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Working ON your business: Make it a habit

You may have noticed that I took a little rest from blogging over the last couple weeks. Some of it was planned, some was due to surprisingly infrequent access to the internet during our trip to Missouri and Tennessee ( one example: a Starbucks with TWO tables, both next to the door in single digit weather, yeah, sure – and that was the only access I found other than a Panera restaurant).

Yep, we drove from Montana to the Midwest and back. Other than the “joy” of 20 below temps in Wyoming during the trip south, the trip was very nice and the roads were clear for the entire trip once we got out of Montana. The same can’t be said for my return home, where I found 2 feet of snow in my driveway and another foot the day after.

By the way, that 20 below thing is rare, but happens once or twice a year to keep the riffraff out:)

Normally when I leave town, I have posts automatically scheduled in WordPress so that my schedule doesn’t interfere with keeping things moving here, but in this case I wanted to use experiences on the trip to seed those posts. I suppose the most noticeable seed from the trip is that in some areas, getting random access to the internet is a pain in the rump roast.  You wouldn’t think so in 2009, but that’s how it was.

Back to taking the time off. We all need it, of course. The only problem with taking time off from anything that you do regularly is that getting back into the game gets more difficult with each day that you’re gone.

People have asked me repeatedly how I manage to blog (almost) every single day. Quite simply, its a habit. Even on the days I don’t write (which are few – even on this last trip), I’m either taking notes about a future article or writing offline.

The secret is that writing is like working a muscle. Left unused, it’ll atrophy. You don’t want your blogging muscles to atrophy, just like you don’t want any other muscles to do that.

Writing, blogging, working out, golfing, reading and many other things are simply habits that must be developed. They aren’t instinctive (which is a good thing). Why good? Because anyone can train themselves to do these things.

Make constant improvement a habit

Most importantly – for your business, at least – the habit of working ON your business is a critical path habit that you need to do daily.

Yes, I said daily.

Even if you only spend 15 minutes a day working on improving your business, you’ll be surprised how it becomes a part of you and your business process. Its something that really must become a part of your business. Being the goto person in your business is fine, just keep in mind that your business looks at you that way too, not just your clients.

You’re one of the few who can help it improve.

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Sweatshirts and t-shirts: Wondering who the CPSIA will put out of business.

Long-gone heyday
Creative Commons License photo credit: Bitterroot

I wonder whose business might be impacted by the CPSIA. 

I wonder about the nice lady whose son was in my troop years back. She embroiders and sells Columbia Falls Wildcat sweatshirts, tshirts, letter jackets and such – including items for little kids. Fortunately for her, the majority of her business isn’t for kids 12 and under, so she’ll probably be ok. BUT, she may have to replace that revenue stream. 

I wonder who she buys those kids’ sweatshirts and tshirts from. Maybe a wholesale tshirt and sweatshirt vendor in Minneapolis. 

I wonder how much of that Minnesotan’s business comes from folks who silkscreen, embroider or otherwise augment those items and then resell them.

I wonder how many of their employees will find new jobs as a result. 

I wonder how their buying power will change. 

I wonder if all of those silkscreeners, embroiderers and such are wholesaling their items to someone and if so, I wonder if those retailers have found another source of those items. 

I wonder about all the small retailers who have tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in now-non-compliant inventory and see that date in February looming.  Not having a CPSIA tag means non-compliant, regardless of content.

I wonder if, after Feb 10 – when no one can legally buy those items – what they’ll do with all that stuff.

I wonder if they’ll sell them anyway and dare the Consumer Product Safety Commission to find, catch and prosecute them.

I wonder if a $12.95 tshirt sale is worth a $100,000 fine. 

I wonder how many attorneys will make it big because of this legislation. 

I wonder how many local tourist shops will have to start buying their tshirts from big out-of-town importers and manufacturers instead of locals.

I wonder what those locals will do for a living if that happens.

I wonder what their bankers will do if the mortgage those locals have goes south.

