Thank You

sIf you’ve been following MYOB for a while, you know that I’m a big advocate of "Web 2.0", "Social Media"  or whatever you want to call it.  On line communications are here to stay and an independent business owner has a huge potential to compete with the big guys by using it to its best advantage.  But even I have to admit that there’s nothing that will ever take the place of good old face-to-face conversation.

Over the last few days I’ve had a chance to speak to many of you personally and I really appreciate the input.  Some of you said some nice things about the blog and I appreciate the compliments.  When you type words on a computer screen you never know if anyone is going to actually see them or if they’re at all useful to the reader. 

Some of you gave me some excellent ideas for future posts, whether you knew it or not.  Just by spending a few minutes with you I’ve learned what’s on your minds, what’s bugging you, and what your goals are for your business.

I sat in on several of the educational sessions and learned a lot, both from the presenters and from those sitting around me.  I hope you enjoy the upcoming posts based on what I learned.

Last but definitely not least,I also visited with some of our vendors.  I learned a lot from them, too.

I hope those of you who attended Baby Lock Tech enjoyed your time in St. Louis.  Yes, the weather is always beautiful here in mid-August with mild temperatures and low humidity.  (If you believe that, I’ve got some beach-front property I’d like to talk to you about.)  I also hope you found the presentations and the classes to be well worth your time. 

I’ve said it here many times, US small business is a key element of our economy.  Regardless of the negatives you see and hear every day, it’s your willingness to invest in your business, to employ your fellow citizens, and to keep merchandise flowing from the manufacturers to the consumers that makes our country what it is.  Keep up the good work.

Getting Back to (Sales) Basics

From Downtown St. Louis:

I finished my day at Baby Lock Tech with a class on selling.  Frankly I thought it would be a waste of time.  What could I possibly learn about selling that I didn’t already know.  I’ve been doing it since a teenager.  I was only partly right.

The speaker didn’t say a single thing that I didn’t know already.  But you know what?  He reminded me of things that I haven’t thought about in years.  Which made me stop and think.  No matter how much we know, no matter how good we think we are, we need to be constantly refreshing ourselves.  We need to be continually renewing our skills.  Even when we think we know all, we’ve forgotten a lot.

When I was actively selling I owned dozens of sales tapes (That’s what we used to use, cassette tapes.  In fact, I think I even had some sales 8 tracks.)  I listened to them all the time.  If I had a two hour drive to a sales call, I’d spend the time listening to the experts.  Even when I listened to the same program several times, which I often did, I’d always pick up something that I’d either missed before or forgotten.

It’s even easier today.  Selling material comes on CDs that you can upload to your mp3 player.  Where I used to have a trunk full of tapes, you can carry hours of material in your shirt pocket.  Tom Hopkins,  Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar and all the other experts in the field have materials you can buy.  In some cases the stuff is even free.

There are dozens of podcasts that you can download for free from iTunes and other podcast networks like blubrry.  Of course there are hundreds of other free downloads on every business subject you can think of and some you probably can’t.

If you’re listening to music or sports or talk radio while you’re driving to and from work, you’re wasting some valuable learning time.  If you have a fifteen minute drive each way, that’s thirty minutes each day, two and a half hours in a five day week when you could be expanding your skill set and improving your business.  It’s a good habit to get into.

More on Baby Lock Tech

From Starbucks in downtown St. Louis: 

This is a brief post because I’m headed to a 2:00 class but I just wanted to reiterate my impressions from yesterday.  In a soft economy the optimism of our dealers is something!  As I mentioned, we have introduced some top-of-the-line products this week and our dealers are confident they will sell at retail; confident enough to place some substantial orders.

I’ve had some interesting conversations today which will be posted here later in the week.   

Retailers Love High-End Sewing Machines

Crowd_goes_wild
[WARNING:  While the purpose of this post is to salute some of America’s best business men and women, it does contain some bits of shameless self-promotion for Tacony Corporation and Baby Lock USA.  Please forgive this somewhat biased reporting as I believe it’s necessary to make the point. mb]

On Saturday evening I sat in a packed theater with several hundred successful sewing machine retailers.  They’ve gathered in St. Louis for one of the industry’s premier annual events, Baby Lock Tech.  These men and women have taken several days away from their businesses and traveled here, at their own expense, to learn, to visit with old friends, and to see the new products from Tacony Corporation and Baby Lock.In the sewing industry this is new product season.  Baby Lock’s competitors are holding similar events.  But since I’m not invited to any of them (go figure), I’ll confine my comments to just this one.

