Competing in Today’s Economy

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?

Why Some Owners Learn, While Others Complain

When I spoke in Battle Creek, Michigan and Lafayette, Indiana two weeks ago, it was like old home week!  In my Lafayette audience, there were ten (10) business owners who stayed all day for my workshop, who had also attended my 2 1/2 day Destination BootCamp previously (three of them had attended twice!).

So why is it that some owners are interested in continually improving themselves, learning more, growing their businesses, and re-attending my workshops multiple times, while others wouldn’t attend if you’d pay them?  Why do some owners proactively engage in their businesses to take them to much higher levels?  Why are others more resistant to learning new techniques to grow their businesses, but committed to being the most vocal complainers on the block?

After 25 years of consulting with tens of thousands of business owners, I’ve concluded that complaining is so much easier than going through the process of reinvention that is necessary if one really wants to accelerate the growth of a business.  I’ve also concluded that it’s kind of fun to take on the role of the grumpy curmudgeon, pointing out the mistakes of everyone else and being the preeminent vocal critic.

But in this world of small business, I’ve learned the number one characteristic of the best-of-the-best is their eagerness to always want to learn more. You see, the true geniuses of small business are really not geniuses at all. They’re great listeners. They’re voracious learners. They are rapid processors of new information, and they make it their goal to surround themselves with people who are similar. They know this is the way they will become more prosperous. They know they don’t know it all. They know there are new things they haven’t heard and they know they must reinvent their businesses, continually.

Here’s what I get a kick out of: in both cities where I spoke, we had multi-million dollar business owners, some with over 30 years of experience, staying and taking notes for over 6 hours, sitting shoulder to shoulder with brand new owners, some not one month into running their businesses.

Then, there were those owners who stayed home, thinking they knew what I was going to say, thinking they already knew all they needed to know, some conducting their own silent boycott of the event. Unfortunately, those that stayed home not only missed learning something new from me, but they missed learning from all those world-class owners in my audience.

At both workshops, I gave over 70 specific steps any owner can implement to improve their sales, right when they walk out the door. Honestly, I have the least sympathy for owners who have their businesses in Lafayette and Battle Creek who didn’t attend, who then complain that their community isn’t helping them to be successful. There were owners driving in from hours away to attend these conferences, some coming in the night before and staying in hotels.  If you purposely skipped this event when it was right in your backyard, you missed a huge learning opportunity that your community served up to you.

The greatest thing about our entrepreneurial system is that anyone can start a business and become their own boss. We are guaranteed this freedom. But after that, you’re free to follow your own course.

To grow and learn. To stay put and be right. All your choice.

Ultimately, to succeed. Or not.

 

Handling Your Great, Good, and Bad Ideas: A 3-Step Process, Final Step #3

For the last couple of days, I’ve been taking you through the 3-step process of handling your overload of ideas.

Here is the third and final key in this process, and you must remember this most important point:  24 hours is never enough time for a creative thinker like you, with too many ideas.

 

As an owner, you already feel like you work all the time. You don’t, but if you did, it wouldn’t make things much better.  Here’s why:  As you get past the 8 hour mark, up into the 10, then the 12, and finally to the 16-hour mark of working, your productivity drops off, and you start being not so nice.  People respond less well to someone with blood shot eyes who is screaming with too much caffeine in them.  Working too much will also cause your family, your dog, and those who were helping you to quit responding.  And let’s not forget those employees.  They’ll still show up for that paycheck, but have you ever seen unresponsive and uncommitted?  You will.

Think back a few days on my earlier blog post and remember how some of you had another person helping you, making it not just you, but you and someone else?  When you work all the time that person will leave, call you names, and you will be stuck with only you.  Just you and your caffeine, wide awake and alone.  And your situation will not be improved.  It will be just you, and you will still have too many ideas.

So here’s my advice.  In your big pile of ideas that you’ve sifted through, look for ideas that will IMPACT SALES IN A HUGE WAY!

 

This is the key to handling too many ideas!

Sure, this seems logical, but there is power in putting this into practice.

You must learn to identify those great ideas that you can put into place, with your limited amount of time and sanity, which will significantly change your business for the better by increasing sales the most.

These ideas have to be the BIG ones.  They will be the ones that change how you do business.  They are ones that could reinvent your business into a different revenue-generating entity that spins off much more cash and pulls in many more customers.

You must use your good judgment, and look at the remaining ideas, and say: “If I put this into practice, how much will it move our overall sales number?”  And if your answer is “A little” or “Not much”, put those ideas off to the side.

