Wal-Mart bails out of Hamilton, won’t build SuperCenter

According to a story in this week’s Bitterroot Star, Wal-Mart has withdrawn their SuperCenter project in Hamilton.

Per the Greg Lemon story, company officials indicated that pulling out of Hamilton was due to a company-wide restructuring and slowdown of Wal-Mart SuperCenter expansion plans.

“We’re just taking a step back and kind of withdrawing for now.” – Wal-Mart spokesman, Josh Phair

Perhaps they’ll be back, perhaps not.

Regardless of what Wal-Mart does, it’s clear that Hamilton-area retailers have a little more time to make their businesses…personal. Let’s see what they do with it.

Wal-Mart Nation: Is anxiety over box stores taking over your life?

Brian Clark over at Copyblogger called out bloggers today, asking them to take a headline from the metrosexual magazine “Details” and rewrite it (along with a blog post) for something that works on your blog.

He did this not long ago with Cosmopolitan headlines, and that was fruitful for anyone who writes their own blog, ad copy, etc.

I chose “Worry Nation: Is anxiety taking over your life?” and rewrote it to the subject you see above re: Wal-Mart.

Worrying about box stores is like worrying about that giant meteorite that is going to strike the Earth someday. There’s not a damned thing you can do about either one.

If you are a small business owner in a town that is expecting to get a new box store, DO NOT waste your valuable time, energy and brain cells doing anything other than working to position your business to take advantage of the new store.

For example, if you are a small retailer in Hamilton MT dreading the incoming Wal-Mart Superstore groundbreaking this summer, fighting it is most likely fruitless given the zoning situation in Montana.

Instead, use all that hand-wringing, forehead-wrinkling, can’t-sleep-at-night energy to figure out what products to pitch, what products to upgrade (Wal-Mart doesn’t do premium, remember?) and how to make sure that their arrival is a boon to your business.

Having a Wal-Mart next to your store is like having an inbound link from WSJ.com. Traffic, baby. Is it possible for you to move your store into the most advantageous place next to the new Wal-Mart? Or is it better to open a new location in addition to your current one on the main shopping district?

Let Wal-Mart have the price shoppers. Let everyone else worry about them. Spend your time being strategic, planning BEFORE they arrive and take advantage of every possible bit of publicity to draw attention (and buyers) to your store.

Why you should “re-open” your retail store or service business

Outside of Montana, the box store hand-wringing went on a decade or 2 ago.

In some communities here in Montana, the box store / franchise explosion is hitting its stride. In Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls and Missoula, it’s old news, while “sleepy rural communities” like Hamilton, Havre and Miles City are now getting their turn.

But your new competitors aren’t always the big box stores, discounters, Wal-Mart and franchises like Starbucks. Sometimes they come from unexpected places.

Like 10 “new kids” moving to town with a financial backer.

Continue reading Why you should “re-open” your retail store or service business

Tom Peters, Geeks, Women and WalMart

Hey, I promised Id get back to WallyWorld and Hamilton. And yes, I know its about time, but before I step back into the step by step system we’ve been discussing, I wanted to go over a list that Tom Peters put together on this same topic.

Over at http://www.tompeters.com/entries.php?note=007977.php, Tom talks about what he things the small business has to do to compete with WalMart.

Tom says his “WallopWalmart16” list is focused on “eating the big guy’s lunch”. Seems to me that none of us are necessarily going to run WalMart, Target, HomeDepot, Lowe’s or Costco out of town, which is what I would call eating their lunch – but that really isn’t the point.

One of your goals should be to regularly and systematically identify and carve off pieces of their business that they simply don’t pay enough attention to. Yeah, a niche.

Tom notes that you have to be in a niche, never attack them head-on (which in most cases means price), repeats the don’t compete on price thing and offers a few other tidbits are worth listening to. As you might expect, he refers to “In Pursuit of Excellence” by closing with the advice that you have to win these clients away one experience and one thrilled customer at a time.

