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.