Posts Tagged ‘Sleep Country USA’

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?  

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.

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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. 
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Any way you find to make a difference in your community you will likely find makes a difference for your business as well.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

September 26, 2012

We all get asked to do a million things.  Personally you get asked to host a direct selling party, chauffeur the youth soccer team or watch your neighbor’s child.  Professionally you may get asked to be on the committee planning the holiday party or to walk as part of a team for a charity event.  As a business owner you likely get asked for donations for school auctions, local charities and more.

I won’t begin to try to offer guidance on the personal front, but I will weigh in on the professional and business owner matters.

If you work for a company and get asked to do anything that is not illegal, immoral, dangerous to your health or takes place on your spouse/child’s birthday – accept!   It’s always good to be seen as a “team player” and the opportunity to network outside your immediate work circle has many career benefits.  Few companies have so many of these extra-curricular activities that it will be a huge imposition and the investment of time and energy will be noted by those in positions of authority within the organization.

As a business owner, it’s a trickier question.  Because you are not on anyone’s payroll, time is money – if you aren’t working, you likely are not making money.  When asked to do something that takes your time, you have to weigh the cost.  How big is the time commitment?  Is it during your peak period or can you volunteer during a slow time?  How could this time investment pay off in terms of future business?  Will you be exposed to potential new customers?

The same is true for all the requests to donate to both charity and local school auctions.  When asked, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the attendees to the event as the event itself.  Are the attendees your target customer?  

My husband and I once bought an introduction to ballroom dancing package at a the JDRF silent auction, enjoyed the experience so much we paid for lessons for the next 3 years.  In that case, the donation was certainly worth the cost!

If  the potential customer base is a good fit but your services are too expensive to give away, can you offer an “introductory” item?  Perhaps a brief consultation and then discount for services?  How about an hour of work or credit of an hour towards a package purchased?

If it’s not feasible to give your exact goods or services away – is there a related item you can offer instead?  At Sleep Country USA we couldn’t possibly give away a mattress to every group that asked, but we purchased quantities of king-sized sheets to donate along with a logo mug with our Gosanko logo chocolate bars.

Whenever you donate your time or merchandise – make the most of the exposure opportunity.  If you work for a company and participate in an event, be sure to introduce yourself to everyone there you don’t yet know.  If you are a business owner who provided the floral centerpieces for an event, have the group give you a ticket to attend and then network like crazy!

As with the dance lessons, if the new customer comes to you from a charity auction donation – give them a “wow” experience.  Thank them for supporting the community with their purchase (they did spend $$ to buy your service even if you didn’t get the cash).

Also, don’t hesitate to say “no” when the situation doesn’t fit for you.  Explaining that you get a lot of requests and allocate only so much each year for donation is a graceful way to decline.  Remember, no one can solve all the world’s ills.  If the cause is near and dear to your heart – go for it.  If not, weigh the cost to your business and make a business decision about where, when and how much to give or you may not be around to give again next year!

Persistence vs. Resilience

August 29, 2012

We all have heard that in order to be successful you must be persistent.  Over the years, people have labeled me as such.  It is true, I don’t give up easily but I don’t believe my persistence has been the secret to my success but rather my resilience.

What’s the difference?  First, let’s compare the actual definitions:

Persistence – Firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition”

Resilience – An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”

Where it is true, in order to be successful you can’t give up the minute the road gets rough or get discouraged by naysayers.  It is also equally true you must be able to adjust your vision based on reality and change as needed.

Many times I meet entrepreneurs who have a good idea but still they fail.  People who work hard and who are persistent and yet they fail.  Persisting and plowing forward is important – but what if it’s in the wrong direction?  What if there is no market for what you are trying to sell or not a large enough market?  What if, as they say in the marketing business, “The dogs don’t like the dog food?”  Stubbornness and factual blindness can hide in persistence.

