Starbucks Ideas

Starbucks_logo
Thanks to Mark Riffey at Business is Personal for pointing out the MyStarbucksIdea web site.  Like Mark, I’m not a big fan of the Seattle coffee chain.  I prefer to order my coffee au natural, no cream, no steam, no foam, no whipped cream, just a large cup of coffee.  At seven o’clock in the morning, I’m usually in no mood to remember whether large is Venti, or Grande, or whatever.  Just give me your biggest cup of plain coffee.

Anyway, you can’t argue with their success, even without my business.  Their latest initiative, MyStarbucksIdea.com, invites customers to submit their ideas for making Starbucks better with the promise that someone from the company is actually looking at the ideas and that the good ones will be implemented.  Readers are encouraged to vote on each idea.  The number of comments on some of the ideas is running in the hundreds with the top idea of all time drawing over 600.

If you aren’t in the coffee business the idea of a stopper to keep hot coffee from splashing out through the hole in the lid may not mean much to you (except as a coffee consumer), but as a retailer you should be monitoring the site.  Several of the ideas that have been submitted can be used in other situations, or may inspire you to come up with similar ideas of your own.

Surprisingly the site doesn’t provide an RSS feed so you’ll have to check it manually and you need a Starbucks.com account to make suggestions or comments, or to cast a vote.  But it’s certainly worth a bookmark and a look every once in a while.

Teen Ethics

Regular readers know that MYOB deals with a lot of serious issues, but we always try to keep things on the light side.  After all, there’s enough negativity coming at you every day from radio, TV, and your local news.

But here’s something that’s very unpleasant.  In fact it’s downright scaryJunior Achievement and Deloitte recently released the results of a survey on teenage ethics.  Considering that today’s teens are tomorrow’s (maybe even today’s) employees, their values are very important to the future of our businesses. 

Here are a few of the survey’s conclusions:

  • Seventy-one (71) percent of teens feel prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the workforce, but thirty-eight (38) percent of that group believe that it’s sometimes necessary to "cheat, plagiarize, lie, or even behave violently in order to succeed."
  • Nearly one fourth of teens think it’s ok to cheat on a test under certain circumstances.
  • Twenty-three (23) percent think violence toward another person is acceptable.
  • More than half of the teens surveyed either thought it is unfair, or weren’t sure if it’s unfair for an employer to fire or suspend someone for unethical behavior committed outside of the job.
  • More than half believe it isn’t fair for an employer to make hiring and firing decisions based on the employee’s online activity.  Another nineteen (19) percent weren’t sure.
  • Almost half believe that it’s ok to download music without paying for it but only five (5) percent think it’s ok to steal something from a store.

Clearly the level of ethics and morality in our society are on the decline.  But these hard numbers reflecting the views of our young people are alarming.  Clearly we all have to be very careful in making personnel decisions.  If nearly one out of four potential employees think physical violence is an acceptable way to handle problems, there is a very real liability issue for every employer.  If employees act in an unethical manner it can destroy a business’ reputation.

Of course everything isn’t doom and gloom.  If one in four potential employees thinks violence is the way to resolve conflict then three out of four don’t.  It just means that we have to be very careful to hire the right people.  Background and reference checks, including Googling the applicant, are more important than ever.  A check of MySpace, FaceBook, and other online sites is also important and completely legal and ethical, even if half your applicants think it’s unfair.

Junior Achievement sponsors programs that teach business ethics including a free online program for students in grades 4-12.  In-person programs are usually delivered by volunteers from the business community.  There are even college scholarships available for students who complete the ethics course.  There is more information on the JA web site, including a "Get Involved" link.

Thanks to Workforce Management Quick Takes for pointing MYOB to the survey.

[Update:  02:09 PM 4/15/08  As a follow up to Bill Hinderer’s comment below, here’s a link to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

Inertia

Most of us are familiar with Newton’s first law of motion:  "Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion and bodies at rest tend to stay at rest."  I was reminded of it over the weekend as I attended a sales presentation for a group of prospects.  The presenter used a PowerPoint presentation for the bulk of his talk, but before he showed the first slide, he asked the group a series of questions. 

  • "Do you like to travel?"  (We were in a tourist area.)
  • "Do you like to save money?"
  • "Wouldn’t you love to go to Hawaii?"

And so on, with every question getting an obvious "yes" answer from everybody in the room.  There were so many heads bobbing up and down, it looked like Bobble Head night at the ball park in a brisk wind.  If he had asked "Wouldn’t you like a punch in the nose?", at least half the people in the room would have nodded and said "yes".  Newton’s law was in full effect.

Of course, this is "Selling 101".  We all know the power of asking minor questions to get the prospect in  the habit of saying "yes", but are we using it to its best advantage?  Do your people use this technique?  If not, why not get them in the habit?