The highlight of Baby Lock’s presentation was the introduction of two new sewing machines.  I was going to say these aren’t your grandma’s sewing machines, but then again, maybe they are.  In fact I know several grandmas who are very much into high tech sewing.  These machines each carry a five-figure MSRP.  And with each introduction, as they say, the crowd went wild.

Why would they be so excited about such expensive machines?  Given the high price of gasoline and other commodities, the problems in the housing market, and all the other gloom and doom that we see and hear every day, why would these very successful people be so excited about sewing machines that cost as much as a decent used car?  Shouldn’t they be demanding new products that compete on price with the big box stores?

Hopefully you already know the answer.  They were excited because they’re sales professionalsThey sell things.  They know that cheap sewing machines aren’t sold.  People buy them from stacks of boxes piled up in a discount store or warehouse club. To a real pro, these new machines represent opportunity; the opportunity to make sales to serious women (and men) who take their art, their creativity, seriously.  You just know that most of the retailers who’ve seen these new machines already know which of their customers will buy them.They have a mental list of the people who will trade in last year’s top-of-the-line machine for one of the new ones.   They also know who’s waiting to see the newest and the best before they invest their hard-earned dollars.  They know that there are more than enough prospects out there to make them a lot of money selling the high end.

Creative sewing takes time, and time is a commodity that most of us can’t afford to waste.  While a truly creative sewing artist  spends hours on a project, she or he doesn’t want to spend time unnecessarily.  A machine that makes the project easier and saves time is worth its weight in gold.

And high-end sewing machine sales lead to other high-end sales.  Nobody’s going to sit such a valuable piece of high-tech equipment on a card table! No one is going to spend hours creating a thing of beauty using cheap thread that’s going to fail in a short time or with $1.00/yard fabric.  Michaelangelo didn’t buy his paint and brushes at Wal-Mart and look how long his stuff has lasted.

I’ve said it here many times, the independent business owner is the backbone of our economy.  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” must have been originally said about American entrepreneurs.  While one big company lays off a thousand workers with lots of media coverage, a thousand small companies hire two new workers each, unnoticed by anyone except those directly involved.

So on Saturday night in St. Louis, a night when the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers, playing just down the hall, could manage just 13 points between them, Baby Lock scored touchdown after touchdown with exciting new products to support America’s finest retailers and in turn support America’s economy.

I’ll have more on Baby Lock Tech as the week goes on.

Thought for the Day

"Land on your feet and stay inside the lines."

Al Trautwig,

NBC TV, at the Women’s All-Around Gymnastics Championships in Beijing

8/15/08

Something New on the Blog

We’re always looking for ways to make MYOB more useful and convenient for you.  That’s why we’re currently experimenting with a new tool called Apture.  You might say Apture is linking on steroids.  Where you normally see a link on a web page as different colored (usually blue) underlined text, Apture takes it a step further. 

Apture lets us link to wikipedia definitions, pictures, videos, sound files, and a bunch of other things.  For example, suppose we mention a city like St. Louis.  If you click on the link you’ll be taken to an image of the Gateway Arch.  Or maybe we’ll take you to a song about the city.  We could even use Aptura to link to a video on You Tube.

Or, maybe there’s a post about sewing machines, we could link to a how-to video, or a picture of the latest Baby Lock machine.  The possibilities seem to be endless.

We’ll be experimenting with Apture for a while to see if it really does add value to the blog.  In fact, we’ve added some Apture links to some recent posts.  Check it out and let us know if you like it.

A Great Idea

I’ve mentioned it before, but if you’re not subscribing to Doug Fleener’s Daily Retail Experience newsletter, you’re missing out on some great ideas for improving your business.  For example, in today’s issue he offers the following suggestion for generating some free PR. 

He writes, "Everybody has back-to-school sales but how many retailers throw a back-to-school party for mothers?"

