Saturday, December 6, 2014

Getting Around the Facebook Algorithms

Everyone is lamenting the death of free posts for your company on Facebook. For the third time in the last year or so, even Facebook has said that if you want to play, you better be prepared to pay.

Maybe you have already seen your organic reach plummet and are already calculating your budget for boosting those posts.

I haven't paid a penny to boost a post in the last three years, yet four of my posts in the last three weeks have reached more people than I have fans for my page. What am I doing differently? After extensive testing, I have learned the following...

What the Facebook Algorithm Doesn't Like

  • Posts with exclamation points
  • Posts with LOTS OF CAPS
  • Posts with words like Sale, Event, Deal or Free
  • Posts with hours or days of the week

What Your Fans Don't Like

  • Posts that look like an advertisement
  • Posts that yell or scream at them
  • Posts that are all about you (the company) not "you" (the customer)
  • Posts that tell, not show
  • Posts that tell, not ask
  • Posts that are boring, expected, or blah
  • Posts that take the obvious approach instead of a different angle
  • Posts with no meat on the bones

What the Facebook Algorithm Likes (Allows through)

  • Interaction - lots of likes, comments and shares, especially shares
  • Question marks and periods

What Your Fans Like

  • Stories, good emotional stories that tug at the heart strings
  • Pictures, especially pictures that tell a story
  • Interesting facts, insider-information type facts
  • Links to stories that reinforce their world views
  • Posts that take different, unexpected angles and approaches to the subject

Here is a breakdown of a post I did yesterday that has already reached 50% more people than I have fans. It started with this picture...
The copy for the post says...

This is a roll of our giftwrap. It is 24 inches wide, 833 feet long and weighs 28 pounds.

Every year we go through at least twenty four of those big heavy rolls of paper. Plus we go through another forty of the 18 inch wide version. And last year we added a smaller 12 inch width (and used another thirty-plus rolls of those).

All told, that's almost 15 miles of giftwrap to cover your gifts. 

Why? Because we can. Because we like to wrap. Because after fifteen miles a year, we're pretty fast and efficient. 

Because it makes you smile. That's the best reason of all.

I could have simply said, "Don't forget, we offer Free Giftwrapping!" and walked away with my 368 people reached. But within 24 hours this post had reached well over 5,000 people (even though we only had 3580 fans at the moment I posted).


I told a story. I used interesting, specific facts. I gave out insider information. I avoided the words that might flag the FB algorithms. I stayed consistent with our Core Value of Nostalgia

The reality is that most of my fans already know we offer free giftwrapping. We've been doing it for 65 years. The goal of the post was to touch an emotional nerve that gets those same people to Like, Comment and Share. Those Likes, Comments and Shares help spread the post to their friends and family who might not know that we offer free giftwrapping. Plus, every time someone Likes, Comments, or Shares, it reinforces our brand in their mind.

Don't fear the new FB algorithms. Fear lousy copy-writing, a lack of storytelling, and ignorance of a few handy tricks. That will bring your reach down faster than anything FB does.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS What to do if you have a promotion you really want to share? Put all the promotion info into a jpeg on top of a really cool picture. Then share the picture with some catchy saying. For instance, we did a Disney Princess event with Elsa & Anna from Frozen. I made up a poster for the event and shared the poster with the simple statement, "Do you wanna build a snowman?" Yes, the Frozen angle helped. Most importantly, we reached over 11,000 people and had over a hundred shares without spending a penny.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Launching a New Website - The Jackson Retail Success Academy

Back in February 2008, the newly hired director of The Enterprise Group, Scott Fleming, invited all the alphabet groups in town to a meeting to discuss how we were supporting existing retailers in Jackson.

The DDA, SCMW, SBTDC, JLF, EDC, JCCC and MA were all there. I was there. Everyone but Scott himself who got called away at the last minute.

The question of the day was, "What is your agency doing to help indie retailers survive and stay in business?"

After seven people said, "Absolutely nothing," an idea was born - the Jackson Retail Success Academy (JRSA). Less than two months later we launched our first series of classes.

I was the only retailer sitting at that table that morning, so I was asked to come up with a curriculum (a healthy dose of customer service, marketing & advertising, inventory management, financials, and hiring & training). Ten businesses signed up for that inaugural class.

Over the next several years, we tweaked the class schedule to make it work better for the attendees. We had start-ups attend. We had new owners taking over old businesses attend. We had non-retail businesses who wanted the customer service, marketing and hiring segments attend. We had business coaches who wanted to learn new techniques for teaching attend. We had restaurants, online retailers, and home-based retailers attend.

The cool thing is that JRSA is still around and still getting better. The class schedule is shorter (from an original 10-week program down to 5 weeks now), but the content is better, tighter, and more focused.

A retailer who takes this class will have amazing tools they can use to fix almost any kind of retail problem.

Finally, a website with all the details is up.

Just like the class, the site is constantly being tweaked and will continue to get better. The retailers in Jackson ready to take their businesses to the next level are already checking it out and signing up for the next class starting in January.

What are you doing to grow your business?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If driving to Jackson five times is out of the question, but you still want to grow, I have a Road Show version of JRSA I can bring to your town. You only need to convince five businesses to sign up and find a place to hold the classes and I'll do all the rest.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What Kind of Candy are You Giving Out?

There was a house on the next block that gave out full size candy - Milky Ways, Snickers, Butterfingers and M&M's. My friend Peter and I spent one Halloween changing into multiple costumes and running up the street to that house at least five times.

There was another house on the street we just avoided. Stingy old man who gave out only one single piece of that orange/brown wrapped tootsie roll wannabe. Wasn't worth the hassle to go to Mr Stingy's.

Are you the Mrs. Generous House that everyone goes to multiple times or are you the Mr. Stingy House that everyone ignores?

Depends on the candy you're giving out.

This Halloween is a good time to think about how you can be more generous this holiday season. Word gets around quickly where Mr. Stingy and Mrs. Generous live.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Generosity is one of those gifts that comes back to you in droves. It is one of the key drivers of Word-of-Mouth advertising. You need to incorporate it into your way of doing business.

PPS Happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do You Have Enough Staff or Just Enough Staff?

There are two ways to determine the right amount of staff to have on your floor.

You can have enough people to handle the average traffic expected that day.

Or you can have enough people to handle the peak traffic moment that day.

Yes, the second one costs you more in labor expenses because you never know when that rush will occur. But look at the pluses.

  • You're never under-staffed. You never have to worry about a customer having a bad time and flaming you on Yelp because your staff wasn't able to handle the rush of customers. Whelming? Yes, but never overwhelming.
  • You have plenty of extra bodies to do all the other stuff that you never seem to find the time to do. Make a list for your go-getters. Sweeping, dusting, rearranging merchandise, creating fabulous window displays, making signs, tagging merchandise, updating social media, etc.
  • You have the ability to exceed customer expectations on a regular basis. To get customers to talk, you have to do more than they expect. Imagine their delight when you have extra bodies to help them shop, wrap their gifts quickly and carry them out to the car. 

