the Thank You's. Exalt the I Love You Guys. Dance with the You Made My Day's.

There are a lot more of those. Give them the weight they deserve. Pat yourself and your staff on the back. You all deserve that.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This goes doubly for the staff. They are going to make mistakes. You really can ruin your staff's Christmas if you don't handle those mistakes properly. I remind all my staff that I expect them to make mistakes, just not the same one twice, so when they make a mistake, I say to them with a smile, "Good, you got that mistake out of the way. What are we going to learn from it?"

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mandatory Breaks - This Means You, Too!

It is easy this time of year to work long hours without break. Easy. But not good.

Your staff needs to have scheduled breaks to keep them fresh. They don't have the driving passion you do to refuel them when they hit the wall. They need breaks they can see coming. I'm not talking about okay-there-is-a-lull-go-take-a-break-quick kinds of breaks. I'm talking about, you go to lunch at 1pm and return at 2pm kind of breaks.

We have an employee lounge, a couch, table & chairs, etc where they can go. There is a fridge and microwave. But we also encourage them to leave the store. Take a break. Get away.

It does wonders for their sanity. They need that break so that when they are on the floor, they have the energy to give their all. Plus, if you schedule those breaks for them, they know you are looking out for you and they'll work even harder for you when they are on.

You need to take a break, too.

Maybe yours won't be as scheduled. But you need more than a go-hide-in-the-office-and-pretend-to-do-paperwork break. You need to leave for 45 minutes or an hour or more. You need to go to a restaurant and sit down and eat something healthy. You need to go home, change your socks, sit and play with the dog. You need to get a moment just for yourself.

No break for the elves and they get cranky. No break for you, and you and the elves get cranky. Cranky elves and cranky store owners are not maximizing sales.

Take a break. I give you full permission.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The store won't crumble if you're not there for an hour. Trust me.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Make the Guys Happy This Week

Starting today, the guys are hitting the stores. We are last-second shoppers by nature. Ladies shop fifty two weeks a year. The men? Ten days tops. Although I won't speak for all guys, here are three things you should do to maximize their transactions.

  • Limit their choices. Guys don't want to make too many decisions. Bog them down with lots of options and choices from the get-go and you might not get them to go to the checkout. Show them the best in the category. If they balk at that option, find out why and show them one other option. Show them one option at a time until they buy. But always start with the best.
  • Make them feel smart. Don't question their judgment. Don't use big words or insider terminology. Explain things in a simple, but not condescending way. Ask only the necessary questions. Let them do as much of the talking as possible. Reinforce their statements and beliefs. You will win their trust and their wallets.
  • Offer them time-saving services. Do you giftwrap? Assemble? Deliver? Guys are willing to pay extra for time-saving services and conveniences. Tell them all that you can do for them. They won't ask, but they will say yes when you offer. Guys are the reason the "convenience store" concept even exists. Anything to save a few steps, a few minutes, a few hassles.

Guys want their shopping trips to be smart, fast, and hassle-free. The best way to maximize these final days of the season is to be ready for the guys. They should start arriving this afternoon.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One more thing you can do to help the guys - refresh your signage. According to Paco Underhill's book Why We Buy, guys are the number one reader of signs. According to Rick Segal, signs increase sales by 43%. According to Phil Wrzesinski, Introverts (50% of the population) are the #2 reader of signs.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Corporate-Speak and Fifty-Cent Words

This was in a blog I follow...

"In the next three years, retail will reinvent itself as omni-channel leaders reach for customer relationship, relevancy, and reciprocity. A new replacement cycle of enterprise, planning, and commerce systems will anchor complex companywide business transformation for immersive experience and commerce. Quick-to-market leaders will improve same-shopper sales — fast becoming the most significant leading indicator of future performance," said Robert Parker, IDC Retail, Energy and Manufacturing Group VP and GM. "We expect renewed investment in the narrower but transformative capabilities of PLM and sourcing, marketing and advertising, and big data and analytics."

Let me translate that for you...

"In the next three years there will be a lot of upheaval and change in retail. Those who change the fastest and most in-line with the customers will do the best."

You can apply that to any 3-year period you want. It's true today. It will be true tomorrow.

Two lessons from that paragraph:

First, the more things change, the more they stay the same. You will always need to be adapting your store to meet the needs of your customers. You can take that to the bank (and if you adapt properly, you will take it to the bank!)

Second, never use big, fancy words when simpler words will do. Sure, you can show off your knowledge and prove what a big shot you are, but we don't care about that. Use simple words. Make your ideas and thoughts understandable by the masses. Especially when you work with your customers. They often don't know the terminology you and I use every day, and they don't like being made to feel stupid. When I read the first paragraph up above I was immediately turned off - and I know what some of those words actually mean! I still had to read it three times before figuring out what they were trying to say.

Make your customers feel smart by keeping your words simple.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This is especially important with your male shoppers. Guys communicate vertically - did what I say make you think higher of me or lower of me? They will walk out of any store that makes them feel stupid. And since these next two weeks are the male shoppers' turn to shine, you need to maximize them to maximize your sales.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Two Distinctly Different Customers

This video is a great summation of many of the ideas and thoughts I have shared with you. I want you to watch it and think about the Transactional vs Relational Customer. I want you to watch it and think about the importance of knowing and showing your Values. I want you to watch it and think about your products and services and policies and to which planet they are aimed.

There are powerful lessons contained in these eleven minutes. Block out some time when you can watch this without distractions.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS What does Planet Neo look like for indie retailers? Much of what we already do, but need to do more. Think words like Innovative, Cutting Edge, Unique, and Authentic. Think not just in terms of your products, but of your services, too. What do innovative services look like? What services are cutting edge? How can your services be unique?

Monday, December 9, 2013

When to Stop Buying

Christmas is just over two weeks away. Your inventory is running down. You know about the holes on the shelves that you have secretly covered up by spreading things out. You know what you're out of stock and won't be able to get back in before Christmas. You're worried you won't have enough inventory to make the sales you need that final week of the season. You grab your line lists to see who will ship the fastest and what deal they are offering this week. You crunch the numbers and start writing the orders. You get into a frenzy, one order after the other, loading up on anything that will ship right away so that shelves don't look bare. You start to sweat. Panic grips you. One more order...


Step away from the computer!

Don't send those faxes or emails!

Take a deep breath and relax. I know that scenario above. Lived through it a few times. A lot of retailers make this same mistake this time every year. We panic. Did we buy enough? We think no and start writing orders for a lot of things that probably aren't going to sell and we get stuck with a bunch of inventory in January and not a lot of cash.

