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.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Seven Reasons Why You Should Accept American Express Cards

I've heard the arguments against accepting American Express in your store. They charge too much. They don't deposit as fast as other cc's. Everyone has another form of payment. I've never lost a sale...

All valid (kinda).

Here are seven reasons why you should still accept it.

  1. The average Amex transaction is three times higher than the average Visa transaction. Yes, Amex users spend more. You need those big-spenders.
  2. Your competitors take it. Why would you give them that unnecessary advantage?
  3. Not accepting it makes you look cheap. If you would cut corners and inconvenience customers just to save pennies there, your customers are wondering where else are you cutting corners?
  4. American Express focuses on more affluent customers. Amex is already reaching your preferred customer. Fish where the fish are.
  5. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. The real difference between the costs to you for a Visa Rewards card and an Amex card is a lot less than you think. Do the math and you will see it isn't costing you much more than the cards you already take.
  6. You look unprofessional. To attract the big fish, you have to look like you know what you're doing. Exclusions and customer-unfriendly policies scare the big fish away. 
  7. Saying No turns customers off. Sure, they might have another card and you still won the transaction. But customers like these speak mostly with their feet. Saying No to something as simple as taking their money might be all it takes for them to not come back. You won the transaction but lost the war.
Your goal is to delight your customers, to become the expert they trust, to win their hearts. Although you can do those things without taking Amex cards, you make it that much harder and you exclude a huge group of high-spending, affluent people in the process.

Is that worth the pennies?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I do not work for or get any cut for promoting American Express.I only write this because of my deep desire to help you make MORE money. Yes, you will make MORE money by accepting Amex. How would your business change if you had higher transactions, more affluent customers, more delighted customers, and a greater feeling of trust between you and your customer? How much would you pay to get that?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Perfect Sale

I was just at Bob & Sue Negen's Whizbang Training Retail Success Summit and Bob talked about trying to achieve the Perfect Sale.

There are two Perfect Sales out there. From your point of view and from the customer's point of view.

From your point of view...
You sold them everything you possibly could, including a bunch of old merchandise you were dying to get rid of, all at full price, with tons of add-ons, and plenty of extra features and warranties.

From the customer's point of view...
She got everything she needed at a fair price. She won't have to make any extra trips. She stayed within reason of her budget and has absolutely zero buyers' remorse. She is thrilled with everything she purchased. She can't wait to tell her friends.

When the two are one and the same - you've hit the grand slam of retail sales. But when you have to sacrifice one for the other, you can probably guess which one is better for you in the long run.

As Bob reminded us... Always, always, always go for the Perfect Sale from the customer's point of view. Always. Period. Every. Single. Time.

Are we clear?

Grand slams are nice, but the goal of this game is to be able to keep playing. Perfectly happy customers keep you in the game for a very long time.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I talk to my staff about completing the sale. You never want a customer to go home and then realize she needs one more item to make the other stuff she bought work. Chances are she won't go back to you for that item, and she might never come back if you weren't smart enough to make sure she had everything she needed in the first place.

PPS There are some sure-fire ways to make sure your customer is perfectly happy with her purchases. Check out the Closing the Sale section of my FREE eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW!