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Price Wars: Does Anyone Win?

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PricemgI teach a lot of entrepreneurial classes and one question that is always asked during the session is "Should I reduce my price?"

Of course you can do anything you want, but is it really worth it to lower your prices? There was an article in USA Today in August of 2009 talking about the consequences of lowering prices to bring in business. In the short term it will certainly bring in customers if they want to buy. Long term, you will have to ask yourself, are these the "right" customers?

If your customers are better customers what message are you giving them by lowering your prices? You’re saying our brand has changed; we’re not the store you thought we were, in fact, we’re not sure who we are!

Ray Noorda had a wonderful business in the company he founded: network software supplier Novell Inc., until he became obsessed with beating Microsoft Corporation. His battle was futile. He left Novell as it began a long downward slide.

According to Benson P. Shapiro, in his article Commodity Busting: Be a Price Maker, Not a Price Taker, in Strategy+Business Magazine, he states that smart competitors don’t try to beat their adversaries; they avoid direct competitors and instead maximize profits. The astute manager wants to establish a set of quasi "local monopolies," protected from competitive as well as customer pressure. This demands confidence, not bravado, astute analysis instead of raw aggression, and careful, empathetic focus on the other players in the marketplace.

Before you lower your prices you need to ask yourself, what for? I had an interesting conversation with a very large higher-end retailer who was experiencing a serious economic slowdown. I asked what he thought he might do and his remark was "If retail continues to be this way for the next year, I might have to close one of my underperforming stores." I asked how long had this been a problem, to which he remarked, for years, but when business was great we could carry the store. You probably know my suggestion: close it now! He thought that this was very negative thinking on my part: Why didn’t I think it would turn around? I stated if it couldn’t turn around in good times why would it turn around in bad times? Save the spending and put the money in your pocket. What did he do? He continued to drop prices, which gave salespeople an excuse for lower prices even more: "It’s not our problem they said." It also ate away at their self-confidence. What happened in one year? He closed the store.

Customers have distinct thoughts on stores that continue to change their prices, here are the results:

  • 70% said that slashing prices means the brand was overpriced to begin with. If you can’t sell it at the original price then maybe that price was wrong or did the quality change? The more you shop TJ Maxx or Marshalls the more you begin to wonder if certain brands should ever be sold at full retail prices.
  • 62% said that if a company does not slash, reduce or put a product on sale, that means that the brand is either extremely popular or already a good value. Brighton is one of those companies that has rarely if ever put merchandise on sale. Brighton just knows the stuff is unique and of good value.
  • 60% said that if a company put one item in the store on sale, then they felt other items in the store would soon go on sale. Macy’s has a habit of doing this with their women’s clothing line; by the end of the season, it’s all on sale. If you’re not too fashion conscious, it’s smart to wait until the sales and buy for the next season.

If you engage in price wars to increase your market share by cutting prices, you run the risk of lowering profits and not being able to cover your overhead. The result: you’re out of business.

Other companies, which still have the goal of maximizing their profits, follow suit by also lowering their prices, then a chain reaction occurs. The result? Everyone suffers a loss in profit. As previous research has shown, price wars seem to occur because of the mistaken belief that lowering prices below competitors’ prices is a competitive strategy. How can it be a competitive strategy if you’re not making enough money to break even — forget making a profit. What other strategies can you use to react to a competitor’s lower prices?

  • Rather than base your strategy on maximizing profit, a company can react by not changing its price at all. Instead, you can drastically increase your service level, or look for unique and more expensive merchandise and refuse to engage in the price competition. Each of these strategies can end the price wars and reduction of overall profit loss. Remember one of the signs of a business in trouble is their lowering prices.
  • Don’t lower the prices in your better lines, instead look for a cheaper price point in the same line. This will not take away from your premier brand and allow your customers to stay true to the brand.
  • You may have also noticed that Heinz ketchup and Hellman’s Mayonnaise have combated price increases by giving the customer less product.
  • According to Unilever, "Recently, inflationary pressures have brought about by the increased costs of raw materials. Rather than raise our prices, we chose to slightly reduce the size of the 32 oz quart and 16 oz pint. This is the first time in over three years that we have had to increase costs to our consumers."
  • If customer likes the product and the price remains the same, it’s easy to stay loyal. I don’t think I have ever finished a jar of ketchup or mayonnaise. Is it sneaky? Maybe. I’m still buying Hellman’s because I like the taste. Cutting the ounces wasn’t a secret.
    Remember if you’re not a price cutter, you are treading in unknown waters with unknown competitors who are better players. Players who are always cutting prices and known for “offering deals.” Those that make money at this game are masters at buying the right price points.” Tough competition.

