REAL Economic Stimulus

My wife was born there.

St. Elizabeth Hospital

In the midst of the kerfufle concerning the government’s attempt at stimulating the economy, a local hospital has decided to take real action.  St. Elizabeth Hospital in Belleville, IL is giving it’s employees a $100,000 bonus.  There’s just one catch.  The money must be spent at one of the thirty-eight local businesses that line Belleville’s central business district.

Rather than count on the geniuses in Washington, the hospital is taking immediate, effective, and concrete action.  The first half of the money will be distributed equally to all employees.  The second half will be given proportionally, based on length of service.

The hospital wins by having happier employees, a more prosperous community, and some very positive PR.  The employees win by having more money to spend.  The local merchants win by gaining extra business.  And the city wins by having an additional $100,000 circulating in the local community, generating additional tax revenue.

Ask yourself, what can you do within your local community to generate this kind of win/win/win economic stimulus?  Any ideas?   Let us know.

Score One for Local Business

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  When it comes to promoting independent, local business, one of my toughest sells is my own lovely wife.  She gets the principle and has shifted most of her business away from the chains, but I often get the feeling that it’s just to humor me.  The thousand-roll pack of toilet paper from Sam’s Club still shows up in the basement once-in-a-while.

One issue that’s been pretty cut-and-dried is grocery shopping.  For whatever reason, the St. Louis area has rejected national grocery chains in favor of two locally-owned operations, Dierberg’s and Schnucks.  There are a couple of national discount chains and specialty chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but by and large, the two locals own the full-line grocery business.  We’ve had Kroger and A & P, and others through the years, but the local chains have run them all off.  With the exception of Sam’s Club and their mega-roll toilet paper and their giant boxes of laundry detergent, and the other exceptions mentioned above, most of our grocery dollars have stayed at home.

The issue came up recently when Wal-Mart opened  a “Super Center” about a mile from our house.  Of course Mrs. B. checked it out.  “It’s such a nice store.  Their prices are lower.”  The usual arguments for sending money to Bentonville. I went and looked at it and it is nice.   Besides, who wouldn’t want to buy their baked goods and their transmission fluid in one stop? But she dutifully continued to patronize the local chain though I know there were a few things that she was picking up at Wally World.

Then something strange happened.  Last week the bagger at Dierberg’s  called her by name and said, “Mrs. B, we know you have other choices and we really appreciate your shopping with us.  You’re a loyal customer.  Thank you.”

“Thank you.”  No free loaf of bread.  No bonus coupons.  No complimentary cup of coffee.  Just a sincere thank you.  Imagine that!

And guess what?  As far as my wife is concerned, the Wal-Mart grocery department is no longer in the hunt.  No one at Wal-Mart has ever said thank you.  In fact she says the checkers are “grumpy”.

I know she’ll continue to buy paper products and cat litter from you-know-who.  And I’ll still go to Trader Joe’s for frozen Orange Chicken and giant cashews, but the bulk of our grocery business will stay at Dierberg’s where it’s been for years.

In the past few months, the local grocers have spent a fortune remodeling stores, running ads, and even cutting prices.  Some of that cost was necessary, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that service is dead or that all that matters is price.  People still appreciate service and they appreciate being thanked.  And, folks,  it doesn’t cost a thing.

They’re Talking About You

Friday I wrote a post, Word of Mouth, where I praised Holiday World Amusement Park, Santa Claus, IN, for great customer service.  Rather than use high-margin soft drinks as a profit center, they use them as a perk for their customers.  Soft drinks and other beverages are free, both at the amusement park, and at the adjacent water park.

Just a couple of hours after I posted the article, I received a comment from Paula Werne from Holiday World’s PR department thanking me for the “love” and pointing out the parks also offer free sunscreen, free parking, free innertubes at the water park, and free ponchos when it rains.

Obviously Holiday World isn’t leaving their on-line reputation to chance and you shouldn’t either.  Using free tools like “Google Alerts” you can become instantly aware when someone mentions you, your business, or any other topic of interest on the web.

By following her business’ name Paula was able to build on my positive comments by adding facts that I didn’t know.  Even more important, if my comments had been unfavorable, she could have joined the conversation, turning a negative into a potential positive.

People are talking about you on the Internet whether you know it or not.  Shouldn’t you be part of the conversation?

Football, 3-D Glasses, and Pets.com

Like most Americans I went to a Super Bowl party Sunday.  Part of the hype leading up to the telecast of the game was a promotion, sponsored by a soft drink company, for a preview of Disney movie, filmed in “3-D”, that won’t be out until this summer.    To see this commercial, and that’s what it was, a commercial, you had to visit your nearest retailer and pick up a pair of “3-D” glasses.