Before you place one more order this week, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Will this product sell in January? Chances are really good that most of what you order this week will end up being shelf-fillers - products that make your store look full, but don't completely sell through. Even the hot items rarely sell out that last order. But if it is truly hot, it will sell next month. If you know the product will sell after the holidays, proceed. If it is only a holiday-time item, count your blessings that you didn't have any carry-over and move on.
  2. Will this purchase put me over my budget? You do have a budget, right? You do have a projected sales number in mind along with an ending inventory number you hope to hit? You do know how much is currently on order and how much you still need to buy? Without a plan, over-buying is almost imperative. Plan your purchases around your Ending Inventory plus Expected Sales minus your Current Inventory. 
  3. Do I (will I) have the cash to afford this order? If you have been paying attention to your cash flow and, then you know whether you can afford this order. If the cash flow says you can afford it and the other questions are also answered yes, then go for it. But even if your budget says you need to buy more, but the cash flow does not, go with the cash flow. Better to have cash in January than inventory. 

If any of those questions are even a shaky yes, talk yourself down off the ledge, push the pencil away, and go out on the floor and sell something.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Our customers are the ones to be induced into over-buying, not you. ;)

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Mortar Between Your Bricks

They call us Brick & Mortar stores. Physical locations where you go to pick out and pick up your goods.

But many stores are simply Brick stores - no mortar. Those are the stores being Showroomed.

Bricks are the products. Bricks are the items you choose to put into your store. Bricks are the items you buy, hoping to sell for a profit. Bricks are the reason you believe customers will beat a path to your door.

Oh, but you would be wrong on that last one.

Sure, you better have some nice bricks. But everyone knows that just stacking a bunch of bricks will not build a sustainable structure. Anyone can come by and knock it down.

Mortar is the glue that holds the bricks together. You need a good mortar.

Mortar is the staff you hire and train. Hire the right people and train them well. Give them autonomy to do the job they are capable of doing, mastery to do it better each successive time, and a purpose greater than themselves that will motivate them to do their best.

Mortar is the way you service and take care of your customers. Build policies around your Values. Build policies around the Feelings you hope to give your customers. Build policies around Delight, around going above and beyond what your customers expect.

Mortar is the way you invest in your community. Mortar is the charities you support, the issues you champion, the involvement and commitment you make to the greater good.

Mortar is the special touches you offer. Mortar is turning off the overhead music when an autistic child enters your store because you know it bothers him. Mortar is carrying the heavy item out to the car - even though it is parked hundreds of feet away - so that mom can manage the stroller and the toddler who wants to walk. Mortar is calling that customer who really wanted your sold-out, discontinued science set because somebody returned one the next day. Mortar is saying Yes! when everyone else says No.

The stronger your mortar, the stronger your store, regardless of which bricks you use.

Bricks are everywhere. The bricks that make up your store can be found online, in hundreds of other stores, all over the place. They can be found right in your customer's pocket, one click away. If you want to make it in this retail climate, you need some incredibly good mortar.

Tell me what is your mortar?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Mortar is also your financial strength, your ability to manage your inventory and cash flow, your ability to manage your expenses and cost of goods. The best retailers find ways to strengthen their mortar everywhere they can. If you are in the Jackson area and want to strengthen the mortar in your store, sign up for the Jackson Retail Success Academy class starting in January.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Call Me Farmer Phil

A toy store in December. Time to harvest the crops. Time to gather the rewards from a long year of planning and preparing for this moment.

Yet here we are still planting seeds.

Check out this FB post from a customer...

We're always impressed with customer service at the Toy House, but yesterday was over the top. Our family was there because our son was picking out a gift for our daughter's birthday. He asked me about a ride-along horse which I told him was fine, and he raced off, I assumed, to tell my husband. The next thing I knew a Toy House employee was asking me if I was XXXX's mom. I said, yes, and she said that my son was asking if they could wrap the toy for his sister's birthday. She wanted to know if it was okay, and they would go ahead, remove the tag, and wrap it for him, and we could pay when we were ready to go. I appreciated them taking the time to interact with my son (and tracking me down) instead of just brushing off his desires to get something for his sister. Thanks again, Toy House, for the continued hard work and great customer service!"

Planting the seeds for the next generation of Toy House shoppers.

If you are in a retail business like mine, where your primary target outgrows you, you have to always be farming, always be planting seeds for the next harvest.

I have to grow a new crop pretty much every year, so I am always in planting mode. You should be, too. Here are some ways to plant seeds.

Treat everyone in your store the same wonderful way, regardless of how much money they spend. Today's small spender might be on a tight budget, but might know some friends and relatives who are not. She might also find her luck has changed next year.

Treat everyone in your store the same wonderful way, regardless of how they behave. You don't know the journey they are on or the troubles they are facing. Have compassion and kindness. Understand that this is just today. Tomorrow will come and tomorrow will be different. It always is.

Pay attention to the memories and feelings you are creating. We are emotional beings. We remember feelings long after we forget the facts. Design your policies, choose your staff, and build your store around the feelings you want people to associate with your business.

Call me Farmer Phil. I'm off to go plant some more seeds.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Here is a seed worth watering... If you are a retailer in the Jackson area and you want to take your business to the next level, check out www.JacksonRetailSuccessAcademy.com. A new class is starting in January.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Next Transaction

Do you know the real goal of each transaction? To earn the Next Transaction.

Unless you're closing the store and selling off your inventory, you're going to need that next transaction, and the one after that, and the one after that, and so on.

You always need one eye on the horizon, one eye fixed on how to earn that Next Transaction.

Last Saturday we had a huge event. LEGO Contest, Yo-Yo Competition, Toy Demos, Crafts, Scavenger Hunt, Cookies, Prizes, the whole works! We advertised heavily. We staffed heavily. We spent a lot of money to draw traffic and put on a lot of events to keep that traffic happy.

Did it translate into extra sales? A little. We had a slightly better than usual Saturday. Not enough to cover the extra expenses, but that wasn't the point. The entire goal of the day was Wish Lists - pieces of paper that the kids took around the store and filled out with what they wanted Santa to bring them.

Since our competitors in town don't stock the same items we stock, we wanted those kids to make out their lists with our toys. Every kid who went on a scavenger hunt to earn a cookie got a wish list. Every parent with one or more kids in tow got a wish list.

Our goal for the day was simple - focus on the Next Transaction.

  1. Give everyone something fun to do.
  2. Give everyone a Wish List to fill out.
  3. Treat them so well they can't wait to come back.

