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Why I Hate Flip Phones

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Teenagers on flip phones.

I just don’t get it. Why would anyone want to use a flip phone?

Maybe I’m spoiled; instant gratification is what I want. I don’t want to do the thing where I leave you a message and then you call me back and I’m in the shower. Then I call you back and your voice mail is full. It all makes me crazy.

Okay billionaire investor Warren Buffett says he’s not giving up his flip phone—at least not yet. The flip phone people are probably the same ones who don’t text. Do you remember texting on your flip phone? You needed 4 hands to do it! I’ve read there are lots of people who like the flip phones, It does slow you down and gives you lots of control about what comes and goes from your phone. Yes, you are in control. You are in control. Wow, I feel like I’m being controlled on some level; maybe I am.

“The flip phone is the new protest statement,” declared one article that recently appeared in several newspapers including The Seattle Times. “I don’t need that phone. I have everything I need without it,” wrote Katie Reid for The Baltimore Sun.  Kim Kardashian was spotted with a flip phone, now it’s cool! Maybe I’m just out!

I remember reading about Thomas Edison and what happened when he finally perfected the light bulb. He went to several companies to try and sell the bulbs and most companies said they weren’t interested! In order to get the bulb used, he had to give it away.

Is it that people didn’t think it was useful to see in the dark? Maybe they were right, work stopped at night because you couldn’t see. Possibly they knew if they could see in the dark, they would have a longer work day? Or was there some fear of seeing? Is it that when you removed your clothes in the dark you were less likely to be judged?

I feel like people with flip phones are the same type of people. They make excuses that smart phones are too much work, and too complicated. Somehow they don’t see the smartphone is just that; it’s smart and makes many things easier. (Plus you are connected to the internet and all that wonderful information.)

Actually I believe it’s about change. We think change is difficult. I believe change is annoying, not really difficult.

Change means we have to think and thinking requires work. Ask yourself, how much time do you actually spend thinking? My downstairs neighbor says she likes things the way they are and she doesn’t want anything to change. So she spends her time working on keeping everything the same. She rarely goes out to do anything except buy groceries, have her nails done and go to work. In the meantime, I am looking for something new to do.

Change also requires decision making. Some people aren’t good at making decisions so they just don’t bother. If you have to make a decision, it’s likely you will run into a conflict. Nobody likes conflicts.

Are these the same people who see others climbing dangerous mountains and say why are they doing this? Or am I making too much of this? I tried to coordinate the delivery of a television to a man who only used text and one who only used his phone. To me it was a nightmare.

Possibly I should ask what kind of phone a person has before I decide to get too serious.

Lisbeth Calandrino is a regular contributor to the Albany Times Union. Need help improving your business? Check out Lisbeth’s web site, www.lisbethcalandrino.com. or reach her at Lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

#flipphones #Warrenbuffetflipphone #Seattletimes, #Thomasedison #Lisbethcalandrino.com #redhotcustomerservice

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By |2018-12-02T19:21:49+00:00December 2nd, 2018|beliefs, Blog, Change, Economy|0 Comments

What’s Going on With Retail?

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People seem to be out shopping and the retail news seems to be positive. Could it really be true? I decided to call , Rebecca Marion Flach, Vice President of Membership and Communication for the Retail Council of New York State.

As Vice President of Membership and Communication for the Retail Council, exactly what do you do?

I’m in charge of all internal and external communication that supports the Council’s government relations, sales and marketing and membership functions. I’m also in charge of new membership benefit programs and services for the association.

Exactly what is happening in the retail sector, is business looking up?

We had a brisk holiday season and it appears sales grew in the 2-3% range over 2010. Our members gave the season an “A-” letter grade as part of the Council’s Holiday Sales Watch. This is all good news given the state of the economy.

What does this mean for 2012? It’s tough to say although economists are pointing to slow growth next year. Unemployment is down. The stock market is rallying. Gas prices have dropped. All of these factors and many others play a role in retail sales. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for steady improvement next year. 

How do you get your information?

My colleagues and I constantly talk with members to get the pulse of retail. How is business? What trends are members seeing? What new ideas are they implementing in their stores?

