Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We Thank You All For Your Support!

It has been an incredible year in 2008 and we look forward to the increased excitement and changes coming in 2009 with joy! We hope the same for you, your businesses and your families. It has truly been a pleasure serving you and we thank you for allowing us to share our thoughts and ideas with you.

On behald of my partner, Ryan Stone and myself, we want to say THANK YOU!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Forget the Regrets and Remember

It's time to look at 2008 and see what it has meant to you and your business. You may have regrets--things you meant to do and didn't; things you did and shouldn't have; poor decisions; procrastination and more. So what. Forget the regrets. Thinking about them will not change them, but enhance them, so let them go now.

Remember what you accomplished. Remember what worked. Remember how you grew and how you tried and how you adjusted in the face of a different business climate. Remember your success. Thinking about this will change everything, and yes, it will enhance it even more.

Wallow in it and get a good feel of 2008. You only have a few days to rejoice in it while it is still here. I'll leave you now so you can celebrate. See you soon.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Champagne Tasting Saturday

Champagne Tasting
Saturday, Dec 27th, 2008

5-7 pm
Wine & Spirits World
Vacaville CA

See website for details.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Great Companies: Netlfix

This is a commercial for one of my favorite companies. Having been a Netflix subscriber for several years, I can heartily recommend their quality service. And there's much more. . .

One of their commercials stresses the no late fees aspect of their service. That is good and I really do like that. Another talks of their massive selection of available titles--100,000 DVD's and counting. I like that too, but there's more.

You can get a DVD in about 1 day average. This is true and I do like that. You can watch about 12,000 titles on your computer or TV (with device) instantly at no extra charge. I truly enjoy this too, but there's more.

Their service is outstanding! I've had a few DVD's arrive damaged, but they send another one out the same day. Stuff happens, but they stand tall in how it is handled. And they periodically check how they are doing as well. A lot of companies could learn from this one!

What is more and what I have come to like the most about Netflix is the star rating system that allows me to rate movies I've seen and their system will suggest movies that I might like. I can tell you this: I have seen a lot of wonderful movies that I would never have seen if not for this system. It is awesome. I am constantly finding movies I never heard of that are 5 stars!

If you like movies, you have to love Netflix! Inexpensive, great service, massive selection, instant movies online, fast delivery. What's not to like. It is a great company. Check it out for yourself and you too will find that you love Netflix.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Communities Online Network is a leader in developing and marketing area specific websites for cities in Northern California. Each site delivers daily and interactive content to keep the community informed and offer a forum to share opinions and ideas on movies, dining options, books, schools, sports, and more.
  • List your Garage Sales & Community Events FREE!
  • Businesses: Add your Local Coupons FREE!

Daily Updates:

  • Garage Sale Calendar
  • Local & National News
  • Book Club
  • Weather, Sports & Traffic
  • Local Business Directory
  • Shopping & Local Coupons
  • Dining & Movies
  • Community Events Calendar
  • and much more!

Seven sites are online and more coming in 2009!

As the population continues to escalate in California, now more than ever there is a need for one website that serves as a local, one-stop source of information on everything that is happening throughout the city.

For more information, go to www.CommunitiesOnlineNetwork.com, the site nearest your city above, or call Ryan Stone at 707-480-0959.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Make Your Next Event Better

Make your next event better with sound!

I've been to a few events recently that could be very much improved by adding a small sound system that allows the leaders of the event to effectively communicate with the crowd. One event last week was a mixer with over 200 people in attendance and no PA system at all. They were yelling as loud as they could, but you could hear them further than 20 feet away with all the chatter. They also were calling out ticket numbers for prizes.

This is a very easy fix. I found a small, compact, self-contained PA system that is fabulous and it has been used in a wide variety of applications with great success. I highly recommend it. It is a great investment and will last for many years. The unit is the Peavey Escort (R) Portable Sound System. You will find it worth every cent!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Okay To Not Know

It's okay to not know everything. First of all, it's pretty much impossible to know everything and once you did if you could, it would all change. So, it is okay to admit it: "I don't know much of anything about that . . ." That is a good thing, and even better is to add this phrase to that last statement: ". . . so I could use some help in that area." That's real progress!

CEO's of large corporations, like GM and Ford don't know everything about their own company, but they don't need to. It's not even their job to know everything. It's their job to lead and part of that leadership is finding the people in and out of the company who know what they need so they can call on it as needed. It would be a serious waste of time and talent for the CEO to know everything.

When it comes to small businesses, you may know a lot about the subject of the business that you run, but you can probably really use some help in marketing, web design, sales ideas and so on. There isn't any way that you could know all you need to know about everything either. So, admitting and accepting this and then seeking assistance is a very wise thing to do. Just by coming to this point and stating this will help the assistance to find you. There are lots of people and companies that are ready and waiting to assist you.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Consistency Of Experience

I talked with a businessman who owns several stores in different cities. He stated that his goal was to be a large chain of stores like his competitor is. I briefly talked with him about his stores and my own experience and that of others who notice clearly that there is not a consistency of experience. There is nothing other than similar name to tie them together. They operate differently and they have a different atmosphere. That issue needs to be resolved to begin to create a chain.

A chain afterall, is individual links fastened together and in most chains, the links are the same. Think about McDonald's Restaurant. It is one of the largest chains in the world and if you happen to like McDonald's food, you can trust that as you travel throughout the country, you will have a consistent experience: good food, cooked in the same way, served in the same way and a clean restaurant with clean rest rooms and well lit spaces and so on. Consistency counts.

I went to Sydney, Australia for a couple weeks a few years ago and the first place we stopped after leaving the airport in our right hand drive car was McDonald's. We wanted to see what was different about McDonald's from the way it was in the U.S.. It was so very similar that I would have to say it was a consistent experience. They had a couple of items on the menu that you wouldn't find in the U.S., but other than that, the experience was the same.

Another way to look at this if you don't have and don't intend to have multiple locations is to think about the consistency of the customer experience in each visit to your store. That is very important to convey to the customer that they can expect a certain level of experience each time they come in. This will speak to displays, atmosphere, employee training and so on. People want to feel comfortable and they want to know that they will feel comfortable again should they have the opportunity to return. I know that I do and I choose places based on how I feel when I am in their store. How can you give your customers a consistent experience?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Problems Are Wonderful Opportunities

When you sell something to someone and they have a problem with the product, this is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your value as a company.

Let me share two experiences that happened yesterday. See which business you want to be.

1. I bought 20 volumes of a set of Time-Life books from a seller on eBay. This person has 1,908 feedback's and they are 100% positive. The price was right, the shipping was quick because we live in the same state. It should give you confidence to purchase from them.

The shipment arrived yesterday via USPS Parcel Post. Later when I opened it up, I noticed the box had been dropped on one corner, tearing the box and damaging the corners of all the books except three. I bought them to complete a set, so I needed them to be in very good condition and now they are not good at all. So, I sent them an email letting them know it arrived. I stated that the books were not packaged very well. They were just put in a box with another piece of cardboard folded to take up the extra space. I explained the condition. I asked what they would like to do?

Here's the response--and I quote, "I don't know of any 30 lb boxes of books dropped on their corner that fair well, accounts for loose sections and damaged corners. You need to check with USPS on damages."

2. My wife bought a new handbag from a company she found online called Ebags USA. The bag arrived perfectly packaged in a short time. The problem was that it was the wrong bag. So, she goes online to communicate the problem and together, they determine which bag she received and which it should have been, all the while apologizing for the problem. Then, they issue a prepaid return label to return the package and say they are shipping the correct one via expedited service at no charge to make up for lost time. All very professional and extremely well done. Just what you would expect of a good company regardless of their size. Makes you feel good about doing business with them. And, I will bet you that my wife will have no problem buying from them again. She said they have excellent prices and a great selection.

I'm done with the book seller. I won't even waste my energy leaving negative feedback. I'll just move on down the road. Now, this seller doesn't know this, but since I found him, I had bookmarked a number of his auction items and it looked like we could have had a great relationship, but with his kind of service, I cannot afford to waste any of my time with him.

It's so refreshing to have heard all about every step that Ebags.com took in handling my wife's problem. It was efficient, friendly, effective and painless. Just the way it should be, don't you think?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How Do You Improve the Mundane?

