Competing in Today’s Economy

Everyone Wants You to Grow, but Who Really Wants You to Thrive?

Thrive not Survive

To all independent business owners!

Here’s something to think about:

I once received a call from the sales vice-president of a well-known national franchise who wanted me to speak at their annual convention.  He’d heard about me from one of his independent franchisees, and he knew that I helped businesses grow their sales, customer traffic, and profits as a Destination Business.

We seemed to be the perfect fit, but then he said:

“One thing: I can’t have you mention anything about that Destination-stuff you speak on. These are franchisees. They have set territories.  You can’t say anything about becoming a Destination Business because I don’t need a bunch of franchisees leaving that convention, all half-cocked, thinking they can pull customers from anywhere they want.”

And with that, I politely declined speaking for them, and referred him to another speaker.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand his concern.  I know how franchised businesses work.  A well-known franchise (like a McDonald’s), wants their locations to deliver brand-uniformity: The same image, the same products, the same promise.

Consistency, not differences.

But here’s the thing: Consumers don’t always want the same.  Most of the time, they actually want uniqueness. They want one-of-a-kind.  They like individuality.  And they especially love Shop-Local, independent businesses run by local owners.

Who knew Mom and Pop were gonna be so Hot?

But the good news is: The principles of being a unique Destination can be merged with franchise systems. But you need a franchise management team that’s willing to grow and learn, like the Real Deals on Home Décor franchise. When I met with the Real Deals on Home Décor executive team, they hired me to help their franchisees grow their businesses.  Period!  No conditions. No limitations.  They wanted me to teach their franchisees and their management team all about my Destination strategy and they wanted me to give their independent owners all the tools they needed to bring in more customers and sales! We took the Real Deals franchise model and incorporated the most powerful parts of my 14-step Destination process and blended them together.  Then, they had me teach the strategy to their independent owners.

Real Deals on Home Décor wanted their franchise network of independent business owners to thrive, not just survive.

Now think about your company’s manufacturers who supply your business with products.  I learned there’s a difference in manufacturers when I spoke at the American Lighting Association.  No sooner had I left the stage when I was approached by the management team from Kichler Lighting, one of the largest lighting manufacturers in North America.  They liked what they’d heard and within 2 weeks, they had me design an entire 12-month training plan for their lighting showroom customers that included workshops, 1-on-1 consulting, and monthly Destination webinars, all designed to drive more customer traffic into their businesses.

Kichler Lighting created a program that took the strengths of their product lines and mixed it with the Destination Business process to help their retail store owners grow. Not just plod forward.

They wanted them to thrive.

Why do I tell you these stories?  Because I want you look closely at the companies, resources, and programs that are integral to your business, and then, decide if your company is receiving what you deserve.  Are the people who manage these entities just helping you maintain your business, or are they giving you all the tools to accelerate your business to its greatest potential?

Some of you know that James Cash Penney, the founder of the JC Penney chain, was a fellow Longmont, Colorado entrepreneur. His first business was located just 2 doors down from our location at 321 Main Street in downtown Longmont just 119 years ago.  I’m going to end this blog post with a quote from my former neighbor:

“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”

It’s time for you to insist that those forces start working towards your company’s maximum growth.

Destination BootCamp update:

I wanted to update you on our remaining 2016 Destination BootCamps:

  1. We have three (3) remaining Destination BootCamps in 2016 that have space in them. Their dates are:
    1. June 7-9
    2. July 26-28
    3. September 13-15

The October 25-27 class is full and can take no more participants.

Here are three workshops in my schedule that are open to the public:

Thursday, May 19: 8:00 to 9:30 a.m. at Hutchinson Community College, 1300 N. Plum, Justice Theater in the Shears Technology Building in Hutchinson, Kansas, Increasing Sales & Profits as a Destination Business. To register, call 620-665-8468 or email dukartd@hutchcc.edu.

Tuesday, May 24: 9:00 to 10:15 a.m. in Milwaukee Wisconsin at the National Main Street Conference, Room 102C in the Wisconsin Center.  The 7 Steps to a Memorable Main Street: Capturing Today’s Customers as a Destination Downtown. Join me for my 1 and only session, and then, stick around and let’s talk about your Destination Downtown challenge.

Tuesday and Wednesday, June 14-15, Austin, Texas at the Real Places 2016 Conference, sponsored by the Texas Historical Commission. Go to RealPlaces.us for more information.

Thanks, Everyone!  Let me hear of your successes by emailing me at Info@JonSchallert.com

Jon

The 4 Biggest Lies Customers Tell You

Lies to Look Out forMost of you who own a business know this, but customers lie.  They lie a lot.  Most don’t do it in a spiteful way, but from the time they’re walking in your business, they’re not telling you the truth.

Does this shock you?  You must be new to the world of independent business ownership.

Let’s start with the first lie they spout when they walk in: “Oh, I’m just looking.”

But they’re really not. Most people are too busy to walk into a business and stroll around just looking.

