Thursday, August 30, 2007

How to Retain Your Gen-X Workforce

Retaining retail employees is challenging at the best of times. However, today's younger workforce are not motivated by the same things you are. Author and speaker, Cam Marston, has written a brilliant article that can help get past this hurdle.

You've hired them. Now how can you keep them around? If I could give you one bit of advice on dealing with the latest generation of employees to come under your management, it would be to remember those words…things aren't always what they seem.

If you are like most business leaders, you've no doubt noticed a trend in the way employees behave in recent years. Most likely you consider it a negative trend—too much entitlement, not enough loyalty, no work ethic, only interested in themselves, and on and on. But I challenge you to consider that perhaps these are not negative trends, just different ones.

To better understand who your employees are and what drives them to succeed, perhaps it's easiest to understand who they are not—you. That's right. They may even be your offspring but in the workplace they bear little resemblance to the "you" of yesteryear.

Gen Xers (born 1965-1979) and Millenials (born after 1980) are operating in this world with a completely different perspective. Their definitions of loyalty, time and success are often quite different from yours. Rest assured they do recognize all of these concepts and value them in very important ways. The key to your organization's future success is understanding how the Millenials view the world and using that knowledge to motivate them in a way that works. Here's a hint: meet them where they are and they will achieve your underlying goals; try to force them to fit your definitions and they will run for the door every time. So let's take a look at some of the pervasive myths about our youngest generation in the workforce and discuss why these changes are happening and how you can tailor your workplace to meet the needs of you, your employees and the company.

Myth: Younger generations have no work ethic.
Reality: Younger generations have a self-centered work ethic. This is not necessarily the negative that it may seem at first. Millenials are dedicated to completing their task well. They have not been raised in a way that demands them to look around and see what should be done next. Instead they ask "what is my job" and go about figuring the best, fastest way to complete that task. Then they consider themselves done. This is a key differentiator between your employees and yourself. The younger they are, the more your employees view their jobs as "something to do between the weekends."

For most, early employment has nothing to do with a career path; it is a way to earn money to have fun in their free time. And that is okay. When you understand what motivates your employees you are better able to set mutual expectations for success.

Instead of being frustrated that your youngest employees are not interested in climbing your corporate ladder, embrace their true motivation—reliable spending money—and use it to your advantage. When you tell an employee, "I understand this is not your lifelong career, but to earn the paycheck every week, here is what I expect…" they are much more likely to respond than if you try to motivate with promises of promotions and titles down the road.Understanding that being at the job isn't as important to Millenials as completing the assigned task also opens up new opportunities for motivation and reward.

Younger employees are very likely to respond to offers of paid time off. A leading retail organization has recognized this new way of thinking with its "Working Hard Card." When managers witness an employee rising to a challenge, exceeding expectations or otherwise giving 110 percent, they can hand the employee a "Working Hard Card" on the spot. Each card is worth a set amount of paid time off to be used at the employee's discretion. It is a simple strategy that rewards employees in the currency they value most—their time.

Myth: They don't want to put in the hours to get ahead.
Reality: They are willing to put in the time to do the job, however they are uninterested in "face time." Gen Xers and Millenials view time as a currency. While Baby Boomers tend to see time as something to invest, the younger generations view it as a valuable currency not to be wasted. These are the generations that demand work-life balance and paid time off. They want to get the job done, then put it behind them and enjoy life.

Boomer managers have a tendency to lose the interest of their Millenial employees by looking too far into the future. Millenials live in timeframe based on right now. Their world has proven that nothing is a guarantee—from nationwide layoffs to war to soaring divorce rates—and have decided that there's not a lot you can count on. As a result they are not interested in promotion plans for five years from now. They don't even want to know what will happen at the end of the summer. Life is uncertain.

To reach the Millenial employee and reduce turnover, make it certain. Tell your employee that you have a plan. Take pains to ensure it is in a timeframe short enough for them to envision. Be prepared to fulfill your promise—once fooled, forever jaded. This approach feeds into their reality, while simultaneously building trust and buying you more time. Reward small successes along the way, string these milestones together and you will soon realize longer tenures among your staff.

Myth: They have no respect for authority.
Reality: They have great respect for leaders and loyalty. But no, as a rule they don't respect authority "just because." For the younger generations, every ounce of loyalty and respect must be earned. But when it is earned, it is given fiercely. In fact, loyalty to the individual is the number one reason Xers and Millennials stay in the job, especially during the first three, tenuous years. Dissatisfaction with the boss is the number one reason they quit.

So in order to increase retention, managers must take a flipped view on leadership—it is no longer enough to hire the right people and show them the way, now you must BE the right person to win their affection. Sounds a little touchy-feely for the workforce, yet the faster leaders understand this new relationship, the sooner you will see the reward in the way of increased retention. There is one big caveat to the "be the person they want you to be" approach to leadership, however.

Millenials have a tendency to seek tight bonds—they want a boss who is close, caring and aware. And you can be all that. It is very easy to cross the line between "boss as advocate" to "boss as friend." That is a slippery slope. It can be especially tempting in situations where managers and employees are close in age. When activities outside of the office become too regular, too casual or largely social in nature, it is time to examine how this will affect your role as a leader. What Millennials need most out of a boss is a guide, not a social life.

Myth: They don't want to grow up.
Reality: They really don't know how. The youngest generations in today's workforce are facing a delayed adulthood. They are getting married later, having children later and just generally facing the "real world" later. This isn't the result of a mutated maturity gene, it just is. And if we are being completely honest, Boomers had a lot to do with why it's happening.

First, as parents, Boomers had a tendency to coddle their children and use their own good fortune to make sure their children didn't experience adversity. Second, as career models, Boomers demonstrated the toll of working long hours and "paying one's dues" in a way that made their children less likely to follow in their footsteps.

Millenials today look at the corporate ladder and think, "there must be another way."My advice to you—don't waste time wishing they were different. Don't spend your energy comparing today's youth to the desires and drive you had at age 18. These employees are not a reflection of you, nor are they an earlier version of you. And again, that is okay. Your task is to take this new understanding and use it to reposition how you interact with, motivate and reward your staff. Take attire for instance. Your 18-year-old self would have gladly donned whatever uniform was necessary to fit the company mold. Be it pressed khakis and a tie or a specific corporate uniform, fitting in was part of the package.

Today's youth wants to stand out. They want their individuality to shine through even when required to provide a consistent standard of service and performance. Balancing corporate needs with individual desires takes some creative thinking.

Home Depot is one company that has addressed this dilemma at a very basic level—company uniforms. They simply require that all employees wear a standard Home Depot apron. Be yourself underneath (within reason) and show the customer that you are on the Home Depot team with this bright orange apron. Is there a standard that you can adopt to accommodate individual preferences? Something to think about. Not all change is bad.

As we've discussed, the myths surrounding today’s young employees are not always what they seem. Attitudes toward work, life, loyalty and respect have all changed, but each is still considered valuable. In fact, some of the demands made by today's youth are creating positive benefits for employees in every generation.

Flexibilty and respect for the individual, as well as the organization, are good for everyone. Loyalty from younger employees, once earned, is long-lasting. The adjustments you make to accommodate the changing attitudes of today's youth will be returned to you tenfold with decreased turnover, improved morale, and measurable business results. And when the frustration mounts, just remember things aren't always what they seem. Open your mind to the possibility that there is a benign, generational reason for the disconnect between what you want and what your employees are providing, and you may just find room to create a shared vision of success.

Cam Marston is a consultant who specializes in multigenerational communications and marketing, educating executives about the workplace expectations of different generations. For more on Cam Marston and Motivating the "What's In It For Me?" Workforce (John Wiley & Sons; May 2007), visit

Friday, July 27, 2007

Higher Prices Don't Mean Lower Sales

I read an online article this week about Karen Wilson (a Canadian designer) who made a strategic decision to charge a premuim for her products (purses). She believed that in the long run she would not be able compete with foreign-made products and knock-offs so she deliberately priced her pocketbooks at a premium level.

