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After The Honeymoon

Recently, I stopped into a niche retail business for the very first time.

They’ve done a nice job with it. Haven’t been open long, so some of the obvious things I’d suggest to make the place a real customer magnet weren’t in place yet.

I have a feeling they might get there, but time will tell.

What worries me most about my visit is that they did nothing to see that I’d return…

  • I wasn’t asked how I’d be using their product – and it’s a natural question for them, not a nosy none-of-your-business one.
  • I wasn’t offered any additional information showing all the other items they make.
  • I wasn’t asked to check out their Facebook page, which will someday hopefully be full of ways to use their product.
  • There was nothing letting me know that another business in town uses their product, so that if I really loved it I could go there too.
  • There was nothing in the store or on the products that included their website address on it – including the receipt or the label on the product.
  • I wasn’t asked if I’d like to be notified when they make special stuff. Doesn’t matter whether that notification happens by phone, text message, Facebook, email list or even a printed newsletter, just notify me.
  • I wasn’t asked to let them know how I liked their stuff by going to their site or Facebook page (which also doesn’t encourage this) or heaven forbid, filling out a self-addressed postcard or picking up the phone.
  • I wasn’t given a coupon or “send-a-friend” promotion so that I could tell my friends about them if I liked their stuff (that’s also what the Facebook Like button is for).

Doing ALL of this might be a bit pushy. Doing NONE of this is a big mistake.

Look, I know they are a new place and some of this takes time to get going.

You may even think I’m being hard on them, but I’m nowhere near as hard on them as the market will be.

No Second Chances

Re-elected politicians get second chances. Folks who make mistakes, like Michael Vick and Martha Stewart, get second chances.

Businesses are rarely granted that luxury.

You have to take advantage of the “honeymoon of newly open”.

During your honeymoon, people will…

  • Visit your store even if they don’t need what you sell.
  • Tell their friends that they visited, even when they might not normally do so.
  • Click “Like” in Facebook just to give you a little push, when they might not ever use that button.
  • Cut you some slack for mistakes like untrained staff and other stuff that happens when you’re still trying to get all the kinks out.

When you operate a niche business, not every one is going to decide to be your customer. Those who do more or less raise their hands and say “me, me, me!”

When they do that, your job is to make sure to remind them to come back regularly, not just when they remember to return. Leave it to them to return at random and you might not see them for months.

Make the honeymoon last forever

Customers are hard to replace, even in a good economy. It’s particularly difficult to go out and find 100 new customers tomorrow because revenues are tight.

It’s a lot easier (and smarter) to earn just one new customer a week, keep it up year after year, and do whatever it takes keep most of them.

So let’s go over this again.

  • You love whatever you do so much that you quit your job to do it. That’s great.
  • You spent most of what’s left of your liquid retirement money to fund the business.
  • It cost more than you thought it would to get going, so you borrowed from your in-laws, your family and friends.

After doing all that, please don’t tell me you’re going to ignore the very people who said “me,me,me” by letting them walk out the door as if they walked into a box store.

Keep that up and you’ll be back at your old job in no time – if you can get it back.

You didn’t like that job anyway, so please do these things for yourself and your business.

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Facebook you…because?

As I drive around the area, I see lots of businesses who are trying to reap the potential rewards of local marketing on Facebook.

One sign: they have “Facebook us” or “Find us on Facebook” or similar on their roadside signs.

The idea is for you to click the “Like” button or become a fan of their business on Facebook, which will appear in your Facebook feed.

Because it appears in your Facebook feed, friends will see it as well and presumably some of them will check it out.

And that’s where it ends for many businesses. One time.

The smart ones talk with their fans/clients regularly via Facebook, even if they have a blog or other web presence.

People made the effort to friend, like or become a fan on Facebook.

What are you doing on Facebook to keep them paying attention?

Attention span

What are you doing to stand out amid the ever-present flood of game-related posts, surveys and other stuff on Facebook (note: you can hide that stuff without hiding the friend by clicking on the X at the right side of items of the type you don’t want to see – something you may want to share with your friends).

Does your restaurant have a Facebook fan special? A night where fans of the restaurant all get together IN PERSON (how’s that for frightening?)

Do you communicate daily or weekly with your fans to let them know what you’re up to? I don’t mean unnecessarily, but in cases where it makes sense.

Morning Glory Coffee and Tea in West Yellowstone, Montana does a great job of this and should give you some ideas, even if you don’t run a restaurant.

Ideas

What are people unaware of about your business? What knowledge would you like new (or existing) customers to know / have immediate access to?

What would they ask you in casual conversation about your business? What reason would people have to continue to visit your Facebook fan page?

Do some thinking about it – and act on it.

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Grow for your customers

Recently, we were talking about making it easy to buy a TV, but this stuff isn’t just about TVs.

Merchandising is both an art and a science.

