Archive for the ‘Sales’ 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.

 

Innovation in Business

October 2, 2013

I believe most innovations in business come about as a means of solving a recurring problem.  A perfect example, adopting the practice of covering shoes of workers or delivery crews with paper disposable booties to eliminate complaints about tracking dirt into customers’ homes.

?????????????Being innovative in business usually starts with a question such as, “How can we eliminate this complaint?” or “How can we increase our profits without increasing our prices?”  Sometimes it’s simply “How do we attract or retain more customers?”  Each quarter, pick ONE question and ask it repeatedly.

Ask it of your team.  Ask it of your vendors.  Ask it of friends in non-related businesses phrased as “How do you do XYZ?”  Keyboard Question MarkEven ask it of the internet.  Type the question into your favorite search engine and see what you get for results.  You may find an article in an industry or general business publication with useful tips and suggestions.

Ask the question repeatedly.  Ask it at your next team meeting, tell them you will ask it again at your next meeting so they can give it some thought, then be sure you do!  Put it on the top of the agenda if you circulate one before meetings.  Collect all the ideas from all these different sources and see what may work for your business.

If the answer to increasing profits without raising prices is to cut costs, assign each person the task of cutting or saving someStarbucks-gift-card-detail cost in their area.  That may result in more competitive shopping for office supplies or business insurance.  It may include eliminating rarely used services of products.  Reward great ideas with gift cards, even $5 cards at your neighborhood coffee shop to encourage even more innovative ideas.

Innovation is not a switch you turn on by simply saying “We need to be more innovative.”  Rather it is a process.  Pick one area at a time and focus attention on it until you have found an idea to solve a problem.  Monitor results during and after implementation to insure you are getting the expected results and adjust as needed.   Often even the best ideas need tweaking which is why it’s best to tackle only ONE issue at a time.

Cloud QuestionMake a list of the issues you need to address in your business.  Prioritize them and then start asking questions!  An innovative solution is out there just waiting to be discovered!

 

Credit Cards Accepted Here

September 25, 2013

Recently I’ve seen several situations where not being able to accept credit cards for purchases has cost small business people money.  One was an author and speaker, the other an artist at a crafts fair.  Seriously, in this day and age, people still haven’t figured out how to take credit cards?!?  How many sales are you missing?  Could immediate payment improve your cash flow?  About 18 months ago, I posted a blog on this very topic complete with the easy – FREE solution.  Perhaps it is time for a repost!

Accepting credit cards for payment has lots of benefits for a small business.  Many consumers, like me, prefer to use credit cards for everything.  Impulse purchases are greater when a business accepts credit cards.    Immediate funds, no waiting for a check to be mailed or to clear.  No bounced checks – you know immediately if a charge is declined.

You know all that, so why are you not yet accepting credit cards for your small business?  Are the costs associated with traditional credit card terminals holding you back?  The hassle of carrying a “terminal”?  What if I told you the “terminal” is already in your pocket, briefcase or handbag?

With the Square, your smart phone becomes a credit card terminal.  Best part – the plug in to swipe the credit cards is FREE, the app for your iPhone, iPad or Android phone is FREE and there is NO monthly fee or “per transaction” fee – just a competitive 2.75% per card swipe.

Funds are deposited into your account the next day and it’s so easy to get started.  Go on-line and create your account and they will send you the card reader in the mail – did I mention it’s FREE?  If you can’t wait, go to Target or another retailer and buy the card reader for about $10.  Inside the package you will find a code to redeem for $10 when you set up your account – essentially refunding the amount you paid for the reader.

The app is very easy to use.  Enter an amount and description of goods or services purchased.  Swipe the card.  Hand your phone to the customer for an on screen signature and wait for the approval.  At the end of the transaction, you have the option of texting or emailing the receipt to your customer.  It’s fast, easy and very inexpensive – what’s not to love?

Yes, you can set it up to accept tips, calculate and add sales tax, track payments taken by more than one device and many other handy business features.  All for FREE!

I’m a professional speaker and I sell books and cds at the back of the room after a speech using my Square.

Whether you are a hair stylist, massage therapist, chauffeur, private chef, speaker, musician selling cds or performing for a party, a birthday clown, dog walker, house-sitter, window washer, house cleaner, gardener, handyman or any other service provider – you need this tool!

What would it do for your cash flow if when you sent a plumber, appliance repair person or delivery to a home  to not only leave the invoice as is typically done, but accept the credit card payment there on the spot?  No mailing an invoice and waiting for payment.

If you are in the hobby to business stage with your art or crafts, you can use Square to accept credit cards at local arts and crafts shows.

