“Guaranteed Lowest Prices on Lasik Surgery”

I’m not making this up.  It’s an actual ad I heard this morning on the radio.

Is it just me, or is this a terrible selling proposition?  Does anybody really want to trust their eyes to the lowest bidder? 

Extending the Brand

It’s finally spring.  At least that’s what the calendar says.  A visit to the neighborhood hardware store confirms the change of seasons.  Lawn mowers, grass seed and fertilizer, and outdoor furniture have taken the place of snow shovels and snow blowers.  Huzzah!

One new product that’s found its way into my consciousness is wild bird food (It’s the stuff they used to call "bird seed".) sold by Scotts-Miracle Grow, the lawn and garden care people.  What a great idea for a line extension!  It seems to be a natural.

The company got into the bird seed food business by acquisition.  They bought a company that was already number two in the market.  It’s hard to see how they could fail.

[By way of full disclosure, I’ve been on the front end of a lot of new product lines.  Some were very successful.  Some were disasters. With 20/20 hindsight, it’s fairly easy to see what went right and what went wrong.]

The key questions here are who buys the product (consumers) and who sells it (retailers).  In this case the retailers and the consumers are the same ones who sell and buy Scott-Miracle Grow’s core products.  If Scott’s sales reps had to start calling on music stores, the product would never make it.  If the product were strictly for indoor birds, the company’s powerful brand position with folks who like to work outside wouldn’t mean as much.

But stores that sell grass seed also sell bird seed food (usually) and the people who buy grass seed are the ones who put out the bird feeders.  That green oval logo with the white lettering means something to them.  In fact, it wouldn’t take much to convince most folks that by buying the company’s bird seed food, you might keep the birds from eating your grass seed.

The thing is, we’re all looking for new products that we can sell.  It just makes a lot of sense that any addition to our lines should be something that our current customers would naturally buy.  Sewing machine customers aren’t necessarily the best prospects for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but they definitely buy vacuum cleaners.  Someone shopping for a ceiling fan doesn’t expect to see power tools in a fan shop, but occasional furniture might be just what they need.

It’s very important to maximize the value of each customer by selling them additional merchandise.  Most retailers are looking at a lot of different things.  Don’t make your job harder by stocking merchandise that your regular customers aren’t likely to buy.

Words to Live By

Anna Farmery hosts the Engaging Brand blog and podcast.  She ends each podcast with the following quote:

"I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

The quote is from Maya Angelou, the St. Louis-born poet and civil rights activist.  It turns out that this single sentence is just the closing thought of a longer work.  It’s really quite profound and you may find it worth saving.  It goes like this:


"I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.

"I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. 

"I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life.’

"I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life’. 

‘I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. 

‘I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.

‘I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.’ 

‘I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.’ 

"I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.

‘I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.

"I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Are You a Great Leader?

Howard Schultz is the CEO of Starbucks.  In the book From the Top:  The Search for America’s Best Business Leaders, he gives his key traits for great leaders:

1.  You must have a vision.  Not only must you have a vision, you have to communicate that vision to your people.  Of course, you have to keep the vision in mind all the time.  You should update it periodically and involve your staff in the process.

2.  You must have passion. Shultz points to Christopher Columbus and Leif Ericsson as examples of passionate leaders who led their men into dangerous and difficult situations.

3.  You must learn to be a great decision maker. Use the Q-CAT system:

  • Q=Quick.  Be quick but not hasty.
  • C=Committed.  Be committed to your decision, but not rigid.
  • A=Analytical.  Be analytical, but don’t over-analyze.
  • T=Thoughtful.  Be thoughtful about all concerned.


4.  You must be a team builder. To become a great leader, you must develop a great team; a well-oiled machine.

5.  You must have character.  Without this one, you might as well forget the first four.

Source:  Entrepreneur.com

Ten Reasons to Use a Pre-Delivery Checklist

Verizon Wireless is advertising a promotion called “Verizon Demo Days”.  The idea is that if you come into a Verizon store, their “experts” will show you how to use your phone.

Is it just me, or shouldn’t they do that every time a customer makes a purchase, “demo days” or not?  Should any retailer ever let a customer leave the store without making sure she knows how to operate the product she just bought?