You can't do all that with average staffing and above average traffic. As for costing you more, if you think of your staff as your greatest asset, the more you invest, the more it pays off. My grandfather had an old adage that served him well for his life - it's impossible to overpay for great help.

Keep that in mind as you do your seasonal hiring.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There are ten employees in the above picture (some hidden behind big boxes). There are another ten employees not shown out serving other customers. My payroll is a higher percentage than most stores. I take that money out of my ad budget because delighting customers is every bit as important as a marketing tool as running great ad campaigns.

PPS If you need help hiring a better quality of employees, read the book Hiring and the Potter's Wheel: Turning Your Staff into a Work of Art. It is the method of hiring that has made the biggest difference in the quality of my staff.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Anatomy of a Promotion That Pays

What if I told you that you could market your business to 6,000 customers and instead of costing you a penny, you would actually get paid $328 to do it?

What if I told you that you would also get valuable market data from that promotion?

What if I told you that you would be praised mightily for the campaign?

Here is what we did... (shout out to Bob Negen of Whizbang Training for this idea)

I contacted the local public school district and asked permission to send each of their 6,000 students a $5.00 Gift Certificate. They said yes and sent us a breakdown of how many students in each school. I mocked up the gift certificates as postcards and had them printed locally for $278.

When we got the GC's from the printer we bundled them in bundles of 30 and made a bag for each school. I delivered them a week ago Wednesday to the main offices. They distributed the GC's to the schools the following day.

The GC's had only this disclaimer: "For Student Use Only. One Per Student. Expires 11/15/14"

Here is where it pays...

We are expecting a 10% return on the gift certificates. That's 600 GC's we expect to be used between now and 11/15. In the first couple days alone we already had 60 returned and not all the schools had distributed them! The average ticket so far has exceeded $12.00.

So let's do the math...

600 x $12.00 = $7,200.00 in sales

Minus Cost of the GC's  (600 x $5 = $3,000.00)
Minus Cost of the Products  ($3,600.00 - 50% of the retail price)
Minus the Cost of the Printing ($278)

7200 - 3000 = 4200
4200 - 3600 = 600
600 - 278 = $322

Here is the bonus...

Not only did we get the word out to 6,000 students (and their parents) about Toy House, but we will get 600 of them (and their parents) into the store right before the prime part of the holiday season where we will entice them with product displays, events, and wish lists for them to fill out and get them back for Christmas shopping.

Not only did we get the word out to 6,000 students, but we also will get 600 purchases to tell us what kinds of impulse items are popular with today's kids.

Not only did we get the word out to 6,000 students, but I have received tons of praise from parents and teachers for our generosity.

Not only did we get the word out to 6,000 students but I have had friends and customers ask me what is going on that has kept our parking lot so full the last few days.

Here is the kicker...

There are some people who will tell me that I have the math all wrong, that I sold $7200 worth of stuff and only made $322 dollars. Those people are looking at the gift certificate as the be-all, end-all of the promotion. The customer came in once, spent a little money, and left. Promo done. They missed the whole purpose of the campaign, which is to earn top-of-mind awareness by getting them in the store right before the time we really want them in the store. I am banking on my staff's incredible customer relations skills to earn their repeat business whether they spent $1.62 (our smallest transaction with the GC to date) or $58.02 (our largest).

Frankly, the $7200 in sales, while nice, is just a drop in the bucket. The real value is in getting the word out, getting them in to look around, getting them to buy into our generosity, and getting an idea of what is attracting their attention once they are in the store. The fact that I get paid $322 to get all of that is the icing on the cake.

Do you have any promotions planned that pay you to do them?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you sell stuff for adults, is there a major employer or three that you could contact about giving away gift certificates to their staff? Colleges, hospitals and city governments employ a lot more people than you might imagine.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tell Your Customers What You Stand Against

It is easier to rally a crowd against something than for something. Just ask any political campaign manager what really moves the needle.

The same works in business advertising, too. Tell the people what you are against and watch a flock of like-minded people come see you. Tell the world why you don't agree with your competitor's world view and everyone who feels the same way will pay attention. Compare and contrast. Tell them what you won't do.

Peter Reynolds, VP of Sales of Janod Toys did a presentation for my staff last night and put up this graphic.

It is a perfect contrast of Mass Market stores versus Specialty Stores.

MASS                                     SPECIALTY
More for Less                          Less is More
Promote Low Prices                  Promote Benefits and Features
Emphasize Quantity                  Emphasize Quality
Create Wants                             Fulfill Needs
Good Toys are Hot/Licensed       Good Toys are Basic
Toys are Possessions                 Toys are Tools
Toys are Consumables                Toys are Investments
Toys Entertain & Distract           Toys Involve & Empower
Toys Promote Imitation              Toys Promote Creativity
Toys Promote Conformity           Toys Promote Uniqueness
The Toy Directs the Play             The Child Directs the Play

There is a whole year of what-we-stand-against advertisement messages in that above list. Do you see it?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS When people talk about what they stand for, it is usually in generalities - world peace, strong economy, health. When people talk about what they stand against, it is more often specifics - low pay for... discrimination against... injustice for... The power is in the details.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

9 Ways to Draw Traffic With Only $400 a Month

A fellow store owner was contemplating an advertising deal offered to her from Yelp that was going to cost about $400 per month. That got me thinking about what different things you could do to draw traffic with $400/month.

  1. You could rent a bouncy house and run it in your parking lot every Saturday.

  2. You could run a customer survey poll in your store and donate that money to the charity your customers vote on every month.

  3. You could give away eighty $5 gift certificates to people who have never been in your store.

  4. You could buy an espresso machine and give away free espressos every day.

  5. You could have your customers help you invest it in the stock market and track each investment on a big board in the store with proceeds going to a local charity.

  6. You could use it to send eight $50 gift baskets to your top customers each month.

  7. You could use it to hire a valet parking service for your busy days.

  8. You could use it to host classes and meetings at your store.

  9. You could use it to pay top-level local entertainers to perform at your store.

Don't be limited by your media choices for getting the word out. There are far more options than just online, broadcast, print and billboard. There are as many ways to draw a crowd as your mind can conceive when you let it get creative.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS My favorite is #2. Just imagine all the charities sending their people in to your store to stack the vote each month.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lose the Battle to Win the War

We all have those unreasonable customers. Ones that want to bring an item back months after they bought it, not in resell-able condition. Ones that demand money back without a receipt or they will flame you on Yelp. Ones that want you to do something that your stated policies say you don't clearly do.

You could take a page from Best Buy and fire those customers. You could be like the Soup Nazi on The Seinfeld Show - no soup for you!!

Here is another approach I want you to consider.

Kill 'em with kindness. Break your policy and do what they ask. Bend the rules and give them what they want. Do it with a HUGE smile on your face, sincerity in your heart, and genuine concern for their needs.

"I'm really sorry that item didn't work out for you. Yes, I can see why your husband would cut it in half. We'd be happy to take it back. Would you like to pick something else out? Maybe I can offer a couple suggestions of items that might work better? No? Okay, here is a refund. Let me know if there is anything we can do to help you out in the future."