Let’s practice one idea together.  You pick up an idea from your pile.  It says “Hold another Open House”.  Will this really impact your sales and possibly reinvent your business?  You say No?  Yes, you are right.  This is not that BIG idea.

The best ideas will often create a disproportionately large increase in customers or immediate large sales for your business, or move your business forward with such momentum that the new sales might begin resembling an entirely new branch of your company.

Once you find these ideas, you must focus your limited energy, resources, spouse or partner, employees, and remaining team that doesn’t hate you, on these tasks, every day.  In your day-to-day operations of your business, you must find time to implement incremental steps in these move-the-needle, BIG ideas.

Here’s another hint:  You will find that ideas of this magnitude aren’t the ones that most of your peers at the tradeshows you’ve been attending have been repeating.  If your peers really do have BIG ideas like these, they are quietly keeping them to themselves.  I have found that the really BIG ideas won’t be found in your industry, but in an adjacent industry or a totally different industry and you will be able to apply the concept to your industry, where it will be brand new.

I have found this is one of the primary reasons that our Destination BootCamp works so well.  It’s not just me teaching you, but it’s also what happens when you take smart, dissimilar, dissatisfied business owners, all motivated to change their businesses, and the process that happens when they come together for three days of strategic over-thinking.  They exchange ideas under the 14-step framework of becoming a Destination Business and they begin to hear ideas that they’ve never heard before. And then it clicks.  Light bulb!  And as Einstein said, that’s a Eureka moment in the world of adult learning.  Yea!

Summing up and moving on:  There is only one you, and yes, you are like a snowflake, unique and one-of-a-kind, as your parents said.  Unfortunately, your ideas and mode of operation have become stale and like everyone else in your industry.  Then, there are too few hours in a day, and you have too many ideas.  Working on too many ideas for too many hours and your business begins lacking the focus it needs.

The alternative to doing what you’ve always done is to find BIG ideas that will move your sales needle in a big way.  Break down the BIG idea into smaller steps and plan the steps out month-by-month, week-by-week, on a calendar.  Finally, work the plan with you, your partner, and your employees, and delegate to those who can help.  Oh, yeah, and find mentors that have done this before.

Doing it alone feels right, but it’s not. It feels right to plow forward, work longer, and make it on your own.  This is your inner entrepreneur on a misguided quest to right your course.  Instead, you must step back and rethink your business strategy.

If you have more comments or questions, post them on this blog.  Or, make your way to our Destination BootCamp next month on June 21-23, 2011 (www.DestinationBootCamp.com) and watch the Eureka moments find you.

Handling Your Great, Good, and Bad Ideas: A 3-Step Process, Part 1

Here’s something that’s critical if you are going to build a better business: learn to act on your great ideas, nurture your good ones, and discard your bad ones.

But this is easier said than done, especially for most owners of businesses.  You see, most owners are extremely creative people with ideas constantly popping up in their heads every day.

Do you recognize yourself?  If so, this blog post is for you.

I see it all the time.  Most owners keep lists and pages of their ideas.  Owners are great note-takers and list-makers. The problem comes finding time to act on those ideas.  Rather than devoting time to work on them (what companies call innovation time, or research and development), most owners work in their businesses and will do anything to NOT work on their ideas.  For example, some owners read trade publications, talk to business owners in their same field, and attend industry conferences, and when they return, they are thoroughly overloaded with more ideas, piles of notes and scribbles of thoughts, and magazines where they’ve highlighted every word in yellow.

Face it. You have more ideas than you need!  And I’m including the bad ideas you get from people who come up to you, knowing very little about your business, who say: “You should do this, if you want to make more money.”

Do the math, and collectively, you have some great ideas mixed in with a bunch of good ideas, about half-a-ton of not so good ideas, and a couple of hundred ideas that you don’t know if they’re good or not, and a few that you wrote down or heard that you don’t understand.

Then, I come around and tell you to reinvent your business as a Destination which really puts you in overload (it shouldn’t; my stuff’s the easiest).

Here is the first step in the process to help you handle your great, good, and bad ideas.

Today I will share the First Idea.  #2 and #3 will appear in this blog in the next two days.

#1 Step: Remember that there is only one you.

“There is only one you”.  What does that mean?  It means that you are limited in what you alone can accomplish as one person.  Your parents used to say “There is only one you” but they meant that you were like a shining star or unique like a snowflake.  And though you might have been and maybe are now, I don’t mean it that way.

Put another way: You are just one person trying to handle too much.