Big business invests millions studying it and testing what works and what doesn’t. You should pay attention to it as well to the extent that you can.

The goal is still to make it easy to buy.

Is your grocery like every other one that created high-margin convenience stores by putting ALL of your milk at the back of the store?

Sure, that ploy works. If it works that well, why not move the checkout stands to the back of the store? Or make people move through your store like a Disney ride – by exiting through a maze of “Mommmmmmyyyyyy, can I have that?” impulse items?

Or do you keep a small milk chiller near the front of your store like Stew Leonard‘s store does?

These days, even the convenience stores have the milk at the back of the store. While we chase that rabbit, ever wonder why liquor stores don’t carry milk and bread? I suspect some do, I just don’t recall seeing one.

Grow (and think) beyond your needs and wants. Serve your customers like no one else.

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Box stores Buy Local Competition Customer service Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Retail Sales Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Remember The Simple Things

Jeffrey Gitomer* sums up a lot of understanding of people, sales, psychology and more when he says “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.

Do you make it easy for them to buy?

Really? Let’s talk about it.

Beyond impulse

Are the things you sell displayed in a manner that will make it easy for your customers to select exactly what’s best for them?

Or…are they displayed in a manner that maximizes how many things you can get on the shelf?

The question is prompted by the recent untimely and tragic death of our old TV**. I recently had the (ahem) “luxury” of shopping for a replacement HDTV after our old one finally gave up the ghost.

I had a budget in mind, so after a little browsing on the net to see what was new, what features and standards were must have (and which ones were not), my youngest son and I caroused around town to the usual suspects (minus one that was closed) to find a new box.

The brands and models were pretty much the same from store to store, for the most part.

But something was different

What differed – radically so – was the presentation.

Two examples of the several we visited:

Store A

  • Had units scattered about in no particular order. It’s possible they were grouped very roughly by price.
  • Their display was moderately helpful for a standing customer (no seats) because half of the sets were more or less just below eye level. The rest were barely off the floor, which didn’t show off those models well.
  • Their pricey 3D sets were presented well, in a manufacturer-provided display with goggles.
  • Their sets displayed the same picture on most sets so you could compare. It was a mix of sports and scenic shots and “regular” stuff.

Store B

  • Had sets jammed so close together and displayed at differing angles above, at and well below eye level (again, no seats). The first thing I thought of was the clothing stores with racks and aisles packed so tightly that you can’t walk between the racks. They didn’t have their sets displayed in a manner that was designed to encourage you to take the time to browse, evaluate and buy. If you knew what you wanted and they had that item in stock, no problem.
  • Had models scattered all over the store with no rhyme or reason. Not grouped by size, price, features, manufacturer or any other sensible criteria. They were clearly just shoved where they’d fit, making it almost impossible to compare two closely priced or sized models.
  • 3D sets were just…where they were. It would’ve been impossible to evaluate them properly as displayed.
  • The most expensive (and amazing) set was a Sony non-3D set whose picture and specs were way over the top the best we saw all day. Yet this set was presented in the middle of a row of stacked up stuff with cardboard boxes across from it in a narrow aisle where your face was less than two feet from the massive screen. If I was the Sony rep for this store, Id be taking the manager out for a long chat. And their manager. And their manager.
  • Their sets displayed a buffet of content, with so much variety from screen to screen that was almost impossible to compare models.

Where’s the recliner?

Some audio stores figured this out before the box stores killed all but the high-end audio places: Build a room that presents your gear in its best light (or sound, as it were).

If I’m selling TVs, I want a small number of my very best selling TVs a normally lit room (like people’s homes) with a recliner, coffee table, couch, etc sitting around. I want them paired in good, better, best pairs with the 6 best selling, best quality units I have in those three price ranges. I want them to sit down and take a look. Toss em the remote and let them visualize that sucker in their own home.

All the other models, if I have to have all them, can be presented grouped by size within price range and paired so I can compare like models. Remember, you want to create an environment that makes it easy for the customer to make the best choice for their needs and budget. You don’t want them walking out frustrated because they learned nothing from shopping in your store.

The reason to make a sale is to get a customer, not the other way around. Your business is about customers, not TVs or Kitchen Aid mixers or snowblowers.

Wally

Yes, I know the mass merchandiser in you is going crazy. You may think want your store to look like Wal-Mart so that you sell them SOMETHING no matter what.

Well guess what? The best TV display for the buyer’s needs was…Wal-Mart’s. They were grouped by size within price range. No, there wasn’t a couch or a recliner. Yes, there was crazy-bright fluorescent lighting. Yes there were strollers 2 aisles over and video games beeping 20 feet away and a blue light special (whatever) announcement over the loudspeaker every 13 seconds.

Still, the layout was optimized on that wall to make it easy to choose a TV, not to make it easy to get all of them out of the box and on a shelf so we could say we did so.

