Priceless Publicity

Kyle Krichbaum is an 11 year old boy from Adrian, MI. The thing that
makes Kyle unique is that while his friends are playing video games,
Kyle is collecting vacuum cleaners!  He says he’s been a vacuum cleaner
enthusiast since he was "little".  His collection, which numbers 125
and growing, includes a Hoover vac built in 1909.

Recently, Kyle was a guest on the Megan Mulally Show, where he showed off someKyle_belt
of his favorites and even showed Mullaly how to change a belt. The clip is available on YouTube

When asked to reccomend a vacuum for viewers, Kyle immediately suggested the Riccar Brilliance
(made right here in Missouri by Tacony Manufacturing).  He says "It’s
the best vacuum for your carpet and bare floors."  Mulally surprised
Kyle by presenting him with a brand new Brilliance on the show. 

We’re not sure how the producers of the TV show found out about Kyle,
but, the free publicity generated by his apearance, as they say on the
Master Card commercials, is priceless.  In addition to the Mulally
program, Kyle was also featured on the local ABC station’s local news.Kyle_brilliance1

Rumor has it that Kyle might  become a regular on the Mulally show
and that another "well-known" talk show might be considering him as a
guest as well.

Stay tuned.

[Originally posted October 18, 2006]

Update:  Kyle has also appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.  Unfortunately, he didn’t mention his favorite vacuum.  If you’d like to see the clip, it’s on YouTube.


HowdySummer television usually means one of two things.  New programs seem to be mostly reality shows and everything else is reruns.  There’s nothing wrong with reality shows, at least in moderation.  But, like everything else, you can have too much of a good thing. 

There’s nothing wrong with reruns either.  After all, if you didn’t see the show the first time, it really isn’t a rerun for you, is it?  Summer is your chance to catch up.  So, in the spirit of public service, for the next week we’re going to give you a chance to catch up on some MYOB posts that you may have missed.

While your humble blog master is on vacation, we’ll be offering some summer reruns, but we’d rather call them "The Best of Mind Your Own Business". 

Have a great week!

Not So Smart After All

Hey, it’s Friday and I’m leaving on vacation, so I thought you might enjoy something funny, but that still has a business application.  You may have to look for it, but it’s there.  Really.

You’ve probably seen the commercials for Holiday Inn Express.  According to Wikipedia, "In the mid-2000s,
Holiday Inn Express began producing humorous television commercials
consisting of average Joe’s performing extraordinary activities that
only experts would know. The concept attributes these exaggerated
abilities to the fact that they "stayed at a Holiday Inn (Express) last
night". The campaign reflects the brand’s slogan "Stay Smart" which is
still in use today."

Well, sometimes staying in an HI Express, or any motel, may not be such a good idea.  For example, Bear Grylls stars in a popular show on the Discovery Channel called "Man Versus Wild".  The premise is that they drop this guy off in the wilderness somewhere and he manages to survive using only his bare hands and his wits.  Grylls is a former Special Forces soldier and the idea is that by watching the show, you’ll know what to do if you decide to jump out of an airplane into the middle of the desert.

For example, in one episode, he catches a big fish with a pointy stick, Bear_eats_fish
pulls it out of the water, and starts gnawing away on the still-flopping trout.  Yum.  Really fresh sushi.  You have to hand it to the guy, he does know how to survive in the wild.  But, apparently not as wild as he’d like you to believe.

According to Channel 4, the British network that carries the show, "Channel 4 confirmed that host Bear Grylls had partaken of indoor
accommodations on at least two occasions when his series had depicted
him spending the night in the wild."

The Discovery Channel had this to say:  "Discovery Communications has learned that isolated elements of the ‘Man
vs. Wild’ show in some episodes were not natural to the environment,
and that for health and safety concerns the crew and host received some
survival assistance while in the field,"

"Some survival assistance" is a polite way of saying that in "Man vs. Wild", sometimes "Wild" wins.  "I’m not really a survivalist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night," could be the next commercial.  Stay tuned.

Ok, how does this relate to business?  In a word, integrity.  How did this guy figure that he wouldn’t get caught?  How do cyclists in the Tour de France think that they’re going to be able to cheat and get away with it?  Barry Bonds.  Michael Vick.  What ever happened to integrity?  As we reported here recently, Americans trust small business more than any other institution with the exception of the US Military.  You earn that trust by telling the truth, by doing what you say you’re going to do, and by doing business with integrity.  In today’s world, that’s becoming a rare commodity.