But, you might say, “Wait, it’s not just me!”  You might say this because you have a supportive partner or spouse or good employees who are likewise focused on your business.  Yes, this support is wonderful, but that makes a few more “kind-of-like yous”, and even though your spouse might be infinitely more talented than you and right on the same page, that only means there is at most, just one more than you.

And yes, some of you have brilliant people working for you.  They can take some responsibility for handling different ideas.  But deep down, you know that there is a reason your employees work for you and don’t have their own businesses.  They are not you, and some aren’t even like you. They don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, thinking how to make payroll the next day. They sleep at night while you are up thinking of the hundreds of ideas that caused you to sit up in bed.  They don’t agonize over that customer your business just lost, and that sale that just walked out the door.  Deep down, they are less committed.

Granted, there are other possibilities to have more people help you with your ideas.  You can delegate responsibilities to others (though most owners don’t do this real well because you have a tendency to be a little controlling, oh, snowflake that you are).  Yes, delegation is a possibility.

But let me come back to what I said: There is only one you.  And you know it, and for the most part, the really great ideas that are percolating around up there will have to be put into practice by you.

Tomorrow, we’ll cover the reality of having too many ideas, and what to do about it.

For All Owners: Your Presence is Needed

Being able to meet and interact with the owner of an independent business might not seem like a big deal to you, but to many customers, your presence has power.  You physically being in your business, talking to customers, helping them solve their problems, and listening to their issues, is one of the joys that a customer feels when they get to interact with the actual owner of a business.

Let me give you an example of how making yourself visible can have a big impact on your bottom line:

Last year, my wife and I took a trip to California, and went to visit some wineries near Sonoma.  We had never been to any of their wineries before, and we soon learned it’s a pretty big event to tour these places.  People from all over the world come to California to taste and critique their wines.

If you ever go to California’s wine country, the whole wine tasting experience is overwhelming.  We stayed in a little city where there were over 40 wineries within 5 miles of our hotel.  So, upon our arrival, the first thing we did was ask the concierge at the hotel to give us some recommendations on where to go.  Then, armed with our list of recommendations, we were ready to start the next day, checking them off one at a time.

But we soon learned that going to each winery on our narrowed-down list was still a daunting task.  The first day we headed out, we started at the top of the list.  We were at the first winery when it opened at 10:00 a.m.  I don’t know if you’ve ever sampled wine not long after breakfast, but it didn’t take too much time before my taste-buds were numb, my mind was a little loopy, and all the while the winery people are talking about the aroma of chocolate and cherries and spices we were supposed to be tasting in our mouths as we sampled the wine.  I tasted none of this.  By noon, I was ready to head back to the hotel and take a nap.

On the second day, we changed our strategy.  We decided to just hit the wineries that our friends had recommended to us.  One of the wines on our “primo list” was named after two partners who had started the winery (for the sake of not incriminating them, let’s call it the “Michael-Joseph Winery”).

When we arrived at Michael-Joseph’s, the place was a palace.  There was an immaculate garden and a spectacular view of the vineyards from the main tasting area.  We walked in, and were the only ones there.  We were greeted by a nice woman who seated us at a private table.  She started taking us through the different upscale wines created there, and during our tasting, she started telling us the story of how Michael and Joseph had started the winery from scratch.  She told the story of how they had built it up, and the trials and effort they had both gone through.  She then told us how they had won all these wine awards, and finally, how Joseph had purchased Michael’s half of the winery from him, becoming the sole owner.  Her whole story was very inspirational.  You really appreciated the hard work that these owners had gone through to create the wine we were sampling.

Not long after she had told us this story, a guy walks through the tasting room with his dog.  The dog comes over to us, and the woman pouring wine for us makes a comment to the man walking through.  He responds, and walks into an adjacent room with a huge desk.  The dog sat down with us.  The guy looked like he knew his way around the place, so I asked her if this was Joseph, the owner of the winery.  “Yes, that’s him,” she said.  Joseph continued to stroll in and out of the far corner of the room as we continued tasting wine, and the woman and he would talk back and forth, carrying on a dialogue, while we were sitting there.

Now, maybe it’s just my fascination with how entrepreneurs become successful, or maybe it was a case of being a little star-struck because I’ve never met someone whose name is on a bottle, but I started thinking how cool it was that this guy is the one who built this whole thing from the ground up, and how cool it was that he’s right here, walking around with his dog, and about the time I’m thinking it would be pretty neat to talk to him, he disappears.

Just gone.  And he doesn’t come back.  And soon, we’re done with the wine.

When we left the winery and we were both driving in the car, when I turned and said, “Wouldn’t it have been cool if the owner had just come over and said something to us?”

