Pink eye

Warning–Pink eye is highly contagious.  Please wash your hands thoroughly after reading this post!

Pink eye is an infection that settles in the eye and turns it a lovely shade of pink, hence the clever name.  Even though all four of my kids have had it at one time or another, I’ve managed to avoid it all these many years….until this week.  I thought it was a "kid’s disease" but apparently not.  Besides looking like a bunny rabbit, and hurting like the dickens, one of the effects of this thing is that you can’t see.  The infection causes your eyes to secrete an almost clear liquid.  The key word there is "almost".  When the stuff builds up in your eye, you can almost see through it, but not quite.

Tuesday and yesterday, I guess you could say I had pink eye (singular).  That was bad but at least I could see out of one eye.  This morning I was greeted with the plural version (pink eyes?).  As the liquid comes and goes I can sometimes see out of one eye, sometimes out of both eyes, but most of the time I can’t see squat.  So, please forgive any typos or strange word choices.

I mention this malady, not to solicit  a flood of get well wishes, but to hopefully help you avoid a similar fate.  It’s the fourth quarter; the busiest time of the year for most of us both professionally and personally.  None fof us can afford the time to be sick.   It’s the time when taking care of ourselves is most important and often overlooked.  Scarfing down a fast food burger and fries at our desk may seem like a good idea at the time, but in the long run it just doesn’t pay.

According to this article from WebMD.com, "The most important thing you can do for your immune system is to
achieve lifestyle balance and adopt the fundamentals of healthy living. This
will give your immune system what it needs to function at optimal
capacity,"

Here are some tips:

  • Avoid stress.  It’s not easy, but it’s important.
  • Get plenty of sleep…seven to eight hours per night.  Letterman and Leno are reruns anyway.
  • Have a healthy support system including lots of hugs and handshakes.  Really. 
  • MODERATE alcohol use.  Note the word "moderate".  It has the same effect as a hug.
  • MODERATE exercise.  Again "moderate" is the key.  Wearing yourself out is counterproductive when it comes to avoiding diseases.
  • Chicken soup.  It’s not an old wives’ tale.  It really works.  So do mushrooms.  Also a diet "low in red meat and high in fish,
    fruits, and vegetables, particularly blueberries and broccoli", according to WebMD.
  • Listen to your favorite music.

All of these things increase your IGA, which is a protein that helps your body fight infections.

Finally, your immune system doesn’t have to get involved at all if you avoid the germs in the first place.  I know that’s easier said than done, especially in the retail business at Christmastime.  But you can take some proactive steps.  Use a germ-killing spray cleaner on all of the surfaces you touch during the day.  Spray counters, door handles, sample products, and other surfaces frequently. 

Also, keep bottles of waterless hand sanitizer at every check-out and every work station and use the stuff constantly, especially after you’ve been handling merchandise or money.  I picked up this eye infection somewhere and it was most likely from touching something that had been touched by someone else who had the virus and then touching my mouth, nose, or eyes.

Keep your holiday season happy and productive by taking good care of yourself and make sure your staff does, too.  They’ll thank you.  Your family will thank you, and your customers will thank you.

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FANatics

Mizzou
Did I mention the other day that Missouri University’s football team is number one in the country?  Oh, yeah.  I guess I did.

That was just gratuitous bragging.  I’m mentioning it today to make a point.  MU plays Oklahoma for the Big XII Conference Championship this Saturday in San Antonio.  When Missouri’s allotment of 8,500 tickets went on sale Monday they sold out in two hours.  Scalpers art now asking as much as $300 for tickets that originally cost $39-$99, and they’re getting it.

It’s a little over 900 miles from Columbia, MO to San Antonio. San_antonio_map
According to Google Maps, that’s a fourteen hour drive.  Round trip air fare is about $500.00.  I’d say that anyone who’s willing to take the time and spend the money to make the trip is more than a customer.  They’re a FAN, possibly even a FANATIC.

So why do they do it when they could watch the game on television?  The answer is loyalty.  Some are students.  Some are alumni.  Some are parents. Some are season ticket holders.   But they all have a connection to the school.  They’re not just casual fans.  They’re not just customers.

So what about your customers?  Are they casual fans or are they loyal fans?  There’s a big difference.  Your fans probably aren’t going to drive fourteen hours to get to your store.  More than likely, they’re not going to buy a $500 plane ticket. 

  • But will they drive past your competitor, even if it means driving a little further, to get to you? 
  • Will they go out of their way to do business with you? 
  • Will they tell their friends about you?
  • Will they pay a little bit more to do business with you?
  • Are they connected to your business?

If you can answer all these questions "yes" then you don’t just have a customer, you have a loyal fan.  And she’s worth her weight in gold. 

