Saturday, March 22, 2014

Doing Business When Your Street is Closed

Winter is finally giving way to that other season - Construction. Orange cones are popping up everywhere.

And shortly after that, if you're a downtown business, you'll probably be facing Festival Season - that time of year when the city shuts down the street for a car cruise or an art fair or some other event.

Either way, at one point or another, if you have a Main Street business, your business is going to have to deal with a street closure. How you deal with that will be critical to your success. Here are some suggestions for keeping the till humming while the streets are closed.


This is usually a long-haul situation and requires some smart strategy. The key is communication.

  • Communicate with your fan base the best ways to approach the store and the best places to park.
  • Communicate what is happening with the construction. Give blow-by-blow accounts and updates.
  • Have fun with the construction. Post trivial facts, goofy pictures, interesting finds. Get your fans to post their own pictures. Play guessing games - take close-ups or partial pictures and have them guess what machine it is. Turn it into a focal point that might make people want to stop by and gawk.
  • Set up a shuttle (you can partner with other businesses affected by the closure) to help get your customers in to see you.
  • Offer delivery services for the time the construction is taking place.
  • Expand your hours so that you are open at times when less work and disruption is taking place.
  • Roll out a red carpet - yes an actual red carpet - to get people over muddy, dirty, disrupted areas.

Don't just assume business as usual. Plan for a small fall off, but be proactive in your approach to make it as convenient and fun as possible for your customers to do business with you.


Street closures for festivals are a different beast and require different tactics. First, they are usually short-term events that take place during your typically busiest times - Friday nights and Saturdays. Second, they draw a lot of people, but not necessarily your regular customers, and not necessarily anyone who wants to shop with you. At the same time, they disrupt your regular customers and keep those people away.

Therein lies the key. The people on the street are not your regular customers. What would you do differently to try to turn these people into your regular customers? The first goal is to get them off the street and into the store.

  • If you sell jewelry, put out a sandwich board and offer "Free Ring Cleanings". Get those customers in the store looking at the shiny, bright, glittery stuff in your cases while they wait for your polishers to make their rings sparkle. 
  • If you sell clothing, put some racks on the street of your unique offerings that will entice someone to stop on by.
  • If you sell candles, get that aroma wafting out your door and onto the street. You'll attract attention in no time.
  • If you sell baked goods set up a fan inside the door so that chocolate chip cookie scent reaches the end of the block.
  • If you sell shoes, put out a sign showing how to check your own shoes for wear and tear. Have a sizing specialist standing out front to engage the folks on the street. Offer a free shoe-polishing stand.

No matter what you sell, there is something you can do to engage with the festival goers and either get them in the door today or at some point down the road. You just have to be creative and proactive. Open the doors, put out a banner and make sure people know you are open for business. Do something in conjunction with the theme of the festival. Sign them up to your mailing lists, your birthday clubs, and any other program you offer. Use this opportunity to farm for new customers. There are a ton out there. Most of all be ENGAGING. Have fun with the event.

Street Closures are a reality. How you deal with them will have a direct impact on your bottom line. You can wallow in misery complaining about the lost business or you can let your creative juices flow and look at them as an opportunity to do things differently.

You know which one will pay off in the long run.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I knew of a hair salon that was half a block off the beaten path of a major festival in her town. Rather than lament the street closures combined with no foot traffic at the front door, she had her staff on the street handing out coupons for free ice cream cones inside her salon. For the cost of some ice cream she was able to get a ton of traffic that always resulted in new clients and new appointments.

PPS Also remember that those festivals do serve a purpose. First they make your downtown seem more active and vibrant. That message sticks with people throughout the year. Second, they attract people to downtown that might not go otherwise. Fear of the unknown keeps people from shopping in new locations. Third, they often serve to raise funds for charities and non-profits, the same ones that would be hitting you up double if not for the events. Embrace them and enjoy them and make them work to your advantage.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Be the Best at One Thing

Quick, name the second place person in the MVP balloting. Any sport. Bet you can't unless it was your favorite player who got snubbed.

When they give out the awards at the end of a sports season, the big winners are always the leader in at least one category. In fact, the short list of potential MVP's always starts with the leader in each category.

Being pretty good in everything doesn't get the same attention as being the best in one thing. It applies in sports and it applies in retail.

If you want attention for your business, you have to be the runaway category leader in one category. You have to be so far out in front that your competitors have already resigned themselves to a fight for second place. You have to be not the first but the only company that comes to mind in that category.

When you do that, you will get all the attention you desire deserve.

How do you figure out which category you should own?

