When Bad Times Mean Good Times

My wife is a HUGE fan of Home and Garden Television(HGTV).  She can sit for hours watching shows about decorating, and color, and buying a house in the Carribean (?).  She has no need for the remote if the TV’s set on her favorite channel.  She’s even  gotten me interested in some of the shows (especially the Carribean one).

A lot of the shows are about buying and selling a house.  Watching with Jan I’ve learned a new word, “staging”.    According to Haverhill Home Staging:

“Home staging is the design process of de-personalizing a private residence prior to putting it up for sale in the real estate marketplace. This is often achieved by re-arranging, de-cluttering and improving on certain items.”

In other words, in order to sell your home, you have to make it look like you don’t live there.  You do this by taking down pictures and other items that relate to you and your family.  You want the buyer to look at your house and see it as their house.  You want to get rid of your old junk, which is a good idea anyway if you’re planning to move.

Haverhill also has an educational division where they can teach you to be a stager with the possibility of working for them, or going out on your own.

All this is a long way to go to get to something that caught my attention on the Haverhill web site, in the FAQ section. The question is, “Do poor market conditons affect the demand for Home Staging?”

And the answer? “Yes. The slower the market, the more help home sellers need to compete with the increased number of homes for sale. There is less demand for Home Staging in a seller’s market.”

Remember, this is a company that makes its living spinning things in a positive way to make a sale.  Understanding that, this answer isn’t just brilliant, it’s something we should all use in our own businesses.

What is it about your business that makes it more necessary in a down economy?  C’mon, there’s something about your industry, your market, your personal brand, that makes it important to your customers today.  If you don’t know, then spend some time thinking about it.  Brainstorm with your staff, your spouse, your mastermind group until you come up with an answer, then promote the heck out of it.

If a company that provides a service to home sellers when no one is buying homes can turn the market into a positive, then there’s no reason why you can’t too.

Let us know what you come up with.

Just When You Think You’ve Heard Everything…

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to blog about poor customer service. After all, it’s everywhere. But here’s one that I couldn’t resist passing along.

First, the setup. My wife works for a service organization. While they do sell some products, the products are there to support the service which is offered to consumers. The company works out of hundreds of storefronts across the country. Recently they introduced a computerized record system with PCs and modems in all their locations. All employees were required to learn the system. Many of them, like my wife, are anything but computer geeks.

In order to complete the day’s business, the day’s transactions must be transmitted to the home office via the computer. The business day for most of the remote locations ends around 7:00 PM.

Monday evening around 7:30 I got a panicky phone call from my lovely and talented better half. The computer was displaying an error message and the modem wasn’t working. A call to the company’s “help desk” resulted in a recorded message advising her to “leave a message and we’ll get back to you.”

Here’s the thing. There are two women sitting in an otherwise empty storefront, on their own time, unable to leave until they got the computer working and the “help desk” was offering no help. Fortunately I know a little bit about this stuff and I was able to walk them through a fix.

What’s the lesson here? Most of us provide some kind of service and often that service is time-sensitive. Are we there when the customer needs us? If we aren’t, do we offer them an alternative?

I recently ended a long-term relationship with the company who serviced my garage doors when my car was stranded inside the garage and they had taken off for a Christmas vacation. My new garage door guy, found the old-fashioned way, from the Yellow Pages, was there within hours on Christmas Eve. (I told you, my wife’s not big on computers.)  My problem may not have been a big deal to my former company, but when you have to transport four adults, food, and gifts on Christmas day and your only accessible vehicle is a two-seat convertible, it’s a very big deal.

As service providers, it’s important that we see that our service is available when our customers need it. You may not want to work twenty-four hours a day. Who does? But an answering machine with an emergency number might not be a bad idea. Where after-hours service may be required, can you have someone on call? It’s entirely possible that the “emergency” can be solved over the phone, like my wife’s computer dilemma.

We’re in the midst of some trying times. We can’t afford to lose a good customer when it can be easily prevented. Look at your service offering from the customer’s point of view. Would you do business with you?

Five Things to Expect in 2009

fortune_tellerThey (whoever ‘they’ are) say to start every blog post with an intriguing headline; one that will draw the reader to the post like a moth to a flame. That same ‘they’ will also tell you that people like to read predictions. And, everyone knows that you like lists, So, “Five Things to Expect in 2009” should be a winner.

But, here’s the thing. I don’t have the faintest idea what to expect in 2009 and I’d say the so-called experts don’t either. I stumbled onto one of the expert predictions on another blog. “Ahha!” I thought, this should be something my readers would want to see. But, frankly, the post wasn’t worth the paper it wasn’t written on. With the exception of changing the dates to 2009 and throwing in the “R” word once-in-a-while, the post could just as well have been written in January, 1999 as January, 2009.

There are just too many unknowns, too many uncertainties to make blanket predictions of what the next twelve months hold for small business or any business for that matter. But, I don’t want to be left out and I definitely don’t want to disappoint you, so here’s my list of predictions for 2009.

1. The harder you work this year, the more money you’ll make. The correlary would be, if you don’t work hard this year, chances are that you won’t make much money. There will be some exceptions, but I believe that it’s generally true. [Disclaimer: Note that I said “make” money. Lottery winnings, lucky picks at the track, financially advantageous marriages or the death of a wealthy relative don’t count. However, if one of these does occur, be sure to contact me.]

2. Whether you’re a one man/woman operation, or the biggest company in your field, the cost of a blog, podcast, FaceBook page, or twitter account is exactly the same. You CAN compete effectively by using these tools. In fact, the social nature of web 2.0 make it easier for an individual or small business to make an impact using these tools.

3. If 6 % of the population is unemployed, then 94% are employed. Unless they’re selling products and services specifically geared to job seekers, companies who ignore the six and go after the ninety-four will be the most successful.

4. If unemployment remains at relatively high levels, a lot of very educated, experienced, well-trained people are going to be looking for jobs. Many of these people who might never consider working for a small business under normal circumstances will be a little less picky. They’re also likely to be more inclined to work on a pay-for-performance basis. [Hint: I know someone with decades of experience in retail and manufacturing who’s available on a contract basis. See the contact information in the left-hand column.]

5. Barter will become more important in 2009. Whether it’s through a so-called barter exchange, or it’s just two guys who meet at the coffee shop on the way to work, exchanging products and services will be a popular alternative to spending hard-earned cash. If I trade you $100.00 worth of consulting service for a $100.00 widget, we both come out ahead getting what we need at a wholesale price. [Note that Mining the Store is not advocating that you try to avoid paying taxes on the exchange. That would be wrong! Check with your accountant.]

6. Finally, here in the US we have a new President who made a lot of promises on the campaign trail that he won’t be able to keep. The trouble is that it’s hard to say what changes will actually be made. So, here at Cliche City we recommend that you hedge your bets, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and remember that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Seriously, there’s money to be made in a recession. It’s a little harder than usual. It will take more time and more work. But 2009 has the potential to be a year of great opportunities.

Stay tuned!