The Council also surveys its members during the holiday season. We just wrapped up the 2011 Holiday Sales Watch, which consists of one mail survey and three telephone surveys we conduct between mid-September and the week after Christmas. The mail survey measures our members predictions for the upcoming holiday season, The telephone surveys begin after Black Friday Weekend to gauge what actually happened in member stores at critical points in the season.

Rebecca. I remember when I was in the retail business we always had excuses for why customers did or did not show up. It was either too cold for them to come out,  or  so nice they decided to play golf or work in the garden.

Is there such a thing as  “good” and  “marginal ones retailers?”

The Council only reports what our members tell us is happening in retail and I wouldn’t be so bold as to try to discern the difference between a good and marginal merchant. Our members are the true experts and I’m here to support them. That being said, I’ve learned over the years from members that knowing your customer and treating them like family go a long way toward success in retail.

Successful retailers constantly survey their customers to find out what products and services interest them and what they’re willing to pay for it.  I don’t mean they send mail surveys or call their customers to collect this information (although they could). It’s asking simple questions while customers are in the store or just making observations. You have to know what your customer is thinking and what is influencing their thought process.

I’ve also learned that service makes or breaks the independent merchant. Service is what distinguishes small businesses from their larger competitors and can attract or deter shoppers from coming back. As one of our Hudson Valley member always says, “Treat your customers like family.”

How is technology affecting retailers?                                                                                               

For the last two or three years we have been talking about the use of social media including Twitter, Facebook, and Google Places. Many of our members have started to build Facebook pages and are encouraging their customers to post opinions as well as talk about their products.

Those members that use social media regularly are starting to see a difference in their referrals and customers. It takes time to stay connected but this is the new platform where the consumer is communicating with businesses and other customers. In addition, customers get information about products and reviews from each other so it’s increasingly important to monitor what’s being said about your business online.

In addition to social media, mobile technology is revolutionizing retail. QR Codes are becoming very popular ways to direct customers with smart phones to more information on a product or service. Foursquare and other check-in applications give retailers some fantastic opportunities to communicate with customers. Couponing sites might make a good awareness building tool for some merchants. The options are endless, but the struggle for the small business owner is finding the time to learn about and implement these tools.

 

Are there other events that are influencing retail?

Small Business Saturday, sponsored by American Express the Saturday after Thanksgiving had a major impact this year. This was just the second year for this event, but some of our members reported customer interest and increased foot traffic as a result.

Our independent merchants tell us Black Friday is a Big Box Store event and I think it was ingenious to create a holiday designed to promote small business. It brought attention to the contributions made by small businesses to our communities and encouraged a “buy local and small” mentality that lasted far beyond November 26.

We had members who capitalized on the free publicity Small Business Saturday generated by offering special in-store promotions, featuring “Made in America” products or talking about their business’ role in the community (job creation, history, etc.)

Rebecca I can only think that Small Business Saturday can only get better as we have a few years under our belt. Retailers who took advantage of it these past years will probably have some great ideas how to make it have more impact on their business.

What about the Wall Street protests? Good Morning America noted that this is starting to have an effect on consumers.

The Wall Street Protests also seem to have encouraged many consumers to reexamine how they spend their money and where. The protests against “big banks” and “big corporations” has brought new energy to independent retail much like Small Business Saturday did. Some of our members told us they had the best holiday season they can remember from a resurgence of interest in supporting local businesses.

 

You mentioned community teamwork; how would you define this?

We are hearing from our members that consumers have reawakened to shopping locally, and we’re also learning of retailers’ willingness to work together to promote each other’s businesses in a way I haven’t noticed in the past. Business owners seem more willing to cross promote with neighboring businesses or businesses with a natural tie-in.

I’ve talked to members who are sharing brochures and coupons with neighboring businesses, hosting joint events and co-branding marketing materials. It’s a great way to spread the word about these local businesses, help them develop new customers and foster a sense of community.

It certainly is good to get some other opinions from the world of retail. I hope that this continues and we continue to see growth. Maybe Rebecca will revisit us in a few months with an update.  

 

10 Tips for Revving Up Your Business for the New Year

Based on my conversation with Rebecca, here are some ideas to explore for implementation in your business in 2012.