It might sting a little bit. You might lose some money on that particular transaction. But don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

When you kill these customers with kindness, a few things could happen.

They might not notice and continue to be a thorn in your side.
But your other customers noticed. They didn't get the whole story of what was going on with the customer. They didn't see how unreasonable she was. But they did see how you reacted. They saw how you took incredible care of the customer. They saw how you had the customer's back. They noticed how you were calm and friendly and respectful and helpful and caring.

They might become one of your best customers ever. 
I could regale you with many tales of unhappy customers we have turned into mega profit machines because we bent the rules a little. Heck, you can regale me with many of the same stories. In fact, retail is the only place I have actually seen true alchemy - turning lead weight into gold.

At a time when we are all screaming about how to draw more traffic, maybe firing our current customers isn't always the best tactic.

As one anonymously brilliant person said... Your customers will get better when you do.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Never let short-term profits get in the way of your long-term goals. This strategy may "lose" you a battle or two, but you'll win the war. Yes, it requires patience. Yes, it requires eating a little crow (but crow sprinkled with a helping of cold hard cash can be rather tasty sometimes). Yes, there will be customers who make you duck into your office for a few minutes. Yes, they got more than they deserved. Isn't than the hallmark of incredible over-the-top customer service?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Putting Amazon and eCommerce Into Perspective

It is about that time of year when you start hearing all the news about Amazon and Wal-Mart and low prices and discounts and the death of mom & pop shop retailers.

Yeah, Amazon is huge. In 2013, they did $75.4 billion in sales. That was 28.6% of all US eCommerce!

But it was only 2.5% of all retail. In fact, if you take gasoline and groceries out of the mix, eCommerce only accounted for 8.8% of all retail dollars last year.  (see references below)

Think about that for a moment. All the hype about Amazon and the Internet, yet over 9 out of every 10 dollars spent in retail were spent in a brick & mortar store. Brick & mortar is so far from dead, that any report you hear otherwise should be discounted immediately.

Yeah, Wal-Mart is huge, too. Almost four times bigger than Amazon. In 2013, they did $279 billion in sales in the US. That was 9.2% of all retail - more than all of eCommerce!

But once again, that shows you there is still plenty of room for you to do business. Add up Wal-Mart and all of eCommerce and you still have 82% of the retail dollars going somewhere else. That's almost $2.5 trillion dollars going somewhere else.

That somewhere else ought to be you and me. If we quit worrying so much about Amazon and Wal-Mart and the demise of the mom & pops and start focusing on making ourselves better, it will.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I used two sources for the numbers you see above. The first source here from claims that all retail was $4.5 trillion. But I felt that number was inflated by things like gasoline purchases and other non-eCommerce retail, so I also used the numbers from the US Census here to get a true product purchase number just over $3 trillion.

PPS And the number from Amazon is their total sales, not just US sales, so their percentage of the US market may be a little bit lower.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Think Big to Draw Traffic

I was visiting a jewelry store in a sleepy northern Michigan town. The store used to be known for having a $32,000 diamond ring. Now those of you in a big city might think no big deal, but to this community, it would take the entire population pitching in $6 each to buy that ring.

People used to flock to the store to try it on.

After about ten years on display someone finally bought the ring a few years ago.

You would think that was a good thing. The store owner thought so at the time. But on the day I visited, she was lamenting how her business was down. Traffic wasn't what it used to be. I asked her when it started. You all can probably guess - right after she sold the ring.

No ring, no draw.

Sometimes you have to take a little bit of your ad budget and put it toward buying something completely outrageous that you don't expect to sell (but people will want to see.)

We do that all the time. Nothing better than hearing a customer say to someone shopping with her, "Oh you have to come over and see this!" You know she and her friend are going to be talking about it to others, too.

Some might look at a $32,000 diamond ring and say, "That's pretty expensive advertising." Unless you consider she got ten years of advertising from it, and then had someone refund the money back to her by buying it.

When you are looking to generate Word-of-Mouth advertising, you gotta give them something to talk about. A 32,000 piece puzzle that is almost eighteen feet long and over six feet wide and comes with its own hand cart is gonna make people talk.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I suggested she needed to buy another $32,000 ring or bigger. That was an investment in advertising that paid off big the first time and will pay off big again. There are a few tried and true ways to Generate Word of Mouth (click that hyperlink to download my FREE eBook on the topic). Over-the-top design including over-the-top products is one of those ways.

PPS I guess 32,000 is my lucky number today.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Your Frontline Staff are Your Ambassadors

Seth Godin nailed it today.

"Would you send the clerk on aisle 7 to speak to a head of state or vital partner on behalf of your company? Because that's what he's doing right now."

If you cannot answer a resounding Yes! to Seth's question, you need to re-think your hiring and training program today.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Hire for certain traits. Hire for people who want to represent you and your store. Hire people who already have the ambassador gene in their DNA. Then train them on all the rest.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Beating Amazon?? Win Your Customers' Hearts

I just read an article from called 5 Ways Your Small Business Can Topple Amazon This Holiday Season.

Usually I like what Entrepreneur has to say, but they got me this time. Shame on them. (Next time shame on me).

First, let's start with the obvious... No small business is going to "Topple Amazon". Not you. Not me. Not any of our friends.

Second, only two of the five tips were really tips. Two of them were just standard business procedures you should be doing regardless of who you are. And the last was "keep your chin up".  As if just having a positive, Pollyanna attitude would keep my competition at bay. Sheesh. As far as I'm concerned they shorted me a tip just so that they could put an odd number in their headline.

As for Amazon? You shouldn't worry about them at all. They are not your target. If you want to have the kind of holiday season you can take to the bank, you need to focus on one thing and one thing only - your current customer's heart.

What is in her heart? What moves the needle for her emotionally? What solves her problems? What fulfills her needs?

Tim Miles and Co. gives you a great way to find this out here.

One simple truth of retail is this... If you take incredibly awesome care of your current customers, you don't have to worry about what the competitors are doing. You only have to worry about how to continually raise your own bar.

Customers are going to shop where their needs are met - all of them. Make your store that store.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I'm not saying to ignore Amazon completely. You can always learn from them. In fact redeemed themselves with this article here. Number two is spot on!

PPS Great Customer Service is giving your customer exactly what she expects every single time. You want to win her heart? You gotta take it one step further and give her more than what she expects. Do that and you won't ever have to worry about the competition other than whether you want to move into their now empty space.

photo credit: Ben K Adams via photopin cc

Friday, September 26, 2014

It's Not What You Say

Rick Segel stood in front of us and said, "Sixty-second manager training..."

"Everyone take your finger and thumb and make the 'okay' sign. Now place that circle right against your chin. Put it right there on your chin."

At the same time Rick placed his own okay sign firmly against his cheek.

We did, too.

"Your chin, folks, put it on your chin."

One of your biggest roles is Role Model.

Role Model for the way to treat guests. You are never too busy to ignore a guest. You always have the time to at least lead a guest over to one of your staff and say, "Let me introduce you to Ruth. Ruth is the expert on this and she can help you better than I can."

