1,310 Miles in 50 Days

Happy Monday!  After nearly six months and more than 100 posts, I thought today might be a good time for a guest blogger.  I’ll warn you ahead of time that the subject isn’t  business, but health and fitness are certainly necessary if we’re going to be effective in our jobs.  And persistence and endurance are definitely a part of any entrepreneur’s life.

Over the weekend, I received an email from my son, who is in Huntsville, AL studying for a graduate degree.  He wanted to call attention to the story of Dean Karnazes.  You may have heard of him.  They call him "Ultra Marathon Man".  Any time you think you have a big challenge to face, think about Dean Karnazes.  Here’s Patrick’s email:

Ladies and gentlemen, a very interesting story was brought to my attention the other day on the local news.  A gentleman by the name of Dean Karnazes is speaking out against an epidemic spreading across this great country of ours.  The epidemic: childhood obesity, a problem currently affecting 1 in 3 children across the country.  This, my friends, is a problem.  As a former overweight child, this sort of thing really hits me personally.  When I was a child things were a bit different.  Cafeterias were serving up cheese soaked nachos, pizza, mac and cheese, etc. to young, developing children all across the US.  (I, for one, was partial to the pizza burgers.)  Low-fat and low-cal foods were not as readily available as they are today.  Diet groups (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.) were not around as much to influence the parents to perhaps help their children make better decisions about food.  That was the way things were.  They are different now…

You can’t turn your head in a grocery store without seeing a low-fat/low-cal/low-sodium/low-sugar substitute for all of your favorites.  You can’t turn on the TV without seeing a commercial for fitness centers, weight loss centers/supplements, or cross trainers.  Now, I have never been one to buy into things being sold on television, but we all know it’s out there.  That’s the point I am making here.  So, what’s the deal?  Why are there still so many of our youth in this struggle?  School cafeterias have made meals far more healthily and well-balanced for the growing body.  Phys. Ed. classes are being emphasized more by these same institutions of youth education. 

What’s the problem?  I am not going to point blame, but I think, with their young impressionable children, parents need to make better choices for their kids at young ages which will help them to make good decisions on their own in the future.  Now, I am not going to say I don’t crave the occasional candy bar or cookie, but since I was quite young my folks [he means his mother, ed.]have been helping me to make the right decisions regarding diet and exercise.  This guidance has helped me to make much better choices as I have grown. 

My brother is a great example of this as well.  Once a person of "stout" nature, he has now run several marathons, coaches high school soccer, and run miles on top of miles on a daily basis.  A great inspiration for me in the last few years. 

Also, my sister is getting ready to get her degree in dietetics.  The help she will be giving people in the future is a very noble cause indeed. 

So, where I am going with this?  My point is poor decisions as a child can be reversed, but it is up to the parents to make these choices a bit easier on their children.

So what about Mr. Karnazes?  He is raising awareness of the childhood obesity problem by taking the 50 day break between trimesters (he’s a high school teacher) to run a marathon….everyday…in every state….in 50 days!  That’s 26.2 miles every day… 1310 miles in a fifty day span.  Incredible!!!  I am totally behind this man’s incredible journey, and if this helps in alleviating the problem of childhood obesity, then rock and roll.  An unbelievable feat for a terrific cause.  Stand up and recognize, people! 

-One Love, brothers and sisters!

Patrick Buckley,

University of Alabama, Huntsville

Dean Karnazes writes daily on his progress on his Endurance Is blog.  Check it out.

Customer Attitudes

This is number eleven in our series based on Challenges of the
Future: The Rebirth of Small Independent Retail in America
, a 64 page white paper by Jack Stanyon, underwritten by the George H. Baum
Community Charitable Trust, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and the
National Retail Federation Foundation.  Today we take a look at the trend of Changing consumer attitudes and behavior.

Today’s customers can be overwhelmed by the amount and variety of messages that come their way every day.  Add to that the huge number of shopping choices that are available today and it’s no wonder that consumer attitudes and behavior are changing.  According to Stanyon, "People are more fluid in their shopping behavior.  They no longer sit still confortably in a single segment….Today, the same customers will buy a luxury good in the morning and then buy a lowest discount price item in the afternoon. 

As we discussed in an earlier post, "Hunting for Treasure", Michael Silverstein describes this trend in his book, "Treasure Hunt:  Inside the Mind of the New Consumer".  Today’s consumer may scrimp on comodity items and use the savings to upgrade on items they consider important.  Our job as merchants is to make our products and service so desirable that Mr. and Ms. Consumer will be willing to forego the best toothpaste and laundry detergent in favor of doing business with us.

