Good News for Small Business

As you probably know by now, President Bush signed the economic stimulus package into law yesterday.  Here’s a press release from the Small Business Administration on the new legislation"

WASHINGTON:  Steve Preston, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business
Administration, made the following statement today on the signing of HR 5140,
the Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of
2008:

"This bill is a win for small businesses in three major ways: tax rebates will
stimulate short term consumer spending
, some of which will flow to smaller
companies; a 50 percent bonus deduction on new equipment that normally
would be depreciated over the long term
; and, it increases the limit on
expenses that small businesses can deduct from annual income.

"€œSmall businesses create  2/3  of  the  new  jobs in our economy and account 
for  half  of  non-farm  GDP. It is vital for the nation that small businesses
stay healthy and growing.
  HR 5140 will give them a much-needed boost which
will enable them to expand their companies and create new jobs.

"€œOn behalf of small business, I applaud the President for his leadership and
Congress for moving with such swiftness and bipartisanship. 

"€œWe continue to urge Congress to proceed with other vital small business
issues such as permitting health insurance pooling and deductibility, opening
up new markets with Colombia, Peru and South Korea, and guaranteeing that
taxes on small business earnings and investment don’t rise."

Pricing Tips

Thanks to frequent reader and contributor Phil Engeman of Phil’s Sewing Machines in Washington, MO for pointing out an interesting site.  It’s called Pricing for Profit

On the site you’ll find a number of articles on the always-difficult subject of pricing.  One that you may like is called "Pricing for Profits and Growth–It’s as Easy as Early Bird, Regular, and Chef’s Table".  In it, writer Rafi Mohammed examines the pricing strategies of a high-end restaurant.  As you can tell from the title, "early birds" pay one price, "regular customers" pay a higher price, and "Chef’s Table" customers pay the highest price of all.  Rafi’s lesson here is that you can price your offering based on the perceived value to the customer, regardless of your cost.

Another article of interest is "4 Pricing Strategies to Prosper in a Recessionary Environment."  The title is self-explanatory.

Finally, there’s a timely post today on the subject of rose pricing during Valentine’s week.  You may be surprised to learn that your neighborhood florist isn’t getting rich selling the flowers for three times the normal price to desperate husbands. 

Like many web sites, this one’s purpose is to introduce you to the author’s consulting service, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But there’s some good information here with no login requirement, so you might as well check it out.

For more on pricing, be sure to check out the "pricing" category on MYOB.  The link is on your left.

P.S.  If you haven’t done it already, you’d better get your Valentine’s Day shopping done real soon.

Google Maps

Google_map_logo
We’ve posted on this in the past, but since we have so many new readers, an update probably won’t hurt.  No doubt, you’re familiar with Google Maps.  One of the more popular Google tools, Maps can help you find an address, a landmark, or a particular type of business.  Hopefully your business is listed.  If not, it’s a simple process to get it done.  Here’s a very good article by Carrie Hill writing at Work.com that tells you how to do it.

But, don’t stop there!  Google allows you to choose multiple categories.  Select all the categories that potential customers might be using to find you. 

Be sure to use the right words in your business’ description.  Make sure it contains the right keywords.  Don’t just jam a bunch of keywords together.  That won’t work.  But be sure to describe your business in a search-engine friendly way.

Here’s an important feature that is absolutely free.  You can add up to ten pictures to your listing.  Let ’em see what you sell.  If a picture is really worth 1,000 words, Google is giving you ten thousand words for free.  Try buying an add that big!

Finally, don’t overlook the free coupon option.  You can add a coupon to your listing and change it as often as you like.  Be sure you key the coupon so you know where it came from when it’s redeemed.

Face it, people are using the Internet to gather information before they buy, including information on local dealers.  Your competitors may not even know that they have a free listing on Google Maps.  If they do, based on the number of incomplete listings I found in my own searching, chances are they aren’t getting the most out of it. 

You can spend an hour of your time and zero cash to put yourself ahead of the pack before they even know what hit them. 

End Telephone Frustration

How many times have you tried to speak with a human being at your bank, insurance company, airline, or any other company you do business with, only to be told repeatedly by a recorded voice that "Your call is important to us."?  It may be one of life’s bigger frustrations.

