Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

Price of Friendship

September 26, 2014

Over the years, I have been approached by family and friends to loan money.  Being generous in nature, I usually have made the loan.  Typically there was a signed legal document. In rare circumstances, I relied solely on the personal integrity of the borrower.  To date, not a single one of those people has ever repaid the loan made.  

Most recently, and the prompt of this post, is the story of J’Amy Owens.  If you Google her name, you will find countless hits noting her as a “retail guru”, a “Diva of Retail” and currently a “Meat Activist” and the CEO of a publicly traded company, Bill the Butcher.  She once graced the cover of Inc. Magazine under the headline “Sales Guru to the Stars”.  Even such illustrious credentials does not preclude one from being a deadbeat.

With the same Google search you will also find numerous mentions of her name in association with lawsuits between business partners, former business partners and former spouses.  There is even a lengthy report on RipoffReport from a retail consulting customer who describes being “ripped off” by J’Amy Owens.

The fact that past and ongoing relationships with J’Amy Owens seem to result in some sort of legal action being taken against her should have been a warning to me.  However, my relationship and loan to J’Amy predates her string of legal troubles.  In fact, it was at the start of these many legal battles that she called me pleading for a loan to pay her attorneys.  I viewed her as both a friend and someone who has always managed to earn a good living and therefore likely to be able to repay the debt.  So I foolishly wrote 2 checks, each in the amount of $25,000 to her law firm for her benefit.

To be fair, she did repay a total of $10,000 of the $50,000 loaned.  She has never failed to acknowledge the debt, in fact, I have dozens of effusive emails with expressions of gratitude and indebtedness such as these:

Everyone got paid (783k!) before you, my gracious highness of patience.

I want you to make money on this loan, and not feel bad, so please do NOT think I am going to do anyrhing but pay you WHATEVER YOU WANT.”

“I am seriously past due with you on all accounts and would like to meet over a bottle of something wonderful (my treat) and give you an update.

Your investment (loan of grace and mercy) is ridiculously embarrassingly- in- the- rears at this point but you should know that even though it is diliquent, it is NOT something needing writng off…….as I am occassionally pitiful but NOT a diliquent.”

Yes, she lives in a lovely apartment according to this Jolkona article.  Yes, she is proudly the CEO of a publicly traded company, Bill the Butcher, as you can see in this YouTube video– yet despite these emails and many more in the same vein, she still owes me $40,000 plus reasonable interest totally about $66,000.  When I actively began contacting her to set up a repayment plan, her silence has been deafening.  Emails ignored.  Facebook messages ignored.  LinkedIn message ignored.  Phone calls to her cell phone ignored.  Snail mail letter ignored.  Letter hand delivered via a process server from my attorney also ignored.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy reason for sharing this is to serve as a warning to others – NEVER loan money to family or friends.  You are not doing them a favor, no matter how much it seems true in the immediate.  No matter how grateful they seem at the time, repaying a debt is never a high priority and from my experience – it doesn’t happen.  Even if you have a signed, legal agreement; do you want to be in the position of suing a loved one?  Even a good job and a so called ethical reputation are no guarantee of repayment.  If you feel moved to “loan” money to those you love and value, consider it a gift.  Make it clear up front that it is a gift and never mention it again.  That’s the only hope of preserving a relationship.

As for me, I’ve learned all too well the high price of friendship. 

Marketing Legend

November 13, 2013

Last week the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Marketing Association paid me the honor of naming me “Marketing Legend”.  From the podium I said what I’d like to repeat here to a much wider audience.


I felt awkward receiving such an award for a couple of reasons.  The first is that I was just an entrepreneur doing what I needed to do to build and grow a successful business.  Never did I expect to one day be known as a “Legend”.

The second reason is the most important.  I didn’t come to earn this recognition alone.  A number of very talented, creative people deserve to have their names on the trophy.  In fact, the trophy couldn’t be big enough to hold all the names.

While I did not attempt to name them all that evening and I know this list will be woefully incomplete there are a few creative geniuses that deserve a public shout out.


Jim Bright (left) Sunny Kobe Cook (center) John Murphy (right)

The first is my longtime friend, Jim Bright who was responsible for our iconic tag line” Why buy a mattress anywhere else?”.

Next is undoubtedly Dan Voetmann of Destination Marketing.  He helped steered my business to “Legend” status.  He also accurately noted that together we set a new standard for my industry as evidenced by the imitations that can be found in countless other markets in North America.