The cell phone industry is notorious for this kind of thing. They advertise all their cool features but often don’t give you clear-cut instructions on how to use them (or they surprise you with additional costs and fees that you weren’t expecting).

Obviously there’s a lesson to be learned here.  Before your customer leaves your store, make sure they know how to use the item they purchased.

Many car dealers have addressed this problem with a printed pre-delivery checklist.  When you pick up your new car, you’re not allowed to leave until the salesman has gone over the check list and gotten you to sign off on it. 

Here are some good reasons to use a pre-delivery checklist in your store:

  1. You’ll present a very professional image to the customer.
  2. The customer will be much more satisfied with her purchase, leaving the door open to additional business later on.
  3. This satisfied customer will tell her friends, leading to more referral business.
  4. You won’t end up with an angry customer on the phone or in your store complaining that her widget isn’t working properly.
  5. You’ll have fewer returns.
  6. Your staff will spend more time selling and less time handling problems.
  7. Your staff will be happier knowing that they’ve done a complete job of serving the customer.
  8. The customer can’t come back later with something that they’ve damaged and say “no one told me…..”
  9. A well-designed checklist can help with add-on sales.  For example, one item might be “Does the customer have extra (bulbs, bags, thread, etc.)
  10. The checklist can be used as a closing tool.  “Ms. Customer, we’re so dedicated to your satisfaction that we use this checklist to make sure that I’ve covered everything with you before we let you take your widget home.”
  11. Your competitors aren’t doing it.

Dare to Be Different

Jay White’s blog "Dumb Little Man–Tips for Life" is exactly what it says, tips for life.  While it’s Jay’s blog, he has a number of authors who contribute posts.  Today he features an article written by David B. Bohl, called "Revel in Your Uniqueness".

His three key points are:

  1. Explore your talents.
  2. Dare to be different.
  3. Do not get sucked into society’s definition of normal.

It’s an excellent post and rather than repeat it here, I’m just going to refer you to Jay’s blog.  Enjoy.

Oh, have a wonderful Easter weekend.

Borders–Thinking Outside the Box

John Moore comments at Brand Autopsy on a new display strategy being tested by Borders Book Stores.  As you probably know, book stores normally display their books with the edge facing the customer. ||||||
The obvious reason for this is you can put more books on the shelf that way.

But recently, Borders experimented with displaying books with the cover showing. [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]  Even though the number of books displayed was reduced by 5-10%, sales increased by 9%.  Book stores have used the |||||| model for decades, probably since the very first book stores.  It’s just the way books are sold.  Give Borders credit for trying something new.

On the other hand, are the customers’ needs being met?  It depends.  If the customer’s looking for a best-seller, then yes, her needs are being met.  But what about the customer who’s looking for a book on woodworking.  That customer is going to have fewer choices.  And isn’t "huge selection" one of the big box book stores’ selling points?    But, for a company with stockholders to answer to, 9% more sales with 10% less inventory is awfully hard to pass up.  It’s the typical short-term thinking that gets big companies in trouble all the time.

Which points out the fatal flaw in the big box business model.  They claim to offer bigger selection and lower prices than their independent competitors.  But, in the end, there’s a lot of rent, and a lot of utilities to be paid on those big stores.  And there are a lot of stockholders who expect to see profits grow every year.  How do you do that?  Either increase sales, which becomes increasingly difficult, or lower expenses.  And one way to lower expenses is to reduce inventory, taking away one of their selling advantages.

One beneficiary of this new business model would be the independent book stores who have the ability to display more of the specialty books that Borders won’t have.  Since these books will have limited availability, they won’t be discounted, making them more profitable. An added bonus is the independent’s knowledge of their merchandise. A good indie bookseller is likely to  point out better choices (or additional choices) to readers.  Customers will become increasingly frustrated with the chain store and become more loyal to the retailer who seems to always have what they need.

There are several lessons we can learn from the Borders experiment.  The most important one may be that a small short-term increase in profits, when it comes at the expense of good customer service, isn’t such a great idea.  If you’ve promised your customer selection, then you’d better have it.  Because, in the long run, it’s never a good idea to break a promise.

For another take on the Borders experiment, check out Seth Godin’s post, "Do You Have vs. Do You Want?