Happy New Year

New_year
As we close out 2006, this is the last of our "reruns".  I chose it for today because I thought it would be a good way to end the year.  It’s a little long, but I hope you’ll find it worth your time. 

Every new year, even every new day, brings new challenges and new opportunities.  Our futures depend on how we handle them.   The 8" black and white TV is history.  iPods and flat screens are in.  We’d better be prepared for change every single day.

Hopefully our blog has been helpful for you in 2006.  We welcome your suggestions to make it better in 2007.  Our goal is to help you "work on your business, not in your business."  Our business depends on your success.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank Ken Tacony and Bill Hinderer for their support of our blogging efforts.  It’s kind of a "leap of faith" to invest time and energy into a new medium like blogging.  You may have noticed that there aren’t a lot of consumer products companies outside of the computer industry that have blogs.  We were (and still are) one of the first.  I think it shows great foresight on the part of our company’s senior managers that they’re supportive of new technologies. 

From all of us at Tacony Corporation, thank you for your support in 2006.  We look forward to serving you in 2007.


Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded that we live in an amazing
age. We have instantaneous access to all the information we can
possibly use, right on our desk tops.  Even more amazing, we can get
that same information on our pocket computers and even on our cell
phones.  24 hour news, sports, and weather are as near as our belt or
purse.

Where our grandparents, or even our parents, were amazed to see
movies “talk”, or to see 8” black and white moving pictures sent
through the air, our kids watch television in the back seat of the car
and take it for granted.   We have big screen televisions that fill up
an entire wall. 

But, the biggest change in television isn’t the device.  It’s the
way we use the medium itself.  In the ‘50s, it was simple.  If it’s
Tuesday night, it’s “Uncle Miltie” time.  Later on, most of us had
three choices, ABC, CBS, or NBC.  If you lived in a large enough
market, there might have been one or two independent stations showing
old movies and reruns.

Then came cable.  First, cable was a means for people living outside
of major markets to get a clear picture.  Then, slowly, other channels
were added and cable began to appear in the big cities.  CNN came along
and meant that we didn’t have to wait until 6:00 p.m. to see the news.
We could actually watch breaking events as they happened.

When clouds appeared on the horizon, we could tune to The Weather
Channel to find out what was happening.  “Local on the 8’s”  meant we
could actually scan the local radar every ten minutes.

Fast forward to 2006.  The big three networks are scrambling.
Advertising revenues are down.  We have hundreds of choices on cable
and satellite.  Not going to be home on Thursday evening?  TIVO “CSI”
and watch it at your leisure with the added advantage of being able to
fast forward through the commercials.  Or, download it to your i-Pod
and watch it while you walk the dog.   Broadcast TV’s historical
business model is toast.

Worse than cable, at least as far as the networks are concerned, is
the Internet.  Now, we don’t even have to wait ten minutes for our
local weather.  Just pull up the latest doplar radar images from
http://www.noaa.gov.  Want news?  Your computer doesn’t just deliver the news,
it can filter it.  You can tell it in advance what you’re interested in
and just those headlines will be delivered right to your screen.

You control the direction and the speed of the “information
superhighway.”  Broadcasting is out.  Narrowcasting is in.  The days of
some network executive sitting on the top floor of a skyscraper in New
York deciding what information and entertainment you’re going to get,
and when you’re going to get it are over.  As media consumers, we
decide.

So, what’s all this have to do with our business?  Simple.  Our
customers have choices.  When there was one major TV network, the
choices of where to shop and what to shop for were much more limited
too.  Fewer stores carried fewer brands.  The price of an item was
pretty much a local affair.  If only one store in town carried a
particular brand, that store set the price.

Today, if I can choose what information and entertainment I want
delivered into my home, and I can choose when I want to receive it, why
would I settle for anything less in other areas of my life?  If I need
a new lawn mower, I want choices; lots of choices.  I want it to do
certain things, things that I choose, not things that someone else
chooses for me. 

I also want a certain level of service.  Maybe I can change a spark
plug once in a while.  Maybe I can’t.  But, I want to decide.  Don’t
tell me that service that I don’t want or need is “included” in the
price when I know darned good and well that I’m paying for it. 

There will always be a percentage of the population that only wants
the lowest price.  So, there will always be mass merchants.  But, for
the more discriminating person, mass merchants are no more valuable
than mass communication.  The TIVO customer, the customer who gets his
news from Yahoo, and not from NBC or the New York Times, wants to
decide for himself.  He’s already done his homework on the net and
knows what a 20” self-propelled lawn mower with electric start and
oversized wheels should cost.  He knows what he wants and he knows what
he wants to pay for it.  He also knows the services he wants bundled
with it and how much those services should add to his cost. 