It doesn't get any more basic or mundane than shopping at Costco. I've been a member for many years and they have some incredible bargains. If you have been to one, you know that they are pretty basic in design. They used to call it a warehouse store and that still describes it very well. The selection of merchandise is great and there is always new things coming in all the time. They choose high quality items with recognized brand names on purpose and they buy in quantities sufficient to reduce the cost and pass that savings to the members. It is an excellent store and I continue to pay for the privilege each year.

Yet, with all the positives of this store, the one negative that most of us could agree on is that it is slow to check out and at most times there are long lines waiting to get up to the check out register. This makes it unpleasant enough that I do not go there except about once a month. If this were not the case, I think I would go more often.

So, how do you improve the shopping experience at the warehouse super stores? Simple: speed up the check out dramatically.

Now, my business partner likes Sam's Club which is a similar type of store run by Wal Mart. So, for our business, we joined Sam's Club and they have improved the checkout process. They have a guy that has a hand-held scanner and he gets your membership card, scans it, then scans all your items, so that when you get to the check out register, all you do is pay. Wow. I was really impressed. It was much faster and much more pleasant.

How can you take a lemon in your operation and make lemonade with it? Find out if there are any negative experiences of customers in your shop or store and think of great ways to solve that and create a superior experience. It will pay large dividends in repeat and more frequent visits.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rollie Fingers in Vacaville, CA on Oct 31, 2008

Major League Baseball Hall fo Fame inductee and former Oakland A's pitcher, Rollie Fingers will be in Vacaville on Friday, October 31st to release the first in a collection of specially bottled California wines featuring Baseball Hall of Fame players called the Cooperstown Cuvee. Mr. Fingers will appear at Wine & Spirits World at 1020 Helen Power Drive, Vacaville, CA 95687 from 10:00am to 3:00pm and will be available for interviews. Get your signed bottle for your collection--matter of fact, get a case of signed bottles!
This is the official release month for the Cooperstown Cuvee wines and Rollie Fingers, famed Oakland A's pitcher is the first of Baseball's Hall of Fame members released. This wine will be sure to become a must have for any collector as the series releases more Hall of Fame athletes in the coming years.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"I Can't" Should Be Erased From Your Vocabulary

I just got back from a trip to Seattle and I'm in the lobby of the hotel waiting for a ride and I get to listen to this conversation between a customer and the desk person. It is a conversation that I have heard in many variations many times at many different businesses. I have even participated in such conversations in my past. One phrase is stated again and again: "I can't. . ." "I can't do that." "I can only do this, but I can't do that." "Our policy is. . ." This is killing your business, one customer at a time.

In this particular conversation, it involved a man from Korea who spoke fairly good English who was staying at an Extended Stay hotel. He had paid for a period of time with Traveller's Checks and then his trip was cut short because he completed his work in less time than expected, so he wanted a refund of what was owed. He wanted the refund in cash. The clerk said they could not refund any cash, but only refund on a credit card. They went back and forth a bit with the customer not understanding this. Finally, she looks at the ledger and sees that he had paid with Traveller's Checks and then she says that they can only refund $75 in cash and the rest would be a check and they would have to mail it to Korea.

She had said to the customer that she could refund on a credit card, so he hands her a credit card. Now, she says that she can't refund on the credit card because he didn't pay with a credit card. Of course, she also can't issue a refund in Traveller's Checks or this conversation would have lasted a much shorter time.

Now, she gets a relative on the phone who speaks Korean. This goes on back and forth for another 10-15 minutes. Still, the "I can't" is all you can hear. The hotel owes the customer $215 dollars. They "can" now refund $75 in cash, so then they must issue a check for $140 and send it to Korea. Then she thinks that since he is staying one more night that she can refund $75 in cash today and $75 in cash tomorrow and then a check for $65 sent to Korea.

I'm just sitting there listening to this silliness and thinking, "I wonder if they have a clue or even care that this customer is probably done with this hotel chain?" I know that I would have no desire to return and after hearing this exchange, and I will not be returning. Now there are two customers gone.

Finally in frustration, the customer gave the clerk his address in Korea for them to mail the check.

The question for you is what could they have done to not only keep this customer, but to enhance the experience of the stay and the hotel? I'll give you some of my thoughts of what they could do.

1. Disown the word "can't." Stop saying "no" to customers. Find ways to say "yes." Maybe it is a reasonable alternative, but starting with the word "can't" is not the way to get there.

2. Rules have to be flexible. I understand policies. They have a purpose, but in this case, following the policy exactly will create an unhappy customer. Rules are not made to do this. The flexibility here would have been to refund the money in cash. If they didn't have sufficient cash, they should go to the bank and get it. Worst case--and I mean worst case--give the customer a check and take them to the bank and let them get it cashed. Simple. You have his money, you need to give some of it back. He lives in Korea, not Seattle. Sending it to him in a check in Korea is ridiculous.

3. Unhappy customers tell others. I cannot imagine this customer coming back to this hotel, or even this chain. There are other places to stay. He will tell his friends and business associates about this experience and how stupid it was. I am not going back either and I am telling you as well. That is called Word of Mouth advertising. It can be the best or the worst and it can kill a business no matter how many dollars they spend on advertising. Just do it enough and you're done. What could they do? They could have done this simple thing without even hardly a second thought.

What was really saved here by having this policy? If they can refund $75 per day, they can refund $215. It's not even a matter of can or cannot, it is a matter of will or will not. Rules do not make choices for us, they are meant to make things flow smoothly and efficiently. In this case, the rules are running the business and running it poorly. A better choice makes sense and common sense is a good rule. You might ask yourself, "if this were me on the other side of the counter, how would I be feeling about this?"

Friday, September 5, 2008

An Upward Trend In A Downward Market, Part 5

Let's look at merchandising today. This is one of my favorite topics. It is all about choice and display. I'll give you some examples from an industry I have a lot of experience in.

Many car dealers have acres of vehicles on display, yet their merchandising is generally not very good in my opinion. Think about it. They typical dealer has lines of cars. There you go. That is their main merchandising. They line them up. Nice, crisp lines. All in a row. Very little space between them. They have one message: We have a lot of them--which equals great selection, or at least that is the intended impression. Their secondary message is that they know how to line them up. Then, the typical dealer takes two more merchandising steps: 1. They tie helium balloons on the mirrors and float the balloons up high so you see them. and 2. they put flags or banners on the light poles. That's it. Average price is about $25-30,000 and this is all they do. The hot dog vendor has more merchandising going on than this.

Is this what people see when they come in your store? You have a lot of stuff and you know how to line it up? I hope not, but if so, I suggest some changes.

To me, merchandising is about selective attraction. You have to be selective because the mind has so many things to notice, that you have to draw the mind's attention to something specific, or it does not know what to focus on, so it ignores what it sees or it just becomes background. What that means to me is that you need to merchandise a few things differently than the normal display--make them stand out and draw the eye and mind to it. Grocery stores do it on the ends of the rows and sometimes in other areas so you have to weave in and out and around various displays.

The tendency is to fill up all the space with stuff. The goal is no wasted space. I think this is a common mistake. Think about an ad in a magazine or a newspaper. The ads that really get your attention have a good deal of white space. The space draws your attention to the product or the word or whatever it is they want you to see. Many people feel that they are paying for the space, so we need to fill it up. The mind sees that as confusion and it doesn't know what to focus on. The white space takes away the confusion and then the mind can focus. This same thing applies to your store layout. Don't fill up every space, create white space and use it to draw attention to what you want people to see.

On the car dealer lot, they way to do this is instead of having 10 vehicles in a space, you put 4 and you park them at odd angles that draws your eye, but the thing that really draws your eye to the car is the space between them. This same thing applies to your display cases. Want to sell more of certain things, create this kind of display and the mind will be able to focus on the product you want to sell. The more there is to look at, the worse is your opportunity to make a sale unless they know exactly what they wanted when they came in and they go right to it, buy it and they are out of there.

You can demonstrate that you have a lot by keeping it in the background and showing just a few pieces in the foreground. On the car lot, they can fill up the back row, but leave the front row for more interesting displays. This way, they get the best of both philosophies.