Someone once said, I might go out of business if I don’t cut prices. The response: if you’re going out of business wouldn’t it be better to do it with money? 

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:14+00:00February 21st, 2010|Competitive Advantage|1 Comment

“Luck of the Draw” Isn’t So Customer Service Oriented

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Luck I hate to complain about the airlines because it doesn’t make any sense. They have their rules and ideas about "how to run a railroad" and they're not like mine. But I know you’ll love this one.

Two weeks ago I missed my connection from Detroit to Albany by one minute. I was the last one to get off the commuter plane and had five minutes to make the last flight to Albany. I was only about 10 gates away and was waving at the gate agent while she was yelling, "You missed it." 

"But I’m only a minute late and you wait for other people," I cried. "Why not me?"

They actually thought that was humorous. I didn’t exactly think so! 

Ok, so there ended up being no planes anywhere in my neck of the woods and so I had to spend another night in Detroit.

So last week my plane sat on the runway in Albany for almost two hours causing a "slight" delay and another "slight delay" which caused me to miss my connection to East Lansing. The result was a stay over in Detroit and a bus trip on the Michigan Flyer the next morning so I could make my class in E. Lansing.

So now it's two weeks in a row, but if you travel a lot you suck it up and move on. But here’s where it starts to get a little sticky. On my return flight two days later, while waiting to take off from Detroit, the captain announces that he is "waiting" for a few people from another plane that has just arrived. He doesn’t want to leave them in Detroit because this is the last flight to Albany. I actually can’t believe he is saying this—and he goes on to say, "This is part of our customer service and we are happy to do it." Again he hopes we won’t mind. He is also happy to talk with any of us when we deplane. Wow, we are going to have a talk!

I decide to be the last one off the plane.

“How nice of you to wait," I smilingly say to the captain.” He agrees with me of course.  I ask him, “How do you make that decision?”

“I don’t make it, the tower decides,” he says.

“And what is the magic number?” Asks Lis.

“It changes with each situation," says the captain. "Why do you ask?"

“Because," says Lis, "I want to know why you left my butt at the airport with a minute to spare a couple weeks back.”

“It’s the luck of the draw," he replies. "Awful isn't it?"

Here are my thoughts for your business:

  • If you’ve got rules, follow them for all customers — not just the nice ones or the ones that yell louder.
  • Examine your policies, do they really make sense?
  • Try not to laugh directly in your customer’s face; it’s not that funny.

Will I complain? Why bother…

But, will I take whatever measures I can to not fly this airline again? If I can help it, I won’t. "Luck of the draw" just doesn’t seem right does it?

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:14+00:00February 13th, 2010|Customer Satisfaction|0 Comments

Top 10 Customer Service Tips for Businesses in a Downturn Economy

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Last month I appeared on Richard Naylor's TV show "The Money Factor" to talk about business strategy. I was asked ahead of time to provide what I considered to be the Top 10 Customer Service Tips that businesses could employ to survive a downturn. The following are my thoughts. What are yours?

  1. Answer your phone. We’re all tired of voice mail and "press one".
  2. Get personal. There are fewer customers to go around, take care of the ones you have. Find out what’s important to them and do it.
  3. Return phone calls immediately. Everyone’s busy but as a customer, I don’t care about everyone else—only me.
  4. Be upbeat but forget "have a nice day." We are all worn out with that expression, so change it to "I hope you get your shopping done" or "take some time out for yourself."
  5. Throw in something extra; maybe it’s a great or a sincere "hello, how is your day going?" or a small gift. A cup of tea or coffee would be great.
  6. Treat customers like friends, not customers. The world is more transparent, show your customers you care. Find out about their families, their children and their hobbies—that’s what friends do.
  7. Go the extra mile—even if there’s no immediate profit. We remember when someone is nice to us. Letting a customer use the phone or the bathroom.
  8. Listen to your customers.
  9. Take care of perceived issues immediately. Since 96% of customers never complain and just go away mad, going the extra mile to show the customer that you really care will help tremendously.
  10. Reward customers for being customers. Send them thank you notes, a holiday or birthday card or plan a holiday event and invite your past customers.