Here’s what they’re really saying but not telling you:  The outside of your business looked interesting and something caught their attention. They had something in their head that they needed and they thought you might be the place.  They had a problem and they thought you were the solution.  Now they’re inside and your place isn’t living up to what they expected.

Now their interest?  Not so much.

Now that they’re inside, you’re about to hear the next lie.  Here it is:

“You have a cute place.”

Now, there are variations of this lie.  For instance, you might hear: “What a nice place”, “Your place is so different”, and “Wow, look at this place”.  Regardless of how it’s uttered, this is the lie to make pleasant conversation as they’re looking for that thing they need that they’re beginning to realize you don’t have.  They’re buying time, conveying friendliness, and scanning your business, deciding if your place is really worth the time to stay in and explore.

Finally, when they go up and down one aisle (I call it the “Just-looking-loop”), they start for the exit.  And right here, they’ll often spout these two Big Ones:

“I just love your place”.

My Mom used to say to me:  “Your nose is growing.”  Try saying that to them.

This is a bold-faced whopper.  For those of you who are naïve, who think they’re sincere, here’s how to know if they’re telling the truth:  If they say this, and it isn’t followed by giving you money and buying something, it’s a lie.

And the final one I love:  “I’m going to look around, and I’ll be back.”

Now they’re laying it on thick.

This one has different meanings.  Bottom line: They’re out of here. You’ll never see them again. This is their exit lie. This lie can mean that they misjudged your business, thought you had something that you either don’t have or they weren’t able to find, and now, they’re trying to be nice by giving you that exit compliment.

Or, this lie can have a different meaning these days:  It can also mean they found what they want in your business, but they’re going to check online to see if it’s cheaper and if it is, they’ll buy it there.

Well, that’s all the time I have today in this blog.  Hope you enjoyed the 4 Biggest Lies Customer Tell You.

Upcoming in my future blogs, I’ll explain these two favorites:

“I don’t come down here much because there’s not a lot of parking” and “I get so busy I just buy it online.”

Gotta love em!

With 40 Pages of Updates, You Should be Coming Our Way

We have five (5) Destination BootCamps this year, the next one being in 18 days on April 19-21.

By the way, we only have 3 seats left in it.  (And if you’re interested, the skiing is excellent in Colorado; stay for the weekend and go up skiing). FYI: Our registration BootCamp deadline for our April class is Monday, April 11.

After the April BootCamp, our next Destination BootCamp is on June 7-9, followed by one in the end of July, mid-September, and the end of October.

But you should know that in all of our 2016 BootCamps, I’ve already made over 40 pages of updates and changes, to keep the material current.  Lots of new website, social media, and digital marketing changes and additions, along with new photos, success stories, and my new “Shop Local” section, where you learn how to actually get customers to shop local, without having to play the guilt card (which doesn’t work anyway).

Finally, I’m always happy to talk to you and walk you through how I think you’ll benefit from our BootCamp, and if your business isn’t a good fit for my class, I’ll tell you that, too.  Just call me at our office number below.

Hope to see you in Colorado this year!

Until next week,

Jon

Quit Killing Your Business: Preserve Your Profit Margin

Your Money Up In SmokeI’m not very good sitting in an audience. Sitting’s not my thing. But I’m especially bad at sitting still when there’s a business consultant on stage telling independent business owners that their best shot at bringing customers in their doors is to discount their products and services.

You see, I was speaking at a conference, had some time between my sessions, and wanted to hear this consultant’s take on small business success, but I wasn’t in my seat 3 minutes and he starts telling the owners in the audience that a great way to bring people into their businesses was to give a “tax-free” day to customers, and discount their prices by the percentage of their tax rate.

Now, I’m not saying this technique won’t work.  It will.  But so will discounting your product 20%, 30%, or even 50%.  But why stop there?  If you really want to attract thousands of customers in a single day, just give all your products away for free!

Nobody wants that, do we?  Yes, we want customers to come in our doors, but we want them to pay a fair price so at the end of the day, we’ve made a profit and we’re making a living doing what we do.

But that starts with understanding the downside to price discounting.

Business owners are mistakenly giving up critical dollars that their businesses need to survive. I meet owners every day that have gone down the road of constantly offering discounts, but who also complain to me at the end of the year that they’re not generating a profit.

Folks:  Heavy discount marketing = a profit poor performance.

Plus, the more businesses discount their prices, the more their customers are trained to wait for the discount. (Think Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Sports Authority).

Oh, wait:  Sports Authority just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Coincidence?

There are smart ways to market a business with price discounting, creative methods that don’t hit your bottom line so hard, and in many cases, give the customer a feel that they’re getting a great deal, while really not giving up very much profit margin at all.  I have webinars in DestinationUniversity.com, our business owner training network, on this topic.  But for now, remember these basic tenants on discounting:

  • Every customer wants good value these days, but not all customers need a discount to purchase.
  • Discount marketing attracts the least loyal consumers who are most likely to desert your business when another business discounts more.
  • These same discount-oriented customers generally spend less money and demand more attention than more profitable customers.
  • Bottom-line reality: The more you discount, the more bottom-feeders you’re going to attract.