How about an honest recording telling us that "your call really isn’t as important to us as the money we save with this automated system.  But, take heart, we could be outsourcing our call center to a third world country and you could be talking to someone with a thick accent that you can’t understand.  So, quit your fuming and tough it out.  One of our overworked operators who answer hundreds of calls each day will get to you sooner or later, probably later.  Have a nice day."?

Don’t get me wrong, an automated system can be very efficient in routing your call.  Here at Tacony Corp., we have a system with only a few options.  A couple of dial presses gets you right through.  Our sales managers can watch call activity on their computer screens and respond quickly if calls get backed up.  We also have a human being on the main switchboard who monitors call volume and can take corrective action if there’s a problem.

What I’m talking about is the national company who makes you jump through a dozen hoops until you finally get to the department you want and then puts you into a loop that reminds you every fifteen seconds that your call is important while you wait an hour to get through.  Just this morning, I placed a call to Discover Card.  While they promise to get your through to a representative in "less than a minute", it took me three tries, and several minutes to get through.

Paul English is a software engineer.  In 2005 he got so frustrated with  IVR systems that he decided to take action. HE began a database of major companies with automated answering systems along with "cheat codes" to bypass them called gethuman.com.  For example, if you want to reach a human being at Citibank, Press 0# at each prompt, ignoring messages.

English began with a list of just ten companies, but further research, along with reader submissions, has grown the list to dozens of entries.

Before you make your next call to a national call center, check out Paul’s web site.  You could save some valuable time.  The site also gives you the opportunity to rate each company and make comments, giving you a chance to vent.  The site doesn’t list this one yet, but you can bypass the prompts on the Discover Card site by pressing "0" twice.

Gethuman

VIGILANCE!

Kirkwood
Kirkwood, MO is an idyllic community located just outside of St. Louis.  The downtown area is like a giant postcard.  There’s an old-time railroad station, a farmers’ market, and a downtown area that’s right out of a Mickey Rooney movie.  But, it’s not just a historic town.  There are new condominium/shopping developments and the usual big box stores, though the boxes are kept to the outskirts of the community, not disrupting the small-town feel of the place.  There are sidewalk cafes and coffee shops.

Last night a disgruntled citizen barged into the City Council meeting and gunned down seven innocent people.  Five, including two police officers and two city officials have died and one, the mayor, is fighting for his life in the ICU.  Police returned fire, killing the gunman.

This isn’t the type of content you would expect from this blog, especially on a Friday when we try to keep things light.  But this tragedy, along with other recent shooting rampages, (The shooting spree at the Van Maur Mall in Omaha was just two months ago this week.) should be a reminder to all of us that the world just isn’t as safe a place as we’d like it to be.  Shootings in public places happen way too often and the victims are almost always innocent people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Most of us don’t consider our jobs, or membership on a town council, or going to the mall, to be hazardous activities, but they can be.

There’s a fine line between vigilance and paranoia, but we all have to find that line, especially if we work in a public place like a retail store.  We have to watch for tell-tale signs.  The Kirkwood shooter had a history of disrupting City Council meetings.  He had never been violent, just belligerent.  He had been forcibly removed  several times.  Hindsight being twenty-twenty, there was probably cause for concern.

But we’re a free country.  Public meetings are public.  It’s something that goes all the way back to the Pilgrims.  It’s written in our Constitution.  We’re all entitled to participate in the process, even if we’re known to be trouble makers.

Violence in retail locations is slightly different.  Shopping isn’t supposed to be confrontational.  There shouldn’t be two sides.  No one should expect an unhappy customer to be a potential killer.  But most of the senseless violence that happens in our stores and malls seems to be more random.  A lost job, a lost love, or a tortured soul can be a disaster waiting to happen.  What can we do?

Be aware of what’ happening around you!  Have the radar up at all times.  If something or someone seems suspicious, don’t take chances.  If you’re in a mall location, don’t be afraid to call security.  It’s their job to respond.  If you’re in a free-standing location, dial 9-1-1.  Maybe it’s nothing, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.

And, have an emergency plan.  Everyone who works for you should know what to do in an emergency. How do you protect yourself and your customers?  Where do you go?  Who do you call?  Who’s in charge when you’re not there?  Where is the emergency kit?  (If you don’t have an emergency kit, get one.  TODAY!)

