NOW is our time to step up.
With the news of Toys R Us filing for bankruptcy the other day, a client frantically emailed me in a tangled mess of stress, fear, and worry for what the future holds for his business.
Having 5 locations in the Greater Sudbury area, he’s 100% vested in Sudbury and its growth, but boy, this had him shook up, seeing the Retail Apocalypse materializing far more quickly than anyone had ever anticipated.
Sales are down or dropping, traffic has slowed, and overall engagement and energy simply isn’t what it used to be.
“What can I do to change this trend?”
“How can I drive traffic?”
“How can I bring sales back up?…and quickly!”
“How do I get people excited about my brand again?”
“How do I compete with the internet and big chains?”
All valid questions.
But first, in case you’re living under a rock, here are the FACTS.
- Abercrombie & Fitch announced they’d be closing 60 stores by the end of 2017, and that’s on TOP of the hundreds they’d closed over the past few years.
- Aerosoles announced a “significant reduction” in retail locations, how ever many that means…
- American Apparel had closed all 110 U.S. locations earlier in 2017 after filing for bankruptcy. (BUT, they have since been bought out by Gildan in Canada, so let’s see where that goes.)
- BCBG closed 118 stores in 2017 after filing for bankruptcy the previous February.
- Bebe closed all of it’s remaining 168 stores in 2017 and said it was “exploring strategic alternatives.”
- The Children’s Place said it will close hundreds of stores by 2020.
- CVS announced they would be closing 70 stores. (Although they still operate thousands nationwide.)
- Guess announced it would be closing 60 stores.
- Gymboree announced it would close 350 of its 1200 stores,
- Hhgregg announced it would close all 220 stores, laying off thousands of employees after failing to find a buyer after bankruptcy.
- J.C. Penney announced it would close 138 stores. (And planned to open “toy shops” in all it’s remaining stores.)
- The Limited has closed all of its 250 stores, losing over 4000 jobs.
- Macy’s announced it would close 68 stores and lay off several thousand employees.
- Michael Kors announced the closing of 125 stores to “adapt to the difficult promotional sales environment.”
- Payless announced it would close 800 stores by the end of 2017.
- RadioShack shut down more than 1000 stores in 2017 to operate only 70 stores nationwide. (That’s down from several thousand!)
- Rue21 announced it would close 400 of its stores (out of 1100) after filing for bankruptcy.
- Sears/Kmart closed 35 Kmarts and over 300 Sears locations in 2017 amid “pressure from eCommerce outlets.”
- Wet Seal closed all 171 stores after filing for bankruptcy.
And let’s not forget a few classics…
- Target closed all of its Canadian stores.
- Walmart closed all of its 88 stores in Germany, taking a 1 BILLION dollar loss.
- Walmart closed all 16 stores in South Korea.
- Starbucks completely pulled all of its stores from Australia, despite a few keeping the branding in an attempt to revive the brand.
- Blockbuster, a once iconic brand, is completely gone.
- Kodak, once on top of the world, folded, laying off over 20 000 employees.
- Borders closed all 399 stores, laying off 11 000 employees.
- Pan Am, still holding records for quickest flights around the world and countless airline innovations, flew too close to the sun and went belly up.
- Blackberry, once the pinnacle for business mobile devices, lost over 60% of its head count and is desperately trying to hang in there.
I think you get the point… Plus, this email is getting far too dark. Time to shed some light…
Here’s one last fun fact… only 71 companies from the original 1955 Fortune 500 list remain in business today.
Now you might think, “1955 is a long time ago! Of course many of those have come and gone.” And you may have some truth there, but the fact remains that these weren’t just “mom and pop” shops, these were the best of the best. The companies that were on top of the world. And there were those who believed they’d stay there forever. These were the biggest companies in the world and they died.
If I had the time (and desire, quite frankly) to dig up the list of companies that were running in Sudbury (or your city) in 1955, or even in 2005, or even in 2010, that are no longer with us, I think it would be staggering…
And of course, that’s not even addressing the companies that may still be here, but are struggling, barely surviving paycheck to paycheck, and aren’t earning what they should earn.
