Miracle on 34th Street

I was just watching the classic movie, Miracle on 34th Street.  You know, the real one with Maureen O’Hara and Edmund Gwenn.  You may remember Santa’s innovative approach of sending Macy’s customers to other stores, putting the children first.  In 1947, the year the movie was made, that was quite a new concept.  Who could believe that a greedy business like Macy’s would send someone to a competitor?

Of course, as Mr. Macy pointed out, the positive publicity from this strategy would drive more customers their way, increasing their profits.

Today we would call a similar philosophy TQM or Total Quality Management.  Put the customer first, regardless of short-term profit, and your business will come out ahead in the long run.  Santa was ahead of his time.  But that’s not so surprising, is it?

Today, as all of my retail friends take a last breather before the sprint from “Black Friday” to Christmas Eve, I hope that you all enjoy your Thanksgiving Day meal with family and friends, then sit back and relax.  Enjoy this last peaceful day before the big rush begins.  Whatever time you’ve chosen to begin your “Black Friday” promotions, whether it’s 3:00 AM (ridiculous) or your normal opening hour, keep in mind the reason for the season.  Amidst the madness of the next four weeks, please take time out for the three R’s.  Rest, Recreation, and Reflection.

Rest. You can’t be at your best unless you’re physically strong.  No matter how hectic the next few weeks may be, nourishment, exercise, and sleep are the fuel that will keep you going.

Recreation. Break the word down.  Re-creation.  Again, you have to feed the inner man or woman.  Take the time to read a good book, even if it’s only 10 minutes a day.  When you work, work hard.  But then allow yourself to play, even if it’s just for a little while.  Nobody can be “on” twenty-four hours a day.

Reflection. At the end of this hectic selling season comes a day we call Christmas.  Don’t forget what that day is really all about.  We all sell something and for most of us this is the time of year we sell the most, but if not for that Child born in that manger more than 2,000 years ago, would it all be worth it?  I don’t think so.

So, enjoy your Thanksgiving and I hope that the next month of so are all that you hope they will be, both personally, spiritually and profitably.

PS.  They call the holiday “Christmas“.  I hope your signage and advertising reflect that.  If I come into your store and someone wishes me “Happy Holidays” or any similar politically correct nonsense, I will shake the dust off my sandals and move on.  I’m just sayin’……..


New Year’s Resolutions-Better Late than Never

One of my resolutions for 2010 is to not procrastinate.  Sadly, just thirteen days into the new year I’ve already realized that this may be more of a challenge than I thought.  That having been said, I was catching up on my blog reading today and I came across a great post by Annita Brazzes on her On the Job blog called  Eat Your Salad First and Other Career Strategies

On the subject of New Year’s resolutions Anita offers this sound advice:

The key is not being too ambitious. After all, most people are doing more work than ever, and you don’t need to add to the pressure. Don’t make such sweeping plans that you would have to clone yourself a dozen times in order to accomplish a goal. At the same time, don’t try to tackle too many things at one time.

To get us off to a good start, she suggests these five tips:

  1. Get more organized.
  2. Improve skills.
  3. Network.
  4. Focus on quality.  (My favorite)
  5. Take the high road.

Take a few minutes to check out Anita’s blog and get the detail of the five suggestions.  Meanwhile, I think I’ll go have some lettuce and an Almond Joy.  Then I’ll get back to reading the 8.117 posts sitting in my blog reader.

New Year’s Resolutions

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OK, I know it’s only October 14 and New Year’s resolutions are made at the beginning of the new year. But wouldn’t it be great if January 1 rolled around and you had a 78-day head start on self-improvement? Talk about hitting the ground running.

In this spirit I offer you a link to Brian Tracy’s post, “Unlocking Your Productivity.”  Back in my sales days I spent many an hour on the road listening to Tracy’s tapes.  I’ve always found his material to be not just positive, but actually useful in day-to-day life.  Don’t get me wrong.  We can all use a daily dose of positive motivation, but all the enthusiasm in the world is pretty useless if we don’t know what to do when we get out of bed in the morning.