I wonder if all those Chinese sweatshops have testing vendors lined up. They’ll be happy to make those sweatshirts, tshirts, baby booties, bibs and hand-painted sippy cups to replace the items that used to come from unique local vendors. I mean, come on…there’s nothing more special than a Glacier Park baby bib with a cute little baby moose sewn on it, especially if it was made in Shanghai by some poor schlep making 12 cents a day. 

I wonder if there are enough thankless low-paying jobs at the local box store to employ these artisans and the others impacted by the closing of those artisans’ businesses. 

I wonder which Congressional rep and Senator has the most homemade kids product manufacturers in their district.

I wonder if those reps and Senators’ phones have melted. Or if they ring at all.

I wonder… who is the largest retailer of handmade products in the US?

I wonder who is the largest supplier of raw material to the handmade kids product industry? 

I wonder what these two businesses will be doing in March.

I wonder about the impact on and ebay, which is aching enough as it is.

I wonder if cloth diaper services have to test their diapers. 

I wonder how many stores that sell beads and other crafty little things like that will have “no kids under 12 allowed” signs on the doors next year. 

I wonder if all those little “make your own bear/pottery/etc” stores are ready for this. 

I wonder if you’ll be impacted. 

I wonder if you’ll call your Congressional Rep and Senators. 

I wonder if you’ll tell someone about the CPSIA. 

I wonder.

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Selling Santa with postcards

Four Cowboys
Creative Commons License photo credit: anyjazz65

Last week we talked about the direct mail letter that was used to secure donations of cash, in-kind items for the auction and to attract people to attend – as well as what could have been improved in the letter.

I left a few things out of the discussion at the time, so lets get back to them.

We started with some small but focused lists and I want to discuss how those were used so that you can think about the various customer groups you have in your business.

Two of the lists we had came from the organization who was the primary recipient of our fundraising efforts. They had a list of donors and supporters as well as a list of families receiving services at the two closest locations to our town. One of the locations is in our town, the other is 14 miles away so I only used the families who were local for the mailing.

I sent the same postcard to both lists because all I really wanted from them was attendance. The donors of this organization do not need to be confused by my sending them a plea letter asking for donations on behalf of an organization they already support.

If I had done that, the natural response would have been “Why is org A asking for donations for org B when I already give to org B?” I just want them to show up, buy a ticket and bid on the auction.

The families were a different story – I could have asked them for help – but knowing the demographics of the group, I really just wanted them to buy a ticket, eat and visit with Santa. We wanted them to learn that Rotary was helping their family, not just asking them for $. The best way to make that happen was to get them to the event.

As a result, I sent the same postcard to both lists. I used, primarily because they had the turnaround time I needed, plus the price was quite good for an oversized glossy 4 color postcard.

I uploaded my PDF and address list, it cleaned them and I paid. Over and done with in short order and I didn’t even have to lick a stamp.

You might be asking why a postcard? Why didn’t I hand address *these*?

I used a postcard because it doesn’t have to be opened and my message was relatively short.

I didn’t hand address them and mail them myself because postcards are open by design. I don’t have to work to get them opened, instead I can concentrate my effort on making them effective. I couldn’t do that with the donation letter because the message needed to be longer and required a donation form.

Almost forgot… The postcards were timed to arrive within 48 hours of the event.

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Heard in the slammer: “I used to make handmade toys”

One of these days, my granddaughter would love it if I bought her a little homemade bear like the one in the photo.

Trouble is that after February 9th 2008, it’ll be a violation of Federal law to sell it to me.

Doesn’t matter if it’s sold at a small retailer, a craft fair, a resale shop or in your expensive, high-end, fancy pants, mostly-imported toy store. Bottom line: If you sell or handcraft toys or clothing for kids, it’s entirely possible that you will be out of business as of February 10th 2009.

Read that again. It’s 56 days from today (Dec 15, 2008).

While it would be easy to dismiss this as me overdosing on too much caffeine, I’m sorry to say that isn’t the problem.