Interesting that Wal-Mart would win in that department and not have the best price. Go figure.

*If you haven’t read Jeffrey, I suggest you do so. Good stuff. Start with “Customer Satisfaction is Useless“.

** Jim Rohn said “Poor people have big TVs. Rich people have big libraries.“  Meaning – educate yourself. And keep at it. Watch a little less TV, read a little more. Do better for yourself in the next year by spending time to better yourself.

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Work *this* hard

In her continuing quest for transparency (among other things), Hildy asked for examples of emails that had produced tangible fundraising results.

She didn’t get much.

In fact, I don’t think she got any with proven results.

This all started a few weeks ago when she asked about doing a traditional year end fundraising campaign. Hildy and I have known each other for a long while, and she asked me to lay it on the line, which I did here.

An excerpt of my response to her request:

People spend a ton of time crafting direct mail (as they should) but seems like they spend almost no time crafting email to the same person. The cost-to-send isnt the issue, regardless of the media.

What would be in an email youâ??d like to get? What would make YOU stop what you are doing right now and write a big check? Or for that matter, a small check?

What would make you forward a fundraising email to your daughter, your business partner or myself?

The real point of this has little to do with Hildy’s request…and everything to do with your attempts to grow your business.

Do you have exactly what they want? Exactly what they need?

For fans of whatever you sell, whatever you do…is what you offer so perfect for the expert (or enthusiast) that they’d tell their fellow experts / enthusiasts about what you do or sell?

If not…why is that?

That’s how hard you need to be working these days.

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Santa’s naughty or nice business list for 2010

Merry Christmas
Creative Commons License photo credit: aussiegall

Yahoo Finance put together a good list of naughty and nice business policies for this year’s Christmas season.

Check out today’s guest post. Spend wisely… and make sure your business is on the nice list.

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Groping for opportunity – a gift from the #TSA

Russet
Creative Commons License photo credit: Nicholas_T

Much noise has been made of the mess that has become airport security.

The recent introduction of TSA’s high resolution body scanners and the “pat downs” (formerly known as “getting to second base”) have stirred up a hornet’s nest of grass roots discontent.

As you might expect, there has been much hand-wringing in political circles over the issue.

Attempts have been made to position the changes as part of the political agenda of both parties, but anyone with a brain has watched these changes develop during the recent domain of each.

Flathead Beacon editor Kellyn Brown noted earlier this week that a recent New Yorker blog post revealing editorial cartoons dating back to the 1930’s predicted exactly what we’re seeing today.

You’ll find people on both sides of the aisle that aren’t too happy about the situation…but today’s post isn’t about politics.

It’s about opportunity.

Opportunity? What opportunity?

It’s a chance to say “look at me!” for the thousands of communities that you can visit and have a great time in with your family and/or friends – without getting groped by someone who has worn the same pair of gloves to check the last 42 people through the line.

I’m talking about every town whose hub airport doesn’t have the full body scanners and therefore doesn’t (currently) have the “pat down”.

It’s a silly little thing in some ways, but it’s at the top of the news these days – which is why I bring it up as a tool for your use.

Whether we’re talking about parents with young kids and/or teenagers, or those who aren’t so sure about the conflicting claims of doctors and Federal agencies regarding the radiation the scanners utilize, it’s a sticking point for a lot of folks.

If you want your beds filled, your restaurant tables turning twice as often, or your attraction filled to the gills, how you feel about the scanners and pat downs isn’t nearly as important as how your potential customers feel about them.

Yes, that goes for most things, but in this case, it’s an angle that big city tourism cannot use.

Getting started

So…open a map and a browser and a few airline and train schedules and make a list of the communities that can get to and from your place without encountering the latex glove – and without umpteen changes of planes and airlines.

Just because they can get there with planes, trains and automobiles doesn’t mean they want that kind of hassle.

Next, and this is the part a lot of folks will skip, look at your existing visitor history. I hope you already know this, but if you don’t, you should still have the data.

What are the top three, five, ten (whatever) most-visitors-from cities in your visitor history that are *also* on the list of “no-scan, no-grope” communities?

Do unto others

It’s becoming obvious now: Some cooperative advertising is in the cards.

Can your small town (or not) Chamber and/or tourism board contact theirs? You could do it on your own.

Trade out some tit-for-tat advertising.

For example, their chamber can send an email blast to their members and include an insert in their print newsletter about the fun stuff that you can do in your beautiful area. Your chamber can return the favor.

I hear the objections already. But they won’t cooperate. Or they have fewer members than we do so it isn’t fair.

Horse biscuits.

Chase down those dozen communities, even if you have to approach similar competition in those areas. Each of you have something to gain from adventures such as these.

Who knows, you might even find some synergy that outlasts the TSA ridiculousness and allows you to create an annual program for cross promotion.