If you study most successful businesses, what you will find is that the finished product was an evolution of the original idea.  Jimmy Liautaud wanted to start a hot dog business and got a $25,000 loan from his dad.  When he priced out all the costs; location, equipment and supplies he realized it wouldn’t work.  Instead he bought the supplies, set up tables in a friend’s garage and made sandwiches that he hand delivered.  Today you know that business as Jimmy John’s and you may have eaten at one of his more than 1200 franchise locations.

Was he persistent or resilient?  Both.  Which produced the winning result?  I believe it was his willingness to adapt his vision to the reality of his situation.

My personal love was retail and home furnishings.  I planned to open a furniture store but ended up with a chain of mattress stores known as Sleep Country USA.  Why?  Because I didn’t have enough money to open a furniture store.  In studying what made money in a typical furniture store, mattresses kept the doors open.  The start up costs and the market stability of a utilitarian product such as a mattress were more realistic and proved successful.  Did I sacrifice my vision?  Not really, I was always attracted to the aesthetics of home furnishings so I just made a pretty mattress store.

Are you being persistent when you should be resilient?  Are you heading forward even if you are heading for a cliff?  Should you stop and re-evaluate your plan, perhaps adapt your plan?  If you are not finding the success you envisioned, maybe your vision needs a reality check and realignment.

Have Resume’ Will Travel

August 1, 2012

Two weeks ago at a cocktail party on our deck, one of our friends was debating her next steps as she stood at a crossroad in life.  She, like many Americans, had just lost a job she had held for over a decade.  She was single and owned a home here in the Seattle area but was frustrated by the challenges of finding a new job.  As the guests probed, it became clear that she wasn’t “in love with” Seattle, in fact, the weather gets her down (here, here!).  She has family in Scottsdale and perhaps this is really an opportunity to make a change.    She was enthusiastically cheered by everyone and connections were offered to help make her transition smoother, should she ultimately choose to go.

What about you?  Are you where you want to be?  Is this the best place for your career or business?  Or is it the “safe” place because it’s what you know?

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it was shown that those who are willing to relocate ultimately make more money and advance their careers.  Sometimes it’s money that holds us back but in truth, relocation can be as inexpensive as loading your car up with what is truly precious to you and driving into the sunset.  Other times it’s the safety net of family and friends that keeps us rooted in place.  Mostly though, it’s fear.  Fear of the unknown.

I have moved 3 times – not houses, cities.  First I moved from Kansas City where I was born and raised to Dallas, Texas when the frigid winters of the Midwest finally got to me.  Next I moved to south Florida (briefly) and ultimately to Seattle where I have been for the past 20 years.  Not a big “moving” history.

However, when I moved to Dallas, I knew exactly 3 people and two were a couple!  I worked for a large international company and requested a transfer.  It took several months for an opportunity to become available but when it did, a Kansas City friend towed a small U-Haul trailer behind his vehicle and I drove my car to make the move.

Moving to Seattle was a business decision.  It was a market identified by my prospective suppliers as being “under retailed” and represented a better opportunity for my new business (Sleep Country USA) to be successful.

If you are looking for a job, or considering starting your own business, are you in the place that gives YOU the best opportunity for success?  If not here, then where?  Do your research to find out where the job market or business climate is best suited for your skills.  Tap your network to see who has contacts in the most likely markets.  Get in your car and go visit those areas and don’t view the city as a tourist, but rather as a resident.

Do you have a family member you can stay with there for a couple of weeks?  I house sat for the parents of a woman I knew when I was checking out the market in Seattle prior to moving here.  I had never met them but I was a friend of their daughter and they needed someone to water the plants and bring in the mail.

Even in this economy, there are opportunities out there.  Sometimes they are in your NEW backyard – not your current one.  Change, as scary as it is, is also an adventure, a chance to grow and more important, a chance to SUCCEED.

Hiring Our Veterans

May 30, 2012

A couple of days ago, as a nation,  we celebrated Memorial Day.  There were countless social media posts, parades and cemetery visits to honor those who have served our country.