It is a formula that serves us well.

There are a lot of businesses that put too much effort on maximizing this transaction - as if it will be their last. Make this one special for the customer. Delight her. Earn the chance to get another transaction.

If that isn't enough to convince you, try this... Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What percentage of my business is Repeat Business? (write that number down)
  2. What percentage of my business is Referral Business? (write that number down)

The remaining percentage is your advertising driven business - usually the smallest of the three numbers.

Put your energy into getting repeats and referrals and you'll have all the Next Transactions you need.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There are a lot of ways to earn the next transaction. Sometimes adding on and maximizing the current sale is how you earn another - especially if the add-ons are what is needed to "complete" the sale. Don't ever let a customer walk out without everything they need. Sometimes you earn the next transaction because you didn't get overly pushy. Sometimes you earn the next transaction because you planned it that way (like the wish lists). The best leaders are always looking beyond this transaction to the next one.

PPS Here is an email one mom sent me from our event that drives home the point...
"…and great event Saturday!   While I know you’re open minded and see the big picture, I wanted to let you know that your sales on days like that may not be all the sales you gain from the event.  I could barely manage the two kids let alone purchase anything, but I’ll be back this week to get everything."

Friday, November 8, 2013

Treat Your Sales Reps as Partners

The dreaded sales rep. We all have one. Maybe more than one. The rep that just doesn't get you or your business. The rep you wish didn't get all the good lines. The rep who makes you wonder if they even care. The rep that makes you roll your eyes just setting the appointment.

Then there is the good rep. The one who gets it. Who gets you. Who anticipates your needs. Who knows your style, your store's style, your store's goals. Who you can't wait to work with again.

My buddy Tim Miles illustrated the difference between those two reps - the order taker and the true partner.
Much of the burden on becoming that good rep belongs to the rep himself. He has to want to be your partner.

But I wonder if there is not also some burden on us.

Do you treat your rep as a partner or an order taker?
Do you share your goals for the store - especially for that line of products or services - with the rep?
Do you share your visions and philosophies with your rep?
Do you share the responsibility of all the work with your rep - or do you expect them to do all the heavy lifting?
Do you take them out to lunch instead of expecting them to always buy?
Do you listen to their suggestions?
Do you even ask for their suggestions?
Do you consider them to be part of your team?
Do you offer them the some of the same benefits you offer your own employees?

There is an anonymous quote that says, "Your customers will get better when you do."

I think the same applies to our reps.

-Phil Wrzesinski
PS I offer all my product sales reps the same employee discount my staff gets. It is just one way to make sure they understand they are part of my team.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Do Something Over-the-Top

You still have time to pull this off. Christmas is still 48 days away. Do something Over-the-Top for your customers this season.

Is parking a problem for your store? Offer Free Valet Parking. Get some young motivated drivers to move the cars to the distant lot (hire the local cross-country team - they don't mind running in the cold and their season just ended).

Offer a seating area with comfortable recliners. Coffee and doughnuts in the morning. Water and fresh fruit in the afternoon.

Do a coat-check.

Have servers walking the store with samples of local treats. Bonus - have them dressed in formal black tie outfits.

Forget the piped in music - have live performers from the local symphony. Get a trio or quartet every Saturday - pay them well (some of them will work for gift cards).

Give them labels to go with their giftwrapped packages.

Give out helium balloons free to every child. (As Winnie the Pooh said, "Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.")

Do a Santa Wish List - even for the adults - and keep it on file for spouses, parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles.

Offer a free sample, free inspection, free add-on, free trial, free upgrade, free whatever. Don't advertise it. (Please don't advertise it.) Just do it. Freely and with sincerity. Let your customers advertise it for you.

Have a couple doormen carry their packages to their cars - no matter where they parked!

Think about what your customers expect from you, then do something way unexpected and over-the-top. They will talk about you. A lot. To everyone they know.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Every fine restaurant in New York has a coat check, usually tucked away in the corner past the crowded bar. When I went to a Danny Meyer restaurant in NY fabled for amazing customer service the greeter took our coats without us having to shuffle through the crowd to the hidden coat check. Better yet, when our party got up to go, the greeter was already waiting with our coats and knew exactly who got which coat. That was unexpectedly cool. And I'm talking about it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Asking the Right Questions

The first few years I interviewed people for positions on the team I asked a bunch of questions. Most of them were the wrong questions.

I asked a lot of "What if..." questions. You know, "What would you do if a customer comes up to you with a complaint about...?"

Questions that are based on speculation will only get you answers the interviewee thinks you want to hear.

Those are of no value to you. About all they can tell you is whether that person has done any research on your company's policies and values. They rarely show how the interviewee will actually react when facing that situation.

The right questions to ask are questions about their previous actions. Our actions speak louder than our words about who we are and what we believe.

Use this phrase, "Tell me about a time when..."

Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond your job expectations to help a customer.

If they can't tell you a time, then they probably never did. What they tell you also gives you insight into what they think is above and beyond. It tells you how they perceive their role and whether they even believe they can do what is right versus what is policy. You might also learn that they are mavericks who do their own thing regardless of what policy might be.

Tell me about a time when you had to help a friend in need.

You learn a lot about loyalty, helpfulness and what friend means.

Tell me about a time when you had to stay later than you were scheduled. (getting the job done versus just putting in the hours)

Tell me about a time when you were short-staffed and everyone had to do extra. (how they view hard work and stressful situations)

Tell me about a time when you received the worst customer service while out shopping. (their view of what bad customer service looks like)

Tell me about a time when you received the best customer service while out shopping. (their view of what good customer service looks like)

Tell me about a time when you had to solve a problem and no one was there to help you. (their approach to problem solving)

Tell me about a time when someone at work did something especially nice for you. (how they relate to other workers)

Tell me about the worst thing you ever had to do on the job. (how they get along with co-workers and bosses)

Actions speak louder than words. Decide which actions you want your employees to take, then ask them to tell you how they've taken those actions before. This one little tip changed the quality of my new hires overnight.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Some of your interviewees will hem and haw at answering these kinds of questions. They were prepared to tell you what they thought you wanted to hear. Take that as a sign. Others will tell you things that will astound you. If they get on a good story, keep it going. The longer they tell a story, the more passion you'll see and the more it will reveal.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Making a List, Checking it Twice

No, I'm not Santa (although some people in Jackson might disagree).

The list I am making is the list of traits my seasonal staff needs to have. Things like...

