Starting a Business

Kid's lemonade stand is a classic business.
The perfect business. Photo credit “The Citrus Report.”

Anyone can start a retail business.  Two words . . . Lemonade Stand!  Am I right?  All retail business is pretty simple, it’s exactly like your childhood project, just scaled up.  Open up for business with a popular product, in a location with some traffic and charge a fair price, badda-bing-badda-boom.  Let’s analyse a bit, let’s see, rent – zero, wages – zero, input costs – zero, advertising costs – zero, taxes – zero, profit margin – woohoo!!!

Wayne Huizenga made several fortunes consolidating businesses.  He first did it in garbage building Waste Management inc., he then did it in video rental building Blockbuster and then did it with Auto Nation.  Let’s take Huizenga’s template and consolidate the lemonade stand business . . . then we’ll do an IPO and be rich.

Lessons from Pike Place Fish Market

The famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

The Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, WA is famous for WOWing people.  This is the fish market that is famous for throwing fish.  It’s a little bit of theatre and a must do on most Seattle visitors’ itineraries.  This is a company worth emulating and it is easy to learn from John Yokoyama’s great company.  He and long time business coach Jim Bergquist have created a business training division.  There is a training video and a book both called simply “Fish.”  The two men also speak to businesses large and small and at industry conferences.

There are four simple lessons:  1. Play, have fun in your job, it makes a difference for you and for those around you.  2. Be There, be present, be engaged.  3. Choose Your Attitude, you choose what your mood will be, it’s no one’s responsibility but yours.  4. Make Their Day, staff at the fish market entertain and engage the customers.  They take them behind the counter and have them try to catch a fish.  It’s an experience, and many a visitor walks away having had a fishmonger make their day.

Google, Pike Place Fish Market images.  People catching flying fish, kissing fish, and smiling.  Do you have those kinds of smiles in your business?  What can you do this week that will make a difference?

Did You Miss an Opportunity to WOW

I will start with what I consider a missed opportunity.  A young woman, let’s call her Stephanie, has drawn a name for a company gift exchange.  The individual she draws if British so Stephanie decides to put together a gift basket and include some English tea.  She goes to a shop for the tea, and after she gets it home she notices the best-before-date is less than a month away.  She returns to the shop and all of the similar packages have the same date stamp.  There is a smaller size of the same tea that has a much longer expiry.  Stephanie decides to accept the smaller size in exchange even though she has paid for the larger size.  The shop keeper agrees and Stephanie leaves.

When Stephanie returned for the exchange the shop keeper was busy and even though she was the only customer in the store she was left to her own devices.   What the shop keeper could have done was engage Stephanie and find out what she needed the tea for.  The shop keeper could have offered her two of the smaller sizes in exchange.  Although this comes to a little more than Stephanie had previous paid it’s an investment in good will.  The shop keeper could have suggested it was in consideration for her trouble, and perhaps she would like to try some of the tea for herself.  And in learning that Stephanie was giving a gift to an English co-worker could have suggested she put in a good word on behalf of the store.

In a previous post I talked about “Moments of Truth” which is borrowed from Jan Carlzon who wrote a book by the same name.  Moments of truth refers to those times when a customer comes in contact with your business.  It’s their experience during the interaction that defines your business for that person.  One of my mentors, Roy Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads series refers to “Personal Experience Factor.”  This PEF is a key element in the success of the businesses he chooses to work with.

Consider that there are four levels for each experience.  Is it a poor experience?  Is it an average experience; what the customer was expecting to happened is pretty much what did happen?  That’s not bad, but this becomes a baseline.  When you deliver below that level customers are disappointed.  Third, was it a good experience, and lastly did you WOW them.

Aiming for WOW is challenging but if you aim and miss you end up at good.  If you aim for average you never WOW anyone and when you miss you disappoint.  In 1994 Tom Peters released his book “The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person’s Guide to Topsy Turvy Times.”  These are once again topsy turvey times, perhaps it’s a good time to study WOW.

Let’s face it, even when you aim for WOW, you end up with situations where the customer is disappointed.  Interestingly, one of very best times to WOW a customer is after they’ve had a bad experience dealing with your company.  How you respond to a complaint can be more important than what you did in the first place.  This is especially true in today’s retail environment with all of the online opinion sites.  The better sites allow the business to respond to a complaint.  Most people are pretty reasonable and if they see a business has 4 or 5 good to great reviews and one bad review but the business made an effort to correct the situation they are fine and will consider the business a good choice.

Some business owners try to minimize or even dismiss a complaint.  I’ve seen many many cases where the business owner is in denial.  You cannot determine how trivial or important this is to the customer.  Let them tell you the problem but also how they feel.  Then ask them what they would like to make this right.  If you are the type of person that has no time for this “feelings cr-p” find someone else in the company that is a calm, good listener.  It can be a very simple gesture.

Lessons From the Car Lot

Carl Sewell, author of "Customers for Life"

One of my top ten favorite business books is “Customers for Life” by Dallas car dealer Carl Sewell.  He’s one of the business owners I respect because he understand Retail DNA.  I will refer to this book from time to time to discuss lessons for all of us in retail.  For today’s post I will just share two ideas from Sewell.

