Retailing-Some Good News

Under the title, Retail Industry Group Predicts Small Rise in Holiday Sales, Sandra M. Jones writes in the Chicago Tribune that The International Council of Shopping Centers is predicting a small rise in holiday sales over last year.

While the percentage is small, it’s still an increase and the fact that an industry group is offering a glimmer of hope for the fourth quarter is good news. In a world where the media is constantly offering self-fulfilling prophesies of gloom and doom we’ll take what we can get.

MTS certainly doesn’t have the resources to conduct an in-depth survey of consumer trends.  I can tell you that nobody I know has canceled Christmas this year. I’ve always found that those who are enthusiastic about the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of the other year-end holidays will find a way.

I’m also hearing from my retailing friends that business may not be great, but it is good.  What the pundits fail to mention is that these surveys almost always lean heavily toward the big box stores.  Even 1,000 independent retailers whose sales are up can’t offset one big chain whose sales are down.  At the end of the day, all you really care about is a survey of one business—yours.

RIP Dave Sinclair

Back in July I wrote a post (Salesmanship Part 1) about a Saint Louis car dealer, Dave Sinclair.  Rather than repeat what I wrote in July, I’ll just let you follow the link.

Sadly, Sinclair has passed away today after a long bout with cancer.  I never bought a car from him, but I’ve admired his direct, no b.s. way of selling cars for a long time.  He was never what you’d call politically correct and I imagine that cost him some sales over the years.  Here’s an ad he ran recently that reflects his style and his thoughts on buying American.

He will be missed.

Arthur’s Day

arthurs day header

OK, after three days of swine flu talk, here’s something more fun.  It may be a bit of a stretch to connect this with small business, but I’ll give it a shot.

250 years ago a Dublin small business man, Arthur Guinness, signed a 9,000 year lease on the St. James Gate brewery and began production of a dark stout.  You have to admit, 9,000 years is quite a commitment.  The cost of the lease?  45 pounds per year.

There’s a huge celebration planned today at St. James Gate and at pubs around the world to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Sir Arthur’s accomplishment.  All Irish and Irish wanna-bes are encouraged to lift a glass in a toast to Sir Arthur today.

As I write this it’s still before noon in the heartland, but here at MTS, we will be participating later in the day.

Slainte!

Sidebar:  Some studies have indicated that Guinness contains antioxidants that may actually keep your arteries free of plaque.  Hopefully any new health care legislation will include a daily pint for every citizen of legal drinking age.  I’m just sayin’…..

Here’s a six minute montage of Guinness commercials.  Enjoy.

h1n1-8 Tips to Help Your Staff Avoid the Flu

This is part 3 of our series on the h1n1 flu and how to keep it from disrupting your business (Small Business-Are You Ready for h1n1?h1n1-1o Tips for Small Business)  We turn again to the web site flu.gov for 8 tips for individual workers to avoid the flu.  You might want to print it out, go over it with your staff, and post it where everyone can see it.

  1. Stay home if you’re sick.
  2. Wash your hands frequently.
  3. Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  4. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve.  (This could be problematical for employees who wear sleeveless tops.)
  5. Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
  6. Keep frequently touched common surfaces clean.  For example, telephones, computer equipment, etc.  (If you operate a business where customers visit, the same goes for surfaces that they touch.)
  7. Try not to use other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.
  8. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

As an employer you can encourage a healthy working environment by providing plenty of hand cleaner and disinfectant wipes for your employees use.  Your good example will also encourage them and show that you care about their health (and your own.)

h1n1-10 Tips for Small Business

Yesterday I pointed you to the Flu.gov, a web site with tips for businesses to deal with a possible flu pandemic.   (Small Business-Are You Ready for H1N1?)  As I was writing the post, my daughter walked through the room complaining of flu-like symptoms.   I told her she should probably stay home from school, both to help her to recuperate, and to keep from spreading from spreading whatever she has to other students.  Unfortunately she had a mid-term exam that she couldn’t miss.  Maybe her school should read Mining the Store.

In case you missed it, or haven’t had time to look it over, here are the sites ten tips for staying healthy.

  1. Develop policies that encourage workers (students?) to stay home.
  2. Develop other flexible policies to telework (if feasible)
  3. Provide resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene.
  4. Provide educational and training materials.  See www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/business.
  5. Instruct employees who are well but have an ill family at home with the flu that they can go to work as usual.
  6. Encourage workers to obtain a seasonal influenza vaccine.
  7. Encourage employees to get the 2009 H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available.
  8. Provide workers with up-to-date information on influenza risk factors.
  9. Plan to implement practices to minimize face-to-face contact between workers if advised by the local health department.
  10. If an employee becomes sick at work, separate them from other workers until they can be sent home.