If you have what he wants, at the price he wants to pay, you have a
chance at his business.  If you don’t, you don’t.  It’s as simple as
that.

This guy is in love with information.  If you can tell him something
he doesn’t know, and if he doesn’t smell a sales pitch, you’ll be his
new best friend.  Show him how to take better care of his lawn, or how
to make his mower last longer, and he’ll tell his current friends about
his new friend.  How important is that?  Remember, this guy doesn’t
watch commercials.  Neither do his friends.  Word-of-mouth may be the
only way to get your message to them.

Get his permission to put him on your email newsletter mailing list,
and you’ll have an excellent chance of selling him an edger, and a
trimmer, and a snowblower, as long as your newsletter contains
information that he considers valuable.  Again, if he values your
newsletter, he’ll make sure his friends get on your mailing list too.
You become a valuable source of information.  That’s really
narrowcasting.  And you control the content.

For years we’ve all heard that the independent business is in
trouble.  The big box stores are going to get it all.  Nonsense!  The
so-called “mass market” isn’t nearly as “mass” as some would have us
believe.  Buyers have experienced the freedom to choose their
information and entertainment, they want that same freedom in other
areas too.  One size fits all doesn’t anymore.   It’s up to us to give
them the choices that they demand.

Here’s a question for you.  What are you doing to give your customer
the same kind of choices that she gets in her information and
entertainment?  How are you catering to the new, non-mass market?

Originally posted as "Say Goodbye to the Mass Market" on July 4, 2006

There Is No “Small Stuff”

I know you’ve heard the expression, "don’t sweat the small stuff."
Sometimes it may be good advice, but in running our businesses, it’s
often the small stuff that can make a big difference.  From Seth Godin’s blog
comes an interesting story about a bread shop.  The shop opens every
day at 6:00 am.  That seems very early, especially in the small town
where this business is located.

But, every morning at 6:00, 20 to 50 people board a bus, headed for
a day at the shore.  That’s 20 to 50 potential customers who are on the
bus, leaving town when the shop opens its doors.  If the owner were to
open just ten minutes earlier, the difference in sales would be
substantial.  Just 70 minutes of additional work per week (assuming the
shop is open and the bus runs seven days per week) could yield as many
as 350 more customers per week.

Sometimes it pays to "sweat the small stuff."  Is there any small stuff that you might be overlooking in your business?

Originally posted as The "Small Stuff" on 5/30/06

Recovering from a Mistake

Over the weekend, I was in Columbia, MO for my son’s graduation from the University of Missouri.
Columbia is a city of less than 100,000 population.  The University
boasts nearly 30,000 students so you can imagine that graduation
weekend puts a bit of a strain on the local hospitality industry. 

On Friday evening, we were looking for a place to eat dinner.  My
son’s roommate/landlord suggested a new restaurant nearby.  Since they
live on the western edge of the Columbia area, we guessed that they
might not be as busy as something closer to the campus.  We were right,
but we were also wrong.

The restaurant is called the Cherry Hill Brasserie.
It’s a small place and it was full.  On the other hand, the wait for a
table was only about twenty minutes; not bad considering.  We took a
seat (four seats, really) at the bar and waited for our table.  While
we waited it was obvious that the place was "slammed" which is my
former-waiter son’s term for busy.  My guess is that since the place is
so new,this was their first graduation weekend and they weren’t
prepared for the crowd.

To make a long story short, or at least not so long, we were seated
in about the amount of time the hostess had predicted, and the waiter
took our order promptly.  Then things started falling apart.  We
waited, and waited, and waited some more.  We had no bread.  We had no
napkins.  When the bread came, we had no bread plates.  It was obvious
that the place was very short-staffed and everyone was working very
hard, they just couldn’t keep up.

About a half an hour after we had placed our order, the waiter
approached our table with kind of a deer-in-the-headlights look.  "Sir,
I’m so sorry for your wait.  The kitchen misplaced your order and
they’re just starting on it now.  I hope you’ll be patient.  We’re
really busy tonight.  To make up for your long wait, your dinner will
be on the house."

As you might guess from the name, this isn’t a fast-food place.
Dinner for four wasn’t cheap.  This was some serious damage control.

When dinner finally arrived, it was wonderful.  I could cut my steak
with a fork.  Everyone else’s meal was equally good.  When we were
done, the waiter suggested desert, but, because of the size of the
portions, there were no takers.  As we were eating, both the manager
(probably the owner) and the bartender came to our table to make sure
everything was OK, and to add their apologies for the delay.

