On-Line Courses from Uncle Sam

The Small Business Administration is offering a variety of on-line courses on running your business.  The courses are interactive and can be taken at any time, at your own pace.  Some of the subject areas include:

Business Planning
Business Management
Financing and Accounting
Marketing and Advertising
Government Contracting

and several others.

The courses seem to be very user friendly and contain some good information.  It’s worth the time to check them out.  The best part is that they’re FREE.

Retail “Cookbook”

Marketing Your Retail Store in the Internet Age

by Bob and Susan Negen
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Last week I promised you a review of the Negens new book.  Here it is.

Bob and Susan  have put together an excellent guide on
how to “do” retail. Bob’s background is
in independent retail while Susan’s is in chain store merchandising. The book is full of practical advice on how
to increase sales and profits and not go broke in the process.

The book is laid out in four “steps”.


Getting new customers

Turning first-time buyers into regular customers

Getting customers to shop more often

Keeping customers for life

It may seem simplistic, but it’s often the simple things
that trip us up. Any retailer or any
other business for that matter that can execute the four steps consistently and
well is sure to be a success. Bob and Susan provide practical, proven “tactics” to do just that. This stuff would work just as well for dentists or barber shops as it does for retailers.

While the title might suggest that this is a book about
internet marketing, tactics are described as either “Low-Tech” or “High-Tech”. For example, “donut marketing”, taking donuts
to neighboring non-competing businesses who are in a position to send customers
your way is about as low-tech as you can get. It’s something that’s been used successfully for as long as there have
been sales people and donuts. The
question is, do you do it? There are a
lot of tips like that in this book.

The thing that sets this book apart from many similar books
is that it’s practical. You can read
about a tactic in the morning and actually be making money using it in the
afternoon. This is not an academic
book. It’s like a cookbook for retail
merchandising and marketing.

 Some of the things that the authors suggest may not be
well-received by everyone. “Simple”
doesn’t always equal “easy”. For
instance, they suggest you may need to expand your store hours. I attended one of Bob’s seminars and the
response to this particular suggestion wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. No one wants to put in more hours. But, if you faithfully follow Bob and Susan’s
advice, your increased sales and profits should more than pay for the
additional staff to cover any extra hours.

 The book is full of “Hot Tips” and real-life examples. Each “tactic” is preceded by a set of icons
that tell you, at a glance, how much time the tactic will take, how expensive
it is, and the quality of the “personal connection” it will create. For example, Bob and Susan are strong
advocates of giving away gift certificates. The icons describe this tactic as “very inexpensive”, “takes very little
time”, and “creates great personal relationships”.

 The book is well laid out. You can read it from cover to cover, which is what I did, in a couple of
evenings, or you can use it as a reference book, cherry-picking the various
tactics based on the icons. There are
sample charts and two bonus sections on getting the most from your advertising

This is a book about building relationships. It talks a lot about “lifetime value” of a
customer. We’re talking big picture
here. Small adjustments in average sale,
how often customers purchase, and how long they remain customers can make a
HUGE difference in the value of your customer base.

One thing to be aware of is that Bob and Susan are in the business
of retail training and web site development. The book reflects that. There are
frequent references to their web sites and to their services and there’s some
bias toward using the type of services that they sell.

On the other hand, it’s a book about marketing. What kind of marketers would Bob and Susan be
if they didn’t practice what they preach? Unless you buy the book and throw it into a drawer without reading it,
you’ll recover its cost many times over if you just adopt a few of its


Disclaimer:  Neither I, nor Tacony Corporation have any financial interest in the book or any of the authors’ other businesses.  Bob has appeared at our annual sewing event, Baby Lock Tech.  MYOB received a no-charge copy of the book for review purposes.





Opportunity: Technological Change

This is number fifteen 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 third Challenge (opportunity), "the speed and overwhelming nature of technological change."

"Fear and Hope."  According to Stanyon, the small retailer fears the cost, complexity, and change of modern technology.  He/she hopes that the powerful benefits of inventory control and customer information will be worth it.  If hope doesn’t exceed fear, then nothing will happen and we’ll be left in the dust of more hopeful competitors.

For the most part, fast paced change also equals rapidly falling costs.  As we’ve discussed before (Point of Sale Systems, More on Point of Sale Systems), a complete retail automation system for a one-two store independent can be had for well under $10,000.  It hasn’t been that long ago that such a system was out of reach of all but the largest retailers.  The systems are more reliable and user-friendly than they were just a few years ago.  You no longer have to hire a high-tech (meaning high priced) computer expert to install your system.

