Death of Retail? Not quite.

We tend to go to the local restaurants and specialty retailers. Not out of any specific “buy local” purpose or bucking the behemoth retailers. After all, the big stores employ local people as well and some are truly excellent.

The reason we usually go local is the quality of product and service suits our needs just fine. From delectable chocolates from Morden’s (oh so good), to a fresh turkey from Public Meats and garlic sausage from Metro Meats (the Ringleader!) to fresh roasted coffee from Black Pearl (a new local fave) to baked goods from_______. Every store is exceptional except the last category. And I am not going to name names.

Why not name them? Because everything was outstanding except the one item that we pre-ordered that wasn’t packed for us. And no effort made to offset our missing item. And we will order again unless I find a comparable bakery for these specialty products. If I do? Adios _______!!!

And this is how local retailers can lose the fight against online and chain stores. Their benefit has been quality and service over the years. The moment one of these factors is absent I am obliged to look elsewhere. I am not forced to look elsewhere, but you are pushing me with your lack of caring.

A good friend was looking for a new cover for his hot tub. HE checked with his Winnipeg supplier and was given a hefty price. When he checked online, from a Canadian supplier, there was a substantial price difference. When he went back to his local company they said “nope” to any type of price adjustment. My friend wasn’t even looking for a  price match. But when the cost is upwards of 30% different, with no attempt by the local co to talk about the advantages of buying local (service, return, convenience, etc) my chum bought online.

The decisions that front line people make, or are allowed to make, can have all the impact on the overall customer experience and the propensity for a customer to buy local. It isn’t always about cost. Even though social media experts tell companies to have an offer ready; read discount.

I haven’t seen the numbers yet, but it sure seems like certain categories are still strongly in the buy in-store success. Some products are simply cheaper to buy online, or are they? One must capture the shipping costs and return policy to evaluate the overall customer experience.

We bought nothing online this year – everything was in store. Except a new laptop for out youngest that was ordered online and reviewed and picked up in store.

Every store we visited on different days and at different times was busy. I don’t claim to know what might have been ordered for pickup, but there were lots of bags leaving the stores. I know people researched price and availability ahead of time (why wouldn’t you) but the purchases were in store.

The local retailers know that they can sell online and some do well. But the bulk of the sales are still in person.

How do I know? I asked them.

And this is a special tip for everyone – when in doubt talk to your customer. Preferably when they are in the store. Chances are you can keep them coming back.

And one more tip. To avoid a death spiral for your store, please make sure that you get customer’s orders correct. In those rare occurrences when a mistake is made please empower your staff to “make it right” when you hand the bag of baked goodness to the customer.

“Sorry” doesn’t cut it anymore when there are other options.

Play to your strengths and you can keep your customers locked in to you for years to come.

Merry Christmas

There are special times each year where we make that extra effort to be kind, help others that are struggling through no fault of their own, and to just plain be nice. The Christmas and New Year season is definitely high on my list.

I am still “old school”, with my greeting because as a person of faith I believe that the birth of Jesus Christ is important to recognize.

You may choose not to support the story. And that is fine. You are entitled to your opinion and so am I. Neother opinion is wrong. It is the civility that frames our interaction and discussion that is very important.

I wish my Jewish friends a Happy Hannukkah” as they celebrate this important part of their religious calendar. I’m not Jewish and that doesn’t stop me from sharing this greeting and support.

As a company you are often pressured to say things that have become the politically correct norm. Your organziation values will help you decide where you want to take a stand and where you want to roll with it.

Have you apoken with employees and customers to try and undertand what is important ot them? We make donations to Christmas Cheer Boards. We do Christmas shopping. Retailers have Christmas sales. But we, sadly, often struggle with saying Merry Christmas.

Most people get Christmas as a statutory holiday even if they don’t believe. And that is fine.

I think you can say Merry Christmas as a greeting of friendship and joy for this festive season. People will have their own reasons to celebrate. Some may choose to do it for their own religious reasons. Others just to be friendly.

I am not fussed, saddened a bit for sure, at the removal of Christmas from greetings and school concerts. I don’t see this as forcing religion, it is a tradition of joy. I grew up with Christmas concerts and there were a lot of families that didn’t attend Church. No one seemed to mind way back when…

Be kind. Be helpful. Be courteous. Be respnsible. Be respectful. Be tolerant. Be supportive.