Want to minimize your price discounting?  It starts with focusing on making your business distinctive, specialized, and one-of-a-kind, focusing on unique products and specialized services that people haven’t seen before.

Or as I like to say: Creating customer insistence by becoming a Destination.

Only 4 Seats Left

We have only four (4) seats left for my April 19-21 Destination BootCamp, where you can learn to implement my entire 14-step strategy that turns your business into a Consumer Destination, equipped to entice customers from hours away.

If you’re not familiar with Destination BootCamp, click on www.DestinationBootCamp.com and take time to read the nearly 200 testimonials from business owners just like you, who write about how Destination BootCamp has accelerated the sales and profitability of their stores, sometimes by hundreds of thousands of dollars!

This is the fourteenth year I’ve been doing the BootCamp. We’ve nearly run 1,000 business owners through my process.

I know you’ve thought about attending. Why haven’t you?

Don’t miss this chance to transform your business. Make the commitment to come to Colorado and attend one of my 5 Destination BootCamps in 2016.

Until next week,

Jon

It’s Time to Act Impulsively in Your Business

In the early 1900’s, there was a noted Harvard psychologist named Dr. William Moulton Marston.  You probably haven’t heard of him, and if not for my brain’s ability to capture the obscure, you probably never would. All his psychology writings are out of print.

Dr. Marston is generally known for two important creations. His first invention was the lie detector, which he created after he noticed that there was a correlation between people lying and the physiological changes that occurred in their bodies, including the elevation of their blood pressure.

Secondly, Dr. Marston was also the creator of the Wonder Woman comic strip. Yes, you heard that right. The same person who received a Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard, the inventor of the lie detector, is also the same guy who envisioned Wonder Woman wearing tights, indestructible bracelets, and her magic lasso which could tie criminals up, make them obedient, and unable to lie.

Old Doc Marston’s brain worked in mysterious ways, didn’t it?

But forget Wonder Woman for a second (if you can), and think about Dr. Marston, the psychologist.  In his studies, he talked about the importance of listening and acting on our minds’ impulses, and how there is a scientific justification for taking rapid action.

The next quote is a long one, but if I shortened it, you’d never get the full gist of it, and you’re likely to never come in contact with the CBS radio interview I found from the 1940’s where he spoke these words:

“For years, as a psychologist, I’ve sought in the careers of great and of everyday people, the inner springs that make for successful living. There are two which seem to me of prime importance. The first is hard work, governed by cool, logical thoughtfulness. The other is sudden, warm impulsive action…”

“Most of us actually stifle enough good impulses during the course of the day to change the current of our lives. These are inner flashes of impulse that light up the mind for an instant. Then, contented in their afterglow, we tend to lapse back into routine, feeling vaguely that sometime we might do something about it or that at least our intentions were good. And in this we win against the inner self. For impulses set up the lines of communication between the unconscious mind and daily action…”

“The person who follows his impulses is not necessarily flighty. The timid soul, however, is fearful, lest impulse lead him into all manner of mistakes. But mistakes are inevitable. We’re bound to make them no matter which course we take. Some of the worst mistakes in history have followed consciously reasoned decisions…”

“The mistakes of inaction flanked by heavy reasoning are likely to be worse than the mistakes of a genuine impulse.  For one thing, they make our inertia worse day by day. We all know people who go through agonies of indecision before taking any important step. There are always arguments for and against, and the more we think about them, the more they seem to offset each other, until we wind up in the state of paralysis…”

“Impulsive action, which originates in a swift subconscious appraisal of the situation, might have saved all worry. And when a painfully thought-out decision proves wrong, how often we remember an original hunch that would have been right. The way to get things done is to bring mind and muscle and voice into play at the very second a good impulse starts within us.”

“The life stories of successful people are full of episodes that have marked turning points in their careers.  True impulses are intelligent.  They reveal the basic interests of the subconscious mind.”

So what does Wonder Woman, a lie detector, and William Moulton Marston have to do with your business?  I’m glad you asked:

As of this blog post, we are nearly one-third of the way into 2014, and my question to you is: Are you achieving what you want in your business this year?

We’re 17 weeks into 2014, if you are NOT achieving the revenue you want or the revenue you need from your business, what is your plan?  Did you have a plan when you started the year?  If not, do you have a plan now?  What is your next step? What actions are you going to take to set the course of your business upward?

And please, don’t tell me that you’re going to keep doing what you’ve been doing.

I believe that most entrepreneurs and business owners know in their gut if their businesses are in trouble or if their businesses are going to be fine.

As you’ve heard before, hoping your business will improve is not a strategy.

We’re at Day 113 in 2014, and whether you get help from me by utilizing my Destination Business strategy, or you decide to reach out to someone else, take action.

Until next week,

Jon Schallert

PS:  Every year, we get business owners who come to our Destination BootCamp, who say to me at the end of the workshop:  “I don’t know why I waited so long to attend this.”  My response:  “I’m glad you took action to attend it now.”