Like Ralphie, in the movie “A Christmas Story“, who waited weeks for the arrival of his “Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring”  we were told to gather around the TV at the end of the second quarter of the game appropriately clad in our fashionable cardboard glasses.

At the appointed time, as I looked around the room at a group of usually sane people wearing cardboard “glasses”, it made me think of how the actual football game has become secondary to marketing at the Super Bowl.

These folks had gone to the trouble of going to the store to get their 3-D specs to watch a commercial!  If the game itself were in “3-D” the whole thing might have made sense, but to do it for the pleasure of seeing a commercial was just a bit much.  Where Ralphie had sent away for his decoder ring expecting to get a secret message from Annie, only to be disappointed to find out that the “message” was actually a commercial for Ovaltine, we knew exactly what we were going to see.

pets_dot_comWhich made me think how things have changed in just a few years.  Remember Pets.com?  They created quite a stir when they spent $1.2 million to advertise their on-line business during the 2000 Super Bowl.  The ad, featuring a sock puppet,  was rated #1 [The company would close it’s doors before the end of the year, but that’s another story.]

The idea of  an internet-only business spending that kind of money on TV advertising was unheard of.  But here we are, just nine years later, with dot com’s advertising like crazy.  E-Trade [my wife loves the baby] and GoDaddy.com both purchased multiple ads for this years event for something north of $2 million each.  Both companies ran well-produced, obviously expensive ads.

By the way, can you name the teams that played in the 2000 Super Bowl?  Probably not.

Which begs some  questions:

Is the Super Bowl a broadcast of a football game interrupted by commercials, or a broadcast of commercials interupted by a football game?

Better yet, is it really a Springsteen concert surrounded by a football game?

Does the pregame show really have to start more than eight hours before the game?

Does any football game really need ten announcers?

And finally, aren’t the Budweiser Clydesdales the cutest giant animals ever, especially when they’re in love?

[The St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bows XXXIV on January 30, 2000 by a score of 23-16, Kurt Warner’s only Super Bowl win.  If you didn’t know that, you weren’t really watching the game.]

Credit Where Credit is Due

Regular followers of Mining the Store should be aware that for two and a half years I blogged at Mine Your Own Business, the Tacony Corporation blog.

My last post at MYOB was on December 24, 2008 which was also my last day (after twenty-nine years) at Tacony. That blog continues with new authors and is well worth a look.

Unfortunately, due to a glitch in the Typepad software, when my name was taken off the Tacony blog, the byline for all 680+ posts that I wrote was changed to someone else’s name. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a simple fix although I’ve been assured that it’s being worked on.

In the mean time, until the situation at Mine Your Own Business has been corrected, I have copied all the posts that I wrote there to this blog. For the most part, anything posted on this blog written up to and including December 24, 2008  originally appeared at MYOB although there are some that originally appeared here.   To put it another way, anything that appears on the other blog up to and including December 24, 2008 was written by yours truly, regardless what the byline says.  Hopefully this is only a temporary solution.

I’ll keep you informed.

A Small Business Owner Who Knows How to Use Social Media

I thought today we’d take a look at someone who really knows how to use this "social media" stuff to build her business.  I chose this example for three reasons.  (1.)  She really knows how to make web 2.0 work to her advantage, (2.)  I’m almost sure that she’s not your competitor, and (3.) she makes me laugh.   Of course, since she runs a business that’s probably very different from yours, it may take a bit of imagination for you to transpose her techniques to your business.

Let me introduce you to Heather Gorringe, owner of Wiggly Wigglers.  No, it’s not a typo.  That’s really the name of her business.  See, among other things, Heather sells worms!  Worms aren’t the main business.  Wiggly Wigglers is a seller of all things relating to gardening and growing things.  Worms are just part of the mix.  The business is located in rural Blakemere, a tiny village in Herefordshire, United Kingdom.  Prior to Wiggly Wigglers, Herefordshire’s claim to fame was Hereford cattle.

By the use of her a well-designed web site, blogging, podcasting, and video, Heather and her husband "Farmer Phil" have grown an in-home business into an operation with customers all over the world.  Their FaceBook group (Wiggly Wigglers) has more than 800 members.  A recent fire in one of their buildings prompted emails and comments from all over the world.

That’s all well and good if your business sells over the web, but what good do hundreds of on-line friends do a business that operates a retail store?  Here’s the thing.  I live in St. Louis, MO, about 4,000 miles from Blakemere and I know absolutely nothing about gardening.  If you were to ask me for a source of gardening information, I’d send you to Wiggly Wigglers.  Imagine the referrals they must get from their local area.