For your family, friends, customers, competitors and even politicians that you don’t like.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May 2018 be a year of prosperity, good health and opportunities for you to achieve your goals.

Social Media Distr…Squirrel!

We all know we receive too many messages each day. I have posted before about 2,000+ messages per day and some researchers (Yankelovich) suggest 5,000 per day. Adding to this mix is the constant barrage of notifications sent by various social media platforms.

What does this mean and what should you do?

I had only been a, somewhat, regular user of LinkedIn. As I launched my management consultancy it seemed that I should be “online” so people could find me.  It took 5 years before a legitimate business opportunity came through LinkedIn. Well, the diehard supporters would say I didn’t do enough and that would be a fair comment. I didn’t post or send links to articles or anything proactive. I didn’t believe I had to.

But that changed this year when I finally created a Facebook account (or as the Ad Contrarian calls it “Farcebook”) so that I could participate in a couple of mastermind groups. These were invite only groups with a very specific focus and guideline. And I have received terrific value.

In one case, Anthony Iannarino who is the author of a book, “The Lost Art Of Closing”, has invested one hour each Saturday morning for almost three months to host a live zoom session for people who bought the book and submitted the receipt. What a wonderful benefit.

It isn’t the platform that is the success. It is the content of the book (I highly recommend it) and the unique value provided with the sessions that allow participants to ask questions of Anthony and the other guests. A wonderful collaborative tool.

In another case I was one of many people blessed with the chance to review a book being developed by Tim Miles and Ryan Patrick, “Brand Your Own Business”. A fantastic roadmap for any person trying to improve their company’s performance the right way – a process and hard work. I highly recommend this book as well.

We were invited into a private Facebook group, provided with material to read and provide comments back. We could share comments with the other contributors. It was very fulfilling and exciting when the book was launched.

Again, it wasn’t Facebook that made this work. Facebook was the platform. The content, idea sharing and editing suggestions helped fine tune the core and detail that the authors had already created.

One thing I learned from these was that notifications need to be managed. Being a newbie I didn’t select the right settings. I was bombarded with updates and notifications. I have corrected the settings.

This was the distraction I had heard about and it crystallized for me how people can become social media zombies. If you are not disciplined in how often and what time of day you check your social media sites and feeds, you could literally be hypnotized by the volume of activity and corollary opportunities to see other things beyond your original purpose. Friend requests, posts by other friends (I only have 2 plus being in 4 groups) are only two examples of what can cause you to be distra…squirrel!

Discipline is required. Just as for a company that is using these social tools. Are you a distraction or adding value? Do your posts help or are they patting yourself on the back. Do you really know who is reading (you need to use tools to analyze the success of your investment) and sharing? What are the trends? Do people become customers or are they just posting links to cat videos?

In a post on Business Insider yesterday, the following points were made:

  • Facebook acknowledged on Friday that too much social media can be bad for you
  • “Is spending time on social media bad for us?” In it, the social networking firm cites academic research indicating that in certain instances using Facebook can have a negative effect on people’s moods, and that heavier users of the site can have worse mental health.

You can read the entire article here that includes quotes from the previous President that says “…accusing it of exploiting human “vulnerability” and remarking: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.””

Like my Father used to say “everything in moderation”. I believe he was correct before social media was the rage.

So, are you being a good corporate citizen or a distraction that might be causing harm? You don’t need to save the world, but you should be responsible.

And as users, you need to exercise sound judgment and recognize that you are in control of your actions and can determine if you let these social tools own you or if you can use them with discretion.

And please, talk to real people. As a business there is nothing as frustrating as your staff on their phones when they should be serving customers. It is your responsibility to set the standards and enforce the policies. That is, if you want to stay in business. Nick,  a great friend that owns a successful restaurant set the policy that no phones when you are on shift. Phones in your locker. Not that hard to do. At least one person found out he wasn’t kidding. Customers are a great source of reality to a business owner.

Don’t be distracted. Focus is key for your marketing efforts, no matter the tool used, and to be a responsible human being.

Planning? We don’t need no stinking planning!

If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.

I heard this axiom back in my B Comm days at the U of M. It has been applied to business and personal life. I am not going to discuss your personal fitness or diet plan. Today I will focus on a company business or annual operating plan. We can save the other topics for a later date…like New Year’s Resolutions and why they don’t work for most people.