Life is precious and it’s very fragile.  Incidents like the one that happened last night are a horrible reminder that none of us is immortal.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to our neighboring community.

Be careful out there!

Update: Now there’s a story out of Baton Rouge that a woman has opened fire at a Louisiana technical college, killing two then taking her own life.

According to Fox News:The students apparently were in their seats in
the second-floor classroom at Louisiana Technical College, Sgt. Don
Kelly said. Their names and ages were not immediately released.

The shooting happened around 8:30 a.m.

“The Only”

In his book "Zag", Marty Nuemeier offers a twelve point branding system.  Point number six asks the question, "What makes you ‘the only’?"  The only what?

The title of the book refers to "zagging" when everybody else zigs.  In other words, be different.  The world is full of brands.  To stand out, you’ve can’t be like everybody else.

According to Neumeier, to be successful you have to be able to fill in the blanks:

"Our brand (or store) is the only ________________ that ______________________."  He stresses that if you can’t say you’re the only something, then you have to go back and start over.

For example, "Our store is the only hardware store that offers free delivery."  Or, "Our grocery store is the only one that has a full-time meat cutter."  You get the idea.

Or, and I like this one, Tacony Corporation is the only manufacturer in our industry that goes the extra mile to provide our blog readers with helpful tips. 

For example, we were tipped off to this book by Judy "the foodie" Asman, writing on FohBoh, The Restaurant Network.  Other than some sanitary issues that come with handling food, our friends in the Restaurant industry have the same problems and concerns as any retailer. 

Minor Annoyances

They (whoever “they” are) say “don’t sweat the small stuff”.  And that’s good advice.  But wouldn’t it be a great day if there wasn’t any small stuff to worry about?  Wouldn’t it be great to know that we didn’t do anything, no matter how small, that gets on our customers’ nerves?

The trouble is we don’t usually get the credit for making our customers lives a little easier when we eliminate the annoyances from their lives.  Case in point:  As you might imagine, I get a lot of magazines.  Most of them are free, but there are a couple that I pay for.  Of course, they all have to be renewed occasionally.

I don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I fill out the subscription paperwork and it fits nicely into the postage-paid envelope.  That’s expected.  But this morning I filled out the paperwork for one of the paid subscription magazines and it didn’t fit into the envelope.  The freebies all get it right, but the one that actually costs money (a lot of money, in fact) sends me an envelope that’s too small!

Here’s the thing.  Mismatching the form and the envelope isn’t a big enough deal to complain about.  I’m not going to write a letter to the other couple of dozen magazines praising them for their consideration.  But shouldn’t somebody at the magazine have thought of this?  They must send out thousands and thousands of these subscription forms every month.  Who dropped the ball?

We all have our favorite examples of minor annoyances:

  • Hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of twelve
  • “Some assembly required” items that require a special tool that only Bob Vila would have in his tool box.
  • “Batteries not included”
  • Knives and scissors in clam shell packaging that you can only open with a knife or scissors.

Of course, the point is for you to ask yourself, “Is there anything that I do, no matter how small, that aggravates my customers?”  “If so, how can I make it better?”

Competition today is fierce.  You need every possible advantage.  Making our customers lives easier is something that we can do at little or no cost.  And a lot of little things can add up to some big sales.

How about you?  What gets on your nerves?  Let us know.

What Are You Reading?

Here’s an interesting web site called 800 CEO Read.  They’re running a readers’ poll on the most popular business books.  While you can vote for your favorite, the real value of the site is in seeing what other are reading.  There are more than 100 nominees and the site shows you how many votes each one has.

The list contains classics and newer titles.  Dale Carnegie’s all-time favorite How to Win Friends and Influence People is at number six, just behind Seth Godin’s Purple Cow

So, if you feel like voting for candidates who aren’t calling each other names, this might be a nice Super Tuesday change of pace.

By the way, if you haven’t already voted in "the other election", don’t forget.

Keeping Customers Loyal

So, you’re doing your best to give your customers an exceptional experience in your store.  You hire the best available people.  You train them well.  You give them the tools they need to do a good job.  Yet, there you are, face-to-face with an unhappy customer.  Something’s gone wrong.  Maybe more than one thing.  It’s the perfect storm.  You feel like Tom Brady on the morning after the Super Bowl.  What do you do?

