General

The World’s Tallest, Best-Kept Secret Boot

A few years ago I spoke in the little city of Red Wing, Minnesota.  If you’ve never been there, it’s located southeast of Minneapolis, right across from Wisconsin, separated by the Mississippi River.

Before I went to Red Wing to speak, I did research on the city, and learned that Red Wing shoes and boots are still made in factories there in town, and that they had a corporate Red Wing Shoes store in their downtown. That point was reinforced as I was driving in, as I spotted several signs about Red Wing Shoe’s “Corporate Flagship Store”.

But imagine my surprise when I walked into their corporate store and found looming above me the world’s tallest boot, size 877, stretching from the first floor to the second. And this giant boot wasn’t even mentioned on the billboard.

 

As all of you know, I look for oddities like this boot, and in fact, encourage business owners to think about creating something so one-of-a-kind that customers will come to see it.  Sure, customers come inside and stare at it, but then, they go around the store and buy. Plus, they end up talking about it, which spreads your message via word-of-mouth marketing. We also know that in addition to being a huge customer-traffic generator, it can also be a media magnet for reporters who want to write about the unusual.

Clearly, the Red Wing Shoe company took a lot of time, effort, and expense to create a leather 2,300 pound, two-story boot. So when I was in the store, I asked one of the Red Wing employees why the world’s largest boot wasn’t on the billboard that advertised their flagship store, and why it wasn’t right up front on their corporate website. His answer: “Everybody already knows that The Boot’s in the store.”

I’m sorry, but I had to tell him: Most of the world, including many newcomers walking into the Red Wing Corporate store, did NOT know that this store had the world’s largest boot.

Here’s the lesson for all of you: Businesses have the mistaken belief that their marketing message has already been absorbed by the majority of their customers. This is one of the most damaging misjudgments any business can make, large or small.

I’ve said this before to some of you: There will always be more potential customers who know nothing about your business than those who have spent money with you.  And of those that have heard about your business before, most won’t understand it completely, most will have forgotten some aspect of it, and most will have not internalized your marketing message, even if they’ve heard it before.

There is someone new, every day, walking in your business, experiencing it for the first time.  Every day, you have the opportunity to amaze someone who has never heard of your business before, and bond them to your business for life.

Remember: Your very best customer of all-time might be the next person through your door. Don’t make the mistake of assuming they know what’s unique about your business.

Until next week,

Jon

The Power of Mom and Pop Businesses

The other day, a friend asked me: “Don’t you worry about the future of Mom and Pop businesses?’

My answer was: “Nope, not at all. The future’s bright for small businesses.”

Here’s how I know this to be true:

3 times a year, I get to witness something amazing that confirms to me that Mom and Pop businesses can overcome any challenge that’s put in their way.

Let me share with you what I get to see:

Most of you know that I conduct a workshop in Colorado called our Destination BootCamp, where for 2½ days, I teach owners and community leaders how to make their businesses and communities irresistible to consumers.

At each BootCamp, owners of retail stores, restaurants, service businesses, professional practices, and even online businesses attend. To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s life’s like a box of chocolates quote, with every BootCamp, “We never know what we’re gonna get”.

Unlike typical association conferences where everyone is from the same industry, our BootCamp mixes business owners from different industries and different parts of the world and puts them together in one room for 2½ days. Most aren’t competition to each other and most have never met before. It surprises me, but I’ve also learned that even business owners from the same city or town who attend together often don’t know each other very well. But it makes sense: Who has time for friendship when you have your business to run?

But here’s what happens when you put this diverse group together and show them new ways to grow their businesses, everyone (regardless of their type of business, their sales volume, the physical locations, or the number of businesses they own), starts percolating together.

It’s not enough to say that there’s an energy that spreads between the participants or a synergy that occurs when you mix these owners together. It’s more than that. When one entrepreneur meets another one, and they start discussing their challenges, I’ve found there is a natural inclination for owners to reach out when someone needs it.

“You’re an owner, just like me. You have a problem?”

“Here’s an idea that’ll help.”