Role Model for the kind of attitude you want in your store. When you act cheerful and upbeat, no matter how tired you are, your staff will try to match you. When you put a positive spin on negative situations, they will do the same. When you cut people down, they'll cut people down. When you talk about customers behind their backs, your staff will do the same - sometimes out on the sales floor in earshot of other customers!

Role Model for the kind of behavior you expect of your staff. If you don't go the extra mile, neither will they. If you show them appreciation for the work they do, they'll show appreciation to your customers.

Your staff will rarely ever do more than you do, no matter how much you ask. It's not what you say. It's ___________   _______   _____ (fill in the blanks).

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Of course, first they have to be the kind of person that wants to do those things. Make sure you hire for the right character traits or they might not even raise the okay sign to their face in the first place.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two Specialty Retail Truths

If you've been a specialty retailer for several years you know these two things will happen every year. Every. Single. Year.

  1. A vendor who used to be exclusively sold only in specialty stores will start selling to a big box category killer (like Home Depot, Office Depot, Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us) or a major discounter (like Target, K-Mart or Wal-Mart.)
  2. A product you sell will be advertised nationally and sold somewhere (online, in a discount club store or flash site) below cost.

Write these down, my friends. They will happen. So far, they have happened every single year this century and will happen every single year for the foreseeable future.

Now you know. Now there is no reason to go postal when it happens. You saw it coming.

Yeah, it gets emotional. We indie retailer are a passionate bunch and hurts when we get betrayed. But the smart retailers are not only expecting it, they are dealing with it in a cold-hearted, calculating manner deciding whether to cut and run or ride out the storm based on sales and profits, not emotions and surprise.


Cut and run when the vendor sells out completely and gives all their product and support to the big guys.

Cut and run when the product gets turned into a commodity sold everywhere, while you are trying to be the cutting edge leader in your field.

Cut and run when the traffic it brings in because of its popularity no longer justifies the lost margins.

Cut and run when you have another company offering you the same items but with better terms.


Ride it out when the product still sells at the price you set.

Ride it out when it is just a small sample, and you're carrying the whole shooting match. You'll get referrals and eventually the big box will move on. Cherry-picked lines don't often last long in the chains.

Ride it out when your model is built on selling the most popular items, but with better service and experience than your competitors.

Vendors make decisions based on numbers. You should, too. Especially since you saw it coming.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Sure, sometimes it hurts your bottom line. Sometimes it helps. You can focus on the negative, which is usually out of your control, or focus on what you can do. I find that the latter usually helps keep me fired up and moving forward.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sometimes Second Place is the Winning Position

If you're an indie retailer, quite often you get customers in your store that have already shopped (and even bought from) the competition. They know the big chains thanks to multi-million dollar ad campaigns. They know the big chains from the huge signs over the giant buildings on the busiest streets. They know the big chains. They visited the big chains. They purchased.

Your first thought is often one of dismay. Another sale lost to the big guy. Another customer shopping at my competitor. When you ask them what they are looking for and they tell you about buying something from another store, it is hard not to show your disappointment.

Except you shouldn't be disappointed. You should be happy. Why?

First, they came into your store. Not everyone who shops the competition is coming through your door, too. But this customer did. Celebrate her! Here's a deep dark secret... even your best customer has been to your competitor more than once.

Second, you now have access to a spy. Rather than change out of your uniform and take the time to go scout the competitor incognito, you have someone who just did that for you. And from the point of view of a customer, too (instead of your jaded, biased, store-owner mentality). Get her to talk about her experience and you'll learn far more than if you went yourself.

Third, you have the easiest opening ever into discovering what the customer likes and wants.

When you find out a customer has been to another store, simply say, "That's awesome! What did you see there that you liked?"

You've praised her, which makes her feel good. 
You've asked her expertise, which makes her feel good. 
You've listened intently, which makes her feel good. 
You've identified what rocks her world so that you can rock her world, too, which makes her feel good. 
You've gained valuable insight into both your customer's mind and what your competitor is doing, which makes you feel good.

Sometimes being second can be a real winning proposition. You just have to look at the opportunity the right way.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Most importantly, if you listen closely, your customer just told you how you can treat her better than your competitor, so you now have a blueprint to win her over. Sure, you may have lost the initial sale she made at the other place, but if you can win the rest, you can win her friends so that you'll be first with them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Using Quotes to Train Your Staff

I love quotes. One of my favorites is this beauty from Eleanor Roosevelt...

“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”

I use quotes during staff meetings. I use them in all my presentations. I use them in our team newsletters. I use them here in this blog. I often wonder, however, if my staff is getting the same ideas from the quotes as I do.

So I decided to test it.

I took 17 quotes (yes, a random number on purpose) that in my mind fell into three different categories. I printed three sets of them on individual cards and split my staff into three teams. I gave a set to each team and asked them to group the quotes into three categories - any three they wanted. They could use whatever criteria they chose to group the quotes such as content, timeline, length, alphabetical. I expected they all would sort by content, which they did. I then asked them to explain their categories and rationale for putting the quotes where they did. Finally, I asked them to explain what those quotes meant to them and the business.

Here is where it got interesting...

First, all three groups came up with the same basic categories - Big Ideas, Customer Service, Money. That wasn't surprising, as those were the three categories in my mind when I chose the quotes (except that what they called Money, I called Sales).

Second, however, they didn't all put the same quotes into the same categories. One had a quote in Money that another group had in Customer Service that the other group put in Big Ideas. Same quote, three different categories.

Third, I got both of the results I wanted. We had a fascinating discussion about the quotes, what they represented and how they applied. We were discussing ideas. I also got to peek into how they think about the quotes and about the store. The insight just from labeling the last group Money was important. It was a reminder to me (and to them) that we sometimes think and sell out of our own pocketbooks instead of the customer's and that they look at Sales as Money. We'll be exploring those concepts in future days.

We finished the meeting with a discussion of what Big Ideas means to their jobs and to delighting the customers. That's always a discussion worth having.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you would like a Word doc with 69 of my favorite quotes I have culled over the years, shoot me an email.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two Strategies for Independent Retailers

I'm reading a fascinating book called The Man Who Wore Mismatched Socks about an indie brewing company in England fighting against the big corporate brewery who is trying to buy out and destroy all the competition.

Sound familiar?

In the book, the current head of the indie brewery says something profound...

"As you get bigger, you get more average." -Archibald Gack

How many times have we seen that the biggest company in our industry is really making quite average products? (Put your shoes back on. You don't need to count them all.)

Contrast that statement with this one said by a customer in an indie retailer.

"They must be the best because you see them everywhere." -unknown customer

Customer perception is since a product is everywhere it must be the best. The reality is more often than not, the products sold everywhere are really quite average. There is better stuff out there.

This begs two questions...

  1. Do you differentiate yourself by not carrying the most popular item in the category, thus flying in the face of customer perception?
  2. Do you carry the popular items to draw the traffic and then try to upsell to the better items?

Both strategies can work, but they each work with a different crowd.

