More “Undercover Boss”

After yesterday’s post I watched another episode of “Undercover Boss”, this one featuring Coby Brooks, President and CEO of Hooters.  As you might imagine, Brooks finds both good and bad in his company and gets a hard time from some folks on the street who don’t appreciate the Hooters concept.

I’m no prude and I’ve enjoyed wings and beer at a couple of the Hooters locations (including one that’s featured on the program) but it is a little difficult to reconcile the company’s public profile with some of Brooks’ comments during the show.  He says he’d have no problem with his daughters joining the family business and that everything about the chain is wholesome and family-friendly, but early in the show one of the company’s ads flashes by on the screen:  “Hooters-More than a Mouthful”.

Be that as it may,the most telling episode in the show is probably when Brooks visits the company’s manufacturing plant (They make their own wing sauces and dressings.) in Atlanta.  The corporate office is also located in the Georgia city.

First, he says that morale in the factory was high when Dad was still alive (he died in 2006).  The elder Brooks would often visit the plant and talk to the people.  The current CEO admits that he hasn’t been in the plant since he was a teenager.  Don’t forget that the plant and the corporate office are in the same city and that Robert Brooks has been gone for four years!  Patti, the Business Manager at the plant tells Brooks that she has some concerns about morale.

The real enlightenment comes when Brooks asks one of the employees about the owner.  To make a long story short he says that the elder Brooks was a great guy and everybody loved working for him.  When our hero asks “What about the son?” what he hears is far from complimentary.

Of course, there is a happy ending with the newly enlightened CEO promising to do better.

Here’s the thing, this isn’t that unusual a story.  Almost without exception second-generation ownership is never like the first and third-generation owners are even less effective.  The founder had a dream and it was the focus of everything he did.  Charter employees shared in the dream and gave 110% to help achieve it.  It was usually a win-win for everyone.

Generation II comes along.  They knew about Dad’s (or Mom’s) dream but chances are that the business was already successful by the time they were old enough to really understand what was going on.  They’ve always enjoyed the fruits of the successful company but never experienced the struggles it took to get there.  Generation III has grown up around a successful business and have little or no idea of what it took to get there.

Coby Brooks didn’t aspire to join the family business so maybe we can give him a bit of a pass, but it took him four years to find his way to the factory.  No wonder the workers have no loyalty to him!

But he seems like a sincere enough guy, at least as sincere as you can be running a chain of restaurants named after a female body part.  Hopefully for his sake, he learned some valuable lessons.

Postscript:  According to several sources, the chain is for sale.   One reason given is “sagging sales”.

Silver Dollar City Grand Opening AdAnother Postscript:  This weekend’s episode of Undercover Boss will feature Herschend Family Entertainment, one of my favorite companies.  The Herschend family literally started with  nothing but a hole in the ground 50 years ago this year and now owns and operates theme parks and other entertainment properties all over the Midwest and Southeast.  If you watch you’ll see an organization that’s about as much opposite of Hooters as a company could possibly be.  It airs on CBS Sunday evening.  Don’t miss it if you can.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

Gosh, I can’t believe it’s been so long since the last post!  Mea culpa!

I’ve been wrestling with some personal things and I know that I’ve been remiss in my duty as your favorite blogger.  But a whole month!  I’m shocked and embarrassed.  While it’s sometimes difficult to write every day,  you deserve more and I apologize.

On a happier note, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! When I see the crowds who attended the big parade this past Saturday and the throngs of people gathering today at their favorite watering holes, I realize that people are still spending money.  One out of ten Americans may be out of a job (Personally I think it’s more than that.) but that means that the vast majority of us are receiving some kind of paycheck.

The trick is to offer them something of value, something they really want or need, and getting them to buy from you.  Of course that’s easier said than done, but I know you can do it.  Think of the story of today’s patron saint.  Born in England, he became a slave in Ireland, escaped and returned to England.

