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.

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Are There Limits to Buying Locally?

This rather lengthy post originally appeared on February 24, 2009

A regular reader and former coworker emailed me over the weekend with an interesting question about buying locally.  He asked, “At what point is price an issue?” He cited a couple of recent instances where he paid more to buy something locally rather than buying it online.  The price difference wasn’t enough to be a problem, but is there a point where price trumps doing business with a neighbor? It’s not unlike the question, “Can you be a little bit pregnant?”

The question raises still more questions!

Aren’t some mail order businesses run by independent business people? In the past I have written good things about Heather Gorringe and her “Wiggly Wigglers” online gardening business. (A Small Business Owner Who Knows How to Use Social Media. A Big Award for Wiggly Wigglers) You can’t lump her into the same category as Amazon.com.  I’d buy from Wigglers if I were into gardening (and if she weren’t in England, making shipping very expensive.)  It’s a global mom-and-pop operation, something that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

What does “local” mean? Here in Saint Louis, at least until last year, Anheuser-Busch was a local business.  Was I supporting local business by buying Budweiser?  Yes I was.  But what about local micro-breweries?  Wouldn’t drinking a beer from Schlafley (a local micro) be more in line with a Buy Local philosophy?  And what about Guinness which is unique and only brewed in Ireland?

Then there’s the issue of determining what’s local and what’s not.  McDonald’s is a national chain, but the individual stores are locally owned. Then again, all of their raw materials come from McDonald corporate.   On the other hand, there are some similar operations, like White Castle, where the company owns all the stores.  How many people know that?  How do you know which is which?  Given the addictive taste of a White Castle burger, and their low cost, does it really matter if I eat there?  Like Mickey D’s, they bring the stuff in from out of town.

Does buy local trump buy American? Chances are that you’ll be more likely to find American-made items at your local hardware store rather than at Lowes or Home Depot.  But, what if you don’t?  What if the chain has an American-made drill and everything at the local True Value is made in China?  Which is the better choice?

What about unique items? Again, the local merchant is more likely to have the really unique items, but not always.  Books are a good example.  Sometimes the only place to find an off-beat book is at Amazon.com.  Let’s say that the local book store (if you can find one) doesn’t have the book, but can order it for you.  It will cost $50.00 and take two weeks.  Amazon can get you the same book in two days and it will cost you $40.00 (including shipping and handling).  And you need the book for an important project that’s due in a week.

This one is pretty easy.  You have to go with Amazon because of the deadline.  But what if there is no deadline.  What if you just want to read the book?  Is it worth ten more dollars and twelve more days to support the local business?  Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Buying locally takes some effort.  But it’s worth it.  You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have a vested interest.  If you want your friends and neighbors to do with business with you, you have to do business with them.  It’s as simple as that.  That’s the short-term answer.

Long term, if you want to have a neighborhood hardware store to answer your questions, and to have the part for your twenty-year-old lawn mower in stock, then you’d better do your part in keeping them around.

A lot is being written and said about economic stimulus.  I’m not an economist, but I do think that stimulating the national, and even the world, economy starts with stimulating the local economy.  We all know that small business is responsible for the lion’s share of jobs in the United States.  A sign of a healthy economy is a lot of “help wanted” signs in the windows of our local stores and restaurants.  We can make that happen.

I just realized that I’ve written quite a bit, 698 words and counting, and haven’t answered the question, “At what point is price an issue?” First, I think you have to look at value rather than price.  And value includes the services and potential services that the local business offers.  What looks like a better price may not be.  In the case of on-line purchases, have you considered shipping and handling?  What about the hassle of receiving the merchandise (for example, taking off work to be home when the package is delivered) and the possible hassle of returning something that isn’t right?  Can you trust the vendor to deliver the product as ordered?  All of these come at a price.

If you’re comparing a local store versus a chain, are you comparing apples to apples.  The big guys often have products that are built to their spec, which may not be your spec.  An items that’s ten percent cheaper but wears out twice as fast as a similar one isn’t much of a bargain, is it?