Many retailers would consider this to be a suicidal approach but I respect her decision. She was also clever in HOW she executed her plan. Retailers who sell her products were skeptical about her pricing so she offered area rights and gave each retailer the exclusive right to sell her products within their local trading area.

Her strategy seems to be paying off. She has a growing list of retailers and is currently expanding her product line to keep up with the demand.

Remember, price is not the only influencing factor in a person's buying decision. If you provide true value and can effectively position that value, price becomes less of a factor. However, when everything is equal, price becomes the default factor.

Take a lesson from Karen's approach and think of how you can change your results.

**Read the entire on-line article here.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

5 Types of Shoppers

I came across this article written by Mark Hunter

In the retail industry, it seems as though we are constantly faced with the issue of trying to find new customers. Most of us are obsessed with making sure our advertising displays, and pricing all "scream out" to attract new customers. This focus on pursuing new customers is certainly prudent and necessary, but, at the same time, it can wind up hurting us. Therefore, our focus really should be on the 20% of our clients who currently are our best customers.

This idea of focusing on the best current customers should be seen as an on-going opportunity. To better understand the rationale behind this theory and to face the challenge, we need to break down shoppers into five main types:

Loyal Customers: They represent no more than 20% of our customer base, but make up more than 50% of our sales.

Discount Customers: They shop our stores frequently, but make their decisions based on the size of our markdowns.

Impulse Customers: They do not have buying a particular item at the top of their "To Do" list, but come into the store on a whim. They will purchase what seems good at the time.

Need-Based Customers: They have a specific intention to buy a particular type of item.

Wandering Customers: They have no specific need or desire in mind when they come into the store. Rather, they want a sense of experience and/or community.

If we are serious about growing our business, we need to focus our effort on the Loyal customers, and merchandise our store to leverage the Impulse shoppers. The other three types of customers do represent a segment of our business, but they can also cause us to misdirect our resources if we put too much emphasis on them.

Let me further explain the five types of customers and elaborate on what we should be doing with them.

Loyal Customers: Naturally, we need to be communicating with these customers on a regular basis by telephone, mail, email, etc. These people are the ones who can and should influence our buying and merchandising decisions. Nothing will make a Loyal customer feel better than soliciting their input and showing them how much you value it. In my mind, you can never do enough for them. Many times, the more you do for them, the more they will recommend you to others.

Discount Customers: This category helps ensure your inventory is turning over and, as a result, it is a key contributor to cash flow. This same group, however, can often wind up costing you money because they are more inclined to return product.

Impulse Customers: Clearly, this is the segment of our clientele that we all like to serve. There is nothing more exciting than assisting an Impulse shopper and having them respond favorably to our recommendations. We want to target our displays towards this group because they will provide us with a significant amount of customer insight and knowledge.

Need-Based Customers: People in this category are driven by a specific need. When they enter the store, they will look to see if they can have that need filled quickly. If not, they will leave right away. They buy for a variety of reasons such as a specific occasion, a specific need, or an absolute price point. As difficult as it can be to satisfy these people, they can also become Loyal customers if they are well taken care of. Salespeople may not find them to be a lot of fun to serve, but, in the end, they can often represent your greatest source of long-term growth. It is important to remember that Need-Based customers can easily be lost to Internet sales or a different retailer. To overcome this threat, positive personal interaction is required, usually from one of your top salespeople. If they are treated to a level of service not available from the web or another retail location there is a very strong chance of making them Loyal customers. For this reason, Need-Based customers offer the greatest long-term potential, surpassing even the Impulse segment.

Wandering Customers: For many stores, this is the largest segment in terms of traffic, while, at the same time, they make up the smallest percentage of sales. There is not a whole lot you can do about this group because the number of Wanderers you have is driven more by your store location than anything else. Keep in mind, however, that although they may not represent a large percentage of your immediate sales, they are a real voice for you in the community. Many Wanderers shop merely for the interaction and experience it provides them. Shopping is no different to them than it is for another person to go to the gym on a regular basis. Since they are merely looking for interaction, they are also very likely to communicate to others the experience they had in the store. Therefore, although Wandering customers cannot be ignored, the time spent with them needs to be minimized.

Retail is an art, backed up by science. The science is the information we have from financials to research data (the "backroom stuff"). The art is in how we operate on the floor: our merchandising, our people, and, ultimately, our customers.

For all of us, the competitive pressure has never been greater and it is only going to become more difficult. To be successful, it will require patience and understanding in knowing our customers and the behavior patterns that drive their decision-making process. Using this understanding to help turn Discount, Impulse, Need-Based, and even Wandering Customers into Loyal ones will help grow our business. At the same time, ensuring that our Loyal Customers have a positive experience each time they enter our store will only serve to increase our bottom-line profits.



Monday, July 09, 2007

What Are YOUR Policies?

I'm always fascinated how many retailers create policies to manage the extreme situations. I ran across this article on-line that focuses on handling returns and how the policies of some retailers are costing them business.

All Michelle Gluckow and her 13-year-old daughter wanted to do was buy a summer's worth of camp clothes in one night at a New Jersey Abercrombie & Fitch.

After she suffered through long lines, blaring music and low lighting, Gluckow says, the cashier refused to sell her all 24 items, because of a policy that capped purchases at 20 to limit reselling. Gluckow, incredulous that she couldn't pay full price for all the clothes she wanted, refused to leave the store until she had all the layered outfits her daughter needed. "In my opinion, the [20-item] policy is ridiculous," says Gluckow, who was buying different colors and items, all in the same size. "They said they were just protecting their other customers, which I thought was ironic."

Ultimately, she says, the manager grudgingly let her split the purchase between two credit cards. Gluckow says the Abercrombie manager told her she could pay cash or with a check for the four items over the 20-item limit, but she refused. Splitting it between two credit cards seemed silly enough.

Gluckow was luckier than Robert Martin, who says he couldn't get Sears to take back a faulty 7-month-old phone -- despite repeated calls and letters -- because accepting it back would violate store policy. Martin, a 30-year Sears credit card holder, says the decision shows why many businesses are losing loyal customers.

Read the full article here. © 2007 USA Today. All rights reserved.© 2007 ECT News Network. All rights reserved.

Sometime last year, I wrote a post about policies and how the wrong policy can hurt your business. While I certainly understand that retailers face more challenges today with respect to people buying an item then returning it a few days or weeks later, it is still a VERY small portion of the buying public who actually does this.

I personally believe that the more liberal your return policies are, the easier you make it do business with you. And this often leads to increased business.

I welcome your comments on this topic.


Friday, July 06, 2007

What's Your Conversion?

What's your current conversion? That is, what percentage of people who enter your store actually make a purchase?

If you don't track this critical measurement, I guarantee that you are likely underestimating how many people visit your store in a day/week/month, overestimating your conversion, and missing valuable sales opportunities.

When I worked with one retailer, the staff consistently complained that customer traffic was slow in the early part of the week. After installing traffic counters, the managers realized that it was not nearly as low as they expected.

Before installing the counters they believed their conversion ratio was approximately 20%. However, the data showed their actual conversion was just over 10% which demonstrated a HUGE opportunity to improve their sales.

If you own, or work in, a small store, you may think the investment of traffic counters is an expense you can't afford. My perspective is that you cannot afford NOT to track the numberof people who flow into your store.

Proper analyzing can help you optimize your scheduling--including when your key people should be working. And this can actually save you money by helping you increase your sales during peak times in your store.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Old Business-New Approach-Huge Results

I watched the morning news with great interest this morning because the station featured a segment on an old business-dental.

