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’……..


Show Me Quality

Monday (December 7), the winners of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award were announced. And the winners are:

Notice anything about the winners?  Let me help you out.  Three of the five winners were from the state of Missouri.  I don’t like to brag, but it is my blog so I’ll brag if I want to.  Quality improvement is running rampant here in the Heartland of America.

It’s the first time in the history of the award that three organizations from the same state have won in the same year.  The three awards tie Missouri with Texas (a slightly larger state) for the most award recipients.

All three Missouri Baldrige winners are past recipients of the Missouri Quality Award.  Did I mention that I’m an examiner for MQA?

Congratulations to all five winners!

The Baldrige is no beauty contest.  It takes a lot of hard work by a dedicated team and committed management to win the nation’s top quality award.  But the trophy is secondary to the impact that the Baldrige process has on an orgaznization.  There’s a lot of good information on improving your processes and results on the Baldrige web site, the MQA site, or on the site of your local award program.  If you have any questions, please leave a comment here or you can email me.

Small Business Imperatives

Charles Brad Reynolds, a Warwick Business School MBA candidate asked the following question on LinkedIn.

What do you see as the top 5 innovations that businesses can access, cost-effectively, today that will be imperative for survival and profit maximization in the future.

My vote goes to
1.) Internet facilities for communication, marketing and purchase ordering
2.) Online and electronic banking facilities
3.) Lean Thinking concepts and practices
4.) Business use technologies (laptops, mobile phones, blackberries)
5.) Expanding network (customers, competitors, labour, suppliers, civil, etc)

What do you see as being the top innovations that businesses should be more actively trying to leverage or develop for the future.

There were a number of good answers, many of them focused on the internet and new technology.  Here’s my answer:

“I’m going to take a slightly different approach. You may or may not consider these “innovations” since they’re hardly new. But since they may be overlooked in favor of the latest electronic “toy”, their use can be considered innovative and they’re definitely going to be imperative tomorrow.

1. Relationships. If you’re going to stand out, then you must have strong relationships with your customers and other business partners.

2. Communications. Here’s where the “toys” come in. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others. Use them IF they help your business.

3. Empowerment. Unless you want to work yourself to death, you have to have people working for you that you trust and you must give them everything they need to excel, including the ability to make mistakes.

4. Knowledge. Never before have your customers had access to knowledge as they do today. You MUST stay ahead of them or be left behind.

5. Customer Service. This is really a combination of the other four. Find out what your customers want and let them know that you have it. Empower your people to give the customer what she wants and then get out of their way.

I personally have nothing against MBA’s (well, maybe I do.  But that’s a topic for another day.) but, there’s a lot more to running a small business than the things they teach you in B-School.

Treat people the way you’d like to be treated and you’ll have a sound foundation, regardless of the tools you use to get there.

Thoughts for the Day

One thing I really admire is the gift of brevity, something I obviously don’t have.  The ability to make a pithy statement in a very few words is truly admirable.  While bicycling and listening to podcasts today, I came across two wonderful examples:

Never chase the money.  Chase excellence and the money will chase you.

Pat Fraley

Blogging is a game for idiots.

Anna Farmery

It’s “Quality Season”

With Spring come baseball, the Final Four, longer days, and lots of the color green.  The long winter is over (at least here in the Heartland of America) and it’s time to get back outside.

Another sign of spring is the beginning of the process for choosing winners of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the various state and local awards based on the Baldridge criteria.

This post isn’t about trying to win an award  (though it’s certainly a good goal for any business).  It’s about using the criteria to improve your business.  Two frequent objections to adopting the criteria as a business model are:

  1. My business is too small.
  2. I can’t afford it.

First, no business is too small.  A one man operation use the seven categories of Baldrige as a guide for improvement just as well as a larger firm.  In fact, one of the beauties of the award process is that everyone competes on an equal footing.  No one expects a smaller company to have the resources of a large one.  Applicants are scored on how well they do for a company of that size.

The categories are:

  1. Leadership
  2. Strategic Planning
  3. Customer Focus
  4. Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
  5. Workforce Focus
  6. Process Management
  7. Results

All seven apply to every business and measuring and improving the way you approach them can’t help but improve your bottom line.

As far as the “can’t afford it” objection, I suggest that you can’t afford not to improve the way you do things, especially in the current environment.  It’s a cliche, but it costs a lot more to do something over than it costs to do it right in the first place.

Details of any individual award application are highly confidential, but as I go through the examination process beginning tomorrow and running through fall, I’ll post on it from time-to-time.

For now, I’d highly recommend that you get a copy of the Baldrige criteria, either from the Baldrige web site or from your local award organization.  You can order the book by mail, or you can download the pdf.

Read through it and ask yourself how improve you can use the process to improve the way you do things.  Creating processes for performing critical tasks will make your life much easier and make your business a self-sustaining asset that you can some day turn over to your kids or sell to someone else.


“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!

Quality, not Quantity

Here it is, almost 5:00 in the afternoon in the Midwest.  Nothing special about that.  It happens every day at just about the same time.  But, today's different.  I've been watching the usual sources all day.  Twitter tweets.  Blog posts.  Emails.  FaceBook.  LinkedIn…..NOTHING!