Their Glass Isn’t Even HALF Full

You know, sometimes I’m shocked and amazed at the number of people who read this blog every day.  Each morning I check the stats and each day I expect to see a big zero, but it never happens.  In fact the numbers keep getting bigger.  For that I have to say a big thank you!  But I still wonder sometimes what’s the attraction?

But then I see something that causes me an "ah ha!" moment.  The focus of Mine Your Own Business is you, the independent retailer.  Our target audience is our Tacony customers, but anyone is welcome.  We always try to focus on the positive.  Of course there’s negative news out there, but you can get that in any number of places.  You’re not going to get it here.

A case in point.  As I was going through the flock of email items I get every day, one caught my eye this morning.  The headline said that on-line shoppers set a new spending record on "Cyber Monday", the Monday after "Black Friday".  Alright, that’s a good thing!  People are spending money.  In fact, all retail sales looked pretty good over the weekend.

But when I opened the email I saw what Paul Harvey would call the rest of the story.  According to the writer, "Cyber Monday" was a fluke.  It doesn’t mean people are spending more money.  It just means that people spent it all on one day.  Expect the rest of the Christmas season to be bad.

I wonder what it is that makes reporters, both print and broadcast, think that it’s their job to stifle the economy.  What is it that compels them to find a cloud behind every silver lining?  Talk about glass half-empty thinking.  Their glass isn’t half full or half empty.  It’s completely empty!  I know you’ve heard the story about the little boy who got all excited when he saw the pile of manure because he knew it meant there was a pony around somewhere.  These guys (and gals) see a pony and immediately expect to step in something. 

Don’t their salaries come from advertising and don’t businesses spend more on advertising when business is good?  So why the constant doom and gloom?  I don’t get it.

Here’s the thing.  We’re less than a month away from Christmas.  Chanukah starts just a week from today.   People are spending money on the things that we sell.  Whether the next thirty days are spectacular, average, or terrible has a lot more to do with our attitudes and the things that we do than it has to do with the economy. 

So, as they said in the sixties, "Keep the faith, baby."  My suggestion is to stay away from the newspaper for the next few weeks.  Keep your attitude up.  Convince yourself that every person who walks through your door is going to buy something.  Then make sure that they do. 

Keep your people pumped up.  Do your best to catch them doing something right.  Play cheerful Christmas music in the store.  Make every day just a little more fun than the day before for your customers, your staff, and yourself.

Starting today!

Conversational Marketing

A recent survey, conducted by TWI Surveys for the Society for New Communications Research has come up with some interesting statistics concerning conversational marketing versus traditional marketing.  The news isn’t good for newspapers, magazines, and broadcast media.  It is good for anyone looking to promote a product or service on a limited budget.  Of the 260 survey respondents:

  • 70% are currently spending less than 3% of their communications budget on conversational marketing.
  • Two out of three plan to increase their conversational marketing spending in the next twelve months.
  • 57% anticipate spending more on social marketing than on traditional marketing in just five years.
  • 23.8% predict that their spending on conversational marketing will equal their spending on traditional marketing in five years.

Taking the last two points together, nearly 81% of the marketers who responded to the survey plan to be spending at least as much on conversational marketing as on traditional marketing by the year 2012.

Why is this important?  Think about your current marketing expenses.  When you run an ad in your local newspaper you reach thousands of people and you pay for every single one of them.  But how many of those people are potential customers?   One percent?  Two percent? 

What if you send an email to your existing customer base?  How many of them are potential customers?  The answer is 100%.  And email is a whole lot less expensive than traditional print advertising.  It’s also immediate and with the right software it can be personalized with the customer’s name and other information.

The downside of the email approach is that you don’t reach any new people if you only email existing customers.   But email isn’t the only conversational marketing tool.  As we’ve discussed recently, the new social marketing tools are only limited by our imagination.  You know about blogs or you wouldn’t be reading this.  Social sites like MySpace and FaceBook, interactive sites like Second Life, tools like instant message and Twitter and YouTube all have the potential to be great ways of getting the message out.  And they can all be directed at very narrow groups of people either by interest, or by geography or any other demographic. 

Who knows what new tools will be available by 2012, or even 2008?

It will be interesting to see if SNCR’s predictions come true.  But can we afford to wait on the sidelines to see if they do?

Mizzou_1_2
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the value of persistence, whether it’s in marketing or any other area of business and personal life.  The University of Missouri is the oldest public university west of the Mississippi.  It was founded in 1839.  As of this weekend the MU football team is number one in the country for only the second time in its history.  Talk about persistence!  They’re an overnight success and it only took 168 years.  Congratulations Tigers!

Evil Customer?