CPSIA – A Slam Dunk

Remember Christmas 2007?

Not only were retailers flush with good retail sales, but the news was full of recalls of defective toys from China and elsewhere – in some cases, toys made in the Chinese plants of American toy “manufacturers”. Lead was a prevalent issue.

These problems angered the nation at large and embarrassed Congress. In those circumstances, its just a matter of time before legislation results.

In this case, the result was the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). If you’re a craftsperson who makes toys and kids clothing or a retailer who sells these items, the CPSIA is your Patriot Act and you aren’t the good guy.

This law was so well-favored that when you combine the results of the House and Senate votes on the final legislation, it received only THREE “No” votes.

More presidential candidates MISSED the vote than did those who voted against it. 

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), passed on July 31 2008 and signed into law by President Bush on August 14 2008. The Act makes it illegal to manufacture or sell toys, clothing and other items for children that do not meet the act’s testing and labeling requirements. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s budget has been increased by $620 million so they can enforce this law, whose details were largely left up to the commission.

All it would have taken to help small business owners exemption-wise was to include some common sense testing and labeling exemptions for all natural toys and clothing. That would have left a good piece of legislation in place, without threatening a ton of home-based businesses.

Unfortunately the CPSIA contains nothing like that. Work at home folks don’t have a big lobby in Washington. The handcrafted wooden toy crowd has only the newly founded Handmade Toy Alliance, which at last count had fewer than 100 members. As you might suspect, they aren’t a power player in Beltway circles.

The big boys like Mattel, Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us are substantially impacted by CPSIA, but quite frankly – if they had been better corporate citizens from the outset, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Mostly, this is great news for parents trying to find better products for their kids.

There’s always a “but”

Again, there is nothing in the Act that eliminates or alters the testing and labeling requirements for those that use 100% all natural materials during manufacturing. Perhaps that was considered a loophole that was just too big.

Is petroleum a natural substance? If so, then all plastics must be too, right? And why isn’t lead?

Before you go off the deep end about your cousin who chewed on too much lead paint when he was a kid, I have to say that in general, I am a fan of this legislation. It’s the only way to get large importers and offshore manufacturers to get their act together.

Obviously this law was sorely needed to deal with repeated instances of imported items containing lead, small parts on infant toys, much less the weaknesses in our existing regulations.

Objects in your mirror are larger than they appear

If you think a little harder, the target is much bigger than a bunch of craftspeople selling their wares on (link goes to their open letter to the CPSC re: CPSIA), eBay, craft fairs and small local retail shops.

Anyone who sells this stuff has a new cost of doing business to add to their expense list. Anyone who has these items in inventory has to get rid of that inventory by February 10, 2009 (some can wait till August), or pay to have it tested and labeled per CPSIA requirements.

While the large manufacturer suddenly has a substantial new COGS item, it’s the little guy is the one who is going to suffer the most because they simply can’t afford the testing that is required.

For example, there’s a retired lady here in the Flathead Valley who makes little wooden trains in her garage woodshop. She carefully scans paint manufacturer websites and questions their representatives by phone to be sure there’s no lead or other nasties in the paint she uses on her carefully made toys. Her business is history if the CPSIA stands as written.

I just don’t care…or do I?

You might be thinking that you really don’t care. Maybe you don’t have kids or you only buy toys and clothing from major American manufacturers (er, I mean importers). Or maybe you don’t own a store that caters to kids, so why would you care?

