Retailing and Politics

Doug Fleener at Retail Contrarian makes an interesting point today about retail employees wearing political campaign buttons.  In a word–don’t.

I’m old enough to remember when politics was a fairly genteel affair.  Democrats and Republicans could have an intelligent conversation without name-calling, foul language, and physical violence.  Today, not so much.  Given the nastiness of the presidential campaign so far, and with almost eight months left to go, there’s no reason to think that the candidates and their supporters are suddenly going to start playing well with each other.

Ad Doug points out, there are people who will definitely take their business elsewhere if they think you’re supporting the "wrong" side.  All-in-all, unless your state is 100% blue or red, it may be best to keep your, and your staff’s political preferences to yourselves.

Sidebar: Have a safe and happy St. Patrick’s Day weekend and be careful out there.

Customer Service as Markieting

How much is it worth to satisfy an unhappy customer?  How far would you go to make that unhappy customer not just satisfied, but to make them an ambassador for you and your business?  Here’s an example of a company going above and beyond.

First, some background.  Neville Hobson is a Social Media guru, a sought-after speaker, a blogger, and a podcaster.  In fact, you often hear that someone "wrote the book" about something.  In Neville’s case, he actually did write the book, along with Shel Holtz, on podcasting.  If you’re thinking about getting into the podcast world, Neville and Shel’s book, "How to Do Everything with Podcasting" is a must read.  While I don’t agree that you can do everything with podcasting, you can do quite a bit and HTDEWP is the first book you should get your hands on before you do anything else.

Anyway, Neville recounts the long story of his problems with installing Microsoft Vista on his Dell computer on this post. To make a long story short, someone at Dell tech service told him there was nothing they could do for him.  Using the power of social media, Neville posted a video about his problems.  It wasn’t long before he was contacted by Dell.  After much trial and error, Dell offered him a brand new computer.

Was this a fair offer?  The problem was with a two-year-old, out-of-warranty PC.  More than likely the culprit was MS Vista and not the computer itself.  I’d say it was more than fair.  Not only did they save a customer relationship, the positive buzz that Hobson has created by recounting his experience on his blog and podcast is certainly worth more than the cost of the new product.

Dell’s past customer service problems are well known.  It’s imperative that they overcome their negative reputation.  Each time they go above and beyond to take care of a customer, whether that customer is a prominent blogger and podcaster, or a typical consumer, they take a step in the right direction.

When you have a customer with a problem you have an opportunity to create some great positive word-of-mouth.  Don’t let that opportunity slip away. 

“Buy Local” Programs Boost Holiday Sales

From the American Independent Business Alliance:  "As major chains report weak holiday sales, a nationwide survey of 1,382 independent retailers has found that a desire to support locally owned businesses is emerging as a factor in people’s shopping choices

"The survey found that independent retailers in cities with active "Buy Local" campaigns reported much larger increases in holiday sales on average than those in cities without such campaigns."

There are currently more than three dozen cities in the United States with programs promoting local business.  According to the survey, independent retailers in those markets experienced an average 2% sales increase during the 2007 Christmas season, compared to an increase of less than 1% in other communities.

Last fall in Austin, TX, the local Independent Business Alliance estimated that if each household in Travis County would spend do just an additional $100 of their planned Christmas budget with local retailers, the local economic impact would be approximately $10 million.

Obviously some consumers are never going to get over their big-boxitis, but many of them will support their local business community if they’re educated in the realities of the economic impact local businesses have on the economy. 

If your community doesn’t have a "Buy Local" program, AMIBA’S web site had information about starting one.  Check it out.

If there is an organization in your area, what has your experience been with it?

Why Should You Go After the High End Customer?

It should be fairly obvious that there are advantages to working with higher-end customers.  But sometimes, it’s good to review.  Here’s an interesting item by Michael Furniss called "8 Reasons to Target Higher Paying Customers".  His 8 reasons, along with comments, are very complete, so I’m just going to list the reasons by themselves.  For more information, check out Michael’s post.

  1. They make you immune to price cutting wars.
  2. They create the chance of a price increase war.  (I like this one.)
  3. They give you more room to create special offers.
  4. They are less likely to complain.  (I’m not so sure about this one.  What do you think?)
  5. They are more likely to buy again.
  6. They are more likely to refer similar people.
  7. They are easier to manage.
  8. They let you out advertise your competition.

I’m going to add a ninth one:  They are less affected by changes in the economy, gas prices, taxes, and all the other things that can cause low and middle-price shoppers to postpone their purchases.

