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.