1.      First, have an open mind. Start thinking, what are others doing that are bringing in customers? Are these good ideas for my business? Should I be joining with other retailers, sharing coupons and inviting them to share in events?

2.      Think community. Who do I know that I could “pair up with” and have an event? Is it a restaurant, caterer, jewelry store or the local candy maker?  What type of event could we hold? Can we swap coupons or give out gift cards advertising each other’s stores? How will “being green” help your community and are you doing your part?

3.      Think about what’s cutting into my customer’s spending. If food purchasing is taking a bite out of their budget how about giving grocery coupons or partnering with a grocery store? I remember when we were in business; food was always a good gift during the holiday season. We used to give out coupons of different values based on how much the customer spent. Giving away turkeys was always a big hit.

4.      Know your customer as well as you know yourself. Many retailers are afraid to ask for email addresses or if the customer is on Facebook, they feel like they’re being intrusive. How will you get know them better if you don’t find a way to keep in touch?

5.      Get involved with local activities and don’t forget Small Business Saturday.  It’s not too early to start thinking about next year, how you can market to your customers and what can you do better? Talk with other business on your block or in your neighborhood, how can you all join forces?

6.      Get moving with social media. If you’re doing social media explore how you can do it better and take advantage of new programs. Don’t forget Four Square and other programs which offer free gifts to customers. I have a friend how used Groupon and had so much success they were overwhelmed. They couldn’t believe the response.

7.      Develop your “small business hat.” Continue to talk about how shopping in small locally owned businesses and how it can help your community.

8.      Review your customer list from past years. Who are your good customers, who is giving you business and how can you keep in touch?

9.      If social media isn’t “your thing,” review the pros and cons. What are your objections, is it helping other businesses, how can you get your salespeople involved in getting your customers to “brag” about you on line. Talk with successful businesses and ask about their on line customers; what are customers talking about?

10.  Look at new ways to communicate with your customers. Are you using video regularly, are you reusing your television and radio commercials by linking them to your social media sites. Don’t forget that YouTube surpassed Yahoo for the first time in total U.S. search queries, making it the 2nd largest search engine in the U.S. next to only its owner, Google.

Have a great New Year; maybe retail is really looking up!

Lisbeth Calandrino is a retail consultant and business coach. She can be reached through her web site or at redhotcustomerservice@nycap.rr.com.

 

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Do You Know Where You’re Going?

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Take a riskI hope this article is timely for you; it is for me.  For many of us the  economy is still moping along and we’re trying to figure out what to do next. Consumers are changing their buying habits, myself included. Friends are downsizing their lifestyles and examining their life choices. The recession may be over, but the landscape has changed.  In many ways it’s unfamiliar; at least it is to me.   I’m in a different place too. It’s not a bad place, it’s just a different place and different doesn’t always feel right–especially in the beginning.

Change is good. Well, change is interesting but it’s more interesting if it’s happening to you rather than me. In my case, I find when it’s time  for a change I put more hours in at the health club! Somehow I know it’s a safe place for my mind and my body. I feel less stressed after my workout and  feel I’ve done something good for me.

Each of us is building new roads, repairing our highways and hopefully avoiding serious pitfalls.  I’m convinced that sharing this journey with positive friends who have good intentions will make our journey more pleasant and safe. It’s time to re-cultivate your the garden and  get rid of the weeds that might be choking you from making new decisions. Sometimes, these weeds come in surprising forms–forms we call “friends.”

Just as I’m writing this article, I received this from Kevin Clancey a Realtor in Albany, New York from his Monday Morning Mojo:

The biggest obstacle to creating a wonderful life is self-limiting beliefs. A self-limiting belief is an idea you have that you are limited in some way, in terms of time, talent, intelligence, money, ability, or opportunity. Brian Tracy

At times we all have limiting beliefs, and there’s nothing to fear except fear itself and fear can be defined with the acronym “false evidence appearing real”. So, now what, where do you begin? It’s time for you to become your own coach, a good coach.