Look at your store and how you think a customer's eyes are going to view all of your merchandise. Where are your eyes drawn. Now go into some other stores and take notes of what draws your eyes and why. Take all of that data and make good use of it in your displays and merchandising.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

An Upward Trend In A Downward Market, Part 4

I was having so much fun with yesterday's post, I just have to continue and have some more fun with the Brownielocks wonderful website tool and using it to create prosperity in our businesses by using them for unusual promotions and events.

So, I'm looking at September on their website for some promotional ideas, although you will have to move quickly, or plan for October. I say, do it now and do it quick, because you need it now, right? Pick one and go with it!

You sell baby items? It is Baby Safety Month. Sell food? It is Go Wild During California Wild Rice Month and also National Rice Month. Have a restaurant? It is National Chicken Month. Sell pianos? It is National Piano Month.

Have a restaurant? It is National Waffle Week (almost over already). Sell books? It is Banned Books Week - Celebrating the Freedom to Read 9-27 through 10-4. Sell office supplies? It is National Love Your Files Week the 21st through the 27th.

Sell candy? You must prepare for International Chocolate Day on the 13th! I'm getting prepared as we speak. And I'm really stoked about National White Chocolate Day on the 22nd. My favorite. Have a deli? Get excited for National Salami Day on the 7th. Have a pet store? Who could forget Responsible Dog Ownership Day on the 20th and Dog Scouts of America on the 26th. Sell gifts? It is Wife Appreciation Day on the 20th and National Good Neighbor Day on the 28th. And, this is one of my most favorite sale days: Talk Like A Pirate Day on the 19th. Ayya Matie!

Whoever said you can't just have so much fun doing business? Of course you can. It can be a blast. You get to choose. Seriousness is no fun. Let's have a ball and make some money too!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Upward Trend In A Downward Market, Part 3

Promotions. The sky is the limit in promotions. Traffic is off and business isn't happening? Have a promotion!

No need to wait for the same old sale periods like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Presidents day, etc. Boring. Have some new promotions. How about Elephant Appreciation Day. Have a Hobbit Day Celebration. Have a Bee Sale for National Honey Month. Maybee they will make a beeline to your door. You could celebrate National Payroll Week (could be your pay), or Line Dance Week. Great time to sell some of those country CD's.

I'm not making these up, I'm taking them from the Brownielocks website. It is just a wealth of fun for promotions. Get attention, create a new sale every week or even every day! They have bizarre, crazy, silly, unknown holidays & observances categorized by month. Need a spike in your sales, click on the month and you're off with a great new idea. Couldn't be easier or more fun. You never have to do those tired old other holiday sales again.

Another thing you can do for promotions is to decorate your store a bit. It doesn't have to cost much or be elaborate, but just some things to blend with your chosen theme for this sale. I worked at a car dealership as a sales manager and decided to have a Western Days Sale just for something different. I 'rented' a truckload of straw bales and put them all over the lot, had the staff dress in Western clothing and off we went. Another time I had a "Cheaper Than Meat" sale and sold cars and trucks by the pound. I took them all across the scales, got their weight and created a sale on each vehicle by the pound. It was great fun to see $4.79 a pound for a vehicle. So, just go have some fun with it and some will work better than others, but you will be doing something rather than Waiting On the World To Change as John Mayer so aptly puts it.

It's still summer, so that is a great time to rent or buy a popcorn machine cart and stick it out front of your store and give away some popcorn! I've done it and though it is a bit corny, it is fun and it brings people over to your store. There is something about the smell of cooking popcorn that is just appealing.

Team up with some stores in your area and combine sales. That could be a lot of fun. Have an offsite sale where you take a portion of your inventory somewhere else and sell it. That is a perfect place to combine with some others and make it a much larger promotion.

There's a zillion things you can do. Let's get doing!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An Upward Trend In A Downward Market, Part 2

You might take a look at the inventory you sell and see how it has done over a period of time. When times are good, sometimes we just keep doing what we've done. Many are experiencing a slowdown and that is a great time to analyze a lot of things. So maybe your inventory has done okay, but there are too many things that sit unsold all the time. You might try concentrating in the areas of the items that do sell more quickly.

Sometimes people try to be to many things to too many people when if there were more of a focus on a few things, you could become a superstar with them. Let me give you some examples. A local music store here has guitars (a decent selection), acoustic and solid body electric, bass guitars, guitar amps, bass amps, pianos, PA equipment, Recording equipment, drums and accessories, music books, outboard effects equipment and much more. It is really hard to do a good job with all that width in inventory in one location with no online sales. This means that there is a lot that goes unsold for a long period. If they chose to specialize more and drop a number of things and not try to be something for everyone, they could have more depth. Depth is far more important than width. If you have enough capital to afford to have width and depth like Lowe's or The Home Depot or The Musician's Friend, that would be fine, but on a much smaller budget, there can be a better return by narrowing the focus of the offerings.

In a music store I had some years ago, I sold a lot of guitars, but I only carried a couple of different brands, but I had a large selection of the different models they offered, so in a town of 50,000 people, I had more depth than the big store in the city of 400,000. It made it easier to deal with inventory and I could target my advertising better as well.

Let's say you had a store that sells music CD's, so you have as wide a selection as you can afford in inventory. You've got Jazz, Rock, Rap, Blues, New Age, Country, Some Spanish titles, some Classic and so on. With the volume of things on the market today, unless you have a huge budget for inventory, you can only have a very thin surface of coverage. Though you have a lot of width, it is not the least bit deep. Think about specializing in one or two types of music and see what you might do with it. Let's just go for Rock for example. You can get some good depth now if all you sold were Rock CD's. Just think how you could market that and how you could really become known for that specialization. The fear of not having what the customer wants is more of a reality with width and no depth, than with depth and no width. This would also make a perfect online store.

Are there some things that you might do with your inventory that you haven't really thought of until now. Maybe you could add a line of used items and create a consignment venue or you give up new and go totally used. The best thing about used items is that every item is unique. The other best thing about used is there tends to be more profit on used than on new.

Back to the local music store. They could specialize in guitars. Take all the dollars tied up in all the rest of the inventory and focus it into guitars. They might even change the name to have guitar in the name. Perhaps they could make that transition a one year goal. They would have a much stronger draw in having the depth that they cannot afford to have now simply by thinking about their inventory in a different way. That was the point of this exercise.

More tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2008

An Upward Trend In A Downward Market

Someone told me this quip a long time ago and it sticks with me and serves me today. It was this: the definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting a different result. It serves me today because every time I think about wanting a different result, I remember that I have to do things differently. I relate this to small business by watching so many do the same things and wanting a different (better) result. It's a problem.

The answer is clear. Do things differently. What does that mean? It can mean a lot of things, but to me it means to look at the things you do all the time and see if you can improve or modify them. Here's some things you might look at. Are you running the same ads you have always run in the same papers in the same place with the same themes? If so, are they producing results and what kind? Maybe they haven't produced tangible results in years. Maybe you just think they work. Or maybe you think that if you aren't in there, everyone will forget you. Mass marketing is a challenge in any market and it is always changing.

I'll give you an example. We suggested to a liquor store that they could use our services in helping them learn to better merchandise their store and market their products. The owner said he couldn't afford it, but we found them spending $2500 per month on a display ad that I doubted could be very effective. I asked if the ads were working. They do not know, because they do not track the ad or what is in the ad. They are just in the paper for being in the paper and they think people are looking at the ad and coming in to buy what is in the ad.

So, we suggested they stop the ads, hire us for the same amount and they would not be spending a penny more than now, but get a much improved result. They declined because they had a commitment to the paper, etc. I find out a couple months later that two months ago when we talked about this and we suggested they stop the ads, they did indeed stop the ads, but were looking to pocket the savings rather than use the money in a different way. So, the manager says that sales are off. He thinks it is the lack of the ad. This is when I find out. So, I ask how much is it off? He says about $2500. I say, you haven't lost anything since you saved that amount in not running the ads that you had no idea whether they worked or not. However, you didn't get the help that could have increased your sales by that amount or more, so maybe it is a $5,000 loss or more from that perspective.

It just depends on how you want to look at it. One thing that makes total sense to me is that if you are going to run an ad, make sure you will know if and how much it is working or not working. You need to track the results. That applies to anything you are doing.

