You don’t have to choose just one

December 4, 2013

When you were taken to a store as a child, perhaps you were told to ‘pick one’. In school, perhaps the quiz was multiple choice or true/false. In that situation you definitely had to ‘pick one’.
But that was your childhood. Today, in business you do not have to always do that. Let me give you an example.

A great article by Mike Whittenstein on the RetailCustomerService.com website gives this advice:
Loyalty comes from doing the hard work of making a business better in the customer’s eyes. The best strategy for customer loyalty is to focus on creating as much value for the customer as possible. Trust is valuable.

The only strategy for winning customer loyalty is to focus first on the customer and let the loyalty just happen. When it does, it’s more natural, more credible, longer lasting and (listen up bean counters!) more profitable. If your focus has been on the balance sheet in an effort to increase profitability, it is time to shift your focus.

I agree with the author and said so in a magazine interview earlier this year. The writer asked what I thought about customer service. My comment was based upon a question I asked a group of dealers of high end bicycles.

“Do you think you have any customers that have spent $10,000 for a bicycle and that bicycle has hung in their garage, unused, for over a year? If so (and almost everyone of them said yes), then who’s fault is it?”

Yes, the lack of customer service starts with the business that is not loyal. After all, the bicycle dealer told the customer what a great experience they would have riding the new bicycle; what did the dealer do to make sure the customer had that great experience? If the dealer did nothing, then where is their customer loyalty?

Back to Mike’s last comment about shifting your focus. I don’t know why you have to choose just one. This is what gets a lot of business owners in trouble; they enjoy selling their products and services. Then they forget to be an owner. With some, their business then closes and they wind up with a job selling the same products and services for someone else.

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Love the indie twist on Cyber Monday

December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving is becoming ‘grey Thursday’, followed by ‘black Friday’, ‘Small Business Saturday’, no-name Sunday, and ‘Cyber Monday’.

Then the staff at Toadstool Bookshops in New Hampshire got the creative juices going (figuratively and literally) and have created ‘Cider Monday’. Toadstool Bookshops was very creative in the promotional copy by stating, “see some real people and have a good time checking out what is in our stores. It is sure to be a heartwarming experience. We can promise no crashing websites, our ‘servers’ will not be overloaded and we bet they will even smile at you!”

The article mentions other bookstores joining in the effort. But, who is to say it is exclusively for independent bookstores? Here in Florida, I remember a business that has a promotion with apple cider that is tied to the weather. Yes, here in Florida we are able to tell when it is fall even though it is still warm. This business puts a large container of hot apple cider outside the front door of the store on cool days. They create their own labels with business information and other promotional messages. The labels are adhered to the disposable paper cups which are stacked next to the cider.

Notice that they do this outside their front door. That location shows a friendly effort by the business yet still invites the customer in.

Congrats and thanks to Toadstool. Who want to have their own version of ‘Cider Monday’ for 2014?


Why I love the indies

February 12, 2013

A quote from today’s AMIBA newsletter:
“When Sandy hit, none of the chain stores were open for over a week. Only the local bodegas (and bars/restaurants) were open to serve the community that was much in need. They used flashlights to guide customers through the aisles, generators brought in from their own homes, and drove hours to other boroughs to bring back ice. They extended credit to their customers and other local establishments as ATM and credit card machines didn’t work. They offered free hot drinks since it was freezing. These are just recent examples of the service bodegas provide the community which cannot be replicated by chains.”

This is one example of why I love the indies.


Spending money to look bad

June 1, 2012

Today is June 1; National Donut Day. This is a natural and easy to promote event for anyone in the industry. Walking into a Dunkin Donut, I observe a customer in an agitated discussion with a counter person who is trying to explain how the ‘Any drink free with purchase of donuts’ sign can exclude the soft drink he has selected.

After losing his point, he has his son pose for a photo – holding his Pepsi and a donut with the sign in the background. The picture, and comments are headed for Facebook.

The next customer asks for maple donuts. This counter person has to ask the customer to help them find the maple donuts on the rack. The counter person has not worked there only a short time.

It amazes me how little effort businesses put into education; how an incorrect sign and a dollar is allowed to be the cause for losing a customer.

More amazing is how often I have to watch this bad customer service.