Get everyone together, bring in some refreshments, and hold a brainstorming session.  They’ll be more likely to use questions that they thought up themselves.  Use a white board, or some of those big sheets of paper that stick to the wall, and go to town.  Have some fun.  Make an "official" list, encourage everyone to use it, and watch your sales increase.

You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

Getting a Clue

"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing
   new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct 
result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

"These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked."

Sound familiar?  Sound relevant?  Does it sound like it was written nine years ago?  It was indeed written in 1999.  It’s from a book called "The Cluetrain Manifesto".  The "Manifesto", ninety-five points written by four friends and signed by hundreds of others, spread like wildfire.  Eventually it was published in book form, but you can still read if for free on the Cluetrain web site.

Here are a few of the ninety-five points to get you started:

1.    Markets are conversations.

2.    Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

12.  There are no secrets.  The networked market knows more than companies do about their own  products.  And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

21.   Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously.  They need to get a sense of humor.

29  Elvis said it best:  "We can’t go on together with suspicious minds."

69.  Maybe you’re impressing your investors.  Maybe you’re impressing Wall Street.  You’re not impressing us.

78.  You want us to pay?  We want you to pay attention.

And finally, 95.  We are waking up and linking to each other.  We are watching.  But, we are not waiting.

Read the full list, read the entire book online, or buy the book at the Cluetrain web site.

A MILESTONE!

Odometer
A little over two years ago we were discussing things that we could do to celebrate Tacony Corporation’s sixtieth anniversary.  Our President, Bill Hinderer suggested a blog for our customers.  Not a blog to sell things, but a blog to provide information that would help our valued business partners "work on their business, not in their business."  And so, Mine Your Own Business was born and I became a "blogger".  I became the blogger.  The blogger-in-chief.  The blogmaster general.  The blogmeister.  What in the world had I gotten myself into?

If anyone had told me that in April, 2008, we would publish post number 500, I would have said they were way too optimistic. 

500 posts in less than two years! That’s half of 1,000!  Roman numeral "D"! 

How could we possibly come up with that many posts, especially when the majority of blogs fade away after just a few months?

Well, business is a pretty deep subject, and no two days are ever the same, so somehow we’ve gotten to this milestone.  Of course, we would never have come this far if no one were actually reading MYOB.  But the numbers tell us that you are, and so tomorrow we’ll begin the second 500 posts. 

One of our goals is to keep the content fresh and relevant.  If there’s a particular subject that you’d like to see covered in more depth, let us know.  We’re always looking for suggestions. 

Thank you for your support of Tacony Corporation and Mine Your Own Business.  Our company’s mission statement appears on the left of every one of these 500 posts and we’re dedicated to sticking to it every single day.

All the Top Stories

Hopefully you consider Mine Your Own Business  a valuable resource for running your business.  One of our goals is to connect you with items that you can use every day.  One way we do that is by watching other small business reference sites.  Here’s a good one, called Alltop. 

Alltop is short for "All the Top Stories" and their tag line is "We’ve got all the top stories covered all the time." They do it by running more than fifty web pages, each dedicated to a particular subject, ranging from world news to comics, each one updated every ten minutes.  Check here for a complete list of their topics and click here for the story of how Alltop came to be.  The concept is the brainchild of Will Mayall, Kathryn Henkens, and Guy Kawasaki.  (Yes, that Guy Kawasaki; best-selling author of The Art of the Start.)

One of the Alltop sites that I use regularly is one cleverly called "Small Business".  It aggregates many of the sites that MYOB references on a regular basis including Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, Seth’s Blog, Duct Tape Marketing, and as of today, Mine Your Own Business.

Here’s a screen shot of the site.

Alltop_1_2

As you can see, each of the blog listings includes links to the blog’s most recent posts.

If you hover your mouse pointer over a post title, you’ll see the first few lines of the post, making it easy to decide if you want to read more.

Alltop_2_2

For anyone who reads blogs on a regular basis, the Alltop sites are well worth adding to your list of resources.  I’ve added a permanent link to the Small Business site under "Links" in the left hand column.  You can click through to any of their other sites from there.

Try it.  I think you’ll find it a very useful addition to your list of on-line resources.

More on Persistence

Stl_marathon
Last week, we quoted Seth Godin on the subject of persistence.  I was thinking about his words yesterday morning as I watched nearly 13,000 runners participating in the St. Louis Marathon and Half Marathon.  3,000 of them ran the full 26.2 miles with the other 10,000 competing in the 13.1 mile race.

I wasn’t there to participate, it’s been a long time since I’ve competed in a running race and it was never more than five miles.  I was there yesterday to watch.  (Hey, I had to get up early.)  Son Tim was a competitor in the half marathon and his mother and I were there to cheer him on.  This post isn’t to brag (Tim’s official time 1:51:45, top 15% of finishers), but rather to point out how important persistence can be.

