Competition Corporate America Marketing Public Relations Retail Small Business Wal-Mart

5 ways to entice customers to spend their tax rebate check at your small business

The news is full of stories talking about the things businesses are doing to try and get their paws on your U.S. Federal tax rebate check.

Wal-Mart is cashing the Federal tax rebate checks for free, making it easy to spend the money in their store.

five dollars photo credit: skippy13

Kroger, Sears and others are enticing consumers to sign checks over to them, offering a 10% bonus on the face value of the check to do so. Sears shoppers get the bonus when they convert the check into a Sears or K-Mart gift card.

So how do you compete with that?

Here are 5 ways to compete with big box retailers who want to keep your clients’ tax rebate check all to themselves.

  • Have a special tax rebate shopping event. Perhaps once a month from May through the summer until most people have their checks. Really want to push it? Make the ticket to gain entry to event be the check itself.
  • Offer a big box retail type discount, but ONLY for purchases made with the tax check. You’ll note that I don’t talk much about discounts here, but this is a special circumstance, not a weekly habit.
  • Position the purchase as an investment. For example, if you own a home improvement or hardware store, using the tax rebate check as an investment in energy efficiency for your home is a good play. You might even combine this with the tax rebate shopping event, call in some manufacturer’s reps and make it a big deal.
  • Focus on the transaction size. The checks are in various amounts, typically increments of $300. You can assemble a $300 catalog, a $600 catalog, and a $1200 catalog, for example. If you have information on family sizes, mail a “tax rebate gift catalog” of the appropriate price level to families of each size. People who get a $300 check in the mail aren’t going to be looking for “What costs $125?” Instead, they’ll be looking at what they can get for $300. Think about it. You do the same thing when you get a gift card as a present.
  • Offer to cash the tax check – yes, it’s a simple, obvious ploy to get them into your store. Big retail wouldn’t be doing it again if it didn’t work back in 2003. Note that at times your bank will downgrade your account if they find out you are cashing consumer checks (ie: like a pawn shop or money store), so be sure to consult them and make sure they understand it’s a one time deal).
  • In your marketing for the 5 items above, encourage consumers to spend the check locally – even if it isn’t in your store. Economic stimulus, the alleged reason for the checks, is going to be far more impactful when spent locally, rather than at a big box retailer. You could even put together some co-op advertising with the other local stores in your area – and even in your market niche.

Yeah, that’s 6 strategies, I figured you deserved a bonus. And I’ll be happy to cash your tax rebate check:)

What others are saying about the rebate:

Tax rebates dates
Tax rebate checks coming
Make Money on Your Tax Rebate Stimulus Check II
Printed Gift Cards Target Tax Rebate

Amazon Apple ECommerce Retail Technology Wal-Mart

David Apple wastes no time, passes Goliath Wal-Mart in music sales

Just a few days ago, I was talking about iTunes passing Amazon and Best Buy in 2007 total music sales.

That’s all kinds – CD and downloaded music.

Didn’t take long for that to become old news. On Tuesday, a leaked Apple memo shows that January 2008 music industry numbers from NPD indicates that Apple has now passed Wal-Mart in total music sales (and remember, this includes’s music store).

Goliath has an Achilles heel. You simply have to look a little harder to find it.

Woolworth had one. Sears had one. K-Mart had one. Now, it’s become clear that Wal-Mart has one as well.

How closely have you looked for cracks in the armor of your market’s Goliath?

If YOU are the Goliath in your market – what would you attack, if you were David?

Competition Marketing Retail

Why should a small business sell gift cards?

photo credit: JasperYue

In 2007, $60 billion in gift cards were purchased, amounting to 12% of gift sales during the holidays, according the retail industry sources that track this sort of thing.

$26.3 billion worth of gift cards were sold in November and December 2007 alone.

How many did you sell?

Some Wal-Mart stores have express checkout just for gift cards.

The big reason not to offer them, despite what everyone else says:

  • Breakage, which is a fancy word for “people wont use them”. This is the ridiculous reason that many analysts tout as the best reason to sell them. Obviously, they don’t own a business.

