Archive for the ‘Retail’ 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. 

Holiday Hires

November 20, 2013

My first job was in retail at TG&Y, a “five and dime” in my Midwestern home town. I still recall how nervous I felt inside when I helped my first customer.  I was not quite 16 years old so being nervous was natural.  But I was a teenager so would I admit I was nervous? Of course not!

Do you have a retail store?  Do you hire additional staff for the holidays?  How old are these new hires?  What sort of previous retail experience do they have? Most malls and mass merchants hire lots of young people for the holiday season and for many, this is their first job.

Retailers and the media refer to “Black Friday”, traditionally the Friday after Thanksgiving when the holiday shopping season officially starts.  I was stunned to find most front line retail workers don’t understand the significance of this phrase.

They thought it referred to the extended hours, going to work and getting off when it’s DARK.  Others thought it was just slang for how they all felt about this busy, crazy, exhausting day.  Only a couple of the most seasoned knew it actually refers to the day of the year when retail businesses typically move “into the black” – you know, profitability.

Be sure your team understands the significance of this hectic retail day and do your best to help them embrace and celebrate the madness.

Don’t assume they KNOW to wear comfortable shoes or even bring a second pair to give their feet a break.

Suggest your new hires bring extra beverages and even a sack lunch since breaks will be shorter and fewer.  Maybe even stock some granola bars and beverages in the back room for your staff.

If this is their first holiday season, it’s up to YOU to be sure they are prepared.

The customer service we deliver is directly related to how we feel. When we are tired, hungry and aching, our tone and attitude reflect it.   Have a frank conversation with your team about the demands of the first holiday weekend.  Give descriptive examples of a typical “Black Friday” and then share the comfort tips to help them be able to capitalize on this retail gift.


Subtle Selling

August 22, 2012

There are a lot of not-too-subtle forms of selling in the world.  I’ve even been accused of being one of those in the past (smile).  As much as you claim to “hate” advertising, in fact, we like it when it’s done well and in reality, we respond even when it’s not!

When we like it?  Think Super Bowl ads.  Think clever ads you have shared and posted.  Think jingles and slogans that have become part of our culture, “can you hear me now?”

There are also a lot of more subtle forms of selling that any business can do because they are not as costly as the production and airtime of those other forms of advertising.

Here’s a great example:  I was recently shopping in Marshalls, a discount store, I was impressed by the revamp they had done on their fitting rooms.  Not only were they clean and bright, they had some GREAT subtle selling features!

First thing I noticed, over the mirror was this great signage.  Positive reinforcement of a consumer’s choice is always a good way to sell!  

Next, the hooks each had a plastic, printed plate behind them like that said “Definitely” “Probably” and “Tomorrow”.

Notice all of the sorting options are positive – even the “NO” is framed as “Tomorrow”.  The “maybe” was worded as “Probably”.  Subtle differences but selling differences none the less.

Even the number card they give you as part of security when you enter the fitting rooms was a subtle sales tool!  Sure, we all know the number is there to reduce shoplifting – 4 items in means 4 items out or we call store security.  They didn’t give up the numbered system, but look at the wording on the card!  In addition to a number, they added a few unique words of subtle selling.

In reality, other than what they likely paid for the creative genius to come up with this, what was their actual investment?  The decal at the top of the mirror? Some plastic printed plates to put behind the hooks?  A few words on the number cards?

Who could utilize these great ideas immediately?  Of course, any clothing or specialty store but what about gyms, yoga studios – places where people are not always looking their best in an effort to be their best?  Positive reinforcements here could generate both referrals and renewals.  How about on the ceiling over the dental chair?  Any place we’d really rather NOT be could probably benefit from some positive reinforcements.

Where in your business could you introduce a little subtle selling?  Is the wording on all your materials positive and sales inducing?  What about your website, social media, emails?  Is everything worded to encourage and reinforce the wisdom of customers to do business with you?