If an item requires assembly or technical knowledge to operate, who’s going to help you out if you have problems, the “helpful hardware man” or the guy in the blue smock who just started to work yesterday?

To wrap this up, you have to make up your own mind what you value and what you don’t.  Everything has a price.  You get what you pay for.  (Insert your own cliche here.)

As a business person you might want to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But what about your customers?  How do we get them on the “buy local” bandwagon?  It’s all about education.  Show them why your product is worth more than your big box or out-of-town competitors.  Use in-store signage, advertising, your web site, and your presence on social media (you are on social media, aren’t you?) to tell them why it’s in their best interest to buy from you.  Because, when all is said and done, people do what’s in their best interest, not yours.

I’d especially welcome comments on this important topic.

Ask for the Sale!

This post originally appered on January 14, 2009.

In yesterday’s post, I suggested that you find a reason for your customers and potential customers to find your business indispensible in this weak economy.  I hope you’re taking that advice seriously.

Here’s another suggestion:  Ask every customer for the sale.  Today at the Retail Contrarian blog, my friend Doug Fleener suggests six ways to conquer the “I’m only buying what’s on sale” mentality.  His sixth and final point is so simple that you wouldn’t think it necessary to repeat it, but I guess we all have to be reminded once-in-a-while to get back to the basics.  He says,

Give the customer an opportunity to make the purchase. It’s as simple as asking the customer to buy it. The more bad economic news there is, the less likely your competitors will ask for the sale. Do you?”

He’s absolutely right, when times are tough it’s easy to get discouraged and fall  into a mindset that the customer isn’t going to buy.  To succeed in this market, don’t let it happen.  You and your staff should ask every customer who walks into the store to buy something.  You’ll be surprised at the results.

No Wonder We’re in a Recession!

An interesting thing happened to me today.  I had a flat tire on my bike.  Fortunately it went flat while I was having lunch with my wife, so we threw the bike in the back of her SUV and she dropped me off at a local bike shop.  While the mechanic fixed the flat I wandered around the store for about fifteen minutes looking at the bikes.  No one said a word to me!

These guys sell bikes that run well into four figures, some almost five.  They had my bike.  I couldn’t leave.  They could see that I could use a new ride.  In fact, they sold me the one I have now.

For the life of me, I can’t understand a specialty retailer that doesn’t try to show you something, especially when they see you kicking the tires like I was.  No wonder we’re in a recession.

C’mon people! At a time like this you can’t let any potential sale get away.  At least do a quick demo with every warm body that comes into your store.  No one should ever leave without at least a brochure.  That’s just common sense.  But I guess common sense isn’t really that common.

Salesmanship Part 2

What can I tell you?

fly 150Since I spend a lot of time using two-wheeled transportation, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a motor scooter; something to fill in the gap between “too far to peddle” and ” I really need to use the car”.  It happens that there’s a Vespa dealership, Vespa St. Louis,  along the route where I usually ride, so yesterday I stopped in to get some information.

When I walked into the shop, the only person there, the owner, was on the phone.  He made said he’d be right with me, and sure enough, he quickly ended his call.  He walked over to me and said, “What can I tell you?” I’ve been in literally thousands of retail businesses in my life, but this was a new approach.  “What  can I tell you?”

Think about it.  It wasn’t the ever-lame “Can I help you?”  which always gets the same response, “No thanks, just looking”, even if the customer has come into the shop, money in hand, fulling intending to buy something.  As the Wendy’s comercials say, this was “waaaay better”.  The ball was squarely in my court.  Even if I just wanted to use the rest room, I had to engage this guy in conversation.

I thought for a few seconds and said, “Why should I buy a $4,000 Vespa instead of a Chinese bike that costs half as much?”  That was all he needed.  First he asked me, “Do you want to spend your time riding your scooter or working on it?”  The answer is obvious.  Then he went on to explain all the things that make the Italian bikes superior to the Asian ones.

