Do You YouTube?

To prove that MYOB goes to any length to find interesting stuff for you to read, here’s a link to a story from The Toronto Globe and Mail on the YouTube phenomenon.   In case you’ve been hanging out with the Geico caveman, YouTube is the internet site that lets anyone post their videos.  According to the article, there are 65 sites that provide the same service as YouTube, but YouTube is visited more than the other 64 combined.

"Why should I be interested in YouTube?" you ask.  Well, since anyone can post a video on the site (as long as it’s not someone else’s copyrighted material), you can post information about your business.  In fact, YouTube marketing is the latest craze among web-savvy marketers. 

For very little money you can create a video that you can use on your own web site, and also post on YouTube.  If you’re even a little creative, you can do some really clever things that can drive customers into your store.  The best way to check out the possibilities is to go to the site, and search on key words that might fit your business.  I tried several products that we sell and found everything from the funny to the informative.  Here’s a suggestion.  If you have kids, especially teenagers, turn them loose with a video camera and let their creative juices flow.  For the cost of some fast food you just might end up with a traffic-generating video.

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Never Underestimate the Value of an Idea

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find an item that normally sells for less than $100 and find a way to sell it for prices up to $1,500 or even more?  "Impossible!", you say?  Nope, Wally Krapf of Magnatag has found a way to sell white boards for those kinds of prices.  He even sells "systems" of multiple boards, for $10,000 and up.

The Startup Journal reports that while the Macedon, NY company has a tiny share of the $2 billion white board market, it still amounts to millions of dollars.  So, how does Magnatag manage to command such high prices?  Well, first, these are some high-quality items.  They’re made from steel with a coating of "MagnaLux", a porcelain-like material, not the usual flimsy stuff that the big box store boards are  constructed with.  Second, the boards are customized for specific  applications with pre-printed lines and boxes and an array of custom magnetized accessories that work with the steel boards.  There are more than 2,300 different Magnatags which can only be ordered from the company’s web site.

The New Orleans Saints use a custom Magnatag board to track draft choices.  A Colorado sherrif’s department uses a 12 foot by 8 foot model to manage rescue operations.  That’s a mighty big board, but it also carries a mighty big price; $4,000.

The boards sport catchy names like the "Long Ranger 24-Month Strategy Planner" and the "Hot or Not Performance Tracker", which Krapf says adds to the products perceived value.

The Journal quotes our old pal, Seth Godin on Krapf’s strategy.  "When you take a generic tool, and turn it into
something that is very specifically about the need for a customer, then they
will take the time to seek you out.  What most people do when they go into business is they try to fit in, and
what he [Krapf] did was try to stand out."

Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do; stand out?  At some point in his career, Wally Krapf recognized a need and found a way to fill it.  He found a "better way".  That’s the way it happens.  And the big ideas usually don’t come from big companies.  Sure, there are exceptions, like PostIt Notes from 3M, but most of the time, it’s the Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses, working in their garages that come up with the really good ones.  Every one of us is capable of coming up with the "big idea" if we just keep our eyes, and our minds, open.

Magnatag
   

It’s Not Just for Video Games, Dad

According to Inc.com, a recent Microsoft survey of family-owned business owners found that six in ten of them have had disagreements with younger family members over technology.  The results show that older business owners are less interested than their children in the latest and greatest technology, unless it has a direct effect on the bottom line.   As my kids would say, "Well, duh!"

The younger generation was also found to be more satisfied with technology purchases and are more interested in spending on wireless and mobile technology.  However, more than 75% of business owners in the survey agreed that technology is important, and almost half said it is important for growth.  One in three said their business relies on access to the Internet.Iphone

The big items?  PCs, laptops, and industry-specific software, like point-of-sale systems.  The odds seem to  indicate that  you probably won’t be in line Friday at 6:00 to buy the new , $600  iPhone.

The best news from this survey is that it was paid for by Bill Gates and not by your tax dollars.

Seriously, we live in a high-tech age, whether we like it or not.  It only makes sense to take advantage of the newest technology to help level the playing field with larger competition.  I had a dental appointment this morning and was amazed at the way the Doctor has automated his business since my last visit.  We’ve changed dental insurance carriers since my last visit, but the receptionist already had my new insurance information.  I asked her how it got updated and she explained that when one patient of a particular employer updates their information, the system updates every patient who works for that same company. 

Even the X-rays are digitized. They go directly from the X-ray machine to the computer screen,  just like your digital vacation pictures.  Then the screen displays a map of the inside of the patient’s mouth and the dental assistant clicks on a single tooth and enters the treatment needed from a drop-down list.  Then the computer prints out a treatment schedule, how many visits are needed, and even how much it will cost.  Imagine how much time a system like that must save the dentist, giving him time to see more patients and make more money.  Plus, who can argue with the charges when they come right from the computer?

There are a number of retail systems available today that can be just as effective for your business.  They save time, give you more accurate records, and let you do things your grandfather, or even your father, never dreamed of. 

Besides, without a computer, you couldn’t read Mine Your Own Business. 

On Walking the Talk

Since we just posted about security this week, a post on another forum caught my eye yesterday.  It was a discussion about theft and what to do about it.  To make a long story short, one poster suggested a video security system.  He was absolutely right in his opinion that the presence of video cameras in the store would probably deter most thieves.  If you are robbed, the video evidence can be invaluable in catching and prosecuting the offender.