It’s all about credibility, about establishing yourself as an expert in your field, and about building up your (and your store’s) reputation.  If you create an informative and entertaining presence on the web, your customers and prospects are going to find it.  Any impressions that you make outside your trading area may not bring you an immediate return, but they will pay dividends over the long run.  The world is getting smaller.  People move from one town to another.  People in your market have contacts all over the world.  You never know who may buy from you or give you a referral.

Be sure you include keywords in your web site, blog, or podcast related not just to your industry, but also to your local area.  People are looking for retailers by searching the web.  Your frequently updated web site with your town or city in the meta tags will come up high in the results and you have a good chance at getting the business.

Traditional reporters often get leads from the web.  Many of them will get a story idea and immediately do a Google search for the topic.   If your business comes up on the first page as a result of the frequent updates you make to your blog and/or podcast, you’re going to be the first one he or she calls.  That’s instant credibility in your own market.  You may even get calls from out-of-town journalists.  For example, Wiggly Wigglers has been written up in a San Francisco newspaper.  How great would it be to have a regional or even national publication interview you?  Sending reprints to your customers via email or even regular mail will build your reputation even more.

We’re living in an exciting time.  For a small investment of time and money you can build a reputation for yourself as an expert in any field.  The Internet is a great equalizer.  A single person can make a big impact, as big as or bigger than much larger competitors, just by consistently posting useful information, especially in an entertaining way.  There may be people more knowledgeable than Heather Gorringe in the field of gardening, but she has found a way to combine here outgoing personality, her sense of humor, and her knowledge of her industry to create a world-wide brand for Wiggly Wigglers.

There is absolutely no reason why you can’t do the same.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at how you can build your reputation without having your own blog or podcast.

[Bulletin:  Since we posted twice today, this post is NUMBER 600 for MYOB.  Thanks to all of you for your patience and your support!  mb]

Building Your Small Business Brand with Blogs and Podcasts

Let’s start with a basic fact of Internet life.  One thing search engines look for is frequently updated content.  The fastest way to update your web site’s content is to host a blog or podcast.

Take this blog as an example.  You’re reading post number 598 of MYOB.  On Thursday we’ll publish number 600.  Since the URL for the blog is http://www.tacony.com/myob, Google and other search engines see our corporate web site as one that’s updated regularly, giving us a better ranking. 

More important is the fact that we hopefully provide you, our readers, with some valuable free content, causing you to have warm, fuzzy feelings for Tacony Corporation.  That’s the point.  We want you to see us as a valued partner in your business, just like you’re a valued partner in our business.  MYOB is just one step in that process.  It’s called “brand building”.

If we sent you an email add every day, you’d soon start hitting the “delete” button every time you saw our name in the “from” box.  But blogs are different.  First, unless you sign up for the email feed, blogs aren’t email.  Second, a good blog doesn’t sell products.  There are exceptions and I’ll get to them in a little bit.  But, by and large, a blog post provides useful information to its audience.  It’s like getting a valuable free gift with no strings attached. 

You may be thinking that you don’t have the resources to host a blog.  You’re too busy.  You don’t have writing talent.  You’re not sure you could keep it up week after week.  These aren’t reasons, they’re excuses.  You know how to overcome “I have to ask my husband.”  I have an answer for “I’m too busy”, etc.

First of all, I’m going to guess that as a successful retailer, you take the time to find out what’s happening in your industry.  Since you read Mine Your Own Business, I also going to guess that you go to the Internet to get at least some of your information.  If something’s interesting to you, it’s probably interesting to your customers. 

All you have to do to put a blog post together is to pass information along to your customers.  That’s it!  You don’t have to write the great American novel.  Here’s a perfectly adequate post for a sewing machine dealer.

 

Baby Lock Introduces New Top-of-the-Line Machines.

Last week in St. Louis, Baby Lock USA introduced two new machines to dealers at Baby Lock Tech, one of the sewing industry’s premier events.  The Ellismo, Baby’s Lock’s new full-featured embroidery machine, offers features never seen before in the industry. 

The Jewel is the newest entry into Baby Lock’s Quilter’s Dream series.  It features an 18” throat, the longest of any household quilting machine.

Come see both machines, along with other new items from Baby Lock and other manufacturers at XYZ Sewing. 

That took me about a two minutes to write.  Obviously some posts will be more elaborate and take longer to put together.  But if you’re in the business of explaining your products and services to your customers, you have the ability to write a blog post.   And the wealth of information available online makes it easy to find subjects to write about.