I didn’t buy anything (this trip) but by knowing his product, and his competitors’, he pretty much put me out of the market for the cheaper machines.   I mentioned that I had been looking on Craig’s List and he spent some time showing me what to look for if I decide to go with a used scooter.  And, if I did find a super deal on something used, he explained all things his service department offers and invited me to bring any model into his shop for repairs.

I was looking for something small for a number of reasons, mostly price.  He pointed out to me that larger engines actually get better gas mileage and last longer because they don’t have to work as hard.  That means higher resale-value and lower total cost of ownership.  Interesting point, and something that I would never have considered.

Bottom line, this was a level of salesmanship that you don’t find so often today.  As I mentioned yesterday, a local car dealer is having trouble hiring people because they don’t want to work hard, even in a job where the harder you work the more money you make.

In the case of the Vespa shop, the owner had obviously done his home work.  He led with a great opening question and obviously had an answer ready for the most common responses.  He knows Vespa and he knows the other brands as well.

Salesmanship Part 1

andy rooneyI hate to sound like Andy Rooney here, but have you ever noticed….how few people try to sell you anything anymore? I’m not talking time share pitchmen, or vacation club scam artists (more on that later), I’m talking about the person behind the counter at the retail store or anywhere else where you may need help making a purchase.  You’d think that in a tough economy people would be doing their best to convince you to part with some of your money.

I have two stories to tell you along these lines; one today and the other tomorrow.  Today’s story involves Dave Sinclair, a St. Louis auto retailing institution.  He’s famous for his television commercials, featuring just Dave standing behind a somewhat hokey-looking podium that has his logo on it.  No flash, no gimicks, just Dave talking to you about his latest deals.  Click on the link to meet Dave (somewhat) in person.  Sinclair is in his 80s and must have gone straight from the maternity hospital to the car dealership. or so it seems.  Dave is a blue-collar guy selling blue-collar cars to blue-collar customers.

Lately a lot of his TV spots have centered on the fact that he sells GM and Ford products exclusively.  No foreign-made cars at Dave Sinclair.  He encourages his viewers to buy from him, of course, but if not, “then buy American from somebody.” But, that’s not today’s story.

The story is that Dave’s business is good and he’s hiring…..and that he’s getting few takers.  He prefers to hire older workers (baby boomers) who know what hard work is and aren”t afraid of it.  In his usual straight-ahead approach, he told a local TV reporter “I’m not paying people to stand around.  I”m paying them to sell cars.”

In a world where the first question from a lot of job applicants is “How much vacation do I get?” his approach obviously makes a lot of people nervous.  It’s not touchy-fealy, or politically correct.  But it’s brutally honest, and that’s something that’s sorely missing today.  Personally I’d rather work for someone who’s upfront with me than someone who smiles all the time while he’s planning to stab you  in the back.

I believe it’s Sinclair’s honest approach that’s kept him in the car business for longer than most of his customers have been alive.  Good luck, Dave.  I hope you find the folks you need to keep the legacy alive.

Buying Locally–Are There Limits?

A regular reader and former coworker emailed me over the weekend with an interesting question about buying locally.  He asked, “At what point is price an issue?” He cited a couple of recent instances where he paid more to buy something locally rather than buying it online.  The price difference wasn’t enough to be a problem, but is there a point where price trumps doing business with a neighbor? It’s not unlike the question, “Can you be a little bit pregnant?”

The question raises still more questions!