  • A willingness to learn
  • Knowledge of toys
  • Knowledge of play and play value
  • Ability to do math
  • Ability to work on a computer
  • A strong, confident voice
  • Friendliness
  • Problem Solver
  • Can giftwrap a package
  • Loves to help others
  • Has legible handwriting
  • Works well with others
  • Energy to stand on your feet all day

Wouldn't you love it if your seasonal staff had all those traits?

Which ones are deal killers (if they don't have it, you can't hire them)? Which ones do you think you could teach? Which ones do you know you could never teach?

Make a list like this for every position in your business. Then take that list and make a second list. Separate the first list into two columns - the stuff you cannot teach, the stuff you can teach.

Now go hire someone with the stuff you cannot teach, and train them on everything else.

As for the deal killers - those are the first things you need to identify in your interview process. That's how you get a seasonal staff up to your level of customer service in short order.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Friendliness, Problem Solver, Loves to Help Others, A Willingness to Learn - those are my deal killers. You don't have those traits, you don't work for me.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Redefining the Terms

You don't sell products. You sell feelings.

The jeweler doesn't sell diamond rings. The jeweler sells the look on her face when he opens the box and asks, "Will you marry me?"

The shoe salesman doesn't sell shoes. The shoe salesman sells the bounce in your step and the self-confidence you have when your feet feel good.

The toy store doesn't sell toys. The toy store sells play value and imagination and creativity.

You and I get this. Our customers don't.

Not because they can't, but because the big chains won't let them. Especially the discounters. They are trying to commoditize everything you sell. Make it all about the price. It isn't about which toys you buy, but how many. The big chains know you can outperform them on getting the right items. They want to make sure the customers don't even think about that. They're winning, too, because we allow them to control the conversation.

They talk about the products. We talk about the products. We're speaking their language. We need to instead talk about the feelings.

We need to talk less about the products we sell and more about how our products make the customer feel. We need to talk about the emotions behind the products, the emotions behind the purchases, the feelings we create.

We need to bring the importance of the purchase, the reason for the purchase back to the forefront.

When you write your ad copy, whether for print, broadcast or social media, ask yourself two questions.

  1. Is this copy about the product or the feeling?
  2. How can I make it more about the feeling?

The more you do that, the more you change the conversation back to one you will win.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS For example, here are two radio ads I have run this fall to change the conversation. These are the left-brained, logical ads. The more emotional ads run next month.

We Sell Play Value
Over the next couple months a bunch of stores will start advertising to you about toys. They’re talking about the wrong thing. You don’t buy toys. You buy Play Value. You don’t buy toys; you buy creativity and imagination. You don’t buy toys, you buy engagement and fun. You can forgive them for not knowing this. They only sell toys part time. We sell Play Value all year long. That’s why you shop at Toy House and Baby Too in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

Made Up Lists
Fortunately, you guys are smart. You know all those Hot Toy Lists are fake, phony, decided in some backroom meeting months ago. Designed to get you to buy what they want to sell. As if your kids were sheep and only happy if they got one of the “hot” toys.  That’s not you. That’s not us. We aren't going to hype you into buying what we want to sell. We’re going to help you find what works best for you. Over twice the selection of the big chains, ten times the play value, and none of the hype. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Buying Word of Mouth Part 2

I bought people talking about my store for only $418.

This next project cost about the same - and I didn't have to pay for it!!

Candy Chang started a project down in New Orleans by turning sheets of plywood into interactive works of art by asking people to finish this sentence - Before I die, I want to...

The interactive chalkboards have become a worldwide phenomenon.

I first learned about the project back in the spring and was kicking around the idea when a local artist approached me, wanting to use the side of our building for this project. She applied for a local grant of $500 and the board you see pictured is the result.

This picture was taken the day after the board was installed. You can see that it was already two-thirds full. The success of that board has prompted us to put up two more - My Favorite Toy... and the original Before I Die...

Now we have people talking and writing (and showing up)!

After the boards are up, we'll install the webcam (for both novelty and security).

You can get word-of-mouth when you do over-the-top things in and around your store. Heck, you can duplicate this one quite easily.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS We used 1/4" sanded plywood primed and painted with chalkboard paint. You could also use black flat paint if you're on a tight budget. Doesn't erase as well, but it still works. The borders are made with 1"x2" poplar boards - the hardwood will last a little longer and hold up a little better. But just a simple piece of painted plywood will do the trick, too (but use a thicker plywood). The words are painted on (you can use a stencil or freehand it or even leave the board blank except for the header).The sidewalk chalk is in a 6" cube acrylic box with a hinged lid.

The two other boards also have received funding through generous grants. See if there is money for art in your community.

Prepping the boards for mounting.

You can see the border - simple carpentry.

The chalk box.

Maggie, the artist behind the project and Dave, the carpenter.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Your Store is an Extension of You

I've been preaching this point for a number of years. 

What is important to you is what you will focus on in your store.

We have always been a prompt store. We close at 6:00pm, but we turn out half the lights at 5:55pm and start the process of closing down cash registers while customers are still in the store. We often have the doors locked and are clearing out before the last car has left the parking lot.

Yeah, deep down I know that we are not giving our best customer service at this time because the appearance is that we are in a hurry to leave. Yet, we've always done it this way.

Then it dawned on me.

My mom is all about being on time. She still gives me grief for being born a day late. Says I've been late ever since. Promptness is one of her Core Values. She lives the Shakespeare quote, "Better three hours too early than one minute too late." She got this trait from her mom, who with my grandpa founded Toy House.

For forty-four years prior to my arrival, this was one of the dominating traits of the people in charge and it became our method of operation. We open on time (or early) and we close on time. 

Period. Unquestioned. Customer Service be damned.

Your store is an extension of you and what you believe. It is an extension of your values. Your policies and your procedures reflect what you hold dear. Whether you do it consciously or subconsciously.

All I ask is that you do it consciously.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I work hard to push the idea that the last customer of the day gets the same wonderful service as the first customer of the day. But perception is reality. We could very well be undoing all the good we did servicing the customer by being in such a hurry to close up.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

If You're Not Happy, Don't Settle

I finished the stage, well at least the main part of it. We still have some decorations to complete, but the stage was up, the curtain was in place, people were using it.

Something didn't look quite right to my eye.

This morning my wife made a suggestion. She was absolutely right. I had put the curtain in the wrong spot. The easy solution was to just live with it. Was it horrible? No. Was it workable? Yes.

The bigger question was what would it take to fix it?

The answer was one hour and one band aid.
Before - with the curtain at the front edge of the platform.

After - with the curtain moved back.

