Challenges of the Future

  “If there is any period one
would desire to be born in, is it not the age of revolution; when the old and
the new stand side by side, and admit of being compared; when the energies of
all men are searched by fear and hope; when the historic glories of the old can
be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? This time, like all times, is a very good
one, if we but know what to do with it.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

So begins the introduction to
Challenges of the Future: The Rebirth
of Small Independent Retail in America
”, a white paper written by Jack Stanyon, president of
Edge, an independent marketing and communications consultancy. The National
Retail Federation
, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and the George H.
Baum Community Charitable Trust are the sponsors of what might well be the most
important thing you’ll read this year.   Produced in December, 2004, the ideas presented by Stanyon  apply to every type of retail  business and are no less current in 2006.

 

From the introduction: “This white paper originated from an
observation and a supposition by
Jim Baum, a
highly active and successful Morris, Illinois small, independent retailer. His observation was that macro and micro
trends affect the small independent entrepreneur differently than their large
competitors. His supposition is if small
independents could just step back, take a deep breath and think about what’s
really happening, what’s changing and what’s just over the horizon, they might
act differently. They might change how they do things. They might experiment more to take advantage
of new emerging opportunities. They
might see solutions more clearly. They
might find new ways to connect more closely to their marketplace.”

 
Stanyon identifies eight
trends and six challenges that affect the independent retailer. In this series of posts, we’ll take a look at
each one and the effect it might have on your business. Hopefully, each post will be a springboard to
discussion. Each of us has different
needs and aspirations, but I doubt that any of us can deny the influence that
these trends and challenges will have on all of us for the foreseeable future.

The white paper also contains
profiles of seventeen successful independent retailers. Each has a unique perspective and some good
ideas that you might be able to use.

One common theme throughout
Challenges is that we’re all in this together. Associations of independent retailers, whether they’re formal industry
groups or informal groups of non-competing retailers, allow for an exchange of
ideas and possibly joint purchasing opportunities, either for merchandise, or
for necessary services like employee benefits. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

 Hopefully this blog will be
one of those informal groups. The
original posts may contain some useful information, but it’s your comments that
will make this forum invaluable. Let’s
all learn from each other.

To get the conversation
started, here are Stanyon’s eight trends and six challenges.

 

Trends

  • Personalization
  • Value equation
  • Increased competition
  • Changing demographics
  • Community activism
  • Health care costs
  • Changing customer attitudes
    and behavior
  • Urban sprawl and real estate
    development

 

Challenges

  • The changing nature and
    effectiveness of marketing and advertising
  • Difficulties in product
    sourcing and merchandise acquisition
  • Speed and overwhelming nature
    of technological change
  • Need for delivery of higher
    levels of service
  • Transparency of price and
    product information
  • Limitations of management
    skills and capabilities

 
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at
the trend of personalization. Meanwhile,
be sure to download Challenges of the Future. It’s an easy read that could have a life-changing impact on you and your
business….and it’s free.

 

 

 

Some Serious Information for Travelers

As you know, recent events have pushed the United States Terrorist Alert level up to orange, the second highest color.  Airport security has tightened considerably and there’s a new list of items that can and can’t be carried on a plane.

Since many of our dealers are going to be visiting St. Louis next week for Baby Lock Tech, our big annual sewing event, an update on the current rules might be in order.  Here’s a link to the "Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA) current list of prohibited items.

Keep in mind that sharp, pointy things are still prohibited, but now virtually all liquids and gels are also banned.  According to the TSA site:

"To ensure the health and welfare of certain air travelers the following items are permitted.

You are permitted to bring solid cosmetics and personal hygiene
items as such lipstick, lip balm and similar solids. Please remember
these items must be solid and not liquid, gel or aerosol."

That’s it.  If it comes in a bottle, can, jar or tube, they’re probably going to make you throw it away.  Don’t think that they’re going to make exceptions, because they’re not.  If you try to sneak a container of Jello on the plane, they’re going to delay you and all the people in line behind you while they search your baggage.

The new rules also require that everybody remove their shoes and send them through the X-ray machine.  If you’re going to fly, do yourself and everyone else a favor and don’t wear shoes or boots that are hard to get on and off. 

Air travel isn’t as much fun as it used to be, but we all want to be safe.  Get there early, plan for delays, and leave the hair gel in your checked luggage.

FREE ADVERTISING!

Google_map_logo
Everyone likes something free.  Here’s something that’s free and could be a boost to your business.  Today Google, the top search engine (among other things) on the web announced that it’s offering free printable coupons on its Google Maps service.

Here’s how it works: 

If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll have to set one up first.  To set up an account, click here.  It only takes a few minutes and it’s free. If you have a Google account go to the Google Local Business Center.

Google_map_coupons_1_1

 

Click on the "Locations" tab and fill in your business information.  You can list one or more locations.  Then click on the "Coupons" tab and fill in the information for your coupon offer. 