What are your tips for businesses in a touch economy?

If you're interested in watching my TV interview from "The Money Factor," click here. Feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel as I'll be posting video soon!

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:14+00:00February 5th, 2010|Customer Satisfaction|0 Comments

Women, Women Everywhere!

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P-membership-readyI picked up a copy of Time Magazine’s article What Women Want Now. It was an interesting eye-opener. 

The most interesting aspect was the difference between where women are now and where we (yes, I was one of them) were in the 70’s with feminism. It seems like women of the 70’s were trying to prove equality; we, of course, know that you are either equal or not, it’s pretty much in your thinking. I have been wondering "how do women see themselves, are we different, do we want different things?"

I write articles on business and also on what women want when it comes to shopping and buying. The data suggests that we like the hunting part as well as the buying but, different than men, the hunt can be as much fun as the capture—we don’t even need to capture to have fun! There have been many books written on us and our shopping habits; why so much on us? Because, as many of you know, we are the primary shoppers for almost every product. As the Time Magazine article points out, we also have the means to shop, with 40% of us earning more than our mates. With this statistic of 40% growing, it’s important to note the changes that have been gradually evolving in businesses over the past 10 years: children’s corners in retail stores, changing stations for babies in airports as well as nursing stations!
I know it’s tough when you work retail and realize your customer may be on a terminal shopping adventure.

Of course, not every female finds shopping that exciting and interesting. But, as noted in Retail Therapy, Life Lessons Learned while Shopping, Tammy Faye Baker Mesner put another point of view so clearly: "I always saw shopping as cheaper than a psychiatrist." All of these past articles somehow support the notion that one has to be crazy to like shopping. According to Barbara Pease, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, biological evidence seems to support the theory that men and women are quite different from birth and that it’s not easily “explained away” by social conditioning. Brought up on a desert island with no dolls or trucks, girls would want to cuddle and play with dolls while boys would want to compete with each other and form hierarchal groups. 

Bottom line—we’re different.

What does that mean heading into 2010? These questions spurred me to take a workshop from a group called Jness. My questions were: Are we still like we were in the 70’s, trying to prove our worth through our male counterparts? Do we still believe that something has been taken from us and we must prove our ability to fight? It didn’t seem like it.
Jness literature states their purpose as: "Jness is an international organization for women with a mission of providing a warm and inviting environment for women to gather together and discover each other as we find and express our voice in today’s world."
In speaking with one of the founders of Jness, Pamela Cafritz elaborated: "In a fun, social context like this Jnessence weekend, we endeavor to discover the truth, fallacy and humor behind our male society. We want women to be empowered, overjoyed and maybe even emboldened! We bring together women who, like you, want to create a more honorable and compassionate world, and have fun doing it. We think women possess the warmth, heart and vision to bring balance to the world."

I found the workshop to be very eye opening; inductive group exercises designed to examine our place in the world and our concerns for ourselves, our mates and our children. The group consisted of different age groups 30-60, from various countries, each with careers, families and playing many roles. The theme being, as female adults, what roles do we play in society and what are our responsibilities for world change. I know, pretty heavy topics, but we had two whole days to solve these issues…

What I found was an interesting group of women, comfortable with their feminine “skin” and wanting very much to respect others' differences and concerns. The issues of ‘should we work?’, ‘does it matter how much we shop?’, and ‘do you like to cook?’ seem to be a given—not issues to be debated or defended. It really didn’t matter. The participants were interested in camaraderie in the feminine sense as we see it and live it.

008 

The best part about the workshop was listening to other women share their concerns about life, and how that differed from our mothers and grandmothers. I related an interesting conversation I had with my 95 year-old female neighbor, Irma. It was Primary day and I wasn’t going to vote until I ran into Irma. She reminded me of "her time" when she was not allowed to vote; her statement: you have responsibilities to the world. I must say that woke me up.

As I think about my life on earth, which I do quite often, I wonder about my place and my commitment. I realize that I am able to make a difference by understanding others and supporting their beliefs that help them grow. By investing in myself and my learning I inadvertently help the world.

As Socrates said, know thyself.

My experience tells me that the best investment I can make for you and for me is to invest in myself. 