The Power and Popularity of Being Small

Colorado Native Beer The Little Beer that isntI love small, locally-owned businesses. I like their uniqueness and their personalities. Plus, I like discovering products from small companies that are hard-to-find and locally-made.

These are the original reasons that I first loved Colorado Native Beer, a beer that is exclusively made here in Colorado, one that can only be purchased right here in Colorado, and one that only uses Colorado ingredients. When I read the description of the beer for the first time on the ColoradoNativeLager.com website, I knew this beer was for me:

“Colorado Native is the only beer in the world brewed with Rocky Mountain water, Colorado-grown barley from the San Luis valley, the oldest strain of brewer’s yeast in Colorado and finished with hand-picked Colorado-grown hops.”

So imagine my surprise when I wanted to take a brewery tour of the AC Golden Brewery in nearby Golden, Colorado, only to learn that there were no tours. This seemed strange, since most of the other small craft breweries I knew welcomed the public to tour their facilities.

After I did a little more searching on the company website, here’s what I learned:

The AC Golden Brewery doesn’t have its own facility and is instead located in a corner of the Coors Brewery, likewise located in Golden.  Hmmm, I wondered: “Why didn’t they just say that this beer was brewed at Coors? Why all the mystery of where it’s brewed and the different brewery name?”

Well, here are some other facts I learned that weren’t shared, nor even printed on the label or the carton of the beer:

  • The AC Golden Brewing Company is a subsidiary of the MillerCoors company, created according to President Glenn Knippenberg, to “serve as a specialty brewing arm of MillerCoors.”

As I did a little more digging, I learned:

  • The MillerCoors Company (the parent company that owns the brewery that makes the Colorado Native beer), is itself a joint venture between the SABMiller Company and the Molson Coors Brewing Company, created in 2007.
  • That the MillerCoors Company joint venture has the responsibility of selling brands such as Miller Lite, Miller High Life, Miller Genuine Draft, Coors, Coors Light, Molson Canadian, and Blue Moon beer in the United States.  The company also coordinates all the brewing for the brands of beer owned by the Pabst Brewing Company.

OK, wait, I thought. Now you’re telling me that the guys who brew Colorado Native also brew all these other beers?  But wait, there’s more:

  • The SABMiller Company (the one that owns MillerCoors, which owns AC Golden, that makes Colorado Native beer) is a British multinational brewing and beverage company headquartered in London, and is the second-largest brewing company in the world. It also sells and brews brands that include Grolsch, Peroni, Urquell, and a bunch of others.
  • Finally, I learned the SABMiller Company operates in 75 countries, sells around 21 billion liters of beer per year (which is the equivalent of 59,174,539,550 cans of beer – I had to use a calculator for that), and had sales of over $31 billion dollars (that’s billion with a B), last year.

So why wasn’t this information shared on the Colorado Native beer website, on the can, or on its packaging?

I can guess that it is not as good of a story to say that a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that owns another multi-million dollar conglomerate that makes a “small craft brew” is in fact, a well-funded, minimally-at-risk venture of securely-employed brew makers, hanging out in a corner of the mother company, trying to act little.

The truth is that being an offshoot of a huge firm has none of the romance, charm, or entrepreneurial start-up feeling of an independent brewery. Consequently, without actually lying about it, large companies work very hard to keep their trendy brands separate from their mass brands. They work hard to build up the unique personalities of the brands and create original folksy stories and show non-slick videos that make them look considerably smaller than they are.

Which brings me back to the independent businesses that I love to support:  Why is it that so many Mom and Pop independent businesses don’t capitalize on their own uniqueness, their one-of-a-kind history, their distinctive personalities, and their own special quirkiness, and milk it for all it’s worth, when big companies are working extremely hard to create this mystique every day?

First, many owners don’t know it’s OK to do it. I think many believe that any eccentric uniqueness that pops up looks unprofessional, and I think that many independents believe that uniqueness doesn’t really matter.

Well, as you’ve seen with Colorado Native Beer, being small does matter. It caused me to originally bond to a beer that felt small and unique, only to later realize I was deceived by a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.

The lesson here: Uniqueness works. Branding yourself as small works. There is a power in being small, and showing it in everything you do.

But most of all, it’s important for independent business owners to tell their own stories, and it’s best you do it right now, before some big company decides to take your story for themselves.

Jon Schallert

PS: Want to get my weekly blog posts before anyone else? Click here to receive my weekly blog via email.

Winter Weather Marketing Tactics Designed to Lure Customers In

ItsColdOutThere

Some of your businesses have been taking a beating with this awful weather and when bad weather hits, it can cripple sales.

While winter is usually a slower time for consumer spending, January weather flowed right through February, and as I write this, it’s snowing heavily outside this March.  Can this Spring’s outlook be that much better?

Some of you asked that I write about how to overcome a loss of business due to bad weather in this week’s blog.