Use the first if you only want to go after the innovators and early adopters, the people who only want the best. They are a small market, but they pay top dollar to be first or to have the best. You can make a lot of money off of them as long as you stay at the top of the market and as long as you continually advertise your cutting edge expertise.

Use the second if you want to go for the early and late majority. They are a much larger crowd, but they have more options to find what they want. And usually what they want has been commoditized so your margins on the everywhere items will be smaller and your profit will be based on your ability to upsell.

The markets are different for each of these strategies. Know which one you're in so that you'll know who you're trying to attract.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You can trying being in both categories. Unfortunately, the message usually gets lost in advertising. When you advertise the popular items, you lose the innovator crowd. When you advertise the innovative items, you lose the popular crowd. That's why it is better to pick one and do it better than anyone else.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reinvention as a Strategy

I was out in Las Vegas last week for a trade show. I hadn't really been on the strip in a few years. Things had changed.

The casinos were still there, still filled with blinking lights and maze-like aisles of machines. The fancy restaurants still stood guard on the edges of the gambling areas. The shows still crowded the walkways with ticket-goers waiting for something special.

But there were three changes I noticed.
  1. Every casino had empty gaming tables. Not just one or two that they chose not to open, but whole pits of empty tables.
  2. Every casino had a burger joint. Not just some food court burger to grab on the go, but gourmet burgers. Expensive compared to the McDonald's experience, but a bargain compared to the $59 bone-in rib-eye. 
  3. Every casino had a Night Club. Loud dance music pounded the casino walls, almost drowning out the cacophony of digital music from the slot machines. Oh sure, some casinos had clubs before, but that wasn't where the party was. The party was wherever someone got hot on a craps table or roulette wheel.

I remember going to Vegas in the days of the $1.99 steak dinners and $5 buffets. I remember going to Vegas when rooms were so cheap, they were almost paying you to stay. But times changed and Vegas reinvented itself into a high-priced, upscale city with Broadway shows, hundred-dollar meals, and $25-minimum tables.

Vegas is doing it again.

Gambling is down, but traffic is strong, so they are finding new ways to get the customers' money. Everyone wants to party, but not everyone wants to play, so night clubs and mid-priced restaurants are on the rise. I saw one casino where they had removed a whole section of gaming tables to put in "outside seating" for the night club. You could enjoy the music, drink and talk with your friends, and even watch the remaining gamblers.

The lesson here is simple...

If you aren't getting the customers' money the way you used to, reinvent yourself and give your customers what they want now, not what they wanted a few years ago. The smartest, most successful companies are already doing it.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I know some of you are going to say that Vegas has always had night clubs. You're right. but they were an after-thought behind Shows, Restaurants and Gaming in all the promotions. Now they are front and center. Now they are taking over gaming areas. Now they are top-billed on the marquee. You gotta admit that is new.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

It's All About the Story

One final thought from my trip to Walt Disney World...

I took two teenage boys to the land of pink princesses, Frozen queens, and fairy tales come true. I took two roller coaster freaks who think Cedar Point (a mere 2.2 hour drive from us) is the Mecca of amusement parks to the land of talking mice, mermaids, and musicals. I took two teenage boys on rides that one would expect them to find more boring than the 21 hour drive we took down I-75.

My older son summed up his experience in two words, "My Childhood!"

My younger son only needed one word, "Epic!"

Walt Disney World delighted an entire family including two boys who on the surface wouldn't seem to fit their demographic. But Walt knew what he was doing. It's right here in this quote I took from an area under construction...

"It is my wish to delight all members of the family, young and old, parent and child." -Walt Disney

How did he accomplish that? It's all about the story.

We didn't go on a roller coaster. We took a limo across town to get to the Aerosmith concert.
We didn't go on an up-and-down thrill ride. We visited a haunted hotel in the Twilight Zone.
We didn't go on a water ride. We were told the story of Br'er Rabbit.
We didn't go on a G-Force simulator ride. We flew a spacecraft to Mars.

From the moment you got in line, the story was being told. Costumes, decorations, and activities while you waited were all designed to tell you the story. No detail was spared.

Were the rides as thrilling as Millenium Force? No. But they were every bit as fun. Even DINOSAUR, which my son likened to "driving on Michigan roads", was fun enough to do it twice.

The lesson here is that the story sells it. The story makes it far more exciting, memorable, and likable than it is on its own. The story wins the heart. Most importantly, when you include the customer in the story, when you make her story your story, you'll win her heart and all the members of the family, just like Walt.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It isn't as hard as you might think to come up with stories that include the customer. Just get the customer to start her story and then add your store and product stories to the narrative.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Waiting Game - Disney Style

We waited in line for Space Mountain and played video games while we waited.

We waited in line for Toy Story Midway Mania and were transported to a room with larger-than-life toys and a story-telling Mr Potato Head while we waited.

We waited in line for Mount Everest Expedition and explored a museum of Yeti artifacts and stories while we waited.

We waited in line for the Hollywood Tower of Terror and watched a Twilight Zone video while we waited.

We waited in line for Test Track and designed our very own test vehicle while we waited.

We waited in line for Soarin' and played an interactive screen game with our fellow line mates while we waited.

We waited in line for The Great Movie Ride and watched movie trailers while we waited.

We waited in line for the Aerosmith Rock N Roller Coaster and watched a 3-D short telling us a back story to our ride while we waited.

We waited in line for the Seven Dwarves Mine Ride and made music with water while we waited.

Most theme parks have you wait in line like cattle, mindlessly walking back and forth through the maze of barricades just for a few minutes of thrills. You hate the wait. You use Fast Pass or whatever other method the park offers to avoid standing in line.

Walt Disney World, however, turned this necessary evil into a back story, into an educational journey, into a team-building exercise, into an amusement all of its own. A couple times I was thankful we didn't have a Fast Pass, just so that we wouldn't have missed the stuff in the line. WDW turned the necessary evil into an enjoyment. That's why they call it the Magical World of Disney.

Every business has that necessary evil. Do you know what is yours? How can you make it better?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The back stories were my favorites. They made the rides much more enjoyable. But that's a post for another day.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Making Memories One Guest at a Time

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom averages around 47,000 visitors a day. Everything about the park, however, is designed to make one person feel special, not 47,000. Let me explain.

There were four young children on my left. My family sat to my right. We were all parked on the curb halfway between Main Street and the Cinderella Castle, waiting for the Electric Parade.

Many Disney characters were in the parade including Mickey and Minnie, Cinderella, and even Alice in Wonderland.

As Alice passed us by, she pointed to the children in the double stroller on my left and said, "Oh twins, how adorable!"

From the excitement that arose next to me, you would have thought they had just won the lottery. And in a sense, they did. Alice singled them out and made them feel like they were the only ones in the park at that moment. It only took a few seconds. But they will be talking about it for a lifetime.

No matter which Disney employee we met, each one treated us as if we were the only guests there. That's the true magic at the Magical Kingdom.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This is actually harder for store owners to master than for your frontline employees. As the owner, you're constantly watching everything going on. But if you really want to impress the heck out of your customer, enough so that she says WOW and brags about you to her friends, you have to put the blinders on and give her that you're-the-only-one-here-and-I'm-so-grateful-to-be-able-to-help-you laserlike focus.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What You Have in Common with Disney

I spent last week at Walt Disney World. As with any theme park, there are always upgrades being done. But instead of just "pardon the dust" signs, Disney plastered their walls with Walt-isms. I snapped this picture of one while chasing my boys to the next ride...