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:14+00:00December 29th, 2009|Building a Brand|0 Comments

How Important is an “Extra Nice” Salesperson?

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Customer-service I had the good fortune to meet a smart consumer while out on a carpet inspection recently. For this story she will remain “smart consumer” — or SC.

By the way, this is a consumer with a problem.

The consumer had worked in high-end retail for many years and was in charge of training her salespeople, so for her, customer service was a no brainer. “Just give the customer what they want, period, and be nice to them,” says Ms Smart Consumer.

Apparently five independently owned retail stores didn’t quite get it, so Ms. SC purchased from Home Depot.

Here is a summarization of our conversation:

The customer had a preference for Stainmaster. The product came highly recommended so she went looking for the brand.  Her research showed that everyone had the brand.

Before shopping she went went online to update her carpet knowledge. Having purchased carpet several times before, she knew what to expect of the process.

She asked her friends in the neighborhood where to buy carpet. The Home Depot got good ratings, as did one of the Shop-at-Homes. For some reason, SC eliminated the shop-at-home.

Since SC was new to the neighborhood, she wanted to look around and decided to search a 40 mile radius. According to research this is very typical female shopping behavior—the journey is as important as the final destination. It’s all part of the experience.

Ms SC’s three top priorities were

  1. Customer service
  2. Price
  3. Quality

She wanted nice carpet, but was frugal with her money. She didn’t choose “designer shops” because fashion wasn’t really an issue. She knows she has good taste so why waste time. (After being in her house, I would vouch for this.)

A trip to the nearest Home Depot came up first. Why? Because of their size, Ms SC felt that they would be reliable and dependable. This is an interesting association with the size of the store. Her experience with the Depot and the associates in the carpet department were friendly. If they were not able to answer a question they knew where to get the answer. Basically they were friendly and she liked them. She also found the installation special very appealing.

Next stop, the independent retailers.

I told you that Ms SC had been in charge of training in her last employment. What does she consider most important? Making the customer feel important, acknowledging their presence and making them feel smart. Her experience at the independent store? Not that good. Employees didn’t get out of their chairs to acknowledge her, they asked very few questions and most pointed to the carpet department and said call me if you need anything. She also remarked one of the stores also didn’t smell that good. SC mentioned the smell to her husband but this didn’t seem like a reason not to consider this store.

Bottom line, she wanted someone to talk to her, ask about her project and make her feel important.

Her evaluation: the prices were all similar and everyone had Stainmaster carpet. Where did she buy? 
The Home Depot, because everyone was nice and she liked the installation special. All of the pricing was the same or similar.

Okay, so this is one customer’s experience but it points up some very big issues.
You don’t always have to be super smart, but you do have to be super nice.
Customers want to feel special, if you make them feel special; you have a good possibility of making the sale.

Being reliable and dependable are two important traits. I’m pretty sure that the other stores were also both reliable and dependable but maybe it wasn’t obvious — no customer testimonials or data on customers’ experiences were available.

Customers will travel; in this case, since the customer was new to the area, she was interested in learning more about her area of the country.

How about some blogs? Blogs that welcome new residents to the neighborhood, provide warrantee information, stats on complaints, biographies of the salespeople and more, so that by the time the customer gets to the store the customers feel like they know the salesperson.

This of course is one customer’s experience, a customer with a problem. It does sound like being nice pays off.

In your experience as a customer, all things being equal, how important is an “extra nice salesperson?”

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:15+00:00November 30th, 2009|Blog, Customer Service|0 Comments

Join Me for Thanksgiving Festivities on Facebook!

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Turkeyfb There's a party happening right now on my Facebook page today and through tomorrow. Call it my "Virtual Thanksgiving Day Festivities," and you're invited!

Come on over and post recipes, share stories of Thanksgivings past, post images and video and connect with your fellow friends. 

I truly hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with your friends, families, neighbors, communities, and anyone else you'll be sharing it with. I'm grateful for knowing you and for all you add to my life.

Now, come on over!

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:15+00:00November 25th, 2009|Networking|0 Comments

Differentiation Builds Your Competitive Advantage and Delivers Customer Service

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Differentiation Flaunt It Honey!

My definition of customer service is giving the customer more than then they expect, i.e. Red Hot Customer Service. That’s exactly what JetBlue did Friday, October 30th at JFK International Airport.