In my experience, the two gems in there that seems to be missed by so many businesses are “Sophisticated use of information technology” and “Focus on Women-as-clients”.

Sophisticated use of information technology means a little more than “buy cool new computers”. It means keeping track of things that most businesses don’t capture, much less measure, monitor and use when making business decisions. For example, I’ll bet if I asked you to produce a set of mailing labels for your top 25 clients, based on lifetime sales, you couldn’t do it in less than 5 minutes. If I asked you to tell me which of your clients are “overdue” for a visit based on their historical purchases, could you produce this list? If you can answer those questions, then you know things about your clients that enable you to make wiser choices about your marketing. You know WHEN to follow up on each customer. Do you think Walmart knows when you havent been in the store for 45 days and your average is every 22 days? Depending on what you use to pay for your purchases, they probably know. The difference is…they wont do anything about it (yet).

What are you doing with your systems? What are you measuring? How are you using that information?

In the 1950’s, women make 80% or more of the purchases for the home. Since then, women have been (mostly) emancipated, have broken through tons of barriers and are climbing corporate ladders and experiencing entrepreneurial success everywhere. And guess what…they still make 80% of the purchases.

Despite this, few retail or service businesses do anything about it. Their store, their marketing, their follow up systems..none of that takes the “woman factor” into consideration. Certainly, there are businesses whose clientele is not primarily women, but there are still ways those businesses can cater differently to the women they do serve – and lock those ladies in as a lifetime customer.

What are you doing to make doing business with you easier and more pleasant for clients who are women?

Seeking a pulse at The Daily Interlake

The phone rings and I just cant believe it. More on that in a moment.

Every time I see fellow GKIC member and newspaper industry wizard Jim Hart, he has another amazing story about the incompetence of the newspaper industry. If your newspaper is struggling, open your wallet and talk to this guy.

Thing is, I dont even have to go out of town and visit with Jim to hear these stories. I get em right here at home. Makes me crazy. This really isnt that difficult, but I digress.

http://www.dailyinterlake.com is our local daily newspaper. They cover the Flathead Valley in Montana.

Delivery is another matter.

I have attempted to subscribe to the Daily Interlake no less than 5 different times, probably more. Every single time, they struggle to get a paper to me. They refuse to deliver Sunday only. Even when I subscribe daily, the papers don’t show up consistently, or consistently before I leave for my office (which is usually after taking the kids to school), or they stop the paper delivery on their own because I’m out of town for a week, yet they never start it again. Or call.

BUT the most insane thing of all for me, the geek, is that their circulation department’s telemarketing group apparently has no access to the newspaper’s circulation database. If they did, they wouldn’t need to call active subscribers to ask them if they want to subscribe (again?). Yet, they keep doing it.

Worse yet, they’re paying a telemarketer to make the calls, so there’s real money involved by not having this data available to the marketing folks.

Clueless.

I should note that I used to get almost a dozen small town papers from all over the Rockies. Salida CO, Jackson Hole WY, Pinedale WY, Lander WY. These days, I still get papers from Columbia Falls MT, Hamilton MT, Fort Benton MT, and Plains MT. NONE of them have these problems. In fact, I cant remember a goof from any of them. Good job to those guys.

PS: Work on the website, please. Even if I have to pay for access. In fact, make me feel like its worth paying for. Till then, I’ll get my Interlake at City Brew or Coffee Traders.

Hamilton and Walmart – Back on the rails

Sorry folks, been inundated with business this month and unfortunately, the blog has suffered as a result. I’m back in the saddle, so lets get back at helping Hamilton get it together before opening day.

Not long ago, I added a step or 2 to the Hamilton retailers vs Walmart preparation effort. Lets get this down to a cookbook so anyone can follow it – including me:)

Ingredients:

  • Your roughed-out USP
  • 1 large pile of index cards
  • Something to write with.

So far, we’ve talked about your USP, then we covered a few ways to get started figuring out what your USP is. Don’t feel bad if you havent gotten this nailed down yet. The next couple of steps will help you fine tune it.