You might say “I thought you said you don’t sell on a blog.”  I did and you don’t.  This sample post doesn’t sell anything except a visit to my store.  “Come see” isn’t a sales pitch.  It’s an invitation.  It’s a subtle difference but an important one.  Readers will be turned off by a blatant sales attempt.  But they’ll welcome useful information that might cause them to buy. 

The exception that I mentioned earlier would be a product review.  If you have a new item that you’re excited about, that you think will make your customers’ lives easier, there’s nothing wrong with writing about it.  Concluding the review with the suggestion that the customer come in and try it is fine.  Offering a special discount to blog readers is ok, too.  Just don’t overdo it.

MYOB is currently running a dealer survey on social media usage.  There’s plenty of time for you to take it if you haven’t already.  As of today the question “Do you have a blog?” has a 41% positive response.  So 4 out of 10 of our readers (so far) are blogging.  That’s a good response.  For the sixty percent of you who don’t blog, I would recommend it highly.  There are blogging tools like Blogger which are available at no charge.  You could have a blog up and running today. 

You’re reading this, so you’re a blog reader.  The same interest that brings you here will bring your customers to your blog.  A blog will provide information that makes your customers more knowledgeable and more likely to buy.  Your personality will come across in your writing and help you build your personal brand and the brand of your store.  When the time comes to buy something, they will feel like they know you, even considering you a friend.  Who do people buy from?  People they know, especially friends.

A word about podcasts.  So far our survey has found no one who podcasts.  If you’re not familiar, a podcast is basically a spoken blog.  Instead of a keyboard you use a microphone.  Podcasts can be downloaded into your iPod or other mp3 player and listened to at your leisure.  Personally, I like to listen to podcasts while I ride my bike.  One particular favorite of mine runs about an hour and another favorite runs 30 minutes.  Coincidentally I usually ride about an hour and a half so the combination is perfect, at least once a week. 

That’s another thing about podcasts.  Where I would suggest that you post to a blog at least 3 times each week, a podcast can be weekly, every other week, or even once per month.  They can run from as short as five minutes to as long as an hour.  Normally the longer the podcast, the less frequently it’s produced.  An exception is Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson’s For Immediate Release, a public relations show that runs an hour and is done twice a week.  Frankly I don’t know how they do it, especially since Shel’s in Concord, CA and Neville is in England.  If you think a podcast might be in your future, Shel and Neville literally wrote the book.  It’s called How to Do Everything With Podcasting

Good podcasting software, Audicity for example, is available to download free of charge.  A basic microphone and headphones can cost less than $100 and you’re ready to go.   

To wrap this up, whether you choose to exercise your creativity with the written word or by getting behind a microphone, you wouldn’t be in business if you didn’t have expertise in your industry. That expertise has value to your customers and potential customers.  By providing it in the form of a blog or podcast you generate free publicity, establish yourself as an authority in your field, build both your personal and store brands, and improve the search engine ranking of your web site.  Not a bad return for a very small investment.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at a retailer who’s been very successful in promoting her business using blogs and podcasts.

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.

So, What’s this “Twitter” I Keep Hearing About?

Twitter
If you haven’t used twitter, you might be surprised at how useful it can really be.  twitter is a so-called "micro blogging" site.  It’s "micro" because you’re limited to 140 characters per post (tweet).  It’s "blogging" because your tweets go only to those people who subscribe, or follow, you.  Likewise, you only see the tweets of the people you’ve decided to follow.   
Fail_whale

Twitter began as an internal service at Obvious, LLC in March, 2006.  In October, 2006 the service went public.  They now have over one and a half million twitterers.  This rapid expansion has been a strain on the system and there are occasional outages.  In fact, there are some on-line anti-twitter groups, but twitter promises that things will improve shortly.  They recently got an infusion of cash and acquired another company that gives them additional engineering expertise.

That’s all very interesting, Mr. Wizard, but what’s in it for me?  Why should I care what my friend across town is having for lunch?  There is some of that "I’m going to lunch now" going on.  I admit I’ve done it myself.  And, depending on who it is, it’s not always a bad thing.  A little personal information doesn’t hurt a relationship.

But the real value of twitter as a conversational marketing tool can probably be summed up in a post from David Mullen called "Five Ways Twitter Will Make You Smart."  I’ll give you the key points but you’ll have to go to David’s blog to get the details.  The comments about each point are mine.

1.  You get access to different points of views.

You can follow anyone who has a twitter account, anywhere in the world.  Some very smart, very successful people are twitterers.  Unless they’ve set up their feed as "invitation only" you can follow just about anyone.

2.  The people you follow point you to great resources you wouldn’t find otherwise.
I can’t tell you how true this one is.  Many people tweet just to share things they’ve found on the web.  A lot of what you read on this blog is the result of something I found on twitter.