Customers going through the terminal dressed in costume could show off their dance moves at the first-ever silent Halloween Eve disco. Friday I receive an excited call from Elin, designer supreme at Leader Carpet telling me about the event in J.F.K. Airport.

Elin’s comment: “Isn’t that cool?” I asked her what made it cool and she replied “It just is.” She’s right, it just is.

Here’s how it worked: When you went through security you would be given a set of headphones. Through these headphones you could hear a deejay spinning music. Of course, no one else in the terminal would hear the music.

That’s why it was called the “Silent Disco.”
“Our Silent Disco is about giving customers and crew members the chance to tune in to some great music, to burn some energy before getting on a flight or to shake out the stress of the week,” said Kim Ruvolo, brand manager for JetBlue Airways.

The event was produced by JetBlue partnership with Super fly Marketing Group.

So what do Jet Blue’s customer s think? In order to find out, JetBlue took a poll:

Disco at JFK?

Would you dance in an airport lounge?

  • No: It is way too embarrassing
  • Yes: I’ve got it and I flaunt it
  • I don’t know: Depends if I’ve had anything to drink

I checked out the poll and 41% said yes and 37% said I don’t know.

So, 80% of the customers will dance for one reason or another.

I call this customer service at its finest; assuming they got to their destination on time, no foolishness like overshooting the run way by 100 miles, or losing some serious luggage. This is just doing your job or the price of admission to be in the airline business.

Customer service is delighting your customer, making them smile, going beyond the call of duty, or doing something that makes you unforgettable. The key, as brand manager Kim Ruvolo said, is to give the customer something different.

Being different can also build your competitive advantage—but only if the customer loves it. My friend in Boston told me about an experience she had with her hair dresser of at least 20 years. It seems she showed up at her regular appointment to find the usual docile German Shepherd guarding the couch. The closer my friend came to the couch, the more menacing the German Shepherd became. She said it really scared the wits out of her; the dog had never exhibited this kind of behavior. Eventually the owner came to her rescue and asked my friend if she had done anything to frighten the dog! My friend, a little in shock, eventually got her hair done and went home. On her answering machine was a call from her hairdresser.

“It’s a good thing she called,” said my friend. “She was about to lose a good customer.” My friend, however, goes on to say there was no apology, just more defense for the dog. The dog also has a stomach problem, making it even more questionable whether he should be at the workplace.

What’s next? My friend called to tell me she has a new hairdresser, and she’s done a marvelous job!
No amount of silent disco dancing could fix this problem.
What could they have done to make it better?

  • Leave the dog home; he’s obviously too sick to be at work.
  • Leave the owner at home, she’s obviously too sick to be at work also.
  • Stop defending the customer since the dog was already defending himself.
  • Give the customer a free trip to the Bahamas; I’m sure she would have invited me to go along.
  • Give the dog a gift certificate to the vet or
  • Get someone to take the dog to the vet.

What would you have done to make this right?

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:15+00:00November 20th, 2009|Building a Brand, Competitive Advantage|0 Comments

Satisfied Customers Can Turn On You On a Dime

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Mr_angry I wouldn’t have believed this if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Stores will sometimes spend thousands on new racking systems or to repave their parking lots — but not a dime to train their employees.

Joanne’s Fabrics is a national chain with great products for anyone who sews or does crafts. My friend Mary does both but sewing is more than her hobby; it’s her home-based business. Her store of choice for fabric and sewing machine? You got it, Joanne’s Fabrics. How long has she been shopping at their store? Probably 15 years. How much has she spent? Probably thousands.

Mary recently purchased two pens that are used to mark fabric — the kind that within 10 minutes or so the ink dries and disappears. This is very useful when you are sewing and marking on light color fabrics. Unfortunately one of the pens was not working. Here are three important pieces of information to the story. 1. The pens are $6. 2. The week before, Mary purchased a new sewing machine for more than $1,000. 3. Mary does not have a receipt for the pens.

I probably don’t need to tell you anymore but it highlights some very important customer service issues. When Mary took the pen back, the salesperson was unwilling to refund her money. (Mary didn’t ask for a new pen since she wasn’t that thrilled with the first one.)

Funny the salesperson didn’t look for Mary’s name in the computer and Mary didn’t say, “Hey, I’m a great customer, I bought a $1000 sewing machine last week and spent $5000 last year in your store.”