He returned to Ireland which was essentially a pagan land and converted thousands to Christianity.  He must have been some salesman!  If this former slave was able to convince the Irish to convert, how much easier is it for you to sell your product to your potential customers?

So, as we celebrate the famous Irish saint,  why not think of him as an inspiration as you go about your daily business?

Meanwhile, have a happy Saint Patrick’s day and celebrate responsibly.

Seasonal Marketing

We all know that the weeks before Christmas are the busiest shopping days of the year.  Other holidays, real (Easter) and manufactured (Valentine’s Day) can bring out the shoppers as well.  But, what can we do to stimulate the shopping gene in those times between major holidays?

Why not have some fun with the more obscure festivities like National Embroidery Month or National Snack Food Month  (February) or Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17).  To get you started, here’s a web site that lists all variety of occasions, both monthly and daily.  Add a little imagination and you can liven up the last week of February with a big Polar Bear Sale (February 27th).

These off-the-wall celebrations can be a lot of fun and you have little or no competition.

Retailers, What to do about the Internet?

I’ve been following a conversation on another forum that was started with my recent post, “Are Your Suppliers Letting You Down on the Web?”  You may recall that the original article was about manufacturers who don’t use the web effectively to communicate with their dealers.  Like most on-line conversations, this one has morphed into a discussion on how independent retailers and manufacturers should handle Internet sales to consumers.

We know that there are price-only shoppers who will come into your store, get all the information they need, then go to the web to buy the item at the lowest price they can find.  On the other hand, there are customers who do their research on the web then buy the item locally.  The question is, which group is bigger?  My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that more consumers fall into the second group.

Maybe I’m not a very good shopper, but I’m in the second group mainly because I (1) prefer to support my local merchants and (2) I’ve yet to find anything on line that I couldn’t buy at the same price, or close to it, locally.

Here’s the thing.  If I can buy an item for, say $200.00 on line and I can buy it for $210.00  or $220.00 locally, I’ll buy local every time.  Basically, I’m a mechanical idiot.  It’s worth it to me to spend an extra 5-10% to have somebody close by to hold my hand when I can’t figure out how to make something work.  I’m not alone.  Based on the statistics, a lot of people feel the same way.

Case in point:  I just bought a new cell phone.  The instruction book wasn’t in the box.  Today I’ll go back to the store and get it.  If I had bought the phone on-line, I’d have to send an email and wait for a response.  Assuming they get back to me, I’ll then have to wait for the instruction book to come in the mail.  Meanwhile, I have a $179.00 phone that I can’t use properly.

To me, the key to competing with on-line merchants is to let the customer know how much your service is worth.  Granted, some people just don’t care.  All they’re interested in is getting the lowest price.  Chances are those people aren’t your customers anyway.  If there were no Internet, they’d either buy from the big box store, or they’d be searching the ads in the back of the magazines.  Either way, you don’t get the sale.

There’s a lot of hype about on-line merchants.  The media love them!  Price shoppers think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.  (I wonder what the greatest thing was before somebody invented sliced bread?)  Anyway, the facts don’t necessarily support the hype.  Depending on the industry, web sales still represent a small piece of the total pie.  According to the US Department of Commerce, 3rd Quarter 2009 on-line sales represented 3.7% of all retail.  Obviously the percentage varies by industry, but overall, nine out of ten retail dollars are spent at brick and mortar stores.

e commerce stats

Big on-line merchants like Amazon.com are doing very nicely, thank you.  But there’s still a huge market out there for your store.  Rather than chasing sales that you’re never going to get, in 2010 your brick and mortar customer should be your major focus.

Granted, on-line sales are growing, 4.7% in the third quarter of ’09 vs. 4.3% in ‘o8.  Today’s strategy may not work in the future but carpe diem,  seize the day.

Meanwhile manufacturers will continue to wrestle with the question of how best to market their products.  That 4.7% is worth more than $30 billion, hardly chump change.  Like I said in my last post, brick and mortar independent retailers should support suppliers who support them.