At least 25% of the population experiences major stress when visiting the dentist; usually because of a negative or painful experience sometime in their past.

However, a new approach is being taken by several dental offices.

They are offering a range of additional services, each designed to help the patient relax BEFORE their actual appointment. They call themselves Dental Spas and they offer services such as massage therapy, hot stone massage, manicures, and in some cases, even champagne.

Not surprisingly, the concept is taking off and becoming wildly successful.

Think of how this concept applies to your business and determine what you could do with your "typical" retail store to make it different than your competitors.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Save Your Customer's Time

"According to a Wall Street Journal article, the average shopper at a Wal-Mart Supercenter spends 21 minutes in the store and, in the process of speeding through the shop, fails to find 30 percent of the items they came in to buy." (Source Retail Wire)

That's the advantage a small, boutique store has over their big-box competitor. The challenge is helping your customers recognize that you can save them time. In today's time-strapped society, you can gain a signifigant advantage by demonstrating this to your customers. You can't compete on price so why not focus on the time element?

Case in point...I much prefer to shop at a smaller hardware store and grocery store than the big competitors because I know I can get in and out of the store FAST.

Why not loudly and proudly state this in your advertising? This certainly goes against many retailer's philosphy of advertising specials and low prices. But, if positioned properly, you could attract many consumers away from your big-box competitor. The change would not happen overnight (there's no such thing as a quick fix) but it could be significant.

Got comments on this posting? I'd love to hear them.


The Art of Skillful Qualifying

I am constantly under whelmed when sales associates approach me in a store. I find they typically use one of a few approaches:

1. They stand and wait for me to ask questions.
2. They launch into a pitch about the product.
3. They attempt to make small talk to try to make me open up.

Each of these approaches is very ineffective and does nothing to help the customer move toward making a buying decision. If you really want to make a difference and demonstrate to your customer why they should buy from you need to take a different approach.

First of all, recognize that if you truly want to separate yourself from your competition you must fully understand their needs before you begin talking about a product. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the retail sales situation. However, that can make it very easy for you to begin differentiating yourself from other retailers. Here’s how you do it:

Ask questions.

§ What brings you into our store?
§ What reasons do you have for buying a…?
§ What were you looking for in a…?
§ Who else is involved in this purchase?
§ What is most important to you with this purchase?
§ Where else have you been?
§ What was your experience at…?

Each of these questions gives you the chance to uncover the customer’s buying motives. Every time you learn more about your customer the closer you get to actually closing a sale providing you utilize that information properly.

You’ll notice that the above questions are all open ended which means they require the customer to respond with more than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Open-ended questions serve two purposes;

1. They require the customer to think before responding. This means that you will receive quality information that will help you determine their specific needs and wants.

2. They actively engage the customer. This means that they will begin to feel more comfortable with you because they are actually participating in the buying/selling process.

The critical thing to remember is that virtually everyone in the world loves talking about themselves and the more you encourage the customer to talk about themselves or their situation the more they will begin to trust and open up to you.

The majority of retail sales staff do not appreciate the power of this approach. In my training workshops I frequently hear objections such as:

“This process takes too long. I don’t have time.”
“People get defensive when I ask them questions.”
“Customers only care about getting the best price.”

I definitely understand these objections. Effective qualifying does take time. Some people do get defensive. And some customers do care only about getting the best price. However, this approach will garner you different results.

First of all, the time you invest qualifying will be saved in presenting your product and trying to overcome objections. If you fully understand what your customer needs and want you will be able to show them a product/service that meets those needs. This means that they will have fewer objections. I have discovered that the more thoroughly you qualify a customer the less likely they will express objections.

Second, if you create a comfortable environment people will answer any question you ask. But you must give them a reason to do so. They must see that the question(s) you are asking are leading somewhere and are being asked for a specific reason.

Third, you need to determine if the price conscious customer is someone you really want as a client.Skillful qualifying takes effort, energy and practice. I suggest that you develop a list of open-ended questions that are relevant to your industry and practice utilizing them. The more comfortable you become asking valuable questions the more effective you will be become at uncovering your customer’s needs and wants. In turn, you will demonstrate to them why they should buy from you, today, at your price.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Merchandising Matters

I was recently looking to replace my cell phone and ventured into my local wireless provider's store to view the current phones. It had been over two years since I purchased my phone so I expected to see some great updates and a wider selection to choose from.

As I wandered around the store and checked out their available wares, I noticed that the only information about the phones that was visible was the price.

One phone caught my eye but it was gross pink--a colour I wouldn't even dream of carrying around. My wife asked the salesperson if that phone came in different colours--a question I didn't think of asking. Fortunately, that particular model was also available in a steel grey, and after seeing it, I bought it.

However, had my wife NOT asked that question, I would have left the store without making a purchase.

The manner in in which your store is merchandised will influence a person's decision to make a purchase. In fact, I remember no longer shopping at particular grocery store because they continually changed where products were located. Bundle like-products together. Position complementary items in the same area. If your products come in different colours, make sure your customers can see them. Merchandising makes a tremendous difference.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Creatures of Habit

It's hard to teach an old consumer new tricks, and a new Canadian study explains why.

People like to buy the same products at the same familiar stores simply because it's easier, the paper shows, despite the best efforts of marketers to sell them on better options. From economists to Bill Gates, everyone predicted the Internet would lead to consumers buying wherever they found the best products and prices, says Kyle Murray, an assistant marketing professor at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business. Instead, they continue to flock to the same Web sites, stores and products they always have. His paper, in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, determined why.

"People learn to use something like an Amazon, and they become more comfortable with it, they become better at using it, they're more efficient with it," Murray says. "They develop some shopping habits that mean they don't shop around, even though it would [take] maybe 15 seconds to find a lower price somewhere else." He and co-author Gerald Haubl at the University of Alberta conducted experiments that approximated online shopping, but the findings apply to stores, electronics or any product people become skilled with over time, Murray says.

Customers often shop on auto-pilot, getting familiar products from familiar stores or Web sites, though a bit more effort and exploration could mean more savings.

One experiment revealed that even if two retailers or products are the same in every way, when consumers are given the chance to use one repeatedly, the familiar option becomes vastly more attractive.

A second experiment demonstrated that consumers are not being duped into thinking their usual choice is better -- it's simply easier for them to get what they want quickly when they've had practice (a phenomenon familiar to anyone who beelines straight for the right aisle to find a specific product in their grocery store).

"The vast majority of what we do day-to-day is habitual or automatic, and it's only the occasional decision that we put a lot of thought into the way marketers think we think about all products," Murray says.

This is known as "cognitive lock-in" and it amounts to a very strong form of product loyalty, he says. "Lock-in" is normally an economic term that refers to the financial cost of switching from one product to another -- the penalty fees cellphone companies charge for breaking a contract are one example -- Murray says. But his study showed there is a "thinking penalty" that may keep people using the same MP3 player, online bookstore or grocery store simply because of the learning curve involved in switching to a new one.

For Loblaw Companies Ltd., the popular President's Choice brand is both a signature that sets them apart from other chains and a constant in their 1,100 Canadian stores, which include No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore, Dominion and Independent.

"It's that balance of making sure that people come back and those things they look for every week are there, and at the same time offering them a few surprises," says Elizabeth Margles, vice-president of communications.

Murray conducted a third experiment that offers some hope for businesses hoping to woo customers away from the competition. Habitual consumer behaviour is "goal-specific," the study showed, meaning people cling to their old standbys for familiar tasks but are more willing to try something else if there's a new task at hand. A customer habitually visiting the same grocery store to buy orange juice and eggs, for instance, might try the one down the street if they're suddenly in search of a birthday cake, Murray says.