Now the stage fits my eye better. Now the stage has a space in front of the curtain for storytellers, performers, maybe even a visit from Santa. Now the performers can be seen from a wider angle. Now the stage looks more like a stage and less like a curtained room.

The lesson? Before you settle for something not quite perfect, ask yourself these two questions.

  1. Can I fix it?
  2. Can I live with it? 

If you can answer yes to the first question, fix it. Period. If you answer no to the first, but you can answer yes to the second, keep it as is. If you answer no to both, scrap it and start over.

Yes, this applies to just about everything. Just be sure to ask the questions in the right order.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Don't settle. Make the effort to fix the things you can fix. It pays off in the long run. You are in this for the long run, right?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Buying Word-of-Mouth

I bought Word-of-Mouth advertising.

Paid just over $400 for it.

There are four different ways you can consistently get people to talk about you.

  • Over-the-Top Design
  • Over-the-Top Service
  • Over-the-Top Generosity
  • Sharing Secrets

Roy H. Williams taught me the first three. The fourth I figured out on my own.

Yesterday during our Fourth Friday Game Night we decided to play Charades. It was an easy decision. We needed a game to christen our brand new stage.

Why would we take valuable retail space and build a stage?

  • Puppet Shows
  • Story Times
  • Guest Performers
  • Charades
  • Dress-up Clothes
  • Staged Productions
  • General Play (who doesn't love getting up on a stage just for fun?)
  • Word-of-Mouth
  • Because it is consistent with our Core Value of Having Fun

I spent $75 on the wood for the platforms, another $128 for the carpet, $25 for the poles, and $190 for the curtains. Total cost = $418.

People will talk.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS We still have a few details to finish such as a header above the curtain and the backdrop. Every time someone takes a photo of their precious one "performing", the Toy House name and logo will be visible.
We used 2" x 8" boards and 3/4" plywood to build the platform in 3 sections.

The carpet is simply stapled down using a carpet stapling gun generously loaned to us by Christoff's Carpet & Floor Covering.
The curtains are held up with 1" PVC pipe anchored to 2 walls. The section to the right is a "backstage" area designed for when we do performances.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Ripple Effect

I attended a reunion for former staff at YMCA Storer Camps last weekend. One of the events was celebrating 75 years of their horse program including 50 years of a dedicated ranch just for would-be wranglers.

Tom Brown brought out a horse named Zach. Zach was 29 years old and had been giving rides to children for 24 years.

"Just think about all the kids Zach has carried these past 24 years, raising their self-esteem and giving them an experience they'll never forget."

I admit I got choked up. At that moment I looked around and realized there were close to 200 former staff members in attendance. Like Zach, we all had lifted up children, raised their self-esteem, and gave them experiences they'll never forget.

A single counselor in a single summer has direct influence on at least 48 campers and indirect influence on another 200-300 kids. Some of the people at the reunion had worked at camp for decades.

Doing some quick math, I figure collectively, the people in that dining hall last Saturday night had influenced over half a million children, most who were better for that experience. And those children went on to make a difference in the lives of others. And so on and so on.

This kind of ripple effect is not just reserved for camp counselors and teachers and people who work with youth. Indie retailers also make difference. You make a difference because you care about what products you sell. You make a difference because you care about the experiences you offer. You make a difference in the lives of your customers. You make a difference because of your involvement in your community.

Sometimes it is worth it to stop and think about the ripple effect you have on your market. You've made a huge difference in the lives of many of your customers. Some of them have paid it forward by shopping more local, by referring others to local shops, and by doing more to support you and your community.

You've made an incredible impact on your community that reaches exponentially farther than you can imagine.

Keep up the good work. The ripple effect is amazing. Just ask George Bailey.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It is good to take stock from time to time and remind yourself about the influence you have to change the world around you. It grows exponentially every single year. Do something worthy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Head Cheerleader

Who is the head cheerleader for your business?

Who is the one that puts the smile on everyone's face and the determination in their hearts? Who picks people up when they are down, finds the silver lining in the cloud, points out the positives?

Who raises the energy level up when it starts to lag? Who gets everyone on board when something new happens? Who makes sure the projects get done right and on time and with a good attitude?

Right now you're expecting me to say this is your job.

It isn't.

You need an influencer on your staff. You need a high-energy, positive-attitude, get-it-done person on your staff. You need a head cheerleader on your staff. Someone that isn't you. You probably already have this person on the team.

Can you identify that person right now? She is the most important person on your team, regardless of her position. She has your back. She makes things go. She infects everyone with her approach.

Seth Godin calls her the linchpin.

You can call her anything you want. Just be sure to appreciate what she does for your business and make sure you do what you have to do to keep her. And if you don't have one, go out a find one. She is worth far more than you'll ever pay her.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, you can have more than one on your staff. In fact, try to have a full team of cheerleader/linchpins if you can. Makes your job a lot easier.

How do you find them? You identify the traits you want them to have, write an ad that spells out who they are, set up an interview process that identifies those traits, and put in place a program that rewards them and keeps them happy. Sounds simple and intuitive, but you would be surprised how many retailers (including big chains) have no such system in place.

Friday, October 18, 2013

What's in a Name (Tag)? Money!

Do you and your employees wear name tags? Are they hidden down at the belt level or on a lanyard so that they turn backwards hiding your name?

If your employees cannot be easily identified by name, you are missing one more chance to delight your customers.

It is one thing to introduce yourself, "Hi, I'm Phil. Thanks for coming in, today." Some people will remember your name. Most will not. They are too busy thinking of themselves. They are expecting "sales-clerk-speak" and not paying attention. They are looking around, distracted by your superb merchandising.

If you have a name tag, however, they will look at that tag for confirmation of what they thought they heard.

Knowing your name connects them to you. Makes you more than a sales clerk. Gives you a sense of humanity.

Knowing your name makes you seem more friendly.

Knowing your name also gives your customer a feeling of power. She knows you can't screw up because knowing your name means she can call you out to the manager. She also has the power to praise you to your manager. Without a name, she's less likely to speak up. Without a name, she feels just a little less empowered.

A customer is far more likely to buy more from someone she knows by name. (bigger tickets)
A customer is far more apt to return to a store where she knows the employees by name. (repeat business)
A customer is far more likely to refer her friends to a sales person she knows by name. (referrals)

A great introduction is still worth its weight in gold, but the reinforcement of well-placed, easy-to-read name tag makes your job of delight easier.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that my own staff's name tags need an overhaul. If you serve a lot of Boomers like we do, make the font for the first name big and simple.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

One Very Important Person

You have an opportunity. A true VIP is coming to your door. Someone with a lot of influence. Friends in high places. Someone who makes the who's who list every time, everywhere.