It’s time you started caring, but let me help you decide. Here are a few examples of businesses that will be impacted by the CPSIA, otherwise known as “reasons to care”:

  • If you make wooden trains in your garage and sell them *anywhere*, you get to pay $4000 per toy to a 3rd party testing lab to assure compliance with the CPSIA.
  • If you make sock monkeys at home and sell them at your local craft fairs and tourist shops, you have three choices: sell them in violation of the law, close up shop or pay the fee to have your items tested. Each SKU = $4000, most likely.
  • If you own a small toy store, sell items that cater to kids, or you sell antique toys or anything else that comes to you without CPSIA-compliant labeling, you have to pay to test every item, or make sure that it has been tested. Presumably, testing a small sample of the same lot is acceptable, but “presumably” is not a way to stay legal. I suggest contacting a testing lab and/or attorney for more info.
  • If you import all your toys from Europe, you have to have them all tested, despite the fact that Europe has for years had stricter toy safety standards than the U.S. Again, the same advice as above regarding testing of items in the same lot.
  • If you create or sell science kits for homeschoolers, the CPSIA appears to apply.
  • If you’re a school who buys such kits, your vendors may also be subject to it.
  • Every U.S. toy manufacturer who actually manufactures items here at home – and likely had nothing to do with the toy recalls from 2007 – still has to pay to test their toys. That part makes sense, unless the items in question are made from 100% natural materials.
  • If you enjoy shopping for your kids at craft fairs, online at or eBay, or you like buying used toys and clothing – sales of items that do not conform to CPSIA regulations and that have not been tested will be illegal to sell to you.
  • If you sell items for kids on eBay, all your existing untested or non-compliant inventory has to be sold before February 10 or it cannot be sold without being tested. The phase-in starts with larger concerns, but it’ll get to you before you know it.
  • Retailers can be held liable for selling any handmade toys or children’s items that are not tested by a CPSIA-compliant lab and labeled per the CPSIA.

If you don’t own a business that has anything to do with kids, don’t think it doesn’t impact you. Think about the owners, employees and family members of the businesses described above. They might not be spending money in your store by the time the CPSIA gets done with them.

Do these artisans buy computer paper, coffee, towels, hamburger, gasoline, haircuts, dog grooming, fine wines, appliances, landscaping, envelopes or tires from you?

What will they buy from you if they are put out of business by this law? Are you in line for a bailout?

Suddenly, it’s time to care, eh?

What do I do next?

First, call your Senators and your Congressional Rep. DO NOT email them. DO NOT fax them. Those things are far too easy to ignore.

Call them and hold their feet to the fire.

Next…Research and legwork.

Remember that your existing inventory falls under this law, whether you are a retailer or a manufacturer, regardless of size. Some of the regulations kick in later in the year, so I suggest you read this coverage at Fashion Incubator for additional details. Here’s additional info on what must be tested per the CPSIA.

You have 56 days as of Monday December 15.

The full text of the law is here: HR 4040 or if you prefer a PDF, here. Check out the CPSIA frequently asked questions (FAQ) list at

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s website does a nice job of summarizing this well-intentioned, but incomplete bill.

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Help! What’s wrong with my mailing?

Yesterday we talked about the details about the envelope and letter we sent to request Brunch with Santa donations and to sell tickets.

There were (in my opinion) a lot of things right with it. BUT…what was wrong with it?

Keep in mind it is perfectly normal to find things that are wrong with a mailing you just dropped at the post office. There’s a big lesson there: We didn’t wait to mail it until it was perfect. You just can’t do that.

If you wait until your campaign is perfect, you’ll never mail it because it’ll never be perfect. It’s like waiting until the perfect time to have a baby – there’s no such thing.

That said, there is always room for improvement. Maybe there’s a better way to state it rather than “what’s wrong?” is “How can I make the envelope and the letter even better?”

Slice em and dice em

One thing that I advise customers (and readers) to do is segment your mailing. Some might look at the letter sent to chamber members and think that I did – but that really isn’t the case.

The people on this particular mailing list fall into a couple of distinct groups: blue collar services (construction, auto body, auto repair, custom logging, trucking), white collar services (attorneys, accountants, bankers, computer consultants, real estate sales, graphic artists), hospitality businesses (restaurants, caterers, hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns) and traditional retailers (clothing, food, auto parts, tires, coffee, etc).

What changes would segmentation bring?

If I broke that list down into the four segments I mentioned, it would allow me to make several important changes. I didn’t do so this year simply because of time pressure.