I will in a second. But let’s first talk about the realities of bad weather:

Bad weather will impact sales immediately, but there can be a corresponding increase in sales when the weather gets better, IF the product is still useable during that later date.  For example, you are a garden center and you have a massive selection of vegetable seeds. Bad weather hits for 2 weeks and delays planting for everyone. But then the weather clears and the customers pour in, intent on still doing their planting.

But this corresponding bump in sales doesn’t always happen. Here’s what happened in Colorado last year: You are a tire retailer and you stock snow tires. In Colorado last year, November, 2012 through February, 2013 were some of the lowest snow months in the state’s history. Do people rush in and buy snow tires in March? Nope. Spring is right around the corner with warmer weather. So many consumers in Colorado last winter didn’t purchase snow tires at all. Those sales were just lost.

We do know that when bad weather hits, the consumer has to decide just how important it is to go outside: Is the need for the product greater than the discomfort and risk of going outside?

Here some examples of products for which I’d risk going outside in a blizzard: Water, propane, firewood, toilet paper, a key ingredient for a recipe that I absolutely have to make, and alcohol.

The bad news for many of you is that you don’t sell any of these product necessities which can be crucial to a person’s survival. (You have also now learned my core priorities).

So how do you lure customers into your business, if you’re not willing to change your product focus to carrying water, propane, firewood, toilet paper, or alcohol?

You must go back to the three core drivers of a consumer’s emotional spending habits. If you’re going to be successful with a weather-abused consumer, you must play off these three core needs:

  1. You must create emotion inside your business! If you’re stuck inside a house for days or weeks on end because of bad weather, people start going a little crazy. The common term for this is cabin fever. So what can you offer a consumer who’s experiencing this malady?  Entertainment! Excitement! Outside fun and stimulation!  You must focus on event-oriented activities in your business that bring people together to have fun, like classes, parties, celebrations, and new product unveilings that are just too exciting to miss.
  2. You must alleviate boredom! Can your business become the oasis of stimulation that makes them say: “Let’s strap on the snowshoes, Honey, and head out to this store!”
  3. You must create urgency! Whatever offer you present to your targeted group of consumers, you must create limited windows of opportunity for them to take advantage of your offer.  Words like “One-time only”, “Get in here today” and “Only available between 2:00 and 6:00 today” will let them know if they miss this limited time offer, they will regret it.

Finally, when bad weather hits (especially if you’re a retail store), your first inclination is to use discount marketing to bribe the customer through your doors.

Let me caution you on a few huge discounting mistakes during bad weather:

  • Avoid giving a discount on a core product line that the consumer will buy later when the weather is better.
  • Avoid giving percentages off.  Consumers prefer getting actual dollar amounts on their discounts.  Remember: Dollars off create more spending than percentage discounts!
  • If you’re going to discount, tie the discount to another purchase. “When you buy 3 pairs of socks, you get a $10 discount on 2 packs of underwear.”
  • Avoid discounting products that are “demand products” that the consumer absolutely must have. Bad weather is probably only a temporarily delay to the consumer’s purchase.
  • Avoid discounting products that do not have a large enough profit margin to make you money.
  • Do discount products that have a limited window of use. For example, you’re a grocery store and you know those perishable food products are not going to last. Mark them down and try to recoup some of your investment. Or you have purchased seasonal items that you don’t want to carry over to the next year. Mark them down and move them out.

This cold weather will not be here forever, but until it’s gone, start implementing some of these ideas in your cold weather marketing. Let me know which prove successful to you, or if you have other ideas, send them my way at Info@JonSchallert.com.

Thanks for reading this week, and stay warm out there!

Jon

Something to Smile About: There’s Retail Opportunity Here

Several years back, I did the keynote speech for an economic development conference on my Destination Business principles.

When I was done, the next presenter got up and it was obvious he wanted to show that he was a well-traveled expert.  To illustrate this, he began by flashing up on the screen photographs he’d taken of small businesses that he found particularly amusing.

Most of the photographs were similar to what I have posted on this page, a small business that combined two or more products or services under one roof that you’d never expect to be together.  Now, to be fair, he didn’t flash the photo I have here of the quilt shop/liquor store, but he did show similar examples of unexpected combinations of products in the same business.

With each photo, the audience laughed, as he poked fun at the businesses being shown on the screen.

And all I could do was sit there thinking: “This guy’s totally missed the point!”

I’ve spoken in hundreds of cities and small towns, and I’ve never been to, nor seen the quilt shop/liquor store shown here. Someone sent me this picture.  And just to be clear, I’m not making fun of this business.  Actually, there’s brilliance in this business.

You see, in the world of retail development, this quilt shop/liquor store is called a “multi-focus business”, meaning that it has two or more unique business models operating under one roof.

So when I find a business like this that has an unusual combination of products in it, I know it’s often because it takes multiple product lines (often diverse ones), combined together, to generate enough revenue for a business in a small town to actually make money.  I also know that smart business owners try to meet the needs of local customers, while also trying to grow their revenue, while identifying consumer demand, hopefully discovering and capitalizing on unsatisfied niche categories to produce a greater return-on-investment.  (Basically, I’ve just described the fundamental rules of the most successful businesses.)