Woo Hoo!


The Commerce Department reported today that the economy was up by 3.4 % in the second quarter.  It’s the economy’s strongest performance in over a year.

Dynamic Displays

Is your idea of an effective store display a stack of boxes with a sample item on top?  Does your sign shop consist of some 8 x 10 card stock and a black magic marker?  Do you light your store with whatever incandescent bulb happens to be on sale?   The last time you washed your store windows (outside and inside) did the Republicans have a majority in Congress?  If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, help is on the way.

Sharon Stevens and Betty Feather of the University of Missouri Extension Center have put together an excellent article, "Hometown Business:  Dynamic Displays."  The authors touch on every aspect of in-store merchandising from impulse item displays to the kind of lighting you use in your store. 

According to Stevens and Feather, there are five steps to making an effective display.  They are:

  • Attract attention
  • Arouse interest
  • Create desire
  • Win confidence
  • Motivate the purchase

Balance, emphasis, harmony, proportion, rhythm, and color all have an effect on how the consumer reacts to the merchandise in your store.  For example, some colors create a feeling of warmth, while others make the customer feel cool.  Strong, contrasting colors may attract attention to the display, rather than to the merchandise.  Lighter colors make a space look larger while darker colors have the opposite effect.

One area that we often overlook is lighting.  If they can’t see it, they won’t buy it.  Different types of lighting create different effects.  If the lighting outside your store is brighter than the lighting inside, glare on the windows may make it difficult to see in. 

One suggestion that I heartily agree with is this:  "When you consider your lighting needs, visit your local lighting retailer.  Ask about recent changes in the lighting industry, and look at what happens to color under different types of lighting." 

Those of you who are in the lighting industry will certainly support that statement.  There have been a lot of changes in lighting recently, with more on the way.  New types of lighting can make your store more visually attractive, and save energy and money at the same time.  If you’re in the business of presenting and selling merchandise, you owe it to yourself to illuminate your sales floor with the best lighting available.

Finally, the authors give some good advise on signs, including the use of color.  "Signs should look professional.  They must be clean and unblemished."  Excellent advise.

Don’t forget to check with your manufacturers for display materials.  Large signs, hang tags, and other materials available from your vendors at little or no cost will give your store a professional, uniform look.

By the way, don’t overlook your local university extension center as a source of information.  Most have web sites, similar to the University of Missouri (Go Tigers!), and also offer more personalized services.


Business Cards

Don’t let its small size fool you.  Your business card may be one of your most important sales tools.  If you don’t think of your card as anything more than a way to give someone your phone number, you might want to reconsider. 

Of course, it does give the recipient all the important contact information for you and your company.  But it does much more.  Probably most important, it conveys an image of you and your business.  Is your card neat and clean or is it cluttered with unnecessary information?  Is it professionally printed with raised type or is it obvious that you made it yourself on your computer from sheets of perforated card stock?  Does your card say "I’m a professional business person."  Or does it say something else?

Will the person who gets your card put it away in a safe place for future reference or will they chuck it into the trash can as soon as they’re out of your sight?

Think of your card as a mini-ad that has the potential to stay around for years or to be passed along to someone else who could become your customer.  My daughter recently bought a new car.  As she was doing the paperwork with her salesman, another salesman stopped and asked her if she didn’t work at a particular restaurant, which she does.  The second salesman couldn’t believe it.  His brother works with my daughter.  "Hasn’t Jim ever given you my card?"  No, he hadn’t.

This isn’t a post about family relationships.  The salesman and his brother have to work that one out themselves.  But it does show how important that little 2" x 3.5" piece of stiff paper (or thin card stock) can be.  In this case, a two cent card could have made the salesman a commission of several hundred dollars.

Here’s the thing.  Whether you have relatives that are willing to hand out your cards or not, you and your staff certainly will hand them out.  Most of us collect hundreds of the things over the years.  Yours needs to stand out.  Forget the "make your own" software programs.  No matter how well they work, they’re never going to produce a professional-looking card.  You need good card stock and raised printing.  Your PC and ink-jet printer just aren’t going to cut it.