Aren’t some mail order businesses run by independent business people? In the past I have written good things about Heather Gorringe and her “Wiggly Wigglers” online gardening business. (A Small Business Owner Who Knows How to Use Social Media. A Big Award for Wiggly Wigglers) You can’t lump her into the same category as Amazon.com.  I’d buy from Wigglers if I were into gardening (and if she weren’t in England, making shipping very expensive.)  It’s a global mom-and-pop operation, something that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

What does “local” mean? Here in Saint Louis, at least until last year, Anheuser-Busch was a local business.  Was I supporting local business by buying Budweiser?  Yes I was.  But what about local micro-breweries?  Wouldn’t drinking a beer from Schlafley (a local micro) be more in line with a Buy Local philosophy?  And what about Guinness which is unique and only brewed in Ireland?

Then there’s the issue of determining what’s local and what’s not.  McDonald’s is a national chain, but the individual stores are locally owned. Then again, all of their raw materials come from McDonald corporate.   On the other hand, there are some similar operations, like White Castle, where the company owns all the stores.  How many people know that?  How do you know which is which?  Given the addictive taste of a White Castle burger, and their low cost, does it really matter if I eat there?  Like Mickey D’s, they bring the stuff in from out of town.

Does buy local trump buy American? Chances are that you’ll be more likely to find American-made items at your local hardware store rather than at Lowes or Home Depot.  But, what if you don’t?  What if the chain has an American-made drill and everything at the local True Value is made in China?  Which is the better choice?

bookstoreWhat about unique items? Again, the local merchant is more likely to have the really unique items, but not always.  Books are a good example.  Sometimes the only place to find an off-beat book is at Amazon.com.  Let’s say that the local book store (if you can find one) doesn’t have the book, but can order it for you.  It will cost $50.00 and take two weeks.  Amazon can get you the same book in two days and it will cost you $40.00 (including shipping and handling).  And you need the book for an important project that’s due in a week.

This one is pretty easy.  You have to go with Amazon because of the deadline.  But what if there is no deadline.  What if you just want to read the book?  Is it worth ten more dollars and twelve more days to support the local business?  Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Buying locally takes some effort.  But it’s worth it.  You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have a vested interest.  If you want your friends and neighbors to do with business with you, you have to do business with them.  It’s as simple as that.  That’s the short-term answer.

Long term, if you want to have a neighborhood hardware store hardware-storeto answer your questions, and to have the part for your twenty-year-old lawn mower in stock, then you’d better do your part in keeping them around.

A lot is being written and said about economic stimulus.  I’m not an economist, but I do think that stimulating the national, and even the world, economy starts with stimulating the local economy.  We all know that small business is responsible for the lion’s share of jobs in the United States.  A sign of a healthy economy is a lot of “help wanted” signs in the windows of our local stores and restaurants.  We can make that happen.

I just realized that I’ve written quite a bit, 698 words and counting, and haven’t answered the question, “At what point is price an issue?” First, I think you have to look at value rather than price.  And value includes the services and potential services that the local business offers.  What looks like a better price may not be.  In the case of on-line purchases, have you considered shipping and handling?  What about the hassle of receiving the merchandise (for example, taking off work to be home when the package is delivered) and the possible hassle of returning something that isn’t right?  Can you trust the vendor to deliver the product as ordered?  All of these come at a price.

If you’re comparing a local store versus a chain, are you comparing apples to apples.  The big guys often have products that are built to their spec, which may not be your spec.  An items that’s ten percent cheaper but wears out twice as fast as a similar one isn’t much of a bargain, is it?

If an item requires assembly or technical knowledge to operate, who’s going to help you out if you have problems, the “helpful hardware man” or the guy in the blue smock who just started to work yesterday?

To wrap this up, you have to make up your own mind what you value and what you don’t.  Everything has a price.  You get what you pay for.  (Insert your own cliche here.)

As a business person you might want to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But what about your customers?  How do we get them on the “buy local” bandwagon?  It’s all about education.  Show them why your product is worth more than your big box or out-of-town competitors.  Use in-store signage, advertising, your web site, and your presence on social media (you are on social media, aren’t you?) to tell them why it’s in their best interest to buy from you.  Because, when all is said and done, people do what’s in their best interest, not yours.

I’d especially welcome comments on this important topic.