Plus, most independently-owned businesses in a smaller marketplace can’t operate like a retail store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.  They don’t have millionaire customers walking in everyday and they aren’t located in a retail district that pulls customers from around the world.

Finally, when I talk to community leaders who complain that recruiting retail businesses is difficult, I point out that a multi-focused business is the first thing to look for.  This is because it’s always easier to grow an existing retailer in a community who’s already there, who already understands the marketplace and who’s already committed to the area.  Yet you’d be surprised how many retail development professionals look first to import a new business or poach one from a nearby community.

Personally, when I see multi-focused business, I start thinking: “How can we maximize this business into a stronger Destination, or even two separate Destinations?”

So remember: If you’re ever at an economic development conference and someone gets up and starts showing photos like this one, it’s OK to chuckle.

Just realize that inside that business, a creative, risk-taking entrepreneur came up with something that no one has ever seen.

And that looks like untapped opportunity to me.

The #1 Problem with Small Businesses

My Mom used to tell me to not take on too many responsibilities: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” she used to say.

If you’re an independent business owner, this advice doesn’t apply to you.

On top of having created your business, you are now responsible for overseeing all the operations of it, envisioning its future, aligning your team with your vision, and making the major decisions that impact its well-being.

You are more likely to bite off more than you can chew, and then, chew it.

JonSchallertBlogSo imagine my surprise when years ago I sent out a survey to hundreds of chambers of commerce and downtown organizations with a single question:

“What is the number one problem with your city’s small businesses?”

When the answers came rolling in, I didn’t have to tabulate the responses. From across the country, one word was universally repeated: Apathy.  Overwhelmingly, I was told business owners in their cities and towns were apathetic to improving their businesses, and this included not wanting to update the look of their businesses, improve their product lines, step up their customer service, and a variety of other complaints, all grounded in the basic belief that owners didn’t care enough to improve their business operations.

I’ve always disagreed with that survey.  Here’s why:

First, I think it’s easy to look at a business from the outside-in and make incorrect judgments about it, especially if you’ve never been self-employed.

Second, I believe business owners generally function in a perpetual state of being overwhelmed, juggling too many tasks in too little time, all the while running their businesses. I think the outside world forgets that independent business owners have other things to do besides running their businesses, like being a caring parent, spouse, partner, volunteer, and community leader, while still sleeping enough, exercising, eating right, and maybe, sitting down and taking time to think.

Third, today’s business owners are engaged in a daily learning curve of monumental proportions. Number one, they are responsible for staying abreast of the changes in their industry. But on top of that, they have other issues to think about, like analyzing, judging, and committing to which new technology tools would be most advantageous to their business. For example, should they use Woobox, Gro Social, North Social, or Social Campaigns to get more Likes on their Facebook page? Most business owners would answer that they don’t know.

What owners do know is they ARE passionate about their business, and the majority recognize they AREN’T experts in a host of categories including financial analysis, store design, social media, marketing, advertising, and publicity, just to name a few.

Owners will also be the first to tell you what changes they know they should be making in their businesses, but they’ve delayed implementing, not because they don’t care, but in that big priority list that is ever present in their minds daily, they don’t have the knowledge, outside resources, finances, time, or sanity to tackle that challenge right now.

The truth is that I have rarely met an entrepreneur who doesn’t care.  I’ve met apathetic employees, landlords, citizens, shopping center developers, students, Colorado pot smokers and cats.  But not apathetic business owners.

So for those who look from the outside-in, you should understand when you meet owners like these who are battling to make their businesses better, that look on their faces is NOT the look of an owner who doesn’t care; it’s the look of being overwhelmed when you are the person who is expected to have all the answers, but you’ve really not had time to even consider the question.

Oh, here’s one other word of advice: If you want to help, please do not walk into their businesses and utter a cliché like “Work smarter, not harder” or “Work on your business, not in it.”  They’ve know that. They’ve heard it before. And they’ve thought that every night before going to bed and first thing every morning walking in their doors.

If you really want to help them, give them resources and assistance that make their lives easier.  Help them by providing solutions that will help their businesses leap forward.

And I guarantee they will reward your community with a business that everyone will be love.

Why Our Destination BootCamp Works

Here’s a letter from a business owner who attended our Destination Business BootCamp seven years ago. That owner was Dan Horwath of Up the Creek Antiques in Centralia, Washington.

Another business owner recently emailed Dan, asking if our BootCamp was really worth attending. When Dan replied to him, he copied us on his email. This is Dan’s letter in its entirety.

We love getting letters like this!

“I’m not good at a time line. Forgive me if I don’t have exact dates.  About 12 years or a little more ago, Jon came to Centralia and talked to local businesses about destination marketing. We attended that event reluctantly, thinking that it would be a waste of time. I have to say that Jon is an engaging speaker. He presented quite a different take on how we had approached our business and marketing.