Products that undergo redesign and retailers that overhaul their Web sites or stores risk "break[ing] the habits" of their usual customers, he says, because what they used to do on auto-pilot is now unfamiliar -- and that makes switching to the competition an easier proposition.
Gap Inc. is currently engaged in that balancing act, with radical redesigns transforming their stores into sleeker, more intimate spaces. Renovations are underway in Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Victoria and Red Deer, with the rest of the chain's 157 Canadian locations to follow.

Tara Wickwire, senior manager public relations, says the aim is "innovating and changing to the point where it's new and interesting for customers, yet there's a strain of familiarity."

Ultimately, consumers are creatures of habit. How can you use this to get people back to your store and prevent them from going to your competitor?

Source: Shannon Proudfoot, CanWest News Service

Friday, June 08, 2007

Quit Complaining

While standing in line to pay for a purchase at a local store today, I overheard the sales associate complain about the temperature in the store to a customer. She was lamenting the fact that the air conditioning did not seem to be working although a few days earlier it had been.

In a newspaper article this past week, a retail employee complained about the type of customers he had to deal with and suggested that people be more understanding of a retailer's problems such as inventory issues and being short-staffed.

Several months ago I listened to two employees complain about their schedule directly in front of me.

Give it a rest already!!

As a consumer, I don't care about your problems or issues; I have enough of my own to deal with. And quite frankly, this type of behaviour only fuels my desire to shop at one of your competitors.

I suggest that you--the retail owner or employee--recognize the negative impact conversations like this have on your business. Unfortunately, in my career as a retail consultant and trainer, I have discovered that many owners and managers are the root cause of this type of employee behaviour. are a few ideas to consider...

1. Teach your team to maintain a positive demeanor at all times. This is easier said than done but it can have a tremendous impact. Have them visit other stores in your local trading area and observe the staff in those stores. Get them to share their observations and brainstorm ideas how they can avoid leaving a negative impression with your customers.

2. Hire the right staff. Let's face it...hiring great retail staff is challenging at the best of times. However, too many retail managers and owners hire a warm body simply to fill a time slot on a schedule. Unfortunately, this means that they often end up with the wrong person. Hire for attitude and personality rather than job experience and many of your problems will disappear.

3. Lead by example. This is, by far, the most essential ingredient. If you fail to maintain a positive behaviour, your staff certainly won't either. I can venture into almost any type of retail store and tell you--within 5 minutes--what the management team is like simply by watching how the staff behave. Remember, your actions speak louder than words.

I know that running a retail operation is no easy task. I also know that a multitude of problems can crop up at any given moment. However, complaining in front or, or to, your customers, serves no purpose.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Stand Out With Service

A recent article I read (I don't recall where I saw it) stated that many customers now expect less-than-great service when they shop. The first thought that jumped into my mind was the incredible opportunity this gives the smart retailer.

If your competition provides average service, you have the opportunity to increase your marketshare simply by improving your service. But what does this entail? Or, how do you define good or great service?

Certainly service is a personal issue and what is important to one customer barely matters to someone else. However, I believe there are two key ingredients that almost everyone looks for.

1. Friendly & helpful staff. This means employees who smile at customers. Sales associates who have a positive demeanor. Employees who possess a genuine interest in other people. Teach your employees to be proactive in helping customers rather than waiting for your customers to take the initiative.

2. Quick resolutions to problems. The majority of retail sales associates seem bound and determined to make excuses for problems instead of correcting them quickly. Customers don't care about your policies, problems, or internal issues. They want their concern or problem fixed--fast and without hassle.

I know this sounds like common sense. However, if you visit your competition I will bet that many of them simply fail to execute. Which means you can stand out from them by making sure that you do.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Make It Easy

The easier you make it for your customer to buy from the more money they will spend in your store. Here's an example:

Last week I decided to buy a new bicycle, and after a botched purchase at a big box store, I visited a store that specializes in selling bikes. A sales person approached us a few moments after we had entered and inquired what we wre looking for.

I gave him a bit of information and he proceeded to show me a bike that met my needs perfectly. He gauged my size and recommended a specific frame size (something I wouldn't have thought of). He then retrieved a bike from the back, took it outside and encouraged me to go for a spin. When I returned, he made a few sugestions for add-on items such a lock, kickstand, bottle cage.

The entire process took less than 15 minutes and he made it easy for me to make a buying decision.

- He knew what bike to suggest because he asked me a few questions.
- He pointed key difference between two bikes I was considering.
- He recommended specific additional high-margin items.
- He removed the risk through his knowledge and actions.

What can you do to make it easier for your customers to buy from you?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Praise of the Heavy Spender

I came across this article in The author, George Stalk Jr., defines the importance of paying attention, and catering to, your top 20-30% of customers.

With virtually every category of retail products a very simple segmentation exists that is potentially much more powerful than any demographic or social-economic scheme being used: the heavy versus the light spender.

If you are a retailer or a supplier of consumer goods 20 to 30 per cent of your consumers are buying 70 to 80 per cent of your goods. This is not an insight. Indeed, this is the old 80-20 rule.

The insight is that the needs of heavy spenders differ from everyone else. These consumers think and behave very differently than light spenders. Heavy spenders have intense needs for product and service selection, a variety of types of information and service, and an emotional engagement with their category.

These consumers are worth focusing on. Yes, they are more expensive to serve, but do the math: Heavy spenders shell out four to 14 times as much in their favoured category than do light spenders. Get this right and big bucks can be made.

Retailers can "manufacture" the shopping experience of heavy spenders. By understanding how people shop and designing a store with that behaviour in mind, retailers can guide shoppers through their store and strongly influence their purchase behaviour, including the desire to return. Heavy spenders want point-of-sale material for performance products, "trial" opportunities for items where look and feel are important, logical product placement and organization of floor space, targeted promotions, etc. Generous return policies to encourage trial and affinity programs are further attractors of heavy spenders.

Consider Home Depot. The motto of most big-box retailers is, "stack 'em high and sell 'em low!" Home Depot was like that at one time. Its kitchen renovations department was the epitome of low costs - a limited selection of goods and minimal on-floor service to keep costs down and inventory-turns up. Then Home Depot realized that 70 to 80 per cent of that department's revenue was coming from 20 to 30 per cent of the department's customers.

That was an "ah-ha" experience for Home Depot executives. They speculated that perhaps the heavy spenders for kitchen renovations might be tempted to spend even more if the store organized the department around meeting their needs.

Heavy spenders want choice - and lots of it. They want information and help in making their purchase decisions. This means more selection and better-trained floor help as well as computer-aided design systems and suites of innovative kitchen layouts arranged in ways that heavy spenders could readily sense what they'd be getting for their money.

Home Depot's bet was that although the department's servicing costs would rise in the heavy-spender model, revenue and gross margin would increase even more. When the retailer experimented with a kitchen renovation department set up to appeal to the heavy spender, it found that revenue and gross margin per square foot were much greater multiples than those of the traditional, low-cost department meant to satisfy all consumers.

Home Depot had the added benefit of having many stores - stores that could serve as test sites to psyche out the needs of heavy spenders and attempt to scratch those itches. Heavy spenders in categories such as window treatments, painting and wall papering, bathroom renovation, basement redecoration and on and on were hypothesized and pursued successfully.

Such customers seek consistency in terms of value for money, quality, service, selection and a good purchase experience. In return, they become brand zealots - eager to spend their dollars and share their "find" with other heavy spenders in the same category. The heavy spender will, when served appropriately, spend more per visit, visit more often and "creep" into adjacent categories.

Further, a virtuous circle can be established, with the high revenue per square foot actually resulting in lower costs for the department, even though it is offering increased service.