As I noted in the original list, lets walk around your store. Think hard about everything you carry and why. Write em down. Dont pretend you can memorize everything, WRITE IT DOWN. We used this trick in the USP workshop, so lets use it again here. 1 product or service per index card (no, I don’t have stock in the index card industry). If you’re really stubborn, you can use a yellow pad, but I think you’ll regret it eventually.
We’re doing this for a number of reasons. We need a list and we need it on a media that allows for brainstorming (the cards). Each card can become your little niche market analysis, ready to study after you get back from the Missoula WalMart SuperCenter research trip.

Drive to Missoula and visit the SuperCenter there. It might even be worth visiting both stores. DONT take the yellow pad or index cards into the store. Find the products in the SuperCenter that Bentonville is going to give you a pounding on. Hint: TheyĆ¢??re the ones with the retail price tags less than your wholesale cost, for starters. Make a mental note (mental notes keep you from getting booted out of the store for taking product notes). If you have to go back and forth to the car 20 times to update your notes, do it and get over it. Youll never remember all the details.

Drive back to Hamilton. Use the time to think about the products that you offer that compete directly with them. And be proud of yourself for not letting Walmart happen to you, but instead taking control of the situation. Im not kidding.

Sit down and go over each card. Toss your emotion out the door. I’m sorry, I don’t think too many people are going to care if your family has sold light bulbs for the last 100 years. WMT is going to toast you in that department. As you do this, keep your notes from the Miles City meetings close by. Learn from their mistakes, their successes and what is actually going on there.

That emotion thing is huge. You have got to get the mental blocks out of your head and stomp them. Your thought process has to be all business. Remember, WMT is coming in all business. They don’t care that you’ve sold light bulbs, inexpensive bikes, camping gear, beef jerky, Kudo bars, and toilet paper for 100 years. They have as much right to the market as you – this exercise is what allows you to create an apples to oranges comparison that they CANT win. Dont get me wrong. You aren’t going to put them out of business, and if you work smart – you aren’t going to let them do the same to you.

At the same time, the emotion of the customers in your line of business is critical. Price shoppers arent typically loyal customers. They shop price and little else. You want higher end, rabid customers who could easily sell the products in your store – because they are really into them.

How does this apply to Hamilton v. WalMart? Remember, just because your business has sold inexpensive bikes for 100 years doesnt mean you have to get out of the bike business. WalMart doesn’t carry $900 bikes. You can – and still do what you love doing – just a little differently (and better).

Next time, we start hammering away at the products and services cards you put together on your trip to the Missoula SuperCenter. We’re going to find your $900 bike.

Hamilton MT v. WalMart, step 2 (continued)

Last time, we talked about your USP. I’ll assume you’ve gotten that worked out and that you have already fine tuned it, or will soon. Still, I want to talk about that topic a bit more, because its important.
I’d like to hear a few, and would be happy to comment on them. I should have mentioned my company’s USP yesterday, during the examples – not because it’s as good as the Domino’s or Fedex USP, but because it makes silent suggestions to the prospective client – something your USP should do as well.

My company‘s USP is “More clients. More productivity. More profit. GUARANTEED.”

I worked on it for a good while, because I wanted something short, memorable, believable and achievable.

Let’s dissect it.

“More clients.” – Almost every business wants more clients. Some may not be able to handle them as well as they think, but they still want them. Youll notice that I didnt say “More sales and bigger sales from your clients”. There’s a reason for this. While I believe it is far easier to raise profits by selling more to your existing clients (and increasing the transaction size), that is not typically on the radar of most small businesses. I have to put it on the radar once I start working for them. “More clients” speaks to the prospect about the marketing aspect of what we do for businesses. The Trusted Advisor program, “Ready4You” products like printed newsletters, Royalty Rewards and so on.