Next item. No website? You think that online thing will go away soon? It's not only not going away, it is going to cell phones and who knows what else. You might as well get your feet wet now. Let's get that going and keep it growing. A website isn't something you do and get done, it is something you build and grow constantly. It becomes and integral part of your business and your marketing. In addition, you can begin becoming an online seller yourself.

Five years ago, I probably spent about $500 a year online. Now I spend many thousands online. I now buy all my shipping supplies for my business online (great service, great pricing, very easy) along with hundreds of books, video, audio and other items. It is way easier than driving downtown and doing that parking thing and then seeing a poor selection, etc.

Having an online presence and possibly an online income will enhance your local business. When you go online you have the world to market to. Don't be afraid. Just get in and get learning. We all have to do it. It's not so hard once you let go of the fear of it. I have shipped thousands of items all over the world. I have had two lost shipments. An extremely small problem. Not worth mentioning. You probably spill that much in your store. Mostly it is fear, so let go of it. The reality is that it is not a problem to sell online--it is exciting!

What else can you change? Inventory? Marketing? Merchandising? Advertising? Promotions? We will take a look at some more tomorrow.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting It Right Step By Step. Ready, Aim, Fire.

Some people say that you need to have it right before you start. Those same people say that you must 'count the cost.' They say that you have to be ready--that you cannot start until you are ready and have all your systems in place. They say that people who don't do these things are like the "Fire, Ready, Aim" folks, when they should be "Ready, Aim, Fire."

I get it. No one really wants to be foolish, do they? But, here's the deal. If I follow this advice, I will never get started. How many of you knowing the realities of retirement, started saving money every month when you were 18 and never touched it and always put more in when you could and always sought out the best advice to grow it? Let me guess. . . none? Why not? It's great advice. It's smart.

When it comes to your business opportunity, I will follow my own intuition. I am happy to listen to advice and learn from others experiences, but ultimately, I will follow my own intuition. I will give it my best shot. But, I still call that "ready, aim, fire." It's just that it is in increments. Today you get started and you are constantly improving every day in every way that you can. That is not "fire, ready, aim." You are being as ready as you can at the moment. You are being the best that you can be at the moment. You are aiming as good as you can at the moment. And, you are executing or firing as good as you can at the moment. Frankly, that is all that can be expected.

Insurance is a good thing. But, if I were 'fully insured' I could not buy anything except insurance. There's life insurance, health insurance, dismemberment insurance, business insurance, liability insurance, auto insurance, identity theft insurance just to name a very few. A case could be presented where I need all of those, but I would not be able to make a house payment. Silliness. I choose what I feel is absolutely needed and go with it and the rest get ignored. Treat your advisers that way. It's okay to listen, weigh the facts, sort the emotions, keep what you want and discard the rest. You have to. It's your business, not theirs.

So feel confident that you are doing the best you can do in pursuit of better. Ignore the naysayers. If people ask you how business is, answer "I'm getting it right step by step!"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Logos Are Important

Logos are important. They help brand your company. They have a good shelf life, yet they will need to be updated at some point. Ford Motor Company has changed their logo a number of times in the last hundred years, but the differences were small. They didn't change the basic concept, it was just freshened up and brought more current. Think how important the Ford logo is to Ford. The same applies with GM, Dodge, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, The Home Depot, and thousands of other companies who use logos effectively. You can see our logo at the top left of the blog. If you are thinking about growing your business beyond a job, a logo can be of real value to you.

Although you can pay many thousands for a logo, you can get a good one very reasonably. Ours cost $299 though a very good company called Logoworks.com. We so highly recommend Logoworks because of their very smooth and speedy process and if you let them, they will come up with some great ideas. They have some higher priced packages which essentially sell more time of going back and forth with concepts and adaptations. We have had a number of logos done through Logoworks including The Nor Cal Ford Truck Club, DelsOutlet.com, Commercial Truck Success, North Bay Truck Body and Upward Trend Management Services. All were done with the same smooth speed and success.

What we see in contacting businesses is people trying to get logos done for almost nothing and having their brother-in-law's friend do it for them, or some even try doing logos themselves. We have seen that generally the results of that are not at all good. Hire some professionals--people who do this for a living. There are a lot of companies that do logos, but one that we know does a great job every time (so far!) is Logoworks.com. They provide the logo in various formats that you can use in advertising, emails, websites and print. Try them and I'm sure you will agree.

Next, use that nice new logo everywhere. Get it out there as a brand for your company. You want people to know who you are when they just see the logo and nothing else. That is how it is with all the big companies I mentioned above and they use that logo on everything.

Logos are important and they are very inexpensive when you consider how many ways it will be used over a long period of time. If you already have a logo, take a real good look at it and see if it needs to be updated. The current Upward Trend logo is an updated version of a logo I had done in 1982. What an improvement! If you do not now have a logo, I recommend that you get one right away and within a week you can be making great use of it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pay Attention To Your Resistance

You might be doing well, things going just fine, or not. Either way, it is a great idea to pay attention to your resistance--your resistance to change, to ideas, to other ways of doing a thing. I'm sure that you are smart and have learned and retained a great deal of knowledge. This world is rapidly changing and sometimes change is a really good thing.

One thing is for sure--things will not stay the same even though you may want them to. So, being open to new ideas, new ways, new thoughts can be very beneficial. Certainly, with even a slightly open mind, you will take on new information and since you are always in control, you can take it, use it or reject it. That's fine. The only point I am wanting to make is to be open to learning more, hearing different ideas especially as it relates to what you are doing in your business. Pay attention to your level of resistance and that will help you see whether you are open or closed.

This might just be a 'guy' thing, but most guys I know sure do like their routines. The more something is routine, the better. It is so easy to develop a routine and even easier to stay in one, but sometimes there is something that will just change your methods dramatically. This is a simple example: with my eBay business, I was so used to printing my shipping labels through eBay and PayPal that I just didn't want to change. I did it this way for about 2 years. Yet, it was very slow and the more I shipped daily, the more that problem glared at me. Finally, I decided to open up to a new and better way and I sought advice. I actually found it through the Post Office and they connected me with a private vendor called Stamps.com. Now instead of two hours, it takes 15 minutes. That is a huge positive change! I was resistant, but then was motivated to let go of the resistance and break through to a better place. I'm very happy with this move, but I am open to better ways as they might come to me.

What is your resistance level about methods in your business? Are you planted in concrete? I think working your plan and remaining flexible to change is an ideal place to be. I would not want anyone to be wishy-washy about what they are doing and where they are going. Focus is good, but so is flexibility. Think like this: a large tree could not get large if it was not flexible, yet it continues to grow because it is flexible.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Best Advice I Have Found

Want the best advice I have ever found? Advice that will change your business for the better, your life for the better? It will change your attitude for the better and it will serve you the rest of your life and your life will continually improve. Are you ready? Here it is in two little words: Be Thankful.

Purposely develop an attitude of gratitude about everything--and I mean everything. I mean every thing that is said, everything that you see and everything that happens around you. Don't leave anything out. Be thankful for it all. Having an attitude of gratitude is something you need to develop, it doesn't just come by itself. It is a decision. Once you decide that you want things to change, and decide to develop the attitude of gratitude, you will become more and more grateful as time passes.

If you're not already there, this idea will have to settle in a bit. I suggest you begin, by trying it on the things that are easy to be grateful for. As you get used to that, start adding in other things that you're maybe not sure you're grateful for and you will start seeing those things in a different light. You might ask, how can I be grateful for this? That will help you get moving toward gratitude for it. In time, and with practice, you can become grateful all day, every day for every thing, event and person.

How will this change your business for the better? When you are grateful, you are open and ready to receive. You will find that you have a whole different attitude about customers, problems, business climates, the news, etc. You will begin seeing--no, you will begin focusing on the possibilities instead of the problems, the light instead of the dark, the way instead of no way, opportunities instead of despair, and abundance rather than lack. You will no longer be controlled by circumstance, but by choice. I tell you that there is nothing more powerful than that. You have the choice. Matter of fact, you have always had the choice and you have always chosen, but now the choice to be grateful is in the forefront of your mind and you realize that you have chosen other responses before. Maybe it was anger, depression, frustration, anxiety. Those need not control you. If they control you, they control your business. Choose gratitude.