I decided not to add my two cents but asked Mary a few questions instead. She said she understood why the salesperson didn’t give her back her money: Mary didn’t have a receipt. I asked her about the sewing machine she bought for $1000, to which she replied that she forgot to bring it up.

Okay, so Mary is a more passive customer, not wanting to cause problems and doesn’t realize that she has leverage with the salesperson or clout in the marketplace. You can be sure if she tells this story to a few more friends she will have worked herself to a frenzy — and then look out!

The real questions in my mind are:

  • Why didn’t the salesperson ask the customer any questions before she said “no way”? A question like What’s your name? would have probably have given Mary the opportunity to talk about how much she likes Joanne’s and about her new sewing machine.
  • Did she take for granted that Mary was a slacker?  I mean, Mary was wearing a picture of her dog emblazoned on her shirt, hat and socks.
  • Did the salesperson assume the customer was just cheap? It was only a $6 item.

Mary doesn’t have a car so she takes two buses to get to Joanne’s to be dismissed. That may have something to do with Mary’s statement yesterday: why don’t we just go into New York City and go to the garment district to buy my supplies. What Joanne’s doesn’t know about Mary is that she’s a lot more sophisticated than she looks.

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:15+00:00November 16th, 2009|Blog, Customer Service|2 Comments

The Recession is Over. So Where Are Your Customers?

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Newsweek_recession Okay, so now you've heard the recession is over. I don't know what exactly what it means, jobs are scarce, credit card lenders are raising interest rates and banks aren't lending money to small businesses. I wonder what it would look like if the recession wasn't over? 

Maybe more of the same?

As the Newsweek article puts it: "When the economists proclaim a recession is over, they're celebrating a technicality: they mean economic output has stopped contracting. And while that's good news, you might wait awhile before adding Judy Garland's rendition of Happy Days are Here Again to your iPod."

What's the point? It doesn't matter whether the recession is over or not. What really matter is when will your customers be back and why aren't they buying from you? Most likely they're not buying from you or anyone else.  If you can acknowledge this, you"re on the road to recovery. If you're still in the unbelieving stage, your business is in trouble. There are still businesses out there that believe if they continue doing the same things the same way the customers will come. There are lots of businesses out there that believe it will all go back to the way it was. To believe this is to believe in fairies and warlocks.

Einstein's definition of success was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Many of the companies that exhibit these behaviors are companies that have been successful. They believe that success still awaits them no matter what they do. Unfortunately they are wrong. You've probably heard the expression, "what got you here will not get you there." Clinging to the past and what worked before will not move you forward. What will get you there there will be your ability to change, not your ability to cling to the past.

I speak to business owners every day; I admire the ones who call and say, "I don't know about that kind of stuff, meaning the Internet, but I hear it's where my customers are congregating."  These are the ones who will probably survive and grow to be different companies. They will be lean, mean and accountable.

I spoke with a business owner the other day who apologetically said,"When this is over, we won't look like the same company." I asked why he was upset and he said because his company was always looked upon as leaders and now they would have to  downsize. Let's face it, there are fewer customers in the marketplace and probably more businesses than ever who are chasing these customers. As a country we have never been here before and there's no blueprint for success. Smart business owners will have the guts to look the problems in the eye and say, it's time to move on. The bottom line is the bottom line and that's  pretty much it. I know that doesn't sound revolutionary, but neither does "we're waiting around for them to change" or "I'm waiting for the customer to come back." 

By the way, in case you didn't know it, customers haven't been on vacation. Customers are just apprehensive.  

So how do you change? Change is never easy; in fact, the more you know the less you think you have to change. While times are good many business owners stood waiting for their "payoff." Unfortunately it never really came. In fact, many of those who sold their businesses had to scurry back to reclaim what was left of their failing business. Why did this happen? Most of them sold the business to someone who was like the: running the business the same way. The new owner didn't think about changing either. 

One of the things that happens to owners is what Marshall Goldsmith calls the Paradox of Success: "I have succeeded, I can succeed, I will succeed and I choose to succeed." It reminds me of another powerful expression: "veni, vidi, vici" — I came, I saw, I conquered. Why doesn't it work? Because it's not that simple. What is happening in the marketplace requires a new mindset and can't be conquered by old strategies such as dropping prices or selling cheaper merchandisers. It's too late to try and do it faster and better. It's time to do it differently.