For blue collar service businesses: I would likely use slightly different verbiage that is more in tune with their businesses and would have made a more specific ask. Like the others below, the ask would be for items or services that are most likely to get the business a new customer. In their language, specific to their needs.

For white collar service businesses: I’d use some different verbiage, a different ask – more specific to the services they offer and keeping in mind that I want a donation that helps them get a new customer – and some slightly different psychology. Again, the language used would be in tune with these kinds of businesses.

For the hospitality businesses: Again, specific language to their business. In fact, I would likely split this group into food-related and non-food-related because of the differences in what I would like to get in donations, differences in industry language and COGS. For the food biz, I’m trying to create an opportunity for them to make an impression that brings new customers to their restaurant or catering service. That happened this year as well – I didn’t simply ask for a donation. I offered them an opportunity to promote their business with the best they could bring to the table. Positioning is important.

Other thoughts

I would like to have a bit more automation in place to deal with generating specific responses, logging auction assets and so forth. I’ll be working on that throughout 2009. While that automation will be somewhat specific to the Brunch, it is designed to work with any campaign – and with multiple media. It might become a system that you can buy.

A blue collar vs white collar mental image

Speaking of blue collar and white collar services, I’m reminded of an interesting way that Ford Automotive’s Social Media guy Scott Monty described the difference between white collar workers and blue collar workers: “people who shower *before* they go to work” and “people who shower *after* they go to work”. Paints a pretty clear picture, doesn’t it? You can follow Scott on Twitter.

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*The* most important thing about your letter

Sad Letter
Creative Commons License photo credit: jilly~bean

Yesterday, we started a discussion about the promotion of an event here in town.

Today, we’re going to talk about one of the mail pieces that went out to promote the Brunch.

Don’t worry, this series isn’t all about direct mail. We’ll also be talking about video, email, postcards, newspaper, press releases, PSAs, radio and TV.

That’s right. Every single one of those media were used to promote the event. While I didn’t use all of my arrows (with good reason), I did use just about everything in the quiver. Different types of media reach different people.

There are so many ways to consume news these days – you’d better be using every means possible to get the attention of your prospects.

Of course, you will be measuring the response from them, so you’ll know which are worth the expense IF there is an expense.

One of the most important mail pieces that went out was sent to business owners here in town (and a few in neighboring towns). I wanted to concentrate on our little town because the benefit is being received here. It makes for a tougher sale to folks from other towns unless you have a relationship with them. More on that later.

But will they open it?

The most important thing about the letter is making sure that the envelope gets opened.

If it isn’t opened, it was a waste of time and money. If it isn’t opened, the letter inside doesn’t get a chance to go to work selling the event. That’s kind of a problem:)

In rural Montana, post office boxes are the norm rather than the exception. This holds true for residential and business addresses. People stand over the trash slots at the post office and sort their mail into 2 categories: trash and probably-not-trash. You probably do the same at home if you don’t get your mail at a PO Box.

Because of this, I used several strategies to make the envelope less likely to be tossed out:

  • A real stamp was used. In fact, a Christmas stamp (the nutcracker one). It’s a little thing, but it matters. It makes the letter appear more likely to be from a real person.
  • Each envelope was hand addressed. To make it feel even more “real”, a green felt tip pen was used. Computer printed labels might work fine for people you already have a relationship with – but with no relationship, a pre-printed label is another check mark on the road to the trash bin, even more so if there’s a postal barcode.
  • Each envelope had a little Santa or snowflake sticker placed on it to the left of the address. Again, it makes it look a little more “from someone I know”, which contributes to more of them getting opened.
  • No return address was used. You really have to be careful with this one. If you already have a business relationship with the person you’re mailing, then the return address WITH your name is important. If you don’t have a relationship with them, the return address will likely become a criteria for tossing the mail, rather than keeping it.

Sweating the details inside the envelope

Inside, the letter was just one page long, printed on both sides. The letter was folded and inserted so that the front page would be seen first if the letter was opened traditionally (with the back facing the reader).