Serving the heavy spender represents a huge opportunity to gain competitive advantage. The company that overinvests (by industry standards, anyway) in heavy spenders and makes it expensive for them to switch to a different brand (there are many ways to accomplish this) can increase its share of this group and enjoy a revenue gain significantly greater than that of competitors that average their offerings across spender groups. The company can also increase purchase volumes to the point that its costs go down, relative to its competitors.

The opportunities to serve heavy spenders are everywhere. In my travels I hear people excitedly describe their efforts to build home-security systems, meet the day-to-day needs of aged parents, fawn over pets, decorate gardens and be the best-equipped road warriors to earn the dough to pay for all this.

What about the light spender? Forget 'em! If they don't like it let them go elsewhere. Odds are, though, they are heavy spender "wannabes" and will actually respond positively to the efforts you make to attract and secure the heavy spender.

George Stalk Jr. is senior partner and managing director of The Boston Consulting Group of Canada Ltd. and adjunct professor of strategic management for the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.


Friday, May 11, 2007

The Key to Keeping Customers

This article was recently featured in the Financial Post.

'Show me the service,' Canadian consumers say

OTTAWA - "Show me the service," could be the mantra of Canadian consumers, according to survey results that suggest most feel the best way a company can show its appreciation to its customers is by providing good service.

And consumers in this country are more likely to feel they have received good, even great service, from Canadian companies than they have from companies in other countries, according to the TD poll results released Wednesday.

Three out of four said "just show me good service" was the best way for companies to express appreciation for their business, far outranking any other forms of thanks, including a gift, cited by just 13 per cent, or a donation to charity, picked by only seven per cent.

However, what Canadians mean by good service varies from region to region, with Quebecers most likely to choose "respect" as the most important aspect of service to them, Atlantic Canadians "friendliness, and other Canadians "knowledgeable" service.

The findings confirm some well-established tenets of customer service, the analysis of the survey results said, noting, for example, that more than 80 per cent agreed that one experience can make or break their relationship with a particular brand or company, and that 94 per cent say they have shared both their good and bad customer experiences with friends and family.
Eight in 10 Canadians also claim that those shared experiences have influenced the purchasing habits of others.

The results also suggest that the word-of-mouth method of expressing discontent is used more than formal complaint channels, with just six in 10 saying they have complained in writing to at least one company about bad service.

"Canadians' passion for the topic of customer service is astonishing," said Tim Hockey, TD Canada Trust's group head of personal banking.

Overall, Canadian companies get high marks for providing service.

Just over three-quarters say Canada is the best place for service from any type of company, well ahead of the U.S., which was selected by just eight per cent, and everywhere else with scores of four per cent or less.

However, only 62 per cent said they have received "great service" in the past month, ranging from about 70 per cent in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia to a low of just over 50 per cent in Quebec and Alberta. And 14 per cent of Albertans said it's been more than a year since they experienced great service while 10 per cent of Quebecers said they "never" have.
While Canadian companies may be doing a better job servicing customers than other countries, the results suggest they have to keep trying to do better, Hockey said.

The online "loyalty" poll of 1,000 adult Canadians, conducted last month by Ipsos Reid, is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


Friday, April 20, 2007

One Person CAN Make a Difference

A friend of mine send the following link to me. It's a short video relating to customer service and how one person can make a difference. It's worth watching.

Service From the Heart



Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Industry Trends Worth Considering

A few newspaper articles caught my attention in the past couple of days. These articles give some interesting insights into new trends affecting retail and business.

Trend#1-Bigger is Not Better.
The first was an article that outlined Home Depot's plans to build smaller stores. The plan is to create stores approximately 26,000-45,000 square feet compared to the 105,000 square feet required for a typical store. This certainly means they have to think outside the box and significantly adjust their approach.

This could spell trouble for the small independently-owned hardware store. After all, one of their competitive advantages is their size because it takes much less time to run in and pick up a few home improvement items compared to shopping at a Goliath like Home Depot.

Watch out Home Hardware!

Trend#2-Change Your Approach to Marketing
The second article focused on Proctor & Gamble's marketing ploy of opening a retail store in downtown Toronto. Called LookFab, its primary goals is to promote a variety of new P&G products. The store is divided into three makeover station and will showcase 6 beauty and personal-care lines. Consumers can get treated to a makeover, receive a free skin analysis, get simple beauty tips, and leave with a bag of freebies. What a great way to promote new products!!

A marketing professor stated that this could be much less expensive than creating a national television ad and I have to agree. An ad can cost as much as $500,000 just to create not to mention the expense required to air that advertisement. In all, P&G would likely spend several million dollars if they took they approach. Imagine how far a million dollars could go with their current approach, especially if they opened stores in major metropolitan areas in Canada.

BTW: The store will be open for less than a month.

Trend #3-Taking Care of Business
The bigger a company gets, the press it usually receives. And not all of that coverage is positive. In the last few years, Wal-Mart has had its share of negative press, particularly due to it perceived labour practices.

According to a recent poll, 71% of shoppers said they view the company "favourably" down from the 76% in 2005. Twenty-seven percent of the people polled said their perception of Wal-Mart has become more negative in the past year. And 11% said they shop at the retailer less because of concerns about the company's practices.

I'll be the first to admit that I do not shop at Wal-Mart. However, I do respect many of their business practices such as; just-in-time inventory, ordering systems, and their ability to command (dictate) terms of doing business with them if you are a supplier.

However, in my opinion, they could have done a much better job at managing this situation if they had taken of their less-than-favourable business practices the moment they came to light.

Trend #4-Utilize Technology
In recent years Starbucks has undergone a massive expansion and found, Howard Schultz, has plans to increase this even more. One of the challenges with this anticipated growth is maintaining consistency from store to store. In fact, I have personally seen a rapid decline in the consistency of their coffee drinks. What is a latte in one store seems to be a cappuccino in another, depending on the barista.

A few years ago I was in Manhattan, where, by the way, there seems to a Starbucks on every corner. I actually heard that there were over 1000 Starbuck just in Manhattan!! Anyway, every store had an automated espresso machine and every coffee I had was perfect. Now, the Canadian seem to adopted this approach. Plus, it also seems that their baristas have undergone an intensive training because virtually every coffee drink I have had lately has been consistently made. Technology works when it is ultilized properly AND when people are taught how to use it.

Take a look at these trends and consider how they affect your business. What can you do to improve your competitive advantage?


Friday, April 13, 2007

How Comfortable Are Your Customers?

Most retailers pay a great deal of attention to the merchandising, layout, and design of their stores. However, many fail to consider the comfort level of their customers.

Somethig as simple as temperature can affect a person's decision to buy from you or how long they spend in your store. And, we know that the longer someone spends in your store, the more likely they will increase the amount the spend.

I came across this article and thought you would enjoy it.

The concepts may not be directly applicable to your type of retail store. However, with a little thought and brainstorming, I'm sure you can think of ways to use this information to improve the shopping experience for your customers.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Case of the Shrinking Inventory

Loss or theft of products, commonly known as shrink, is always been a challenge in retail, regardless of what you sell. Here are a few tips that can help you reduce this loss.

First of all, it's important to recognize that there are three source of shrink: Suppliers, Customers, Employees.

Supplier Shrink
Very few ethical suppliers will intentionally short-ship products. However, some of your products may be of value to a less-than-honest driver and if you don't carefully check every delivery against the original order you could be losing money without realizing it. This can be challenging especially during a busy day. However, if your driver knows that you habitually don't check shipments for accuracy, you make it easy for him/her to "misplace" one or two items.

It is also critical to check invoices for accurate pricing. I once dealt with new supplier who "accidently" over-charged me for one particular item. Although the individual unit price was small, the cost in a year would have been significant due to the number of these items we used throughout the year.

Employee Shrink
I recently read that financial loss by employees averages $1350 compared to just $196 by shoplifters. How can you prevent your employees from stealing?