Stanyon goes on to say that "we value most what is most scarce."  Time, which is only available in units of 24 hours per day and seven days per week, seems to be the thing that most Americans desire.  Since no one gets more than their daily allotment, using it efficiently is very important to a lot of people.  Independent retailers offer the in-a-hurry consumer the advantage of close-by parking, personal service, and no-hassle checkout.  This explains, at least in-part, the decline in shopping mega-malls and the growth of the so-called lifestyle centers.

One thing that’s constant, especially in the twenty-first century, is change.  Not long ago, most consumers wouldn’t even think about making a major purchase on the Internet.  Today it’s common.  Customers attitudes change much more frequently and loyalty isn’t what it used to be. 

As I follow various Internet groups that discuss products that we sell, I often see a core of loyal customers.  But I also see "influencers".  These are people whose opinion is clearly valued by other members of the group.  If they reccomend a product, a retailer, or a web site, other members of the group will act on that reccomendation.  On the reverse side, let one of them say something negative and others will quickly jump in with their own stories to back up the negative comment.

The point is that you’re only as good as your customer’s most recent experience.  Years of satisfaction can be wiped out by one less-than-satisfactory visit to your store, even if that visit was by someone else.

What’s the solution?  Someone once said, "treat them so many ways that they have to like one of them".  That’s a start.  Every member of your team has to be "on their game" for every single contact, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or over the Internet.  You can’t afford to give your customers a reason to even think about going somewhere else.

As the owner/manager, it’s up to you to make sure that every transaction goes beyond the ordinary, even beyond the great.  Exceed their expectations.  As Tom Peters says, leave them saying "Wow!"  Give them a story to tell their friends.  Make the experience of shopping with you such a treat that they won’t even consider shopping elsewhere.  If people truly are "more fluid" in their shopping behavior, then you want your business to be the one they "flow to", not the one they flow away from.

More on Generation Y

In a recent post we discussed the members of Generation Y.  These are the sons and daughters of the Baby Boom generation, born between 1982 and 2000.  In an article called Gen Y sits on top of the food chain in today’s issue of USA Today, writer Jayne O’Donnell gives us more insight into this powerful demographic.

Online marketing expert Kelly Moony has researched this group and found some interesting things.  One is that they’re turned off by slow web sites, dismissive sales staff, and free shipping that’s too slow.  That’s probably true for most of us.  The difference is that these young people will express their unhappiness on their MySpace page, in Instant Messages, and on their blogs.  If you turn one of them off, you run the risk of alienating an entire generation.  She finds that they want merchandise that’s either cheap or elite, something that we’ve discussed here previously, too. 

Moony says that Y’s are more savvy than they’re given credit for and "in some instances they think they know more than the person selling them something."  I’d have to disagree slightly.  In some cases they do know more than the person selling them something.

Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow is quoted as saying that these young consumers have an "equal vote in the look and style of the family."  No argument there.  My two "Y’s" definitely influenced my recent car purchase.  (My daughter has better taste than I do and my son knows more about cars.)

The bottom line is that this group of young people has money to spend now and will have a lot more to spend in years to come.  They know what they want and they know how to get information.  We’d better pay attention to them.

Persistence

Today, I’d like to offer a famous quotation without any additional comment.  It’s just something to think about.

"Nothing
in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not;
nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Genius
will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not;
the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination
alone are omnipotent.  the slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will
solve the problems of the human race."

                                                                  
Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States.

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Selling to Your Uncle (Sam)

Earlier this week, I attended a workshop on doing business
with the government. Most of us don’t
mind paying our share of taxes, but most of us will agree that we think we pay
too much. One way to get some of that
money back is to sell things to the government.

In 2005, federal acquisitions totaled $295 billion and state
and local governments spent another $440 billion. That’s $735 billion in total purchases. Granted some of that money was spent on jet
fighters and aircraft carriers, but a lot of it was spent on products that you
sell.

In fact, there are three federal purchasing thresholds.

  • For purchases of $25,000 or more the agency
    must publish a request for competitive bids. It takes a fair amount of expertise to participate in the bid
    process. It’s not very user friendly.
  • For purchases of $2,500 to $25,000, the agency is required
    to seek 3 competitive bids, but it’s not necessary to publish a request for
    bids. Typically, a buyer will make a few
    phone calls asking for prices. Three
    calls and the requirement is met. Notice
    that the agency must seek 3 competitive bids. It doesn’t have to get three bids. If the first two calls get a “no, thanks” response and the third one
    gets a price, that’s all that’s needed.
  • For purchases of less than $2,500, no bids are required and
    the purchase is made by credit card. 90%
    of federal purchases fall into this category. This is another case where you have an excellent chance of getting the
    business if your catalog is in the buyer’s office. Purchases that fall below the $25,000
    threshold are going to the suppliers who have made the effort to promote their
    businesses to the right people.