And right then, we both realized that if this owner had taken just a minute or two to say hello, and take the time to introduce himself to us, the whole winery experience we were having would have been so much more memorable.  It could have only been a moment, but we would have probably bought a whole lot more wine, and we certainly would have talked about the experience of meeting Joseph, the winery owner, to all of our friends.

Now, relate this to your business:  If you build your Destination business correctly, there will be two aspects of it that will become famous:  Your business and you.  Yes, I know some of you are uncomfortable being in the spotlight, but I’d suggest you get over this stage fright because when you build a successful Destination Business, the curtain on your stage will inevitably rise.

There is a fine line between being the celebrity-owner and saying hello to customers, and spending all your time gabbing with them, and getting nothing else done.  It’s a balancing act, but rehearsing your brief interaction helps:  “Hello, nice to see you, thank you for coming in, oh, yes, we are glad you read about us in that magazine, and again, thank you for coming in, it’s a pleasure to meet you, here’s my card, and now, I have a meeting to go to, goodbye.”

Get comfortable being the Expert in your business and using your “celebrity” status to your advantage.  Most of the time, it won’t take much to have a big impact on your customers.

There are Easier Jobs than Being an Independent Business Owner

As I travel the country, I am constantly reminded that there are easier jobs out there than being an independent business owner.  There are jobs with less risk, there are jobs with better hours, and there are jobs with less headaches.  There are also jobs where you basically know what to expect each day, including one big expectation that at least once a month, you as an employee will receive a paycheck.

Personally, I like helping independent business owners who are risk takers, who go off to create their own dreams, and who aren’t afraid to try to make it on their own.  I like working with owners who move ahead without the guarantee of success, and who keep moving ahead, even when there is no guarantee of a paycheck.

You know what else I like?  I like helping people who wake up in the middle of the night with big dreams, with new ideas, and with fears that they won’t make payroll this month.  If you own your own business and create your own income, you know about these 2:00 in the morning awakenings, sometimes stirring you with inspiration, sometimes snapping you awake with perspiration.

When I work with someone like this and help them grow their business, that’s when my job’s rewarding.

If you are at a desk or in a job, guaranteed that a paycheck is coming, you can understand this type of risk that I’m talking about intellectually, but if you haven’t felt that feeling in your gut in the middle of the night worrying about your sales and your company’s next move, you don’t really have a clue.

Of course, most of us who have started our own businesses wouldn’t do real well with a traditional job anyway.  When I was with Hallmark Cards, the guarantee of a paycheck wasn’t what was important.  I was bored.  I wanted to do something more.  I didn’t fear leaving Hallmark and starting my own consulting firm and having to go find clients that would pay for my advice; I feared waking up in 30 years after doing the same thing and feeling like I missed my chance to do something that I knew deep down would be both fun and meaningful.

Small business owners are a different breed.  Those less risky jobs feel boring, rigid, and make you feel like you’re stuck-in-a-rut.  Admittedly, one has to be a little “off” to own their own business, but you can’t be so “out-there” that you are inefficient, unfocused, and unproductive.

You’ll have to excuse me because most of this post are just my ramblings.  Thanks for taking time to read it.

With that in mind, I recently read a poem by Robert W. Service, and I adapted it to apply to small business owners everywhere.  Read it, and let me know your thoughts:

This is the Law of Small Business,

And she ever makes it plain.

Send not your foolish and feeble,

Send me your strong and slightly-insane.

2011 Reality Check: How Really Different Is Your Business?

I recently had a great discussion with a business owner who had built, from the ground up, a very profitable retail store.  This business is loved by its customers.  Most of the customers in the community support it.  This owner has even studied like stores around the country to look for best-practices, and when he’s compared similar size businesses to his, he is achieving the same or better sales results than they are.

This owner should be happy with his success, shouldn’t he?  Unfortunately, this owner isn’t.  He wants more sales.  He wants to see the store’s growth accelerate more quickly.  He needs it to grow fast to achieve the financial goals he’s laid out for himself and his family.

That’s a tough one, isn’t it?  This business is operationally sound, functional and profitable, but it’s not meeting the expectations and demands of its founder.

In this case, it’s no consolation to hear other business owners in your field tell you that: “This is just how it is,” or “I think you’re doing pretty well.”  Changes have to be made to this business.

Here are a few questions this owner needs to ask himself before embarking on a series of tactical steps to pull in more customers.  If you are an owner of a business, you can ask yourself these questions, too:

Could your business be uprooted and transplanted into another marketplace, and do as well as it is now?  Would your business thrive and grow because of the new demographics?  Or, would it deteriorate and decline in sales?

