Carnival of Customer Service

Thanks to the Carnival of Customer Service for including a recent MYOB post, "Can I Help You?" in their current edition.  This is a fairly new carnival so I’m sure the blog’s author, Sagar Satapathy, would appreciate your taking a look at it.

For newcomers, blog carnivals are collections of blog posts, selected for their relevance to the topic of the particular carnival.  Following the better carnivals is a good way to stay on top of what’s going on without reading dozens of blogs every day.

Or course, you also want to read Mine Your Own Business every day.  In case you didn’t know, you can have MYOB delivered directly to your email box every day by entering your email address and clicking the "subscribe" button on the right.

Hang on to What You Have

This is sort of a follow up to yesterday’s post on Dell’s small business web site.   I found out about the site because Dell is constantly sending me information, both via email and snail mail, both at work and at home.  My computer at work is a Dell and so is my PDA that I bought myself.  I’m in Dell’s database twice.   They’re in front of me almost weekly.

I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago that the hard drive on my computer at home had crashed.  (BACK UP, BACK UP, BACK UP)  It’s been in the shop for a while and looks like it may be headed for that great IT department in the sky.  I won’t mention the brand, though their initials are HP.   I’ve had the computer for a few years and I don’t recall ever getting any promotional mailings (e or snail) from them.

If I have to replace my home PC, who do you think is more likely to get my business, or at least the first chance at my business?  The company who has been in touch with me on a regular basis or the company who seem to have forgotten that I exist?

We’ve seen all the statistics about how much more it costs to get a new customer compared to keeping the customer that you have.  It runs from five to ten times as much.  Obviously it’s important to get new customers.  No computer company is going to stay in business selling me a computer every few years.  But multiply what I buy times the millions of other people who buy a computer (sewing machine, vacuum cleaner, ceiling fan, floor machine, etc) every few years and you’re talking about a lot of business.

I’m not suggesting that you stop advertising for new customers.  On the contrary, new customers are the life blood of every business.  But the customers who have already bought from you are a potential gold mine.  Not only are they your best source of future business, they’re also your best advertising, if you make them feel like part of the family!

Stay in touch!  Cultivate the relationship!  Mine your own business! 

Don’t make the mistake that the cell phone companies make every day.  They offer their best deals to the strangers who don’t buy from them, in effect overcharging the customers who’ve been loyal.  It makes no sense. 

Here’s their business plan.  Give the customer a super deal to sign up.  Force them to sign a two-year contract with heavy penalties if they defect before the contract runs its course.  Launch an ad campaign offering new customers an even better deal than you gave your current customers.  Act surprised when most of your customers leave at the end of their contract.

Your current customers are golden.  They ARE your business.  Guard them as well as, or better than, you would any other valuable asset.

And, don’t forget to back up your computer.

A New Resource

Dell Computers has created a new web site called Small Business 360.  Naturally, they want to sell you a computer, but the site has some interesting information that you might be able to use.  Some is computer related.  Some isn’t. 

The site’s brand new, so it remains to be seen what Dell will do with it, but it’s worth a look and possibly a bookmark.  One thing I’d like to see is an rss feed or a newsletter.  The site does offer small business forums, including one for retailers but since the site’s so new, there’s not much there.

Dell has an opportunity to be a real resource here.  We’ll keep an eye on the site and see what happens.

Another Tornado Makes News at Tacony Corporation

Just last September, the topic of conversation around here was the tornado that hit our manufacturing plant in St. James, MO and the outstanding job our associates did in getting everything up and running again, losing just one day of production.

Now, in February, the "t word" is popping up in conversations again, but this time it’s good news.  Tornado Industries, a full line manufacturer, importer, and distributor of commercial floor machines has joined the Tacony family.  Tornado, based in northwestern Chicago, near O’Hare Airport, has been in business since 1927. 

The Tacony Corporation commercial floor care business now includes four major players:  Tornado, Powr-Flite, CFR, and Truvox.  We will now have research, engineering, sourcing and assembly facilities in Fenton, Fort Worth, Chicago, St. James, Southampton, England, and Shanghai, China.  The consolidation of four major names in commercial floor care under a single American ownership is unprecedented and very exciting.

Tornado Industries is dedicated to delivering “Best in Class”
commercial and industrial cleaning equipment and after-sale service
that meets and exceeds the expectations of their customers. In the
industrial cleaning business for over 80 years, Tornado has a strong
entrepreneurial history of partnering with in-house cleaners,
contractors and facility managers to provide cleaning solutions that
deliver innovation, reliability and competitive pricing.