This is not a lecture. I am sharing the best advice I have ever found. It is something that I found many years ago, and I continue to read and listen to more about today. And I get better everyday about being more and more grateful. It is a deliberate process. One of my mentors, Jim Rohn said that there is a day that turns your life around. That day for me, was reading a book called Power In Praise by Merlin R Carothers. It is a very short, but very powerful book. Today, I am reading a little each night over and over in John DeMartini's book, The Gratitude Effect. It is also a powerful book and very easy to read. It is great at my bedside because it has a lot of short stories so you can read one every night and it only takes a few minutes. All of John DeMartini's books are focused on gratitude and love. There are many others as well, but these two are very powerful recommendations. Perhaps for you, it will be something different.

How can you be grateful for negative events? Practice. The only thing I can say for sure here is that your reaction to any event, regardless of what it is or how positive or how negative is a choice. The event does not choose for you. Once you get that, and realize that you are in control of what you think about anything. . . well, that is a peace that did not exist before. Try it. You'll get better at it if you don't quit and go back. You will have so much more joy. Start being thankful today for one thing. Then make it two. Then three, and pretty soon, you will realize that you are thankful all day long! It is without a doubt, the best advice I have ever received. Now, I pay that forward to you! Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Customer & Prospect Database, Part 2

Today, I will be continuing the expansion on the topic of the customer database and its importance. I will offer some examples of how you could use the customer database.

Your database will be as valuable as the quality and quantity of information in it. Here's an example. Let's say you are a salesperson at an auto dealership or a manager directing salespeople. Very few (the number is extremely small) auto salespeople follow up more than once with a new owner and if that call is made, it is made within a few days of the sale. You will most likely not get any direct mail pieces from them either. I have a great deal of experience at auto dealerships and buying from them, so I know this to be true. Part of the reason is that people don't usually buy cars but every few years, so there is a good deal of space between opportunities, hence the focus is generally on new prospects rather than past customers.

So, now let's bring in a smart follow up campaign with great database collection. The credit application has a wealth of information to go in your database. You should also try to find out how many children the customer might have and their approximate ages. Now, you will follow up with the customer after a few days and then you will stay in contact with this customer for life about once a month. The least expensive and still effective way to do this is through a nice HTML format email newsletter that is packed with information that would be of value to many different kinds of customers.

In addition, we want to start contacting them in a different way when any of their children are approaching the age of 15 to 16. Depending on the financial condition of the family, they will most likely be helping their children get their first car. After you sell the children, you follow them for life. Contact them by phone periodically to touch base and see how things are going with their car and ask for any referrals they may have for you.

Let's say you're a plumber. You go out and unclog a drain at a customers location. You are observant and you gather some basic information along with the typical name, address, phone numbers, etc. You might even invite them to be on your email list and that you have a great monthly newsletter that has a wealth of plumbing tips for every kind of homeowner. I can tell you this: if you own a home, if you need a plumber once, you will need a plumber twice, three, four times. There may be some space in between, but the need will come up, more so in an older home. I have called a number of different plumbers over the years and have lived in one place for over 23 years, yet not one of those plumbers ever felt the need or desire to communicate with me after the sale. Not one. I think that is amazing. Why not?

How about a music store. There is one in town here and I have purchased many thousands of dollars worth of things over the years including a piano, piano rental, 2 guitars, PA speakers and much more. Not once has there been a follow up attempt. Not once. Don't you think that is amazing? You have a customer who spends thousands and not one phone call, mail piece, nothing. The follow up possibilities are huge here. A monthly email newsletter would be an extremely powerful tool for this business to use. Just think of all the new product announcements, old product closeouts, new shipments arriving, gifts for others, holiday sales can be communicated. But, same old thing: they run a 5"x7" ad in the local paper periodically advertising the same things and at Christmas, they put a picture of Santa or something. Boring. Lame. What about they people who have already been a customer. Missing it. Dollars down the drain. I have also bought many thousands of dollars of musical equipment from other companies! Matter of fact, I rarely visit this store anymore or any store in the area. I go online mostly now. There are many companies who follow up there and the most diligent has been Musicians Friend. I get their emails regularly.

Think about what you sell and how you can create follow up communications with your past customers so you can reap the huge dollar volume of sales that most businesses are missing. Gather as much information about each client as you can and keep it is a good database. You don't need a fancy custom computer, a simple, easy to use off the shelf program will do fine. I recommend ACT which is the most popular customer database program on the market. I have also enjoyed using Maximizer, which I still use today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Customer & Prospect Database

Gathering a database of customers and prospects is one of the most important things that you can do for your business health. If a customer buys anything from you regardless of how small, they are worth following up. A prospect who took a look at your store or services but didn't buy today is worth following up. People like to feel important and for you to follow up with people demonstrates that you care. Of course, we need to be reasonable about the number of contacts in a certain period so that we don't turn our customers and prospects off.

If you have services or products that are purchased several times a year, all the more reason to have a great follow up system in place. The more often someone needs an item or service, the better the communication will be for them. For example, let's say you sell ink cartridges. You would be good to find out how often your customer needs their cartridges replaced on average. Might it be every month, every three months, six months? Whatever it is, the time for you to send an email reminder to them, maybe with a discount coupon, would be a little before the need.

Perhaps you sell clothing. You would be good to send sale emails, or new product arrival emails and such. You could send a thank you for being our customer email with a $10 off your next purchase or something like that. Be creative. There is much you can do.

Many companies are totally focused on marketing to new customers that they want to come in. They do yellow pages advertising, signs, marketing materials, banners, newspaper advertising, radio or TV advertising, etc. They are looking for new customers. Great. That is just one focus of marketing though. Include marketing to your own customers as a high priority, and also market to those who did not buy that you took the time to gather information from. Never forget that even though someone has not purchased from you, that does not stop them from sending friends or associates your way. You might even find after a period of time, that your customer base and prospect base marketing will be the most productive of all.

We encourage businesses to develop their customer database and to begin sending a monthly newsletter at minimum. Sending something every two weeks might be more productive. Use this to announce events, announce sales, announce changes, give valuable information and to thank them again for their business. This is a powerful tool when used consistently. Plan out an approach and sketch out the kinds of announcements and information you might send. Once you finalize the approach, you can begin the process of sending them.

More on the database tomorrow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Old Radio Shack Idea Still Works

I remember from my first visits to Radio Shack in the 70s, and they had a system at the cash register of getting your name and address every time. Then they would set you up for a regular mailing of their sale catalogs. It was a great system except for one thing: every time you went in, they wanted you to fill out another form.

Safeway supermarkets took that a step further and in the 80s came out with the Safeway Club Card. You fill out the form once, then you get a card and if you forget your card, they enter your phone number and there it is and you're in. The enticement is the discounts that only come from the club membership. They scan your card first so the cash register knows you get the club price. It was a bold experiment for a grocery store chain back then, but it is still in operation today and doing very well. In addition, other grocery companies have copied it along with many, many other companies.

Basically we are creating massive follow up opportunities to continue to market to our own customers! What a novel idea! It is just amazing how many businesses do not do this. It sure seems beneficial to every business I can think of. The real bonus in today's market is the email address and being able to market to your customers and follow up with your customers with the click of the mouse and have the cost be next to zero dollars. Direct mail is not cost effective anymore. Matter of fact, in comparison, it is downright expensive.

I took that Radio Shack idea and used it in my first business in 1979 and it was very helpful. This was long before email became a reality, but we sent direct mail flyers and had great success.

Build a database of your clients and prospects that come into your store. Get at least the name and email and more if you can get it smoothly. This will benefit your business in many ways.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 5

It was only a few days ago that I talked about a shopping experience at Staples and Office Max and I mentioned that Staples just opened a brand new store in Fairfield. I talked about how nice it was (of course, it is only a couple weeks new). I also mentioned that Office Max was the only game in town until Staples arrived a few weeks ago and that now things have changed.

The value of competition to the customer is choice. You can be assured they are making one. It is their experiences that will determine their choices. People are emotional creatures, so it isn't going to be logic or even reason that will help them to choose. It will be how they feel about you. That makes it more complicated, but you do have power to help them decide on you.