The first comes directly from the title of the book.  The subtitle is “How to Turn That One-Time Buyer Into a Lifetime Customer.”  Sewell calculates what a typical customer spends with his dealership over their lifetime.  Without digging up my copy of his book, the number is approximately $330,000.  The specific number is perhaps not important as the book was originally published in 1990 and the numbers are going to be different for your business.  The point here is, when Sewell is dealing with a customer complaint, he judges what they are prepared to do. not by how much they just spent but how much they will spend over their entire lifetime as his customer.

The second concept is very simple but has a profound impact on what the dealership will do for a customer.  Sewell says, whatever you would do for your best friend, you should do for your customer because in retail your customer is you best friend.  For example, he says if your best friend would phone you in the middle of the night because they broke their key off in the door lock, then his customers can call him.  Well, not him directly, his dealership has its own service truck on the road 24 hours a day.

 

Do you love your customers enough to go to these lengths?  What one thing can you implement in the next 30 days to start turning one-time buyers into lifetime customers?

A Brilliant Lesson from Bev

In the past I had a client that had what I think is a brilliant philosophy about her business.  First let me tell you a bit about Bev.  She told me she started selling teas and coffees at flea markets.  In time she and her family grew the company to have two locations in her market place selling top quality kitchen accessories.  The store name was created from two first names combined.  I generally not a fan of this type of business name, but in some cases it works and that is true of Bev’s stores.  The particular combination ended up with a Scandinavian sound which worked well in this category.

Bev was innovative.  She and her team created a competition which involved creating “tablescape.”  The artistic community embraced it and each year during the competition the store was full of amazing artistic creations of table settings.  When this type of thing comes together you can attract media coverage.

Bev was one of the people with genuine Retail DNA.  The brilliant lesson I learned from Bev?  When she was looking at a decision she had to make, she would just make the decision that she felt was right.  She would try different things, sometimes they were the high-risk-high-reward types of decisions.  Her philosophy was that she didn’t have a university degree in retail.  Every experiment that failed was just an investment in her retail education.

We can all learn from Bev.  Many times in retail you have to make decisions that involve some risk.  I’m not suggesting foolish risks but if your gut tells you that it’s a good idea take a chance.  If it fails, well it’s all part of your retail MBA in the school of hard knocks.

Lessons From Sam Walton

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart

This is the first in a series of posts on what I like to refer to as Retail DNA.  This is a new category and something I will write on from time to time.  Some owners of retail businesses seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to running their business. They approach things differently.  They don’t need to be told, they figure these things out on their own.  It’s like it’s part of their DNA.  The good news is, the rest of us can learn from them.  We are going to look at a few of my favorites, I hope you enjoy the ride and let me know what you think.

Now this different approach applies to the way they treat both their staff and their customers. If you read Sam Walton’s autobiography “Sam Walton: Made in America” you will learn from one of history’s greatest retailers. I read the book many years ago and there are lessons that are part of the fundamentals I use when working with a retail client.

First, let me say that this post is not intended to be part of any discussion about how Wal-Mart is perceived today in terms of their treatment of employees.  I am aware there are opinions on both sides but this is not something I have studied and therefore am not qualified to weigh in.  This post is meant to share some thoughts and ideas that you can apply to your own retail business.

Now back to my example. Many business owners keep information from their front line staff. The fear is that the information might be misused or competitors might learn this inside information. Sam Walton respected his front line staff. They weren’t clerks they were associates and he shared information. My daughter early in her working life worked in a Walmart store. She wasn’t “part-time” she was a “prime-time” employee.  On her first day on the job was told exactly what that stores sales were the previous day. Sam felt there was value in sharing the information with everyone as it made them feel an important part of the success of the store. This benefit far outweighed any possible damage that might occur from people outside the company gaining access to the information.

Make your employees feel that they are important to your success.  Share information with them and give them an opportunity to show you what they are capable of.

Zagging

It is important in business to know what your competition is doing and anticipate how it might affect your business. A key strategy is to Zag when everyone else is Zigging.
Here is one of my favorite examples. In clothing retail, most businesses concentrate on their change rooms as a vulnerable point with respect to theft. To minimize theft they develop a strategy around this area. the rooms are small and uncomfortable which discourages people from spending time. They also impose rules that dictate the number of garments that a person is allowed to take into the change room.
Donald Cooper, founder of Toronto area clothing retailer, Alive and Well saw this in an entirely different way. He reasoned that the people that steal from you will find a way. The conventional approach inconvenienced the 95% per cent of customers that are honest to protect against the few that are dishonest. He designed change rooms that were spacious, and there was no limit to the number of garments a customer took in to try on.  Cooper is an example of someone who has what I call Retail DNA.
Look at your industry and identify one or two areas where everyone is Zigging. How can you Zag? Don’t Zag for the sake of Zagging, make it in an area that has meaning for your customers. Happy Zagging.