Put another way:  How dependent is your business on its current location for its sales?

If your answer is that your business is VERY dependent on its location, you have a problem.

For example, some businesses cannot be moved without sales being impacted.  Some businesses are tied to their specific location, and moving them even 10 or 20 feet one way can cause consumers to stop frequenting that business.  (If you don’t believe me, you’ve never relocated retail stores for a living).  Businesses like these are solely location-dependent, and take the most work to reinvent into Destinations.  Put more bluntly, these businesses are parasitic and feed off their marketplace’s traffic and if you move them, they are going to be hurt.  Some even die.

These words always get shopping center developers stirred up.  When I say things like “Location doesn’t matter anymore”, I usually don’t get invited back to speak (example: International Council of Shopping Center convention, early 2000; lots of leasing agents feeling a little threatened when I said that comment).

Let me just say that location-dependent stores are fine IF the marketplace never declines, or IF new competitors never come in, or IF the underlying costs of that location never increase.  That’s a lot of IF’s.  But the truth is that marketplaces do decline, and competitors do come in, and other business owners that are less creative start copying what creative owners do, and then, some manufacturers start selling the same product to your competitors and tell you:  “Hey, it’s not in your marketplace.”  Yes, all of this stuff happens.

Unfortunately with this owner, when I evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of his business, and compared the business with other like businesses, this business was near identical to most of them, with no inherent core strengths that made it one-of-a-kind.

Here’s the reason I tell you this story:  The process of creating a destination is really an alternative marketing strategy that positions your business differently from every other business in your field, from every other business that sells the same product, and offers similar services, to what you do.

Unless you as an owner, step outside the “traditional” business model you have created, your business will never be a true Consumer Destination.  Now, you’ll get a lot of flack for deviating from the traditional way businesses like yours are traditionally operated, which is often proclaimed as the “Only Way to Do It” by some trade groups that you might belong to.

But the test of a Destination Business is if a consumer will illogically go out of their way to come to your business, past your competitors, and willingly spend more time seeking you out, versus purchasing from or choosing your competition.  If your uniqueness is not compelling enough, and your points of differentiation are not strong enough, consumers buy elsewhere.  This means your business never maximizes its sales and profit potential in your immediate marketplace, nor will it maximize the greater potential sales and profits from the distant marketplaces it could tap into.  And that applies in this recovering economy, and the prosperous ones we can expect in the future.

It all comes down to one challenge:  What makes your business different from everybody else?  If you have trouble answering this question, this is your logical starting point for 2011.  It’s not an easy starting point, but without addressing this question, every step you take trying to turn your business into a preferred Consumer Destination will fall short.

Creating an End-of-the-Year Sales Increase

Want to create a sales increase in your business before the end of the year?  Here are four simple keys that every business owner should be doing right now, but most aren’t.

First, identify the sales increase you would like to have.  This seems obvious, but many owners can’t tell me what percentage increase they would like to achieve by this year’s end.  It’s also important to be specific about the amount of dollars you’d like to generate.  Why?  It’s impossible to achieve the sales increase you desire, if you aren’t certain what you desire. That’s not my rule; that one of those Universal laws that regularly returns to bite the unfocused, short-attention spanned among us.

Without a specific number, you won’t know if you’re on track to hit your goal, nor will you know if you have to change what you are doing to reach it.  You’re flying blind.  You’re driving without a map.  You’re considering asking someone out on Match.com who doesn’t have a photo.  Whatever the metaphor, you’re probably going to end up with a lesser result than you intended.

Second, it’s important to know how many dollars that percentage increase requires from each person entering your business.  This means that you must know your business’s Individual Average Transaction of each customer.  We call that IAT.  How much is each person spending in your business?  Again, this is simple, but ask a business owner this question and watch how many stammer and can’t tell you the amount.

Third, it’s important to quantify the additional items or services that would need to be purchased to make this happen.  For example, when I worked with gift shops and greeting card stores, the customer IAT was about $7.25 per person.  So, if the store wanted to increase sales by 25% for the month, it seemed challenging, until one realized that 25% of $7.25 was only $1.81.  The stores I worked with looked around for items that were high demand items that customers often forgot, that at least retailed for $1.81.  At Christmas, you could sell a customer a roll of Scotch tape, red ribbon, red bows, and white tissue paper, all within reach of the register.  Then, the cashier could say, “Do you have enough of these?”  And most of the time, you could create an add-on sale that way.  Your particular situation will probably not be as simple, but the implementation is the same.  Break the increase down to an attainable purchase, and plan what needs to be sold to make that increase.