Sometimes I just stand at the front of the room watching as one owner voices a concern she’s having, while another owner chimes in on how he overcame that same problem in a different industry. I watch as owners grow in confidence as they realize that regardless of their business-type or business sales volume, they have information that can help someone else in that room. And in just a matter of hours, I can watch owners who previously didn’t know each other start freely sharing their expertise with the person sitting next to them.

There are moments during every BootCamp where I just stop teaching and as I look out over the room, and I’m amazed at how such different businesses come together, learn together, and honestly share their success stories and business setbacks with each other.

Here’s one of the best stories from our March BootCamp: On the last day of class, Sarah, a retailer from Kansas who owns two retail stores, told me that she had met with Christi, a retailer from Texas who owns a chain of women’s clothing stores, and they had sat up talking until 11:30 at night, as they shared ideas, buying tips, and product sources with each other.

Here’s my challenge for you if you’re a business owner or an entrepreneur reading this blog:  Starting today, look around and be aware of that owner down the street who might need some help or advice, who probably doesn’t know how to ask for it.  Be aware that one single suggestion from you to a fellow business owner might be the breakthrough that an owner is looking for.  From this day forward, instead of just saying hello and walking by a fellow business owner, take some time to engage. To share. To show you’re around, if help’s needed. And when you’re in need of assistance and you’re at wits end, the law of reciprocity will work for you, too, bringing help back your way.

The future of Mom and Pop businesses is extremely bright, especially when independent business owners take time to lend each other a hand, an ear to listen, and have each other’s backs.

Until next week,

Jon

Making the Ordinary Extraordinary Again

If you’d like to witness something spectacular that you’ll remember the rest of your life, you should make your way to Kearney, Nebraska within the next 2 weeks. Here’s why:

There is a great bird migration of lesser sandhill cranes that annually comes to Kearney, for just one month, from the first part of March through the first part of April, and there, on the Platte River, half-a-million lesser sandhill cranes stop on their migration to the north. This migration happens annually at the same time, and has been happening like this for millions of years.

If you didn’t catch that number, it’s 500,000 birds, all in one place. I don’t know about you, but I had never been up close to 500,000 of anything at any one time, and the opportunity to see half a million birds, all in one place, intrigued me.

I know you’re skeptical. There’s a business lesson here.  Keep reading.

The cranes spend their winters in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico, and then, around the end of February, start their migration north. On their trip north, they stop in Kearney on the Platte River where the Rowe Sanctuary has been created.

A typical sandhill crane day in Kearney goes like this: 500,000 of them sleep together in the middle of the river every night (they use the water for protection from predators) and every the morning, they all fly off together to feed in the corn fields (there is no corn growing at this time of year, just chopped off stalks). Though I’d starve out in those fields, these birds feast during the whole month, increasing their weight from 6 pounds to 7.2 pounds, a 20% increase!

At sunset, after eating all day, they all fly back in huge swarms and land back in the river.  Cranes from different parts of the world all reconnect with their crane friends, jumping around squawking at each other. Then, they depart all at once, in early April, and off they go to northern Canada, Alaska, and some to eastern Siberia.  There the females lay their eggs, and then, the eggs hatch.  As winter approaches, the sandhill families all fly south back to those warmer places.  And so it goes, year after year, repeating the process, always ending up in Kearney at the beginning of March.

When I heard about this migration in Kearney for the first time, I doubt you’ll be surprised when I tell you that my wife was less than enthusiastic to grab the car keys, pack a bag, and drive 367 miles to go see a bunch of birds in the winter in Nebraska. But after some convincing, we reserved our spots for a Saturday morning and evening viewing at the Rowe Sanctuary, where you pay $25 per person to be part of a group of 60 people who are allowed to watch the birds from a camouflaged blind, right next to the river. There you can look out through a hole in a brick wall and take pictures of the cranes, sight unseen.  The morning viewing lets you see them when they wake up and fly off to the corn fields, and an evening viewing has 500,000 of them flying back and landing en masse in the river.