"We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." -Walt Disney

Then Roy Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, hit me with this Monday Morning Memo (if you haven't subscribed to this free email yet, you are missing out big time!!).

To sum up Roy's Memo... 93% of successful companies have been successful because of their ability to improvise and adapt. 

Keep moving forward.
Keep opening up new doors.
Keep doing new things.
Keep going down new paths.

It works for Disney. It works for 93% of all successful companies. It will work for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I have many thoughts, stories and ideas from my trip that I will be sharing over the next few days. Forgive me if I gush too much. Walt is one of my heroes. You'll definitely like the stories.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Better Than When They Came In

The New York Times did an interview piece with fashion icon Michael Kors and famous restaurateur Danny Meyer. (You can read the whole interview here.)

Danny summed up great customer service in one line...

"Great hospitality is taking however we three felt before we came here and making us feel a little better when we leave."

Are you making your customers feel better than when they came in? Do that one thing consistently and your business will grow.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Here are some ideas for things you can do that will definitely make your customers feel better.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Have You Tried This?

Another restaurant closed in town. They posted a wonderfully grateful goodbye on Facebook, thanking everyone from the staff to the suppliers to the customers to the city leaders (well, okay maybe not that last one). They even apologized for the inconvenience of closing. They said they gave it their best shot but just couldn't make a go of it.

One of my staff, when hearing of the closure asked a profound question...

Why didn't they try something else?

They had the kitchen, the staff, the liquor license, a small group of dedicated followers. Why didn't they try something else?

They had a premium location downtown, a banquet room (a couple of them), parking out back. Why didn't they try something else?

They had ambiance (although a little loud), great window seating along the street, outdoor seating, gigantic fish tank seating, and really cool bathrooms. Why didn't they try something else?

Two things I didn't see happen. They didn't change the menu. They didn't change the pricing. Two complaints I heard the most (besides how loud it was with all the wood floors and vaulted ceilings) were the menu and the pricing.

You gotta get those two right.

The right menu (products).

The right price.

Get those wrong and all the rest doesn't matter. If you're doing everything else right and your business is failing, chances are you got one of those two wrong. Why don't you try something else?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I get it that they may have chosen a menu/pricing consistent with the type of restaurant they wanted to be (their brand), but there is a lot of wiggle room within "fine dining" and "upscale" and "top-shelf" and "gourmet" and "specialty" and "unique" and "quality" to work with your particular crowd. Also, it may be that it wasn't the actual menu and pricing that caused the problem but the perception of the menu and pricing. Perception is reality, folks. You gotta win the perception battle.

PPS I'm sad to see them go. I'm not trying to criticize them, but to help you learn from their experience.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Moms, Mobile Phones, and the Transactional Customer

I have been bombarded with companies selling me on the merits and benefits of Mobile Marketing. The main focus is sending out texts with coupons and deals to people in the vicinity. Some of these companies are offering me packages less than $20/week. Others want me to commit to thousands a month. They have the statistics that show they will bring me gold.

"Lies, damned lies, and statistics." -Mark Twain

Kids Today magazine just had an article this month with even more statistics on mobile that I found quite enlightening and worth exploring deeper.

Here is the first statistic from the article:

"According to the latest data from comStore, overall mobile purchasing accounted for 11% of e-commerce spending in 2013."

E-commerce spending, depending on your source, is anywhere from 3% to 10% of all retail purchases, so mobile purchasing is anywhere from 0.3% to 1.1% of all retail purchases. Before you drop a load of your advertising budget on mobile, keep that in mind. Shopping on their phone is an incredibly small percentage of all retail sales.

But what about coupons they get on their phones and then bring into the store?

Here is the second statistic:

"Nine out of ten moms take notice of advertisements on their smartphones. One-quarter clicked to get a coupon after receiving a mobile ad and 15% of moms clicked on the ad to go to the website."

In other words, almost all of the moms saw the ads, but 75% of the moms did not take the bait, 85% of the moms were not enticed to go to the website. Now, don't get me wrong. Twenty-five percent is still a pretty good click-thru rate. But remember who is clicking - the Transactional Customer - the mom who believes she is the expert on the product and knows more about it than you do. These moms are loyal to one thing only - the deal. They have no loyalty to your store and only buy from you when you have a sale.

But aren't all moms all about the price?

Here is the third statistic:

"More than half the moms, 53%, say coupons are appealing in a mobile ad; while 23% want a deal that is located nearby."

Once again proof that roughly half the population in any category, including the technologically savvy new moms, is interested in the deal (Transactional Customers) and the other half is more interested in the trust factors (Relational Customers).

When you plot out your strategy, decide which customer you want to attract and proceed accordingly. While your competitors go after that 53%, remember that there is a lot of business to be done with the 47% who don't find coupons on their phones appealing.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Don't think of me as anti-technology. Smartphones are here to stay. You need a website and it needs to be optimized for mobile. You need social media as one part of your relationship-building portfolio with your customer base - and many moms are using their smartphones as their primary tool for social media. You also need to be smart about where and how you spend your money. Your most loyal customers are not loyal because of your coupons, they are loyal because they trust you. Before you buy a mobile marketing plan, make sure you've put enough effort into building that trust and that the mobile plan reinforces that trust, not undermines it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What are You Doing to Reach the Influencers

McDonald's spent millions advertising the Happy Meal to children. Yet, who ultimately controls what a child eats? The parent, of course. Yet, McDonald's made billions from the Happy Meal by advertising to the strongest influencer.

There is a bra store near me that specializes in custom-fitted and hard-to-find sizes of bras. They advertise on the local ESPN sports/talk radio station. Yes, a bra store on a sports/talk station. And they're making a killing by saying, "Hey guys, tired of hearing your wife complain about her bra not fitting?"

Later this fall I am going to give out about seven thousand $5.00 gift cards to the students of one of our school districts. In a couple weeks I am going to wine and dine and bribe their teachers through a Teachers' Night Out private party at our store with food & drinks, prizes, fun activities and incredible incentives for attending. I want to make sure that when the teachers hand out these gift cards that we get a great return on our investment.

Too many retailer make the mistake of thinking they have to focus all their efforts only on the person who might buy or use their product. The most powerful push someone gets to shop at your store usually comes from someone other than you. It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes your best advertising and marketing needs to be directed at a non-customer.

If you can convince the influencer of the benefits of your business, they will convince the end user of your benefits.

There are two advantages to this approach.

First, since you are advertising to an indirect target, they are going to be more surprised (which is a good thing) and interested in your ad. It won't come off as such a sales pitch. The bra ladies weren't trying to sell a product, just to offer a solution to a common problem heard by married men all over the planet.

Second, the influencer has far more power to affect the actions of your intended customer than you do. Word of mouth from a friend always trumps advertising by a company. Let the friends and family and influencers do all the heavy lifting for you.