Memorial Day shouldn’t be only a day.  One of the best ways to honor our servicemen and women is to give them jobs once their service has ended.

This is not an act of charity – these are quality people with skills, habits and training to make them a valuable asset to any organization.

In the company I founded, Sleep Country USA we routinely hired newly discharged service people from Ft. Lewis-McCord, the joint base closest to our office.  These recruits were prompt,  reliable, easy to train, followed instructions well, were respectful, ethical and  unfailingly courteous – lots of “yes ma’am” and “no sir”.

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They also had no issues with our company dress code.  We didn’t have to ask them to trim their hair, groom beards, press their clothes or even tuck in their shirts!

It is true that former officers typically have to learn new employee motivational skills, but I’ve worked for a few task masters over the years and they hadn’t even had command responsibilities.   These bright and focused individuals will quickly adapt to your culture and no doubt add positively to the organization.

Personally,  I like team members who believe “failure is not an option”.  If you have hiring responsibility and would like to hire a veteran,  here are some useful links:

Serving Memories on a Sizzling Plate

January 25, 2012

In an average year, we eat about 950 or more meals.  For me, many of those meals are eaten out from fast food to neighborhood cafes to award-winning restaurants.  To stand out and be memorable is no small feat in itself, but to become synonymous with both good food and good times is amazing.  Yet one brand has done just that:  Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

I still remember that first sizzling Ruth’s Chris steak…Dallas, Texas 1984.  When I close my eyes I can still taste it and my reaction to each first bite of a Ruth’s Chris steak hasn’t changed to this day.

Doesn’t matter which Ruth’s Chris.  I’ve eaten at locations in Phoenix, Seattle, Maui, Portland, Bellevue, Salt Lake City, Pasadena, Washington DC, Hong Kong and most recently, Park City.  Many of these were not one time visits and the experience is consistently memorable.

Ruth’s Chris has become our “special occasion” restaurant.  The day I signed the papers to sell Sleep Country USA I threw a party for a small group of close friends and family in the private dining room of the downtown Seattle restaurant.  Many birthdays have been celebrated at a Ruth’s Chris table.  Ask any of my 3 stepsons to pick a restaurant for their birthday or other special event dinner and it’s always their top pick.

When deciding where to hold the dinner in Washington DC to celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday the decision process went like this: “What is everyone most likely to order in any restaurant we go to?  Trevor: steak.  Connor: steak.  John: New York steak.”  and so on with the rest of the party.  “Okay, if we’re all going to order steaks anyway, why take chances?  Let’s just go for the place with great steaks.   That means the dinner will be at Ruth’s Chris.”  The group photo from that night was on our Christmas card.

Even a dinner with friends for “no special reason” becomes special at Ruth’s Chris.  From the fresh from the oven bread to the attentive service of the staff to the wine list with nice selections even in a mid-price range to the signature “sizzling steaks” to the after dinner specialty drinks, the drive for excellence shows.

So how do you become synonymous with your product in a customer’s mind?  It’s really very simple:  Consistently deliver exceptional goods and service.  That’s it.  Of course, I know all too well how difficult it can be to execute that “simple formula” on a day to day basis.  Even more so in a variety of locations.  Yet great companies do so and earn our loyalty to their brands in the process.

There was a quote on a restaurant wall I wrote down years ago that may serve as a good motivating motto for small businesses wanting to become the “Ruth’s Chris” of their product:

“It’s impossible to be 1000% better than every other restaurant (or any other type of business)…so let’s try to be 1% better in 1000 little ways.”

Penny wise…Pound foolish

November 2, 2011

Today I drove past the spot where a balloon and party store used to be.  Yes, used to be as in no longer in business.  This was the same balloon store where I bought a batch of red, white and blue balloons to both decorate and hand out to kids as part of the grand opening of my first store back in 1991.