A couple of years ago, we drove to Kearney one Friday, and when we got to our hotel, here’s what happened:  The front desk clerk asked us what we were doing in Kearney for the weekend.  We told her.

“We’re here to see the sandhill cranes.”
“You drove here to see birds?”
“There are 500,000 of them here, the largest migration of its kind.”
“Birds huh?  If you drive out to that bridge, you can see them.”
“No, we’re going to the Rowe Audubon sanctuary next to the river.”
“Where’s that?”
“It’s right next to the Platte, 7 miles east of here.”
“Never heard of it.”
“People come from all around the world to see the cranes, you know?”
“No kidding.”

It soon became apparent that many people we met knew little about the Rowe sanctuary, and though all of the people we met were very friendly, they seemed somewhat bewildered that we would spend an entire weekend in their city to watch birds.

So it probably won’t surprise you that in our group of 60 that went out to the blinds the first morning, there were only four Nebraskans, and they had driven almost 200 miles from Omaha to get there. The 56 other people were from all over the United States (a group of 11 bird watchers came from Delaware), along with visitors from Denmark, Germany, and England.

Yes, the Rowe Sanctuary is a Destination!

Now that you are likewise fascinated, here are the lessons you can apply to your business:

  1. Is there an extraordinary part of your community that you and others have come to take for granted?  There usually is in any city or town. What attractions, historic features, natural beauty, or other components of your city or town have you become “immune” to seeing?  Put yourself in the role of a visitor, and make a list of the places that people must see if they come to your area.
  2. Why not start telling the stories about these “attractions” through your marketing materials?  Describe, market, and promote these parts of your community, and your business will benefit from the attention that occurs with your cross-promotional efforts.
  3. Target the visitors who could be coming to see these attractions.  A passive business waits for someone else to bring customers to their area; a proactive business looks at opportunities that no one else is taking and capitalizes on them.
  4. Here’s one final slap-upside-the-head point to remember: If you have a business that provides a good product or service, there are more people who don’t know about your business than those who do.  Are there aspects of your business that are extraordinary, but you no longer tell the story because you think everybody already knows about it? Every day, I see businesses incorrectly assume that everyone knows what they sell and what they offer, and every day, new people walk through your doors, and they HAVEN’T HEARD YOUR STORY. Now’s the time to look at your business anew, retell what you’ve come to take for granted, and watch as new customers come to your business because of it.

Now we regularly go and see the sandhill cranes during our winter trip to Kearney. But it never fails that when we’re there, we run into business owners who have let the extraordinary around them become ordinary. When I ask them about their business and ask them about their sales, I listen as they complain about the economy and customer traffic.

And all the while, hundreds of new visitors are coming to their city from around the world, walking around, trying to discover something to do, trying to spend their money.

Until next week,

Jon Schallert

PS: Can’t make it to Kearney this year? Watch the cranes on the Rowe Sanctuary webcam by clicking here.

27 Pieces of Advice to Make You Better

The other day, I was reading a short article entitled “Eight Steps to a More Satisfying Life”. In it, I learned why some people are more happy than others, why some people are naturally miserable, and how the body and the mind work together to create our own individual happiness.

One of the contributing writers was University of California psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky  who explained the eight keys to a more satisfied life:

  1. Count your blessings and keep a gratitude journal
  2. Practice both random and systematic acts of kindness
  3. Savor life’s joys
  4. Thank a mentor
  5. Learn to forgive
  6. Invest time and energy in family
  7. Take care of your body with plenty of sleep, exercise, stretching, smiling, and laughing
  8. Develop strategies to cope with stress and hardships

So while I was pondering how I was going to carve out more time in my day for #6 “Invest time in family” and #7 “Take care of body”, I came across another article:  “Healthy Diet Helps Mood”, where an author talked about the importance of eating the right foods in order to be happier.  He recommended:

  1. Eating salmon because fatty, cold-water fish contain omega-3 fatty acids which keep cell membranes pliable.  I also learned that if I don’t have a salmon handy, I can also eat tuna, anchovies, sardines, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, or green leafy vegetables.
  2. Every morning I should eat some oatmeal, soy milk, and two scrambled eggs, which gives me tryptophan.  This is an amino acid that helps in creating serotonin, the brain’s feel-good hormone. Check!  I’m all about feeling good.
  3. In order to fight any chance of depression, I should eat spinach, which contains B vitamin folate, but I can also get the same effect with peas, navy beans, orange juice, wheat germ, and avocados (like in guacamole, with margaritas, though the latter was not on his list).
  4. Every day, I am supposed to take a Vitamin D supplement, which helps with seasonal affective disorder, which I don’t think I have, but it sounds scary and I don’t want it.
  5. I learned it’s important to always stabilize my blood sugar, so I should eat broccoli and blueberries, and eat them in combination with proteins in fish, chicken or turkey.
  6. Finally, it was suggested that I eat quinoa, a whole grain that is also a good source of B vitamins. (Pronounced: Keen-wa. Say it right, or they laugh at you, I’ve learned).

Now my list had 8 to-do’s from the top list, and 6 to-eats from the bottom list, but I also have a really smart biochemist friend, and I had asked him what supplements he takes every day.  Here’s what he consumes:

  1. Mega doses of Omega 3 fish oil
  2. A high-dose, complex multi-vitamin
  3. A calcium complex supplement
  4. A CoQ10 pill for cellular energy
  5. An 81 milligram enteric-coated aspirin
  6. Cruciferous vegetables for cellular detoxification (broccoli, better steamed than raw) cauliflower, cabbage, or if I don’t like those vegetables, take broccoli powder or a sulphurophane supplement, helpful for reducing the risks of cancer and detoxification at the cellular level
  7. Fresh berries for antioxidants and to fight carcinogens
  8. Lots of fish and nuts, for my brain, heart, and prostate
  9. Plus, control my level of unrefined carbs, and always balancing them at the same time with fat and protein, like eating bread with olive oil or peanut butter.

Right then, I started feeling a little overwhelmed.  If you are keeping track, I am now up to 23 suggestions on how to improve my life.

If you’ve ever gone through a self-improvement reading experience like this, maybe you found yourself getting a little stressed wondering how you were going to get all of these things done, (especially finding that sulphurophane supplement).

Tell me again where I’m going to find that time for savoring life’s joys? (#3 from List 1)

Here’s my point today: If you ask for advice in this world, you will find it, in books, articles, websites, from friends.  And now from me.

Here are my 4 key pieces of advice concerning the 23 pieces of advice from above:

#1: Create routines and systems to repeat tasks that are most important.  Be disciplined in following them.  Every meal, brush and floss.  Every morning, pop the pills. Every night, exercise.  Whatever you want to accomplish, create structure and eliminate chaos on those goals that can be systematized.

#2:  It’s all about prioritizing.  What tasks really need to be done that will really impact your world significantly for the better?  If you’re using my list of 23, focus on the ones that will help the most and eliminate the extraneous.

#3:  Then, you have this little thing called your business demanding your attention, so this piece of advice applies to your business: Focus your effort on the big priorities that will move your business forward in dramatic fashion.  I know some of you have heard me say this before, but face it: You will never have enough time to do everything that pops into your head and your current business to-do list won’t be accomplished by next Christmas. If you need increased sales and customer traffic, you must learn to identify those tools that will move the needle into double digit increases, and put on the back burner the less impactful steps that won’t cause your business to skyrocket.

#4:  Finally, my last piece of advice: Go easy on yourself. At the end of today, cut yourself some slack.  I’m told Rome wasn’t built in a day.

But starting tomorrow, go make friends with some cruciferous vegetables and a salmon.

Jon Schallert

Congratulations to our March 2014 Destination BootCamp Graduates

Congratulations to our March 2014 Destination BootCamp Graduates.  This class of 22 was comprised of an incredibly diverse group of over-achieving business owners, with two larger Community Reinvention Program groups from Goshen County and Torrington, Wyoming and Forney, Texas (and two BootCamp Graduates back for another class).