Fourth, one of the most successful tactics to raise the overall sales of a business is to get a customer to come back for an additional unplanned visit.  This works especially well in December and January.  This technique is called a Bounce-Back Promotion, and you have had it practiced on you.  You were in a store, and you bought something.  Right before you walked away, you were invited to return for some special event.

Here’s how you plan a Bounce-Back Promotion:  Look at your upcoming monthly calendar and determine a day where customer traffic is traditionally low.  Plan some type of event, open house, special offer, or special occasion for that day.  Then, create a simple invitation that you can hand to customers who are in your business that invites them back to that event.  The key in making this successful is creating a compelling reason to return, and having enough time to hand the invitations to your customers who have already come one time to your business.  Best of all, a Bounce-Back Promotion works because statistically, it is easier to lure a customer to your business for a second, unplanned visit than to keep them in the business longer, spending more.

If these ideas seem simple, it’s because they are.  Unfortunately, the reason I’m writing this is because so few business owners use these simple ideas to plan for an increase.

Put these steps to work tomorrow in your business.  Curb your attention-deficit, spontaneous-owner behavior for a minute and focus!  Tell your staff what you’ve decided.  Get everyone to realize how simple it could be to reach a tangible sales increase.  Then, report your positive results to me at Info@JonSchallert.com.

I love hearing your successes.

PS:  A Bounceback Promotion is just one of 23 Last Minute Marketing Ideas that I shared in my webinar last week that is now available in our Destination University Student Center.  For $29.95 per month (less than a buck a day), you could be learning these ideas and generating more sales.  To apply for membership, just go to www.DestinationUniversity.com.

You’re Invited to a Free Webinar: Your Organization Could Win a $1000 Scholarship to our Destination BootCamp By Watching

Your organization could win a a $1000 Scholarship to our Destination BootCamp, just for watching our free webinar!

This invitation is for you if you are a President, Director, Board Member, or leader of any of these organizations:

  • Business Association
  • Downtown or Main Street organization
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Economic Development organization
  • Private company

You are invited to join me for a free webinar on Tuesday, November 30 at 8:00 a.m. Mountain Time when we introduce our new Destination University Partner Program.  Just by watching, you might also win a $1,000 scholarship to one of our 2011 Destination BootCamps.

If you know business owners who are struggling in this economy, you owe it to them to attend this webinar. It’s taken us 5 years to get Destination University to this point.  Destination University is a one-of-a-kind, online learning, social network of progressive business owners who are growing their sales, their customer traffic, and their profits.  Owners can access the network on their own, 24-7, from any computer or their mobile smart phones, making DU the first totally mobile, online learning program exclusively for small business owners.  (My consulting competitors hate to admit it and they’ll say I’m hyping it up, but no other company can offer your organization a business improvement program that is this comprehensive.)

It doesn’t matter how large or small your company, organization, or community is.  During this webinar, you will learn how you can become part of this world-wide business-support network, add huge value to your organization, while offering your members this cutting edge technology, all for a minimal investment of less than $1 per day.

I know you are busy during this holiday season, so as an incentive for participating, every organization who takes the 35 minutes to attend this free webinar will receive a certificate for $49, which can be applied to the Destination University registration fee.  Additionally, one organization will win a $1,000 scholarship to one of our Destination BootCamps in 2011. What a great prize to give to one of your business owners in your organization!  To have a chance for this scholarship, you must register and be watching, as the drawing will take place at the end of the presentation.

To register, click here.

I look forward to telling you about our new Partner Program on November 30.
Thanks,

Jon Schallert

PS: Feel free to share this post with any of your peers or other directors of organizations that you think could use this.  They will thank you for it later.

The Growing Menace of Being Average

There is nothing more damaging to a business, or to a business district, than being average.  In fact, if I am a business owner, I would rather have a customer tell me that my business is horrible in every aspect, rather than a customer telling me: “Your business is average”.  Give me horrible over average.  At least, I know where I stand with customers if they hate what I deliver.

Here’s something else about a horrible business: fellow business owners can see horrible a mile away.  Consumers do too.  Consumers can spot a horrible business from half way down the block.  Or, they can drive by, just look at the front window of a store and they can sense horrible.  “Yuck,” their brain says.  “I’m not going in there.”  And they don’t.

People look at awful and say: “That’s flat-out awful!”  Sure, they talk about it, but it’s dismissed.  It’s an outcast, a pariah.  People avoid it naturally.  It’s like that creepy guy sitting on the downtown bench that smells like spoiled milk.  You cross the street rather than walking by.