On the left side of the front page of the letter, all the board members are listed. Many are well-known in the community, thus establishing some credibility. The letter was personally addressed – not with a standard business lead in, but just with the person’s name. No business name. I’m writing to the individual.

The greeting is to the individual, not “Dear Sir” or “To whom it may (probably not) concern”. The latter two greetings aren’t even remotely personal. You want the reader to feel that you wrote the letter just for them, even if it is printed on a computer. That’s why…

The first line noted that I was only going to take 2 minutes of their time (yes, I timed it, it was just a hair over 2 minutes). I want them to know that this isn’t going to take long. I don’t want the letter set aside for later.

At the end, I hand sign the letter.

On many of them, I made a personal note at the bottom in that same green felt tip pen, usually to suggest an item for donation but sometimes just to make the letter more personal.

On the other side of the letter is a donation form that is already filled out with their contact info. I already have it in my database, why should I force them to re-write their contact info?

Remember, make it as easy as possible…

PS: A Sticky Situation

Just a little side note on the attention that is paid to the success of mail pieces: I received a letter promoting the Breakfast with Santa in Opelousas. It was closed with a 1.5″ long piece of scotch (ie:transparent) tape. I was curious if there was some testing behind the use of tape, so I asked my friend about it. It turned out to be a productivity issue. We laughed about the fact that we pay attention to silly things like that, but it illustrates the level of thought that has to go into every aspect of your marketing message.

In this case, we’re talking about a letter, but the same scrutiny is necessary for any other media.

Be sure that you’re putting this much care into the delivery of your message – and in fact, the message being sent by the delivery itself.

Tomorrow – how could this piece have been improved?

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What’s easier? Selling Santa or a SUV?

reluctant santa dog
Creative Commons License photo credit: dickuhne

Yeah, I know. It’s been a quiet week so far.

On and off for the last 9 months, and intensely over the last 2, I’ve been quietly working on the marketing and other aspects of a new community event and related program here in Columbia Falls.

The event is called Brunch with Santa, which is a new annual event held by my Rotary Club.

Yes, you’re right. It’s hardly an original name or event. Google around, there’s 319,000 or so entries for Brunch with Santa and over a million for Breakfast with Santa.  So what.

A blatant rip off

Yep, it’s something I (ahem) borrowed from the Opelousas Cerebral Palsy Clinic’s Breakfast with Santa event (yes, there IS an address behind that link that will let you send them money, don’t be shy as every little bit helps).

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

Last Saturday, our Brunch went into the first stages of liftoff. As of this afternoon, I just about have a little time to exhale for a few. So let’s talk about it.

First, I suppose it might help to explain what this has to do with Business is Personal and making your small business better, stronger and more robust?

Everything, my friends. Every little thing.

That’s why we’re going to talk about it here.

Selling Santa is much easier than selling a SUV

But…he still has to be sold.

Fact is, the process required to promote a community event is no different than the process required to encourage people to buy those 10mpg SUVs sitting on your lot, the snow machines in your showroom, or the bags of kazoos hanging from the slatwall in your party store.

The process required – in this economy, scratch that, in ANY economy – to get people to give cash, food or goods and services for an event is no different than the process that is required to sell them a steak, an oil change or a $2500 mountain bike.

  • You have to get their attention so that you get a chance to get them interested.
  • You have to get them interested in order to get a chance to build a desire within them.
  • You have to build a desire within them in order to get a chance to get them to take action.
  • And you have to make it drop dead easy to take action.

Whether it’s making a cash donation, buying a ticket, donating 150 servings of Mexican food or offering a piece of framed fine art as a donation, if you don’t follow those 4 steps – not much is happening unless you’re incredibly lucky.

Sales don’t happen because of luck.

Sure, luck works sometimes. That “sometimes” thing is the problem. When exactly is “sometimes”? Can you schedule it? Can you afford to wait on luck to work? No, I didn’t think so. Me either.