If you’d like to be part of our next BootCamp in May, or if you’d like to learn how your community can participate in our 6-month Community Reinvention Program, feel free to call me, email me, or click here for more information.

The Power and Popularity of Being Small

I 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

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 temporary 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.

Pow! Just like That, You Have Momentum!

Pow

Why am I starting this blog post with a picture of the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots?

First, let’s make sure you know what they are.

Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots is a kid’s game where two plastic robots face each other in a make-believe boxing ring. The robots have arms that can punch.  It takes two kids to play. One player controls the red robot and the other controls the blue one. Each player uses their thumbs to cause the robots to punch at the other robot’s head. The object of the game is to hit the other robot in the head. You immediately know you did it because the robot’s head pops up, and you hear a “GRRRRR” sound, like scraping metal, when you connect.

The television ad used to say, “You knocked my block off”!

What I always liked about this game is that you could play the game for several minutes, fighting it out, and then, all of a sudden, one punch ended the game. GRRRRR!” Game over! No prolonged endings.

Here’s the reason I’m writing about Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: I meet business owners who are unhappy with their businesses. They want more sales, customers, excitement, recognition… you name it, they just want more from their businesses. And all of this is great, to elevate your expectations about your business.

But somewhere, someone told many of these owners something like: “All good things take time” or “Good things come to those who wait” or “Patience is a virtue” or “Change is hard”.

I’m here to tell you: These quotes are worthless when you’re trying to turn a business on an upward path.

The first thing I tell a business owner to do is to quit waiting. If you’re unhappy, take action now.

Second, I tell the owner to identify an action that will significantly impact the sales OR the image of the business in a monumentally positive manner.

I remind owners that it took them months and sometimes years to build their businesses to their current position, and we don’t have that same amount of time to turn it around.

Not everything happens overnight. But a whole lot of things do. In business, it often takes just one major “punch” to start the momentum rolling your way. Sometimes, one specific, definitive action can cause an immediate result that puts you out in front of your competition and puts you back in front of your best customers.

With one punch, we’re looking to create business momentum, and we’re looking for a quantum-leap-change that will immediately get noticed.

What we’re not looking for is a tiny, insignificant event. We’re not looking at creating small, incremental changes.

Maybe later. Right now, we want to get everyone’s attention and turn the tide in our favor.

I challenge every business owner reading this: Turning your business around doesn’t have to be hard, take long, or require patience.

You just have to purposely decide you’re going down that path, and look for the event that will provide the GRRRRR!

POW: Just like that! You’re moving forward!

Until next week!

Jon Schallert

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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.

So 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.

A New Attitude Beats a Positive Attitude

You’ve probably heard motivational speakers talk about the need to have a positive attitude.

With all due respect to Norman Vincent Peale, a positive attitude for independent business owners isn’t enough.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a New Attitude.

When business owners tell me they are dissatisfied with their business performance and they want more customer traffic and higher sales, I tell them this:

When you step into your business this morning, take a look around and realize that the business you occupy is entirely your own creation. Sure, maybe someone passed it down to you through the family, or you bought someone else’s business, or you’re running a franchise that has limits not of your own design, but the bottom line is:  The business that surrounds you is what you’ve built, with your money, hard work, and vision.

You, as the owner, are the only one capable of changing your business in any significant way, and it begins with singular NEW moments of vision. These moments will only happen if you are willing to question what you have in front of you, and come up with something better. Something totally NEW.

As the owner, you cannot focus on all the reasons you feel your business hasn’t succeeded. You must focus on what you can control. It might be absolutely true that your city isn’t as business friendly as somewhere else, or that your Mayor has never spent a dime in your business, or that your downtown doesn’t have the parking garage that you feel it should have.  But you must ignore these things!  You are going to focus on what you can do right now that will increase your business performance and you are going to quit focusing your energy on areas that are out of your control. Doing so is a waste of time, and when a business needs help, time is a critical commodity.