And here’s what’s unfair:  horrible businesses scream for attention, and get it.  Once I consulted in a city (in a state I won’t name), that had a great downtown except for a tacky X-rated book and movie store.  Guess where that store is today?  I couldn’t tell you, but I know it’s gone.  In another city, one absentee landlord owned a building that was a supreme blemish to an otherwise developing downtown.  A couple of years later, that building was torn down, and it’s now a park.  (Again, I don’t know the details, just the result).  In a city last month, I was taken to an awful looking costume shop and asked what to do with such an eyesore.  Why is it that the worst looking, worst run businesses get all the attention?  Because people see horrible businesses, and jump into action to correct them.

But an average business is another matter.  No one jumps, no one acts, and no one focuses on the average.  Worse, owners of average businesses think they are operating their businesses adequately, when they’re not.

Here’s how I think of it, and this comes from my early years of teaching high school.  An average business is like that runny nose kid who’d come to my class everyday, coughing and wiping his nose on his sleeve.  The parent wanted the kid in class, thinking the kid wasn’t really sick.  Even though the kid was technically in class, he was not healthy, not alert, and not learning; just there.  Essentially, I was trying to teach a human Petri dish whose only daily success was spreading germs throughout my classroom.

An average business is like that kid.  Present, eyes-open, but still sick.  Thinking it’s doing fine, when it’s really stagnant and infecting those around it.

Relate this to your town or city.  Can you think of an owner of an average business in your community?  Sure, you can.  He’s a nice person.  He comes to Chamber meetings, and volunteers at the school.  But be honest now:  Do you tell your out-of-town guests that they absolutely must visit his business before they fly back home, and if they don’t they’ll forever miss out on a one-of-a-kind experience?  Gotcha pegged, don’t I?

As owners, we have developed the ability to identify an average business better than customers.  Most customers can’t see average from the street.  Instead, they walk into average businesses and walk back out, impressionless.  No memories.  No moments of surprise.  Baskin Robbins with only vanilla.

Face facts.  If you have a neighbor who has an average looking business, it reflects on your marketplace, it hurts your business, and it hurts other businesses around you.  And just like that kid’s viruses, average businesses multiply.  Everyone looks at the horrible business and wants to avoid it.  But we tolerate average businesses and think they are fine.

Here’s what’s worse:  comparisons lead to the spread of average.  One business owner compares his business to the average business next door, and starts to feel satisfied with what he’s created.  Since businesses have a tendency to rise to the lowest level of competency, average multiplies and no one notices.  Soon, it’s epidemic.  Everyone opens up the doors to their businesses every morning, thinking they’re fine, until an entire business district or an entire city is permeated with underachieving, unimpressive, forgettable businesses not living up to their potential.

I know this is a harsh criticism of being average.  You might be shocked because for years, in school, we were told that a letter grade of a “C” was acceptable.  We were told that a C was OK.  A grade of C meant that you weren’t the smartest, but hey, you weren’t failing repeatedly like Joey, the only seventh grader who could drive to school.

Here’s my point:  in the world of creating a Destination Business that consumers want to seek out, “C’s” don’t count! Worse: today’s economy spits out average businesses every day.

Here’s my suggestion:  Resolve as a business owner to go and look at what you’ve created.  Deep down, you know where average resides in your business.  It’s in your windows. It’s that new person you hired and didn’t train.  It’s in your marketing materials that you designed yourself, and in your 10-year old website that was never updated.  It’s that list of major to-do’s you wrote but never make time to tackle.  It’s you and how you lead your team.  I could go on, but they now tack on big fines for hitting helmet-to-helmet.

Remember this:  In the big picture of creating a successful business that generates higher sales, real profits, and might actually be worth selling someday, average is not enough if you want to become a Destination.  If these sound like your goals, a passing grade won’t be enough.

What Happens When Owners “Get It”

I spoke in Wake Forest, North Carolina on October 13.  Today’s October 21. I just received this email from the Chairman of the Wake Forest Downtown Revitalization group.

Jon:

“Wish you could have been here for our merchant meeting this morning.  We spent the first part of our meeting going around the room and discussing everyone’s Aha! Moment from your workshop.  It was awesome to watch and listen to everyone talk about focusing on how their business is unique, or what they wanted to to with a monument… or how they are now refocusing on the concept of time zones.  The mayor and the director of the Chamber were there and were just as enthusiastic as all of the merchants.  It was really cool.  Thanks for an awesome workshop.”   John Shoemaker

How can owners go from being seemingly apathetic and stagnant to invigorated and proactive in one week?  Here’s how:  They just have to see the upside possibilities when their business model strategically shifts and they are given the tools to increase their sales and customer traffic. It’s always exciting when business owners understand what to do next with their businesses, and they start seeing the process to take their businesses from location-dependent ones to Destinations that pulls both locals and consumers from outside their area.