“More productivity.” – Every business wants to waste less time and produce its products or deliver its services more efficiently. This piece of our USP takes a complex mix of services and boils them down to 2 words. The mix includes technology, workflow, paper shuffling and for the lack of a better word – the integration of information technology (ie: computers) and industrial engineering (making processes more efficient and more consistent). Try getting that last sentence into a USP:)

“More profit.” – Every business wants to become more profitable. More clients and more productivity CAN be instrumental to that, but they are not an assurance of it. This speaks to the devil’s advocate in all of us. “Yeah, he may be able to do a bunch of geek stuff, or market us and so on, but if we dont make more money, who cares”. Well, I do. And the next portion of the USP is why I have to care.

“GUARANTEED.” – One thing Dan Kennedy pounds into us is that if we cant guarantee our work, we need to be doing something else, because our work isn’t good enough. I really cant agree with that more. If I dont know enough about what I’m doing to feel that I can guarantee my work, then you should probably find someone else to do it, don’t you think? One of the tasks your marketing message must convey is that you have eliminated the risk of trying your products or services. A “no weasel clause” guarantee is a great way to differentiate your business from everyone else. The no weasel part is critical. Asking for an explanation in order to get a refund is fine – but you must accept ANY explanation. The explanation is the value that you get for the refund – it tells you what you screwed up (hopefully).

What’s your USP?

Hamilton MT v. WalMart, step 2

In the 7 step process I described earlier, I intentionally left a few things out – primarily because the post would have been a book otherwise. Well, the good news is that we’re going to do one of those “missing” things right now.
Next – You need to do some work on your USP. USP is an abbreviation for “unique selling proposition”. You’ll find other definitions, but we’re all talking about the same thing, your biggest “Reason Why”.
Dont mistake your USP for a mission statement so long that no one ever remembers it (useless). They arent the same thing.

A USP serves as the answer to this question:

“Why should I choose your business, product and/or service, rather than any/every other available option available to me?”

Before you put some thought into that, let me give you a couple of classic USP examples:
“Fresh, hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed”

“When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”

Im sure you know who both of these belong to, but just in case, its Domino’s Pizza and Federal Express (Fedex).

While I dont expect you to come up with something as good as these, I challenge you to try.

Now think for a moment (or an hour…):

Why should I visit your business and purchase products and services from you, instead of every other competitor I can think of?

Dont give me some weak effort like “Our service is the best”. Everyone THINKS their service is the best. You know better.
Make me drive across town, passing 5 of your competitors just to do business with you.

Give me a reason that will get me off the couch and out the door on Super Bowl Sunday, 4th quarter, in the middle of an ice storm.

Make it clear to me why I HAVE to do business with you, and no one else. Then we’ll come back to the next step.

PS: This is NOT busy work. Mess this up and your marketing is sailing without a rudder.

Hamilton retailers v. WalMart, step 1

Rule number 1 – Thinking you are going to beat WalMart on price is about as stupid as sending your daughter on a date with Mike Tyson. Get that out of your head, if by some wild notion it was in there. Thinking that you can muddle along doing the same things 2 years from now that you do now? Not gonna happen. Hamilton retailers, your mindset has to change.

It really doesnt matter what you are doing right now – if you are a Hamilton retailer, your business is likely going to change. When it happens and why it happens is. What matters is what you do with the time between now and opening day. Ive been watching the Bitterroot Star for months and its been mighty quiet about the date, or guesses at the date.

First off, I would suggest contacting the Miles City Chamber of Commerce and ask them for the names of a few retailers who they feel have reacted successfully to the SuperCenter that opened in Miles City in October 2006. When you get the names, call them up and pick their brain. What did they do, step by step, from the time the announcement came until the store opened?

What have they changed since October’s opening?

What worked? What didnt?

If the people you get in touch with really get it, and are experiencing successes that you want to duplicate – fly them to Hamilton (yeah, I know, Billings to Missoula) and ask them to speak at a meeting of Hamilton retailers.

Its critical to understand that this is NOT a networking meeting. Likewise, it is not a whine, complain and wring-your-hands session.

It MUST be a practical, nuts and bolts, “what did you do, how can we adapt that to Hamilton?” session. I would suggest recording it, with questions going to microphones so that the questions and answers are available when notes fail you.