Yeah, it's risky. All advertising is risky. At least this one has a pretty good track record (or why else would people be trying to ban the Happy Meal toys?)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS To do this you just have to do two things. First figure out who is that non-customer that has the power to influence your shopper. Is it a parent, a child, a spouse, a friend, an authority figure? Second, figure out a message that will resonate with that person. It is powerful and it works.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When Lions Lead Lions

Someone tagged the railroad bridge at the end of our block.

It says, "An army of sheep lead [sic] by lions will always defeat an army of lions lead [sic] by sheep."

All four cars at the light praised me when I took this picture, thinking that I was going to report it to the authorities.

I took the picture because it gave me pause and made me think. The message would seem to be that the talent of leadership outweighs the talent of the workers. The leaders willing to make the bold moves will inspire their followers to accomplish greater things than leaders with weak ideas and strong followers. In battle that may be true, but in retail I'm not yet convinced.

A great work force without great leadership will ultimately fail.
A great leader without a great work force will ultimately fail.

Oh, they both might stick around by default for a while, but in retail both of these will fall quickly to lion leading lions.

You can spend all your time on training your staff, but if you don't spend any time training yourself, another retailer will eat your lunch. Likewise, you can spend all your time training yourself, but if you don't spend equal time training your staff, another retailer will clean your clock.

But when the lions are led by lions, the Savannah is all theirs for the taking.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you're a sheep of a leader, hire a lion to manage your business. If you have a lot of sheep on the front lines, go find some lions to pounce on those customers. Don't worry about teamwork. Lions work well in a pride. This book will show you how to identify the right type of lion, whether for management or the front lines.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Can You Call in Favors?

Could you call a media person right now and cash in a favor?

Maybe ask a reporter or photographer to cover an event you're hosting?

Maybe get a little live air-time with the local morning-drive DJ?

Maybe get a quote in the paper?

Maybe get an article on the op-ed page?

Maybe get some air-time on the morning news show?

Maybe guest-host a local TV show?


You have to give to receive. Start giving now. You never know when you might want to ask for that favor.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS What to give? Your time. Your expertise. Your praise. Your support. Your money. Your information. Spend a little time getting to know your local reporters, your local DJ's, and your local news anchors. Praise them for the work they do. Offer them information that makes them look good/smart (and doesn't promote you). Build trust by being reliable. Give them scoops. Do it without expectation of anything in return. You'll cash in later.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Clean Business is a Happy Business - Three Reasons to Get Out the Paint Brush

I hadn't washed my car in weeks. When it was sunny, I didn't have the time. When I had the time, it was raining. I finally got it done two days ago.

As I was toweling off a few last sprinkles, I felt a little extra bounce in my step. There was a little more pride driving around town in a shiny vehicle. Even walking up to it, I thought my Pilot winked at me in the sun. The car was cleaner. I felt better. More pride.

Yes, a clean car is a happy car.

I felt the exact same way a few weeks ago. The cottonwood trees had slowed down enough for us to put a fresh coat of paint on the front of the store. Coincidentally, our business skyrocketed 20% after the paint job.

A clean store is a happy store.

I'm smart enough to know that our success the past three weeks is not just because we painted the building, but never underestimate the power of a simple cleaning job.

  • It puts you and your staff in a happy mood. A happy staff delights your customers more.
  • It sends a signal to your customers that you care about your business and, likewise, that you will care about them.
  • It sends a signal to your customers that you are fresh and new and on top of things.

Those last two are the kickers. A fresh coat of paint on the outside of your building is often a much cheaper and more powerful marketing tool than a month of billboard and newspaper ads.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Landscaping, painting the inside walls, moving the merchandise around, mopping/shampooing the floors, and updating the signs all have the same effect. The inside stuff, however, doesn't send those signals to the outside world, only to the current customer base who already love you despite your messiness.

PPS None of that cleaning matters, however, if you aren't first taking damn good care of your customers. Otherwise it's just a band-aid on an amputation. If you don't have a capital fund for repairs and improvements, take the money from your advertising budget, not your customer service training budget.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Best Sweepstakes/Email for Small Businesses

You all know I'm a fan of Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads. (Look down the right-hand column to see how many posts I've tagged him.)

You also know I have studied a number of Wizard of Ads Partners like Tim Miles and Jeff Sexton and follow a lot of their work.

You also know that I am a life-long learner always looking for more information to consume to be better at what I do. If you're reading this blog, it is likely that you are, too.

That's why I'm telling you to follow this link...

The link will take you to a Sweepstakes offer of over $3000 in materials from Roy and others associated with Wizard Academy.

Most importantly, it will sign you up for an email newsletter that will bring you amazing articles from a wide variety of Wizard Academy Alumni - Nobel prize winners, best-selling authors, NASA scientists (yes, true rocket scientists!), marketing wizards, and business owners just like you and me.

I hope you win. (The emails alone will make us all winners.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I entered. I also get extra entries when I send people to enter, but I'm not sure if this blog will qualify to get me those extra entries (you can tell them Phil sent you). That's okay. I'm more about getting you signed up for the email and all the goodies in it (I've already received one email and found tons of value). That's the real value.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Go BIG or Go Home - A Lesson in PR

Your store just isn't that important. You aren't creating hundreds/thousands of jobs at one time. You aren't attracting tens of thousands of people into town all at once. You aren't creating multi-millions of dollars of economic impact. You aren't raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity.

The news media isn't going to cover you just because you're nice and you're local.

There are really only two ways for indie retailers to get into the media spotlight.


Set yourself up as the expert in your field by following this plan:

  1. Get the contact info for every reporter out there - print, online, radio and TV. 
  2. Follow their stories - all of them - to find out who is most likely to write about something in your field.
  3. Every time they write anything close to your industry, send them a note of praise for the article.
  4. When possible, send them a link to another source of info (not you, but a third party) for more information about the topics on which they have written.
  5. Continue until they begin to trust you as a reliable source of info.
  6. Wait for them to start asking your opinion.
  7. Give it freely, clearly, in sound bites, and backed up with reliable, checkable facts.


Set yourself up in the spotlight by following this plan:

  1. Attend events where media coverage is already present. 
  2. Do something within the framework of the event that absolutely HAS to get noticed.
  3. Be larger than life. Take it to the extreme!

I just participated in our Fitness Council's Smart Commute High Heel Bike Ride. The event includes people biking in heels and a fashion show where they crown the King & Queen. This is what I wore...

Yeah, I was voted King (or queen, I forget). Yeah, we're getting a lot of coverage for it. Yeah, people are smiling. "We're here to make you smile!" 

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS When you  get your chance to shine in the spotlight, remember that you have to be over-the-top if you want to generate word of mouth. People may think you're crazy, but in a cunning way. Make sure, however, that what you do is within the framework of the event or they will just think you're plain crazy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Signals You Unwittingly Send to Your Customers

While we're on the topic of Signals you send your customers, here are few more to think about...

The weeds growing in the bushes next to your store. Gee, they must not be into taking care of their environment. I wonder what else they don't take care of.