The waiter had said that dinner would be on the house, so I waited
for him to bring me a bar tab, since I didn’t expect that to be
included, especially since we ordered a round of drinks after he told
us  that the meal would be gratis.  No, there was no charge for
anything, just another apology.

I don’t imagine getting a free meal after the restaurant makes a
mistake is all that unusual.  But, you have to understand, we walked
into the restaurant about 7:00 and left about 9:30.  On the Friday
night before graduation in Columbia, MO, there’s not a restaurant in
town where we could have gotten in and out any more quickly.  In fact,
I would guess that 3-4 hours was more the norm.

But for this restaurant, that wasn’t acceptable.  They were
under-staffed, they made a mistake on our order, and they apologized
and made up for it.  I may never go back to the restaurant, because now
that Patrick has graduated, I’m not likely to be in Columbia very
often.  But, I have told this story to everyone I’ve talked to over the
last three days, including several who live in Columbia.  I’m telling
it to you.  Of course, you know where I’m going with this.  Customer
service, above and beyond what’s expected is the stuff that legends are
made of. 

A free round of drinks, or free desert, or a percentage discount
would have been enough to satisfy us.  And a month from now, I wouldn’t
have been able to tell you the name of the restaurant.  All I would
remember is how slow they were.  But, we were far more than satisfied.
We were surprised and delighted.  That’s the kind of word-of-mouth
advertising that you can’t buy.  You have to earn it.

Originally posted as Legendary Service on 5/15/06

You Have to Ask for the Sale

Tom Peters writes on the "Marketing Prof’s Daily Fix" about the age-old battle between marketing and sales.  He quotes Robert Lewis Stevenson, "Everyone lives by selling something."

While I wouldn’t go as far as Tom does in putting down marketing,
the old saying, "Nothing happens until somebody sells something" is
still true today.  In spite of all the MBA’s, in spite of the thousands
of books that have been written about marketing, in spite of the
gazillion pieces of data we have to analyze, the bottom line is that
somebody still has to get the customer’s head nodding up and down,
rather than from side to side.

I recently visited the owner of a very successful retail operation.
What’s his biggest concern?  Nobody on the floor is asking for the
sale.  His stores are beautiful.  He has a nice selection of products.
He spends thousands of dollars on advertising to get the prospects
into his stores and his "sales" people are letting them walk.

It’s like going to a doctor who takes your temperature, tests your
blood, does x-rays and cat scans and MRI’s.   Then, when he spots a
tumor, he thanks you for coming in and says he hopes you’ll come back
soon.  He’s not taking care of his customer’s needs.  Hopefully, we’re
taking care of ours.

Originally posted as Don’t Just Stand There–Sell Something! on 5/04/06

Merry Christmas

Candy_cane
On behalf of all of us here at Tacony Corporation, best wishes for a very Merry Christmas.

We truly appreciate your support of our company whether you’ve been with us for years or you’re one of the many new customers who joined our family of dealers in 2006, our 60th Anniversary year. 

Our office will close at noon today and we will be closed on Monday, December 25, Christmas Day.

I’ll be on vacation next week.  Rather than let you get out of the habit of checking our blog every day, we’ll be re-posting some items from early in the year.  (Hey, the TV networks do it all the time!)  They’ll be things that have received positive comments, either from our customers or from others on the web.

Have a great week!  See you in 2007.

candy cane image (c) Amazing Designs

Tacony Acquires Truvox International, Ltd.

Truvox_hq
Truvox International Ltd
is now a part of Tacony Corporation.
Final paperwork was executed on Tuesday, December 19. Truvox will become a wholly-owned subsidiary
of Tacony, effective January 1, 2007.

Founded in England in the 1930’s, Truvox was originally a manufacturer of sound reproduction equipment,
including one of the earliest portable reel-to-reel tape recorders.

In the early 1960’s, the company began producing floor
cleaning machines and is now a world leader in the design and production of
new, effective floor care equipment. The
Southampton factory employs a staff of sixty and ships
equipment to over thirty countries worldwide. Much like Tacony Corporation, Truvox has been a privately held,
family-owned business since its inception.

The marriage of Tacony and Truvox will allow both companies
to offer an expanded line of products to their customers and to enjoy cost savings
based on the larger customer base. 

On Wednesday morning, Tacony executives including CEO Ken
Tacony and President Bill Hinderer met with the Truvox team for an official
introduction. Each associate was
presented with a St. Louis Cardinals World Series Championship baseball cap and
a “Welcome to Tacony” banner that had been signed by associates at our Fenton,
MO corporate centre.