You know you need to step up your game. You know you need to pull out all the stops for this one person. You don't want to give away the store. No deep discounts. That won't impress this person. Plus, you don't want to set a precedent that all of this person's followers will want a discount, too.

You just have to make the kind of impression that gets this person to talk about you, to sing your praises, to spread the good word.

What are you going to do differently?

Ask that question of your staff at your next staff meeting. Put out a notice 24 hours in advance that you're going to talk about a VIP visiting your store soon and what you need to do. Then lay out the scenario above.

What are you going to do differently?

Then ask this question... How could we practice this so that when the VIP arrives, we get it right?

You know the answers they are going to give. We could role play with each other. We could rehearse. We could try it out on some of the other customers already coming in the store. Ding, ding, ding! Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Practice it on every single customer that comes in today. Then evaluate what worked and what didn't. Practice it again with the upgrades on everyone tomorrow. Evaluate and repeat.

Then ask this final question... How will you know the VIP when he or she arrives?

You know the answer to that one.

You'll never really know how many followers on Pinterest will see the picture she just took of a product in your store. You'll never really know how many readers of her blog will share the article she wrote about the way you greeted her and followed her around the store. You'll never really know how many friends the woman who just walked quickly through without saying a word is meeting for lunch to talk about the group gift they are planning to buy. You'll never really know how many people that gal who said she's "just looking" is going to invite to the shower.

But if you get the staff to start practicing their VIP treatment on everyone, they're going to nail it when that VIP truly arrives.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you ask the staff, "What are you going to do differently?" and they say, "Not a damn thing!" either you have an extremely well-trained staff who is already kicking butt or one that doesn't have a clue. Either way, you have to fire the whole team and start over (the first group doesn't want to do anything differently, the second doesn't know how to do anything differently). For your sake, I hope they have some suggestions.

PPS For those who like me to spell out the obvious... Treat the very next customer like a VIP. Make her feel special. Then the next, then the next, then the next. Do it one customer at a time. Do it until you cannot treat the customer any other way. Every single customer is a VIP in her own way. Treat her like that and she will bring her network to you.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Math Behind a Sale

I had a vendor recently ask me to offer their items at 25% off for a month. They would split the difference of the sale off the wholesale price (12.5% discount on the cost). They figured this would be a big enough deal to drive a lot of traffic.

On the surface it looks good. 25% off a popular brand would probably drive some business. So I decided to do the math.

We'll use a hypothetical item, but the math comes out about the same no matter how you slice it. Let's assume two things... First, I have an item that I buy for $10 and sell for $19.99. Second, I expect to sell 10 units of this item every month.

In a typical month, my numbers would look like this:

Total Cost = $100 (10 units x $10 each)
Total Revenue = $199.90 (10 units sold x $19.99 each)
Gross Profit Dollars = $99.90 (Revenue minus Cost)

Now let's do the math with the sale discount. My new cost is now $8.75 ($10 minus 12.5%). My new retail is $14.99 ($19.99 minus 25%)

If I sell the same 10 units the math looks like this:

Total Cost = $87.50 (10 units x $8.50 each)
Total Revenue = $149.90 (10 units sold x $19.99 each)
Gross Profit Dollars = $62.40 (Revenue minus Cost)

Even though my discount was only 25% and the company was willing to lower the cost, the same ten units I was expecting to sell yielded a 37.5% decrease in Gross Profit. Wow!

Just to make the same Gross Profit Dollars as I already expected to make, I would need to sell 16 units at these new prices.

Total Cost = $140 (16 units x $8.75 each)
Total Revenue = $239.84 (16 units sold x $14.99 each)
Gross Profit Dollars = $99.84 (Revenue minus Cost)

To make this promotion worthwhile, I would need to sell 60% more units. More importantly, those 6 extra units had to be extra sales, not just sales from next month's expected ten units sold.

How do I sell 60% more units to new customers? I have to advertise. I have to announce the sale, create signs, post notices, change numbers in the cash register, alert the staff, order more products, schedule more staff.

Gee, by the time I do all that, I'm going to need an 80% increase in units sold to cover all the increased expenses.

It takes a lot more volume than you might think to make it up with volume as the old adage says.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The math isn't that hard. Do the math and see what the numbers tell you. If you believe you will definitely sell 60-80% more units at the lower price, go for it. If you believe your Transactional Customers will jump on this item, go for it. If you believe the sale will draw enough traffic that will buy other regularly priced items, then consider the lost dollars on the sale items an advertising expense. If you need to move out a dog that isn't selling, go for it. Just do a little math first, so that you know what results you're shooting for.

PPS If your initial profit margin is lower than 50%, your increase in units sold to make the same gross profit dollars in a sale like this goes up. Just saying...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can You Really Buy Loyalty?

How many of those loyalty scan cards do you have on your keychain? Your grocery store? Your pharmacy? Your office supply store?

Are you going in regularly with those coupons they mail you? Does it make a difference where you shop and how much you buy? For some customers, yes it does. The Transactional Customer loves those cards and takes full advantage of them. But not everyone does.

According to one survey, only about 65% of Americans actually use those loyalty program cards and coupons.

I question how many of those people would still be "loyal" to that store without the program. I know that the two cards I use are at places where I would shop anyway, whether I had the card or not. One of them, I actually hate shopping there. I only go because they have a product I can't get anywhere else, not because of any loyalty card.

More importantly, the top reasons people say they would switch their "loyalty" to another store is because of indifferent sales help and the other store being perceived as more fun. Price and loyalty programs are far down the list.

So how much "loyalty" are you really buying? First consider that 35% of the population doesn't care about loyalty programs. Then consider what percentage of those people using your program are actually spending more at your store than they might otherwise just because of the program. Is it more than what the program costs? I saw one program that promised if I gave away 10% discounts in my loyalty program I would see a 5% increase in sales. Not my kind of math. Then consider how quickly customers might leave your store, loyalty program and all, because of perceived indifference by your staff.

Would you really like to buy some loyalty? Spend your money on training a kick-ass staff. Spend your money making your store a more fun place to shop. Spend your money on delighting the 35% (or more) who could care less about discount cards and coupons.

That's a loyalty program worth having.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS And it won't be a burden on anyone's keychain.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

But Why Would I Need That?

You can lead a horse to water...

My friend, Rick, is a successful dentist with a wonderful practice. He has learned some principles along the way that he shares with other dentists. Good stuff, too, that makes a difference in their practices.