Unlocking Your Productivity” is all about goal-setting.  There’s nothing new about goal-setting, but admit it, you’ve probably filled notebooks with goals and objectives (I know I have) and then stored them away never to be seen again.

We’re living in a unique time.  We face challenges personally and in business that we may never have seen before.  Following Tracy’s advice on setting goals and solving problems will help us survive and even thrive in this difficult economic climate.

The challenge is to get out yet another notebook and follow Tracy’s advice.  But this time, instead of filing our goals away for some future archeologist to find, how about keeping them on our desk, reviewing and tweaking them every day, and actually making something happen.

To sum it up, in the words of the famous shoe-maker,

Just do it!

Small Business Retail–More on Store Hours

As a follow up to Tuesday’s post, “Small Business Retail–Setting Store Hours” some readers have commented that it’s just too hard to find qualified employees and that they probably wouldn’t be that good anyway.  In other words, it’s better to be closed than to disappoint the customer with poor service.  While I can appreciate the thought, I have to respectfully disagree.

After all, isn’t the high unemployment rate the top story on nearly every newscast?  As I understand it, millions of quality people are looking for jobs, even part-time ones.  Many of them are middle-aged white collar workers who would be more than willing to make the effort to learn your business.   Their savings, pensions, buy-outs, or other assets may be almost enough to get by, but they’d sure like a few extra dollars each week to pay for their golf habit, to get their hair done,  or for an occasional restaurant dinner.

A case in point.  I have a friend who loves to sew.  She and her husband are retired but she works part-time for a local sewing machine shop.  The extra money is nice, but she’s also very motivated to be around all the newest and best sewing machines and accessories.  Her hours are flexible.  She’s the perfect part-time relief for the owners when they want to spend some time away from the shop.  Besides, it’s not like you don’t have the tools to stay in constant communication with the store, even if you’re lying on the beach.

An hourly worker is never going to replace the store owner, and that’s not what most of you are looking for.  But the idea that you’re indespensible, even in your own business can lead to exhaustion, depression, and who knows what else.

As I said Tuesday, if you’re satisfied with the hours you’re working and the money you’re making, then keep doing what you’re doing.  But if you’d like more time off, or if you’d like to fatten up the bottom line, then you’re not going to be able to do it by yourself.

Hopefully you’re not planning to work in the store until you drop dead of old age.  You’d like to think that the equity in the business will allow you to retire some day.  But if the business can’t be run properly without you’re being there every hour the store is open, then your “equity” is only the building, fixtures, and inventory.

Jesus said that the hired hand doesn’t care for the sheep as well as the shepherd does.  Of couse he was right.  But it doesn’t hurt to have the hired hand fill in once in a while so the shepherd can have a weekend off.

A good reference on this subject is Michael E. Gerber’s excellent book, “The E Myth Revisited.”

Small Business Retailing–Setting Store Hours

The idea for this post comes from another private forum I follow and a discussion about when an independent retailer should be open.   By their nature, many indie retailers are one or two man (woman) operations.  That means store hours = working hours.  It’s only natural to want and need some time off so a lot of small retail businesses are open limited evening and weekend hours, the very time when most consumers want to shop.

My first job (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) was at a local clothing store.  We were open Monday and Friday until 9:00, and Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday until 6:00.  That was the norm.  There were no alternatives.  Everybody closed at 6:00 during the week.  The only exception was between Thanksgiving and Christmas when we were open M-F until 9:00.  Those were the days.

Make no mistake, on-line shopping and big-box stores that never close are spoiling consumers.  They can shop at any hour of the day and night.  They should have enough sense to know that you’re not going to be there for them at 3:00 am, but they do expect you to have store hours that are convenient for them.

It’s easy for me to sit here in my pjs and pontificate about how many hours you should work. So I’m linking to this article by Bob and Susan Negen. That way you can be mad at them instead of me.   Still, you know I can’t resist throwing in my two cents.

