Monday, June 22, 2009

Merchant Mentality he didn’t even know what he was doing….

Written by Doron Levy

On Saturday’s, my daughter, the aspiring thespian, has a drama class at a local theater. She goes with her friends and it ends at 12, right around lunch time. We love this chain called Mr. Submarine so we decided to try a new location just across the street from the theater.

I like patronizing these small merchant franchises because chances are, you are being served by the owner. The person making your sub, putting on the toppings, getting your drink, ringing you up has a personal and financial interest in the store. Back to the story….

We were with another family so we basically took over half of the store. Everyone loves kids, right? Ordered our subs, ate our subs, all is good. I decide it’s time for cookies (they have really great fresh cookies). I ask the associate behind the cash for the price, 3 for $1.49, not too bad (I miss the 99 cent price point thought). I’m about to hand over my cash and the owner, Amir, walks over and says to the girl, ‘Just void it out and ask him how many kids there are’. All of a sudden, I’m handed 10 cookies and my money back. I’m in shock! Really I am.

The other father I was with didn’t know about the freebies and went over to the counter to order some for his kids and he was handed 6 more cookies at no charge. Not really what you would expect from a chain but without even knowing it, Amir embraced and exercised the ‘merchant mentality‘.

Don’t think I’m looking for a freebie wherever I go, but now my kids will not shut up about the ‘free cookies’ at Mr. Sub and I will have to return there for lunch for the duration of the class which ironically is another 8 weeks. My friend and his 4 kids will also have to return. Amir did exactly what he was supposed to do as a retailer, make us have to come back.

After all the kids were strapped in to everyone’s respective SUV/Minivan, I went back into the store to get Amir’s card and ask him about merchant mentality. He politely said he didn’t know what I was talking about so (without charging him) I explained ‘merchant mentality’ and how he unconsciously exercised it.

Imagine if the big guys developed an internal culture using the ‘merchant mentality?’

Doron Levy is president of Captus Business Consulting. Captus provides support to the retail industry. His blog can be found at and can he can be reached at

Friday, June 19, 2009

Image is everything…yes, even in retail.

By Doron Levy

My retail spidy senses are always tingling and I love hearing stories, good or bad from friends and colleges about their retail experiences. My friend Brad changed his Facebook status to this: is frustrated that it takes 6 times longer to return defective goods to a retail outlet than to buy them in the first place. Naturally, I sent him a message asking him what was what. He speaks about his latest experience at Canadian Tire and a less than adequate light fixture they sold him. His reply and it has been censored for public consumption: …I literally waited in a line of 15 people (one rep at the counter) for 45 minutes to return it for a refund… Meanwhile - dozens of staff are wandering aimlessly about the store… No manager available…. Grrrr…. Why is retail in Canada so “third world?”

Well there you go. When I say image is everything, image really is everything. How many times have you stood in line at a bank with only 2 windows open and a bunch of people hanging around or sitting at desks behind the counter? Are you really thinking: ‘They must be busy doing something else essential to the survival of this bank‘? No you are not. You are thinking: ‘I don’t care what they are doing, they only thing they are doing is NOT helping me!‘.

I would say customer service is a priority in any industry that has customers. But in retail, it really is ALL about the customer. If you cannot effectively convey the message that customers are your number one priority, you will loose some of those customers. I was always trained to stop whatever I was doing and engage the customer no matter the task. Especially when retailers should have a 5 foot rule implemented.

I wonder if my friend Brad would experience something like that in other chains? I have returned merch to both Lowes and Home Depot and usually have never had issues. Long lines are common but you don’t see swathes of associates mulling around. In fact, the newer Home Depot location near us has a completely sealed off returns desk. You can’t see anything outside of the returns cluster (not that this is a good thing either, we are basically putting blinders on our customers and telling them to return their stuff and get out).

Getting back to Canadian Tire and Brad’s problem. This has got to be a leadership issue. Those associates that are just standing around (even if they are engaged in work) know that they can get away with it because management does it (or in this case is non-existent).

Leadership breeds ownership, especially in retail. Whenever I took over a location, I made it a habit to thoroughly clean the bathrooms (note to future clients: I don’t do that anymore, my charm is how I win you over). I can honestly say that I never had to clean the bathrooms ever again at any of my stores. In some cases, lower level associates would take over bathroom detail because ‘the boss expects the john to cleaned a certain way’.

