Saturday, April 27, 2013

I Did Some Showrooming

Showrooming (verb): The act of going into a store to see a product and collect information, then buying it from a different source cheaper.

It is the new bad thing that will be the demise of brick & mortar stores trying to compete with Internet warehouses with low overhead in tax-friendly states with minimum wage order pickers. It is the new approach by Amazon to steal your customers away.

Except it is not all that new.

People have been shopping around for a better price for years. Customers have been going into stores to see items, get information, and get advice only to turn around and buy the item somewhere else cheaper ever since the day the second caveman opened a competing spear store. Grog undercut Brug's prices and showrooming began.

It just hasn't been as brazen until now. We all have experienced the customer who asked us questions, picked our brains, then snapped a pic of the barcode and left. That customer is no different than the catalog shopper of the last century, no different than Brug's brother-in-law who went to Grog's store first.

Those customers are simply Transactional Customers. They look at each shopping event as a singular activity. They do all the research they can on the product, then they go off on a hunt to find the best price. If you don't have the best price, you don't make the sale.

I've done it. You have, too. You have looked at an item in a store then bought it elsewhere cheaper. We all have a Transactional side in our shopping habits on certain categories.

I think where the frustration lies is that we believe that just because she entered our store, she is our customer. No she isn't! She isn't your customer until she decides to make a purchase from you. It is up to you to get her to that point. And even when she makes that purchase, she still isn't your customer. You have to earn it over and over and over again.

So if we want to combat this new (old) threat, the first step is to recognize that she is not your customer until the transaction is completed. She never was and won't be unless you get her to buy. It is called closing the sale and it is something we all need to improve.

Of course, closing the sale has changed since Grog's day. Let's quit complaining about showrooming and start learning new ways to close the sale. Okay?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I talk a little about closing the sale in my free download Customer Service: From Weak to WOW!  I am doing a presentation on Selling in a Showrooming World at the ABC Spring Educational Conference in a couple weeks.  Look for the free eBook to land sometime after that.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Four Questions a Buyer Should Ask

One of my vendors did a survey of retailers to get ideas how they could service us better. I told them that there were really only four questions my buyers ask about a vendor before placing an order.

  • Do I like the product enough to want to sell it?
  • Would my customer buy this product?
  • Will selling this product benefit my company?
  • Do I have the room for this product?

Answer yes to all and we place the order. So a smart vendor would look at those four issues and find ways to make me answer yes.

Do I Like the Product?
Yes, it starts with the product. You better make something good, something smart, something simple that fills a felt need of the customer. If I don't like it, I can't sell it. Period.

Would My Customer Buy This Product?
I can love a product, but know deep down in my heart that my customers won't. In fact, a good buyer knows the difference between what she loves and what customers will love, too. I have turned down some fabulous products because I knew they wouldn't make sense for my customer base. A smart company understands this and markets their products to the right stores. A really smart company asks why and then decides whether it is worth it to modify their offerings or simply stick to their niche.

Will Selling This Product Benefit My Company?
This is where a number of factors come together.

The first is money. I need to make money. I have major bills to pay including rent, payroll, insurance, utilities and taxes. Are the margins and dollars good enough to help me pay my bills? Will the inventory turn fast enough to make it worth my while? Are the terms such as dating, freight and quantities realistic for my cashflow needs? Is the product one that all my competition is selling at unrealistic prices?

The second is image. Will selling this product enhance the brand or image of my store? Sometimes I am willing to take a financial hit on a line if it has other benefits. For instance, we are an official licensed dealer for Boy Scout and Girl Scout merchandise. Prices are controlled by the scout groups. Margins are paper thin. But the traffic it brings me and the prestige it brings me are worth it. Some products "legitimize" your store, which makes up for the financial shortfalls. Some products enhance the look or prestige or reputation of your store.

Companies that can sell me on the benefits of carrying their product from both a financial and an image basis have a better chance of getting the order.

Do I Have the Room for This Product?
When I speak of "room" I am talking display and storage. I am also talking room in the open-to-buy budget. I am talking room in the cashflow of the store. Companies that help cashflow with extended dating or low minimums will get a stronger look. Companies that have easy-to-display-and-store products will get a stronger look.

If you come to me with your product, you better be able to sell me on all four issues. It only takes one NO on any of those questions for me to walk away.

That's the advice I gave one vendor who asked. I hope they listen.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, you may forward this to your vendors. Better yet, you might want to forward this to your buyers, too.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Plan For Success - Event Style

I'm writing this from a chair in the back of a large banquet hall outside of Chicago.  My son is here for the Regional Qualifier Yu-Gi-Oh Card Game Tournament. Registration opened at 8:30am (and he was first in line - made getting up at 4am worth it). The tournament was supposed to start at 10am. It is 11:35am as I type this and they just announced first round pairings.

