30 Days Has September,

April, June, and November.  C’mon.  Admit it.  You still have to go through the rhyme in your head to remember how many days are in the month. 

Today is the last day of April, 2008.  In a few hours, the year will be 1/3 complete.  According to today’s news, we’re still not officially in a recession, much to the new media’s dismay.  There was growth in the first quarter.  Not much growth, but growth never the less.  The official definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.  Darn the luck.  It’s going to be at least sixty days before the pundits can proudly declare that they were right.  That is, if the economy actually does stop growing.

I thought about the economy as I was reading Doug Fleener’s Retail Experience newsletter for Tuesday.  His topic was "blamers" and "learners".  To summarize Doug’s comments, he compares two retailers who bought the same new product.  There wasn’t enough support from the manufacturer to move the product off the shelf.  (That never happens, does it?)

Retailer number one, the blamer, ends up marking down the product and taking a loss to get rid of it.  Retailer number two, the learner, sees that the vendor support isn’t going to make the product sell and experiments with various things until she finds the one that works.  Sales boom, including sales she gains from competitors who gave up on the product.

The point is, whether it’s a soft economy, a lack of support from a vendor, a torn up highway in front of your store, hot weather, cold weather, $4.00 gas, or whatever, you have two choices.  You can play the blame game, while your sales go down the porcelain convenience, or you can accept the situation and do something about it.

The good news is that many of your competitors are taking door number one.  Like the wiCheckered_flagnner of a NASCAR race, the time to pour on the speed is when the competition pauses.  While they’re in the pits, you can keep flying around the track. Keep your foot on the gas and you’ll take the checkered flag.  (Thanks, Mr. Cliche)

Dear First Name,

I actually received an email today that began "Dear First Name,".  Obviously it was a direct email piece that wasn’t set up correctly.  Considering the source of the email, I know that the mailing went to hundreds, maybe thousands, of people.  I’m not upset.  In fact, I think it’s kind of funny.  I never suspected that someone at the company sat down and wrote a personal email message just to me.  On the other hand, the larger the mailing list, the more people see your error.  The glaring mistake really weakens the message of the email, especially when it’s the very first thing you see when you open the message, and may even damage the reputation of your company.  Computer software can save a lot of time and money, but you have to be careful not to make mistakes.

Your mailing list may be quite a bit smaller than the list that my "Dear First Name" "friend" uses.  Your customers may actually think they’re getting an email or letter written just for them.  That’s a harmless illusion that you probably want to keep going.  If so, check and double check your work before you hit the "send" button.  In fact, before you so a mass emailing, your best bet is to send just one message….to yourself.

When you receive it, go over it with a fine-toothed comb.  Is everything right?  Is it addressed "Dear You" and not "Dear First Name"?  If the customer’s name is repeated in the body of the letter, is it correct?  If everything is the way you want it to be, then and only then go back and hit the button sending your message to your entire mailing list.

All Business Is Show Business

Anna Farmery hosts the Engaging Brand podcast. (See Words to Live By.)  On a recent episode, her guest was Tsufit (That’s really her name!), author of a book called "Step Into the Spotlight".  One thing she said that caught my ear was the title of today’s post, "All business is show business."  In fact, it’s the subtitle of her book. 

That’s an interesting thought and very true.  Why should a consumer buy from you when she has so many other choices?    A trip to your store is more than a transaction; it’s a total shopping experience.  And the quality of the experience determines whether your customer will (1) buy something and (2) come back again.

You and your staff are in the spotlight every time someone comes into your store.  Are you ready?  Is the stage set?  Are displays clean and ready to help you sell?  No director would think of opening the curtain without checking the lighting, the props, and the overall look of things.  You shouldn’t either.

Do you and your staff know your lines?  Granted, retail is more like a reality show than a scripted presentation, but you have to have an idea of what you’re going to say.  The actor rehearses for many hours before opening night.  Should you give any less to your performance? 

What about costumes and makeup (for the ladies)?  Does everyone in your store present a professional image?  Black tie is certainly optional, but look in the mirror and ask yourself if you would buy from the person looking back?  If the answer is yes, then It’s Showtime!!!

No More Lost Straws!

It’s always been my opinion that if you can’t fix something with duct tape and a can of WD-40, you should call in a professional.  WD-40 has so many uses that the company actually has a "2,000+ Uses for WD-40 list."

But, as big a fan as I’ve always been, there’s one thing about my favorite spray lubricant that really drives me crazy.  It’s that stupid little red straw.  You know, the one you can never find when you need it.  For years it’s been attached to the can with a piece of tape.  But one of the 2,000+ uses is to remove tape.  So as soon as you get WD-40 on the can, the tape comes off and goodbye straw.

