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’……..


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.

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.

Retailing-My Top Five Business ‘Killers’

On Tuesday I pointed you to an article by the Retailer Owners’ Institute called “The Top Five ‘Killers’ of Retail Sales”.  As I wrote at the time, the information in the article was very good, but it was from a bean counter’s perspective.  Today I’d like to give you my top five list.  I’m not saying that my list is better.  Any item from either list could be a business killer.   In fact, the two lists combined would make a pretty good top ten.

5.  Unattractive place of business. People want to shop in a place that’s bright and cheerful, clean and neat.  Take a walk outside and view the premises with a critical eye.  Does the outside make a customer want to come inside?  Then walk in the front door imagining that you’re the customer.  Is your store inviting?  Is everything clean?  Do the displays look fresh and interesting?  Is there proper signage?  Would you shop there?

Be brutally honest.  If the answer to even one of these questions is “no”, you have work to do.

4.  Poor marketing. The idea of marketing is to get customers into your store.  No marketing = no customers.  It’s as simple as that.  Here’s the thing.  Good marketing doesn’t have to be expensive.  Many would argue that word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing of all and it’s virtually free.  The Internet, especially social media, makes it possible to reach out to our target audience at little or no cost.

If you don’t know what to do, there’s plenty of information right here on the web and there are a number of books that are excellent resources.  I recommend “Marketing Your Retail Store in the Internet Age” by Bob and Susan Negin and “The Profitable Retailer” by Doug Fleener.

3.  Poor Salesmanship. Even vending machines are designed to present the product in the best possible light.  If your staff isn’t knowledgeable about the merchandise, sales may be hard to come by.  Sales are made to people by people (with the exception of those vending machines).  In good times, products may fly off the shelf but in times like these, your staff must be able to convince the customer that your offering is the best.

2.  Poor Customer Service. This one goes hand in hand with number 3.  There’s no excuse for poor service and today’s customer won’t stand for it.  Follow the Golden Rule.  Treat customers the way you want to be treated, and mean it!  Someone once said, “Sincerity is everything.  If you can’t fake it, you’ll never be successful.”

You and your staff must genuinely want to make the customer’s life easier and better.  If your number one motivation is profit, people will see right through you.  You may make a sale but you won’t make a friend.  And friends are your best source of word-of-marketing.  Isn’t it funny how all these things tie together?

You may be thinking that great customer service should be number one and a lot of people would agree with you.  But, like I said, all these things work together so here’s my number one.

1.  Unhappy Employees. Unhappy employees will almost guarantee numbers two through five.  They won’t care how the place looks.  They won’t care about marketing.  They won’t practice good salesmanship and they won’t care about serving the customer.

While a happy, satisfied customer may be the ultimate goal, the quickest way to make sure that happens is to have a motivated staff.   Make the staff happy and they’ll make the customers happy.

As a small business you may not be able to offer the perks that a big company can.  But you can make your staff feel like part of the family.  You can offer them intangibles that your bigger competitors can’t like flexible hours and more control of their own career.  You can give them a voice in decision-making and make them feel important every single day.

Happy, motivated employees are the key to a successful business.

Getting Response in a Down Economy

Dean Rieck, who writes the Direct Creative blog has put together a 38 page white paper called Getting Response in a Down Economy.  In Dean’s own words, the white paper “reveals what’s really happening in the marketplace, how your customers are reacting, and the 4 key principles you can use to boost your direct mail profits. Plus, get 32 pages packed with the powerful tips, strategies, and resources you need to cut costs and increase sales.”

In fact, Rieck does deliver what he promises.  He writes that the sky isn’t falling and that people are buying,

It’s just that they’re slower and more cautious, so it’s harder to sell them.  Harder, not impossible.  That’s an important distinction, because if you assume people don’t want to buy now, you will make less effort to sell them than you should and may end up supressing your own profits.”

