Another Scam Against Business Owners

A recent article from In Business Las Vegas points out a new scam involving the Americans With Disabilities Act.  It seems that profiteers are using the ADA as an excuse to file complaints against small businesses.  Their lawyers send letters demanding payment for alleged injuries.  If the business owner doesn’t comply, an ADA complaint will be filed.  One plaintiff in California is known to made more than 300 such complaints.

Not only does this sleezy practice hurt many business owners, but it also hurts the very people that the ADA was designed to help, Americans with disabilities.  According to Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, "There are
these individuals and boutique law firms that make a business out of
filing 75 claims at a time and it leads to a strong backlash against
the ADA and it can do harm to the cause of increasing access for those
with disabilities."

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Beware the Sound of Laughter

Tom Peters writes on his blog about General Norman Schwarzkopf’s autobiography.  He quotes the general as saying that he’s terrible at telling jokes, but as soon as he became a general, everyone suddenly started laughing uproariously at his stories.  Schwartzkopf’s and Peters’ point is this:  "Once you become a boss you’ll never hear the unadulterated truth again."

It applies whether you have 10,000 employees or just 1.  As "the boss" everything you hear from your associates come through a filter.  Does it mean your people are lying to you?  Of course not.  But it does mean that they speak to you differently than they do to each other.  They’re just not quite as open.  They don’t want to upset "the boss".  They don’t want to be the bearer of bad news.

The solution?  Spend time on the front line.  Become a keen observer.  Peters mentions MBWA, managing by walking around.  It’s a good strategy no matter how many people you have working for you.  Face it, sometimes we even lie to ourselves.

Focus

Here’s an interesting idea from Deborah Brown at Bizinformer.  She includes "rewards" in her daily list of things to do.  After completing a "must do" item she rewards herself with a "want to do" item.  By breaking up the day with small rewards the list of tasks just might not be so daunting.

On February 29, 1996, all the managers here at Tacony Corp.  attended a workshop on time planning from the Franklin Planner folks.  Many of us who were there are still faithfully using our planners every day.  I remember the date because I have all my planner pages archived since that day and because February 29 was a "bonus day" that year. 

It definitely helps to have all your information for the day arranged in one place,To_do_list_2

but sometimes that
"to do" list can be intimidating.  Inserting some mental breaks into your plan for the day could go a long way toward keeping a fresh perspective, keeping the creative juices flowing, and avoiding burn-out.

Give it a try and let us know if it works.

A New (?) Way to Advertise

At Mine Your Own Business, we’re firm believers in effective advertising, but here’s a story from USA Today about ads on air sickness bags.  US Airways is introducing the barf bag ads beginning this fall.  Obvious tie-ins are dramamine and other motion sickness products.  Ads for Pizza Hut and Chili’s seem unlikely.

I wonder how the ads will be placed?  Will the ad be on the inside or the outside?  If it’s on the outside, should it be right-side-up, or up-side-down?  Think about it.

Finally, in case you’re interested, there’s actually an on-line Air Sickness Bag Virtual Museum, a walk down memory lane for queasy travelers.  One interesting item, a TWA bag from 1981 featuring an ad for photo finishing.  I guess it’s not such a new idea after all.

Be Prepared

As you’ve probably heard, the St. Louis area was hit with two major storms last week which resulted in more than 1/2 million customers being without electricity for varying lengths of time.  In fact, as I write this, there are still more than 1/4 million homes and businesses without power.  To make matters worse, many people have  been without water and telephone service, too.  Local utilities are estimating that all power should be restored by Wednesday evening, one full week after the first storm hit the area.

Here at Tacony Corporation, we were fortunate to avoid any loss of services, but hundreds of other local businesses weren’t so lucky.  A while back, an article was posted here called "Most Business Owners Unprepared for Natural Disasters."  Our recent experience here in St. Louis, as well as similar problems in other areas shows just how important it is to be prepared.

Obviously, different disasters produce different situations for various types of businesses.  For example, companies selling ice, bottled water, portable coolers, generators,  and other supplies needed to cope with the lack of electricity have been doing a booming business here for the last few days.  On the other hand, restaurants and other food sellers who have been without power have had to destroy thousands of dollars worth of perishable food.

