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.