So, why have many retailers resisted modern information technology?  According to Stanyon, it may be that the independent business person is just too busy to install the tools that would make his/her job easier.  We all have a tendency to spend our time on what Stephen Covey calls "urgent/not important" items, ignoring the "important/not urgent". (The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.)  In some cases it’s fear of technology, especially among  baby boomers.  In other cases, it’s a lack of understanding of just what business automation can do.  "The real future power of intelligent POS systems can be found more in the customer tracking benefits than in the product/inventory tracking uses."

What???  How can that be?  Isn’t the ability to balance the books and control the inventory the most important part of retail automation?  In a word, "NO".  The bookkeeping piece of retail automation levels the playing field between large and small retailers.  Customer relationship management  is where you can leave the big guys (and the other small guys) in the dust.

Wal*Mart isn’t going to send its customer a post card thanking them for buying a particular widget and offering them a special discount on widget accessories.  Circuit City isn’t going to send a birthday card with a reminder that they just got a shipment of accessories for the (insert product here) that the customer bought last month.  Mrs. Preferred Shopper isn’t going to get a personal invitation to an after-hours event exclusively for customers who bought an XYZ in the last six months.

Having a needed item in stock isn’t going to make you stand out (unless you’re the only store in town that has it), but regular, personalized contacts sure will.


The Internet is another area of opportunity for the independent retailer.  While many of us think of the Internet as something that allows distant merchants to steal our customers, actual selling over the web is a small percentage of total retail sales.  The same fears that keep many business people from embracing technology also prevent most consumers from becoming hard line net shoppers.  While Amazon.com and a few others seem to have mastered the art (science?) of on-line selling, most consumer visits to the World Wide Web are to gather information, not to buy.

They may be looking for product information or they may be looking for their nearest retailer.  In either case, when they search on your particular widget, they should find YOU.  Every retailer should have a presence on the Internet, preferably an information-packed web site.  Web design is more affordable than ever.  While we would never recommend a cheap-looking site, a simple, elegant site is very affordable.  Using pay per click advertising and search engine optimization, you can drive potential customers to your site.  Then, when they’re ready to buy, they’ll come to you and not your competitor.

There are even free tools that will help your potential customers find you, like the free coupons on Google Maps.

You may or may not want to sell over your web site.  Experience shows that, unless you’re committed to spending a lot of time and money on an e-commerce site, it’s unlikely to be profitable, or even pay for itself.  You’re probably better off just providing information. 

A more detailed discussion of the mechanics of POS and web technology is beyond the scope of this particular post, but I’ve provided a few links below to some more in-depth information. 

Let’s just say that in today’s world, you can move forward or you can fall behind but staying the same really isn’t an option.

Links to more information:

Dell’s QuickBooks
Microsoft’s Point of Sale System
POS article from CNET.com
"Buying Online Ads for a Local Audience" from the Wall Street Journal
"How to Get the Most from Online Directories" also from the Wall Street Journal
Wikipedia article on Point of Sale Systems

Tax Help from the SBA

The Small Business Administration will host a free web chat titled "Year-End Tax Planning for Small Business Owners" on Thursday, December 14 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., Eastern time.  Participants are invited to submit questions in advance on the SBA web site. 

The host of the web chat will be Thomas P. Ochsenschlager, vice president of taxation for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.  According to the SBA press release, ‘participants will receive valuable information about the importance of year-end planning and steps small business owners can take to reduce their 2006 tax bills."

The December event is part of a series of monthly web chats for small business owners.  Previous chats are archived on the web site.

You’re paying for it with your tax dollars so you might as well take advantage.

Tacony News

The Missouri Department of Economic Development has an article about our St. James manufacturing plant in it’s current newsletter, "Missouri Focus".  On October 25, at a celebration honoring the plant’s achievement of producing 1,000,000 vacuums, Ken Tacony and Plant Manager Jim Flemming were presented with a proclamation from Missouri Governor Matt Blunt and with the 2006 Missouri Industry Award from the Associate Industries of Missouri.

Congratulations to Ken and Jim and the 108 Missouri citizens who work hard every day building the finest vacuums in the world for their achievements and for the well-deserved recognition.

You can see the current issue of Missouri Focus here, or read the complete story here.




December 7

There’s a lot going on right now.  All of us are extra busy with the rush of holiday shoppers.  Then there’s our own personal preparation for the upcoming events.  Weather has been making news in many areas of the country.  And, of course, there are always world events to keep our minds occupied.