I do disagree with Bob and Susan on one point. Unless you’re running a church or a pharmacy, I don’t think anyone should work on Sunday. (Or whatever your Sabath happens to be) Otherwise, if you’re going to compete, you have to set your store hours for your customers’ convenience.  Here in St. Louis one of the last surviving independent appliance retailers refuses to be open on Sunday.  It’s part of his advertising.   “Shop us every day but Sunday.”  He’s outlasted most of his competition.

With a few exceptions, people who can afford your top-of-the-line product work during the day. If they decide to shop for a whatever you sell chances are very good that  they’re not going to take off work. They’re going to shop in the evening after dinner or on Saturday. Unless they’re incredibly loyal to your store, they’re going to go somewhere else if they find that you’re not open when they need you. Worse, when your product comes up in conversation, they’re going to tell their friends not to go to your store because “you’re never open.”  (If you’re not there when they need you, in their minds you’re never open.)

I know how hard retail is. I know you get tired and need some time off. The solution is to hire someone to fill in when you’re not there. How many high-end widgets do you have to sell to pay for one part-time employee for a few hours per week? You have to do your own math and make the call.

Remember, I’m not here to sell you more merchandise. If I were a vendor I’d want you to be open 24/7 so you never miss a sale.  (Which makes you wonder why Chrysler and GM are eliminating dealers, but that’s another story.)   I just want to see you succeed in business and in your personal life. If you have limited store hours and you’re happy with your income, then keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve found the right combination for you. But if you want to increase your income and reduce your hours at the same time, then hiring additional help is the way to go.

The name of the game is customer service. But your most important customers are your spouse and kids (and grandkids). They’re the reason you’re in business in the first place.

Welcome to the Real World

Ben McConnell

Ben McConnell

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba write The Church of the Customer blog.  If the names sound familiar it’s because I have referenced the blog often in the past.  Ben and Jackie know their stuff and their blog is a good read.

The day-to-day problems of running a business can often seem overwhelming, especially in the current economy.  But yesterday, Ben jerked me back to reality with his post, Welcome to the Real World.  See, Ben just found out he has renal cell carcinoma, cancer of the kidney.

Any problems I might have fade into insignificance by comparison.  Our daily struggles may seem like life and death, but usually they’re not.   There’s nothing like a grapefruit-sized tumor to remind us of that.

Ben is optimistic.  As he points out, it’s good that God gave us a spare kidney in case one of them fails.  He writes, “The prognosis? So far, it’s good. My capable surgeon, Dr. David Phillips, himself a high-level tennis player, which made me like him immediately, will evict this tumor, this cancer, this hobbit, along with my entire kidney, on Friday.”

There are a couple of things we can learn here.  First, like a lot of us, Ben admits he avoids doctors and the medical system.  But after considerable pain he went to the emergency room.  Staying away from the doctor, especially when you know something is wrong, is never a good idea.

Second, while the business is important, nothing is more important than our health.  Keep things in their proper perspective!  A lost sale or a late shipment or a missed deadline is important, but keep it in its proper place.

Finally, social media is an amazing thing.  I don’t know Ben McConnell personally.  But, I’ve been reading him for years so I do feel a connection.  We’ve corresponded a few times, either through blog comments or other social media tools.  There’s enough of a link that I feel his pain, I’m concerned for his well-being, and I will include his recovery in my prayers.

Welcome to the Real World” is the title of Ben’s post.  Our “real world” is very different from our parents’.  People who once would have been strangers now touch us in very real ways.

Step Away From the Computer

This blog focuses on small business, quality, and social media.  We try to provide an equal balance of all three.  But as I look at the various blogs, podcasts, twitter streams, and other social media that I follow I’m noticing that there’s way too much coverage of social media.  I mean, how many posts about using Twitter in your small business can you read anyway.  My apologies for contributing to this glut of redundant information.

