Social Ice Cream?

Social media.  What IS it and how can it help my business?  The CommonCraft Show, one of my favorite web sites has posted the following video, Social Media in Plain English.  Like all CommonCraft videos, it’s a very simplistic explanation of a complex topic.

Using the analogy of ice cream making, the video explains what these new tools are all about and how they can help you.  At just a little over three minutes in length, it’s well worth your time.

We’ve mentioned CommonCraft before, but if you’ve never checked out their site, you should.  Like the ice cream, it’s very cool.

Let’s Put on a Show

A while back (All Business is Show Business), we discussed the similarities between our business and the business of entertainment. Today our buddy Seth Godin posts in a similar vein. [Note: While we’d like to claim that Seth got the idea from MYOB, it’s much more likely that he had the idea first. It’s just that he has so many good ideas, it took him a little longer to get it on the web. Besides, we got the idea for the post from Anna Farmery who interviewed the uni-named authorTsufit, author of a book called Step Into the Spotlight]

Seth’s take on the subject is much the same, if a little broader. He contends that even in our personal life, we’re putting on a show and that we should be deliberate about it. He writes,

“Some people insist that they’re not putting on a show. That’s a show too, of course.”

We can’t afford to be haphazard when we’re in front of our public, whether we’re performing Shakespeare on the stage for hundreds of people, or explaining the benefit of buying our particular product to a single customer. This’s not to say we should be fake or phony. Far from it.

“If you can live the role, really be in it, and be transparent about your motivations, putting on a show is productive and highly leveraged. If you work in customer service, marketing yourself as friendly (and being friendly!) is far more effective than just acting however you feel in any given moment, isn’t it? That’s because, if you’re good at it, you realize that becoming a friendly customer service marketer is exactly what you need to do. Not pretend to be friendly, actually be friendly.”

Don’t take the advice of Mark Twain who once said that sincerity is very important. If you can’t fake it, you’ll never succeed. Retailing is a reality show. It’s up to the customer to decide whether you get to play on, or if you’re voted off the island.

Good Business News

From MSNBC, durable goods orders for April, excluding transportation, were up 2.5% last month.  Orders for electrical equipment and appliances were up 27.8%, the biggest increase in history.

"In another good sign, orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, considered a good proxy for business investment, rose by 4.2 percent last month, the best showing since last December."

More good news, the price of crude oil fell by $3.00 yesterday and the dollar gained ground against the yen and the euro.

An Interesting Guarantee

Putting on a new pair of pants this weekend, I noticed writing on the inside of the pocket.  Was someone being held prisoner in a garment factory and sending me a message for help?  No, it’s Haggar’s new guarantee and it’s printed on every garment.  Not on a tag attached to the product, but printed right there on the item itself.

They call it "the Q guarantee" and it covers defects in merchandise for the life of the shirt, pants, or suit.  What do they cover?  It depends on the item.  For example, for pants they promise:

Unbreakable buttons
Unbustable seams
Unbreakable zippers
Bigger, unrippable pockets

Face it, any clothing company is going to stand behind their product so Haggar’s new guarantee isn’t really anything new.  But to print it right on the pants pocket, that’s an effective statement that the consumer can’t miss.  What a great idea!

How can you use something like this?  It depends on your product, but a bold, easily visible statement of something you’re already doing can be very effective.  Do you prepare new items before delivery, making sure they’re assembled and checked for functionality and appearance?   That’s a "Free  Pre-Delivery Inspection." 

Do you make sure the customer has the necessary accessories when you hand them their new product?  That’s "100% Ready to Use When You Take it Home."  If necessary, bundle the price of the accessories in the price of the item.

The point is that there are things you do that the customer may take for granted.  Promote those things as the value-added that they are.   Position yourself as the dealer who adds value to the customer’s purchase.  Especially if you’re selling a "commodity", your superior service will earn you more business without resorting to price-cutting.

Memorial Day 2008

As we begin the long Memorial Day weekend, some of us are looking forward to an extra day off work and some of us are looking forward to a big three day selling event.  However you plan to spend the next few days, especially Monday, don’t forget the reason for the commemoration.  (I hate to call it a holiday.)  Last year we posted on the history of Memorial Day.  It started way back during the Civil War and was a day to remember those who have died for our freedom.

I live just a short distance from Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery where nearly 150,000 men and women, military veterans and their spouses, are buried.  It’s an awesome and sobering experience to see row after row of identical white grave markers stretching as far as you can see.  Even more sobering are the fresh graves that have yet to be covered with grass, many with only the small temporary marker waiting for delivery of the permanent stone.  On Sunday morning, local Boy Scouts will place a flag on each grave.

You may not have an opportunity this weekend to visit a cemetery, or attend a Memorial Day event, but hopefully you’ll be able to take some time to remember the brave men and women we memorialize.  In 2000, congress passed the "National Moment of Remembrance"
resolution.  It calls for all Americans to pause for a moment at 3:00
PM (local time) on Monday for a moment of silence.  It’s the least we can do.


Photo by Robert Lawton.

A Really Useful Site

Every so often we find something really useful to pass along to you and today’s one of those days.  The site is called "Biz Tool Kit", a service of the James J. Hill Reference Library.  According to their web site, "BizToolkit puts the best online information resources at your fingertips including downloadable business plans, HR forms, financial calculators, industry research reports, plus expert Live Help."