Here’s a post that I wrote in 2006 on Your Business Strategy that you might find interesting.

Are Your Suppliers Letting You Down on the Web?

If, as I suspect, you’re a web-savvy entrepreneur, (If you’re not, how did you find this post?) it’s in your best interest to find the manufacturers who think the same way that you do.  The fact that you’re a blog reader tells me that you know how to find relevant information and that you know what to do with it.

Whether we like it or not, (and we should like it) the way business is done in the US and in the entire world is changing.  You can pretend that you’re customers can’t find the lowest price on anything with just a few minutes of web surfing, but you’d be sadly mistaken.  You can assume that your customers have to leave their homes to shop, but you’d be very wrong.  Maybe you don’t think that eBay and Craigslist are your competitors, but I promise you that they are.

Wise manufacturers are working with their dealers to provide them with the best, most up-to-date tools and information.  We’re in the midst of an economic crisis yet many retailers are thriving.  Often, but not always, these dealers are supported by like-thinking vendors.  Some dealers thrive in spite of their vendors, not because of them.

By way of disclaimer, I don’t claim to be the most knowledgeable person on the subject of social media, but I have been a blogger, podcaster, and forum administrator for quite a while.  Between this blog and its predecessor, I’m approaching my 900th post.  I regularly follow dozens of blogs and podcasts.  Obviously I’ve invested a lot of time and effort in providing information to small business owners.  I guess that, since you’re reading this, you must find some value in the content of Mining the Store.

Sadly, there seem to be a lot of manufacturers who just don’t get it.  Twenty-first century business owners want and need help.  The climate is just too hostile for each of us to reinvent the wheel every day.  Likewise, very few suppliers have all the answers.  (even if they think they do)

The key to success in the year 2010 is community; communities of people with common interests who get together online to share information.  Whether it’s politics, sports, health matters, or business, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can find communities of interest where any question can find its answer.

A wise supplier will get involved in the communities that affect his/her market and become a contributor.  Simply lurking, seeing what people are saying, is critical but it’s far from sufficient.  The days of a company looking down at its customers, considering them necessary evils, are over.  There are too many other vendors who treat their dealers as partners in the supply chain.  They will be successful.  Make no mistake, the same rules apply to retailers and their communities.

The bottom line here is that you have to hold your vendors feet to the fire.  Demand that they give you the help that you need or you’ll take your business elsewhere.  I don’t want to generalize too much, but there are vendors whose sales are down who actually blame their dealers.  They have such a perfect product and such infallible marketing programs that the problem couldn’t possibly lie with them.  Therefor the fault must be yours.  One sales manager actually wondered on an industry forum why “the better dealers” aren’t participating.  Maybe it’s because “the better vendors” aren’t participating?  I’m just sayin’…….

I’m not advocating for insurrection here.  But I am suggesting that you insist that your suppliers give you the help you need to move the product through the marketing chain to your/their customers.  History has shown, even with the help of the Internet, that it’s very difficult for a vendor to go directly to the consumer.  They need you more than you need them.  If they aren’t giving you what you need, they’re not doing their job.

Now These are Funny!

OK, it’s Saturday and I thought we’d have a little fun.  Here are two pictures emailed to me by a friend.  I’ll let you insert your own captions.

Christmas Eve Eve

Here we are on the twenty-third day of December, 2009.  We’ve almost completed the first decade of the twenty-first century and it’s certainly been a challenge.  The fact that you’re reading this is a sign that you’re one of the best of the best.  You’re a competitor and a survivor.  Congratulations!

No one knows what 2010 will bring but I suspect it will be interesting.  The current administration doesn’t seem to be a friend of small business in spite of their claims.  As I’ve said here many times before, small business is the engine that drives the American economy.  That’s been true in good times and in bad.

So, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the beginning of a new year, keep the faith!  Keep doin’ what you’re  doin’ and take advantage of the agility that only a small business can muster to beat the competition.  I have confidence in you.