Forget the "Free Business Cards!!!" web sites.  While some of them are probably legitimate, many are just a way to get your personal information.  Think about it.  You’re giving a stranger all of your contact information.  Even the quantity of cards ordered can be valuable to a spammer, giving them an idea of how big your business really is.  Unless you’re just wanting to fill up your in box with ads,  don’t fall for the "free"  offer.

Find yourself a good, local printer.  Have him (or her) help  you lay out a card that  gives all the information someone needs to get in touch with you.  If you have a web site, list it.  If you have a blog, list it too.  Give your email address and cell phone number.  If someone finds your card in a drawer five years from now, will they be able to tell exactly what it is that you do? 

Is your card visually attractive?  Is it something that people would like to save?  Is it something that they might pass along to a friend?   If not, you need to work on it.  This isn’t the time to be cheap.  Spend the few extra dollars to get the best printing, the best ink, and the best stock possible.  When the customer needs your products or service, your card represents you.  With two business cards, side by side, most people will go with the one that looks the most professional.  How can I trust you with a major purchase if your card looks like something that was made on the copy machine?

Finally, and this may seem contradictory, keep it simple.  You may be tempted to cram everything you can think of into that tiny space but  don’t do it!  Keep the text to a minimum and replace it with either white space or a graphic.   Remember, a picture’s worth a thousand words. Don’t forget the back of the card.  Modern printing techniques make two-sided cards very practical. 

Last but not least (which apparently comes after "finally"), the best business card in the world it completely worthless sitting in a card holder on your desk, or in your pocket.  Get the word out.  Make sure that every person you meet walks away with your business card in their pocket, whether you meet them in business or you’re riding with them in the elevator.  The more of them that are out there, the more of them will come back, with a potential customer attached.

PR Nightmare

In 1982, seven people died by taking Tylenol which had been laced with cyanide.  A deranged individual poisoned the product after it left the factory. The end result was that all pharmaceutical companies have raised packaging standards and the incident hasn’t been repeated. 

In 1984, a DuPont manufacturing plant in Bhopal, India released tons of poisonous gas, killing thousands of people and sickening thousands more.  Again, the company took steps to ensure that nothing like that ever happened again. 

Both companies have recovered from the public relations nightmares that the incidents caused.  In the Tylenol case, consumers briefly lost confidence in the product, and over-the-counter medications in general, but they knew that Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol, weren’t at fault. All Tylenol products were removed from store shelves for a while, but eventually returned.  By the way, the person responsible for the poisonings has never been caught.

The Bhopal incident, as terrible as it was, had much less of an impact on DuPont, primarily because many of its products are not sold to the end user.  You use their products every day and have no idea that DuPont was involved.  I suppose DuPont’s most recognized brand is their auto paint, promoted by NASCAR’S Jeff Gordon.

Now we have a scandal in the National Basketball Association.  It’s been alleged that an NBA referee has been betting on games that he officiated.  If the allegations turn out to be true, while no one has been physically harmed, this could be one of the biggest PR disasters in the history of American business.  We Americans love our sports.  We expect our leagues, whether they’re hi-level professionals like the NBA, or the sandlot leagues where our kids play, to have integrity.  We’re competitive people.  We love to win.  But we expect the games to be fair.  In spite of what we may yell in the heat of the moment, we really don’t think the ref has money on the game.  We really don’t think the umpire is on the payroll of the other team.  With the possible exception of professional wrestling, we don’t really believe that the game has been decided before the teams ever take the field.

Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, an appropriate name for his team since he’s usually involved in some sort of controversy.  He’s been an outspoken critic of NBA officiating for years.  But, on his blog, Blog Maverick, he takes a very level-headed position on the current situation.  Basically he sees it as an opportunity for the league to improve and get stronger.  Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but his comments are right on the money.

[Update:  As I’m writing this, I hear David Sterns, the NBA commisioner, on the news saying that he believes the accused referee is a "rogue" and that the cheating problem is just an isolated incident.  For his own sake, and the sake of the league, he’d better make darned sure that that’s the case.  If the problem is more wide-spread, he needs to let the fans know, right away.  Any delay, or the appearance of a cover-up will just make things worse.]