The old, faded, peeling window clings from companies you no longer carry. Gee, I guess they don't have any of the new stuff I just saw online.

The sloppy, unorganized displays with no rhyme, reason, or order. Gee, I hope I don't have to ask them to find something. That could take all day.

The gum-chewing sales clerk leaning over the counter. Gee, I hope I don't have to ask her any questions. I doubt she knows anything.

The misspelled signs. Gee, doesn't anyone proofread anymore. They certainly aren't the brightest bulbs in the socket.

Everything you do (or don't do) sends a signal, one way or another. Make sure you are sending out the right message.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The best signal is one that is consistent with your Character Diamond. When you make sure that every single signal matches your Core Values, magic is bound to happen.

Monday, July 14, 2014

You Wouldn't do THAT to Your Customer, Would You?

Would you treat your customer with kindness right up until the end and then kick them in the face after they gave you their money?

No, of course you wouldn't. Yet you do.

Would you tell your customers - Don't come around here... We don't want you... We're all about ourselves, not you... - but let them in and treat them kindly if they by some miracle showed up anyway?

No, of course you wouldn't. Yet you do.

If you have a really tight, restrictive return policy, you are doing that to your customers All. The. Time.

If you are generous to a fault, bending over backwards to give the best possible customer service, making sure all the customer's questions are answered and all her fears assuaged, going over-the-top to do more than she expected, then you are offering the kind of customer service that specialty stores should be giving.

But all that good can be undone the moment she runs into your return policy and it is just over 30 days from purchase, or she took it out of the box only to discover it wasn't what she thought, or she got duplicates as gifts, or she lost her receipt, or she has a defective/missing part, or, or, or. If she runs into a hassle trying to return an item, it may be the last time she visits your store.

You may have won the sale, but you lost the war.

Or let's say you are upfront about your restrictive, me-first, return policy. You might as well shout to the customer that her concerns are secondary to yours. You might as well tell her that she takes a backseat to you. That you have your own back, not hers.

You think it is fine because no one complains about your return policy. They aren't complaining because they aren't even showing up. You gave them the reason not to shop with you in the first place, so they never got to see your wonderfully trained staff, how fabulously you've merchandised the store, or the way you meticulously curated your selection to only have the finest stuff.

Here are two concepts you should wrap your head around regarding your return policy.

First, if you've done all the heavy lifting - making sure you met the customers needs by finding her the perfect solution to her problem and made her feel great about her purchase - then you aren't likely to have many returns to worry about in the first place. And when you do get that return, you get another chance to turn a customer into an evangelist for your store.

Second, if you have a really liberal return policy and someone actually does try to take advantage of you time and time again, you can fire that one customer without pissing off all the rest.

Return policies are really about the Signal you send your customer. Make a liberal return policy and you are telling your customer two really powerful things.

  1. We believe strongly in the merchandise we sell. So much so that we promise to take it back for whatever reason.
  2. We believe strongly in taking the utmost care of you. So much so that we'll do anything to make you happy.

It really won't cost you any more in the long run. In fact, I'm willing to bet it will make you more in the long run. Just ask Nordstrom's and L.L. Bean.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS The best thing to do is to look at all of your customer policies and decide who they favor - you or your customer. If they favor you, change them. Change them now before you scare away another customer or kick her in the face.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Three is Better Than One

Last fall we installed a chalkboard on the side of our building with the words MY BEST MEMORY IS... at the top and lines for people to fill in the blanks.

We did it for three reasons.

1. Because we knew it would generate talk. It did, too. Lots of it. We got press for it. We got a lot of customers talking about it. It it was the kind of Over-the-Top Design that generates Word-of-Mouth.

2. Because we wanted more reasons for customers to visit and engage with our store. Sure, it was outside, but it still got people into the neighborhood. As a destination store on the outskirts of downtown, we have to get our own traffic. There is no mall or DDA or anyone else out there trying to draw us a crowd.

3. Because we believe in art, imagination and creativity. And we're on an official "art walk". The sidewalk along our building is part of the River Art Walk that connects the downtown to the Armory Arts Village north of town. Now some might argue (correctly) that until we put the board up, there was no art along the art walk. So we're just doing our part to make the walk what it should be.

Mostly, however, we did it because it fits into our Character Diamond of Fun, Helpful, Educational & Nostalgic and our motto of We're here to make you smile.

One board definitely did that. We think three will do it even better.

We just put up two more boards to compliment the first. Within minutes people were writing on them.

Over-the-Top Design that gets people to talk about you, visit you, and engage with you is worth the investment. When it fits with your Character Diamond, too, it's a grand-slam-dunk-no-brainer.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, it helps that we own the building. It also helps that we call it art and not a sign because they would definitely be in violation of our city's overly strict and business-unfriendly sign ordinance. But that's a post for another day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Team Building and Business Building - The Principles are the Same

There is an article floating around about Team Building Gone Bad.

As a business owner, you've heard about Team Building - doing activities to help bring the team closer together and increase communication, cooperation, and trust. You've probably thought about doing something with your own staff.

Before you do, do me (and your staff) a favor. Write down a clear goal of what you hope to accomplish with your efforts. Then, when you go to sign up for an activity under the guise of team building, if the facilitator doesn't ask to see that goal, run away. They don't know a thing about team building.

I do. I used to be a facilitator. I used to train facilitators. When I read the article above, it got me thinking about how team building really depends on the skill of the facilitator more than the activity chosen.

I wrote this on a friend's FB page when he linked to the article...

A good facilitator knows [that there are five stages of development in a group] and would never let any group do the stuff that was talked about in this article without a lot of prep work and other activities done first.

A good facilitator would know clearly the goals of the team building and plan activities to specifically address those goals.

A good facilitator would stop an activity before it got out of control, knowing that the activity is secondary to the lesson to be learned.

A good facilitator would make safety the number one priority (and number two and number three) because without a certain level of emotional and physical safety guaranteed, no one will take any perceived risks.

A good facilitator would follow up because team dynamics are always changing. Just kick-starting a new culture does not mean that the changes will hold.

It got me to thinking that the same exact principles apply to Business Building. Let's replace facilitator with manager and team building/group with business building/business.

A good manager knows that there are five stages of development in a business (Tim Mile's First Order of Business) and would never let any business do the stuff that was talked about in this article without a lot of prep work and other activities done first.

A good manager would know clearly the goals of the business and plan activities to specifically address those goals.

A good manager would stop an activity before it got out of control, knowing that the activity is secondary to the lesson to be learned (and sales to be made).

A good manager would make safety the number one priority (and number two and number three) because without a certain level of emotional and physical safety guaranteed, no one will take any perceived risks (this applies to customers and employees).

A good manager would follow up because business dynamics are always changing. Just kick-starting a new culture does not mean that the changes will hold.

Make sure you hire a good facilitator before you embark on any Team Building. Make sure you hire a good manager before you embark on any Business Building.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I dusted off an old paper I wrote on Team Building and am getting it ready for the Freebies section of my website. If you're interested in seeing a copy before I get the site updated, send me an email.