Businesses of all types have lost sales because they couldn’t operate without electricity.  "Progress" has brought many of our businesses to the point where we can’t operate in an emergency.  Windows in many buildings, including our offices in St. Louis, don’t open.  Information is computerized, meaning that without electricity, sales, inventory, price, and personnel information isn’t accessible. 

Violent storms, earthquakes, fires, mud slides, excessive heat and cold, illness, and a lot of other things can interrupt our businesses and cause big losses.  Do you have an emergency plan?  Is your important data, either electronic or old-fashioned paper, backed up and stored at a remote location?  Do your key people have ways of communicating if normal channels are cut off?  Do you keep a supply of non-perishable food and water on hand at home and in your place of business?  Do you have flashlights, AND FRESH BATTERIES, a battery-powered radio and a first aid kit on hand?  Hopefully you have at least one hard-wired telephone (Cordless phones won’t work without electricity).

Have you reviewed your insurance lately?  Is everything current?  Has your coverage kept up with inflation?  Do you have business interruption coverage?  The best time to answer all these questions is now, before these things become an issue.  No one ever thinks it will happen to them, but when you travel for blocks through a major city and see no lights, it makes you realize that stuff happens.  It doesn’t necessarily take a Hurricane Katrina to cause serious losses for your business if you haven’t taken the right steps ahead of time. 

A Disaster Planning Toolkit is available on-line from the Small Business Administration.

Plop, Plop

Are you old enough to remember the Alka Selzer commercial jingle, "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is"?  I’ll bet you didn’t know that that simple tune doubled the sales of the fizzy antacid, almost overnight.  According to Seth Godin, prior to that commercial, most people only used one tablet.

One of my favorite stories is the one of the factory worker at Procter and Gamble who suggested that one word be added to the instructions on the company’s shampoo bottles.  The word was "repeat", as in Lather, Rinse, Repeat.  Again, that small change doubled sales.

What could we do in our businesses to accomplish something similar?  In
my days as a stereo store manager, we used to make really nice profit
margins on phonograph needles (For younger readers,  a phonograph was a
prehistoric version of the CD player).  I trained my sales people to
suggest that customers buy two, one to use now and one to have around,
just in case.  I also paid a minimal commission on one needle and a
substantial one on two.  Our sales doubled.

Consumers will often buy two of something.  All we have to do is ask.

Hunting for Treasure

Treasure_chest
In a recent series of posts on pricing, we discussed three types of consumers and the pricing strategies that appeal to each group.  In a new book, "Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer", Michael Silverstein, sr. vp of the Boston Consulting Group, discusses the growth of the low end and high end price categories, and the decline of the middle. 

According to Silverstein, where the US economy has traditionally been pictured as an egg shape, with a small top and bottom and a large middle, today the consumer economy is becoming more of an hour glass, with a large top and bottom and a shrinking center.  Interestingly, he says that the same customer is shopping at both ends of the scale.  The customer "in the middle" no longer buys everything in the middle.  Instead, they "trade down" on certain items so that they can afford to "trade up" on others.  He cites the example of a couple who might buy their groceries at a warehouse club and use the savings to buy a BMW.

In the post, "Your Business Strategy",  we discussed this principle briefly, but according to Silverstein, it’s more prevalent than we thought. 

So, what’s the bottom line?  What does it mean to our business?  It means that unless we want to dwell in the low margin, low price end of things, we must make our high end offerings attractive to this new "treasure hunter".  Silverstein cites the statistic that 75% of discretionary spending in the United States is controlled by women.  If we want Ms. Treasure Hunter to  "trade down" to warehouse club grocery shopping and lunch at McDonald’s so she can afford our latest and greatest, then  we’d better give her a good reason.

As suppliers, we must continue to provide you with innovative products at good price points and you, as retailers, must provide an attractive shopping environment, knowledgeable sales people, convenient shopping hours, and world-class service. 

Michael Silverstein writes a weekly consumer column that you can find here.