Doron Levy is president of Captus Business Consulting. Captus provides support to the retail industry. His blog can be found at and can he can be reached at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What you see is what you get…the bricks and mortar part of your operation.

Written by Doron Levy,

I’m an Ops guy. Always have been and probably always will be. I succumbed about 5 years ago and started to embrace the internet and it’s usefulness in retail. I want wrap up my discussion on the Internet back in the store.

I actually did open up my recent ValPak envelope because we are looking to do some enhancements to the front entrance to our house. Where else is there to look for such things? Flipping through the little flyers (which do look good but are stale in comparison to a really effective website) I noticed a business just down the street from us that specializes in household demolition and porch design.

The website is prominently displayed on the front, so being the online guy that I am, I checked it out. Absolutely gorgeous site. Flash intro, colorful backgrounds, hi res pictures of their work, testimonials (which are also really important to have on your site) and a small ‘design your own porch’ interface that was very easy to use.

I will spare you the gory details but upon arrival at the store, I didn’t even think I was at the right place. The store had no sign on the front, the salesfloor was dark and dingy. The ‘customer service rep’ sitting (I should say slouching) at the desk seemed less interested in helping us and more interested in the Ho Ho he was scarfing down. Being the only customers in the store, we were provided ample (and when I say ample I mean infinity) time to browse.

After my experience, I showed that site to a web design colleague of mine and he mentioned that he would charge upwards of 10K plus plus plus for a site like that for a small business. What the heck? You are telling me that this business spent a huge chunk of cash to get a gorgeous site and put no money into the store? Doesn’t add up in my opinion (my spidy Ops senses are tingling).

The bottom line is that you if you are going to use the Internet to market your retail businesses, you better have a store that reflects what you have on the net. In fact, I would start with the store first, then work outwards. Turns out Ho Ho boy was the owner and has an awful reputation in the neighborhood. What you see is what you get.

Doron Levy is president of Captus Business Consulting. Captus provides support to the retail industry. His blog can be found at and can he can be reached at

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Track Shoes.

Written by Bob Phibbs,

She sat in her chair eating the ice cream cone while telling me how her doctor is making her take her insulin before dinner, not after. She took another lick. She had swelled up over the years from a lack of activity, an increase in sitting watching TV and a general boredom that food could help fill.

As I looked at my relative it hit me how many business owners tend to do something similar; telling a sales rep how dead it is in their store while customer mill about unattended. Or when you ask them how their average ticket is doing they look back at you like you just passed gas. Or when there is less money for payroll they blame the economy while leaving to pick up their daughter at 2pm – leaving the store with one employee for the rest of the day.

So many speakers and consultants use sports analogies for a reason. Winning. Competition. Cultivating a team. One reason I like it is there are markers to your success. You know if you hit the 100 yard line and no one is next to you, you’re in the lead. Likewise if you are watching everyone pass you and are dead last, you have a visible marker of your place in the race.

When we don’t look at tracking our progress anything is bound to happen with no markers to say when we are in trouble or what we need to do to get back in the game.

How to correct it? Begin with your financials – increasing marketing without increasing sales training is assuming there is nothing you can do to drive sales in your store, it will be through new customers. The danger is that you believe that and continue to lick the ice cream cone by buying more product and possibly reducing staff.

You want to compete? You want to get some traction? Track your progress both good and bad. Then you can clearly see how far you need to go to win the race, instead of being sidelined.

Learn more about how to compete with You Can Compete: Double Sales Without Discounting.

Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor, a small business expert, speaker, blogger, trainer and author of the book, You Can Compete. Get more free tips at

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Slow Traffic? 3 Small Things Small Retailers Can Do

Written by Doron Levy

Ya ya, the economy is in the toilet and swine flu will destroy us all but we still need to buy milk and Ipod accessories and hairbrushes and party supplies. I’ve looked at a lot of ways that smaller guys are marketing themselves these days and I’ve whittled them down to 3 effective ways to build up your presence if you are a small shop operation:

Number 3:
You would be surprised at how much traffic community bulletin boards get at the local grocery store. I was at my local No Frills a few days ago and there was a crowd of people hanging around looking at all the ads and posters on the board. A daycare that we use advertise heavily on these boards and when speaking to the director, she stated that she gets at least 10 referrals a week from these posters. If someone can sell their 1982 Corolla, why can’t you sell your products? You can probably post up a flyer on there for free and the costs for maintaining a more permanent ad are minimal. Try to barter with the store manager.