My friend, Chris, is an amazing visual artist. He is responsible for making my powerpoint slides much more impactful and meaningful. He has interesting insights on being an artist in a digital age. He makes a difference for starving artists.

My friend, Joel, put both of my books together. Did the covers, the layout, prepped them for printing. He does that for anyone who wants to self-publish. And he's darn good at it.

I teach classes for independent retailers wanting to take it to the next level. Eye-popping and jaw-dropping revelations on what it takes to be successful in this business climate.

We are all out there to help others succeed. And we all hear the same thing from people we know we could help.

But why would I need that?

Why would a dentist need to learn about marketing?
Why would an artist need to learn about communication?
Why would someone smart enough to write a book need an editor or designer or professional layout?
Why would an independent retailer who already opened a shop need help on running a retail business?

Rick is a dentist. Rick invests time learning about best marketing practices for dentists, learning new ways to serve customers, learning new ways to attract patients, learning new ways to communicate.

Chris is an artist. Chris invests time learning new ways to market his art, learning new ways to make his communications more effective, learning new ways to be successful in this age.

Joel is an author. Joel invests time learning how to self-publish books, learning new ways to build platforms, learning new ways to create websites, use social media, and design professional looking books.

I am a retailer. I invest time learning how to advertise my store, learning how to manage my inventory, learning how to hire and train, learning how to understand the financial side of retail.

All these guys are successful. They never asked the question... Why would I need that? Instead, they invested the time to learn.

You can lead a horse to water...  ...and if you can get him to float on his back and paddle, then you've got something.

You are a ___________. How are you investing your time?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If your answer is, "I don't have any time to invest," might I suggest that if you start investing now, you'll find the time?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Anatomy of a Staff Meeting - Play Value

Every staff meeting needs a goal. Not just any goal, but a big goal. Go big or go home.

This morning's staff meeting goal was: This will be a successful meeting if we understand the importance of Play Value, how our toys offer Play Value and the special needs of Play Value.

After that, I needed an activity to get the points across. The first two parts of the goal were simply review. We talk about Play Value all the time. We talk about the three pillars of a great toy. We talk about the two different ways kids play - Directorial & Participatory - all the time.

Today's meeting, however, was really about understanding the five different types of learning that toys offer kids of special needs. Cognitive, Communicative, Physical, Sensory, and Social/Emotional. I needed something big and memorable and visual that they could refer to later.

I came up with this.

I stood against the board and had a staff member trace my body. Then we talked about the five types as I drew shapes. Cognitive was a thought cloud coming up from the brain (yeah, okay, I wrote cognizant instead of cognitive - sue me). Communication was caption balloons coming from both sides of the mouth. Social/Emotional was a big heart in the chest. Sensory was two circles by each hand. Physical was trapezoids down by the legs.

The staff split into teams of two and went out to find a toy for each category. They presented their toys while I wrote each toy in the appropriate space. If there were any duplicates, that team had to go find a new toy. Pretty soon we had six toys for each category. And a huge visual. And a pattern of what kinds of toys fit each category. And a discussion of how to identify which category a customer's request might fit in.

Every meeting needs something unexpected. Since we already knew the first two parts of Play Value, I asked one person to get up and describe the three pillars. She nailed them and I gave her a $25 gas card. Two more questions, two more gas cards later, we had covered the basics. Not only did the gas cards delight the winners, it made the rest of the staff take notice that knowing this stuff was lucrative.

The discussion centered around recognizing the patterns of toys that fit each category of learning. We also discussed how to assess what a customer might want, what kinds of questions to ask. The visual of the big board with all the toys on it helped tremendously in the discussion.

Since there were no assigned tasks with this meeting, I simply made a copy of the following picture for everyone to keep and put the big board in a prominent spot in our warehouse.

Is your staff having this much fun at your staff meetings?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You don't need to sell toys to have fun meetings. But you do need to plan fun things. Don't know how? Start with Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend. Then download the Staff Meetings Worksheet. Then send me a note if you need more ideas.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Broken Communication, Broken Trust

One of my employees bought a new house. She got bombarded with the typical mail a new home owner gets. Tons of offers for phone and Internet and cable services. She received close to a dozen offers from one particular company for her cable and Internet.

She finally decided to talk to an agent. You all know how that worked out.

The great offers in the mailings were nowhere to be found in the offers made by the agent. In fact, he seemed to have no clue about them and wasn't about to go find out.

Words like slimy, snake oil, scam artist, and bait-and-switch come to mind. Definitely a huge lack of trust.

But what if he just didn't know? What if no one in marketing had told him about the great deals they were mailing out to potential customers? What if no one had trained him well enough to know where and when to check for special deals? What if no one had followed up to make sure he was aware of the current programs?

What if you told your customers about a great deal or announced a fun event on Facebook and forgot to tell your part-time high school kid who only works nine hours a week? Forgot to inform the weekend manager who had been on vacation?  Forgot to train your seasonal staff to read the promotions book at the beginning of each shift?

Can you see how trust can be so easily broken?

My general optimism would like to believe that what my employee experienced with the cable company was nothing more than a communication problem between marketing and sales. Whether that is true or not, at least it is a lesson we all can learn.

If you're planning an event or a promotion. Make sure everyone is in on it and knows ALL the details. The trust you've already worked so hard to earn depends on it.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Your entire reputation can hinge on the actions of one employee to one customer. Bad will spreads much more easily than good will. That's a lot of pressure to make the right decisions in the hiring and training process. If you haven't yet read Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff into a Work of Art, now might be a good time before you start hiring for the holidays.

Friday, October 4, 2013

More Than a Fair Exchange of Value

You all know I follow a bunch of blogs. You've probably read a blog or two on my blog roll. I read them because they challenge me. They challenge my thoughts on retail. They challenge what I think I know. A few minutes ago, I read this on a blog about Customer Loyalty.

5) Deliver a “fair exchange of value”. Too often retailers want to create “delighted” customers. Many retailers spend far too large a percentage of their revenue trying to create “delighted” customers. The reality is that customers want a fair exchange of value and rarely expect a retailer to delight them. Give them a good value, provide a comfortable and efficient shopping experience, work with them through any issues, solve their problems, and they’ll become not just loyal, but committed.

Can I agree to disagree?

Yes, customers expect a fair exchange of value. I grant that. But a fair exchange of value is the minimum. It is the bar. You have to do that just to keep them from flaming you on Facebook or Yelp. Do anything less than a fair exchange of value and you're screwed. It is the lowest level of entry into the game.