Here’s the thing, no business is immune from a PR disaster.  Things go wrong.  Bad things happen to good people.  Hopefully you’ll never have to deal with a situation that could put your business in jeopardy, but, if you do, Cuban’s suggestions are excellent.  In particular, he says, "
Calamity can be a catalyst for significant change. "

So, what should you do?  Here are the steps to effective disaster recovery, primarily based on the Tylenol model:

  • Acknowledge the problem and apologize for it.  Any attempt to hide it will almost surely blow up in your face.  Here it is, twenty-five years after the Tylenol poisonings, Tylenol is selling better than ever, and the steps they used to recover are still being studied by business students. 
  • Compensate anyone who has been hurt.
  • Find the source of the problem and fix it.  Make sure that it never happens again.
  • Aggressively let people know what you’ve done.  Get the word out.  Turn lemons into lemonade.

Are You Relevant?

Warren Shoulberg is Editor of HFN Magazine.  In an editorial in this week’s edition, he quotes Aylwin Lewis, the Chief Executive of Sears Holdings.  Reporting on second quarter results for Sears/K-Mart, Aylwin said that consumers "really don’t relate to its stores anymore."

As Shoulberg points out, that’s not particularly earth-shaking news.  What is news is that a senior executive of the company admits it. 

The point of the editorial is that retailers must be relevant to succeed.  Examples include:  "Wal-Mart: Always low prices.  Target: Cheap chic.  Kohl’s: Value for the family."  You get the idea.  According to Shoulberg, Sears and K-Mart have no identity. 

That brings us to the question of the day:  How do customers perceive your business?  Chances are you don’t have the resources to embed your identity in everybody’s subconscious mind like Wal-Mart or Coca-Cola ("The real thing"), but in your universe, your town, your niche, what do people think of when they hear your business’ name?  What’s your identity?  What’s the mental image that your brand conjures up in your customers’ and potential customers’ minds? 

If the answer is "I don’t know", then there’s work to be done.  What do you want your image to be?  Whatever it is, now is the time to start planting that image every time you make contact with anybody.  Brainstorm the question with your employees and trusted advisors.  Don’t overlook anything.  There are no bad ideas.

Once you decide what makes your business relevant, promote it for all you’re worth.  Boil it down to a simple phrase (Who said "You deserve a break today"?)  Then, put it in your ads.  Put it on your business cards.  Include it in your Yellow Pages ad and on your web site.  Include it in your answering machine message and your email signature.  You want the people who can make you successful to associate your business with the image you chose, not the image that someone else has chosen.  And, you certainly don’t want them to associate your name with nothing at all.

Maybe “the Donald” Should Fire Himself

Tom Peters posts, courtesy of the New York Times, that a $10,000 investment in Donald Trump’s empire in 1994 when it first went public is now worth $636 dollars.

Customer Power

Is the customer always right?  The answer is a definite maybe.  We’re pretty sure they think they’re always right.  We’re also pretty sure that you can win the battle and lose the war if you don’t agree.  The customer has always been able to refuse to do business with you if they think you’ve done them wrong, and that’s a form of power.  They’ve also always been able to tell their friends what they think of you and your store, and that’s an even more powerful tool.  Wise merchants have always realized this and done whatever they can, within reason, to keep every customer happy.  Happy customers can become loyal customers and even customer evangelists.  Great grandpa and grandma knew that when they ran the general store and we know it today.

But our great grandparents never dreamed of the Internet.  Suddenly every customer can have an audience.  Here’s a case in point from the Church of the Customer blog.

Terry Heaton bought a digital camera from CompUSA.  Unfortunately, when he got it home he discovered that the box was empty.  He complained and was told that he should have looked in the box before he left the store.  The store was closing and signs were posted saying "All Sales Final!"  In total, Terry had spent $3,500 in the store that day.

To make a long story short, Terry’s wrote about his experience on his blog.  There were 153 comments.  The story was posted on Digg where it was viewed more than 3,000 times and generated another 222 comments making it number 2 in the Digg business section.  BoingBoing and picked up the story and another 50 bloggers repeated it.  By the time CompUSA called back with an apology and a $300 gift certificate, the story was on the front page of  Total elapsed time from the time Heaton wrote to the company until the story appeared on FoxNews?  Less than one month.

The moral of the story?  Today’s customers have a BIG voice and we’d better all listen.

By the way, I Googled "CompUSA AND ’empty box’" today.  Here’s a screen shot: 13,600 results.