There were production geniuses too.  People like Michael Kostov, Glenn Lorbecki of Glenn Sound, Dave Raynor and dozens of others.

Our representatives from the various media outlets such as Kerin Brasch , Catherine McConnell and Phil Mark all helped spread the message and make my name well known in our market.


I want to publicly thank everyone who helped create “the legend”.  The true honor is not in the award, but in the privilege of working with each of you.

Social Media Marketing

August 14, 2013

Everyone says “Use social media for marketing.”  Most business people ask “How?”.  Here’s a great “case study” to help you see both the power of social media marketing AND how to tap into it.

My friend, Anthony is known as “Sunshine” at the 6th & Union Starbucks in downtown Seattle where he is a regular.   He was delighted to stop in one morning in June and see he was the “customer of the week”.  He took a picture of the chalkboard and posted it on Facebook.

Sunshine Starbucks 2

Most recently, he posted a photo and a thank you shout out to Sarah at the same Starbucks for the custom drink carrier she had made for him.  Of course that was proudly shown around his office – the largest hotel in downtown Seattle!   No one at the Starbucks knew that though.  Nor did they know it would make the rounds on Facebook and be featured in my business blog.

Custom Drink Carrier

Did I mention that “Sunshine” has over 600 Facebook friends?  When you start doing the math exponentially of all the friends friends, well, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that some mega word-of-mouth advertising.

So how do YOU tap into this sort of social media promotion for your business?  First, you have to WOW the customer.   Making a personalized drink carrier certainly qualifies.  But so does giving recognition to regular customers in the form of the “Customer of the Week” chalkboard.  Such a tool encourages team members to get to know customers well enough to feature them.  Any time you can make a customer feel “special” they will tell their friends.  In today’s world, that usually includes social media.

I don’t expect that all my readers will be able to cut and paste this case study instantly into their businesses.  My goal in sharing it though is to get you thinking about ways you can WOW your customers and encourage natural social media sharing.  

New HaircutCan you take pictures of customers in their new cars,  post them on your dealership’s Facebook business page and send them the link to share?  What about in front of the new home you just sold them?  The garden you just planted at their home?  The new haircut you just gave them?

Are you getting some ideas?  Great!  Now get busy creating some buzz!

The Keyboard is Mightier Than the Sword!

July 17, 2013

Dr.JulieToday’s guest post is by author and speaker, Dr. Julie Miller.  Learn more about Dr. Miller at the end of the post.

How many emails leave your employees’ mailboxes on a daily basis? The average per day stands at 71.51 (Source: Do the math. Multiply that number by the number of people you employ. The total should give you pause, as each email has the potential to build or to implode your business.

Now, no one is asking you to inspect each and every message leaving your employees’ inbox. Naturally, you expect everyone in your employ to use common sense and courtesy when communicating with the public, whether they are customers or colleagues. Or do they? Consider these real life stories.

Damaged: A Fortune 1000 company fatally damaged its relationship with a significant Japanese firm based on an email from the accounting department. In response to a query, the company’s account representative answered with a two-word lower case message. The result? The Asian company went elsewhere for its purchases. How many emails leave without your review?
Resolution: Do a communication audit. Just think—what if you really ticked off a client and he or she forwarded back to you all your sent emails? Take a random sampling of employees’ emails and see what it reveals. From there, begin a dialogue, offer training and develop some parameters around acceptable messaging.

Fired: “I am a very busy person. I’m just too slammed to follow any writing rules,” said the Human Resource director of an international consulting firm. She continued, “I just let it rip – no punctuation, spelling or capitalization – those rules are for amateurs.” The result? Fired. Why? Disrespect for her colleagues and a truculent attitude. Obviously, she does not play well with others. Can you just imagine how she treated the firm’s clients? How many emails leave without your review?

eMailResolution: Craft an email style guide as email now extends your company’s brand. First, facilitate a discussion among your teams about how they will treat clients and peers through the written word. Topics might include greetings and closings, signature block content, time allowed before returning email messages. Then, determine what the standards you can all agree to regarding writing style and tone. This guide will reflect your expectations around the care and treatment of all.