Speaking of coaches, one of my guests on Red Hot Customer Service Show was John Stahl from The Growth Coach of New York  serving business owners throughout the Northeast. John talks about limiting beliefs. Of course, beliefs simplify our lives but limiting beleifs dis-empower and hold us back. John talks about “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable” while making changes. If you’re talking about business challenges, Johns says the biggest challenge is between the ears of the business owner. I think this is a problem that many of us share.

Coach Vincent Lombardi once said that the difference between a good coach and a bad coach is the good coach always knew what the end would look like. If you don’t know where your want to go, how will you get there? If you get wherever “there” is, how will you know it’s the right place? In Warren Bennis’s book, “View from the Top“, he examines ninety leaders and found that one of key strategies was “attention through vision.”

What’s vision you ask? Vision can be a simple act or a thought; what do I really want out of life?

What makes me happy?

What are my dreams, my goals or my purpose? What would I like more of in my life?

I know I want more time at the lake.

Sometimes visions are statement for the future, a destination that you want to achieve. Last year I joined Toastmasters. I have competed in several events and recently joined the advanced Toastmasters Group. My goal is to continue to advance my speaking craft–I love speaking. The club gives me the opportunity to test new topics, get feedback and make changes. It’s a way to continually focus on something that’s important in my life.

Your vision may be simple. If you are invested in the outcome and feel ownership over your vision, then the happiness is in the journey– the appreciation of the uniqueness of the components it takes to get there.

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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

Financial Tips: Getting Through Tough Times

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Budget for a new reality

If you have an uncertain future, or think you might, then “scrub”your budget.

Build emergency savings for yourself and look at your major obligations. If you don’t want to give up your outside expenditures — trips to Starbucks, picking up a new cosmetic, that trip to the dollar store that never turns out to be a dollar — then plan to take less money with you and leave your credit cards at home. Take only enough cash to spend or make one less trip.

See how long you can keep that $20.00 in your wallet.

Refinance your house?

Take a look at the rates, what you save in both the short and long term. Sometimes the closing costs are as much as what you will save over the long run. This isn’t such a good deal.

Where is your money going?

Too many trips to the supermarket, buying large quanties and half gets thrown out because it doesn’t get used? Maybe this is the time to lose that weight your’ve been complaining about. You don't have to eat less, just eat smart.

Get rid of your debt

Put away the credit cards, period. Start looking at what you’re buying and why. In the meantime, just don’t add anything to your debt. In times like these, since there is so much uncertainty, plan to make it easier in the future — not harder.

Check out these classic articles from Zen Habits on managing your finances in hard times.

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By |2009-07-10T06:00:00+00:00July 10th, 2009|Economy|0 Comments

Having Trouble Doing Business? Maybe It’s Not a Lack of Customers

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Pondering I keep hearing how business is so terrible and how there are no customers. And then I run into retailers like Taylor Flooring and Homevalue who tell me there are fewer customers but they’re doing good business and are seeing new ones.

Of course during this time you have to trim down your costs but you still have to have a plan for attracting new customers.  As I recall, when times were good you didn’t need a strategy to attract customers; there were so many customers coming in the door that you didn’t even have to be a good salesperson to get these customers to buy. You just had to be there. You know the old "build it and they will come" saying. Well, it was true. They just came.

Now they aren’t coming, and for lots of reasons. Maybe it's a lack of trust in the "system" or less money and more re-prioritizing of their lives and financing. If you didn’t have a plan before, you’re in a pickle. Those who are doing well or getting through this recession without losing their shirts have always had a plan. Plans have to be altered but your plan should have the basics of what’s necessary.

So let’s talk about your "brand plan."

You’ve relied on your brand and others' brands to get you through but has the message changed? The customer sure has, so your brand must change if you’re going to connect.  Customers are worried, and certainly see trusted brands as a safe bet. They're comforting in times when everyone’s all wondering, who can I trust? For those of you who have taken sales training classes you all know that "empathy" is the most important trait of a good salesperson or anyone or anything who’s trying to sell a product.  

Reducing quality, changing prices, taking away "value" that you have always given the customer will not increase your brand value.  These empathetic messages must say to the customer, we understand, I’m with you. The message "you should buy because things are cheap" or "we’re the only game in town" just makes you look like you don’t care about what your customer is experiencing. Don’t take out your frustrations on the customers.