A few days ago, I was praising my first experience at the new Staples store. Yesterday, I had the opportunity based on some discount cards that I had from each store, to go to each store and make a purchase. The cards expired yesterday, so I had to use them or lose them. It made sense to use them.

I went into Office Max and had a pleasant enough experience. I got what I wanted and looked around a bit and left. All went smoothly. Then I go to Staples. I am trying their copy & printing center for the first time. There is a large guy behind the counter sitting at a computer intensely watching the screen. I walk up to the counter and it was close to 5 minutes before he even looked at me and I was standing in front of him. Then when I told him what I wanted, he gave me a folder and told me to fill it out and that they could have them ready by tomorrow. No problem, I wasn't in need today anyway, it's just that the discount card expired. All the time I'm with him being ignored and then speaking with me, there was no smile. I look up and there are these huge pictures all around the wall in the copy department showing people smiling being helped by Staples people who are smiling. The pictures were silly because of the comparison between them and the real experience. Nonetheless, the employee decides to go ahead and do the job while I wait (although he never stated that, but I could see it by what he was doing). Job is done, he fills out a form and sends me to the cash register up front.

I go up to the main checkout registers and step right up to a smiling young man and present my purchase. He is trying to get it done and the computer is giving him some kind of grief. After several tries, a woman supervisor comes by and the clerk asks her for help. She looks for a second and says that copy purchases can only go through this other register and he would have to move over there. No smile from her, no other comments or help either. I go to the other register and get a new guy. He is working on it but is having trouble also. Finally, he calls the copy guy who guides him through the process. Finally done. I'm out of there.

What is right or wrong with this scenario? The store is beautiful and new, but it is not the store that serves me, it is the people in it. Was I served? Sure, but that isn't what matters. How was I served is what matters. Remember, it is not the logic or reason, it is the emotions. So what would your emotions be like in this scenario? I can tell you that I am having a dramatically different experience than I had just a few days ago. I also interacted with more employees and even a supervisor this time. What do you suppose my emotions are about that? I'm thinking that the employees need some training--not just training in what to do, but in how to do it. What is a much easier task than how. They need to know that each time they are helping to create my experience and my experience will help determine whether and how long they stay in business. They do have competition and that gives me choices. I already stated previously that the Office Max experience was generally going downhill, but yesterday, they shined in comparison. Also, I now habitually go to Office Max and have to think about going to Staples. Where do you think my next purchase will be?

The shopping experience is so important. If you could be invisible and watch the experience of your customers in your store with your employees (or you), how do you think they are feeling? You are probably not the only game in town and that gives customers choices. Where do you think they will choose to go next?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 4

The shopping experience continues after the sale is done. How you handle things that may come up later like questions about the product or service or if there is a problem with the purchase in some way can strengthen the shopping experience or it can damage it severely.

You must want all of your customers to be happy customers and to enjoy their purchase and their experience. You also might think that a customer having a problem would be a negative thing. I think it is a very positive thing. Not that I want to create these situations, but when the customer has a problem, now you have an opportunity to really shine. You can move up the point ladder very quickly if you handle a problem well. Matter of fact, I believe that a customer wants to know how you will handle a problem and by not having one, they cannot know. Once they do and you handle it well, they now develop a certain trust factor they could get no other way. Of course, if it is handled poorly, the trust factor is dramatically lower and possibly nonexistent.

I'll give you some examples. I sell books on eBay and half.com. Most are used books in very good condition. I briefly look over the books prior to listing them to make sure that there is no underlining, notes, torn pages, etc. There isn't time to turn every page, you cannot take that kind of time. I try to describe it accurately. In every book package, I have a note to contact me immediately if there is the slightest problem. My guarantee states: "every sale guaranteed to please--every sale, every time, no exceptions." Once in a while a customer will send me a note that there was underlining or some similar problem. In this case, I immediately refund their money in full prior to answering their email. Then, I look for a replacement in better condition than the one I sold. If that book is still available new, I will check Amazon.com for availability. I order the most appropriate book, pay for expedited shipping, put in the customers shipping information and get it ordered. Then, I contact the customer, apologize for the problem, state that I have refunded their money in full and a replacement book in better (or new) condition is coming to them directly from an associate supplier and I have paid for expedited service. I state that I appreciate their business and trust and hope this solution will be satisfactory. So, how would you feel if you bought this book and had this problem. I move so far up the trust scale when these problems come up, that I create very loyal customers. Yes, I lose money on the transaction, but some of those customers have gone on to buy many hundreds of dollars worth of books from me. It comes back in spades as the saying goes.

Sometimes what you do for a customer may not come back to you through that customer, but through another customer. I really believe that is true. Here's a story about that. I was a sales manager at a Chevrolet, Cadillac dealership. We had a prominent, long time resident and business owner who bought Cadillacs at our store. They were on a trip and had a breakdown in the Monterey area about 130 miles away from home. The wife called me up and explained the problem. She was none too happy about it. I sympathized with their situation. The vehicle had been towed to the local dealer down there, so I hired two drivers, took a late model used Cadillac for them to drive while their car was in the shop. I sent the drivers down to Monterey with a chase car, dropped off the loaner so they could continue their trip. I followed up with the Cadillac dealer down there and when their car was finished, I sent two drivers down again to retrieve their car, brought it back up here and delivered it to the customers, picking up our loaner car.

If you know anything about the car business, you would know that this scenario is so unusual. It just would not happen at most stores. It was really exceptional service to the extreme. There was not even so much as a thank you for all the expense and effort. This lady is just an unhappy person and lets everyone around her know it full well. Nonetheless, the service was given with a good heart. I am confident that it came back to us in many different ways through other people. You just cannot give service like this, whether it is the books or an expensive car and have it come back void. Getting something back should not be the reason you give the service, but I tell you that I believe firmly that it will come back and it will come back in greater quantity and quality than it was given. That is powerful.

Go the extra mile with your customers and it will pay you large dividends. If there is a problem, go out of your way to make it right. Don't think about your costs. They are really insignificant to the value of a happy client--especially one who had a problem and was made happier by having it be handled well. If you think about yourself and your costs, you are not being of service and that attitude will come back to you fully.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 3

The customer is inside the store and has been looking around a bit and now has questions. Will it be easy for them to get someone to answer them?

As they look around at your product displays, will they find things easily? Will they find dust on the products or will they be cleaned daily? Will there be good organization or clutter?

If they needed to use the restroom, would it be clean and presentable? You know, your store could be very nicely displayed and products clean, neat and well organized. You can have an attentive staff that is well trained and knowledgeable. You can be a 10 out of 10. But, when they go to the restroom, will it still be a 10 when they come back out? There is one thing that we have seen time and again, that many businesses just do not think about their bathrooms. The worst are some restaurants. If anything they should be better in restaurants for cleanliness, but frankly, I think they are the worst except for gas stations which are pathetic and actually scary sometimes. The clean bathroom, with soap and with towels in place is a very important thing. Spend some time to make sure it is and you will reap the rewards of this.

Is your staff well trained? Do they know the products that you sell? They should be able to answer almost any question a customer might ask about them. The second thing that we notice at a great number of businesses is poorly trained personnel or people with poor attitudes which is also poor training. Make sure that you know how your employees are doing. Watch them, get feedback on them. Train them well.

How is your store laid out? Is it merchandised well? Do you have a lot of sales tags? Too many is a problem. Do you have the products in sufficient quantity of what you have advertised? Do your displays make sense with the rest of your stores layout? If you are promoting certain things, are they displayed in a way that will get peoples attention? There is a lot of things that people can do with merchandising in their stores. Mix it up a bit for fun and interest. Change is good.

If you have a store where people need more time to look at things make sure and have some seating available. This is especially important for clothing. Make it comfortable for the shopper and their companion. The longer they are in your store, the better for you, so make them as comfortable as you can.

Hopefully your customer is getting to see things that interest them and hopefully find things that they need and some things that they didn't know they needed until they came in because of how you have your displays so nicely done. They are getting all their questions answered fully and they are enjoying the experience of shopping in your store.

Don't forget that check out needs to be a pleasant experience too. In many stores, everything might be good until it comes to the check out process. Ensure that your store bucks that trend and make your check out efficient, speedy and a pleasant experience.