I haven't come across a single thing today that I think is worth sharing with you.  And I never want to waste your time by posting something just for the sake of posting.

 So have a great Thursday evening!  I'll keep looking and I promise I'll have some good content for you tomorrow.

Get It Right the First Time

Thanks to Donna Popacosta for pointing out this story from the Chronical for Higher Education.  It seems that Princeton University Press is recalling 4,000 copies of a book called "Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District", by Peter Moskos.

"Why would they do that?", you ask.  Well it seems that the 245 page book has more than ninety (90) spelling and grammatical errors.  Did I mention that the publisher is Princeton University Press?  They promise to have the corrected books on store shelves before the end of the month.  Although the errors slipped by Princeton’s proof readers, Moskos’ friends and family noticed the mistakes.

This is obviously an expensive and embarrassing episode for the publisher and we can all learn from it.  As the old saying goes, "There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over."  Mistakes happen, but it always pays to check and double check our work before handing it to the customer, or sending it to the printer, or hitting the "send" button.  Some mistakes are more costly than others, but this one is a doozy.  A publishing company bearing the name of one of our country’s most prestigious universities shouldn’t let something like this happen.

Minor Annoyances

They (whoever “they” are) say “don’t sweat the small stuff”.  And that’s good advice.  But wouldn’t it be a great day if there wasn’t any small stuff to worry about?  Wouldn’t it be great to know that we didn’t do anything, no matter how small, that gets on our customers’ nerves?

The trouble is we don’t usually get the credit for making our customers lives a little easier when we eliminate the annoyances from their lives.  Case in point:  As you might imagine, I get a lot of magazines.  Most of them are free, but there are a couple that I pay for.  Of course, they all have to be renewed occasionally.

I don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I fill out the subscription paperwork and it fits nicely into the postage-paid envelope.  That’s expected.  But this morning I filled out the paperwork for one of the paid subscription magazines and it didn’t fit into the envelope.  The freebies all get it right, but the one that actually costs money (a lot of money, in fact) sends me an envelope that’s too small!

Here’s the thing.  Mismatching the form and the envelope isn’t a big enough deal to complain about.  I’m not going to write a letter to the other couple of dozen magazines praising them for their consideration.  But shouldn’t somebody at the magazine have thought of this?  They must send out thousands and thousands of these subscription forms every month.  Who dropped the ball?

We all have our favorite examples of minor annoyances:

  • Hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of twelve
  • “Some assembly required” items that require a special tool that only Bob Vila would have in his tool box.
  • “Batteries not included”
  • Knives and scissors in clam shell packaging that you can only open with a knife or scissors.

Of course, the point is for you to ask yourself, “Is there anything that I do, no matter how small, that aggravates my customers?”  “If so, how can I make it better?”

Competition today is fierce.  You need every possible advantage.  Making our customers lives easier is something that we can do at little or no cost.  And a lot of little things can add up to some big sales.

How about you?  What gets on your nerves?  Let us know.

Delivering the Promise

There was an interesting feature this week on AOL about frozen entrees.  The article compares the picture on the box with the contents of the box of twenty different frozen dinners.  I’m not sure anyone really expects the "Savory Beef with Cheesy Broccoli" to look as good as it is on the box, but some items scored better than others.

Most of us baby boomers remember the first frozen "TV Dinners".  They were pretty awful.  The mashed potatoes had a consistency that’s hard to describe, kind of like hot salty pudding.  The meat was usually rubbery.  And the peas were a color that doesn’t actually occur in nature.  It always seemed like the "desert" would escape from its cubicle and ooze all over the rest of the meal.  Maybe the younger generation has higher expectations.

The whole idea of customers’ expectations certainly applies to retailing.  Most consumers are smart enough to know that when they shop at one of the "Marts" or "Depots" they’re going to get little, if any, service.  But they go there anyway.

But what does the customer expect when she shops at an independent retailer?  The expectations are definitely higher.  The question is, Does the experience of shopping in your store exceed her expectations?  If it doesn’t, there’s a chance she may not come back.  If she’s expecting Salisbury steak and you’re delivering rubber meat, you’re disappointing her and cheating yourself.

If she knows that she can return an item to Wal*Mart and get her money back and your store has a gigantic sign that says "NO REFUNDS!!!", you’re not delivering the promise.  If she expects knowledgeable sales assistance and your best salesperson is talking on the phone and ignoring her, you’re not delivering the promise.  If your display models are dirty and don’t work properly, you’re not delivering the promise.  If you don’t take checks, or if you won’t accept her credit or debit card, you’re not delivering the promise.  If you don’t deliver the best shopping experience the customer has ever had, you’re not using your competitive advantage.

Let’s be honest.  You can’t compete with the box stores on price, but you can kill them with service.   They can’t deliver the level of service and quality that you can.  Even if they could, their employees aren’t motivated or trained to do it.  You’re the expert.  You have a stake in the business.  You have to deliver the promise every single time to every single customer.

What steps do you take in your store to ensure that you deliver the promise?