  1. Make a list of everything you do better than your competition.
  2. For everything on that list, write down all the competitors who at least try to own that category.
  3. Figure out which category has the least amount of competition. (In other words, the one you own the most)
  4. Figure out how to do it even better than you already do. (In other words, widen the gap).

Spend all your time and energy growing your lead. You'll win all the awards (customers) you deserve desire.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS After you focus on your best trait, shore up your worst trait - the one that drives customers away. But always, always, always in that order. Best first. Worst second. No one remembers second place or an average business.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Listening Your Way to Better Sales

"The fool speaks, the wise [business]man listens." -African Proverb

Here is one tip to increase your business this year. Are you listening?

Be a better listener.

What your customer is saying is extremely important. Over-the-top important. It is the center of her universe and the whole reason she is in your store trying to give you money.

But she won't give you that money if she doesn't think you're listening.

Be a better listener.

"It is better to listen in order to understand than to listen in order to reply." -Anonymous

Here is a simple little game that I did with my staff to help them focus on listening...

Have your staff pair up in twos. Have the first person tell the second person what he or she likes most about working for your store. The person listening must repeat back what the first person said. If the second person gets it right, then the second person can share what he or she likes most about working for your store with the first person repeating it back. Then each pair must stand and tell the entire group why the other person likes working here so much.

The repeating it back is the key. To be able to do that, you have to listen to understand, not simply listen to reply. The goal for each staff member is to repeat back every question or important comment the customer makes this month. The more they do it, the more they get into the habit of doing it.

Repeating back to the customer what she just said might seem annoying, but it actually serves three distinct purposes.

  • It helps to clarify the customer's concerns and make sure you got it right.
  • It gives you an extra moment to think about your response
  • It helps the customer trust that you are paying attention, are in the moment, and have her best interests at heart.

It is a simple acknowledgment that goes a long way in building the long-term relationship you want with your customers. Now, repeat this all back to me. (Paraphrase if you'd like. That is perfectly acceptable.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There is another benefit to the training I did with my staff. I had each staff member verbalize why they like working for me. Then it was verbalized two more times, reinforcing it even more. Plus, by verbalizing it to the entire group, everyone got reinforcement for why this is such a great place to work. Oh, and if someone cannot come up with a good reason for why they like working with you - fire them!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Setting Yourself Apart From the Pack

I read a fascinating book called Built to Sell by John Warrillow. The book is a business parable about a guy who owns an advertising agency and wants to sell it. His mentor shows him how to transform his business to make it salable.

Most retailers would dismiss the book because on the surface it doesn't seem to apply. The first step is to limit your focus to only that which you do better and more profitable than anyone else so that you can create a turnkey operation. That doesn't translate well to indie retail.

But there is a lesson hid inside there that we all can use.

Maybe you cannot change your product mix to become the leader of the pack, but you certainly can change your services. In fact, you can change them so radically that you become a category of one (another good business book worth reading).

Simply decide which customer subset you want to cater to, and then cater to them at the exclusion of all others.

Roy H. Williams calls this "choose who to lose".

For instance, you could decide you only want to cater to the uber-rich. You'll probably want to change some of your product, but to truly capture that customer you'll have to totally change your services. Hours by appointment only. Red carpet ready and waiting to be rolled. Soft sofas and chairs for seating. Food and drinks served. A personal shopper to bring the items to the customer. Private showings for her and her friends at her penthouse.

Or you might be a toy store that caters to the daddy crowd. That might mean beer and pizza and big-screen TV's, pre-wrapped gifts, diaper changing service, plenty of activities to keep the kids occupied until the game is over.

Do something like that and instead of the kids clamoring to go to the toy store, dad will be suggesting it during breakfast.

While it is getting more and more difficult to separate yourself just on the products you carry, this age of self-serve checkouts leaves you a ton of room to separate yourself from the pack by the services you offer.

Who are you willing to lose to win the heart (and pocketbook) of someone else?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS We started with the bargain hunter. I don't match prices or run coupons or special deals just to entice people in the door. Yes, we have a clearance sale to move out the dogs, but that's it. We instead focus on customers looking for trust. There are plenty of them out there.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Three Biggest Facebook Posts This Year

This year I have had three totally different Facebook Posts that stood out among the rest.

The first was this...

Can you all help me out? 

I need to hype up our JUST FOR FUN SALE that starts this Thursday 9:30am to 6pm.

Hundreds of great toys, hobby and baby products at deep discounts including LEGO and Playmobil, including ride-on toys and summer toys, including board games and puzzles, including dolls, including tons of arts & crafts, including bedding and feeding accessories, including a whole lot more.