Have someone not as familiar with your materials look them over for a candid review.  Create your own “focus group” of disinterested parties to give you feedback – not necessarily on what you are offering – but HOW you word what you are offering.  Be sure to ask the critical question, “How did it make you feel?”

Handle with Care

June 20, 2012

For me, like many others, shopping is not only necessary, it is also therapeutic and recreational.  The stores where I like to shop are varied, both high end luxury retailers, mass markets stores such as Target and discount stores (TJ Maxx and Marshalls) or factory outlets.

Regardless of where I shop or how much or little I spend, each purchase is important to me.  If it weren’t, I wouldn’t have invested the time, energy and of course – money – to make the purchase.  That means I expect you to take the few seconds to neatly fold soft purchases (clothing), wrap fragile items and bag it all carefully.

From one retailer to another – PLEASE, today, take the time and impart that bit of wisdom to your staff.

On a recent visit to the Seattle Premium Outlets my experiences ran the gamut of   exceptional (Nautica and Kate Spade) to horrible(Banana Republic).  Repeatedly throughout the day I said to cashiers “Here, why don’t you let me fold that so I don’t have to iron it or send it to the cleaners for pressing when I get it home.”   Some had the good sense to thank me for doing their job for them – others remained clueless.

A bargain is no longer a bargain if I have to invest time or money to be able to use it once I get it home.   These experiences cause customers to shop elsewhere.  Next thing you know, enough people go elsewhere and stores close – people lose jobs.  

Most of the cashiers looked surprised, some even seemed annoyed.  No one had ever told them to neatly fold items, had not showed them how to fold at the counter and certainly had never explained why they should.  

I find this shocking in factory outlet stores where a large percentage of their inventory is neatly folded and in stacks on display tables.  How can you possess the skill (or the folding board) on the sales floor but not at the counter?

Is it not just as important – perhaps even more important long term – how I feel about the purchase (and your store) once I get it home as it does when I’m browsing?  When I pull out an item to show a friend or spouse my “find” and it’s been wadded up and thrown carelessly in a bag, it no longer has the “wow” factor it had when I selected it.  Now that makes me – and everyone I show it to – doubt my decision making ability.

Understanding the psychology of shopping – and imparting a little of that to your floor and counter staff – can go a long way towards saving the brick and mortar stores.  With such haphazard service, is it any wonder Amazon is an increasing threat to retailers everywhere?

Mixed Messages

March 7, 2012

Let me say up front that I LOVE Starbucks.   They have mastered not only the perfect glass of iced tea but the consistent delivery of same.  In foreign lands or my own town, I’m always happy to see the familiar green letters.

At airports I determine which security check point to use based on the location of a Starbucks on the other side.  That was the case at SeaTac airport last week.  There I visited the recently redecorated Starbucks near the “A” gates enroute to South Satellite – a no-Starbucks zone.

Have you noticed your Starbucks getting a facelift in the past year?  There’s a lot more use of wood and less of the wall mural type graphics.  Same is now true of the airport location.

Above the condiment counter was a message reflecting the Starbucks mission of sustainability.   One line encouraged the purchase and use of their reusable cups and mugs.   Now anyone who knows me is aware that I have enough of the Starbucks travel cups to coordinate with my wardrobe and rarely am I without one so obviously the suggestion would not offend me.

However, the rest of the sentence says to think about how many trees we can saveDid I mention it was CARVED IN WOOD?  if you are going to talk about saving trees, let’s not mix the message by carving it in a tree!

I was so taken aback by the contradiction that I went over and touched an exposed edge of the board to see if in fact it was wood or some wood lookalike.   It had the same layers you would see in plywood and nothing indicated the materials used were from reclaimed wood.

Then it got me thinking about all the facelifts given to all the Starbucks locations and how much wood was used not to construct but merely to decorate.   Isn’t that a mixed message for a company that tauts sustainability and wise use of natural resources?  I keep thinking that they are pretty savvy folks at Starbucks so all this wood must be recycled in some way but I really don’t know.