Government agencies have purchase goals that direct them to
buy from small business, especially small businesses owned by women,
minorities, and disabled veterans. For
example, last year the federal goal for small business purchases was 23%. That’s 23% of $295 billion, or $67
billion! Your state has similar
goals. You should be getting some of
that!

So, what do you do? There are several agencies that are ready, willing, and able to help you
out. One is your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center.
These agencies, located in every state,
provide assistance at little or no cost. For example, in Missouri,
MO PTAC provides a listing of all federal, state, and local purchasing agents
in the state. Your local PTAC will help
you get your foot in the door.

The National Association of State Procurement Officials has
an on-line listing of purchasing procedures and a directory of state purchasing
directors on its web site.

Fed Biz Opps is the clearing house web site for all federal
government purchases over $25,000.00.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) also has a lot of
good information, especially under the tab “Resources and Opportunities.” The SBA promotes the use of small businesses
by government buyers. Their local
district offices will be glad to help you

Small business development centers are located all over the United States.  Services vary by location. You
can find your local center on their web site.

What does the government buy? The government is a business. It’s a BIG business, but it’s still a
business. It buys everything from jumbo
jets to paper clips. It buys commercial cooking equipment and it buys take-out Chinese food.  It buys anything that any business might buy, and more.  Government includes
everything from the White House to city hall in the smallest town in America. There are literally hundreds of thousands of
opportunities for you to sell them something.

Like all businesses, the buyers are your neighbors and
possibly your friends. It’s people
buying from people. Develop relationships with the right people and you just
might be surprised at how much of your tax money you can get back in the form of
additional sales.

 

 

More Than a Bagel and a Cup of Coffee

Panera
Mike Sansone posted recently on his ConverStations blog about Panera Bread Company.  Panera is a St. Louis based company.  In fact, around here their stores are called St. Louis Bread Company.  Mike points out their superior customer service and the quality of the "experience" of dining in their restaurants.  It’s something we’ve known locally for a long time.

The folks at Panera have found a unique niche for themselves.  They’re a combination coffee shop, bakery, fast food restaurant, and caterer.  They’re constantly tweaking their menu by adding new and/or seasonal items.  For example, they recently added the Crispani, their version of pizza, making them more of a dinner destination.

They have such a loyal following that many people can list today’s soups of the day from memory.  For example, today’s Wednesday.  The soups are Broccoli Cheddar, Low Fat Chicken Noodle, French Onion, Baked Potato, and Low Fat Vegeterian Vegetable.  They furnish customers with pocket-sized cards with each day’s selections.

Panera offers a variety of seating choices.  You can sit at a regular table, a booth, a high table with bar-type stools, an outdoor table, or on a sofa or plush chair.  Unlike many of their competitors, most of their locations offer FREE wireless, high-speed internet.  For the price of a cup of coffee, you can turn a Panera Cafe into your personal office, with free refills.  Starbucks is a popular hang-out for mobile business people, but Panera
doesn’t charge for Wi-Fi and you don’t have to go somewhere else for
lunch.

Does their business model work?  Since they opened their first bakery/cafe in 1987, they’ve grown to over 850 locations and 17 manufacturing plants with nearly 5,000 employees. 

What can we learn from Panera?  They’re a great example of what happens when you find your niche and strive to be the best (or only) player in that niche.  They have great coffee and the laid back atmosphere of a neighborhood coffee shop.  They sell fresh-baked bagels, pastries, and loaves of bread like any good bakery.  And you can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner in a hurry, either to go or to eat in.  Or, any combination of the above.  And, you can hold a business meeting, check your email, or post to your blog at the same time.

What products or services can you offer your customers that make you stand out from the crowd?

Using the Telephone

Telephone
What with high gas prices and time pressure, your customers and prospects are using the phone more than ever to get price and product information.  How you and your staff handle this important means of communication may well determine whether you ever get a chance at someone’s business.

Jeff Mowatt provides an interesting telephone test on the business know-how web site.  Questions include how long your phone rings before it’s answered, what you say when you answer it, and how you put a caller on hold, among others.

One point that’s very important is how you juggle a phone call and a customer who is actually in your store.  I recently waited several minutes, cash in hand to make a purchase while the person behind the counter looked things up for someone on the phone, never even making eye contact with me.  I eventually left and went to the competitor down the street.

You want to turn callers into customers, but you can’t ignore the people who have taken the time to make the trip to your store.  It’s a delicate balance, but one that can have a big impact on your business. 

More information on telephone techniques can be found in Who Answers Your Phone Matters and Telephone Etiquette Guide, by California State University/Fullerton.