According to Ken Tacony, “Having Truvox join Tacony not only
adds 57 talented associates to our company, it brings us hundreds of new
customers throughout the United Kingdom and in over 30 countries throughout the world.

“This is an important step in building a strong international
commercial floor care business, taking advantage of our combined engineering,
manufacturing and sourcing capabilities
in Ft.Worth,
Fenton, St. James, Suzhou, and now Southampton.”

Don’t Diss the Competition

In a previous post, I mentioned a problem a consumer was having with one of our competitors.  I did not name the company involved because I’ve always felt it best not to say bad things about the competition for a number of reasons.  Interestingly, today I ran across a post from Tom Peters called "Speak Not Ill of Thine Competitors".

It’s a good read and worth your time.  The bottom line is that if you disparage another business, you only make yourself look bad.  As a consumer, I have to assume that you have nothing positive to say about your own business if you feel compelled to say bad things about the other guy.

As a follow up to that post from yesterday, today at least two additional references to this problem have shown up on the internet. The world is getting smaller, folks, and word spreads very quickly.

The Educated Consumer

This is number seventeen  (we’re almost done) 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 Stanyon’s fifth Challenge (opportunity), "transparency of price and product information."

Price transparency and the proliferation of product
information are two sides of the same coin. Today’s consumers have more knowledge than ever before. This can be a good thing or a bad thing,
depending on how you handle it.

The days of hiding behind “manufacturer’s list price” are
pretty much over. With just a few mouse
clicks, any consumer can find out what a product is actually selling for, not
just across town, but across the country. Armed with this knowledge, she’s is in a much better bargaining position
than she was just a few years ago. Even
if a manufacturer doesn’t allow sales on the web, there are a variety of chat
rooms, blogs, forums, and other internet sites where consumers can discuss
price among themselves.

While all of this pricing information might tend to drive
retail prices (and profit margins) down, the availability of lots of product
information should have the opposite effect. The same customer who has taken the time to research price most likely
has researched product specs as well. Information on manufacturers’ web sites and on product comparison sites,
along with discussions on those social sites mentioned above, make today’s
customer very knowledgeable about features and benefits. A favorable product mention on a popular blog,
or in a chat room, will drive customers into your store looking for that item. That’s why it’s important for today’s
retailer to know what’s happening on the web. Obviously, a negative mention will have the opposite effect. (See the sidebar item below.)

This presents the retailer with two different
challenges. One is putting knowledgeable
staff on the sales floor. If a potential
customer thinks she knows more about the product than your sales people do, you
will soon have zero credibility.

Assuming you have the right people on the floor, then the task
is to sell the product-knowledgeable consumer on the benefits of buying from you.  This consumer already has a good idea of what
she wants and how much it costs. Your
job is to convince her to buy it from you and to explain the benefits of being
your customer.

 

Sidebar

In today’s information age, it’s critical that you know what
people are saying about you, your products, and your competitors. There are web sites, like Google Alerts,
where you can set up news searches on particular words and phrases. When one of your search terms appears in a
news story, on a web site, or on a blog, you receive an email with a link.

For example, I have Google searches set up for all of our
products and our major competitors’ products, too. Today I received an email alerting me to a
blog entry concerning one of our competitors. Out of respect for the company (they make good products) and knowing that every story has two
sides, I’ll call them “Brand X”. The headline of the article? “I
Hate Brand X!”

He goes on at great length to describe the problems he’s had
with his dealer and the apparent indifference of the manufacturer. To make matters worse, he gives us an update,
quoting the email he just got from the manufacturer, telling him to go back to
the dealer to spend more money to get the needed product correction. He ends by comparing the company unfavorably
to Microsoft! Ouch!

Hopefully someone from Brand X will see this and get it
taken care of before the story spreads all over the internet. But it’s a good example of why we all need to
be aware of what’s being said, good and bad, about us on the internet.

Raising the Bar

"Customers are
demanding more from the companies with whom they choose to do business." 1to1 Weekly reports on a recent customer service survey from the National Retail Federation.  According to the survey, the top three retailers, in order, are Amazon.com, Nordstrom, and L.L. Bean.

"
Asked to rate the level of customer service they expect from certain types of stores on a one-to-five scale (with
one representing "poor" and five representing "excellent"), survey respondents noted their high expectations for
specialty stores (4.40 rating) and department stores (4.12)."

When an on-line retailer like Amazon.com, known primarily for its huge selection and low prices can score the top spot in customer service, it certainly raises the bar for everyone else.  You expect excellent service from Nordstrom, a company known for going above and beyond to exceed customers’ expectations.  The same is true for L.L. Bean.  But a mail-order book warehouse?