How would you like to sell something one time and never sell something to that customer again? Does that make ANY sense?

Breakage is the LAST thing you want from a gift card customer. You want them to come back and empty that card because… you want them to come back.

The gift card is really a gift for you from whoever buys it. They’re telling their friend or family member, “Hey, shop at this store, I trust them.” and then send them to you, pre-sold on your business’ ability to make them happy.

Once they visit with that gift card the first time, find a way to get their contact info into your store systems. Why?

Because you want to be the ONLY one who reminds them that they still have a few bucks on their card. In fact, that alone is a good reason to ask them for that info.

Who wouldn’t want to be reminded that they have a gift card with money on it? Even better, if they lose the card, wouldn’t you want to be able to deactivate the old card and move the remaining value to a new one?

Communities can put these things in place so that a card is good all over town, but you can just as easily get them that work only on your point of sale systems. Consumers love em. One size fits all:)

RELATED: What to know before selling gift cards in your business

Amazon Competition ECommerce Ethics Management Media Public Relations Word of mouth marketing

Amazon launches their weapon of mass destruction, steps on the long tail of independent authors

No Known Restrictions: President Woodrow Wilson Addresses Congress, 1917 (LOC)
photo credit:

People continue to have this idea that companies like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Starbucks and Microsoft are bulletproof.

Folks, it just isn’t so. You might also have thought that UCLA was bulletproof Thursday night against Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, except that no one told WKU about it. Top-seeded UCLA pulled it out in the last 4 minutes, after leading 12th seeded WKU by only 4 points with 5 minutes remaining.

David and Goliath plays out every day, if David is clever enough.

These big companies that small business owners love to complain about are great at building giant customer lists and then turning right around and crapping in their corn flakes. They do it everyday. All you have to do is look around (one of the reasons I mentioned the Google Alerts thing yesterday).

It’s Amazon’s turn. They just got punched in the word of mouth.

What am I talking about?

The Amazon print on demand (POD) story at

And the Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, Washington Post, TechCrunch, Computerworld and Publisher’s Weekly. And so on.

Before you think that this only affects big print on demand publishers, don’t forget that little (and some not so little) independent authors sometimes see the bulk of their sales via Amazon and POD.

If there are fewer authors able to sell on Amazon (because of their demands), what happens? Does the record industry try to do this next? They’ve already lost control, but there is leverage out there if they want to use it (movies, for one).

What about your ISP? Perhaps they will require that all websites updated from your DSL account must be hosted with their web hosting services. They can easily control this.

The upside is that the market always has a way of sorting this stuff out. Somewhere out there, there’s a little print on demand house just rubbing their hands together.

Oh yeah, and I just realized that my Google Alerts are not covering enough bases.

Montana Retail Wal-Mart

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.

Apple Competition Corporate America Entrepreneurs McDonalds Media Retail Small Business Technology Wal-Mart

Is your business ready for disruptive events?

No, I don’t mean the collapse of the global economy, oil prices over $150 a barrel, or even worse, Starbucks closing for three hours.

I mean truly disruptive things in your business. The easy example is fuel.

Increased fuel prices are similarly disruptive to a multitude of businesses, but that has been analyzed to death so I’ll leave it alone.

Instead, let’s look at apples.

A few years ago, McDonald’s started selling apple slices and some sort of caramel-like substance made of high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring. And they started selling salads with apples in them. And a few other menu items have apples.

This all started at about the same time.

Almost overnight, McDonald’s became one of the largest, if not the largest, U.S. consumer of apples. Billions of apples are suddenly in play that were previously happily shipped to anyone who wanted them.

Disruptive, wouldn’t you say?

If you buy apples for your business, what just happened to your business model, much less your future?

If you sell apples, what just happened?

Now let’s look at Apple.