It isn’t about egos. It’s about visitors.

Money loves speed

It’s also about speed. You can’t wait 90 days to make this happen.

TSA is top of the news now and on peoples’ minds now, so you must grab the train as it goes by and climb aboard.

Next month or next week, there might be something else you can latch onto. Perhaps what you learn from this exercise will make that effort even more successful.

Finally, you don’t need to wait for someone to make news. You can create your own, but it still requires lots of coordination and low egos to benefit.

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Meating expectations

When I first came across this meat vending machine, the comment I read introducing it was something along the lines of “Do we *really* need this?”

If this butcher has customers who do shift work – or anything that keeps them from visiting the shop during business hours- it’s worth a try.

Perhaps he had a lot of customer comments about his hours from shift workers and this was how he decided to serve them.

Perhaps it only serves custom pre-paid orders. You don’t really know, but if it works for the shopkeeper and their customers, who cares?

The real question is what can you borrow (and change to suit your needs) from another line of work in order to better serve your customers?

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Automation *can be* personal

Run, Motherfucker, Run
Creative Commons License photo credit: JOE MARINARO

Like I suspect you do, I get a number of automated emails asking how someone’s service was, or reminding me to deal with this or that before a deadline.

Most of these are innocuous emails that were done with an honest effort to help, but because the process was left unfinished, there’s very little long-term or accumulating value in them.

More value *could* come with a little more automation salted with a little personal touch.

For example, if I take a box to the local UPS Store (which recently reopened in our town, thankfully), I have an email waiting for me before I arrive home from the 3 mile drive from their shop.

The email includes the tracking number, a link to check on my package, an estimated arrival date, and perhaps the destination and a brief thank you.

Right up to that point, this is a minimum that should be getting done. There’s value in this email because I can check the link and perhaps put the email in my calendar so I remember to check the status later. Yes, a link to an iCal file to auto-add the delivery date to my calendar would be a nice option.

And then….silence.

Silence isn’t the right answer. It’s unfinished business.

Why silence isn’t golden

In many businesses, there is no email confirmation going on.

When doing business with those firms, I have to call (or they do) in order to find out what’s going on, when my work is done, what the estimate amount was and so on.  For those businesses, this post is a bit of a what-to-do checklist.

So why is the silence after that first email “unfinished business”?

Because it doesn’t complete the task at least as well as you would if you were standing in front of them when the package was delivered. An email isn’t an excuse to get out of work. It’s a way to give your customer the choice of being better informed.

But still, unfinished?

Yes, because (for example) I don’t get an email when the package is delivered and signed for.

That means they’ve missed an opportunity to confirm that the transaction completed as promised while subconsciously reminding me I use them because their job is to set my mind at ease.

It also subconsciously plants yet another seed that I can trust that business to get my package where it’s going safely and on time so I can consider the job delegated successfully.

That’s a big thing if you’re in the service biz.

In addition, they miss the opportunity to add a comment that…

  • Reminds me that 9 packages have been shipped this month and all arrived on time for less than USPS or Fedex rates (or similar).
  • Reminds me that customers who ship as often as I do can save time by opening a monthly-pay account at the store, allowing me to walk in, drop the package and leave rather than wait in line to ship and pay.

And so on.

Note that none of these emails require any manual labor once the templates are setup. The automated shipping notification systems are doing all of the work from that point forward. The result is that your business is more productive (given fewer calls re: package status) and your clients are better informed.

The next step: Those “How was our service?” emails could be of far more value to your customers and your business if someone paid attention to them. More on that tomorrow.

PS: These references to email could just as easily be text messages to my phone. Wouldn’t be lovely if I could choose one or both?

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attitude Box stores Buy Local Community Competition Customer relationships Entrepreneurs Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Losing Supermarkets

Two years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about the closure of San Francisco’s neighborhood supermarkets, a trend that continues today.

The stores weren’t closing because of a lack of profits.

They’re closing because developers were offering a ton of cash for the big, wide-open spaces they held (parking lots, box store sized buildings, central locations). Certainly it’s within the rights of the developers and the owners to make a deal, but the neighborhood is often the one that feels the long term impact of deals like that.

Fortunately, an original owner of the chains started buying the stores back because he didn’t want them to disappear.

Think about what happens when your small town (or your big city neighborhood) loses a locally owned grocery store or other locally owned vendor of stuff you could get at Big-Box-O-Rama.

What about the money?

I know, money is tight in a lot of households. And I know that those box stores are usually cheaper.

Ray Negron at Cimarron Cafe & Catering said something about this a couple weeks ago: “My clients work hard for their money. I work hard to make sure they get good value and a nice meal when they spend it at my place.”

Think about taking $50 a month that you’re already spending… and spend it locally in hometown-owned businesses.

Make it clear to them *WHY* you’re doing it.