After that session, Jon walked around the town visiting a few businesses and pointing out things that he thought would change things for the positive. He spent about 10 minutes in our antique store and during that time we took furious notes. Over the course of the next few weeks, we implemented most, if not all his recommendations: things like lighting, placement of product, ways to highlight… As a result, we saw an immediate increase in interest in our customer base. They stayed in the store longer, seemed to engage the sales staff more.

When several years later the City sponsored some businesses to his Boot Camp, we made sure we would take advantage of the opportunity. We were not disappointed. It was fairly intense. The focus is on becoming a destination, set yourself apart, not just an “also ran” in the local economy. The tools were definitely there, the inspiration and continuing help and support were/are also there.

As for results, we turned our antiques business into a contender on a national scale. The greater proportion of our sales are from out of state, with a significant amount from the East coast and Midwest. We are the Antique Destination that includes Oregon, Washington, and Idaho as well. We get visitors from all over the country, as well as sales. That’s an accomplishment that isn’t readily achieved by many antiques businesses. We would not have ever achieved that goal were it not for Jon. In fact, in the present economy, I’m sure we would have closed several years ago. We have remained open and viable, mostly through the level of our destination sales, rather than those in our local limited demographic.

In any of these ventures, you get out what you are willing to learn and put in. For us, we can recommend Jon’s Boot Camp without reservation. It made a world of difference in our approach and bottom line. Jon has offered advice and help over the years, just a phone call away.

If you attend, please give our regards to Jon and enjoy yourself.

If your ever in Centralia, please stop by and see firsthand what we have implemented as a result of attending: 209 N Tower Ave Centralia, Washington.  You may visit our web, which has incorporated many suggestions from Jon and has been a major success. www.upthecreekantiques.com. That site was developed in 1998 and still comes up on the first page, if not the first item of most searches.”

Regards,

Dan Horwath, Owner, Up the Creek Antiques

Pinterest: Changing How Customers Shop and How Small Businesses Compete for Customers

I conducted a webinar in Destination University (www.DestinationUniversity.com) last month on how to use Pinterest. I decided I better learn what Pinterest was after I was asked multiple times in January what I thought of it, and I had no clue. Back then, I was totally ignorant of Pinterest. Not anymore.

If you’re still not getting what Pinterest is, think of this: In front of me as I type this article on my office wall is a huge bulletin board, filled with magazine articles, photos, 3” x 5” cards with words on them, all pinned to that board. Pinterest is just like that bulletin board, except you are collecting images from the Internet, and grouping them into collections of your choosing. These collections are called “Boards” and when you decide you like a particular image, you “pin” it (again, just like a bulletin board).

If you haven’t played around with Pinterest, my advice is to try it tonight. Right now, you’ll need an invitation to join Pinterest to start dabbling around in it. If you’re in Facebook, just post that you’d like an invitation to Pinterest, and your friends will invite you. You can also sign in using Twitter.

Once you start trying Pinterest, you’ll probably be hooked. You’ll see why consumers are jumping on its bandwagon, and why a whopping 84% are female users. Here’s even more key information about it:

Pinterest is one of the fastest growing websites in history, and it is the fifth largest social network and the third most popular. It is also the 16th most visited website, ahead of big names like CNN and the Huffington Post. Started in 2009 by Ben Silvermann of Des Moines, Iowa, the earliest people to start using it were females from the Midwest. The explosion of popularity has happened recently: only tens of thousands knew what Pinterest was in 2011, but 4.9 million site visitors used it in November; 11.7 million in January, 2012; and 17.8 million in February, 2012. According to some analysts, it is the fastest independent website to reach 10 million visitors. Best of all, the average Pinterest user spends 98 minutes a month on the site, which is right behind Tumblr and Facebook’s usage numbers, with an average visit lasting 16 minutes.

Pinterest itself is not a large company. They are based in Palo Alto, California (where Facebook is located), with about 20 employees (they hired half their staff in the last 4 months). Obviously, the growth of their company is causing them to scramble, but like most Internet companies, they aren’t worried about generating a profit, given that they are funded by the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (founded by Marc Andreessen, who co-created Netscape) and Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of Yelp. With the $37 million they raised last year and their estimated current valuation of $200 million, they aren’t going anywhere.

Why is this Pinterest phenomenon important to a small business like yours? Here are my big 6 reasons:

1. Pinterest is all about visuals and scanning the Internet for images that a person likes. Once they find a photo, a cartoon, or an image they like, they can “pin” it and it starts a process where other people who view the image, start spreading it. In the world of the Internet, this spreading is called viral marketing, just like a cold that self-replicates itself in multiple places. Since it’s really a form of online word-of-mouth marketing, it is less time-consuming than friending people on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter, and posting your thoughts on a blog. The ease at which someone can engage with Pinterest makes it a social network that is easy to like, with minimal time commitment involved. It also allows people to connect with others that they might not know as friends, but with whom they have similar interests and style preferences.

2. Large companies don’t know exactly what to do with Pinterest. There are no ads on Pinterest, either, so advertising agencies don’t know how to recommend their clients to use it. Consequently, this is a marketing tool that can have a huge competitive advantage for small businesses that get in and play around with this, while big companies stumble trying to figure it out.