1. Track every shipment that you receive.
2. Conduct cycle counts on your high-cost items.
3. Keep your back door locked.
4. Limit the number of bags an employee can bring into your store. Conduct audits from time-to-time. This last point requires some finesse and employees MUST be told that a periodic search of their belongings is part of their employment contract.
5. Watch for an excessive number of "no-sale" transactions or refunds that do not have a receipt.
6. Read your reports. I once had an assistant manager who voided several transactions at the end of his shift then pocketed the money because he did not have enough money for rent. Fortunately, our POS system had a void report and we reviewed this report daily.

Customer Shrink
The easiest way to prevent shoplifting is to improve your customer service. Research has shown that most shoplifters will NOT steal if they know a store employee or manager is aware of their prescence in the store.

Greet your customers. Make eye contact. Check to see if they need help. Above all, approach them if you think they are behaving in a suspicious manner. If you work in a mall and are not comfortable approaching them for safety reasons, contact security and have them watch the individual's in question.

Lastly, watch the floor. Fact: most shoplifting is done within 6 feet of an employee. I have seen dozens of security video tapes that capture a customer stealing while a store employee is engaged with another customer or is engrossed in paperwork or tasks such as merchandising or talking on the telephone.

The Bottom Line
Most retailers don't understand the financial impact shrink has on their bottom line. If your profit margins are 10% then you need to generate $1000 in sales for every $100 in product that is stolen, lost, or taken from your store.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Heads Up, Eyes Open

I recently traveled to another city to conduct a sales training workshop for a retail client of mine. At the end of the day I ventured into a local restaurant for dinner, and because I was by myself, I chose to sit at the bar. The only other people at the bar were a group of 3 people to my left and a lone female patron to my right. I sat patiently, waiting for one of the 2 bartenders to approach me.

Eventually, one of them made his way to my end of the bar to check on the group of three. He swiveled, walked directly past me, and asked the female customer if she wanted anything else. It wasn’t until I requested service several minutes later that someone approached me.
This isn’t an uncommon scenario in the hospitality business OR in retail.

I have noticed that most people don’t watch what is happening around them. If you work in a retail environment, you need to be aware of what is going on around you. You need to be aware of customers who require assistance, who is ready to pay for their purchase, and potential secruity issues.

Talking to your coworkers, calling a friend on your cell phone, reading a magazine, or dazing off into space prevents you from being aware of your surroundings and what is going on around you.

Improve your service, sales and business. Keep your head up and your eyes open.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Talk To Me

What one thing do most people want to talk about?

If you said "themselves" you are absolutely right. So, what does this have to do with retail?

Well, smart retailers engage their customers in conversation. And not just about products or promotions. And they definitely don't wait until the customer is standing at the sales counter to strike up a conversation.

I certainly won't dispute that this can be a challenge, especially with today's consumers. Many customer's tend to be closed, and perhaps somewhat aloof, when we first approach them. The primary reason is that they don't want to be sold something they don't need or want. And, if they know you or your team work on commission, they may be even more reluctant to talk to you.

Another reason people may be hesitant to talk to you is your initial approach.

Too many front-line retail staff approach people with a greeting similar to "Can I help you?" This old, tired greeting does nothing to elicit any type of response from customers except for something like, "Just look."

Finally, too many retail staff wait for customers to take the initiative and approach them rather than being proactive. I think I wrote about this on a previous blog.

Ultimately, we need to change our approach AND our greeting. And how we view this intial, yet important stage of the sales process.

A comfortable way to engage people in a conversation is to focus on THEM. Strike up a conversation, just like you would a friend (just make sure it's professional!). Talk to them about their children, the weather, sports, local events, world news, etc.

If you can't bear the thought of starting a conversation of this nature, change your approach and focus on helping them by saying, "It's looks like you're having difficulty making a decision" or "I see you're looking at our new..." or "That's a great product." Each of these openings encourages the other person to respond, and because it is different, you will generally receive a genuine, open response. Try works.



Friday, March 16, 2007

Managers Make A Difference

I read this article which reinforces the impact a manager can have on a retail store. If you are experiencing high than usual turnover rates then maybe you need to take a look at your approach (assuming of course you are the manager).

Walking around, carrying a big stick and beating people into submission does not foster a great work environment. If you're serious about improving your business focus on taking care of your staff. This will reduce turnover which usually leads to better customer service, and ultimately, an increase in sales.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Employee Creativity & Brainstorming

I read an article in the Globe & Mail recently that intrigued me. It focuses on tapping into the creativity and ideas of your employees. Take a few minutes and read it because I think it has merit for virtually every type of retailer.

Most retailers don't utilize their employees to their full potential. I'm not talking about task completion but rather, seeking their ideas on how the business can be improved. Many front-line staff haves tremendous insights and ideas that can help improve your business...if you take the time to tap into them. Read this article and think of how you can use the strategies in YOUR business.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Working with a Failing Star

I read the following article in Sales & Marketing Managment magazine and immediately thought of its relevance to retail. Here is the article:

It's a problem you're likely to face at some point in your management career: A talented rep joins the team, only to reveal poor working habits and a bad attitude. Do you fire the rep? Try to change him? Rick Pitino (basketball coach, author, speaker) faced this dilemma with Derrick Caracter, a freshman this year who, talent-wise, was considered one of the top few recruits in the nation. But it was well-known that Caracter had a lazy streak. For that reason, Pitino never pursued him, but when Caracter asked to play for Louisville, the coach accepted him conditionally.

"I pointed out all the consequences of being late to class, and I told him the consequences of not working hard," Pitino says. "I told him what our program was about and he said he was buying into it. He's a terrific young man but the unfortunate thing is old habits are tough to break."

Indeed, Caracter found it hard to change and in late December, Pitino asked him to take a break from the team. "I realized that he was not part of this team, he exuded too much negative energy and not enough positive energy," Pitino says. "I sent him home and said… 'if you want to come back I'm going to make you sign a contract. If you violate it you will immediately be suspended and I'm going to work with you because we're going to try and change you.' " Caracter quickly violated two parts of his contract, the terms of which Pitino keeps private, and Pitino showed him to the bench.

"If he was in the corporate world he would immediately be fired," Pitino says. "But here you're dealing with a young person who you're trying to help in life, so you've got to go as far as you can go." In early February, Caracter still had the opportunity to come back if he met the contract terms, but Pitino says that all depended on the player: "The one thing I explained to Derrick before he broke this contract, is once you break this contract it's not me suspending you. If you violate any of these things that you've agreed to, then you're suspending yourself, it's not me."

Asked if it was worth giving up a talented player in the lineup in order to adhere to principles about effort, Pitino says, "When someone says 'your team really worked hard,' to me that's not a compliment. You're supposed to work hard. If your team doesn't work hard, then you don't have a team. That's your common denominator."

I have encountered many retail managers and owners who ignore substandard performance of a key employee because they are afraid of losing sales or having the employee quit and go to a competitor or because the store is short-staffed. However, ignoring this situation adversely affects your ENTIRE team. It is critical to summon up the courage and deal directly with this person's performance even if it means the consequences will be somewhat painful. Those consequences are usually short-lived while the impact of NOT taking action can be felt for a long period of time.

If you are interested in learning more about motivating emplyees, register for my upcoming tele-seminar, "Secrets to Motivating Your Retail Team" scheduled for June 12th. You can get details here.


Friday, March 02, 2007

The Art of Skillful Qualifying

As a trainer, consultant, and consumer I am constantly under whelmed when sales people approach me in a store. I find they typically use one of a few approaches:

1. They stand and wait for me to ask questions.
2. They launch into a pitch about the product.
3. They attempt to make small talk to try to make me open up.

Each of these approaches is very ineffective and does nothing to help the customer move toward making a buying decision. If you really want to make a difference and demonstrate to your customer why they should buy from you need to take a different approach.