Regarding 6 and 7, you might consider paying for the vaccinations and giving your staff time off to get them.

It may be impossible to keep everyone on your staff from getting sick, especially if the flu becomes the pandemic that some predict.  But, whatever you can do to minimize their risk (and that includes your risk, too) is cheap insurance from a potentially serious business interruption.

Tomorrow:  8 Tips for Individuals

Small Business-Are You Ready for H1N1?

Unless you’ve  been living in a cave for the last few months, you’ve surely heard of H1N1, or swine flu.  The disease is spreading rapidly in areas of the world which are already into “flu season” and there’s no reason to expect that the United States and Europe will be any different.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put together an excellent web site with information on the disease which includes tips on how to stay healthy.  According to the CDC, the disease hits young people the hardest so old guys like me are less likely to get sick, but I wouldn’t count on that.

Here’s the thing.  As a small business owner, you’re business could be at risk if key employees get sick, especially for an extended period. Have you given any thought to what you’ll do if that happens?

The web site Flu.com offers a flu toolkit for business.  I’ve added a link to the site in the right column.  The site strongly suggests that every business should have a plan in place for dealing with H1N1 and other illnesses.  Some key points:

  • Examine your policies for sick leave and working from home.
  • Identify essential employees, essential business functions, and other critical inputs.
  • Share your plan with employees.  [I would suggest that it might be even better to get them involved in preparing the plan.]
  • Prepare a business contingency plan.
  • Establish an emergency communications plan.

Keep in mind that key suppliers and business partners may not be available in the event of a serious outbreak.

As a small business, especially in difficult economic times like these, having a plan to minimize the effects of a possible interruption of your operations could be the best investment you’ll make this year.

More tomorrow.

Retailing-My Top Five Business ‘Killers’

On Tuesday I pointed you to an article by the Retailer Owners’ Institute called “The Top Five ‘Killers’ of Retail Sales”.  As I wrote at the time, the information in the article was very good, but it was from a bean counter’s perspective.  Today I’d like to give you my top five list.  I’m not saying that my list is better.  Any item from either list could be a business killer.   In fact, the two lists combined would make a pretty good top ten.

5.  Unattractive place of business. People want to shop in a place that’s bright and cheerful, clean and neat.  Take a walk outside and view the premises with a critical eye.  Does the outside make a customer want to come inside?  Then walk in the front door imagining that you’re the customer.  Is your store inviting?  Is everything clean?  Do the displays look fresh and interesting?  Is there proper signage?  Would you shop there?

Be brutally honest.  If the answer to even one of these questions is “no”, you have work to do.

4.  Poor marketing. The idea of marketing is to get customers into your store.  No marketing = no customers.  It’s as simple as that.  Here’s the thing.  Good marketing doesn’t have to be expensive.  Many would argue that word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing of all and it’s virtually free.  The Internet, especially social media, makes it possible to reach out to our target audience at little or no cost.

If you don’t know what to do, there’s plenty of information right here on the web and there are a number of books that are excellent resources.  I recommend “Marketing Your Retail Store in the Internet Age” by Bob and Susan Negin and “The Profitable Retailer” by Doug Fleener.

3.  Poor Salesmanship. Even vending machines are designed to present the product in the best possible light.  If your staff isn’t knowledgeable about the merchandise, sales may be hard to come by.  Sales are made to people by people (with the exception of those vending machines).  In good times, products may fly off the shelf but in times like these, your staff must be able to convince the customer that your offering is the best.

2.  Poor Customer Service. This one goes hand in hand with number 3.  There’s no excuse for poor service and today’s customer won’t stand for it.  Follow the Golden Rule.  Treat customers the way you want to be treated, and mean it!  Someone once said, “Sincerity is everything.  If you can’t fake it, you’ll never be successful.”

You and your staff must genuinely want to make the customer’s life easier and better.  If your number one motivation is profit, people will see right through you.  You may make a sale but you won’t make a friend.  And friends are your best source of word-of-marketing.  Isn’t it funny how all these things tie together?

You may be thinking that great customer service should be number one and a lot of people would agree with you.  But, like I said, all these things work together so here’s my number one.

1.  Unhappy Employees. Unhappy employees will almost guarantee numbers two through five.  They won’t care how the place looks.  They won’t care about marketing.  They won’t practice good salesmanship and they won’t care about serving the customer.