That’s it.  In a few hours, your coupon will appear along with your map listing.

When a consumer searches Google for your type of business, yours will be listed along with a notation that you’re offering a coupon.

Here’s how it looks:

Google_map_coupons_4_3

When the customer clicks on the word "Coupons>", they’ll be taken to a printable page like this:

Google_map_coupons_5_1

 

Every day millions of people search Google Maps. The great equalizer is the fact that your map pin is exactly the same size as everyone else’s.

Coupons are a very effective form of advertising, especially when a consumer has searched for your type of business.  If the search returns several businesses, your coupon might just be the tie-breaker.

 

Let us know how it works for you.

Added 2:24 PM 8/15/06  There’s another good explanation at Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch.

Consumers Not Satisfied with Customer Service

According to Inc.com, a recent on-line survey has shown that nearly one half of US consumers have stopped patronizing at least one business in the last year because of bad customer service.  The survey was conducted in May by Accenture, a management consulting firm.

46% said poor service had driven them away from at least one firm this year.  18% said retailers have the worst customer service followed by Internet service providers, banks, phone companies, and cable/satellite TV.  Utility companies, life insurance companies, airlines, and hotels were the least often mentioned.  That’s really not surprising since it’s hard, if not impossible, to walk away from these types of businesses. 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there is nothing that an independent retailer can do that will have greater returns than providing world-class service.  Over the weekend, I went with my son to buy a new vehicle.  He knew what he wanted and how much he wanted to pay.  He bought from the first dealer that we visited.  Why?  Well, first they had what he wanted and worked with him to get to the right price.  But more important, the whole transaction was just pleasant.  There was no pressure.  Everyone at the dealership was friendly and helpful. 

When we went to pick up the new vehicle, it was freshly washed and had a full tank of gas (not a small thing nowadays, especially for a pickup truck with a 26 gallon tank).  We kept them past closing time signing everything (my fault, I was late) but there was no rush, no one flashing the light or standing by the door tapping their foot. 

This wasn’t a huge sale for the dealer but it was a BIG deal for my 22 year old son.  He’d shopped around and frankly, other dealers hadn’t treated him nearly as well.  Most blew him off and didn’t even offer him a test drive.  Here’s the thing.  He’s 22.  This was his first car-buying experience.  Don’t you think he’ll remember who treated him well and who didn’t?  Given the rate of inflation, he’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on cars and trucks over the course of his lifetime. So will his friends and family.

It costs nothing to treat people well.  Auto dealers aren’t exactly turning people away today, especilly people shopping for full-size pickups.  Salesmen who would rather talk to one another or talk on the phone than talk to a potential customer should find another line of work.  Ditto for those who prejudge rather than prequalify.  That college kid in the ragged jean shorts might just have a father willing to co-sign his loan.  Word of mouth is the best, the cheapest, and the most effective form of advertising.  But, you can’t buy it.  You have to earn it.

It’s Monday.  You probably have a lot of work to do, getting caught up from the weekend.  But there’s nothing you can do today that’s more important than making sure that every prospect who walks into your store, leaves with a smile on her face and a positive story to tell her friends, whether she buys anything or not.

What are you doing to ensure that your customers get the best service possible?

The Dog Days of Summer

PuppyHere in the midwest, when two people meet, the conversation is most
likely to begin with some comment about the weather.  For the last few weeks it’s been all about the heat (hot enough for you?) and/or the lack of rain.  The fact that it’s August and it’s supposed to be hot and dry in St. Louis does nothing to discourage the conversation.  Personally, I think that if it was cold and snowing, THEN you’d have something to talk about.

Anyway, besides the weather, another sure thing about August is that sales for most things, unless they’re needed for back-to-school, seem to slow down.  Considering that today’s first grader isn’t considered properly prepared for the first day of school without a cell phone and a laptop computer, it’s not surprising that money for other things is a little tight.

But, you have bills to pay and a family to feed, so what do you do the keep some of those consumer dollars flowing into YOUR cash register?  What’s working, right now, today?

The question is:  How do you build traffic during the "dog days" of summer?

A Friendly Reminder

Knowing that your time is valuable, our goal is to provide you with information that you can use.  You can help us do that by telling us what you think is important.  Our on-line survey is short and to the point.  It should take only a couple of minutes to complete.  We’ve even given you space to make comments. 

Of course, you’re also welcome to comment on  any individual post and you can make comments, suggest ideas for posts, send your favorite jokes, or just drop a note to say "hi" by clicking on the "Email Me" link in the left column.

Wit and Wisdom of “the Donald”

As if he didn’t have enough money, Mr. Trump has a blog which he humbly calls "The Trump Blog".  It’s basically an advertising vehicle for Trump University, a series of on-line classes for business folks.  The Donald is a fairly regular contributor, but today I’d like to call your attention to a post by Don Sexton, PhD on competition

According to Dr. Sexton, there are four questions you should be able to answer about your competion. 