Everything sounds good so far, then the writer pointed out that Sam’s Club has good prices on security equipment. 

Wait a minute!  As an independent retailer, aren’t Sam’s Clubs, Costcos, and the various "Marts" and  "Depots" the enemy?  Don’t they take sales away from you every day?  Aren’t there independent retailers in your area who sell security equipment and face the same challenges that you do?  Don’t you spend a good part of your working live trying to convince customers that  the best value is found in the independent merchant’s store?

How can you expect your fellow local retailer to shop with you when you’re taking your business to the chains?   The phrase "walk the talk" is getting to be a cliche, but in this case it’s definitely appropriate.  What do you suppose your customer is going to think, after you’ve convinced her to buy from you because of your superior service and competitive price, when she sees you coming out of Sam’s with a cart full of electronic equipment?  You may have even suggested that shopping with you keeps the money in the local economy. I think you can guess what she’s going to think.

To avoid embarrassment and the possible loss of future business, practice what you preach.  If you want the local community to support you, you must support the local community.  Besides, you get the best value and service from the local merchant.

Consumer Confidence

The folks at Gallup have released the results of their most recent poll on American’s confidence in institutions.  The results show that our confidence in just about everything is down from last year’s poll.  But, once again, small business is second only to the military in the level of confidence. 

69% of poll respondents answered that they have either "A great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the military.  The percentage for small business was 59%, the police came in at 54%.  These were the only three institutions that received better than 50%. 

Going down the list, organized religion received 46% favorable responses, banks 41%, the US Supreme Court just barely beat 1/3 at 34%.  One in three Americans are confident in public schools.  Here’s what the entire list looks like.

Gallop_confidence_2

Notice that Big Business got only an 18% score.  In other words, more than eight out of ten Americans don’t have confidence in big business but nearly six in ten have confidence in small business.

So, while it may appear that the big boxes have a competitive advantage, the consumer’s confidence in small business is a HUGE advantage; one that you should capitalize on at every opportunity.  And, whatever you do, don’t lose it.

Seth Godin on Trade Show Tactics

Here’s an interesting piece by Seth Godin on marketing at trade shows.  At the recent eBay live show he gave away 600 T-shirts promoting his Squidoo web site.  "Big deal," I can hear you thinking "everybody gives away T-shirts at trade shows."  (OK, maybe I can’t actually hear you think, but if I could, I bet that’s what you’re thinking.)  But leave it to Godin to find a unique way to work an old promotion.

First, the shirts were orange.  It’s hard to miss an orange T-shirt with writing on it.  Second, if a booth visitor took a shirt, she had to put it on and wear it.  Why?  Because each day someone wearing the shirt was chosen to receive $9,000 worth of advertising on Squidoo.  You can check out the winners on the Squidoo Blog.

Seth writes, "Within an hour, you saw orange t-shirts on the show floor. By the
second day, every single t-shirt was taken and more than 5% of all the
people there were wearing the shirts."  The cost of the shirts was $3,000.  Most important, people were talking about the shirts and they were talking about Squidoo.

Trade show give-aways are nothing new.  But a give-away that generates that kind of buzz is.  Obviously there’s an advantage to being able to offer a $9,000 prize that essentially costs nothing.  But at your next trade show, home show, or county fair you can adapt the idea to fit your business.  First, you need a really gaudy T-shirt.  Second, you need a prize that has a high perceived value and creates interest in your business.  Third, you need to work it and work it hard.  I can’t tell you how many trade show booths I’ve gone into and been ignored.  With the advent of cell phones, it’s even worse. 

Exhibiting at a show is expensive.  Worse, it takes your staff out of the store.  If you’re going to exhibit, you ought to do it right!  Make the most of every single visitor.  If you can get them to promote your business by wearing a T-shirt, you have a win/win.

By the way, you may be wondering about Squidoo. It’s a website hosting hundreds of thousands of lenses. Each lens is one person’s look at something online.  Mine Your Own Business has a Squidoo lens.  Check it out at  http://www.squidoo.com/myob/

Keep an Eye on Your Stuff

CNN.com reported last week that retail shrinkage reached $41.6 billion last year, or 1.62 percent of retail sales.  The figure was a slight increase from 1.61 percent in 2005.  The figures come from the National Retail Federation.

According to the NRF, 47% of the lost dollars come from employee theft, 32% from shoplifting, and the rest from faulty bookkeeping and other causes.  You might think that big retailers are more subject to loss, but according to Wal*Mart, their shrinkage is less than average although they admit that it is becoming a larger problem.  It’s estimated that they lost more than $3 Billion last year.  Sounds like a pretty big problem to me!

Bottom line, don’t be complacent.  Keep an eye on your merchandise and train your employees to do the same.  Of course, as the figures show, employees are a bigger threat than customers.  But, as the report says, as many as one in twelve "shoppers" may actually be shoplifters.  If you make it clear that you’re on top of things and that you’re keeping a watchful eye on your investment, you’ll be less likely to become a victim of theft.

Of course, there are a number of security devices available, including video surveillance, that have become very inexpensive.  Now might be a good time to review your procedures and make the necessary changes.