If customers expect to receive service that rates 4.4 out of 5 from specialty stores, what do you have to do to exceed those expectations? to stand out from the crowd?   The answer is  you must be almost perfect. 

Amazon manages a customer base of more than sixty-one million yet knows more about me than my local bookstore does.  They email me with recommendations based on books I’ve bought in the past.  They suggest additional items based on other people’s past purchases. Orders almost always arrive earlier than the promised delivery date.  Even though I buy locally whenever I can, there are some specialty books that just aren’t available anywhere else.  They would get that business even if their customer service was terrible.  But it isn’t terrible.  It’s the best, rated even higher than Nordstrom’s.

As a specialty retailer, you have to be even better.  Today’s consumer expects it.

Opportunity: Higher Levels of Service

This is number sixteen 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 Stanyon’s fourth Challenge (opportunity), "the need for delivery of higher levels of service."

I hate to sound like a broken record, but superior customer service is the single most important thing that a retailer can do to stand out from the crowd.  "Good service" isn’t enough anymore.  While bad service will drive customers away, good service won’t necessarily keep them coming back.  Satisfaction doesn’t equal loyalty.  For example, I just changed cell phone carriers.  My former company wasn’t terrible.  There were some things that I didn’t care for, but generally they were alright. On a scale of one to ten, they were probably a solid five.  I’m sure that if I had updated my plan and got a new phone, I would have been satisfied for another two years.

But, with the barrage of cell phone ads I decided to look around.  My new carrier offered the plan that I wanted with a phone that meets my needs.  My son in Alabama uses the same company so we can call him and he can call us at no charge.  That was the tie breaker. 

Had my original carrier ever done anything to distinguish themselves, to create a loyal customer, rather than a satisfied customers, I might not have made the switch.  Most of our conversations with our son are in the evening or on the weekends when the calls are free anyway. 

Am I unusual?  I don’t think so.  That’s just the reality of twenty-first century retailing.  You either stand out or you lose out.  It’s that simple.

This isn’t rocket science.  Why does it seem to be so difficult?  Why doesn’t everyone do it?  According to Stanyon it comes down to people and leadership.  We all know how difficult it is to find and keep good people.  In a survey we did here at Mine Your Own Business, hiring, training, and keeping good people ranked very high.  Face it, if you don’t have good employees your chances of having delighted customers aren’t very good.

One of Stanyon’s suggestions is that you don’t overlook any age group.  An AARP survey of workers age 50 to 70 found that more than 2/3 of them don’t plan to retire.  They’re smart.  They’re experienced.  They have a work ethic that’s hard to find among younger workers. 

At the other end of the spectrum, very young workers (high school through college age) can be excellent employees too.  What they lack in experience, they may make up for with energy, enthusiasm, and a lack of bad work habits.

Of course, the standard for the level of customer service in your business is set by the leader.  You must make it clear that delighted customers are your number one priority.  You have to walk the talk.  If they see you carrying a heavy item out to the customer’s car, they’ll do the same.  If they see you talking on the phone while a customer is waiting to be helped, guess what they’ll do when you’re not there?

Delighting your customers isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely vital if you want to compete.  You may have to do some things that you don’t want to do.  In the era of twenty-four hour "superstores", you can’t afford to be closed when your customers want to shop.  If you promise your customer after-the-sale service then aren’t there to answer the phone when she has a question, she will not be delighted.  She may not complain.  You might not even realize that she’s unhappy.  But one day you’ll wonder why you don’t see her anymore.

I’m guessing that you have no desire to be open around the clock and I don’t blame you.  But if your store hours are the same today as they were in 1970, you may want to rethink them.  If your customers are primarily working mothers, it doesn’t make much sense to close every evening at 5:00.  If your product is used on the weekend, then your customers are going to have questions and need accessories on the weekend.  You don’t have to be open at 3:00 in the morning.  No one expects that.  But it wouldn’t hurt to have a web site with a good faq section and some self-directed service areas for the night owls.

Think about your own service needs.  When have you gotten exceptional service?  What can you learn from it?  Ask the experts, your customers themselves.  Ask them what you could do that would make your store their favorite place to shop.  You may be surprised at how little it will take to move from the ordinary to the extraordinary. 

Remember that a pot of water at 211 degrees is just hot water.  Add one degree and it becomes steam.  Steam moves giant locomotives and ships.  Steam provides heat for huge office buildings.  But water at 211 degrees doesn’t move anything.  It’s waiting for that one last degree.