Congratulations! From start to finish, you saw your store from the eyes of the customer and you have designed everything to be attractive, inviting and comfortable. You have pleasant music playing, you've thought about the decor, colors, your displays and your merchandising. You've trained your staff to be effective with every customer and you've ensured the check out process matches all the rest. Awesome job. Your sales are going to reflect your efforts!

The next post in the shopping experience will be after the sale.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 2

Continuing with our mind of the shopper shopping experience, the prospect now enters the store. What will they see when they first enter? How do you think they might feel when they first enter? What thoughts might you think could run through their mind? Will they like the atmosphere? Will they feel comfortable? Will the products be attractively displayed? Will they feel as if they could find things? Is there pleasant music playing? Do the employees have a smile?

I think most customers like to feel comfortable when they come in then they would like to browse a bit (as little as 30 seconds and maybe a few minutes). They are experiencing the store. Let them browse for a short time, but watch them gently and you will know when it is time to approach them and talk with them.

Many will say, "can I help you find something? or, Are you looking for something?" I recommend starting with a thank you instead. "Thank you for coming in to ________ today! Do you have any questions?" or, "We appreciate your visit today, are you looking for something in particular?" This would apply to first time customers and equally well to repeat customers.

The first few minutes will in large part set the stage for how the customer feels about your store. In the first few seconds they are making decisions and are much more observant than you might think.

Since I can't tell you what others feel, let me give you some examples of how I feel going into some common stores. I do a lot of grocery shopping and my favorite grocery store is Raley's. There are three of them, each about 2 miles from my house in different directions. I go to the one in Suisun City the most and I feel very comfortable there. I pretty much know where things are and that adds to the comfort. I've come to know many of the checkers for a number of years and that helps me feel comfortable. The music is pleasant and not too loud and overall it is a good experience. I rarely go to the Raley's on Travis Blvd., because I don't feel comfortable in there. It is the same store, but not the same store. It feels foreign. I go there once in a while because I am over there. The last one is the newest and is on North Texas Street. That one has been recently remodeled and I have to say that they did an awesome job. I do love going into this one, if for no other reason than to browse their fresh fruit and vegetable section. It is the best. They have new 24x24 ceramic tile floors and it is just a great store.

So, then I go into Safeway. They are okay. I have a Safeway Club Card, but I don't go there much. I don't feel comfortable there. The isles are stacked higher and it feels like the isles are narrower and the carts are larger and it is just not pleasant. The music is louder and not as pleasant. They have great deals sometimes, but I would rather pay more and feel comfortable. I have felt that way in every Safeway store I have been in. It is a good store, but not a good one for me.

I like office stores. There is an Office Max here in Fairfield that I have shopped at since it opened. They are the only game in town. It is an okay experience much of the time, and other times it is a horrible experience, but as I said, they are the only game in town. I could have gone 8 miles up the road and visited the Staples store, and I have been in there when I was in Vacaville, but the entrance to the store always looks filthy to me and I don't feel comfortable in the store. I have only been in there probably about 2 or 3 times and have no desire to go there ever again. But, here's how different the same brand stores can be: Staples just opened a store in Fairfield (you have to ask why? But we'll not right now) and they sent out a tube mailer with a gift card for free $25 purchase from their store. Well, that's just like someone handing you $25, so I always have need of office supplies, etc., so I go in there and I am pleasantly surprised. This store is nice and it feels comfortable. They even have carpet on the floor! I feel comfortable enough that I want to browse around and just look at things. What a different experience.

Now, if this Staples store maintains that image and good employees that have a good attitude, I have no doubt at all that the Office Max store will close. The Office Max store is hanging by a thread as far as I'm concerned. When they first opened, they were great, but they have steadily gone downhill in service and product since. The Copy Max section of the store is the worst experience I think I have ever had. There is no way that the Copy Max section could survive a week on their own. Very poorly run. Total mismanagement because the Office Max could be a better store than Staples in my opinion and the Copy Max could do huge volume. I anticipate them closing and that is a sad feeling. They have killed themselves.

Based on what I have said, how long do you think it will be before I do not ever go into the Office Max anymore and go to Staples instead? How are people feeling about walking into your store for the first time? Are they coming back? You have repeat customers, so how do you think they feel? Are they coming in because you're the only game in town?

After you think about all of this relative to your store, you might think of an informal survey with your customers. You could do that on paper, or online. Some stores do this regularly and offer a trinket free for doing the survey. It is important, so find out how people feel about your store. What is their shopping experience with you and your store?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Shopping Experience, Part 1

Today will be the start of a new series called The Shopping Experience. In this series, I want to discuss various topics about a shopping experience from a customers point of view and relate that to what the business can do to make that experience more positive and more productive.

First and most up front is the storefront. Customers will respond favorably to an attractive, clean storefront that is in effect inviting the customer to come in and see more. If you are in a downtown area, go across the street and look at your building. How inviting is it? I know one store where the paint is peeling off the front wall in big chunks, but it is above the awning so they must think people can't see it, but it glares at me. And I wonder, what are they thinking about that? Do they notice? Do they care? Don't they know it makes a difference? Another thing is the concrete or pavement out in front of your store. There is no reason why it cannot be clean even if it does belong to the city.

What about your windows and the displays in them. It would be best if there were attractive displays that would encourage people to come inside and see more. They should also be updated often so that regulars that go by will see a change. I would say at least once a week it should change, maybe even twice a week. Merchandising is great fun when you get into it and your displays are all merchandising. Also, is the glass clean?

Color. Are the colors inviting? How do the colors blend with the environment? With other buildings around my store? Is there more that I can do with color that will make a difference in the way my store looks and appeals to my customers?

I see some stores with weeds growing out front, trash in the parking lot. These are all turn offs for customers. I see that and have zero desire to go inside. I'm not alone in this thinking. Clean up the outside of your store and you will see a difference. People will be more likely to stop in and your sales will rise. It really does matter.

Signage. How's your sign(s)? Are they in good repair, professionally done and well placed? As you look at your store critically, notice anything that is not inviting and deal with it now. Think like a customer and ask yourself, would I go into that store?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It Isn't Slow At The Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento!

My partner and I had a meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento this morning and decided to stop in the Arden Fair mall across the street. I heard they had a Franklin Covey store in there and have always wanted to see one, so we went over to check it out. We had a hard time finding a parking place and had to drive around back to park! Business is booming at the Arden Fair mall it seems. It was a Monday at about 12:15pm--not a Saturday, but a Monday!

There were people everywhere looking and buying. People carrying bags of merchandise. The Apple store was very busy. We were there for just a short time, but there was a good deal of activity. It is a beautiful mall and I can see that once you find a parking place why people want to go there. A lot of great stores, very pleasant atmosphere with the massive skylight system they have.

We hear people complain about slow business, but here is a place that appears to be doing well in the face of it. Bravo! High five to Arden Fair!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Help Your Competitor? Why Not?

Here's a bold idea: Help your competitor! And, they in turn can help you. I've tried this many times and it works very well. I'll explain.

Find one or two competitors just outside of your main area. This really makes them not so much a competitor, but someone who is selling the same things you are, or at least, some of the same things.

It's been my experience that with certain distributors or manufacturers, you can get a better discount or terms with a certain amount of volume. Of course, I always tried to reach the next level because it made a difference in my profits and how flexible I could be with my customers on price. So, I used to work with a dealer selling the same things. We developed a relationship and we discussed this arrangement and since it worked to both of our advantages, we decided to test it. It worked extremely well.

We might place an order this month through his store with both of us ordering a quantity that gets us the discounts we want, next month we might do it through our store so that we keep a strong relationship with the vendor. We get the deal and the product gets split between us in whatever ratio we decided on to begin with.

I used to do this with musical instruments, vitamin products, and I've done it very well with cars and trucks. I did it with trucks mainly in this way: I want some non-standard colors to do some promotions with and it requires an order of 10 to get the paint at a reasonable cost. I would work with my friends in the business and split an order. I used to buy "franchise" guitars from other dealers in this way. They needed to hit a certain volume based on their franchise agreement and I would buy some to help them hit that level. It helped me to have some other products to sell. Distributors always have some kind of deal going on and this is a way to take full advantage of the offering. Sometimes there is a bogey to hit in order to qualify and then the deals start happening. How nice to be able to make that happen so much more easily.