The idea is to throw a party for moms a few days after school starts.  We all love our kids, but after an extended summer vacation, even the most adoring mother can use a little R & R.  Include the "three f’s", food, free stuff, and fun.  If you can get some of your retail buddies to cross-promote, donating products and services for give-aways in exchange for a share or the free publicity, that’s even better.

 Then, contact your local news media.   Doug writes, "I think this is exactly the kind of
story they would like to run as part of their back-to-school stories.  Be sure
and call your best customers and invite them to the party. You might as well
make some sales during this PR stunt."

Not only is this a great idea for August/September sales, but the same thing would work after Christmas and after spring break.  You don’t have a lot of time to put this together, but I think the effort would be worth it.

Did I mention that you should subscribe to Doug’s newsletter.  Subscribe here. The weekly version is free.  There’s a very reasonable charge for the daily one.

Internet Survey

A couple of comments I’ve heard (or read) recently have me wondering.  One comment was that it’s difficult to get younger shoppers into small, independently owned retail shops.  Is this true?  I don’t know.

The other comment, and it’s pretty much an accepted fact, is that older people don’t use the Internet as much as younger people, or at least not in the same way.  For example, Facebook, the popular social media site has roughly 29 million members in the United States.  Just 990,000, or 3.4% of them are Baby Boomers (age 44-62).  Generation X (age 28-43) accounts for 18% of Facebook users and a whopping 78.0% of Facebook users belong to Generation Y (age 27 and under).  A meager 206,000, or less than 1.0% of all Facebookers are 63 and above. 

In contrast, the total US population breaks down this way:

 

Generation Y  41.2%

Generation X   20.4%

Boomers         25.7%

65+                 12.7%

So the two youngest demographic groups, Xs and Ys, 62% of the population, account for 96% of the users of Facebook.   

Obviously, if you’re looking to reach the two younger demographic groups, Generations X and Y (everyone age 43 and younger), you’re going to find them on the web.  If that’s where they are, isn’t that where you should be? 

To lay the groundwork for future posts on MYOB, weI’ve put together a very short survey.  We’d like to know how you’re using the Internet.  Obviously you read blogs, or at least this blog.  What other Web 2.0 tools are you using?  Are you blogging or podcasting yourself?  We’d like to know. Your answers will help us decide what topics to address here in future posts.   

People taking surveys always say that they won’t take much of your time, but this one really won’t.  There are only about 25 questions and most of them just require you to click a button.  Simple, huh?  It shouldn’t take you more than 3-5 minutes to complete and we’d be very grateful for your participation.

Click here to take the survey.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Eight Hundredths of a Second

Olympic_mens_relay
There is never a shortage of motivational moments at an Olympic games.  To me the highlight of these games so far would have to be the US Men’s win in the 4 X 100 Men’s Freestyle Swimming relay.  I’m sure you know by now that the Americans beat the French team in come behind fashion.

 

Of course the victory was sweet (1) because the anchor swimmer on the team, Jason Lezak, had to come from behind in the final few meters to win the race and (2) because the French team had been trash-talking the US swimmers in the press.

 

But, what about that winning margin.  0.08 seconds.  That’s an amount of time that’s almost unfathomable.  You could only see it on television in slow motion. Four men swam nearly a quarter of a mile and their margin of victory was literally a blink of the eye.   

 

In life it’s often the small things that make the difference between success and failure.

Photo:  http://www.nbcolympics.com

More on Twitter

I posted the other day on twitter, the microblogging site. (So What’s This "Twitter" I Keep Hearing About?)  Just in case you missed it, or in case my explanation made things as clear as mud, John Jantsch over at Duct Tape Marketing has written a short ebook called "twitter, Using Twitter for Business". 

John’s content is excellent, using the ebook format to cover more material than I could fit into a blog post.  He provides links not just to twitter, but to some other companion sites that you may find useful.  For example, twitter search is a great tool for monitoring your name, your products’ names and even your competitor’s name to see what twitterers are saying about them. Just enter your search terms and twitter search returns a list of any and all tweets that include them.

I particularly like John’s list of seven questions and answers called "Why would I use it?"

The ebook is free, though there is a short commercial at the end for John’s consulting service.  But that’s a small price to pay for some very good information.  Check it out.