Tactics such as rewarding only big time spenders or reducing quality so customers get to play less won’t build trust. Expanding your product offering at lesser prices is still value added. But reducing quality on items when you know they need better is not a good strategy.  Quality is still quality and value is still value, always keep that in mind.

Book_Cover_Revised Educate your customers on how to shop your products. Tell them warranties do matter and installation standards certainly make a difference. It’s time to go back to those values. Old time, new customer service.  In my book, Red Hot Customer Service, I talk about things most people have forgotten but that can still impact your sales and bottom line.

Remind your customers that buying the brand certainly does matter because it can be trusted. Don’t forget in times like these, your brand and your connection is what really matters. What are you doing to support your brand?

  • Look at your warranties, do you remember to give them to your customers after the sale?
  • Do you explain to customers how to take care of the products they’ve purchased?
  • Do you call them after the job to say hello and make sure the job is perfect?

Do you do small things like show up on the job and talk with the customer? If the customer isn’t home do you go to the job and video the rooms that are complete and send it to the customer while they are at work? (This is a very creative move on retailer’s part.)

Realize that consumers have changed and this shift may be long term. Customers are very unhappy and untrusting and may insist that you prove who you are. Customers tired of the greed and lack of company ethics will demand accountability. I saw an interesting ad for insurance company RM Global. They wrote about the tornado that tore through Atlanta in 2005, leveling everything including the Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Three-and-a half months later the fall race weekend opened as plan. How? Because of the partnership between the Atlanta Motor Speedway and RM Global. More and more ads are showing connections. Oil companies talk about how they can reduce carbon footprints; Men’s Warehouse is offering to let the customer "keep the suit" if they lose their jobs, and most car companies are willing to take the car back if you lose your job — or help make the payments for you.

Will the recession end some day? Yes it will. The longer it takes the more damage it will do in the customer's mind. According to John A. Quelch, a professor at Harvard Business School, "During the recession of 2001, there was no decline in overall spending, although many cut back. It should be noted that this recession shows consumers being very frightened, which means that they will carry the sting for many years."

In other words, during the last recession we had, in 2001, consumers didn't change their spending habits! It's different this time, so it's time to get in step with your customer. We may be doing this dance for a while.

Resources:

Lis Calandrino is a sales trainer and marketing consultant who speaks around the country on topics ranging from retail sales to online marketing and social media trends. She can be reached at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com or 518 495-5380.

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:17+00:00April 27th, 2009|Economy, Reaching the Consumer|0 Comments

Accountability? Why Bother.

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Bad-economy
Okay, I don’t want to review the rants that are out there regarding AIG, I’m not the news reporter, but I do want to review good/bad business principles. 

Maybe like me, you’ve had enough of excuses and incompetent people running things. Corporate jets for companies that are in the poor house and salaries so high I can’t even count. AIG United Guaranty posted an operating loss of $485 million in the fourth quarter of 2008. For all of 2008, losses at the private mortgage insurer totaled $2.48 billion. Wow.

Me, I always thought that businesses should be run like businesses — and this includes government. I always wondered why New York state could never pass a state budget on time, which cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, maybe more. I wondered why we pay these people or don’t penalize them for “over runs” or not meeting completion schedules. It was even brought to my attention recently that our governor just bought a $200 toaster. He must make alot of toast! In addition, the governor has also just replaced the historic carpet in the Mansion. Really? Now?

Can we reduce the bonuses, please? The general public just seems to be generous benefactors to the high-end welfare cheats. I like that  Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating those getting the bonuses. It might be a little late to back track but we will all take heed.

We all know in business what happens when you have one big customer and they dump you. What about when you have one big customer and they don’t perform? Do you pay them for work not done or shoddy work?

Do you follow up on your contracts, or read the fine print? I remember an associate who didn’t count the number of items in an order one day. He signed the bill and then found himself short. Luckily the manufacturer realized that they had unintentionally shorted the customer.

Who reads your contracts and do they know what they are doing? Wasn’t it the federal government’s responsibility to read the contract and be clear of the terms before advancing the money to the big companies? Now I’m wondering about our responsibilities. Should I have read the fine print or insisted that the federal government conduct due diligence? Isn’t that why we elected them? Whose job is it to see that everyone does their job?