Execution of the logical, tested process is what gets the job done the rest of the time.

Some might say it becomes even more important that you treat promotion of an event as a regular marketing task when that event is a fundraiser in a community being hammered with layoffs. Those layoffs directly impact not only those families, but every restaurant, service business and retail store in town.

Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn’t. Are you willing to risk it on a guess?

So what did I have to sell?

I have to sell a bunch of stuff. Santa kinda comes along for the ride, but he’s part of the sales team.

First I have to sell the donors on the idea. Giving cash. Giving food. Giving time. Giving merchandise and services. None of these things happen without transferring enthusiasm about the cause to them.

Second, I have to sell the event to those who might want to attend it. Got all this food and all this stuff, uh oh, I’d better get someone there to consume and buy it.

Third, I have to sell the media on the fact that this event is worth promoting.

Finally, I have to sell the event again in the last 48 hours before it occurs. Advance tickets are great, but not everyone lives under in that kind of schedule. Those living in the now or in “tomorrow morning is long term” mode need reminders, and they need them everywhere.

Again, the mechanics of the process are just like selling a truck, an oil change or an exotic potted plant. The primary difference is that you can stir some emotion a bit more easily with a cause.

That’s where the trap snaps shut. People get lazy and think the cause will magically make everything else happen.

50% of success is just showing up

Someone once said 50% of success is just showing up. Could be, but the other 50% is pretty tightly linked with actually doing something.

Details matter.

Next time, we’ll talk about those details, and more importantly, the reasons that drive them.

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Pity the fool who doesn’t communicate

Over the last week or so, I’ve hunkered down in the perfect storm of communications.


I get a card in the mail asking me if the recent visit by a Bresnan Cable tech took care of the problem and if I was happy with the service. It’s the same guy who always comes to work on my cable issues. Treats you like a relative, even if he does sometimes have to come back more than once now and then. I wonder if they intentionally send the same guy. Smart if done on purpose (assuming the guy isn’t a bozo<g>).

Usually when I see him more than once in a week – it’s because cable boxes in general are just poorly made hardware commodities that fixing one thing exposes another thing (but later, of course<g>). But…that isn’t his fault.

Movie Gallery

During Thanksgiving week, my kids went up to Movie Gallery to pick up a DVD. My account was in lockdown. That was their terminology for it – ushers up nice images of Shawshank, doesn’t it?

Lockdown apparently occurs when you don’t return a movie for 3 weeks, I guess.

So my kids use their own account instead of mine and I later go up there – after finding the movie – to ask what the deal is. Turns out I’ve had the movie for 26 days (yes, it was a 3 day rental<g>).

Ok, my bad. However, I wondered where the reminder postcard was. Where’s the phone call asking where the heck I put the video?


I’d had the movie for a month – without a single call, email, postcard, carrier pigeon, etc.

Folks, as we talked in role reversal last week – look at things from your customer’s point of view. Late fees are not good. Why else would people agree to wait for movies by mail?

Before I left, I asked the clerk what the deal is with no notifications. They don’t mail anymore. Costs too much (what she was told – vs “Earns too much in late fees”?).

I ask why I wasn’t called. For years, they’ve been good about calling, even if it is after the movie is late.

Why don’t they send text messages 2-3-4 hours before they close in order to remind people about the almost-late movie that’s . Seems obvious that they want them to be late. “Late” might be legit / intentional, so why not let it slide.

Because it isn’t in the best interest of the CUSTOMER. “Pity the fools”, as Mr. T would say.

Her reply regarding the calls. “We can’t make the calls anymore. Corporate does that now, they have some kind of automated system…. but some people never get called. It doesn’t work too well.”

Repeat after me…Business is Personal. Think like the customer.

Wells Fargo

We’ll close with a little bit of good news.

I use Wells Fargo for a bunch of stuff.

I got a live call from a lady working for Wells 2 weeks ago. She called simply to “make sure we were doing ok”.