1.  Who are they?  This may seem easy, but it’s harder than you might think. 

2.  What do they want?  Are they after short-term profits or are they in it for the long haul? 

3.  What can they do?  You need to know their strengths and weaknesses to plan a successful strategy.      

4.  What will they do?  Study their past actions to get an idea of what they might do in the future.

Healthy competition will make you stronger if you can answer these questions and make a plan to outmaneuver them.  Consumers are so well informed today that every one of them driven into the market by your competitors’ ads is very likely to end up in your store.

You Couldn’t Make This Stuff Up

Earlier today at an on-line presentation, marketing guru Seth Godin used these two images as part of his presentation.Danger_1  In the first case, you wouldn’t want to attempt to recover the fine until you were sure that the power was turned off.

Please be sure the person’s wallet is no longer smoking before removing currency.

In the second picture, a prescription for a dog, note the warnings.Dog_rx_1 In case it’s too small to read, it says:  "May cause drowsiness.  Alcohol may intensify this effect.  Use care when operating a car or dangerous machinery.

If your dog has been driving under the influence, with or without the prescription, you should give him a serious talking to.

Seriously, Godin has some excellent free material on marketing that you can download from his Squidoo lens. Scroll down near the bottom of the page to the section headed, "FREE ebooks YOU CAN DOWNLOAD RIGHT NOW".

What’s a Squidoo lens?  Click the link and see for yourself. The link called "Everyone’s an Expert (about something)" is an explanation of lenses.

Waiting for Things to Get Better

Normally, the focus of this blog is positive. There’s enough bad news on television, on the
radio, and in newspapers to keep all of us depressed for years to come. So, as a rule negative stories are
off-limits. But, sometimes we can learn
something from others mistakes, so here’s a link to an article by Aaron Burgin from the Portersville (CA) Recorder.

 

It’s your typical report on the demise of small businesses,
forced out by the big box retailers, especially in small towns. There’s nothing new here. We’ve read it all before. But, the comments of one store owner caught
my attention. I won’t use his name, even
though it’s in the article. He says, “It’s
depressing. I think we do have a place
here, but it’s hard because the majority of people seem to forget that we are
here.”

 

OK, let’s take a look at that statement. “It’s hard….” Of course it’s hard. Most things
in life, at least things of any value, are hard. As my former boss, Tom Bridges used to say, “If
it was easy, anybody could do it.”

 

Further on, the writer says “His shop bears the look of a
store in the twilight of its heyday: Shelves only half-filled with merchandise, tattered black-and-white
racing pennants that hang from a ceiling that is populated with burned-out fluorescent bulbs that remain
unchanged for years.”

 

He says that the store’s owner “has thought of closing up
shop before.” Says the owner, “You stay
open because you just think that things will get better.”

 

I certainly don’t want to pick on this poor guy, because
unfortunately he’s not that unusual. People haven’t forgotten about his store. They remember the half-filled shelves. They remember that he didn’t have what they
needed the last time they were there. They remember the burned-out lights and the tattered pennants. No, they haven’t forgotten him, he’s
forgotten them.

 

Who wants to shop in a place like that? I know I don’t, and I doubt that you do
either. Fear is a strong emotion. Fear of the unknown is a powerful negative
motivator. It can be crippling, as it
seems to be in this store-owner’s case.

 

He’s staying open waiting for things to get better. Sadly for him, they won’t get better until he
makes them better. Sure the big boxes
are formidable competitors. They have
deep pockets, big purchasing power, and high-priced marketing talent back at
the home office. What they don’t have is
world-class service, personal attention to every customer, and the flexibility
to respond to change. Most people want
to shop with their local merchants, and will pay a small premium to do just
that because they want value, not just price. Value includes quality products and service, reasonable prices, and a
pleasant shopping experience.

 

I doubt that anyone reading this has withdrawn into a shell,
waiting for the day when the doors will close for good. Hopefully you’re reading this because you’re
looking for ways to take a proactive approach to your business. If that’s true, then you already know that
you can’t just sit back and “wait for things to get better.” A dark, shabby store with half-full fixtures
isn’t going to cut it. A clean, neat,
freshly merchandised store with plenty of stock is just the starting
point. Without that, you can’t even
begin to compete.

Small Businesses are Optimistic

Inc.com reports today that "Small business owners remain optimistic  about the current and future state of their small business despite soaring gas prices and interest rate increases, according to a new Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index."

The study found that nearly three out of four small business owners said their financial situation was good or very good and eighty-seven percent said they expect to be better off a year from now.

Most of the owners surveyed reported stable revenues, cash flow, capital spending and hiring.