It never crossed my mind until I read the copy on the WOOD wall.  Is this really something Starbucks wants me thinking about rather than just how great my iced tea tastes?

What about YOUR business?   Are there mixed messages you send to your customers?   Do you taut customer service and yet not return calls promptly?   Do you sell the latest technology but your sales team are still hand writing orders?

These mixed messages dilute the power of your brand.  They shift the focus off your products onto the contradiction.   You strive for consistency in delivery of your goods and services,  it’s important to have the same consistency of message as well.

Buying Locally

July 6, 2011

It was time to replace our dishwasher.    There was a lot I loved about our dishwasher; the flatware racks, the adjustable top rack, the delayed wash option, the built-in food disposal – well, you get the idea.   So I did what we all do – I searched on the internet for a comparable model.  Once I settled on 2 options with similar features, I typed in my zip code to see what stores near me carried the models being considered.

I was thrilled to see Wiseman Appliance on the list!  I love doing business with local merchants and have had great experiences with Wiseman in the past.  My husband and I stopped by the store with computer print-out in hand.  The owner, Dan, answered our questions eliminating one of the two models.  But the one I wanted was not actually in the store.  He did not try to sell us something on his floor, but immediately checked local warehouse inventory and told us he could have one there within 48 hours for us to see and touch.  After a couple of minutes, my husband just said “Why bother?  It’s not like you are going to see it and decide you don’t want it.  Just set the installation appointment and be done with it.”  Great advice.  That’s what we did.

John Malson arrived at the appointed day and time and did a fabulous job on the installation.  He never once complained about our ridiculously steep driveway, the 16 stairs up to the kitchen, the 54 stairs down to the fuse box to turn off the power, the 54 stairs back up to the kitchen to do the installation then down and back again to turn the power back on when he was finished.

He also didn’t roll his eyes when I showed him the roll of black, rubbery insulation strip I had purchased to camouflage the open space on either side of the installed dishwasher.  In fact, when I wasn’t even looking, he actually installed the stripping for me!   He understood what I was trying to accomplish and did so without ever acting put out or making me feel high-maintenance or even picky!

The stairs, the job well done and the extra effort would have been enough to earn him this blog post but when my housekeeper was here the next day and I was out of town, she discovered a leak under the sink.  With the dishwasher installation only a day old, she assumed something wasn’t connected and called Wiseman.  John came out and found the problem was not with the dishwasher or the installation, but purely by coincidence, the elbow pipe going into the dishwasher had failed and was leaking.

In reality – not his problem.  He could have told us to call our plumber.  Instead, he went to the store (about 1/2 mile away), got a part, came back and put it on.  No charge.  WOW!!!

In telling the story to my friend, Gayle, she relayed a similar situation with King and Bunny’s, a local store near her.  She had bought a washing machine and during the installation, the technician noticed an “abnormal amount of lint” under the old washer and determined the problem was wearing on the dryer vent.  He went to the truck, got a new one and put it on.  No charge.  WOW!  He wasn’t even there to deliver a dryer – just a new washing machine!

I hope when you need something new for your home you will consider the local merchants in your own neighborhood.  In my experience, the pricing is competitive, the staff is knowledgeable and because they are your neighbors, the service simply can’t be beat!  A heartfelt thanks to John and Dan from my appliance store, Wiseman’s!



Embracing Technology

May 25, 2011

3 years ago, I received a Sony eReader as a gift.  If you also follow my Travel Queen blog, you know I am a frequent traveler.  An avid reader, I read books when I travel and I read fast so I go through a lot of material in the course of a trip.

I embraced my digital book as a way to lighten my load.  The ability to carry dozens of books with me in a compact, lightweight format was heaven!