I said “Sure, why do you ask?”

She says (paraphrased, it’s been a week or so), “Well, a lot of people are struggling with their mortgages and stuff, so we’re calling all of our customers to check on them even if they aren’t late. If they’re having some problems and they haven’t told us yet, it gives us a chance to help them figure out a solution before things get worse for them.”


They may be a big lumbering megalith, but someone there really gets it. Yeah, I know. It’s a little self-serving on their part, but the positioning of the call is smart.

Making the call before it has to be made (even if it might never have to be made), that’s the brilliant part.

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What do a turkey and an iPhone have in common?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Atilla1000

Plenty, if you’re thinking and paying attention to what other businesses are up to. 

We had a Hutterite turkey last week, but in the process of digging around, I came across some innovative things that Butterball is doing to make life easier for their customers. 

Things like text messages to remind you to start thawing the turkey. Simple, helpful, smart. 

Who HASN’T forgotten to start thawing the turkey on time at least once in their life? We sure have. 

Learn more about Butterball’s mobile tools. 

Now…salt to taste for your business. What are your takeaways from what they’ve done?

PS: You can learn about Montana’s Hutterites here and get some additional info here.

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Stampedes and shootings: Just another Black Friday

It’s hard to imagine why big national retailers continue to play the fools game, thinking that by discounting their prices 40-50% or more they’ll increase their profit.

Perhaps they think they’ll make it up on volume.

When you cut prices, the first thing that you give up is a piece (or all) of your profit.

Retailers who spent the weekend falling all over themselves catering to an upscale clientele don’t have this problem, especially if they’ve cultivated and groomed the relationship with that clientele all year long.

They didn’t have to go to the home of an employee and explain how a young employee was trampled to death, simply by having the misfortune of being the guy who unlocked the front door to his employer’s store.

When price is the only way you have to differentiate yourself from your competition, you deserve any pain you feel on your financial statement at the end of the quarter.

Is that the only competitive edge that you can find? If so, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Is there a Wal-Mart in Pamplona?

Another “competitive edge” – one that contributed directly to last weekend’s trampling death and injuries at a Long Island WalMart – is the special sale that starts at 0-dark-thirty in the morning and offers limited items at the special pricing. 2010 update about stampede.

Our store is better because we can get our people to the store before yours. Woooo, impressive.

If your competitors’ move their start time to an hour before yours, when does it end? Do you start a Cold War over who can open their doors first? In an ultra-competitive environment, is that really how you want your clientele to choose who their vendor is?

Do you really have to stir up a frenzy over one (or 10, whatever) $299 plasma screen TV to get people into your store? Is that the only edge you have?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve told you to read Cialdini and will again. We’ve discussed scarcity and will again. However, we’ve also discussed common sense. Hopefully, we don’t have to discuss making sure your staff and clients leave the store alive.

Is it really worth having 300-400 people stampede over your staff and each other as if their survival depends on it? This isn’t the first time it has happened. Human behavior is not a surprise in these circumstances.

Yeah, sure. You can blame a small percentage of morons for this ridiculous behavior, but it isn’t just the customers in that store who were in the wrong. But… big retail, in their typical lazy way – they continue to confuse the customer with the sale as the most valuable part of their business.

All this focus on creating temporary insanity among your prospects for one transaction on one day illustrates the lousy, if not non-existent, relationship that most large US retailers have with the buying public.

That’s where the problems really lie. When you commoditize your marketplace by competing solely on price, you’re one of two things: Wal-Mart or crazy.

Wal-Mart can afford to do these things. Their entire business – and the systems that drive it – is built around that premise. They have the logistics, automation, buying power and mammoth size to make it happen.

If you aren’t Wal-Mart or crazy, you have to do something different and better. I don’t mean to suggest that you can just double your prices, do nothing else and expect all to go right with the world.

You can’t.

Remember, Business is Personal. Build the relationship. Deliver the value. When nothing else matters, they’ll shop on price.

Make other things matter.