Late last month, the NPD Group announced that iTunes had passed Best Buy and had become the nation’s second largest retailer of music, only eight months after passing Amazon to become #3. That’s music in all forms, CD or otherwise. The only one selling more than iTunes is Wal-Mart, who has to be looking over their shoulder.

Wal-Mart looking over their shoulder. Bet you never thought you’d hear that. Course, neither did Woolworth or Sears.


Certainly, the music industry has been in turmoil for years because they have their head stuck up where the sun doesn’t shine, but despite all that, think about how disruptive – even to Wal-Mart, Amazon and Best Buy – the iTunes model and implementation has been.

Finally, let’s look at corn.

The ethanol craze has turned farmers to corn (despite the fact that most grains are way up in market price). Despite the fact that other plants have proven to be more productive for ethanol creation, and easier on the farmland than corn, corn is the industry shining star for ethanol production.

Until you realize that this same corn is no longer going overseas to feed third world countries.

Until you realize that other crops are being supplanted (no pun intended) to plant corn – and again, many of those items either go overseas or cause fewer crops of other kinds to be planted, ergo the higher prices for wheat, etc.


What kind of disruption could totally change your business? And perhaps more importantly, what kind of disruption can you be the architect of in your market?

Blogging Management Wal-Mart

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 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.

Competition Leadership Management Marketing Retail Strategy

The National Retail Federation “Give them a cookie” tax


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.

Competition Corporate America Marketing

Don’t sell the dirty gas station donut

Remember back in the “old days” when getting a Krispy Kreme was a rare event that you could only manage by being in a town where one of their stores were located? Not only would people would drive across town get some, they’d drive several hours each way to grab a bunch of boxes and bring them back for a fund raiser, or a special event.

Folks, these are just DONUTS, but they turned them into a drive-across-town experience.

Not anymore.

Nowadays, you can find Krispy Kremes at Wal-Mart, in the back of a soccer mom’s minivan on the side of the road (as a fund raiser), or worse yet, on the counter at the dirtiest gas station convenience store in town.

It’s no longer an experience that you’d drive across town for, it’s JUST ANOTHER DONUT.

I can assure you that the last thing that Krispy Kreme wanted to be was just…another…donut.

They completely forgot that the hot-donut-experience (snicker) as well as a reasonable level of scarcity (please read Cialdini) is one of the things that got them to the must-experience donut party and made their product a premium brand.

Don’t let your product become the “dirty store donut”.

Thanks to Andy Sernovitz for bringing up yet another example of what happens when you lose focus and stop giving people a reason to talk about what you do.

Competition Creativity Marketing Web 2.0

Can your site handle 12 people an hour?

If 100,000 potential customers were brought to the â??doorstepâ? of your Web site â?? right now â?? how would you capture and hold their attention? Ok, maybe 100k in one day is a little much for you.

How about 12 people every hour, all day today? Could you keep the attention of that trickle of people?

Do that for 364 more days, and you’ll have an idea how to keep the attention of 100,000 visitors.

How long do they stay on your site now? How do you get them to come back? Of the ones who did return, what made them want to come back? If you don’t know, isn’t it time to get to work on finding those things out? The reasons are obvious.

Which reminds me. Yesterday’s post was my 400th blog post at Business is Personal, and we’re not even 3 years old yet (awww, isn’t it cuuuuute?)

If you’re keeping score, the post count looks something like this…

121 relating to marketing
82 on competition
66 on management
57 on entrepreneurs
53 on corporate America
47 relating to continuous improvement (aka the slight edge)
45 on strategy
38 on customer service (Glenn, how you let me get away with that?)
35 on getting it (as in, people/businesses who “get it”, it being how to run their business well)
23 book reviews (way over due on these)
22 on Wal-Mart (seems like more)
20 on media
17 on automation
16 on Montana
14 on software
14 on politics (related to business)
12 on technology
12 on sales
12 on good examples
10 on employees

and a smattering of others elsewhere. The totals don’t add up to 400, as many posts are tagged with multiple categories.

I’d be interested in what you’d like to hear more about, or if the current mix is about right for what your business needs.