Number 2:
The sandwich board. Oh how I love these. Obviously some merchants are going to read this and say, there is no way the landlord or mall manager is going to let me put a board out in front. You would be surprised. A very upscale mall here in Toronto is now allowing merchants to put small signs outside their locations in an effort to capitalize on foot traffic. Effective signs have big block letters with some sort of price on them. Having a price is important, it’s what draws them in.

And number 1:
Community presence. I have dwelled on this in the past but I cannot stress how important it is to get out there and build relationships with local kingpins. I will start with the cons: NONE. Okay, here ar the pros: it’s free marketing, it shows you care about the community, it shows that you are sensitive to local cultures, it will tell you what kind of products to carry, you will build a reputation for yourself in the community, it’s free marketing, it’s free WOM (there is that acronym again!) marketing, and the list goes on and on.

As you read this blog, these are things you can do right now. And I mean right now. Close this browser and hustle….

Doron Levy is president of Captus Business Consulting. Captus provides support to the retail industry. His blog can be found at and can he can be reached at

Friday, May 29, 2009

Collision Course To Reality

Written by Bob Phibbs

Retail sales are up. Stocks are up. So why are so many independents down? They aren’t making money.

Truth is, many never had but it took the economy to pop like a balloon to bring them back to earth.

Is it that they are enamored with being “the boss?”

Their wife has an endowment she is supported by, so their business hasn’t really had to make a profit.

They may have a husband who has another job and this has been a hobby.

They like to buy pretty things regardless of whether they sell.

Maybe they own the building so rent is cheap.

But the reality is you have to pay attention to your business fundamentals before it is too late.

You’re either taking out a profit or you’re putting in money. And I’ll bet many of you would be surprised to discover you’re subsidizing your customers because you don’t price correctly, are over-bought or have no presence on the web.

I heard a speaker last week say you could double sales by just asking more people to buy. If you believe that or you think saying, “I refuse to participate in the recession” will result in more sales, I think you’re delusional.

Much like after 9/11, we are in a different environment than many of us have ever faced. We can’t hide from the truth - business is work.

A marriage is work. Raising kids is work. We see what happens when people don’t take care of those things.

When you’re in denial about your business, the financial results can be devastating. When it closes, everyone sees what the owners should have seen.

If you’re happy being in denial and flying blind in the plane, you are on a collision course with reality.

Best-selling author and speaker Bob Phibbs has helped thousands of businesses compete by using his sales approach and not discounting. His Book, You Can Compete: Double Sales Without Discounting is the backbone of scores of businesses’ training programs because it teaches his methods for making a business successful. Download more free tips at his website. Follow him on Twitter at

Small Retailers Have an Advantage Over Big Boxes During Difficult Economic Times

Written by Doron Levy

I may seem like an outcast to say that, but I do believe that small retailers have an advantage over big boxes during difficult economic times. It boils down to control. Smaller merchants have more of it than their larger competitors.

Yes, smaller guys can control overhead better and can control shrink better and can control image better but what I want to focus on is the people aspect of the business. Providing sterling service in this environment is tough for anyone. Unfortunately for the box, they have a much more tougher time keeping everyone motivated and producing. Cut hours, reduced personnel and reduced customer traffic weigh heavily on the staff and if the manager and director doesn't have a strong presence in the store, it will only compound the issue.

Now smaller guys, and you know who you are, can control this much better than any of the big guys. Levels of communication are reduced and most deployment occurs face to face with your people and that's what's missing from retail nowadays. We have a basic need for human interaction and we can keep our people producing by embracing that. Memos, notes and checklists are fine, but when was the last time you got out on the floor to talk to your people? Find out what's wrong and what's right from the source.

I needed to pickup some Summer supplies for my daughter so I figured the local dollar store would be my best bet. I never go to these places expecting service. I'm in self serve mode when I'm dollar shopping. The experience was probably my best customer service interaction this year. I was greeted, asked if I needed help, I was shown where my items where and to top it all off, the associate got me a basket. I honestly wanted to keep shopping just for the heck of it!

Turns out they just had a meeting about customer service with the owner earlier that day. Music to my ears. He knows that he is working with low margin products so he has to build a bigger basket. That owner should teach Retailing 101.

Doron Levy is president of Captus Business Consulting. Captus provides support to the retail industry. His blog can be found at and can he can be reached at