Sued: An employee sued her employer, a large national bank. Her suit was for sexual harassment, racism and damaged reputation. The back-story: An employee emailed her instead of a male colleague and invited her to attend a strip club with all the trimmings—graphically described in the email. The result? She was awarded one million dollars. How many emails leave without your review?

Resolution: Decide what will never be put in an email. Everyone in your organization must follow this to the letter. Some companies have been burned. A mid-West construction company of the very wealthy prohibits any customer problem from being sent via the airwaves. The rule? Walk down the hall. Pick up the phone. Do not put it in writing.

These stories should drive home the point that managing your risk is paramount. With email now the single most important communication vehicle today, you must mitigate the damage of destructive messages that destroy careers, opportunities and reputations.

Call centerA call center decided to do just that. They chose ten employees to monitor. Because their software program could actually see what they were doing and writing between calls—eight of the ten were fired. Why? For writing inappropriate emails, downloading porn and participating in online gambling. This occurred even though they had received warnings, possessed a HR notebook with the policies, and attended training.

An old saying goes like this: inspect what is expected. Do you know what your employees are writing? Do you know how much money you are losing each year by ineffective, inappropriate or illegal messages?

Follow these four steps for cleaning up your communication:

  1. Assess the current state of affairs in regards to writing.
  2. Audit selective missives to determine tone, style, content.
  3. Develop an action plan for improving the above through training and coaching.
  4. Publish a style guide along with an email protocol.

Writing remains the costliest of all workplace activities. What is it worth to you to get right?

About the Author

Dr. Julie Miller, founder of Business Writing That Counts!, is a national consultant and trainer who helps professionals reduce their writing time and produce powerful documents. She and her team of certified trainers work with executives who want to hone their writing skills and professionals who want to advance their careers.  Learn more about Dr. Julie Miller.

Help for Yelp

June 19, 2013

MatthewToday’s guest post is by Matthew Mikulsky.  He can be reached at or on Facebook using this link.  Thanks Matt for your great advice on a very important topic for ALL business people!

YelpLogo1On online review forums like Yelp, one bad review can taint overwhelmingly positive customer feedback. So it’s important to learn what, if anything, can be done to manage your online reviews and build goodwill among current and prospective clients. Here are some tips:

Open an account.
Before you begin responding to customers, you must first open a Yelp account of your own. Yelp requires business account users to upload a photo before messaging customers to make the experience more personal. Fill in as much as you can about your business but take care to not use the forum as a way to promote special offers or improve your search engine ranking with key words. If Yelp comes across either of these no-nos, they will remove your listing.

A great way to showcase your company is to upload a short video about your business. Yelp frowns on any negative imagery, so keep it short, clever and family-friendly. Also-don’t use it to advertise an incentive or to solicit reviews.

Reply all.
It’s important for businesses to respond to each and every post-good and bad. No response means that no one is listening and that’s not the impression you want to give.

Inhale. Exhale. (Repeat as needed.) Reply.
Responding to a negative review can be tough. Take a deep breath and let the user know that you thank him or her for the feedback and will look into the matter. Asking for another chance never hurts. Responding publicly allows other users to see you care. If you believe the feedback is false, you can always contact the user in a private message first. But always remember to stay positive.

Reward good, not bad, behavior (or reviews).
Avoid rewarding those who write a bad review with a free giveaway; it may encourage others to give similar feedback in order to receive free mea-culpa offerings on their next visits. Rewarding great posts with a simple “thank you” is a better strategy. You want those loyal customers to keep coming back-and hopefully bring friends.

If it’s not legit, flag it.
Yelp will allow businesses to flag negative reviews if they don’t appear to be legitimate or if they don’t follow general rules of conduct-swearing and slander can both get a review removed, for example. Stating why you believe the review should be removed is very important. However, don’t flag every bad review. That will get your business flagged. Make sure you approach every situation with honesty.

Everyday Champions

June 12, 2013

We have champions in our midst!  They are bagging groceries, making beds and installing faucets, blinds and more.  Yes, there are championship competitions for all sorts of jobs many of us take for granted.  Typically they are sponsored by national associations such as the National Grocers Association.

BaggingChampMy local Metropolitan Market boasts the 2013 National Bagging Champion.  They put up banners and dedicated space on their electronic reader board to his accomplishments.  Even though I’m in the store a couple of times a week, I have never met Andrew (the champ) and I haven’t been fortunate enough to have him personally bag my groceries.  However, his influence is reflected in the bagging prowess of every team member of this store.  He has raised the bar and it shows.