Here’s a good example.  My lovely wife and I eat lunch every Monday at the Cracker Barrel that’s withing walking distance of our Corporate Centre here in Fenton.  We’ve been doing it for years.  Considering how busy the restaurant can be sometimes and the high turnover they seem to have, it’s really remarkable that we’ve never had a bad experience.  But today was that "perfect storm" day. 

We placed our order, basically the same thing we have every week.  Then we waited….and waited……and waited.  No coffee.  No food.  No "sorry it’s taking so long".  Nothing.  People who came in after we did had gotten their orders.  Some were almost done eating.  25 minutes after we had placed our order the manager walked by.  He was asking the tables that had food if everything was OK. 

I motioned him over and quietly asked him if a half hour wasn’t a bit long to wait for coffee, a bowl of soup, a bowl of pinto beans, and a salad?  He apologized profusely and excused himself.  In a matter of seconds, our order was on the table.  The manager appeared again,  apologized again and promised to find out what had gone wrong.  The food was cold so it was pretty obvious what had gone wrong.  The order had been sitting, probably for 15 or 20 minutes, waiting for the server to pick it up.

Interestingly, we didn’t get a coffee refill until the manager came back a third time and saw my cup was empty.  After a third apology, he told us that lunch was on the house.  He recognized us as regular customers and assured us that he didn’t want to lose our business.

As we left the restaurant, we got another apology from the manager and another assurance that he hoped we’d be back.

Cracker Barrel had 565 stores as of their last quarterly report.  Food and service has been amazingly consistent at all the stores that I’ve visited.  Obviously they have an excellent system.  But, like every system, it may break down from time-to-time.  As we’ve reported here before, when it does break down, there is clearly a desire to fix things, no matter what it takes.  That’s how you keep customers not just satisfied, but loyal.

Cracker_barrel
Would I stop going there after this one bad experience, even if nothing had been done to make it right?  No, I like their food.  I like the fact that I can walk there.  I like the fact that 99.9% of the time I can get in and out in a hurry. 

So what did the manager gain by his prompt response?  He gained positive word-of-mouth.  He showed us that our satisfaction is important to him.  He made us feel like more than just another lunch check.  And isn’t that what your customers want, too?

A Super Sunday

Looking for something to do this weekend?  Market Watch reports that prime tickets for this Sunday’s Super Bowl are going for as much as $50,000.00.  Of course, you’re not just going to see a football game.  The price includes performances by Alicia Keys, Jordin Sparks, Paula Abdul, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Of course, 50 grand doesn’t include getting to Phoenix, hotel accommodations or other expenses.  For example, two nights at the Hampton Inn in Glendale, AZ will set you back $449.10 per night, according to Expedia.com.  Come back next weekend and the same room will cost you $134.10.

Need a car?  An economy model from Hertz this weekend is going for $67.99 per day.  Next weekend?  $38.99.  Opportunistic pricing?  No, supply and demand.  If we’re in the widget business and we don’t sell all our widgets today, we can always sell more tomorrow.  But Super Sunday only comes once each year.  Even at 1/3 the price, that Hampton Inn probably won’t be full next weekend.

Want another example?  30 second commercials during the game are going for a mere $2.7 million.  That may seem like an outrageous amount of money, but consider the brands who come back year after year, many for multiple spots.  It must be worth it.

Here’s the thing.  Whether it’s a football ticket, a hotel room, a rental car, or a vacuum cleaner, people spend their money to get value.  If there’s somebody out there willing to pay $50,000 for two tickets to a football game, then it’s a fair price. It’s all in the customer’s perception of value.  If they think your product is worth more than their money, you’ve got a sale. The selling price has nothing to do with the seller’s cost.

In retail it’s called "value pricing" and it’s the best way to beat your competition.  Cost plus may work for
Sam’s and Costco, but the rest of us have to be a little more creative.  How well does it work?  The National Hockey League has one game scheduled for Sunday and it’s in Canada.  The NBA has two games, both Sunday afternoon.  How great would it be to have your biggest event of the year and have your competitors not even try to compete?

Most of us will never know.

Super_bowl