There is a "Pro" version of the site ($7.95 per month) but the free site has more than enough information to keep you busy for a long time.

The downloadable forms section and the Sales and Business Development Resources section alone make this site a real goldmine for any small business.

Sales Tools by is especially interesting.  The sales download "201 Motivators" is a listing of thoughts and actions, people, books, movies, movie monologues, and audio with motivational themes.  For example, Al Pacino’s pre-game talk to his football team from the movie "Any Given Sunday" is a classic.  Check it out on YouTube.  [Warning:  Explicit language including one use of the "F" word]

There’s really just too much on this site to even scratch the surface here.  This is one site you really should bookmark and come back to again and again.  We’ve added it to "Useful Links".  Check it out and let us know what you think.

Good Isn’t Good Enough

Anna Farmery of The Engaging Brand asked a good question on Twitter today, "Why do companies think customer service, delivering what the customer expects,and  quality are brand differentiators for customers?

She’s right, you know.  In today’s world, good service and quality products are a given.  Unless you have a monopoly (utilities, for example) a company won’t survive long giving bad service or delivering a shoddy product.  So why do some companies think that good products and service make them stand out? 

When I can buy a book at three in the morning in my pajamas from for a lower price than my local book store charges, that book store better have a darned good reason for me to shop there.  Having the book in stock and smiling at me while you take my money won’t cut it.

This post is short for a reason.  Spend a few minutes, right now before you do anything else asking yourself "What makes my store different?  Why should anyone spend their hard-earned money here as opposed to somewhere else?"  It could be the most valuable time you’ll ever spend.  If you can’t come up with a good answer, you’ve got some serious work to do.

Virtual Business Cards


Thanks to Steve Gardner at Steve’s Vac Shack in Willmar, MN for this tip.

There’s a new service called BusinessCard2 that allows you to create a virtual business card and put it on your web site, or attach it to your email.  It’s based on the principal of the VCard, meaning that your customer can download it directly into their contact managing software.  The advantage of BusinessCard2 over the basic VCard is that you can add a photo and additional information about yourself or your company.  In fact, the more information you add, the better your chance of placing higher in the search engines.

The service also allows you to create more than one card.  For example, maybe you do volunteer work and you’d like to have a card with your home phone number rather than your work number.  You can do it.  Or, maybe you do both retail and commercial sales.  Again, you can create two different cards.

It looks like a good service.  I’ve added a link to my virtual business card in the right hand column.   The basic service is free with an additional charge if you want your card to be listed more prominently.  If you decide to check it out, let us know how it works for you.

Getting Back Lost Customers

Over the weekend, someone (not in retailing) asked me a very good question.  "If you make me mad and I stop coming into your store, how do you know?  Can you ever get my business back?" 

OK, that’s two questions.  But it’s one thought.  How do you find out about lost customers and get them back?  Some people are blessed with an excellent memory.  They notice when a favorite customer hasn’t been in for a while.  For the rest of us, there needs to be a device that triggers action when we haven’t seen someone in a month, or two months, or whatever the buying-cycle happens to be.

Fortunately there is such a device.  It’s called a point of sale system.  Hopefully you have one and if you do, you have it programmed to deliver a list of dormant customers; those who haven’t bought anything during a period of time that you specify.  It has to be a period that you specify, because different businesses expect to see their customers at different intervals.

For example, if you were in the grocery business, you would probably expect to see your best customers at least once a week.  If they miss two weeks, they might be out of town, maybe on vacation.  At three weeks, it’s time to take some action.

On the other hand, if you’re a tax preparer, you might only see some customers once each year.  Your early warning system might only spit out a report once each year, possibly in the middle of March.  For a car dealer, the cycle could be even longer.

You can automate your list to produce a letter to the AWOL customers, basing the offer on previous purchases.  Or, you can be more personal by creating a list with phone numbers and purchase history.  Then you can call them personally, giving them a reason to come and see you.  In either case, you must ask the question, "Is there something we’ve done to keep you from coming in?"  In many cases, the customer won’t volunteer that information.  You have to ask.  Just the fact that you’re contacting them will bring a lot of customers back.

A retail point of sale system can do a lot of things.  Many times the full potential isn’t being used.  If you aren’t using your system as a way to spot missing customers so you can get them back, you’re leaving money on the table.  Contact your supplier for help.  If you aren’t using a POS, we recommend that you look into getting one.  Used correctly, they’ll pay for themselves many times over.

Here’s a link to an earlier post on POS systems.

Get It Right the First Time

Thanks to Donna Popacosta for pointing out this story from the Chronical for Higher Education.  It seems that Princeton University Press is recalling 4,000 copies of a book called "Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore‚Äôs Eastern District", by Peter Moskos.

"Why would they do that?", you ask.  Well it seems that the 245 page book has more than ninety (90) spelling and grammatical errors.  Did I mention that the publisher is Princeton University Press?  They promise to have the corrected books on store shelves before the end of the month.  Although the errors slipped by Princeton’s proof readers, Moskos’ friends and family noticed the mistakes.

This is obviously an expensive and embarrassing episode for the publisher and we can all learn from it.  As the old saying goes, "There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over."  Mistakes happen, but it always pays to check and double check our work before handing it to the customer, or sending it to the printer, or hitting the "send" button.  Some mistakes are more costly than others, but this one is a doozy.  A publishing company bearing the name of one of our country’s most prestigious universities shouldn’t let something like this happen.