As promised, he goes on to offer good advice and tips on doing business in the current economy.  GRIADE is an easy read and well worth your time.

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.

Why the Big Three Don’t Deserve a Bailout

OK, we’ve heard Detroit’s tale of woe.  They’re going broke because we aren’t buying their cars.  It’s not their fault.  It’s our fault.  Let me say, in the spirit of full disclosure that I drive a Mitsubishi Eclipse, built by a Japanese company in Illinois.  My wife drives a Toyota Highlander, made in Japan by a Japanese company.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d love to buy American and, in fact, I’ve tried.  But I just haven’t been able to get any of the American dealerships to sell me a car for as long as I can remember.

A brief history.  In 1997 I bought a Chrysler Sebring.  I bought it because I wanted an American-made convertible and the Sebring was the one I liked.  I bought it.  Nobody sold it to me.  They didn’t have to.  I went into the closest Chrysler dealer, pointed to the car, and they wrote it up.  No selling required.

Sadly,  two years later a hopped-up semi-truck driver decided the Sebring was invisible and moved into my lane at 60 mph.  The result:  One totaled Sebring.  Considering that the car was totaled and that my wife, son, and I walked away under our own power, I decided I wanted another one just like it.

Back to my local dealer (who had since moved and wasn’t quite so local anymore).  This time I couldn’t afford a new car so I needed a year-old used car.  The dealership had none but the “salesman” promised he would “check around” and call me back.  He didn’t.

So I tried my luck with another Chrysler dealer in another part of town.  They had the car I wanted but really didn’t want to be bothered with taking my money.  The “salesman” was new, having moved over from the cell phone business.  Oh boy!

After finally convincing Skippy that it was ok for him to take my money, I had good luck with the car.  But like all cars, it eventually wore out.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I went back to the Chrysler well one more time.  This was two years ago.  I knew exactly what I wanted.  Not one, not two, but three Chrysler dealerships wouldn’t give me the time of day.  Guess what?  Two of the three are now out of business.  Imagine that.

Mitsubishi Eclipse (Not me driving.  This guy has hair.

Mitsubishi Eclipse (Not me driving. This guy has hair.

On a whim I went to check out the new Mitsubishi rag top, the Eclipse.  I liked the car but they didn’t have the color/engine combination I was looking for.  The salesman (no quotes this time) moved heaven and earth to find me a car.  Mitsubishi ended up building the car I wanted.  The car was built on a Monday and I picked it up on Wednesday.

We had the exact same experience with Ford and General Motors when we went to buy my wife’s SUV.  It was the end of the year and all the American companies were offering big rebates and running huge ad campaigns.  But the dealers all dropped the ball again and we bought the Highlander.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Here’s the rest of the story.”  One of my adult children (a contradiction in terms, I know) owns a Dodge pickup which recently failed the state-mandated emissions test so we took it back to the dealer where he bought it, a place called South Town Dodge, last Thursday.  Normally I wouldn’t get involved in my kids car repairs, but I loaned him my car while his truck is in the shop.  I’ve been carless for seven days.

Not only is the truck not fixed after one full week, they won’t even return his calls.  The deal was that they would call him and let him know what was wrong with the thing before they fixed it so I’m guessing that they haven’t even started.  At a time when the parent company is begging for more of my money to keep from going out of business, you’d think that the service department might be a little more customer-centric.

At this point you can be sure that my son will never buy another Chrysler product.  His mother, father, and three siblings will never buy another Chrysler product.  His numerous friends will never buy another Chrysler product.  Thousands of readers of this blog may never buy a Chrysler product. Even if any of us would, they probably wouldn’t take the time to sell it to us.

Here’s the thing.  The economy is tough right now.  Every sale and every customer are important whether you’re asking for a government handout or not.  I intend for my next car to be American but if the “Big 3” don’t get their sales and customer service acts together, all the bailout money in the world won’t make a difference.  “If you build it they will come” may be true for baseball fields, but for anything else, not so much.