3. Now that Facebook is going to a new timeline configuration (I am doing a webinar on this in Destination University in May also), and Facebook has created a new Pinterest app, there are over 870+ million people who will have access to Pinterest through this linking with Facebook.

4. Pinterest, according to National Public Radio, is one of the top five referrers of web traffic to retailers’ websites. Many of you are retailers, and all of you should have websites. Wouldn’t you like more people to come to your websites? Once there, they can learn about your company, call and find out about certain products, or if you have an e-commerce site, buy directly off of it. Put another way, Pinterest is a powerful mechanism to bring more faces to your business.

5. When you start posting product photos in Pinterest, you’ll notice that you can add a price to the product description, simply by typing the price, preceded by the dollar sign ($). I think (and others concur), that this pricing feature in Pinterest might eventually lead to Pinterest being its own e-commerce site, where people will be able to make purchases directly through Pinterest as an online “shopping cart”. If this happens, those of you who sell products will find this could be a huge boom to your business.

6. Every time an image is uploaded to Pinterest, it can lead directly back to your website. This is critically important because if you have an e-commerce site, or if you’d like to sell more online to people you’ve never met, this linking feature of Pinterest’s could yield huge online traffic referrals to your business.

Hopefully, these 6 reasons are enough to convince you to take this social network seriously.

If this post was interesting to you, think about becoming a member of our Destination University business network. For less than a buck a day, you can stay abreast of the newest, most impactful marketing tools, simply by watching the nearly 100 webinars that are in DU (and more are posted monthly). To learn more about joining Destination University, click here.

Are You Creating Breakthrough Success? Ask Terri Norvell

I want to share with you Terri Norvell’s article on creating “Breakthrough Success”.  For those who are constantly focusing on the economy as the reason things aren’t better, it’s more complicated than that. I meet business owners every day who are slamming the brakes on their own success.

I especially like this section of her article, where she talks about why we limit our success:

“In my most recent surveys, findings indicated that the fear of failure is one of the most notable obstacles that people feel limit their success. This fear of failure shows up in many forms. It includes lack of self-confidence, holding back rather than speaking up, feeling insecure, and dealing with too much change. Certainly our economic fluctuations are cause for challenges.”

You can read the rest of Terri’s article at our Summit Business Conference blog (www.SummitBusinessConference.com)

Terri will present her Breakthrough Success keynote at our Summit Business Conference, next month in Boulder Colorado on October 18-19. Read about Terri and a full description of her presentation by clicking here.


Borders: Another “Victim” to “External Forces”

Our local Borders book store just closed, along with all the other Borders around the country.  Our local Longmont, Colorado store had made it through the first round of store closings, and some in our community thought they were going to be one of the lucky ones.

No such luck.  Their store close-out sale begins today.

Honestly, I did like our local Borders.  They were convenient, had a pretty good selection, and some of my neighbors even worked there, so it had a somewhat non-chain feel to me. It’s always painful to see any store close, and it’s especially not fun when your community loses a business like Borders.  It meant a lot to a huge group of people, including those employees who are now out of a job.

I learned about the closing first from our local newspaper, and then, through a mass email sent out by
.  And that’s what I want to talk about, specifically this following paragraph that comes from his email, where he explained why the closings occurred:

“We had worked very hard toward a different outcome. The fact is that Borders has been facing headwinds for quite some time, including a rapidly changing book industry, the eReader revolution, and a turbulent economy.  We put up a great fight, but regrettably, in the end, we weren’t able to overcome these external forces.”

I don’t want to be one of those guys who piles on when someone’s down on the canvas, but, Mike…how about taking a little responsibility in your final goodbye?

Just once, I’d like to see a CEO of a chain NOT blame their store closings on external forces.  Just once, I would like to hear a CEO of a business that’s closing admit any of these:

“We had a faulty business plan, and we should have altered it earlier”

“We paid our executive team too much and they really didn’t contribute to making our stores better, and that includes me”

“We made too many mistakes in our site selection process and lease negotiations”

“We were lax in keeping adequate inventory on our shelves and that ensured that people went online to buy”

“We made a huge mistake having our competition build our main website” (this would be one unique to Borders)

“We consistently provided customer service that customers could find anywhere, even while shopping online”

“We were average or below average in most categories when compared to our competition”

Or, to sum it all up, just once, I’d like to hear a CEO admit:

“We really weren’t a Destination to our customers.”

Mike could also throw in, at the end: “And the poor economy and Kindles hurt a bit, too.” I’ll give you that as a contributing factor, but not the main one.

Borders now joins a long list of retail failures in our country’s history, businesses that were unwilling to change course when it was obvious that they should, who started ignoring the little things that make a business slip from great to OK.  Collectively, companies like these look the other way, start settling for the average, and then, seem surprised at the result.

I never like to see any company fail.  But I like it even less when the leader of a company plays the victim without acknowledging the internal slide that’s been happening for years.

Mike (if you take on another CEO role), how about a little honesty to your customers in that final goodbye?