Tornado is also committed to a clean environment.  They proudly support the standards and criteria established by the U.S.
Green Building Council and The Carpet and Rug Institute’s (CRI) Green
Label Certification program.  They have a great web site that you can see by clicking here.

Synergy is the key.  As Ken Tacony pointed out to our Fenton associates in announcing the acquisition, the synergies between Tacony Corporation and Tornado Industries will result in lower costs, improved distribution, and lower prices and even better service for all of our dealers, not just in commercial floor care, but across all of our product lines and divisions.  As our mission statement (shown at the left) says, our goal is to "create success for our customers, our associates, and all others that depend on us."

All of us at Tacony are excited by this new acquisition and look forward to working with our sixty new team members. 

You can read a copy of the official press release here.



The Right Staff Has the Right Stuff

From "The Weekly Retail Experience" come two articles on retail staff selection.  In the first, "Different Profiles of Retail Associates", author Doug Fleener describes five types of retail performers:

  • The Doer
  • The Hider
  • The Slider
  • The Blamer
  • The Leader

Actually, these types aren’t exclusive to the retail business.  You find them everywhere.  The names are fairly self-explanatory.  Obviously we’d like to hire nothing but Doers and Leaders.  Unfortunately the Leader, the most productive, can also be the most difficult to manage, especially for a weak manager.

In the second article, "How to Identify the Different Retail Associate Profiles Before You Hire Them", Fleener gives some very good advise on how to identify these types before you hire them.  He suggests that you  personally meet everyone who  comes into your store asking for an application.  This pre-interview meeting can give you some insight into the person’s personality outside of the formal interview when they’re likely to be more at ease.

Second, he suggests that you pay particular attention to the applicant’s energy level.  If they don’t impress you in asking for the job, they’re not likely to impress your customers either. 

Third, and I really like this one, ask them unexpected questions.  They’re most likely prepared to answer the questions that they think you’re going to ask.  But as we all know, customers don’t always follow "the script".  The time to find out if someone is able to think on his or her feet is before they’re on the payroll, not after.

Finally, take the applicant onto the sales floor and have them roleplay a selling situation.  Actors audition.  Why shouldn’t salespeople?

In our dealer surveys, many of you have indicated that hiring and training are major concerns.  Fleener’s suggestions should make that task a little bit easier.

Doug Fleener is a retail consultant, author, and speaker.  There are some good resources on his web site including a link to subscribe to his free newsletter.

The President’s Budget

From the Small Business Administration comes word that the proposed 2008 Federal budget includes $28 billion in increased funding for the SBA.  This represents a 5% increase over fiscal year 2006 appropriations and a 12% increase in core operating budget.

Steven C. Preston, administrator of the SBA, had this to say:  "This proposal represents a solid budget for the SBA and for small businesses.  In addition to improving our operations, we will be able to build on the loan volume records set in the past few years and provide more financing to more small businesses.

“Beyond that, this budget provides for initiatives to improve outreach to underserved, economically distressed urban and rural markets, and to veterans.  It gives us more procurement center representatives to help small businesses compete for federal contracts.  It gives us more people and resources to boost our impact on job creation, business ownership and economic vitality where they are most needed."

Read the SBA’s press release here.

Super (?) Ads

As I get older, I find myself occasionally shaking my head and wondering what’s going on.  My kids will tell you it’s been happening for years, but I really noticed it yesterday watching the Super Bowl.  It wasn’t  the game that had me confused, although it had its moments.  It was the commercials.  As mentioned here Friday, advertisers shelled out big bucks for their Super Bowl spots; $2.6 million for the air time plus the cost of production.

Either I’m totally out of touch, or some of them didn’t get their money’s worth.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that we Baby Boomers, even though we’re the largest demographic group, aren’t necessarily the target for many advertisers.  But boomers do buy beer and soft drinks and snacks.  We ship packages and we rent movies.  Shouldn’t we at least understand what the commercial is trying to say?

One thing that struck me was the amount of violence in a lot of the spots.  I’m no prude.  I watch "CSI" and "Law and Order", in all their various permutations.  I like football, and hockey, and NASCAR, and the occasional rodeo, so I’m not opposed to a little mayhem in its proper place.  But is hitting your buddy in the head with a rock really the best way to decide who gets the last Bud Light?  Does a robot committing suicide really sell cars?  Then there was the car accident to show us how great Doritos are and the poor girl who got thrown off the treadmill, just because the guy on the neighboring piece of exercise equipment had used the newest, best razor.

I hate to pick on Bud Light again, especially since they’ve consistently delivered the cleverest commercials over the years, but wasn’t the spot where the couple picks up the axe-wielding hitchhiker ("It’s a bottle opener"), just because he’s carrying a case of beer a little bit much?   