Step 2, coming next time…

Hamilton gets the gift that keeps on taking.

One of my favorite towns in Montana is getting a Walmart SuperCenter.

Hamilton Montana, about 4 hrs south of me. This is a place with one of the best Main Street business districts in the state, a really vibrant downtown with most of its original architecture, a river with excellent fly fishing, killer mountain views and a nearby ski mountain, among other things.

No, Im not one of those anti-Walmart people. However, it will be disappointing if the town’s merchants dont stay focused on the task at hand and work on staying open rather than just giving up.

Certainly, some businesses will likely struggle to deal with WMT’s arrival. The unimaginative. The ones that directly compete – and keep trying to despite the obvious need not to. The ones that give up before the SuperCenter doors open because “they couldnt possibly survive”, at least in their mind. The smart ones wont give that a second thought.

I’m hoping they use the construction period to fine tune their businesses, get in touch with their clients and do the things they should have been doing all along to take care of (and attract) their clients. I suspect that isnt what many of them will do. Many of them will wring their hands, something else equally ineffective.

Here’s what I think they should be doing…

Step 1
Walk around your own store. Think hard about everything you carry and why. Write em down on a yellow pad. Dont pretend you can memorize everything, WRITE IT DOWN.

Step 2
Drive to Missoula and visit the nearest SuperCenter there. DONT take the yellow pad with your product list into the store. Find the products in the SuperCenter that Bentonville is going to give you a pounding on. Hint: They’re the ones with the retail price tags less than your wholesale cost, for starters. Make a mental note (mental notes keep you from getting booted out of the store for taking product notes). If you have to go back and forth to the car 20 times to update your notes, do it and get over it. Youll never remember all the details.

Step 3
Drive back to Hamilton. Use the time to think about the products that you offer that compete directly with them. And be proud of yourself for not letting Walmart happen to you, but instead taking control of the situation. Im not kidding.

Step 4
You really cant compete product for product with them, so you need to consider accompanying services, upscale versions of the same products, substantially higher levels of service than you likely offer today (hopefully not, but likely so).
Mark a note next to each product on your list as you assign them into these categories:

“D” – Directly compete – no upsell
These are products that WMT sells and there isnt an upscale version of the product (and you are POSITIVE of that). Likewise, there is little chance of upselling, both on service or an upscale version of the product itself.
“C” – Competes, upsell or service possible
These are products that you have some leeway on. Example: A lawnmower brand and model that WMT sells that you also sell. Goal: to find a high end model of the same brand that WMT doesnt carry. Your goal – separate yourself from the price-sensitive client.

“N” – Not carried by Walmart
These are products that they dont carry, typically because they are for a specialized market, higher end items or something that WMT just doesnt carry. Dont assume they’ll never carry them.

Step 5
Start collecting the full contact information of your clients. Its time to start communicating with them on a regular basis. You have until construction is over to work on improving the relationship, working your story and making them feel like an integral part of your business.

Step 6
Ask them for their birthday month. You dont need the day or the year, and this helps you get around the privacy concerns that people legitimately have. Do the same for anniversary, if they are married.

Step 7
If you get emails, put them on an email newsletter.

If you get mailing addresses, put them on the mailing list for your monthly print newsletter – even if they are on the email newsletter list. DO NOT make the mistake of just sending one or the other.

If you get phone numbers, consider using pre-recorded messages and outbound automated calls (but you have to do this RIGHT) to improve your communications, notify your customers of sales, events and completed services (“Your mower is ready to pickup”). DO NOT get into the mindset of “No one else here does this, so I cant/shouldnt”, “This wont work for MY business” and similar things. I can assure you, if you do what everyone else in Hamilton does in reaction to the new Walmart, you’ll be doing something else in a few years – if not sooner.

Thats a start. We can make this more complex, but right now, there’s no point it making this more difficult than it is.

There’s a goal to each of the steps above. DONT skip one.
More on this subject in the future. Get started TODAY.