They obviously did not plan for 618 registrants (and the hundreds they turned away). Oh, they have the room and the tables for 618. But they only had one security person at the front door checking backpacks and only five stations to check their playing decks. (update: first round started at 11:45am)

And the lone concessions stand is struggling to keep up with feeding 600 plus hungry young men (and a handful of women).

Someone missed the boat.

I have full confidence that the tournament will go well (if late). But the beginning sure could have been planned better.

Most of us get the event itself right. Most of us plan for success of the event.  But did you plan for the registration? Did you plan for what to do when the event attendees arrive? Did you plan for that success? Did you plan to make sure that the pre-event plans go smoothly? Did you set up early and have enough people on hand to handle all the tasks (including a runner to go get the stuff you forgot)?

The beginning sets the stage for the success of the event. Do the beginning right and your guests will be tweeting and texting their friends to get down there. Do it wrong and they'll be sending a completely different message. Make sure you plan the arrival just as well as you plan the event.

Who says Yu-Gi-Oh isn't educational?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Remember that branding is every single interaction your customer has with your business PLUS how they feel about it. Manage those interactions and you control the feelings.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Does Your Customer Want to Know?

How much product knowledge is enough product knowledge? Simple. Ask yourself...

What does the customer what to know?

Then make a list for each product.

The customer wants to know (in no particular order)...

  • How much does it cost?
  • Where was it made?
  • What materials is it made out of?
  • Why it will solve her problem?
  • What makes it different from all the others in its category?
  • How long will it last?
  • What other options and accessories are available?
  • How soon can she have it?
  • Will she have to put it together?
  • Why should she buy it from you?

Make a sheet that answers all those questions for everything you sell and your staff will have the product knowledge they need.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The hard part is getting to know the customer well enough to be able to answer the right unspoken question. Which one of those questions is the most important to her? Answer that one first and you have a far better shot at making the sale.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tim's Thing

Tim Miles is a smart guy. Funny, too. Oh, and quite tall. He makes up words like Shareworthy.

He makes up other things, too, like this thing...

It is really cool.

Most of you instinctively see it for what it is.

You have to first figure out the Goals and Values of your business before you do anything else.

Then you can start making some Strategic Plans for reaching your goals. From there you can decide how to shape and control the Customer Experience. Once you know that, then you know what your Marketing Message should be. And finally you can decide which Media to use to share that message with the world.

It is really, really cool!

Now it needs a name. Tim is asking people to give him suggestions for names. You could win an iPad or better yet, bacon!

What would you call it?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I suggested "The Order of Business" because so many businesses get the order wrong. They pick a media, then create a message without ever knowing their goals and values.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Last Buy

The season is almost over and you're out of a lot of things. Do you make that Last Buy?

This is a question that haunts all retailers.

If you don't make the buy, you run the risk of not having what the customer wants which means you lose the sales and you lose their trust. If you do make the buy, you run the risk of having it show up too late and being  stuck with inventory you cannot sell.


Here is how to think about it...

Ask yourself why you are out of stock. Did you not buy enough to begin with or did you have an extremely good, better-than-expected run on that product?

If your answer is the latter, you may just want to smile and say thank you to the retail gods for giving you a winner and go home and count your money. Forget all about that Last Buy (it's like trying to double your money at the casino on the last bet of the night - a sucker bet at best).

If your answer is the former, you might want to consider why you didn't buy enough. Was it cash flow concerns or was it just projecting too conservatively? If it was cash flow concerns, think twice before you make the Last Buy. It is a fast road back into cash flow hell.

About the only time you should make the Last Buy is when it is a product you can sell after the season is over and you have the cash to do it.

The best thing to do is to eliminate the temptation in the first place. Overbuy the must-haves. Always project higher on the items people come in asking for by name. Have extras on hand of those items and you won't have to make a Last Buy on them. Everything else? Let it go. When you run out for the season, you run out.

The key is identifying the must-haves. If you are out of things people don't come in asking for, no one will notice. If you are out of things people buy from you all the time, they will notice and they will quit coming to buy them from you.

Don't run out of those items.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You know what the must-haves are. The stuff you order every single time without having to look at a report. The stuff your customers ask for the moment they walk through the door. The stuff that sells 3x faster than the average item.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tell the Story

I stayed at a quaint little Inn on the main drag in Manistee, MI last week. It was an old bank and office building that had been converted into the Ramsdell Inn.

The lobby was all marble. The huge safe with the big vault door had been turned into a gift shop.
The room was nice, well-decorated. The bed was comfy. The shower was tall (that's how I measure hotel bathrooms - by how well they accommodate my 6'2" frame). It was a nice stay, as long as you don't mind stairs.

There was no elevator (fortunately only two floors to walk up at most). And since it was off-season there were limited lobby hours. Fortunately, they posted the cell phone number of the manager in case we needed something.