Angel_WinnerThe National Apartment Association sponsors Maintenance Mania and we have a finalist from our area going to compete in San Diego later this month.  Angel Munoz of CTL Management was named the Region 7 finalist out of over 4,000 participants in over 60 competitive events held throughout the 2012-2013 season.  The Washington Multifamily Housing Association did a press release and has him featured on their website.


Are there competitions held in your industry or area?  Check with the national association to find out if you aren’t sure.  Once you get the information, encourage your team members to participate.  There are always plenty of prizes to provide incentives well beyond bragging rights.

Why do you want your team members to spend the time to participate in such competitions?  

First and foremost, it elevates what are often considered mundane and lowly positions in the eyes of customers, team members in other departments and the employee along with their family and friends.  This renewal of respect for  essential services will encourage pride among departments, improve morale, reduce turnover and encourage others who strive for excellence to seek employment on your team.

Secondly, it raises the bar for your entire team.  Even if no one earns a spot in the finals – or if only one person does – everyone benefits from the spirit of competition and the encouragement to strive for excellence.

Who benefits?  Of course the winning employee benefits in terms of prizes and recognition, but other team members benefit as well.  Pride in one’s work cannot be measured but should never be discounted.  You customers benefit from the emphasis on excellence.  And of course, your company’s reputation benefits as well from the publicity that accompanies such a “win”.

Be sure to post updates on your website, your Facebook business page and send Tweets to both encourage your participant and maximize the positive exposure for your business.

We have everyday champions on our teams.  Competitions are just another way for owners and managers to encourage them, help them grow and develop as well as give them well deserved recognition for a job well done.

Expanding Your Reach

May 29, 2013

While running Sleep Country USA, I remember a driver Cul-de-sac croppedpointing to a cul-de-sac on a map and saying “We’ve now delivered to every one of these houses.”   Seeing the truck in a neighbor’s driveway coupled with satisfied customers got us more customers from the same neighborhood.

We focused on the appearance of the trucks and the delivery teams.  We put emphasis on satisfied customers but beyond that, we didn’t specifically market to the neighbors.

Looking back, we probably missed an opportunity even though our electronic media campaign had significant reach.  But what if you don’t have the budget to do mass marketing?  How do you capitalize on expanding your reach beyond your immediate customer?

For years businesses have put up signs saying things like “this beautiful lawn treated by XYZ”.  Painters, landscapers, construction companies of all kinds have wisely used signs of this type to “market” to the neighbors.


But last night, we arrived home to find a special offer on our door.  A new house is being constructed in the neighborhood and the roofing company, C R Boger, left a brochure on our door.  It says “Sorry for the noise” (yes, there has been lots of construction related noise of late) and details their “Nearest Neighbor Program”.

“Currently one of your neighbors is receiving or has received a home improvement by C&R Boger Construction.  We’d like to apologize for the noise by offering you exclusive discounts only for neighbors living close by.”


Genius, pure genius.  Turn a negative (noise) into a positive (discount).  Make us feel special (exclusive) and cared about (an apology).  Low cost, targeted, effective marketing – I love it!

Satisfied customers are always your best referrals, but sometimes they don’t think to brag about you so don’t hesitate to take the first step.   Is there a way to encourage referrals?  Do you need to spruce up your company vehicle so it can be a more effective “billboard” for you?  Should you take a few minutes to leave materials on the door of nearby neighbors or other businesses in a building where you are delivering?   How can YOU expand YOUR reach?

Color Me Interested

March 13, 2013

When I started my business and was developing the logo, SCUSAI started with the neon sign maker.  Knowing I had a limited budget to devote to critical expenses such as advertising,  I needed the signs on my stores to serve as much of an advertising beacon as possible.  My question; what colors and font styles are most legible from the greatest distance?   The answer gave me my primary color and font used in the Sleep Country USA logo later designed by an artist at my local newspaper.

Years ago I had read the most universally wearable and desirable color to women around the world regardless of age or skin tone was the robin’s egg blue used by Tiffany & Co.  As a result, when choosing a gift for a woman I may not know very well, I will pick something in this iconic shade of turquoise blue.

Beyond that, I had not given much thought to how color influences decisions or even how color could enhance a customer’s experience.  A brief tidbit in the Wall Street Journal in January cited a study which found people who drank hot cocoa from an orange or cream mug found it more desirable than those drinking the exact same cocoa from a white or red mug.