If you only plan once per year and don’t really track progress until your next planning cycle in 365 days this is the same as buying a gym membership January 1 and cancelling by the second week of February.

Not enough organizations, specifically the leaders in the organization, are committed to building a realistic (yes this means stretch) annual plan and then managing and measuring on a consistent basis. Depending on your business you may need to dedicate specific evaluation time monthly or at a minimum each quarter. Anything less frequent than this typically leads to an inability to take advantage of opportunities or address a situation with a specific mitigation plan to stem the losses.

I read a post this week where a senior advisor was speaking to a Fortune 500 CEO who indicated that 80% of organizations do not properly plan for the upcoming year. PArt of the reality is that many senior leaders are scared about what they might find or how much they don’t know.

So, how do we make a plan? Scribble a few thoughts on the back of a napkin? Bring in someone to lead us in a couple of days of SWOT, blue sky, name your colour and know  me better stuff?

While there is a time and place for these tools you should begin your plan at, well, the beginning. Understand your company and its values first and then seek to understand as much as you can about your customers. Combining these components can tell you if there is a synchronization between what you are doing and what your customers want you to do.

You will be able to dive into profitability of your customers, gain insights and suggestions from your staff (front line and not just the leadership team).

Now you should follow a structured approach, that at a high level, looks like this:

  • What were the major activities that you undertook in the previous year and how successful were they. Be mindful of how you allocate success factors. This needs to be objective so you don’t think the activities were better than they actually were.
  • How are you perceived by your customers? Talk to them and talk to your staff that talk to your customers. Again, objectivity is critically important. While online survey tools seem easy and cost-effective, if you do not use the right questions you will not get the reality that you seek. Use a market research firm.
  • Does your mission, vision and values resonate with staff? Do they truly know how their actions contribute to the positioning you have in mind for your company?
  • What do you want to achieve in the next year? What resources are required. Be mindful of allocating the right investment for the results you seek. If not enough time and money and staff are required then you run the risk of not achieving your targets.
  • Check in regularly. No plan can be left on its own with no assessment with a guarantee of success. Since we cannot predict the future we must plan for the changes, ups and downs that can occur, When we know the factors that can affect performance then we can be prepared to adapt if the assumptions change.

That’s it in a nutshell. Sounds easy but it is hard work and requires vigilance on an ongoing basis.

You might want to bring in a facilitator or certified management consultant to help ensure you are being objective and looking across your company, industry and market.

You can pay me now or pay me later when we are scrambling to create a plan to react to a major impact that we didn’t plan for.


Let me tell you a story…

There has been a lot of advice about the need to tell stories about your company, product or service. I mean, we all like a good story, so this advice sounds fantastic!

Or does it?

I see too many companies telling stories that do not seem real or even plausible. Sometimes they are forced and trying to fit in with the “cause celebre”. This can be particularly risky. I am not talking about risky as in some people might not like it. I mean risky in the sense of it may be damaging to you or your company.

If you think back to some great advertising – VW ads (best campaign of all time according to AdAge), ads for The Economist (well written and red), work by famous ad men such as Bernbach and Ogilvy, the common theme is that they treated their product/service as something real. They made no outlandish claims. They simply stated a feature or benefit and often it came across as an interesting story about the claims being made.

Grounded in realism they made practical sense and were very relatable.

I am not going to dissect the creation of these ads and other great ones over time. I am going to reiterate the importance of telling a real story. Somethig that people can understand. Something that people can agree is reasonable.

Your product or service might not be what any reader/viewer/listener needs at the moment they are exposed to your story. But if it is real they will not dismiss it. And they will consider you in a positive way.

I am not suggesting that you write ads or tell stories that are not going to offend anyone (within reason and certainly not in a discriminatory way). As Roy Williams, The Wizard of Ads states “the risk of insult is the price of clarity”. He means that not everyone will agree with you or want you. But there is no denying that the claim being made is real. The story resonates even more strongly with people because of its reality.

If you cannot sell a believable story to your employees, what in the world do you think potential customers will think of your story? Maybe listening to your employees will help you craft the success stories that you need to tell.

Maybe you should really be listening to your customers and telling the story about them, and not blowing your own horn.

So, what are your stories? Do your employees know what is real? Do they believe what is being said? Do your customers believe these stories?

If you are not checking the “yes” box to these questions I am pretty certain it will not be a happy ending to the fairytale you are telling.