What's Google and the social networking sites saying about your new contractors and business partners? Would you pay commission if you found out that the people you hired to do the work were partially responsible for the downfall of your company? I don’t care what the contract stated; wouldn’t you examine what you had done?
Now let’s get to the part where if you had “earned” the commissions, and I use that word loosely, would you give it back? I wonder how long these people have been paid for non-production.

Now let’s talk about “talent.” I’m listening to NPR and there is someone defending what they call "talent.” That is: those who are getting the bonuses, the ones who if they're not paid will put the final nail in the company's coffin. Hm, ok, so maybe the talent quits. Where would they go? Would they make the same income? Me, I would overhaul my human resources department and look at their hiring practices. Next I would head to the training department and take a look at their "talent." They must not be getting paid on output.

If they’re incompetent, let’s hope they go to your competitors and maybe you can start all over with some new talent.

There is plenty of blame to go around; it certainly is a lesson in accountability.
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By |2017-03-03T12:07:17+00:00March 23rd, 2009|Economy|3 Comments

Who’s In Charge of Your Future?

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Pennies
I didn’t used to like Suze Orman. When she spoke of having an unhealthy relationship with your money I wondered if she was speaking directly to me. Then I read You’ve Earned It, Don’t Lose It and The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom and the more I read the more I knew she was speaking to me.

How many of us have grown up knowing exactly what to do with our money? Maybe we get an allowance and maybe it’s connected to work. In fact, some kids get allowances for no good reason (I think that’s the stimulus package in disguise).

I remember asking my dad, how much money do I need to rent an apartment? He sat down with me and went through common costs of living: electric, phone (there was only one at the time), food, transportation (I didn’t have a car at the time), clothing, savings and the costs of rent in Washington D.C., where I was just finishing school at American University.  It became very clear how much money I could spend and how much would be left. The formula seemed simple. And then of course things happened, I wanted to go on vacation and I wanted a new so-and-so and so on.

Lately I have been thinking about how many people have an unhealthy relationship with their business and their lives. By unhealthy I mean a refusal to really look at their business or personal lives, fooling themselves by pretending to understand the difference between cash flow and profit or refusing to work out a commission structure for their salespeople because "it's too hard." How many salespeople talk about not wanting to work on commission as if it were a bad thing?

Thrift
So with everything being cheap these days, should you fill up your closet, buy a new car or get a new house? This weekend they were having a liquidation sale at a nearby Holiday Inn: belts for $5 or $10 — surely I could use five more belts — and a bunch of other things. Congratulate me, I didn’t go even though it was very appealing.

Sure everyone is saying we should spend our way out of this, but didn’t we spend our way into this? People bought houses they couldn’t afford and are blaming it on “the deal.” The thought of not having a place to live should be more frightening than having the right place to live.

Maybe since I have lived alone for so long, and having had several businesses, and knowing that things “happen,” makes me more cautious of spending. You just know that things happen and you need a good back up plan called “cash.” Or maybe having been born after the depression my head is filled with the "you must take care of yourself because no one else will" mentality.

So hang on to your butts and invest in things that will provide a return.  Should you buy a house? If you can buy one that lessens your monthly payments and it's a steal then buy it. But if it’s the vacation house that you’re buying and now you’re taking on another mortgage and who knows about anyone’s job, I say think twice. But I come from the mentality of the 40’s — at least my parents were from there — and they said pay your bills and don’t spend more than you make. They sure knew how to take the fun out of livin'!

Should you buy a car with some “two-fers” out there. I have heard of the buy one and get one free; is it really what you need or would you be better happily driving your eight-year-old paid-for auto than picking up another payment?

I read that they are lowering the financing scores necessary for us to buy cars so that if you don’t quite meet the financing scores, you can over extend yourself there. Doesn’t this sound like the housing thing again? Someone needs to come up with some new plans. Did they forget that the old ones got us into trouble. Hyundai is saying if you lose your job and can’t make your car payments then you can return the car. Note, I don’t think they are giving back your down payment if you default because you lost your job.

The real question is, how do you take care of yourself with the economy the way it is, and what do you do with your money if you have any? Despite what the President says — spend, spend, spend — there are things that are worth it and things that are not.