That peaked my interest.  Could we really enhance a customer’s experience simply by the colors we choose?  Not an isolated incident, the same researchers found the strawberry mousse was described as “sweeter and more intense” when served on a white plate over a black one.  A valuable piece of information for restaurants, coffee shops, caterers and even hostesses who want to wow guests!

Jan McLaughlin is a professional speaker and an expert in spoken, written and visual communication.  Color was one of the critical design elements she covered in a seminar on visual communication recently given to attendees of the NSA-NW Speakers Academy.

Color-for-influenc-infographColor Matters has a wealth of information on color and how it influences our decisions.  My Social Media posted a great quick reference guide using Color Matters research that summarizes how different groups react to various colors.  Use this guide to be sure the color you are choosing helps convey your message effectively.

We all have to select colors many times in countless areas of our business from logo and branding to displays to merchandise to desk accessories.   Why not chose colors that help us communicate effectively, enhance customer experience and accomplish our goals?  

Creative Business

November 28, 2012

Many artists have not yet realized they are also a business.  If you are in a creative field and want to be more than a starving artist, its important to know how to woo and keep customers.

Every year the Women’s Board of the Arizona Kidney Foundation  hosts an Authors Luncheon.  A thousand women (my sister and I included) fill the ballroom at the Biltmore in Scottsdale.  Each of the invited authors has about 10 minutes to speak.  Both before and after the lunch, a bookstore is open to sell books and the authors are available to sign them.

Could you maximize the opportunity described if presented?  Would you be comfortable talking about what you do for 10 minutes?  Sharing what inspires you?  Amusing stories of your struggle?  Most artists not in one of the performing arts,  find these interactions challenging.

Just as you can perfect your craft, you can perfect your interpersonal skills too.  Enlist a friend or pay a  speaking coach to help you if needed.  Whether at a podium in a ballroom, a gallery during a showing or at a dinner party- sharing these tidbits is the secret to wooing customers.

Most of us would love to be able do to what you do but God gave us all different talents.  Let us peak behind the curtain of your world and we will enthusiastically sing your praises. In the business world that’s word of mouth advertising and nothing is more powerful.

That is true whether the word is positive or negative.  Three years ago, one of my favorite authors was featured at the charity luncheon. I was so excited!  While getting my armful of books signed as holiday gifts for family and friends I gushed that I really loved his work and  looked forward to each new adventure.

His response?  “What do you want written in these?”. No acknowledgement of my comments and a “didn’t want to be bothered” tone. I was so disillusioned and, while I still read his work, I wait for paperbacks rather than buying hard covers as soon as they come out.  I don’t give his books as gifts and don’t recommend his books to friends who ask what I’m reading.  It also makes me a little sad each time.
Contrast that with Brad Thor at this year’s event.  I gushed, talked too fast,too much and generally made a fool of myself.  His response? He listened, laughed, talked, posed for a picture with me and most important – he thanked me!  How many people do you think saw the picture and heard the story?  Friends have been texting, emailing and posting that they picked up a copy of his new book, Black List and are loving it!

Authors, painters – artists of all types,  practice simply make eye contact, smiling and saying “thank you” when we compliment your work. Once you master that, feel free to add “People like you make it possible for me to do what I love.” Acknowledging the valuable role your customer plays is a sure way to earn their loyalty and their referrals which will allow you to  do what you love for many years to come.

Goodwill Towards All

November 7, 2012

Tonight is the Seattle Goodwill’s annual Glitter Gala.  Among other programs, this fundraiser supports their job training programs including one for retail customer service.


Goodwill Glitter Gala

From the beginning days of Sleep Country USA we had strong business-charity partnerships.  Those well known relationships benefited our community but also our company as well and have continued under the current ownership.

We found the hand we extended gave us a competitive advantage and garnered both customer and employee loyalty.

These partnerships only work long term if the fit is right.  What problem do you have in your business?  Is there a charitable solution that could benefit both?

It could be a one time situation such as the purchase of new equipment and the donation of the old.  Perhaps an ongoing scenario of facilitating the donation of clothing as part of new closet installations.  Even the donation of your teams’ time to a community event if the cause is a good fit. 
Any way you find to make a difference in your community you will likely find makes a difference for your business as well.

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