The National Retail Federation “Give them a cookie” tax

grocerystore.jpgUnbelievable.

I received my DM News (Direct Marketing News) this week and right on the front page, above the fold, is a story about the National Retail Federation board of directors lobbying government officials to “provide a relief package for retailers”.

Eh? Why in the world would retailers need their own relief package?

Regardless of the why, DM News reports that at the NRF’s recent NYC convention, they voted unanimously to petition the government “emphasizing that consumer spending represents 70% of the economy and calling on lawmakers to act quickly”.

I guess taking responsibility for your own success is just out of fashion these days. I wonder what would have happened if they had spent that convention time actually trying to do things to help member retailers to be more successful REGARDLESS of the current economy.

NRF, rather than distracting Congress with your lobbying for retailers at a time when they just might have something more important to ponder (doesn’t mean they will, but I digress), another thought might be:

  • Provide large retailers with a mental “kick in the shorts” and remind them that they already have the management experience and strategic tools needed to position them to not only survive the “upcoming recession“, but to come out of it a stronger company. Do Target, Wal-Mart and Costco really need every American to get another government check to figure this out? They’ve seen it all before.
  • Provide small retailers with a simple, achievable list of strategies for thriving, not just surviving, in times where retail sales might be down.

Those strategies might include:

Fix your advertising: Alter your advertising enough to be able to see which ads work and which ones don’t. Use only those advertising methods that you can track. Track every ad. Take action on the results of that tracking, ie: cull the loser ads and the loser media. The newspaper, radio and TV ad people are not your friends, they are selling tools to help you improve your business. If they work, keep using them. If they don’t, tell them they aren’t delivering and move on.

Fix your customer service: Rather than spend a month identifying every touch (or having me do it), look at the 5 most frequent customer contact points. Fix them, improve them, polish them.

Fix your customer retention: Get a newsletter going. Start with print, add email next month or next week. If you don’t have customer contact info, then fix that starting today. Put a process in place to collect it. Give your clientèle a valid reason to provide it to you, don’t just say “gimme your stuff”. No one else in your market is doing these things. Even if you start doing it, they won’t emulate your tactics because they don’t get it. They’ll look at the minuscule cost and blow it off. You will look at the improvement in customer retention and repeat customer transactions, and wonder why you didn’t do it before now.

Fix your positioning: Look at everything you do. It defines who you are. Do people really know what you do, what you sell, how qualified you are to provide that service? Do they have a pile of real testimonials available to them to reinforce what you say, but in other people’s words? What have you done to put your business in the position to be the first one people mention when someone asks them for something you do or sell? Do more.

Fix your sales processes: Almost every business has holes in its sales processes. Some are manual. Some are process-driven. Some are personality-related. Some are simple advertising problems. Train your sales staff regularly (that doesn’t mean annually). Reward great performance and provide the tools and training necessary to help each member of your sales team improve their results.

Remove the box stores from the equation: Look, Wal-Mart isn’t going away any time soon, and you aren’t going to beat them on price. Add more upscale product lines. Add more upscale services. Beat them on the things that you can beat them on and keep looking for more. Service. Customization. Installation. Personal Touch. There’s a reason why I hound you about these things regularly…it’s because they are effective.

Of course, none of this addresses the real issue with the idea to give everyone a big check and ask them to go shopping in order to save the economy. The real issue, while mostly outside the scope of this blog, is the debt load that is crushing many Americans, much less our government.

The NRF and Congress seem to think it’s easier to just give everyone a cookie, pat them on the head and tell them it’ll be OK. Small businesses just need to take care of business using the strategies we talk about every day. You don’t need a cookie.