Shoes
For all you women out there, shoes are not considered an investment unless you are the Batas family and you happen to own a shoe museum in Toronto.  (Yes, there is a shoe museum in Toronto which houses 1000s of pairs of shoes depicting the history of shoes since the 1940s.)

But back to Suze. When it comes to money her suggestion is that if you have plenty of time to wait, such as five years or more, then there are plenty of deals in the stock market. If you don’t have time then the stock market is a bad place to be. I don’t think hiding your money at UBS is such a good idea; I used to hear about people having their money in Swiss banks, but now they will have to give up the names of their depositors that have been avoiding the IRS auditors.

Jobless rates may hit 8.8 % in 2009.  Ben Bernanke says that Walt Disney is giving buyouts. Does that mean that Mickey and Minnie will be out looking for jobs? Mickey and Minnie have pretty specialized skills, maybe they should think about expanding their skill level to UBS?

Things to think about:

  • Investments should provide a return. Very few personal goods do, like clothes, but I found a new consignment shop down the street that is pretty hot and they offered to take my “disco” stuff that I've been holding for the next wave of Saturday Night Fever.
  • Offer to trade some things. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  • How about a “gold show” in your store? A retailer told me they had an appraiser come in and buy gold on the spot. The retailer said it was a grand night.
  •  Clean out your old storage bin. I have so many friends with stuff they’re holding on to “for when they move the next time.” Furniture doesn’t spoil but it gets moldy and out of date unless it’s period pieces. And if they are, what are they doing in your storage bin getting warped?
  • How about having a “bring it in for trade” at your store, or a “cleaning out the storage/warehouse/garage/trunk sale at your store?
  • Old tools, books, purses: put them on eBay or have an estate sale; everything is an estate. Mix your estate with the next door neighbor’s estate.
  • Really need to buy furniture and accessories? Check out the local hotels that are refurbishing and you might be able to pay pennies for pictures and accessories. You might be able to resell them.
  • I have friends that go to the "nearly-new" shops and buy clothes that have been donated by TJ Maxx or Marshalls and resell them.

Have any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

Photo credits: Turkish Stilts courtesy of Bata Shoe Museum

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:18+00:00March 13th, 2009|Economy|0 Comments

Recession? Not for Everyone!

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I had the opportunity to talk with John Wells, General Manager for the past seven years of Taylor Flooring in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Taylor Flooring was awarded Mohawk Color Center Dealer of the year at the Mohawk Color Center Convention February 7, 2009. Taylor Flooring consists of four stores and has been in business for 16 years.

MKT_8753
John Wells is in charge of hiring, training and ongoing coaching for his salespeople. The first thing you notice about John is his energy and focus. He knows what to do, how to do it and how to get it done. He talks about how important all employees are to the company and his connection to his salespeople. John is filled with passion about the business, the customers and the employees.  He talks about coaching as being an important part of his ongoing training program.  From my experience, it is rare for businesses to focus on coaching; but with the right coaches, people are able to make immediate and long lasting changes.

I asked John about the recession and what it means to their company. His reply was quite interesting. He said “in the United States, it’s real, in Canada there is more of a misperception about what’s going on. The news media just scares everyone so we become petrified.”

John’s solution: stop listening and stop focusing on the bad news. If 32% of homes are in foreclosure, John looks at it as an opportunity.  According to John, these homes will have to get sold and there’s his opportunity to go in and update the flooring in them. As we all know, it’s the half-full / half-empty attitude.Taylor Flooring works at using financing for flooring to help customers sell their homes.  The trick is to apply for the credit so it doesn’t get in the way of the customers other loans, and to time the closing of the loan so it coincides with the sale of the house.  Taylor aggressively seeks realtor partners by providing sliding scale commissions to realtors that offer good client referrals. The larger the flooring sale, the larger the commission.