You may think this sounds foolish to be helping my competitor, but the more you think about your "competitor" as a friend, the more they will be a friend. Of course, we are seeking an advantage for ourselves, but in the process, we must give the same advantage to the competitor. Working against a competitor will only work against you. Try it and I think you will find that it works very well. It will change your thinking about competitors.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How Are Your Employees Dressed?

We live in an ever more casually dressed world and this is something that I love. It is also something to be concerned about as a business. How are the people coming into your store feeling about the way your employees are dressed?

I've seen managers of stores that look like they just rolled out of bed while sleeping in their clothes. The unkempt hair look is in, but the wrinkled, slept in look is not in. Getting shirts laundered and pressed is very inexpensive. Matter of fact, where shirts are concerned, I doubt that you can do them for less at home after you consider the water, detergent, electricity, and ironing time and effort. Wash and wear right out of the dryer is a possibility, but rarely works they way it is planned.

As the business owner or manager, you have the opportunity to direct how you want your employees to dress. All you need do is decide how you want them to look and then lead them to do that. Expecting that shirts be pressed is not a large expectation. How your employees look is a reflection on your business. Start a dress code that makes good sense. Guide them and it will pay dividends.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

You Want More Business, But. . .

You want more business coming though the door, but it will require you to change your thinking, your procedures, or your training. That really is the worst of it: But, it will require you to change your thinking, your procedures, or your training. Otherwise it is the old definition of insanity: doing the same things and expecting a different result. Don't we all want that to work!

We put together a email newsletter marketing campaign from start to finish for a company and the owner won't train the staff to get the forms filled out at the cash register. They fill some out some of the time, and they did more in the first week or so, but there is no consistency and very little progress. The fewer the names, the lesser the response. If we want more people to come in and we are putting on events, we need more people to invite to make it more of a success to create more business. Yes. It's not magic, it is step by step efforts toward the goal. The goal is more business.

We would love to come in and just take over for a period and get it all turned around, teach and train the staff ourselves, then turn it back over to them and let it grow. So, the most difficult challenge we face is not having that power or control and trying to get the same results. Partial insanity I suppose. Yet, it would serve the company we are working with and our own company to be able to work together on this kind of project in the way that would produce the desired results. The only way that will happen effectively is to have the full attention of whomever is in charge of the operation. They must see the picture clearly, listen to what needs to be done and allow us to get in there and help them get it done. Makes sense, doesn't it? We know how to bring more business through the door, but we cannot get it done effectively without the best participation of the business.

Think about what you want in your business. Do you want more business? If so, are you willing to allow others to help you get that done? Are you willing to make the changes in thinking, procedures and training? If not, be satisfied with where you are and let it go. If you really do want more business, let's make the changes and get on with the future!

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Rave Week Is Done. It's Your Turn!

This week has been my raving fan week. I've written in the past five days about the United States Post Office, eBay, Stamps.com, Romano's Macaroni Grill and Amazon.com. I can rave about a few more, not many, but I shared some of my favorites this week and why. It was an interesting exercise for me. I talk to others about a company or restaurant but I don't generally get to go into much detail. Since my focus is business success, I am curious what it is that sets one business apart from another even in a highly competitive environment. So, I got to rave about five companies and it felt good. I appreciate them and it made me think even more clearly about that. But, I've raved enough for one week. Now, it's your turn.

What companies do you rave about and why? Take a few minutes and write out what you appreciate about each company and why you are a raving fan. You might even share that with some of those companies as I did this week. Hey, everyone loves to hear compliments and raving fans give good compliments.

The real key to me is why. What do those companies do that is so different or so special in relation to other companies? Why does that make you feel good? Much of it is about great service, so how is that service provided in a way that makes you feel good? I hope you take the time and do a few of them and relate these questions, so that you can take a fresh look at your own business and how you can create raving fans of your own. I have to believe that it will be enlightening and certainly worthy of the time invested. Go rave!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'm A Raving Fan Of Stamps.com

Shipping can be complicated, or it can be easy. In my eBay book business, it used to be complicated. I used to create shipping labels through eBay which then connects you to PayPal, which opens up some other windows and. . . it used to take a long time. Opening all those windows, moving from one program to the next on every label is just silly. To ship 20 items, it used to take close to 1.5 hours. I did this for too long and needed to find a better way. So, I asked at the Post Office and they had someone contact me and discuss my shipping needs. They sent me some information which included some third party vendors. I checked out their offers and decided to go with Stamps.com.

What a monumental decision that was! I could not believe how much time it saved me. I now created labels in about 15 minutes instead of 1.5 hours! Multiply that time savings time 340 days a year. Huge.

Stamps.com has a great offer where you get $25 free postage, an electronic scale and more (see the link on the left of our blog page, or you can go to www.stamps.com. The offer is for real. It's an $80 value. The scale is good up to 5 lbs. I need a bigger scale than this though. Mine goes to 75 lbs. I have the pro service and pay $15.95 a month for the service and if I buy their insurance, they bill me monthly for the insurance fees. For someone who does a good deal of shipping, that is an incredible bargain.

The big companies have automated software and complete shipping departments, so stamps.com makes no sense to them, but for the rest of us, the benefits are great.

  • I print all my own shipping labels with a receipt of the transaction.
  • I use inexpensive labels, so I need no tape.
  • I can print my own postage stamps if I like, including ones with photos of my choice.
  • Their software program is a piece of cake to use. It loads in seconds and I'm in and out in just a few minutes!
  • I buy postage in lumps as I need it.
  • I can save addresses in an address book for those that I ship to often.
  • The labels make me look very professional. (I bought my labels on eBay for a very small amount of money. Be aware that the price varies dramatically!)
  • Anything I can ship through the Post Office, I can print labels in my office. I can even print Express mail postage labels and Priority labels for overseas shipments!
  • Service is excellent when there was a rare occasion to find out.

If you do shipping through the Post Office, consider Stamps.com. You can print the labels and have the Post Office pick up your packages no charge, or just drop them on the counter at the Post Office and you're done. Wonderfully easy, quick and cost effective. Try it and see for yourself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I'm A Raving Fan Of Romano's Macaroni Grill

I'm in a raving fan mood this week! I have a number of favorite places to eat, but at the top of the list is Romano's Macaroni Grill.

It seems that it is impossible to get anything off the mark there. I have tried so many things off the menu just trying new things, returning to old favorites (grilled salmon, twice baked lasagna). The one in Roseville, CA is the one I've frequented the most, but I have tried them in other locations with the same perfect results. I mean, you would think they would miss the mark somewhere in about 35 trips, but they have not even skipped a beat. Sheer perfection in every case. Absolutely delicious, great presentation, good timing, good service, nice atmosphere, comfortable seating. It is just all good. I have referred tons of people to the Macaroni Grill and I haven't heard anything but the same kind of experiences.

The bread they serve at the beginning is out of this world good. We never fail to finish the loaf and sometimes even get more. Dip that in the olive oil and my goodness, you could make that your meal. Then you have to save room for one of the best deserts on the planet: Smothered Chocolate Cake. I have even gone just for the Chocolate Cake. It is just scrumptious! Of course their pasta dishes are well known, but their pizza is great too. I love the BBQ Chicken pizza.

So what is this experience all about? I think it is a well stocked menu. Everything I have tried is just wonderful. It is an inviting front portion with the bread and the comfort. It is the atmosphere, pleasant, not dark, but soft lighting. It is seeing the kitchen cooking things one at a time right in front of your eyes. It is the well trained servers that take very good care of you. It is the consistency of the experience. Thirty-Five times for me and I tell you that it is as consistent as it can be to me. I haven't even mentioned price. Price is another great aspect. The pricing is what I would call extremely reasonable. When I leave, I am happy to have paid the bill. Many other places, I don't feel so good about that. My one complaint (which is not really a complaint at all) is that there are not enough of them around. I have to drive a piece to get to one, but I have no problem doing that as you might imagine.

How can we give our customers that kind of experience over and over again? How can we develop some raving fans who would write a piece like this--or even, just tell anyone who might listen? Is it possible to have a plan this good?