While a happy, satisfied customer may be the ultimate goal, the quickest way to make sure that happens is to have a motivated staff.   Make the staff happy and they’ll make the customers happy.

As a small business you may not be able to offer the perks that a big company can.  But you can make your staff feel like part of the family.  You can offer them intangibles that your bigger competitors can’t like flexible hours and more control of their own career.  You can give them a voice in decision-making and make them feel important every single day.

Happy, motivated employees are the key to a successful business.

Retail Business “Killers”

Today I want to point you to an article called “The Top Five ‘Killers’ of Retail Businesses” from the Retail Owners’ Institute.  You have to keep in mind that the ROI is a group focused on the financial aspects of retailing.  Consequently their “Top 5″ don’t include things like marketing, salesmanship, customer service or any number of other things that would appear on my list.  In fact, the article begins with this rather remarkable statement”  Hint: (Declining Sales’ is NOT One of them!)

Again, these guys are in the business of counting retail beans so their list focuses on the financial.  With that disclaimer, here are their “Top 5”:

5.  Out of Control Growth

4.  Out-of-Control Expenses

3.  Failing to Manage Gross Margins

2.  Out-of-Control Inventory

1.  Being Out of Cash

Like I said, from the bean-counter’s perspective there isn’t much to argue with here.  There’s no doubt that if you run out of cash, you’re most likely out of business.  Read the original article to see ROI’s comments on each business killer for some good insights.

It’s a good article but, in my humble opinion, it misses some very important elements of a successful retail business.  Even the most devout bean-counter should be willing to admit that until you bring the beans in through the front door, the rest is just academic.

9/11/2009

TERRORIST ATTACKSEight years ago today, I was on my way to the dentist’s office  (not my favorite place to be) when I heard on the radio that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers.  At that point no one really knew what was going on and the crash was being viewed as a horrific accident.

As I sat in the waiting room watching the coverage on television the second plane hit the second tower and it became clear exactly what was going on.  This was no accident.  As the story developed we learned that there were at least two more planes under the control of terrorists.  Would there be more?  We didn’t know.

As it turned out there were only four.  Only four?!  How could this happen?  Where was airport security?  Was this the beginning of the end?

In the days that followed, the citizens of the United States became united in a combination of emotions, mostly fear and anger.  Republicans and Democrats joined together to search for survivors.  There was no partisanship, only patriotism.    It seemed that the terrorists had underestimated us.  Instead of bringing the USA to its knees,  it appeared that we would emerge from this crises stronger and more united than ever before.

That was eight years ago.  Today, as we remember that day and mourn the thousands of people who died in the attacks, we’ve regressed.  In fact, we’ve fallen further into disunity than we were prior to September, 2001.  Politicians and their cronies on both sides of the aisle have used the War on Terror to further their own political agendas.  Frankly, things are a mess.

As we pause and remember the victims of that terrible day, including the brave men and women who rushed into the fray endangering their own lives in the effort to save others, as we pray for them, I’d like to suggest that we also pray for our country.  Readers in other countries, I’d like to ask for your prayers, too.  Pray that we might once again experience the unity that followed the terrorist attacks and that it doesn’t take another tragedy to bring us all together.

I generally try to separate my online secular writing from my religious writing.  However, in this case, I’ll make an exception.  I delivered a homily on this topic this morning.  If you’re interested, you can read it here.

Small Business Retailing: Sears on the Bubble?

sears logoYahoo Finance is posting today that venerable retailer Sears may be in trouble, or at least in more trouble that we thought.  Sears posted an unexpected quarterly loss leading Barron’s to state that their stock could fall another 50%

Jeff Matthews of hedge fund RAM Partners is quoted as saying that Sears has “lost touch with its customers.”  According to Matthews, Sears CEO Edward Lampert doesn’t know how to run a retail business.

While some independent retailers may celebrate the possible loss of a major competitor, this may not be good news.  Should Sears fail, there’s no doubt that Wal Mart will jump in to fill the void.  You have to ask yourself, “Will I be better off if every Sears store is replaced by a Wally World?  I don’t think so.   Sears may be a tough competitor, but Wal Mart is tougher.  And without competition from Sears, can Wal Mart do anything but get stronger?

It reminds me of a story about two Boy Scouts confronted by a bear in the woods.  One of the young men is frantically lacing up his running shoes.  The other says, “What’s the point.  You’ll never outrun the bear.”  The first boy says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I just have to outrun you.”

In this case, Sears may be the second scout with Wal Mart being the bear.  As they say, “be careful what you wish for.”