Funny how some moments are seared in your memory…I had called around and gotten prices on a quantity of balloons before placing an order with the now defunct business.   When I called to place the order,  I specified a red, white and blue mix rather than assorted colors.  I didn’t think there was anything unusual about my order.  The balloons arrived and we used them.

Then the invoice arrived…the price was several times what I had been quoted so I called, assuming a simple mistake which would be corrected.  No, I was told that because I wanted only red, white and blue (and we all know how RARE that particular color mix is!) it was more expensive.

No, I wasn’t told of the higher price when I ordered the specific colors and, having often seen packets of this exact color combination for sale everywhere including discount stores, I didn’t expect there to be a surcharge for this mix.

My position was basically met with a big, “Too bad, that’s the price”.  I then added that in fact, I would pay this invoice but that perhaps they might want to reconsider given that this was only the first of many stores I was planning to open and someone would be providing balloons for all of those future locations as well.  That was met with the same “Too bad, that’s the price” type attitude.

I did pay the invoice.  I did open more stores…7 more that same year, 35 over the next few years and I did buy red, white and blue balloons for every opening – never from this particular vendor.

I often have wondered what the owner of that balloon store thought as he heard all those radio and television ads.  Did he ever kick himself for not working with me to find middle ground?  I didn’t relish the thought of having to again shop for the same item (this is before the advent of internet shopping).  I had a lot of balls in the air in those days and vendors who worked with me were rewarded with many years of loyal business.

Are you being penny wise and pound foolish in your pricing structure?  Back in 1991, not all businesses were as cost conscious as I was, but today, most businesses are more mindful of spending.  Where it’s necessary for you to make a profit, it’s also necessary for you to build value and relationships so you can be in business going forward.  Let’s call this “The lesson of the balloon store that WAS.”

Get Ready

July 27, 2011

Phyllis Campbell was sharing words of wisdom from her mentors and said one frequently said “Get ready.”  It begs the question, “Get ready for what?”  The answer, “Anything”.

Sounds like a great idea, but how does one get ready for “anything”?  

The answer is to learn as much as you can from as many varied sources as you can.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to do this over the next 48 hours, rather it’s a long term project which should span both your career and your lifetime.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked for a temp agency, as a purchasing agent for a custom kitchen remodeling firm, a secretary then salesperson for an international company and ultimately started, built and sold my own business.  Along the way I did a wide variety of tasks which gave me insights into both my personal strengths and weaknesses.  

You can expand your career without changing jobs by volunteering to work on projects outside your normal job description.  While challenging, these are growth opportunities.  You get to work with people outside your usual sphere, develop new skills and raise your profile within the organization.

Even now, at least once a month, I attend some sort of business event.  It can be a  Chamber of Commerce program, a networking event, a workshop for professional speakers like myself or an after-hours meet and greet with other entrepreneurs.  I prefer events where there is a speaker, panel or workshop because I always learn something new.

Daily I read the Wall Street Journal on line.  Not just the “news”, but read the quirky stories on the bottomof the front page.  I read tidbits about new technology from a review on Toshiba’s new tablet to the valuation on Facebook.  The Life & Culture section has great ideas for low-stress entertaining, travel as well as reviews of new books, movies and plays.

In our bathroom, there are a variety of magazines from Readers Digest to “O” to National Geographic Traveler.   This “library” is a great place to keep and peruse industry or trade publications as well.

We are season ticket holders for a two live theaters in the area as well as a distinguished speaker series in California.  You might see us in the audience of a comedy club or “twisted flicks”.

From time to time there will be a class that peaks my interest on topics ranging from ballroom dancing to mosaics to pairing food and wines.

This is about more than filling the blank spaces on your calendar.  It’s about getting out and getting involved.  Getting out of your office – out of your neighborhood – out of your rut – out of your comfort zone.  It’s when you get out and get involved that you learn what you need to succeed and  meet the people who will help you do so.

Are you ready?  If not, start “getting ready” today!


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