A rubber band will hold the straw on the can for a while, but eventually it breaks and the straw’s gone.  Future archeologists are going write research papers on what they they think all those straws were used for.  But, good news!  According to the WD-40 Fan Forum,

"WD-40 Company is putting an end to the millions of lost red straws hiding on garage floors, behind workbenches and in the bottoms of toolboxes. The most popular sizes of WD-40 aerosol cans sold in the United States will now have the WD-40 Smart Straw delivery system!"

This is an example of a company being proactive in solving a customer problem.  The straw issue may not cost the company a single sale.  After all, they don’t have a lot of competition.  But by removing the irritant, they’ve shown themselves to be a company that cares about their customers.

Is there anything irritating your customers that you can fix?

Sidebar:  Do you know why they call it WD-40?  Find the answer here.

Are You Putting in Too Many Hours?

I recently had a chance to visit with a young man who you would have to call successful.  He owns two profitable fast-food restaurants. There are always lines at his drive-up windows and he’s even experimented with using a maitre de at lunch time to speed up the seating process when there are more customers than tables.  It appears that life is good.

But appearances can be deceiving.  Bob (not his real name) has a problem.  The problem is that he’s working way too many hours.  When he’s not at one restaurant, he’s at the other one.  He’s wearing himself out. He’s also limiting his ability to expand.  There’s definitely room in the market for several more of his restaurants, but there’s just no physical way for him to open them unless he changes his management style.

Michael Gerber, in his book "E-Myth Revisited" suggests that every business should be run like a franchise.  There should be systems and processes in place that work no matter who’s doing them. 

Every McDonald’s in the world serves the same french fries.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Chicago or Beijing, the french fries are all the same.  Why is that?  Because there’s a process.  Put the potatoes in the fry basket.  Put the basket in the grease.  When the bell rings, take them out.  It never changes.  It doesn’t matter who the french fryer is.  It doesn’t matter who the manager is.  The manager doesn’t even have to be there.  That’s how every business should be set up.

It doesn’t stop with french fry frying.  Every aspect of the business is governed by a system, whether it’s ordering, serving, cleaning, or doing the books.  It’s all there in black and white in the business system.  The owner of the business can be a hands-on type of guy (or gal) or not.  It doesn’t matter.

Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t have the system.  His restaurants are franchises.  He paid a lot of money to buy a proven set of processes.  His problem is he doesn’t trust the system.  That’s the hard part, isn’t it?  Whether we designed the system ourselves, or we paid thousands of dollars for an existing system, the real issue is trust. 

You have to trust the systems and you have to trust your own ability to hire people capable of using the systems.  If you don’t have that trust, you’re doomed to a life of ten-hour days and six or seven day weeks. 

Ask yourself these question: 

  • Do I have processes in place for every aspect of my business?
  • Are they written down?
  • Do I have the people in place to make the system work in my absence?
  • If space aliens grab me in the middle of the night and take me away in their flying saucer, would the business continue as if I were still here?

If you can’t answer "yes" to all four questions, you know what you have to do.

Another Top 100 List

Spring seems to be list time.  Earlier this week we gave you a link to the 100 best free software programs according to PC Magazine.  Here’s another list, this time from CNet of the "Webware 100" as voted by their readers.  There are 10 winners in each of 10 categories. 

According to Webware, "Just slightly more than half of all the votes cast in the Webware 100
went to the top 10 vote-getters. Six of these top 10 are no surprise at
all: Facebook, Firefox, Google, iTunes, MySpace, and YouTube."

Thanks to Neville Hobson, at nevillehobson.com for pointing out the list.

Small Business Week, 2008

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America (emphasis added, mb)

In communities across America, small business owners are working hard to turn their dreams into enterprises. Small Business Week is a time to celebrate the many achievements of small business owners, entrepreneurs, and employees, who contribute to the vitality and prosperity of our Nation and create new job opportunities for our citizens.

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, and my Administration is committed to fostering an environment in which the entrepreneurial spirit can thrive. By keeping taxes low, we leave more money in the hands of Americans to save, spend, and invest. This year, we have also temporarily expanded incentives to help small businesses invest in new equipment and expand their enterprises. We have also expanded market access and opened new markets for American goods and services abroad, helping our small businesses compete in the global economy. To make health care more affordable and accessible, we continue to support Association Health Plans so small businesses can band together to get the same discounts that big companies receive.

The underpinnings of our economy are strong, competitive, and resilient enough to overcome the challenges we face, and in the long run, Americans can be confident that our economy will continue to grow. During Small Business Week and throughout the year, we recognize the determination and ingenuity of America’s workers and entrepreneurs who play a vital role in building a more prosperous future for our country.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 20 through April 26, 2008, as Small Business Week. I call upon all Americans to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs that celebrate the achievements of small business owners and their employees and encourage the development of new small businesses.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventeenth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.