My favorite feature, however, was on the doors to each room.

Each room had a name!
I was so excited to read about my room's namesake, to find out the story. Yet there was no story. Nothing. I looked through the bedside paperwork. Nothing. I checked all the drawers. Nothing. I looked at the website. Nothing.
I was disappointed. I wanted a story, even if it was a bad story. (ie...Mr. Canfield was a con man who opened multiple businesses in town by borrowing large sums of money before skipping town on a freighter headed for Chicago with all the loot. While playing poker with the boys on the freighter, Mr. Canfield was caught cheating and thrown overboard. No one knows if he made it to shore, yet a woman by the same name stays in this room every January.)
Just imagine the power of the story for each room. Someone had to come up with those names. Why? Why is 4C "The Canfield?"  If I knew the story, chances are pretty good I would share it. Chances are I would talk about the Inn more and have a deeper connection to the Inn. Chances are I would want to stay at the Inn again and tell other people to stay at the Inn. 
Stories are powerful and should be told whenever and wherever you can.
-Phil Wrzesinski
PS The manager of the Inn attended my Shareworthy Customer Service class last Wednesday. On Thursday morning as I was checking out, she was already researching the stories behind the names. I can't wait to go back.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Great Minds Discuss Ideas

Eleanor Roosevelt said,

Great minds discuss ideas;
Average minds discuss events;
Small minds discuss people.

I did a workshop on Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend. After the presentation, I had each table plan a training for their staff. At many of the tables the attendees were discussing ideas and getting excited about sharing those ideas with others. They were fired up, sharing even more ideas with each other and creating new ways to get those ideas to spread.

At some tables, however, they were discussing how they were afraid their staff wouldn't listen, learn or like it.

Guess which businesses are likely to be more successful in the long run?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you have a great idea, I want to hear it! (I can talk ideas all night long)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Everything I Possibly Can

I went to Manistee, MI and did a full day workshop on Shareworthy Customer Service (thanks, Tim, for that wonderful word). Part of my contract was to visit stores the day before and the day after the event to get a feel for the town and give them some one-on-one time after the workshop.

One of the stores I visited was a shoe store called Snyder's (you can see the co-owner "Shoe Man Dan" in the video in the link up above). Even though it was off-season for this primarily summer resort kind of town, Snyder's was hopping. The store was busy. The staff was engaged. The displays were fresh and brightly lit.

This was a store that got it. This was a store that understood the importance of building relationships, keeping the store updated, doing retail the way it needs to be done. For a store doing this well, I was curious what they were hoping to learn in my workshop.

I asked Jill, the manager, what she hoped to learn. She said...

"Everything I possibly can."

Here was the best retailer on River Street, the shining star of retail in Manistee, and they were sending one owner and two managers to a day-long customer service workshop. In an interview after the workshop, Dan was asked if he planned to implement any of the strategies I talked about. His answer?

"Everything I possibly can."

Now you know why they are the shining star. They are always striving to be better.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I bought a pair of shoes from them.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Managing Expectations

Have you ever done something for a customer and been disappointed by her reaction?

I mean, something really nice, quite special and unexpected, yet she didn't respond in kind? She didn't say thank you or decide to buy more, or promise to bring all her friends back to shop with you?

She didn't even acknowledge that you did something nice for her.

Now you're pissed. Now you're in the back room bitching and moaning about the ungrateful customer. Now you're griping and complaining about how customers don't care and are rude and don't get what you have to sacrifice to be there for them and don't understand how slanted the playing field is against you and don't realize what it costs for you to be in business and have no idea what you have done for the community and...

Whew. Working up a sweat back there.

I would hate to be the next customer through the door.

The problem here is one of managing expectations. We need to realizes that unless we tell the customers up front how we expect them to behave, we cannot get upset when they don't behave the way we expect.

I am not actually suggesting that you tell them how to behave. I'm suggesting you give up your expectations. I'm suggesting you continue to do nice things, special things, unexpected things for your customers every single time but without any expectations in return. I'm suggesting you continue delighting customers whether they acknowledge it, whether they tell you, whether they even seem to care.

Give up the expectation. Just do the right thing. Time and time again.

We all know that customers who have a bad time likely won't tell you, but they will tell their friends. Why would you think that customers who have a great time might be any different? That customer you bent over backwards for might not tell you how grateful she is, but she'll tell her friends.

It's all about managing expectations.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, this even applies to showrooming. I'll talk more about that in future posts.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Something for Dads, Something for You

(Note: this is a sales pitch. Kinda. There is a lesson at the end if you keep reading.)

Twice a month I sit down at the hospital with new expectant daddies. While their pregnant wives watch videos of breast feeding, perineum care, and post-birth issues, I take the guys out in the hallway (yes, relegated to the hallway like the second-class citizens we are) and sit around a table to talk about the stuff the pre-natal classes don't cover.