Clearing out your junk using CraigsList or even a garage sale?  You can accept credit cards using your Square!

You can also use it to let people make donations to your non-profit or to pay for event attendance to business or civic group meetings.  The possibilities are endless!

You may not think you need to accept credit cards.  You may think how you are doing business now is just fine but I can assure you that you are missing business if you do not accept credit cards.  Customers who don’t do business with you don’t typically tell you why but I know that  it’s a deciding factor for me.

Accepting credit cards is just one more way to look like you are serious about your business.  It also removes an obstacle to doing business with you for consumers.  When it’s free to get started and this inexpensive – why wouldn’t you try it?

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.

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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.”

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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?  

Little Phrases – Big Payoffs

December 19, 2012

Mc Donald's Fries“Would you like fries with that?”  This phrase, now often parodied, made a ton of additional revenue for McDonald’s.  It allowed them to add on to a sale by using the power of suggestion, a popular selling technique.  What was unique was not suggestive selling – it was who was doing the selling.  With the introduction of this “phrase that pays” to the cashiers at McDonald’s, these front line employees began to act like what they truly are – salespeople – rather than just order takers.

My husband, John Murphy is very creative and has worked ViewRoomas part of the selling process most of his business career.  When his youngest son was hired for the front desk of a major hotel chain, John shared a couple of “little phrases” to help up-sell rooms.  He suggested when a room is prepaid by a company to offer the person checking in an upgrade this way “I see your room is prepaid by your company, would you like to treat yourself to a higher floor or a water view for only X dollars more?”  The key phrase “treat yourself” is powerful and effective – his son leads the team in room upgrades.

Pampering, treats and luxury sell!  To encourage more loyalty program sign ups, John suggested to his son to use the phrase “Would you like to stay in luxury properties for free on your next vacation?” as part of the program description.  Again, very effective.

Lettuce WrapsLoyalty programs exist for many businesses and typically rely on front line employees to enlist new customers.  Arming your staff with “little phrases” can have big payoffs.  The secret, capturing the benefit in a few words.  Free meals, priority boarding, luxury properties, exclusive discounts, premium seating – all phrases to entice consumers.

Which would you respond better to?  “Do you want to sign up for our loyalty reward program?” or “Would you like to enjoy a free meal?”

At Sleep Country there was usually some sort of promotion going on in our stores.  Rather than greet customers with “May I help you?” our staff were trained to ask “Did you come in on our big sale today?”  People who hadn’t seen or heard an ad were pleasantly surprised and would ask “What’s on sale?”

Up-selling is an important contributor to a healthy bottom line.  Incremental increases of even one or two percent can make a big impact.

If you are responsible for a team of front line employees, craft a few “little phrases” of your own and teach them to your staff.  Don’t just tell them to offer upgrades, loyalty programs or “anything else” – give them the key phrases that will touch on pampering, treats and luxury – little phrases with BIG payoffs!

Penny Wise

December 12, 2012

PiggyBankHaving started a business with only $5,000 I know first hand the importance of watching every penny. That being said, there is such a thing as being penny wise and pound foolish in many areas of business. I’ve recently had several such experiences.

While using a Liquid Paper dispenser to change entries on the paper calendar liquidpaperwe keep at home, I became frustrated when the 3rd dispenser suddenly quit working as had the other 2. These were all new, part of a multi-pack I had in my office supply cabinet. Irritated that they all broke almost immediately I went to the company’s website and filled out their on line comment form.

The response I got said all their products are guaranteed and if I would just return the broken ones with my receipt they’d be happy to replace them. This response just irritated me further. Certainly I keep receipts for electronics and larger purchases with a warranty, but what home consumer keeps receipts at the ready for tape, pens and Liquid Paper?

On top of that, a day or two had elapsed and the ones I had tossed in the trash were long gone.

The proper response would have been an apology and a coupon for a replacement package. After a tersely worded reply, they did in fact put a package in the mail but why make me jump through hoops?

Seriously, are there hoards of people filling out the complaint form on a daily basis to get a free Liquid Paper? Given how much is spent on packaging and advertising subsidies to office supply stores to get customers to purchase, isn’t this being penny wise and pound foolish?

CharmsI also have 3 pricey charms I’d bought from a home distributed costume jewelry company, Jewel Kade. The charms have a welded hoop to put a chain through that goes left to right, not front to back. That wasn’t obvious on the website when I purchased them as gifts and the problem is that it prevents the charm from hanging properly on a chain.

Upon closer inspection of the website photos I saw that each hung from the chain using a lobster clasp. Mine hadn’t come with these clasps and I didn’t see a way to purchase them separately in the catalog. So I emailed. Again, a penny wise, pound foolish response.