Today I’d like to offer a short, simple piece of advise for your business.  Close this page, get up from your chair, and go find a customer.  If you’re in retail it should be easy.  There’s probably a customer under your roof as you read this.  If you don’t operate out of a storefront, you may have to do a little more.  You may have to make a phone call.  You may have to actually leave the building.

As I write this many of you are past the half-way point of your work day.  Set the paperwork aside and actually communicate face-to-face, or at least by phone with another human being who might  buy your product or service or refer you to someone who will.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still a big believer in using the internet, especially the web 2.0 tools, to market your business.  But you can fall into a viscious trap if you spend your whole day staring at a computer monitor.  Life is all about balance.

That’s it for today.  I’m outta here.


“One definition of insanity is to continue to do the same things over and over expecting different results.”

They say that you should never mix business and religion, but frankly I don’t see how you can separate the two.  If you were to ask me the one thing that might make a business successful I would say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, the “Golden Rule” as stated by Jesus of Nazareth.

But the thing that brought the association between faith and business to mind was the above quote on insanity.  I don’t know who first said it, but I stumbled onto it last night in a reflection for Lent.  The author’s point was that if you want to improve yourself, you can’t just keep doing what you’re doing.  You have to change.  It’s a good thought for Lent, but it’s also a good thought for running your business.

If you’re completely happy with your results, then you shouldn’t make major changes, except to keep up with changes outside your control.  You have to adapt to the economy.  You have to adapt to new technology.  You have to adapt to changes in the market place.

On the other hand, if you’re not happy with your results, it is insanity to think that things will improve if you just keep doin’ what you’re doin’.  Because if you do keep doin’ what you’re doin’, you’re going to keep gettin’ what you’re gettin’.

While many of us will be using the next six weeks to reflect on our personal habits and to try to improve, maybe a “Business Lent” might not be such a bad idea either.  After all, our businesses are a vehicle for you and I and our families, for our employees and their families, and our customers to have better lives.  Striving to make those lives better by improving our businesses is something that I think the Lord Himself would endorse.

Stay tuned to Mining the Store  and we’ll do our best to help.

Have a great weekend!

Time to Take a Vacation?

Here’s an article from USA Today that you may find interesting. Everyone needs some time away from work and business owners are no exception. The writer, Joyce M. Rosenberg of the AP interviewed several business owners and got a variety of answers on the subject of time off.  As you might expect, some owners recognize the importance of time off for themselves and their employees.  Others aren’t so sure.  One said that she insists her employees take their vacation time so they don’t get burned out, yet she doesn’t even take an occasional long weekend herself. 

With the availability of cell phones, lap tops, blackberries, and all the other modern communications tools, it would seem like even the most micro-managing business owner should be able to get away for a few days.  It will rejuvenate you and stretch your employees and they can always call you if they get into a bind. As Rosenberg points out, if you don’t have employees who can run the business while you’re away, you may want to re-think your hiring practices.

As one business owner wrote on another forum, "The business is still here, but the kids are gone.  I wish I had taken more time off."

Getting Away

This past weekend, I went on a retreat.  It ran from Friday evening until noon Sunday, just 40 hours.  But there was no computer, no internet, no television (we did cheat and watch a little of the Cardinals and the Cubs Friday night, but that was all, really) and no newspaper.  I highly recommend it.

We all need a little time to get away once-in-a-while.  And by get away, I mean physically get away.  If you’re going to relax and recharge your batteries, you have to avoid distractions and that means going to a location where the very things that distract and cause stress aren’t going to find you. 

For your own sanity, pick a place and a date and put them on your calendar, in ink, not in pencil!  If you can commit to a convention, a meeting, or a trade show, you can commit to something that’s good for your health, both physical and mental.  Your personal retreat, whether it’s an organized event like mine was, or just you and your spouse spending the weekend at a bed and breakfast, must be an appointment that you can’t break.

Depending on your stress level, you should do this at least twice a year.  You’re blood pressure will be lower.  Your stress level will be lower.  And your business will benefit.  As they say on the infomercials, "So you don’t forget, do it today." Circle the dates on your calendar before you go home tonight.