But, in the midst of all that, let’s not forget that Sunday morning, sixty-five years ago today, when the United States was suddenly, violently shaken out of its complacency and forced into World War II.  While many of us don’t remember that day, (or weren’t even born yet), each of our lives were impacted by the events of that December morning.

Let’s never forget that even in 1941 we were affected by events that happened half way around the world.  Today, with high speed communications and transportation, the world is even smaller and global events are more relevant to each of our lives.

Time has a way of making us forget.  I remember when I was a kid that Pearl Harbor Day was a big deal.  Today I noticed that our local daily newspaper didn’t even mention it. That’s too bad.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  George Santayana

A Great Promotion!

There’s nothing better than a great promotion that works well and Chuck Bruce, owner of
Bruce’s Sew Handy in Coarsegold, CA, recently ran one that worked in spades.  He writes in the Vac Dealers’ Forum,

"We decided it was time to clean out some old inventory and give
customers a great deal at the same time. Here is the email that I sent
out to my email customer base….

Our Christmas gift to you, our Preferred Customer,

We are having a private sale this Friday night, December 1 from 7pm-midnight.
Everything in the store will be on sale many items with discounts up to
70% off. This is a great time to stock up on Christmas gifts or just
treat yourself to some super bargains.

In addition one lucky customer will receive 25% off all notions
purchases for 6 months! Restrictions apply. All purchases totaling
$100 between today and Friday at 6pm will qualify to be in the drawing.
Spend $100, you are entered once, spend $500 your are entered 5 times
with no maximum limit. Gift certificates are also included.

Beat the crowd and come by today to start accumulating your entry tickets.

Merry Christmas from your friends at Bruce’s Sew Handy!"

Chuck reports total sales of more than $6,000 in five hours with the last customer leaving the store at midnight.  What’s really exciting is that he sent the email to just 300 customers.  That’s a return of $20.00 per email with a cost of $0.00.  Not bad.  There were even residual sales the following day.

This is just one example of why independent retailers have certain built-in advantages over the chains.  You have the freedom to exercise your creativity without going through a bureaucracy or having to follow company rules.

Congratulations to Chuck for a job well done and thanks for giving us permission to repeat the story.

Are You a “New Millenium Merchant”?

In previous posts, we’ve mentioned Bob Negen.  Bob and his wife Susan are what you might call retailing "gurus".  They have extensive experience in retailing, both at the chain level and at the "your-own-money-on-the-line", entrepreneurial, retail level.  Many of you have seen and heard Bob’s presentations at Baby Lock Tech and other industry events.

Bob and Susan have recently published a book called Marketing Your Retail Store in the Internet Age.

To quote from their web site, "This is not a rah-rah
motivational book filled with corny cliches, worn out platitudes, or
abstract theory coming from pedantic professors who have never spent a
day on the floor of a retail store. This book was developed by
retailers, for retailers."

I wouldn’t normally recommend a book before I’ve read it, but I’ve read enough of it to know that at less than $20.00, it’s a great investment.   I’m telling you about it now for two reasons.  One, it would make a great gift for anyone who’s in the retail business and you still have time to get it before Christmas.  Two, Bob and Susan are offering a bonus to anyone who orders the book before December 10, including a full year of WhizBang tips and several downloadable audio files.  For more information check out their web site.  Or, you can read two sample chapters here. 

Watch MYOB for a review of the book sometime next week.

Gross Error?

Here’s a great story from the London Times.  In a recent trial, Bob Greifeld, the CEO of the Nasdaq stock exchange, admitted under oath that he doesn’t know how to compute gross profit margin.  The lawsuit involved a Greifeld family reunion.  The tour operator had contracted to provide the trip at cost plus a 38% gross profit.  Apparently confusing gross profit with markup, Greifeld was disputing the cost of the trip.

After admitting that he doesn’t know how to calculate g.p., Greifeld told the court, "I have accountants who do that for me."

Greifeld holds a Masters in Business from New York University, Stern School of Business.

Worth 2,000 Words

Happy Monday from Alaska South! 

Seth Godin, proprietor of Seth’s Blog, likes odd pictures.  I thought you might enjoy these two.  Click on each picture to see the full-size version.


Someone actually thought this was ok?


This is from one of those mailings where they send you free return address stickers and ask for a donation.  Candy cane stickers from the American Diabetes Association???

The devil really is in the details.