3.  You can poll your followers.

All you have to do is ask a question and you’ll get opinions from a number of sources.

4.  You can learn what consumers are saying about your company or your client’s brand.

Using twitter’s search tool, I just searched "sewing machine" and found fifteen tweets in the last 24 hours.

5.  Twitter will make you a better writer.

Try saying something intelligent in 140 characters.  It’s not easy, but it’s a great way to practice brevity, something I can always use help with.  Twitterers seem to frown on text message short cuts.  "I see" is "I see", not "IC".  A regular twitter user learns to use words carefully.

Some people think twitter is a waste of time.  Not long ago I felt the same way.  But what I’ve found is that if you choose the folks you follow carefully it’s a great way to keep up with specific areas of knowledge, and it doesn’t take up a lot of time as some people suggest.  Tools like twhirl run in the background on your computer and only pop up when you have a tweet.  There are also twitter add-ons for your browser.

twitter isn’t for everybody and it might not be for you.  On the other hand, you might decide it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  If that’s the case, it would be a shame if you didn’t try it.  You just might be surprised.

The Age Curve in Retailing

Thanks to Mack Collier for pointing out this post by Thomas R. Clifford on Generation Y, called The Age Curve and Corporate Storytelling.”  It’s a review of a new book called “The Age Curve” by Ken Gronbach.  The article caught my eye because (1) I’m very interested in the subject of generational differences and (2) I just read a post the other day from a retailer who believes that Gen Y’s aren’t inclined to shop with independent retailers.

Keep in mind that Clifford is in the video production business, so his post is about using story telling in corporate videos, but there are some points that are worth our consideration here. 

Generation Y, defined as people born between 1985 and 2010 (zero-23 years old) will amount to 100 million folks by 2010.  They will be the largest generation in history, larger even than the Baby Boomers.

According to Gronbach, Gen Ys won’t just buy from you.  They’ll want to know more about you first. for example, they want to know your policies on: 

       

  • recycling
  •    

  • environmental responsibility
  •    

  • company iniatives
  •    

  • pollution history

  Clifford adds the following media habits and values to the mix: 

       

  • social networking
  •    

  • reality television
  •    

  • user-generated content
  •    

  • on-line video
  •    

  • humanitarian causes
  •    

  • honesty
  •    

  • family time
  •    

  • flexible hours

At this point in the post, Clifford moves into how Gen Ys will affect his business.  I think the challenges to retailers are even more complex.  The retail model has been fairly constant for a long, long time.  Good products + good service + fair price = sales.                                               

This new consumer wants all that too, but they also want you to show them your recycling containers.  They want to see what kind of light bulbs you use.  And they want to hear about it on Facebook and MySpace and they want to see you on YouTube.  They even want to follow you on twitter.

All of this may seem a little scary at first, but keep this in mind.  It’s much easier for you to establish a presence on the social networks than it is for Wal-Mart.  As the owner/manager of your business, you can tell your potential customers about your business without going through  corporate communications and legal departments.   

You can shoot a video with a digital video camera that sets you back less than $200.00 and have it on the web in a matter of minutes.  $100.00 spent on recycle containers and some new light bulbs and you’re “green”.

No, rather than a problem, this new retail model is a tremendous opportunity for retailers who aren’t so set in their ways that they won’t make a few changes.  For some of us there may be a bit of a learning curve to master the new social media tools, but if I can do it, you can do it.  It’s not that hard.  If you have any Gen X or Y staff, I’m sure they can teach you in a day. 

According to Gronbach, “Communicating to Gen Y = Telling a poignant story.”  Who can tell the business’ story better than the entrepreneur who started it all?

Here are some earlier MYOB posts on social media for your reference: 

Social Ice Cream?  The Common Craft blog compares social media to ice cream.  Cool!

Starbucks Ideas  Starbucks uses the web to tap into customers’ ideas. 

Getting a Clue  After nearly ten years, "The Cluetrain Manifesto" is still relevant.

Communication IS NOT Conversation  A review of Joseph Jaffee’s book "Join the Conversation." 

Tell Seven People  All about viral marketing.

Simple Explanations  In praise of the Common Craft blog.

Find more posts on social media by clicking on the "social media" category on the right. 

If you like to learn by listening, I highly recommend the Personal Branding Summit,  a series of 24 one hour presentation on the subject of personal branding that you can download to your mp3 player, and the Podcast Sisters, a weekly show that covers social media tools “for non geeks”.  Be sure to check the archives for past episodes.  Plus, it’s extremely entertaining.