Let me take a step back for those of you reading this who don’t know me:  For the last 12 years, I’ve conducted a Destination Business BootCamp where business owners spend over two straight days with me, learning techniques to reinvent their businesses. And while the owners in that BootCamp class are as diverse a group as you’ll ever find sitting together for two days, there are two things these owners have in common:

#1: A willingness to learn, and

#2: A nagging dissatisfaction with their businesses.

And #2 is critical:  For owners to move forward, they must reach a point of discontent where they want change to happen now, not sometime in the future.

If you’re a business owner, developing a NEW attitude is easy. Just look at those concrete components of your business that make you unhappy. Your store interior.  Your front windows.  Your advertising. Your marketing message.  Your website.  Your energy-sucking, waiting-to-be-told-what-to-do employees (I’ve heard some owners have these). You name it.  Look at these tangible components and decide how you would like them to be.  See them NEW and don’t compromise with your NEW vision.  Be demanding!  Be unreasonable!  Be unrealistic!  See it in your mind like you want it to be, and don’t settle for what you have.

Notice that I said look at those concrete components that you want to change.  Don’t look at your sales growth and say, “I’m dissatisfied with my business sales and I want more revenue.” Wrong!  Sales are a function of the concrete components you’ve created that aren’t operating effectively, and a reflection of the strategy you’re using to draw customers to you.

When owners change their components and change their strategy, guess what happens? Owners start walking in their doors every morning with a positive attitude.

But seeing your business NEW is the first key and this demands you bring some creative thinking to the table, taking a step back, and not settling for the business that’s in front of you.

You brought this business into the world. If you’re unhappy with the results, reimagine it as the business you’ve always wanted.

Moving Forward and Avoiding Anchors

Normally when I get done with one of my Destination workshops, I get owners in the audience wanting to pick my brain on specific steps to make their businesses grow. They want to talk in greater detail about the 14-steps to become a Destination.

But recently in one audience, there was a small, vocal group of owners (clearly in the minority), who wanted to talk about all the things their city hadn’t done to help their businesses grow. They wanted to rehash stories of what it was like ten years ago and the mistakes the city had made. How the city didn’t have enough parking spaces, enough of a marketing budget, enough people to keep the sidewalks clean, and enough people thinking about small businesses. According to these owners, there wasn’t enough of anything.

I politely answered each question thrown at me and told this vocal minority that today, you have to be a business that is so unique, that consumers will come, regardless of your parking situation. I pointed out that if your business isn’t one-of-a-kind, you can have all the parking in the world and it’s not going to matter. I pointed out that people will avoid what they are bored of seeing, and people will not take a minute out of their day to revisit an average business. I emphasized that I was talking about Right Now, right here, today, not back then, ten years or even ten days ago.  I told these owners that we were moving forward, focusing on what they could change today, not revisiting the actions of prior groups.  I emphasized that I was giving them the opportunity to pick my brain and learn how to reinvent their businesses into Consumer Destinations, right now.

But these owners kept it up. They kept asking the same questions, and it suddenly dawned on me that most of the people in the room wanted to move on and change their community and their businesses.  Obviously, the city that had brought me in to speak wanted to move ahead. They were the ones who were forward-thinking enough to put me in front of this group.

Here’s my point in telling you this:  There are businesses located near you who will do anything they can to keep your business at the same level as their business. These owners do not want to move forward because it is easier to rehash the past, and complain about it, than it is to move ahead and face change. The future is a scary place for them. It is simpler to look backward and analyze what went wrong.

It’s important for you to understand that these owners are more content to scream about the changes that are happening, than to gear up their thinking and competitiveness and relearn what needs to be learned in order to make their businesses viable again. They scream because they are in a state of paralysis, not knowing how to change the business they have created, nor willing to fold it up and admit that they can’t compete anymore.

Most importantly, these owners are trying to pull your business down, not because they knowingly want to hurt your business, but because they sincerely believe their way is the only way. They don’t understand what you are trying to do with your business, and explaining your goal of creating your business into a Destination will be as foreign to them as learning Swahili (which I’ve heard is tough to learn). As they try to help you, they are working to keep you from pulling away from them, just like an anchor. Despite your best efforts and optimism, it’s more likely their negativity will suck the energy and enthusiasm out of you.