First of all, recognize that if you truly want to separate yourself from your competition you must fully understand their needs before you begin talking about a product. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the retail sales situation. However, that can make it very easy for you to begin differentiating yourself from other retailers. Here’s how you do it:

Ask questions.

- What brings you into our store?
- What reasons do you have for buying a…?
- What were you looking for in a…?
- Tell me about your current situation.
- Who else is involved in this purchase?
- What deadlines are you working with?
- What is most important to you with this purchase?
- Where else have you been?
- What else have you seen?
- What was your experience at…?

Each of these questions gives you the chance to uncover the customer’s buying motives. Every time you learn more about your customer the closer you get to actually closing a sale providing you utilize that information properly.

You’ll notice that the above questions are all open ended which means they require the customer to respond with more than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Open-ended questions serve two purposes;

1. They require the customer to think before responding. This means that you will receive quality information that will help you determine their specific needs and wants.
2. They actively engage the customer. This means that they will begin to feel more comfortable with you because they are actually participating in the buying/selling process.

The critical thing to remember is that virtually everyone in the world loves talking about themselves and the more you encourage the customer to talk about themselves or their situation the more they will begin to trust and open up to you.

The majority of retail sales staff do not appreciate the power of this approach. In my training workshops I frequently hear objections such as:

“This takes too long. I need to spend my time overcoming objections.”
“People get defensive when I ask them all these questions.”
“Customers only care about getting the best price.”

I definitely understand these objections. Effective qualifying does take time. Some people do get defensive. And some customers do care only about getting the best price. However, this approach will garner you different results.

First of all, the time you invest qualifying will be saved in presenting your product and trying to overcome objections. If you fully understand what your customer needs and want you will be able to show them a product/service that meets those needs. This means that they will have fewer objections. I have discovered that the more thoroughly you qualify a customer the less likely they will express objections.

Second, if you create a comfortable environment people will answer any question you ask. But you must give them a reason to do so. They must see that the question(s) you are asking are leading somewhere and are being asked for a specific reason.

Third, you need to determine if the price conscious customer is someone you really want as a client.

Skillful qualifying takes effort, energy and practice. I suggest that you develop a list of open-ended questions that are relevant to your industry and practice utilizing them. The more comfortable you become asking valuable questions the more effective you will be become at uncovering your customer’s needs and wants. In turn, you will demonstrate to them why they should buy from you, today, at your price.

If you need help with this I recommend that you read my book, Stop, Ask & Listen. It lists over 400 questions for virtually every type of retail business.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

When is "late" actually late?

At a recent workshop I conducted for retail managers, I asked how many people had to deal with employees who were consistently late for their shifts. Hands shot up all around the room and I was met with groans and moans.
As we continued the conversation, I was struck by how FEW managers actually did anything about this behaviour when it occurred. Excuses ranged from, "I'm too busy" to "I'm short-staffed so I can't afford to lose them" to "I've got more pressing issues to deal with." Some people also said that being a few minutes late was no big deal, even though they did express their frustration.
My opinion is that late is late. It doesn't matter if it's five minutes or fifty-minutes. If an employee is scheduled for a specific time then he/she is expected to arrive and be on the floor ready to go at that time.
However, how you, the retail owner or manager, handles this makes the difference. If you accept tardiness, people will continue to be late. If you nip it the bud, it will seldom become an issue in your store. This starts with you clarifying your expectations and communicating these expectations to your team.
When I managed restaurants, I made it very clear when an employee was first hired that punctuality was a non-negotiable standard. While I certainly made occassional allowances for extenuating circumstance such as weather or unexpected traffic, everyone who worked in our store knew that lateness was not acceptable. And, employees also knew--some from personal experience--that we would take disciplinary action if they were late. As a result, this was seldom a problem we had to deal with.
Decide now what your policy is for lateness. Communicate it to your team. Lead by example. And take action when employees breach this standard. You will be surprised how quickly tardiness disappears.
**If you manage a chain of stores or have a large store with several managers AND you would like them to learn how to deal with employee performance, contact me at 905-633-7750 or by email and we can discuss a program that addresses your particular situation.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Are You Having Fun Yet?

Have you ever walked into a store and immediately felt a high level of energy in that business? How about tension so thick you could slice through it with a knife? What made the difference?

In most cases, it was the level of the fun the employees were having. Does this mean that they were goofing off and horsing around? Of course not. They were si ply having fun, enjoying what they were doing.

I used to work for a restaurant chain that encouraged its employees and managers to have fun during their shift. This is one of the things that made it different than its competition. However, many years later, everyone acts serious and that extreme energy is no longer is apparent.

We often forget that buying products is stressful for some people. This creates a strong physiological need that must be fulfilled. What to buy, where to buy, and of course, who to buy it from. Consider what your customers experience when they walk through the front door of your store.

- Are they greeted enthusiastically and with a genuine smile?
- Do they encounter employees who love what they do
- Do they deal with Sales Professionals who are passionate about the products they sell?

If you answered "yes" to these questions then you are on the right track. If you answered "no" then you need to consider how you and your team can have more fun at work. Loving what you do and demonstrating this enjoyment will lead to increased sales and success for your store.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Customer Behaviour

My youngest daughter forwarded this link to me and I thought you would enjoy it.

It's a forum called "Customers Suck" and it presents some pretty funny stories about customer behaviour. As a retailer, I'm sure you will be able to relate to some of the scenarios--you may even have experienced some similar situations in your own store.



Thursday, January 25, 2007

Retail Sales Training - What Does Your Store Appearance Say?

I came across an interesting article written by Britt Beemer, founder of America's Research Group, about the impact your store's appearance.

I am consistently finding that consumers are paying less attention to advertising and more attention to store appearance. Our numbers say that the exterior of a store generates 45% of an entire marketing image. This includes the building's appearance, the signage, the landscaping, and the parking area. Consumers form impressions about the quality and selection of merchandise inside the store based on what they see the outside of the store. Some retailers are aware of this, and the outside appearance of their store is carefully thought out. Circuit City the electronics retailer, for example, put a two-story facade on a one story building, making a 26,000 sq ft. building look like 60,000 sq. ft. They found it very effective, and other retailers have followed suit.

Selection is also critical. Consumers have been shopping less since 9/11.They prefer to go to fewer stores and to go to stores where they know they're going to get a great selection. They don't want to have to look further.

One quarter of a consumer's decision to enter a store comes from the four-color circulars in the news paper. Advertisements like these can help or harm your selection image. You need to show a big assortment of merchandise in your advertisements and displays. Showing the same old stock can turn off customers. They’ll think, “Well, that’s all they’ve got.”

Seventy-three percent of the consumers we’ve surveyed believe that all stores within a particular category look alike. This is caused by the demise of good merchandising. By using computers to track stock and sales, retailers are merchandising their stores into sameness. Consumers want a unique shopping experience, and retailers need to under stand the importance of differentiation. One way to do this is to have “showstoppers" that bring customers into the store. These are items that may not sell well but bring in business. An example is a furniture store that sells leather sofas. These are typically a pretty boring product. The storeowner could advertise or display a yellow, lavender, or red sofa and sell twice as many leather sofas. The dramatic colors catch attention, and shoppers will stop in and check them out. Chances are they’ll still leave the store with a beige, green, or brown sofa, but it was the “showstoppers" that got them in. That's where the return on investment comes in.
In my 25 years of market research, I have learned that you don’t market to sell merchandise, you market to sell the store. I advise my clients to go after the “Wow Factor" to differentiate their store from everyone else's. Chico's apparel specialty store has done the best job of this in the last two years. Their stores stand out from the competition in and out of the malls. Their unique product lines, color choices, and displays have made Chico's the hottest retailer for sales growth.