Business owners, YOU WORK HARD. You are some of the hardest working people on the planet. Yet far too many make far less than they deserve. Many business owners have simply bought themselves a job.
A little while ago, I sent out an email titled “How The Arena Will Affect Your Business” where I addressed the truth about BUSINESS in Sudbury.
After sending it, I received several emails that all sounded something like this…
“Al, loved the article, I agree that we are all responsible for our own business, and I want to take charge of my company and make it GROW… but how? Please help!”
Here’s the thing… Although it breaks my heart to say this, I simply can’t work with everyone. And unfortunately, those who DESPERATELY need my help, often can’t financially make it happen.
So rather then say, “Well, looks like you’re out of luck,” I’m going to put some of that help HERE in this very article.
Keep in mind, this info is going to be short, sweet, and to the point and in the most basic, common form possible to apply to as many businesses and industries as possible. This list by NO MEANS covers all the things needed to run a highly successful business. But hopefully it’s enough to make some serious forward change in your business and add value to you.
Let’s dive in..
The Business Basics
⬤ Solve the biggest problem possible. Don’t just exist, or try and solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. Find a pain, a problem, and become the solution.
⬤ Become the BEST at it. Narrow your focus and strive to become the absolute best solution to the problem. If someone down the street offers a far superior solution, patrons won’t come to you just because you’re “a nice guy,” or worse, because you cry, “Help me because I’m local.” Local matters, but that doesn’t wash away the business basics of being the best and offering excellent service.
⬤ Be changeable. Don’t be stuck in your ways, be willing to change, to be fluid and innovate. Focus on continually testing subtle ways to do things differently.
⬤ The little things matter. Those who know me know where to find me every single morning: Starbucks. I’m a man of routine, and for over a decade I’ve been frequenting Starbucks every morning to do my writing. But here’s the thing… lately management has been slacking, and the place has been messy. Napkins, straw wrappers, and paper have been on the floors and stains on the table remain for days. This may seem petty, but for a long-time loyal fan of many years, it’s something that’s irritated me and encouraged me to visit other coffee shops. The little things matter, and taking an extra 10 minutes to ensure your business is spotless MATTERS.
⬤ Listen and encourage critical feedback. YES, you are going to come across feedback that is absolutely useless and comes with negative intent, but that’s not a good reason not to listen to feedback. Often, associates, staff, and customers can offer up incredibly valuable feedback. Don’t shy away from it, and don’t create an environment where people are afraid to provide it. Welcome feedback, listen to it, and decide if it has merit or not.
⬤ Remove friction wherever possible. If you’ve never called or shopped your own business (or hired a firm like ours to do so), then you are probably missing many opportunities to streamline the customer experience. Wherever possible, in every part of your business, go through it and optimize it, remove the friction, and create a smooth flow.
⬤ Get ahold of your own time and be accountable to it. You only have 24 hours a day, and Richard Branson only has 24 hours a day, so don’t ever think about blaming time. Take a lesson from Tim Ferris and focus ONLY on high priority tasks, and outsource or put off the rest. I’ve always had a sign on my desk that reads, “I must do the most productive thing at any given moment,” to remind me that time is precious. Use it wisely.
⬤ Strive to operate in Blue Oceans. This means create markets that don’t exist. Red oceans are markets that are flooded and packed with competition. Blue oceans are when you carve out a brand new niche and thrive in it because no one does quite what you do.
⬤ Beat the news home. Remember when you were a kid and you did something wrong… It was always best if you could beat the news home and tell your parents before they found out. Same with bad news in your business, be the first to bring it up. If you failed to deliver in any way, be the first to speak up—don’t wait for them to find out. That only makes it look like you were hoping they wouldn’t!