We talk about their role in all of this having-a-baby stuff. We talk about becoming invisible, about winning the Super Bowl, about earning triple brownie points, about protecting their wives' sleep, and about all their fears and concerns.

Did you know that one of the top ten concerns of expectant fathers is whether or not they will get the time they want with their baby? (according to the Father's Forum)

These guys share with me funny stories about the crazy food cravings like one guy getting out of bed to go to Meijer's at 2am just to appease his wife's hormone-driven diet. They tell me about wild mood swings like the time one daddy found his wife crying at a Budweiser commercial - and not one of those Clydesdale tear-jerkers, either, one of the funny ads.  They tell me about the lost keys one wife had left in the refrigerator for three days.

In return, I show them how to change a diaper, swaddle (the daddy way), and deal with a crying baby. I prepare them for their role in taking care of wife and child. I teach them how to communicate better and how to get the help they need.

The class is a full two hours.

Take out all the parts where they do the talking (and the changing, and the swaddling) and there is about an hours' worth of solid advice (medically accurate, too, according to Jenny Wren, who asked me to teach this class).

And the only way you could get it was in the class.

Until now...

A friend of mine, who lives out of town, wanted the info from the class for her husband. I wrote it down. She loved it! More importantly, he did, too. In fact, I get a ton of positive feedback from the guys in the class and their wives. One wife called me the day after the class to ask me what I did to her husband, who was now far more interested and excited in the arrival of the new baby. One dad came out of the dishroom at a local restaurant to thank me for the advice he got from the class three years earlier.

Getting feedback from written content was a bonus. So I kept writing until I had a book. It was easy. It is simply what I say in the class. All the stories. All the jokes. All the advice. All in 108 pages that you can read in about an hour.

Now I'm sharing that book with the world.

The book came out in January and within two weeks I had convinced 21 stores across the country to sell it for me. One gal reported that she sold one before they had even put it on display. Another store owner said she will be using it as part of the Daddy Workshop her store is hosting. It is also available online here. If you know someone who is expecting, this book is a valuable resource that the dads will actually read.

I'm telling you all this for two purposes. First, I want to sell more books (and if you are a bookseller or baby products or toy store and want to sell this book, contact me for wholesale info). Second, I want to show you the power of stories.

This is a long blog post. You're still reading. Somewhere along the way I hooked you with an emotional story that touched a nerve enough to keep you reading. Emotional stories don't have to always end in tears or laughter. Simple smiles, a chuckle or two, and nostalgic memories are just as powerful.

My book tells stories. Readers love it. Your business should tell stories, too. Your customers will love it.

There ya go. Two-for-one today.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Go back and read this post and count how many small anecdotes I shared. Some are so subtle you may have to count twice. Stories sell.

PPS Did you find seven? How about eight or nine? Anyone find ten or more?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Smartest Kid in the Class

When you were in school you either hated the smartest kid in the class or you were the smartest kid in the class. No other options.

Now that you're older, there are three options.

  1. You hate that person
  2. You are that person
  3. You seek out that person

I hope you've moved past number one to either two or three.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you are number two, what are you doing to hold onto that position? The truly smart kids are seeking the smart kids from other classes.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How Well Do You Know Your Product?

My wife sent me into one of the big hardware stores to look at a product for refinishing cabinets. Rust-Oleum has a simple 4-step process that restores, changes, or simply transforms your wooden cabinets without having to strip and sand and labor for weeks.

Sounds good to me.

Our only concern was that our cabinet doors are recessed. They close inside the frame, not on top, and it's a tight fit already. Would this product work on such a tight fit?

The guy at the hardware store said yes. Reggie said no.

My wife wasn't convinced by the guy at the hardware store. She sent an email directly to Rust-Oleum. And in less than 24 hours she got the following reply...


Thank you for contacting Rust-Oleum Product Support.

Thank you for your interest in Rust-Oleum's products.  Unfortunately, we do not recommend using this product on this type of frame.  The paint will chip or rub off.


Whew! That saved me a few hundred bucks and a lost weekend... and lost cabinets, and another lost week or two fixing the problem, and another few hundred (thousand?) bucks replacing the cabinets, and a few choice words my boys don't need to hear, and a bunch of times telling people how much that hardware store sucks, and...

You get the point.

But do you get the lesson? Your sales staff needs to know the products just as well as the company (if not better). You need to know when to say no to the sale. You need to be comfortable enough to realize when your product won't solve the customer's problem.

I have far more faith in Rust-Oleum now because of their honesty in saying no, their product won't help me. I won't forget that, either.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The only thing they could have done better is recommend a product that would help me - even if it wasn't one of theirs. Your first goal in delighting a customer is to solve her problem. Do that and you earn the chance for another transaction.