When customers look around your store, do they get the impression that someone takes pride in the store? Is it clean? Is the merchandise well organized and displayed thoughtfully? Are the clothes on the racks in the correct size category? Not only does this show that staff and owners care, but it makes it easier for customers to find what they need. Shopping should not be work. An orderly store helps customers make buying decisions quickly and easily.

One of the first things customers look at is gaps in merchandise displayed. Retailers don't always appreciate consumer's awareness of this. Regular customers will notice gaps the most, and, ironically, this can cause struggling stores to lose their best customers just when they need them most. If you've got ten some negative press about financial troubles, make sure your shelves are stocked to the hilt. Try to take the customer's perspective. Being privy to some one's financial struggles is a bummer.

This is the single biggest weakness of retailers. When retailers think about adding a category of merchandise, they usually look at what the other stores are doing, and they devote the same amount of store space to a product category. To be successful, a retailer should make an effort to be known for some thing. Nordstroms is a good example. They are committed to their shoe department and they are known for that. Nordstroms' shoe department is two or three times bigger than the other stores' that shows their depth of commitment. Customers know they can find a shoe they like there. I advise my clients to continually strive to be a leader in a particular category, especially one that no one else is doing a good job with. Before you add an additional product category, you better make sure you have a big enough selection to make a commitment to it. The display has to convince consumers that this isn’t just a fringe category for you.

Consumers also make judgments about a store based on signage, display racks, and even light fixtures. These tell your customers whether you're a store of today, yesterday, or tomorrow. Has your building looked the same for 30 years, or does your building's d├ęcor tell your customers that you're moving ahead? Are you using the old style fluorescent light fixtures rather than the newer ones that high light the merchandise? Do your displays and signage fit your customers' sense of style??

A consumer is always trying to decide whether you want them to come back or not, and they'll make that decision based on their entire shopping experience. Was it easy to get in and out of the store? Were they able to find items quickly and easily? Were the sale items that were advertised or displayed actually available? This can go a lot further than just being the cheapest guy in town.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Retail Sales Training - You Set The Tone

As an owner or manager, it is critical to remember that you set the tone for your store. Whether you are a franchisee, corporate store manager, or own an independent store, what you do and say reflects on your business. Let me elaborate...

From merchandising, to service, to employee behaviour, YOU influence it all. I can walk into almost type of retail store and within 5 minutes accurately guess what kind of person runs that particular store. Here are two examples:

1. A local store nearby specializes in imported food. All the employees greet customers with a smile and they are exceptionally friendly. Plus, they deliver great service, day after day. Turnover is low--I recognize staff that have been there for 10 years or more--something that is virtually unheard of in retail today. Business is brisk--every day! I can almost guarantee that the management of that store focus on their staff and treat them well.

2. Another store sells pet products. The staff at this store seldom smile or take a proactive approach to help customers. It's not uncommon to hear the cashiers complain to each other about the schedule, hours, etc. No one goes out their way to create a memorable experience. It's not difficul to figure out that this is not the greatest place to work. And in all likelihood, it's because of the manager. I can this because I once spoke to the manager and he was short and abrupt during our conversation.

Too many retailers blame the economy, competition, head office, and sometimes customers, for the lack of business or a decline in sales. However, it is critical to look within and at yourself first.

- Are you treating your staff with dignity and respect? Or, do you demand respect?
- Do you talk to your team? Or do you "tell" them what you want them to do?
- Do you keep your people informed and updated? Or, do you tell them what you "think" they need to know?
- Is your store a fun place to work? Or, is it a place where people show up because they have bills to pay?
- Do you have high standards and expect your team to perform to the best of their ability? Or, do you accept the bare minimum because that's all you think people will deliver?

I once wrote about the daughter of a friend who started working for a independently-owned clothing store. During her first week, the owner loudly criticized my friend's daughter--in front of customers. Needless to say, she quickly found another place to work. I suspect that store owner has a revolving door of staff and that she struggles with her business.

Ultimately, your mentality and approach sets the tone for your success. Are you going to succeed?

As always, I welcome your thought and comments.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Retail Sales Training - How People Shop

Not surprisingly, men and women approach the buying process from two completely different perspectives. During the last several years I have done quite a bit of research on this topic and I recently came across an article that offered another perspective. The article was written by Dr. Karen Wade and here is a brief overview of her thoughts.

Generally speaking, men approach the buying process with three objectives:

1/ Research
2/ Hunting
3/ Purchasing

Men will do some research on the product they intent to buy and usually does not the opinions of very many people. He will create some criteria for his ideal purchase and during his "hunt" he settles for a solution that meets most of his criteria.

Women, on the other hand, differ in their approach. They still have 3 objective but they are different:

1/ Research
2/ Discovery
3/ Purchasing

Women tend to do much more research and talk to many more people than men, especially for high-ticket items. Their "discovery" process pertains to the many emotional apsects of the purchase: defining and expressing a personal and/or family style, trade offs between what she really likes and what will work financially and practically in her life.

You can increase your sales substantially by adapting your sales appraoch to each gender. Generally, men will make a buying decision MUCH more quickly than a women. However, when you focus your attention on helping your female customers make an educated buying decision, you will earn her trust and gain a more loyal customer.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Retail Sales Training - Get Ready for Superbowl

If you work in the electronics business, you can expect sales to be brisk in the next few weeks since Superbowl 41 is just 24 days away. Part of the hype and lead-up to this event are the statistics involved. Here are some numbers to consider:

- Cost of a 30 second ad: $2.4 million plus production and development costs.
- Total game time: 60 minutes; total commercial time: 30 minutes
- Number of viewers: 125+ million
- Guacamole consumed on Superbowl Sunday: 8 million pounds
- Chips consumed: 14,500 tons
- Increase in Antacid sales the day after: 20%

So, what do these stats have to do with retail?

Well, statistics also indicate that sales of big screen TVs increase by five times in the week leading up to this event. Plus, 42% of the viewers are women. If you sell electronics, sports attire or memorabilia you should be thinking how you can maximize your sales during the next couple of weeks. Here are a few tips you can use to improve your sales results when selling to the opposite sex in the next couple of weeks.

Men selling to women:
1. Slow down your pace
2. Invest time and energy getting to know your female customer so they will be interested in continuing the relationship
3. Talk abut her, her business, her interests, her needs and not about yourself
4. Listen carefully to what she says
5. Avoid giving advice unless you are directly asked

Women selling to men:
1. Look, sound and act confident
2. Keep your conversations related to business or the male clients’ interests
3. Spend less time on social conversation
4. Move more quickly through the sales process and get to the point faster
5. Set clear goals to increase your effectiveness

Please recognize that these strategies are general in nature and are not intended to include ALL members of the opposite sex. However, I have learned in my sales interactions and training workshops that these tips are very helpful. Get more information on this topic in my book.

Don't wait for customers to come to you, be assertive and proactive in seeking them out. And don't forget to focus attention on your female customers--remember almost half of the viewers will be women.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Retail Sales Training - Timing is Everything

I was buying a pair of jeans the other day, and surprisingly, received some excellent assistance from one of the sales associates working in the store. I tried on several pairs and finally decided on one particular pair.

I thanked the sales associate for her help and proceeded to the POS to pay for them. As the manager(?) rang up the sale she said, "We have a 60 day exchange policy if you're not satisifed with them." My immediate thought was, "Why is she telling me this?" I had already tried the jeans on and if I wasn't satisifed with them, I would not have bought them.

While I appreciate the fact that the store has a liberal exchange policy, her timing was way off. It would have been much better for the sales associate to say this while I was trying the jeans on, not after I had already made my decision. Or better yet, advise me of this poilicy if I had demonstrated some hesitation or concern about buying the jeans.

Remember, you don't need to tell every customer about your policies. If you do tell them, make sure the timing is right.