⬤ Be resourceful. Without a doubt, the largest companies I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with have been the most resourceful. It’s not that they had access to countless resources; in fact, many were startups at one time with ZERO resources, but they were resourceful and figured out a way to make it all work. If a competitor has access to something you don’t, don’t simply sit around complaining about it, find a way to make it work.
⬤ Don’t be an ASKHOLE! That’s someone who continually asks for advice, yet does nothing with it. A key business skill is the ability to gather all the information required to make a decision and then MAKE IT. (Read more HERE)
⬤ Don’t confuse activity with productivity. Just because you’re “busy” doesn’t mean you’re productive or even useful. Focus on the majors and do important work, not time consuming low value work.
⬤ And the most important… Bend over backwards for your clients, but NEVER FORWARD. Be willing to go beyond the call of duty for your clients, but never let them walk all over you; you are not a doormat. In business, you aren’t going to please everyone (and if you do, you either aren’t doing much or you’re simply oblivious!). Some people just aren’t going to be a good “fit,” and that’s okay! It’s better to have a group of loyal fans and a group that hates you than a whole bunch of impartial people. Look at Apple—they’ve got raving fans and die hard opponents, and that’s what makes them successful.
The Marketing Basics
When it comes to marketing—and business—here’s what you need to remember: EVERYTHING is marketing. BUT, not every marketing act brings you closer to a sale. Some actually pull you back.
Marketing is the way you answer the phone, the way you send an email, the way your client facing staff acts, how you invoice, etc.
Every. Single. Activity. Is. Marketing.
Some benefit you, and some hurt you. The choice is yours.
⬤ Headlines matter! And no, just because you want it to be the headline doesn’t mean it’s a good one. The headline is the first thing people read on an ad, it’s the first thing you utter at your store, it’s the first thing you say when you answer the phone, it’s the subject line to your email, it’s the first thing they read on your social media post, etc. Don’t just throw them together haphazardly or you’re just dumping money in the toilet. Study up on how to write powerful, compelling headlines, and do it right.
⬤ Understand WHO your audience is. Don’t just write to anyone who will listen, write to a very specific person. Know exactly who your audience is, create an “avatar” of them and write directly to THEM.
⬤ Know HOW they will consume your marketing efforts. If you’re designing a billboard where those viewing it will be driving, a few words MAX! Don’t put a darn paragraph up there. People are on their phones so much they aren’t even looking at the road, let alone your billboard, so keep it short and powerful. Oh, and if you’re thinking, “But what about the passengers,” yeah…right… Do people still look out the window? Or are do they have their eyes glued to their mobiles. Heck, people can’t even walk safely anymore because they’re on Facebook.
⬤ Be mindful of WHERE they are spending their time. Listen, you’ll never hear me say you have to be on Facebook, or YouTube, or Google, or the Yellow Pages. BUT, you will hear me say, “Be where your prospects are.” That’s all that matters, and that’s where the buck stops. Just don’t make the mistake of GUESSING. Do some critical research, learn where your audience is, and be there.
⬤ Don’t buy into the hype that one thing works and another doesn’t. TESTING is where results come from. And just because something worked for the last decade doesn’t mean it will for the next. Test, test, test. You’ll be amazed by the results. (Fun fact, I test all my email subject lines. I pick three, and I send 10% of my list the first, 10% the second, 10% the third, and the remaining 70% gets the winner of the three based on opens. There is ALWAYS one that significantly outperforms the other two, despite my thinking they are all great and all “winners”!)
⬤ Understand HOW your material will appear on mobile. More than half of all websites and social accounts are viewed on mobile. Be mindful of that, it’s 2019 already!
⬤ It’s not about YOU. This one still amazes me… websites, flyers and ads that are all about the owner or the company are leaving money on the table. Talk to me about what you can do for ME. Sell the benefits to ME. Unless you plan on paying for me, make darn sure I understand what’s in it for me.