Ten Reasons to Shop H.E.R.E.

Here in St. Louis, a company called The Newsmagazine Network has begun an advertising campaign promoting local business.  The company publishes three local newspapers so they obviously have a vested interest in seeing other local businesses succeed.  They call their program Shop H.E.R.E. (Help Energize the Region’s Economy). 

There are similar programs in other cities, but the thing I found interesting about this one is their list of 10 reasons to Shop H.E.R.E.  Here it is:

  1. Local CharacterOne
    of a kind businesses are an integral part of our region’s distinctive
    character. They make you feel like you are “someplace” instead of
  2. Local Decision Making
    – Local business owners will directly feel the impact of the important
    decisions they make, which encourages them to make better decisions for
    the community as a whole.
  3. Local  ImpactA dollar spent with a locally owned business has three  times the local
                economic  impact of a dollar spent with a
                national  chain, which keeps more money
                circulating  locally in terms of sales tax, city
                services  and neighborhood improvements.
  4. Local Jobs
    Small businesses are still the number one employer in this country.
    They tend to hire from within the community and place a great value on
    their employees.
  5. Customer ServiceLocally  owned businesses will often hire
                people  with more specific product knowledge
                who  can therefore provide more personalized customer service.
  6. Public BenefitLocally owned  businesses
                tend  to require less investment in infrastructure
                and  tax subsidies than do national chains.
                These  businesses also tend to make more
                efficient  use of city services.
  7. DiversityA
    diverse marketplace featuring locally owned businesses ensures a wide
    selection of products tailored specifically to the needs of the local
  8. CompetitionA competitive  marketplace featuring locally owned businesses ensures innovation and low  prices over the long term.
  9. Giving BackNon-profit
    organizations receive on average 350% greater support from local
    business owners than they do from non-locally owned businesses.
  10. Stable CommunitiesEconomic
    research shows that entrepreneurs and skilled workers are more likely
    to invest and live in communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind
    businesses and distinctive character.

We wish them, and all similar programs, the best of luck in promoting local businesses.


Happy Friday! 

From our "pointing out the obvious" department.  This is a real copyright notice from a real web site with the owner’s name removed.

You just can’t make up stuff this good. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)


Everybody Is Your Big Brother

Mitch Joel writes the Six Pixels of Separation blog and podcast up in Montreal.  Earlier this week in a post called "Marketing When Nobody is Looking", he writes about a recent experience in New York City.  He was walking through a major retailer’s store.  The store had someone dressed up as their mascot.  Mitch noticed that whenever there was no one around, the mascot and his handler were cracking jokes, using profanity, and just generally acting in a very unprofessional way.

His point was that these two young employees were delivering the entirely wrong message to anyone who saw or heard them, hence the title of his post, "Marketing When Nobody is Looking".  You may think nobody is looking, but this is the twenty-first century.  Not only is there a good chance that somebody’s looking, there’s a decent chance that someone is recording you.

Just this week we were treated to video of an airliner that nearly crashed.  The video wasn’t nearly as impressive as the pilots’ skill in bringing the plane in safely.  But the fact that someone happened to be video taping that particular plane is something we should seriously consider.  No matter what we do or where we are, there’s a decent chance that someone’s got a video camera pointed in our direction. 

Of course we should always act ethically because it’s the right thing to do, and most of us do.  But in this age of compact video recorders and cell phone cameras, everything we do has the potential to come back to haunt us.  There’s no reason to think that the two employees that Mitch Joel observed had any kind of bad intentions.  They’re just kids, one dressed in a ridiculous outfit, blowing off a little steam.  But someone with a video recorder, an unhappy customer, a competitor, or a fellow employee could cause them to lose their jobs.

For those of us in the business world, we should always act professionally, even when we think that no one is watching.  We should never do or say anything in our professional capacity that we wouldn’t do or say in front of our best customer.

Great Books on Salesmanship

Yesterday’s post, Get Out There and Sell, linked to a podcast called “5 Tips on Selling During a Recession, by Gavan Ingham.  Ingham’s third tip is to sharpen your sales skills.

Most of us in sales are confident in our ability to make a sale.  And, the longer we’re in the business, the more confident we become, and with good reason.  Experience in any business usually translated into improved performance.

But, sometimes confidence may not be such a good thing.  Confidence can sometimes cause us to get away from the basics.  Inspired by Ingham’s list, here’s a list of some of MYOB’s favorite sales training books and web sites.