Customers expect a fair exchange of value from frickin' Wal-Mart!

If all you give them is a fair exchange of value, then you're no better than Wal-Mart. And in today's retail environment, that is not good enough. It might get you a thanks, but it won't win you loyalty.

After you give them a fair exchange of value, you have to delight them. You have to make them say WOW! You have to make them think of you not as a store, but as their new bestie. You have to delight them to the point they cannot wait to tell their friends, tell their co-workers, tell their family.

Loyalty doesn't come from a discount or cash back. You aren't loyal to your friends or family because of the financial kickbacks. You're loyal because of your shared values. You're loyal because your friends and family have your back. You're loyal because at the end of the day, you know those people care.

If you want loyalty from your customers, you better first give them a fair exchange of value. Then you better have their backs, you better share their values, and you better care.

My own personal belief is that too often retailers don't do anywhere near enough to delight their customers. Yet that is where the loyalty is hiding.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This doesn't mean I'll stop reading that blog. There is always something to learn. The true key phrase in that passage above is, "Customers... rarely expect a retailer to delight them." Just think how much you will stand out in the crowd when you're the exception to that rule.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Three More Ways to Freshen Up Your Store

I gave you four inexpensive ways to make your store look fresh.

Here are three more things you can do that might cost a little more, but will definitely freshen up the place.

  • Do a Wholesale Change of Fixtures. Move them around. Change the directions. Change the locations. Keep in mind things like sight lines, traffic patterns, and where you want to lead your customers, but nothing does more to freshen up the joint than to do a wholesale change of the merchandise.
  • Put Posters on the wall. Hang them from the ceiling, too. Put up fun posters with cute pictures of your products in use. Put up adorable pictures with interesting quotes. Put up informational posters that talk about your philosophies, how to shop your products, or how to make smarter choices. Guys like to read posters (better than having to talk to an actual person). Introverts like to read posters, too. New signage always brightens up the place.
  • Add a new Design Element that gets people talking. Add in something fun and unexpected. Put in a stage for performers. Build a tree right in the middle of your store - complete with bark and branches (and decorate it for Christmas when the time comes). Build a mountain out of plaster and paper mache and use it as the focal point of a display. Put in a fountain. Add a disco ball to the bathroom. Put a picnic area, table and all, right outside the front door. Put up a directional mileposts pole (North Pole 3,303 miles). Not only will your store be fresh and hip and cool. People will be talking about you.

Later this week we will have these Before I Die... chalkboards up on the side of our building.

Yeah, people will be talking about us. That's the first half of the battle. You know what the second half is.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Along with the Before I Die project, we're doing three of those other things listed above. My resident artist is working on our directional milepost pole with 46 real and fictional locales ("Where the Wild Things Are" is my favorite!). More posters are going up on the wall soon. And I am heading to the lumber yard tomorrow to buy the wood for our stage. What are you doing to make your store fresh and exciting?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Four (Cheap) Ways to Make Your Store Look Fresh

When was the last time you changed things up? Is everything where it was last year? Even if the products have changed, if you haven't moved the categories around since last year, your store looks soooo 2012.

Yet, in a store like mine, where we have huge sections and categories, just changing the merchandising around can seem a daunting task.

Here are four simple and inexpensive things you can do that will make your store look fresh, new and exciting.

  1. Paint a Wall. Not the whole store, just one wall. Paint it a wild and fun color. Something that ties into the merchandising of that area. A gallon or two of paint and a Sunday afternoon is all it takes to brighten up the place.
  2. Put a Planter with fresh flowers out front. Fresh flowers equals fresh store. You can even talk to a local florist or nursery about having them supply the planter and flowers in exchange for putting "Flowers by _______" on the planter.
  3. Put a Table Cloth on your main display. Not only does it change the look and feel, while also covering up the cracks and scratches, it highlights the product on that display and raises their Perceived Worth.
  4. Refresh the Signage. Take down every paper sign in your store and reprint them from your computer. (The investment in a good color printer pays for itself on this one). 

People want to shop where the buzz is. People want to shop where it feels like things are happening. If your store looks like last year, you won't get that buzz. You're already buying new products. Might as well send a few more signals out that your store is fresh and exciting. You'll probably get some Word-of-Mouth, too, so consider anything you spend as an advertising expense.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I have some other ideas I will share later, but they cost just a bit more.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

When to Speed Up, When to Slow Down

One speed does not fit all in the retail world. Some shopping trips are quick hitters, kinda like guerrilla warfare - get in, get out, move on. Some are slow, easy strolls. A time for browsing, a time for gabbing, a time for pondering (a time for grabbing?).

And even within a single shopping trip there are multiple speeds. Getting to know your customer and build rapport takes time and shouldn't ever be rushed. Getting the customer checked out and back in her car, however, requires a sense of purpose if not urgency.

Here are some reminders...

The getting-to-know-you phase. Don't pepper them with so many questions that they feel under attack. Let the relationship grow as naturally as possible so that they'll feel more comfortable with you.

The product selection phase. Give them time to study during the decision-making process. Some people can make quick decisions, but many others need that extra moment to filter all the information. Go too fast here and you'll seem pushy.

The close. This seems counter-intuitive, but the reality is that there is so much training on closing the sale that most sales people are in a hurry to get that sale closed. In the process, however, you miss ample opportunities to continue serving the customer and growing the sale. Use the phrase Is there anything else I can do for you? liberally. Make sure the customer has everything she needs before you close the sale.

The checkout. Once the customer is here, her only thought is to get out the door and on to the next event. Accuracy trumps speed at the checkout. But speed shows competency. To truly build trust, you need to be both accurate and efficient. Look at your procedures and see what you can do to quicken the process without hurting the accuracy.

The follow-up. If you do follow-up calls on purchases, call sooner, not later. If they have a problem, they will usually know right away and your promptness makes you look eager to solve the problem. If the customer asks a question or has a problem that requires follow-up, respond quickly - even if the response is "We've contacted so-and-so and are waiting for a response."

Ask your frontline staff about the speed of the customer. Where is browsing and strolling encouraged? Where is it limited? What part of the checkout makes customers seem impatient? Where are we too fast? Where are we too slow? You'll get valuable feedback and you'll get your staff to become more aware of their own speeds in the process.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS When you meet with the staff, share the idea of the different speeds of the customer with them, but really listen when they start giving you feedback on what is too fast or too slow. Let them help devise the plan to slow down and speed up as necessary. If they create the plan, you'll have their instant buy-in.