I was not thanked for my business but was told rather curtly that the clasps come withLobster clasp the chains, not the charms. I’d have to buy their chains, tie a ribbon to wear them or go to a craft store and buy something to make it work.

Really? A first time customer and the response is to basically tell the customer they were wrong in their purchase? How much could 3 lobster clasps possibly cost? Less than a dollar I suspect at their wholesale price. A company that includes them with every chain obviously has boxes of them on hand. Why not make them available on line for $1 with other purchases for customers who want to hang several charms on a single chain?

I would have been happy with a reply that they are $1.00 each, let me pay on line and put them in the mail.

Instead, I’m irritated that, with all there is to do this time of year I’m going to have to fight the traffic to go to a hobby store to try to find something that will make these pricey charms giftable. This company has spent a lot of money to produce a glossy, photo filled catalog and an equally impressive website to attract customers only to lose them over a solution that would cost them less than ONE DOLLAR. Does this make good business sense to anyone?

Christmas+Tree+Watering+System+with+Green+Box+DesignContrast those examples with the Ever-Green Christmas Tree Watering System I purchased at least a decade ago. When I got it out to use last year I noticed the hose had gotten moldy. I went on the website to look for a way to purchase a section of replacement tubing. Finding none, I emailed asking how I could get it.

The response? “Send me your address and I’ll mail it to you.” He didn’t tell me to go to a hardware store though certainly after all the years of use, I would have found that reasonable. I would have been okay if he’d just given me the proper diameter of the tubing to shop for.

Instead, it was more important to his BRAND that I continue to use it and that it not leak so he just sent me a small coil of the proper tubing in an envelope. I think I’ve given at least 6 of these as gifts and, as the kids start putting up trees in their own homes, I’ll be buying even more.

No one can afford to give away the store, I get that. But there is a cost-benefit analysis that needs to be done. You spend untold amounts in advertising, catalogs, brochures, websites – all to earn a customer. Isn’t it worth a fraction of that to keep them?

Scrooge’s Holiday Party

December 5, 2012

After several years of no holiday parties, many companies  are opting to celebrate again, just not at previous levels.  A recent blog in the Wall Street Journal details why.  If the economy has taken a toll on your business, how can you share the spirit of the season in a cost effective way?

Holiday LunchLunch is always cheaper than dinner for a variety of reasons.  Restaurants offer sandwiches, soups and salads as meals for lunch rather than steaks and chops so the meal itself costs less.  There’s no expectation to bring a spouse or significant other to lunch. Same with alcohol.

Reserve a section of a local restaurant for your holiday lunch.  You can even work with the restaurant ahead of time and print special menus on your office printer with a limited selection and no prices.  Depending on the size of your group, this can help the restaurant in terms of preparation and keep your party on budget.

No good restaurants near your office?  Consider catering.  There are lots of low cost options to include hip food trucks you can book for your parking lot.  BBQ places often also offer lower cost catering and popular menus.

Don’t overlook the Costco or other warehouse club option.  Look in the deli and at your neighborhood grocery store for a catering menu.

I’m not a big proponent of pot lucks though that is an inexpensive option.  I feel everyoneHoney Ham has enough to do at the holidays without having to worry about a covered dish for the office party.  If you have people in favor, at least spring for a Honey Baked ham or turkey for the entree.  Again, on line shopping makes this easy even if there are no locations near you.

TreatsCoffee, tea and assorted holiday desserts and treats can make for a low cost mid-afternoon “Holiday Tea”.

When you are all together, let the team know that even though business has been challenging, you didn’t want to miss the chance to say thank you for their dedication and hard work.  Raise a glass (soft drinks work fine) to a brighter future ahead. 

Batting Averages

October 31, 2012

The World Series just wrapped up in a surprising show of power by the San Francisco Giants.  Throughout the season there was a lot of both airtime and column inches devoted to the batting averages of many Major League players.

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One such player, New York Yankee Derek Jeter, got a lot of attention this summet for his 3,000 hits.  Not routinely mentioned along with this career milestone was another staggering statistic.  This great hitter also has some 9,000 outs.

If you take a look at YOUR career, what’s your “batting” average?

Worth remembering is that success is the result of many failures.  Whether you are in sales, run your own business or are looking for work there’s inspiration to be found in the number of OUTS as well as the number of HITS.

You don’t end up in the record books sitting on the sidelines. You have to be willing to step up to the plate and – win or lose swing for the fences.

As a manager or business owner, remind and encourage YOUR winning team both through the hits and misses to improve your business batting average.


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