The key to staying cool while the rest of the world is talking doom and gloom? According to John:

  • Don’t panic. Leave that for your competitors. If you panic, it will send shock waves through your sales staff and make it difficult for them to concentrate on doing their best. (Interesting that John should make this statement. On February 14, one of the writers from the Wall Street Journal made the comment that it is essential that our President tell us the truth — but to not rub our noses in it. Everyone needs to know that there is hope, no matter what’s going on.)
  • Focus on what works well and do it over and over again. Your team should be on auto-pilot for survival skills. Cut unnecessary overhead and focus on what brings in business and more profitable customers. This is the time to dump the unprofitable ones and to give more to those that are supporting your business.
  • Have 'pit bull' persistence in follow through to close deals. Hold on to what works and don’t let go.

“Retaining a leadership position requires internal positioning," John adds.  "You are constantly improving the processes.”

These processes encompass the following:

  • Having systems in place that keep the wheels turning. Everyone needs to know what to do and how to do it, consistently. All the pieces must fit together.
  • The leaders must have positive attitudes and initiate the changes they want to see if they are to create believers. Once people believe, positive things will happen.
  • Proper behavior must be identified and monitored. This includes professional presentations, keeping the store looking great and looking professional. Everyone knows what’s required to promote, differentiate and support the brand.

As John says, “it’s all about promoting great relationships with your customers and your employees and living the core values.” 

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:18+00:00February 26th, 2009|Competitive Advantage, Economy|0 Comments

Want to Build Your Customer Base? Learn How to Stay Close to Them

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Everything you read, no matter where you turn, is a story about a retailer cutting their workforce or closing their doors. The latest cuts include Home Depot, Starbucks and Macy’s. The reasons are largely due to the disappearing cusotmer, but a large part is simply a lack of vision and an understanding of one's core customer.

For these companies, the problem is not knowing how their "bread gets buttered” or who butters it. Survivors will be those who can move, turn on a dime and embrace new technology. The good ones know if they don’t take care of their customers someone else will.

Even good retailers are having to “bare bones” it and many find themselves back on the sales floor, in the warehouse with little time left to think about growing their business. They're in survival mode.

It’s always about supply and demand. In tough times, threre's less demand and more supply. Fewer customers and more products. If you are a supplier and want to win your customers over you will have to get smarter and change the rules. Everyone gives lip service to relationships but most of the time that’s a cover-up for selling more products. Selling more products is the name of the game but if you’re desperate the customer will get an uneasy feeling, not trust the message and ultimately not trust you. Forget the sale.

Today, if you are a supplier of products, you have two problems: there's more of you and fewer of them. Even more important, as a supplier you have to rely on your customer to sell your products to the end user. When times were great and there were more end users — if you were a supplier — you didn’t have to worry if your product got sold.

For now, this party is over. Suppliers are watching their customers dwindle in size — not only because customers are zipping up their purse strings but because suppliers are not employing efficient strategites to get those who are willing to spend.

The New Supplier

Enter the new savvy supplier, ready to pitch in, support, and educate their customer.

The strategy? Seeing themselves as more than a supplier and investing in tools that will help their customers be more profitable.  They're ready to do what it takes, to step out of their supplier box and belly up to the bar with money and information.

The payoff? Keeping their customers by keeping their customers profitable.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to provide a presentation for United Tile on the West Coast. This is a supplier who gets it — gets the partnership, gets the “out of the box” thinking and wants to be the supplier of choice. Their mission is big, to be the major supplier of product and knowledge for their customers.

“I want us to be part of the solution," says Ron Cook, Executive Vice President of United Tile. "I want to provide our customers with useful information that will help them stay in business as well as plan for the future. We also want our sales reps to be well versed in our customer's world so that we can get through these trying times with them.  It means we’re going to learn more about our customer’s business as well as our own."

"Most of us," Ron continues, "are far from an ability to change the economy, but through education and training mixed in with a little fun we can put ourselves and our customers in a better position when things turn around."

His is one group that gets it. Here are a few tips on how they're doing it:

  • Let your customers know you’re in it for the long haul and on the same team.
  • Genuinely want to help your customer, pitch in and find out what it will take to help them build their business.
  • Educate yourself on best practices in your customer’s world.
  • Provide ways for them to learn and share their learning.
  • Make it fun; there’s enough doom and gloom out there already!

It’s up to you and me: no one has yet come to bail us out!

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:19+00:00November 21st, 2008|Economy|0 Comments