Please hit the Share button and help me spread the word.

Thanks! You are the best fans ever!!

That post had a reach of 7,316 people (yet we only have 2890 fans). I got 179 Shares from that post. I had engaged enough with my fans that when I asked a favor of them, they responded in a big way! They responded because I had built up trust. I can't go to this well too often or I'll lose that trust and they'll run away.

The second was this one...

We have a whole bunch of pallets from the many great shipments we have received this winter. Anyone want them? (please?)

There was also a picture of the pallets. Within 17 hours the pallets were gone. Total reach 4,136, including 48 shares. (My dad would say this just goes to show that any fool can give it away.) 

The third was this...

A crib mattress shouldn't do this.

You shouldn't be able to fold it in half with one hand while you take a picture of it with the other.

Your baby needs a firm flat surface for sleeping for a number of reasons... skeletal growth, proper breathing, protection from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), etc. The more firm, the better.

Don't take my word for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics says it, too. So does every other organization interested in the health of your child (The Danny Foundation, First Candle, SIDS Alliance, et al)

Firm mattresses don't fold in half as easily as this one did. 

When you go shopping for your nursery, there are three things you don't want to skimp on - the crib, the mattress and the car seat. 

We won't let you get a mattress that won't be safe for your child. Apparently other stores don't feel the same way as we do.

There was a picture of a crib mattress being folded in half with one hand. This reached 3,518 people including 28 shares. There was an emotional edge to the post. Baby safety is a hot topic right now. Hit the right emotional topics and you'll see a lot of interaction and engagement.

Note than they all had a different style. They all also reached way more than 100%. One was asking for help. One was giving something away. One was sharing information.

The point to take away from this is that variety is the spice of life. Mix up your posts. Don't make them all the same. Try new things and measure the results. When you find something that works, use it, but not too often.  Engage, engage, engage. Give your fans something shareworthy, regardless of whether it is about selling your store or your products.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There are easy ways to "beat" the Facebook Algorithm. My FB posts for Toy House regularly reach 50% or more of our fan base. Click here to find out why.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Is it a Business or Just a Job?

I work with a lot of smaller retailers - start-ups and indies who are just getting going in this crazy industry we've all chosen. Many of them get this one question wrong.

Did you start a business or just create a job?

Most people think they are starting a business, but in reality all they have done is create a job for themselves, often a low-paying job at that. Then when they go to sell the business, they can't find any buyers.

Here are three questions you need to ask yourself to see whether your retail shop is truly a business or just a job.

Could the business run without you? More specifically, could you hire someone to do your job, or is the whole reason the business exists because you exist?

Do people come to your business because of what you offer or what your business offers? If the vast majority come because of you, you might have a job, not a business.

Do you pay yourself a salary? If you don't then it isn't even a job, it's a hobby. If you do pay yourself a salary, is it a good one? Is it enough to hire someone else to do that job? If you said no, then you might have a job, not a business.

Do you show a profit? If you're paying yourself a salary, that is a good thing. It means that you could potentially hire someone else to do that job, while you reap the profits - assuming there are some profits. Some owners will make the correct move of paying themselves a salary, but do so at the expense of showing a profit. Some will keep profits low on purpose to avoid taxes. There might be a number of reasons for not showing a profit. Amazon doesn't seem to need to show a profit. As long as the cash keeps flowing they (and you) can usually keep doing your job. But an indie retailer without profits probably won't be able to sustain that cash flow for too long. You and I don't have the deep pocket investors Amazon has. If you're paying yourself a salary in lieu of showing a profit, you might have a job, not a business.

Not that there is anything wrong with having a job, not a business. You can make a healthy living for many years that way. You might like the job of being boss (and you might be really good at it). You might like the salary you pay yourself for being boss in lieu of having your business show a profit. Those are good and valid points for you to keep doing what you do.

The only downside will be the exit strategy. Once you decide you no longer want your job, if you didn't first turn it into a business, you're going to have a hard time finding anyone who wants to buy it. No one "buys" jobs. They buy businesses. Without a business, all you have left to sell are your assets.

Neither concept is wrong, but not knowing the difference can be costly down the road.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you want to turn your job into a business, you need to think about three things.

  1. Could I hire and train someone to do my job?
  2. Do I pay well enough to hire someone competent to do my job?
  3. Is there enough profit and/or growth potential to keep the business making money?
When you can answer yes to all three, you have a business, not a job. You have something you could sell down the road. You are truly an entrepreneur. Heck, you could should hire someone to do your job right now and go start another business or two.