This ain’t no Southern thing – why ‘training’ is wrong

December 10, 2011

‘Good morning’ came from about six of the nine people working in this small Southern diner. And then all nine stood there as I sat on a stool to order breakfast. The person whose job it was to take care of patrons at the bar was waiting on someone else.

The other eight, having no customers to wait on, simply stood there and watched. After all, they had said ‘Good morning’ as they were likely taught by the manager. (That’s the manager who was likely told by his district manager to have the employees say ‘Good morning’ to everyone entering the diner.)

This very situation happens in many businesses. It is an indication of ‘training’ a person to do something as compared to educating them.
Training consists of telling the person what to do. Educating is having the person understand what you desire as an end result.

Are you training or educating your employees?


Newspapers or Facebook – no contest in this community

August 4, 2011

This is a note I received this morning from Rob Edwards. Any questions?

If you are also reviewing your year-end expenses like me, I offer this lesson learned: I gambled and spent $20,000 LESS on print advertising in our regional newspapers to promote our special events AND saw attendance at these events increase of last year … thanks to Facebook and aggressive collection of emails and use of Constant Contact targeted emails. Patch.com has helped too. The only print ads we did were in micro-newsletters to targeted groups like elementary schools announcing our holiday events. For $250 we had access to the parents of 20,000 kids which yielded the highest ever attendance at our December tree-lighting ceremony. Thought I’d share that just in case your boards are still addicted to print ads in newspapers. But keep in mind we are in Silicon Valley.
Rob Edwards


Defining an Independent Retailer

July 1, 2011

Traveling between my two home towns, you pass through communities that can be defined as small, smaller, and very tiny. Within these communities you will see signs of those who believe in their community; not just by their words, but by their actions and their money.

Not unique to these small communities, these believers can be found in large cities and mid-size cities; these believers will step into action anywhere there is a number of people who are looking for something. In a community or neighborhood, you will find these individuals and the results of their efforts.

These are the people who have opened a small business. This person, who has chosen to open that small business, is saying to their community, “I see a need and am going to help. I will create that business, take the gamble, and help my community.”

The business may be a pharmacy, a hardware store, grocery store, auto parts store; one that sells clothes, shoes, toys, bicycles, lamps or any number of items that people use. The business could be a hairdresser or the person that cuts the grass or landscapes your lawn as the independent retailer takes on many shapes and sizes.

The business they chose to create will be unique as the products and services they offer are tailored to the wants and needs of those that live in the area. The owner of this business will ask the residents what they are looking for and how that business can make the lives of customers more enjoyable. The business is likely to change as the community changes as well as when the residents develop new wants and needs. The owner of the business is easily adaptive to the community because that business owner lives in the community.

The person owning that small business is also going to be active in their community by participating in the merchants association. This person will be among the first to join in any effort that makes the community better for those that chose to live there. It may be creating a park, supporting a youth sports team, doing something for the children attending the local schools, or helping a local house of worship; this person will be there to support and help their community. Their investment in the community goes far beyond the business they have opened.

The independent retailer is a cheerleader for the community. This person can find the good in everything; they are proud of, and a proud member of their community.

Another word for ‘belief’ is ‘gamble’, for opening this business is truly a gamble. There is never a guarantee that the new business in the community will succeed. The owner expresses their belief by taking their personal money and investing in the creation of the business. The money may come from what has been saved over the years; the money may come from mortgaging or selling their home to make this investment in the community. It is an investment that says, ‘I believe in this community’.

Unlike those that have jobs working for a business, these people have no guarantee; no promise of a paycheck at the end of the week. They are doing what they do because they want to help their community. They do it because they are very talented individuals that have a strong sense of being an entrepreneur to their endeavor. Owning the business is a challenge they thrive on. You can see the enjoyment of the challenge in the smile they greet their customers with as the customer comes into the business.  You can hear the excitement of their business in their voice as they visit with the customer.

Doing business with this independent retailer is sheer enjoyment because that retailer truly appreciates and enjoys their customers; their neighbors.

As consumers within a community, there is no responsibility to shop with a locally owned business. It is not ‘the duty’ of residents to support the business. Instead, the locally owned business works hard to invite individuals to visit the store; to be greeted and waited on by their fellow residents.

This shopping experience will be one that is unique to each locally owned business – you won’t find the same products, services, staff, or atmosphere in any other business. It will be like walking through a forest and listening to all the birds that live there. What a dull world it would be if all the birds sang the same song!

This is what the independent retailer brings to the community.