The American Heart Association spot, which ran twice, showing the hear being attacked, was a little graphic, but at least it made a point.  It just seems like if there was a theme to this year’s advertising, it was that violence sells.  Of course, it was a football game.

On the other hand, there were some clever commercials, including a couple from Bud Light.    I thought the HP spot featuring American Chopper’s Paul Teutel Sr., was great, but it may not have been effective, especially with people who have no idea who he is.  Letterman and Oprah was brilliant.

The moral to the story, I suppose, is that if your company is big enough, you can take a chance on a $2.6 million ad.  If nothing else, you hope people will be talking about you on Monday morning.  But for the rest of us, a little more common sense might be in order.  If your ad budget limits you to a couple of newspaper ads each month, you may need to be a little more cautious.  Of course, it’s the different that gets noticed. 

Gophers and the Gridiron

We Americans are a diverse lot. The things that interest us run the gamut
from the ridiculous to the intellectual. This weekend is a perfect example. Tonight, every evening news program, both national and local, will let
us know what the groundhog has to say about the remainder of winter 2007. Will he see his shadow or not. Will there be six more weeks of winter?

Let me be the first to tell you: The “official” U.S. groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, didn’t see his shadow
today. That means a short winter. Way to go, Phil!

Not to be outdone, Canada’s Wiarton
Willie, failed to see his shadow, giving further credibility to Phil’s prognostication. On the other hand, Minneapolis’
Jimmy the Groundhog and Green Bay’s
Jimmy the Groundhog (are they related?) are both predicting six more weeks of
winter. Aparantly none of them are
members of the American Meteorological Society.

How interested are we in a rodent’s ability to make
long-range weather forecasts? A search
of Google News at 2:15 today , St.Louis time, for "groundhog day" returned 2,153 results.

On a more serious note, on Sunday afternoon, two football
teams from the Midwest will play a game in Miami,Florida for a $25,000 trophy. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 million
people will watch the game on television. If you can get to Miami
on Sunday, a set of four skybox tickets is selling for $32,000 on ebay.

If you’d like to promote your business to those 140 million
folks, a thirty second spot during the game will set you back $2.6
million. Of course, that doesn’t include
production costs. According to a recent
survey, 58% of viewers would rather miss part of the game than miss any of the
commercials. CBS is airing a special
tonight (Friday) featuring past Super Bowl ads. If your ad is good enough, it will float around cyber space for years
and be a real bargain.

On Monday, more people will talk about the commercials than
talk about the game. Speaking of Monday,
be prepared. More people call in “sick”
to work on the day after the Super Bowl than any other day of the year.

By the way, for the statistically-minded, a Google News search for "super bowl commercials" got 2,911 hits. "Chicago Bears" generated 22,827 hits.  "Indianapolis Colts"–19,566.  "Peyton Manning" returned almost 20,000 hits while Chicago’s quarterback "Rex Grossman" got just over 11,000.  The phrase "Super Bowl" returns more than 66,000 news stories.

Have a great weekend!  I hope your team wins.

Small Business Equals Economic Development

Here are a couple of items from the Office of Advocacy–U.S. Small Business
that you may want to bookmark and save. The next time your town council wants to
spend a few million of your tax dollars to encourage a new big box store to
move into town, you may be able to use the information to convince them to

First is the current issue of The Small Business Advocate, which
describes itself as the voice of small business in government. In an article titled “Recent Research
Uncovers Multifaceted Relationship of Entrepreneurship and Local Economic
(a government title if I ever heard one), the agency reports that a
report to be published this month finds that “a state’s ability to increase the
number of small firm establishments is the most important thing it can do to
influence economic growth.”
The reports
authors conclude “The most fruitful policy option available to state
governments is to establish and maintain a fertile environment for new
establishment formation.”

In it’s annual report, “The Small Business Economy” the
agency says “This self-reliant approach to economic development relies on
grooming new and existing entrepreneurs instead of chasing larger companies,
known as ‘economic hunting’”

Considering the expense and effort required to lure big
businesses into a community, the report suggests that the best use of economic
development resources would be to support existing and potential entrepreneurs.

In another document, U.S. Small Business Administration FAQs:  Frequently Asked Questions, the agency offers the current statistics on small businesses (those with 500 employees or less).  These firms:

  • Represent 99.7% of all employer firms.
  • Employ half of all private sector employees.
  • Pay more than 45% of total U.S. private payroll.
  • Have generated 60 to 80 percent of all new jobs in the last decade.
  • Create more than 50 percent of all non-farm private gross domestic product.

And here’s a scary fact, firms with fewer than 20 employees spend 45 percent more per employee than larger firms to comply with federal regulations.

You can view the rest of their statistics here.