You don’t just get up on a Sunday morning and say I think I’ll go run thirteen miles today.  Training takes months.  Since this race is held in April, some of those months fall during St. Louis’ sometimes nasty winter weather.  Being persistent means running in the dark; running in sub-freezing temperatures; running in the rain, and snow, and sleet.  Basically it can be pretty miserable.

Training is also a solitary activity.  You run alone most of the time.  To say it’s difficult would be an understatement.  But my son and thirteen thousand others did the training and ran the race.  The same scenario is repeated in cities and towns all over the United States.   For most of us, just taking the first step out the door, leaving a warm house to run in the cold, dark night or early morning, would be more than we could handle.  But distance runners do it all the time.  They train for months for a two or four hour race.

So hats off to them.  But hats off to you, too.  Running a business is much like running a marathon.  You have to work hard every day, whether you feel like it or not, to meet the daily challenges of entrepreneurship.  Sometimes it’s not easy to take that first step out the door, leaving a warm house, not knowing what the day’s going to bring.

But the rewards are great.  You run the race, and if you work hard persistently, you can make a nice living for your family and do it on your own terms–no boss, no time clock, no meetings.  Do the right things, in the right way, every single day and the prize is yours.

Stimulate ALL of Your Customers’ Senses

The point was, and still is, that the sight, the sound, and the smell of the hot popping corn was (is) just too much for the customer to resist.  In fact, a friend in the business tells me that it would be cheaper and a lot less messy to bring in pre-popped corn in big plastic bags.  There’s no difference in the taste, but where it’s been tried, movie-goers just won’t buy it. 

The point is, the more of the customers’ senses you can stimulate, the more likely you are to make a sale.  Of course, you may not sell a product that you can taste or smell, but with a little imagination, you can still make your store a sensory experience. 

Maybe your product doesn’t have a distinctive smell, but there are other aromas that your shoppers will find pleasant.  Maybe you could offer gourmet coffee.  Almost everyone loves the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee.  Or, you could go the non-food route and use one of those plug-in air fresheners.  Just be sure you chose a pleasant fragrance and use the same one all the time so your customers begin to associate that particular smell with your store. 

Sights and sounds may be better associated with your particular merchandise, and should be easier to take advantage of.  Your store should be full of activity.  Product demonstrations should be animated and interactive.  Get the goods into the customer’s hands.  Rather than you demonstrating the newest features, walk the customer through the process.  Let her ring the bells and blow the whistles.

Loop videos are another excellent way to bring sight and sound into your selling environment, even when you and your staff are all busy.  Most manufacturers provide videos and the price of playback equipment has never been lower.  You could even use a digital video recorder to make your own video, extolling  the virtues of your store.  Have some fun with this!

Ambient sounds are also important.  If you have music playing in the store, make sure it’s appropriate to your store’s atmosphere.  Unless you’re selling skate boards or tattoos, punk rock really isn’t the way to go.  Don’t let your personal preference dictate the music your customers shop by.

Last, but certainly not least, make sure your lighting makes it easy to buy.  We wrote recently about saving money on store lighting, and it is a good way to save, but not at the expense of lost sales.  The last thing you want to do is save $50 on electricity and lose a $1,000 sale because it was just to dark for the customer to appreciate what she was looking at.

Retail sales is really show business, and the merchandise is the star.  Take a tip from the theater owners, who know a little bit about show biz, and get as many of the customers’ senses involved as you possibly can. You can even take a page from the theaters’ book and buy your own popcorn machine.  Popcorn_machine

Persistence

A good blogger takes an idea from somewhere else and expands on it. There’s nothing I could (or would) add to this post from Seth Godin’s Seth’s blog.

"
Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying.

Persistence is having the same goal over and over."

A 10% Sales Increase?

A while back we wrote about that deadly question, "Can I help you?"  Hopefully, no one in you store is still using this lame approach to your customers. 

In his book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber deals with "Can I help you?"  Why do "sales people" ask the question when they know the answer will be "No thanks, just looking." and the conversation is over.  Simple, he says, if the customer is "just looking, that  means that they don’t have to do any work.

Here’s how Gerber suggests you handle the first contact when the customer comes in.

"Instead of asking, "Hi, may I help you?" try "Hi, have you been in here before?"  The customer will respond with either a "yes" or a "no."  In either case, you are then free to pursue the conversation.

"If the answer is yes, you can say, "Great.  We’ve created a special new program for people who haven’t shopped here before.  Let me take a minute to tell you about it."

Naturally, you have to have such a program, but that’s the easy part.  Obviously you also have a program for customers who answer "No."

The actual experience of Gerber’s accounts (he runs a consulting business) is an increase in sales of 10-16%.  That’s a pretty substantial improvement for such a simple change. Why not give it a try?