Donna Papacosta is a blogger and podcaster from Toronto.  She recently had an unusual experience buying some mousetraps at Home Depot that she wrote about at her Trafcom News blog.  First, let me say that poor customer service at any of the big boxes isn’t that uncommon, but this one takes the cake.

As Donna describes the transaction, "As she passed the traps over the scanner, the store clerk said, ‘evil.’"  In the clerk’s opinion the traditional mouse trap is evil because it’s inhumane and apparently she isn’t shy about expressing her thoughts.  She thinks poison is better.  Now I don’t know which type of mouse extermination is most humane.  Frankly, if the critters get into my house I want them gone and I’m not particularly interested in the checker’s opinion on the matter. 

I think Donna showed remarkable patience in completing the sale.  I wouldn’t have been nearly so nice.

I think the lesson here is fairly clear.  It’s extremely unlikely that something like this would happen in a store where the owner is on the premises, or at least close by.  Nobody at a big box is monitoring what’s said at the checkout.  Even if they were, they wouldn’t have the vested interest in seeing that every customer gets the best possible care that an owner does.  The clerk’s actions were inexcusable, but if a culture of excellent customer care doesn’t run throughout the business they’re not a big surprise.   It’s just one more example of why there will always be a place for well-managed independent businesses.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cornucopia_2
All of us here at Tacony Corporation would like to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  2007 has been an interesting year to say the least.  But Thanksgiving means exactly what it says, a day to give thanks.  Before the madness begins on Friday  (Do people really shop at four in the morning?) we have this day of peace and quiet to reflect on our many blessings. 

In spite of high gas and home prices, in spite of the war, in spite of the drought in many parts of the country, our economy is still the strongest in the world.  Inflation is low, interest rates are low, and any American who works hard can make a good living and enjoy life in a free country. 

So, enjoy the turkey and the football, the family and friends, and know that we’re thankful to have you as a reader and a business partner.

Follow Up on Bad Customer Service

Yesterday we reported on Shel Holz’ nightmare experience with WaMu Bank.  Since yesterday’s post, there have been 26 comments on Shel’s blog including one from a competitor, United Services Automobile Association (USAA), a financial services company formed by 25 Army officers in 1922.  There’s also an apology from an employee of WaMu.  Hopefully Shel will keep us posted on how this all plays out.

The reason for this second post is to point out again the incredible power of your customers, using the Internet, to spread news, both good and bad, about your company.  It’s up to you to decide if this electronic glass is half-full or half-empty.

Included in the 26 comments to Shel’s post are several from fellow WaMu customers who have had bad experiences with the bank but none from anyone rallying to the bank’s defense, except for the one from the employee who offered the apology.  Shel’s post has been linked here at MYOB, and on Donna Papacosta’s Trafcom News.  Several of the other commenters are high-profile bloggers and podcasters themselves.  This story will spread.

Obviously the way to avoid negative publicity is to treat every customer like gold.  That goes without saying.  [Why do people say something and then say "it goes without saying"?]  But, as they say, stuff happens.  Sooner or later you’re going to make someone mad and they’re going to go off on you on the web.  There’s really nothing you can do to avoid that.  But if you treat your customers well, if you go above and beyond, if you do the things that WaMu Bank said they were going to do, then you won’t have an angry on-line mob when something negative does come up.  Two of the 26 comments on Shel’s post are from other unhappy WaMu customers.  Only two.  But if you read the original post and the comments at one sitting you come away with a very negative impression of the bank.  That negative impression is reinforced when you read Shel’s response to the WaMu employee. 

In 2007, positive and negative news spread at the speed of light and you have to know what’s being said about you and your business.  Here’s the time line on this story:

  • 11/18 12:25 pm  Shel posts his story on his blog.
  • 11/19  2:20 pm  Representative from USAA offers his help.
  • 11/19  5:58 pm  Chris Lynn, a blogger himself, comments that he had hoped to see someone from WaMu joining the conversation
  • 11/20 11:50 pm  WaMu employee posts his apology.

Remember, WaMu serves the Silicon Valley in California so they should be even more web-savvy than businesses in other parts of the country.

So how do you protect yourself?  What steps can you take to protect your reputation?  You have to be aware of what’s being said about you.  Sign up for Google News Alerts.  This free service will notify you by email when any phrase you choose shows up in an online news item or blog.  At the very least you should be tracking your store name and your competitor’s store names.  Notice that WaMu’s competitor jumped into the conversation eighteen hours earlier than they did. Also, add the brands that you sell and the brands your competitors sell.

Google yourself.  You should regularly search the major search engines for the same phrases. 

Of course, the most important thing is to build a base of insanely loyal customers who will come to your online defense or better yet, who will post positive things about you and your business.  Because they’re your customers, they have at least one common interest.  Many of them read the same web sites and blogs.