Now the Amazon Kindle,  Barnes & Noble Nook and the iPad  have emerged.  As an early adopter of this technology, I’m both very aware of how it has changed my personal buying habits and how the industry – specifically the retailers – are – and are NOT adapting to these changes.

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, I read yet another article about how Barnes & Noble is putting focus on digital books.  Yet NO ONE is addressing the issues – and the opportunities I see in the rise of digital books.

Issue:  I no longer buy actual paper and ink books.  My digital library of books contains nearly 300 books so I am still reading and still buying – just not actual books and not in bookstores.

I still visit bookstores.  I like to browse bookstores.  However, my eReader has made stores into 3D catalogs for me.  I see books I’d like to read and instead of taking them to the counter, I take a photo of them on my cell phone and buy them later on my home computer from the Sony eReader store.  No one yet offers me a way to buy a ebook for my reader from them while in their store.

A shopper in an airport bookstore read dust jackets and scanned text.  Then pulled out their Kindle and ordered the book from Amazon in Kindle format as they put the actual book back on the shelf!

As a former retailer, I realize this is unfair to the bookstores, but despite all the “focus” on digital books, no retailer has offered me a way to easily buy my ebooks while in their stores.  The end result will no doubt be more and more bookstores going the way of Borders.

The exception to my “no actual books” rule is an author signed book.  The  books in my home fall into this category.  In these situations, I keep and display the signed copy but actually read a digital version.  The purchase of the actual book was part of the experience of meeting a favorite author or to support an author friend such as Tess Hardwick with her new book, Riversong.

Author signings have also been the cornerstone of the Arizona Kidney Foundation annual luncheon since Erma Bombeck started the event over 30 years ago.  My sister and I regularly attend and signed books have been a staple of our holiday gift giving.

At the luncheon last November, the lines  waiting to get their books signed were the shortest we had ever seen.  The reason, so many of their family and friends who they usually buy books for now read only in digital format.  

Those of us in line chatted about solutions such as a gift card showing a picture of the book and author with a blank area for signing and then a code for a prepaid download of the book the recipient could use.  Starbucks offers something similar with their free song downloads.

Technology can radically change any business – even YOUR business.  The younger or more affluent your target customer is, the more likely they will have embraced new technology.  Is there a way your customers would rather buy your goods or services than what you currently offer?  Is there a way for you to adapt your model to meet their needs?  Just as creative minds have designed the new technology – those of us who want to stay in business have to be creative in how to embrace it!

Reducing Waste

April 20, 2011

Linda’s Flowers & Gifts is on the corner of California and Admiral in West Seattle. Yesterday, as I was going around the corner, I noticed a sign in the front window bearing the universal “recycle” symbol and the words “Vases Here”.

I thought this was clever.  As one of the lucky people who receive a fair number of floral arrangements each year, I periodically have to clear out the used glass vases the flowers were delivered in.

Doing a little internet research, I found only about a half-dozen florists anywhere in the USA who stated on their websites that they will recycle clean, used glass vases.  

I don’t believe Linda’s, or any other neighborhood florist, is going to significantly reduce their costs by reusing recycled vases, but in many small businesses, every penny counts.  The greater value lies in building customer loyalty.  Any time you become the solution to a problem – you will earn a customer’s valued business!  Helping us reduce waste is a way to set yourself apart from competitors.

Other businesses welcome customers’ recycling.  Meeker Cleaners in Kent is happy to take used hangers and even safety pins.  Once I move my dry cleaning to the standardized hangers I use in my closet, I toss the hangers and safety pins back into the basket to take back with my next batch of dirty clothes.

Have you switched to the compact fluorescent bulbs?  They require special disposal.  Bartell Drugs here in the Pacific Northwest will help you safely recycle these bulbs as well as medications, rechargeable batteries and cellphones!

Office Depot gives you credit for empty printer ink cartridges.