Since it was his post that inspired the list, I suppose it’s only fair to list Gavan Ingham first.  According to the site, “Gavin Ingham .com contains enough free sales training and personal development material to keep you busy and it is constantly being added to.” 

Tom Hopkins is a personal favorite.  His web site has a ton of free resources and his books and audio/video materials are among the best.  His classic book, “How to Master the Art of Selling” has recently been updated and revised.

Brian Tracy is another veteran sales trainer and motivator.  Among the free resources on his web site, there are several free newsletters, a blog, and a podcast.  His books and other training material are always excellent.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie.  Zig Ziglar has been at the top of the motivational field for decades.  If a Ziglar audio program doesn’t get you motivated, you might want to have someone check your pulse.  Zig’s more of a motivator than a sales trainer, and more of a speaker than a writer.  But, if you ever have a chance to see him in person, don’t miss him.  The Zig Ziglar Vault is a unique program.  For $14.95 per month you can have on-line access to over 100 hours of audio and video material.

Harvey Mackay has written not one, but two NY Times #1 best sellers:  Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt.  Both are excellent business books, well worth the read.  His web site offers a number of free resources including a blog and a podcast.

Since there’s nothing new under the sun, two classic sales trainers’ work is still worth a look, even if you’ve read/heard them before.  Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” and Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret are still excellent.

If you don’t see anything here that you like, you can always go to  Search under “books” for “salesmanship”.  Sort the results by “Bestselling” and you have your own list of top selling sales books.

If there are any sales books that you have found especially helpful, please let us know.

Get Out There and Sell!

Two things today that are different–but related.  Over the weekend, my wife dragged me my wife and I went to the St. Louis Home Show.  The first thing I noticed was that some of the companies that normally exhibit weren’t there.  I guess there are two possible reasons for that.  Either they have so much business that they don’t need to meet potential customers, or they’re cutting expenses because business is slow.

While the first option is possible, it’s not likely.  If it’s answer number two, you already know what I would say to that.  (See Your Domestic Product and Customer Service Is More Important Than Ever).

Here’s the thing.  When we were there the show was very crowded.  The exhibitors who showed up had people to talk to.  The exhibitors who stayed home didn’t.  We all know that shows are expensive.  But when it comes to finding a lot of prospects, there’s no better place to be.  Once you’ve got their attention, make it count!  You may or may not actually take orders at the show.  If you don’t, then your objective is to get them into your store.  No matter what else you do, get their contact information.  You may use a drawing or contest, or you may be more direct and just ask for it, but whatever you do, don’t lose that prospect!

As a refresher, here’s a link to an earlier post, "There’s Nothing Wrong with Making a Sale".  If you have a show, or any other event coming up, take a look at it.  I can highly recommend it because the advice comes from one of you.  If you have any other suggestions on maximizing event and show sales, please share it with your fellow dealers by commenting below.

The second thing to share with you today is the Customer Service Carnivale.  This is a new carnival to us, and we appreciate them choosing a MYOB post for inclusion.  There are a number of good posts in their selections, including one called "5 Tips on Selling During a Recession."  It’s an audio podcast by Gavan Ingham, a British sales trainer,that runs just over eleven minutes and is well worth your time.

One of Ingham’s five tips is to be much more proactive.  Not staying home from selling events might be a good place to start.

What Do You Do When the Weather’s Bad?

This has been one of the strangest winters in recent memory here in St. Louis, and in many other areas of the country.  It was in the 70s here yesterday, making it a shorts and T-shirts, top-down, bar-b-cue kind of day.  Today, we’re  under a winter weather advisory with predictions of as much as 8-9" of ice and snow.

It’s not easy to plan when things are so wildly variable, but this isn’t the first time we’ve had this type of extremes in a short period of time.  A few weeks ago it was top-down weather coming in to the office and at quitting time there was ice on the windows.  Naturally, this kind of weather plays havoc with retail sales.

The science of weather prediction is far from perfect, which makes planning even that more difficult.  [In the interest of full disclosure, my number three son is a meteorologist.  He’s the first to admit that predicting the weather in the middle of the United States is a nightmare.  I guess that’s why he moved to Alabama.]  So, how do you plan your staffing?

What do you do to make sure you have enough people to take care of the customers, without paying them to stand around talking to each other?  Do you cut back, hoping the forecast of bad weather is correct?  Or do you staff normally, with plenty of non-selling tasks lined up to keep them busy if the weather does turn bad?  Do you send people home one at a time as the weather deteriorates?

We’d like to hear how you handle this situation.  Comment below.