There are some things that might help but ultimately the answers to this problem have not been written.

  • It's time to seriously start talking to your customers. Ask them what do they think about the economy, how has the economy changed their behavior, are they spending the way they did prior to the recession? Everyone I know — even those with good jobs — is apprehensive about spending money. Ask what they're doing to enjoy their lives, probably staying home. This is a good reason to make some changes to the interior.
  • Ask your staff what' they're feeling: if they're apprehensive you can be sure this is influencing their interactions with the customers. It's called "misery loves company" syndrome. It feels good but neither party actually benefits. Coming up with solutions works, suffering together doesn't work.
  • If new customers are scarce, call your old customers. Offer them an incentive to make a purchase or invite them in for a party. We can all use a little fun.
  • Hold a networking party and invite neighboring businesses and past customers. I recently spoke at a networking party in New York City where all types of business people came to make new friends.
  • Meet with other businesses and find out what they're dong to get new customers. Partner with them and hold an event; any kind of event, just bring in customers.

This is the season to be jolly and raise money for your favorite charity; collect toys, coats for kids and adopt a needy family. When your customer gets ready to shop you want to be noted for something other than the lowest price. If you don't do something, you'll be out of sight — and out of mind. 

Remember that one?

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:15+00:00November 9th, 2009|Change, Economy, Reaching the Consumer|2 Comments

Guns ‘n Hummers: Maybe Not Such Strange Bedfellows

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Csiaward.05.400 According to everything I’ve read and heard, the automobile business isn’t doing well. Many businesses have to reinvent themselves if they are going to survive. 

How to do it? By being smart and creative. 

Lynch Hummer has been in business for 15 years, but these days it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business. For the past two years, the automobile industry hadn’t been kind to Hummer dealers and the “cash for clunkers” program wasn’t for their customer.

Also, unverified reports on gas mileage are anywhere from 8-12.5 miles per gallon. But does that really matter? People don’t buy Hummers because of the gas mileage; they buy them because they love them. 

After seeing Jim Lynch on CNN, I decided to take a chance and see if he would chat with me. I was a little amazed and delighted that he would talk to me. 

My question to Jim was: Why guns? 

"In order to thrive during these challenging economic times, I need to expand my business and find a product that will appeal to my customers," he says. "Many of my customers are big sportsmen, love skeet shooting, so why not add this product to my mix?" 

Lynch adds that Lynch Hummer sits on about 7 acres and has an additional off-road course of another 30 acres behind the building.

A natural for Lynch: guns and cars. Lynch had to get a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in order to sell the weapons but business is booming. Lynch also consulted with law enforcement and hired a gun expert. It is obvious that Lynch is serious. 

Guns you say, really? 

Sound foolish or a little strange? Let’s see, there’s Starbucks and music, that didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense but their customers love it. Nothing is strange if you know your customer. Does it matter what you choose? Of course it matters, and Lynch is smart. He is building solid, customer loyalty built on solid marketing strategies. 

What’s the trick? Simple: find out what your customers want and give it to them. 

Lynch will win some and lose some but in business that’s the way it is. The key is to decide who your customer base is and go for it. Advertising is too expensive “to throw some against the wall and see if it sticks.” You know the old phrase, “50% of advertising works and 50% doesn’t, and the problem is which is which?" 

Making a move without discussing it with your customers can have serious effects on your business. Consider CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, who decided to voice his personal opinions about health care and now finds himself "a few customers short" according to ABC News. Not a problem if you have enough to support your bottom line, but still risky. In my book, “Red Hot Customer Service” I refer to a basic marketing strategy about how to talk to your core customers before making a change.  

So how does Lynch determine what's right for his business? 

  • Be creative, survey your customers: ask what they think, what additional products and services would they be likely to buy? 
  • Examine your own likes and dislikes; find something that you believe in and you like; remember, you spend a lot of time at work. 
  • Consult experts in the field; let your customers know you’re serious and you want to do it right.
    To be effective in business, you’ve got to pick your customers. The right customers will be loyal and refer you to their friends. 
  • Create your niche; the danger is that your niche is very narrowing and eliminates additional customers that you really want. 

Not a gun or Hummer advocate? It doesn’t matter; you’re not the right customer for Lynch Hummer!

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:15+00:00November 3rd, 2009|Building a Brand|4 Comments