Each of these businesses are helping customers to reduce waste.  In some cases, perhaps they are able to reuse items we bring in, such as hangers, safety pins or glass vases.  In other cases, they are just providing a service to the community.  In every event, they are building good will and inspiring customer loyalty.

Is there something YOUR customers could recycle to you that would have win-win benefits for your business?  Do you sell an item customers need to dispose of once used or out of date?  By offering a recycling program for the old, you are more likely to be the place they buy the “new”.

Dispensing Convenience

April 8, 2011

Vending machines used to sell sodas. Then snacks were added along with waters and a host of other consumption items.  Many of these machines are still devoted to candy and soft drinks, but innovative business people are finding  many other great uses for these 24 hour, unmanned stores.

Smaller hotels without sundry shops often will offer items travelers often forget in their vending machines.  You can find a replacement toothbrush or some much needed pain relief in the same machine with a package of M & M candies.

The introduction of credit card technology to the vending machine has also opened it up to bigger ticket items.   Best Buy has “Express”, kiosk style vending machines in busy airports such as LAX and McCarren Airport in Las Vegas as well as in places such as the MGM Grand.  They feature items travelers might want such as noise-cancelling headphones, a cellphone charger, video games and more.

A recent trip through the airport in Las Vegas found a Clinique vending machine filled with skin care and beauty products.  Sephora also has introduced beauty vending machines.  Even the Washington Lottery offers instant-win game tickets in vending machines at SeaTac Airport!

What do you think about when it comes to restroom vending machines?  What about this?   It’s called “After Heels” and they are ultra compact ballet style flats you can buy from their website or from vending machines in some hip clubs.


Retail is ever-changing. If you have a product you make or represent, would it sell in a vending machine environment?  Do you need to repackage or suggest repackaging to your company to fit in this new, evolving selling format?

Reaching out to companies who provide and  stock vending machines may be an innovative way to get your product in front of millions of customers without the expense of a storefront.

Would your business benefit from ADDING one of these new vending machines to your location?  Would it allow you to offer YOUR customers more products, greater convenience and some additional revenue to your bottom line?

As business people, we are always encouraged to “think outside the box” but in this case, maybe thinking of a way to get INSIDE the box would be a boost for your business.

Cash Isn’t Always King

March 11, 2011

What do you think motivates employees? If your first answer was money, you are not alone.  It’s a common – but incorrect – response.  The primary motivation of people is recognition – not money.

Motivating employees without money is one of the topics I speak on regularly.  It’s also a major focus in my book “Common Things Uncommon Ways”.  As a result, when my husband, John Murphy was at a trade show in Chicago this week and learned about the Motivation Show, he emailed me the link.

Why would companies like Starwood, Honey Baked Foods, Wilson Sporting Goods, Vera Bradley and Sharp Electronics be exhibitors at the Motivation Show?  Because items like hotel getaways, a Honey Baked ham for Easter, new golf clubs, a designer laptop case or the latest electronic gadget all make great employee incentives.

Employees may think they are working for a paycheck, but in reality, they are working to improve their quality of life.  If you, as an employer, can offer other ways to provide an improved quality of life, that is usually more valuable than money.

Experiences and gifts, particularly those shared with loved ones, are remembered while cash is quickly spent and forgotten.  As families watch their budgets more carefully than ever, experiences from a dinner out to a family movie night to a weekend getaway become even more precious.

Tangible items such as golf clubs, a colorful laptop case or an electronic gadget serve as reminders of the recognition they represent each time they are earned.  Suddenly the below par game becomes the result of the new clubs the company gave you and the company gets some of the credit in the bragging on Monday morning.

If you want to learn more about engaging your employees, your customer and even your vendors to improve your bottom line, check out the Motivation Show.  All types of companies from Abbott Laboratories to Allstate Insurance to S & C Electric Company to Southwest Airlines to Target are already registered to attend.  What about you?

Effective motivation is about tying rewards to results.    Understanding motivation and making it an integral part of your business plan makes bottom line sense for your business.

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