It is my advice that if you want to move ahead at rapid speed with your business, these types of people need to be avoided. Instead, you should seek out others who hold a similar belief in what you want to accomplish.  Find someone who is more skilled than you are, and learn from them. Understand that once you are successful, these negative neighbors of yours will not celebrate your success.  Instead, you will become a business that they will envy, and that’s a whole different kind of negativity. These owners see you in a smaller role than you imagine for yourself.  Insist on being as large as you want to dream.

You might wonder what happened with these owners during this discussion.  I agreed to disagree with them and I told them that we weren’t going to rehash the past. And with that, I focused my attention on of those who wanted to improve.

And that’s how it has to be done in your community:  When the train is pulling out of the station with most everyone on board, you never hit the brakes because a few didn’t hear the whistle.

It’s a New Year: Quit Running

I’ve spoken and consulted in more downtowns in the United States (over 500), than any other business consultant , but one of my most memorable workshops happened in downtown Stamford Connecticut in April, 2003. That morning, before I addressed an audience of business owners, I decided to insert an image of a hamster running in its wheel. That image seemed to me to be similar to what I had seen owners doing, working extremely hard, endlessly repeating the same tasks, even though those tasks never helped them achieve the progress they wanted in their businesses.

When I flashed the image on the screen, an owner of a baby specialty store (where Katie Couric shopped, I remember him telling me), rose out of his seat and shouted:  “That’s me!”

The audience roared. That little hamster resonated with owners.

Fast forward a few years. On a whim, I decided to see if anyone knew why hamsters ran endlessly on their wheels. And to my surprise, I discovered Dr. Chris Sherwin of the University of Bristol, School of Veterinary Sciences, who had published a paper on “Voluntary wheel running”.

Who knew there was an actual expert who studied why hamsters run on their wheels! Intrigued, I downloaded and read Dr. Sherwin’s 40+ page treatise and I’ll summarize it for you:

Dr. Sherwin found that hamster running occurs when a hamster is part of a “captive environment”, and it has an “urge to remove itself from its immediate area”. As they run, they perceive their activity as being “important”, and the running itself becomes “self-reinforcing”, causing them to continue spinning in circles, going nowhere. Finally, their running is “a result of feedback dysfunction”. They think they’re getting somewhere, but they aren’t.

So how does this apply to you and your business?

If you’re in business today, you have your own hamster wheel, and no owner (including me), has mastered how to escape the wheel completely. We all have a hamster wheel because our business models (the process by which companies provides value to customers and they, in turn, provide company revenue), doesn’t always operate correctly, efficiently, and at its optimum level of profitability.

My guess is that most of you have never looked at how you can alter your business model.  You’ve just been doing it, day after day, week after week, and for some of you, year after year. It’s actually fascinating how an owner can create a business that year after year, generates about the same revenue as the last, and even more fascinating to me, how an owner can be annually as displeased with the results as the previous year, and still not change!

Want to change your business model. Here’s how to start, by asking yourself these four (4) key questions:

  1. What parts of your business model are still operating efficiently and profitably, and meet your expectations? (Think of the parts of your business that you’re satisfied with.)
  2. What parts of your business model are dysfunctional, inefficient, don’t create the revenue you want, or don’t make you happy?
  3. What changes would have to happen in question #2, that by the end of 2013, we can list it under question #1 next year?
  4. Finally, what would have to change in you for your business model to start working more efficiently and profitably?  (By the way, if you have a spouse or partner who is also a decision-maker in your business, this includes the changes they would have to make, too).

2013 is gone, it’s a New Year, and you have a choice: If you’re not generating the revenue in your business that you want, it’s time to look at your business in its entirety and question everything that doesn’t produce the results you want. You built this business, you created your business model, and frankly, you’ve built your wheel. And you have the choice to change it.

You’re not a hamster. 2014’s the year to quit running on your wheel.

Registration is open for our March 4-6, 2014 Destination BootCamp. if you’re unhappy with your current business results, check it out by clicking here.