When this happens, just get out of their way!  They will do the rest to change both their businesses and communities!

Thanks for sharing this, John, and for letting me share it with my blog readers.

There’s Nothing Fun About Business Reinvention

I was just in Albany, Oregon where I did the keynote speech on “Business Reinvention” for the Oregon Main Street Conference.  It’s always fun for me to get on stage and explain to business owners and community leaders the positives of reinventing a business and to show real-life examples of business owners who have done it.  But although it’s exciting to show how an owner can change their business model, and how that change can cause a community to rise up out of this economic quicksand, there is nothing enjoyable for any owner about being in this economy, and having your business not generate the sales it should, and being in the midst of it, wondering what to do next.

 

If you are a community leader or a business association director, you should realize that many business owners are at their financial, emotional, and creative-thinking limits coming into this all-important 4th Quarter of the year.

What that means is that many owners will appear as if they are apathetic towards changing their current business state.  When I say “appear”, I mean that your outside perspective will not be accurate because these owners aren’t apathetic at all.

 

They are just numb.

You should understand that by the most conservative estimates, we are entering into the third year of this recession and despite what the experts say about the recession ending about a year ago, someone forgot to post it on the General Public’s Facebook page and most consumers are still acting 2008/2009-ish.

Unless you take time to talk to owners one-on-one, and delve deeply into your questioning, you will not hear it from them, and most will not admit it right up front.  But just keep asking, and it comes out.  For example, one owner described to me that she felt like she has been in survival mode for almost two years.  One owner described how his business lost over a million dollars in sales volume just last year, what it was like to have to layoff employees who had been with his company, and how he couldn’t do anything until the economy comes back.  Another told me that no matter what he tries, nothing works.

However they describe it in their words, the end result is the same.  We as a country have hundreds of thousands of business owners who are collectively stuck in a phase of entrepreneurial powerlessness.

If you want to help these owners in your community or organization, here are four (4) pieces of advice:

1.  If you have a suggestion for a business owner, make sure it will increase their sales or customer traffic.  Period!  Frivolous, extraneous suggestions that would be “nice-to-implement” are not the type of suggestions that are needed now.  Owner need “must-implement” suggestions that will move the needle.

2.  Suggest owners concentrate on lowest risk, highest return-on-investment marketing, especially in this 4th Quarter and the upcoming 1st Quarter.  These next five (5) months are the most critical months of the last three years.

3.  Suggest to owners that their advertising becomes more targeted towards attracting their very best customers who have the most disposable income to spend.  Targeted advertising means that many owners will have to clarify, identify, and know how to reach and entice these top customers into their businesses, with the result being that the advertising dollars they expend must pay for themselves.  You will find most owners do not know how to target their top customers well.  (This is one of our most popular Destination University online webinars.)

4.  Recognize that owners have limited dollars to put at risk and even less extraneous time to invest.  Don’t expect overwhelming response if you want time and dollars committed to a project that won’t or can’t show immediate results.

5.  Suggest that owners look at finding cooperative networks where they can brainstorm with their peers, and send business back and forth to each other.  You might have some cooperative networks in your local marketplaces, but don’t forget about our Destination University Student Center. It is one place where owners, experts, and authors from around the world are sharing ideas with each other on a daily basis, all while watching webinars that are bringing owners up-to-speed on business improvement tactics that many have missed.  (For example, in the next 75 days, Destination University will have eight (8) live online webinars that all focus on improvement tactics that owners can use right now.)

I had one business owner (who was a realtor), say to me: “I’m experienced enough to know that I don’t control the marketplace.”  He was right.  He doesn’t control the economic marketplace.  But what he missed was this:  Though he can’t control the economy, he CAN control every aspect of his own business and EVERY response to that economy.

The most proactive business organizations and communities are gearing up to help independent owners who are ready to get out of their collective sleepwalking.  Don’t be surprised if your idea isn’t returned with some skepticism.  This economy is not the normal mode of operation for most businesses, and most have not reinvented themselves, so expect some push-back to your ideas, but don’t let up.  It takes a while to show those who are numb that there is a way out of their current situation.

(If you’d like to learn more about how your business or your organization can use our Destination University program to help your businesses, click here).