⬤ If you can’t measure it, you can’t afford it. Don’t buy into the garbage that it’s all about building a brand. Unless you’re Pepsi and have an endless budget to spend on untrackable marketing, you simply can’t afford to burn money that way. If someone insist that it’s all about building a brand and doesn’t go out of their way to put steps in place to track the results, odds are they DON’T WANT it measured because results suck. Instead, focus on tactics you can measure. Set up different call lines to track where calls are coming from. Use codes to separate regions or ads. Utilize different emails to track incoming traffic. You get the point. Oh, and here’s the kicker: done right, you can STILL build an incredible brand while tracking every dollar that goes out, every dollar that comes in, and what brought it in. Until you start tracking, you can never amplify what’s working because you won’t know.
⬤ People buy from people. Product images are fine, but people using and enjoying your product is far better. Wherever possible, show the world you’re real by adding people into your marketing. Think of a photo album of the last trip you took. When you show the album to friends, they may comment that the scenery pictures are nice, but they’ll stop and treasure the ones with people in them far more.
⬤ Acknowledge all feedback, especially negative reviews. When someone feels the need to voice a negative, they’re looking to be heard. Acknowledge their feelings and respond appropriately.
⬤ A customer is only made after the second sale, so don’t drop the ball after the first. Whether it’s a simple, “Hope to see you again soon,” on the way out of a QSR, or a detailed follow up system, make sure you don’t get lost after they purchase.
⬤ Capture those leads! Whether it’s traffic to your site, follows on your social media, visitors at your trade-show booth, or walk-ins, find creative ways to capture those leads. NO, don’t just say, “Hey, what’s your phone number!?” because that’ll come across as spam and be met with resistance. Instead, find ways to make them WANT you to contact them. Maybe offer a neat checklist, secret tips, exclusive information, etc.
⬤ Follow up forever. Have you ever received a flyer and thought to yourself, “Oh, this is cool, I’m going to do this!” and then set it down to call it later, and forgot all about it? Even though you genuinely wanted to do it (or get it)? That happens every day. And because life is always moving, countless sales are lost because someone forgot to follow up. Don’t make this mistake, follow up!
⬤ Create and have a strategy. Most businesses bounce from one tactical marketing act to another without any set plan. That’s like throwing a bunch of random words together and calling it a song. The best thing you can do for your business is to create a powerful strategy that makes sense and follow that plan! Businesses are won or lost on STRATEGY.
⬤ Effectiveness over aesthetics. Too many graphic designers like to call themselves marketing pros yet can’t sell water in the desert. MOST highly successful ads, websites, and sales letters are NOT the most aesthetic. In fact, many are UGLY. Look at Amazon… I have many clients who have were convinced to pay a fortune and built these beautiful eCommerce sites yet spent zero of their time making sure it actually converted, and they aren’t selling anything. Marketing often breaks the rules of aesthetics—and that’s okay.
The Staffing Basics
⬤ Culture matters. Take the necessary time to nurture the culture you want—and that means cutting away any bad apple the moment it’s noticed. I’m reminded of a story told by Simon Sinek. He was at a coffee shop in a Four Seasons and noticed the barista going above and beyond for him, completely engaged and providing a phenomenal experience. His name was Tyler, and he was one of the best. Through conversation, Sinek learned that Tyler also worked part time at a local clothing store where he hated his job, and was grumpy, unpleasant, and did the least work possible. He went on to explain it was all about management, and how they treated him that made the difference. You see, with good culture, you’ll get a top notch employee like Tyler. With poor culture, you’ll get a bottom of the barrel employee like Tyler. It’s not Tyler, it’s the culture that makes the difference.
⬤ Give employees room to thrive—and make mistakes. Trust mixed with freedom makes for a powerful combination. When staff aren’t afraid to get reprimanded at every corner, they become incredibly independent and willing to go above and beyond.
⬤ Keep employees in the loop or informed as much as possible. Transparency is powerful, and when employees feel informed and in the know, they feel like a team, not just a number.
⬤ Educate your staff on the company’s purpose, and how important their role is to the attainment of that purpose. It may seem like all that young 16 year old kid is doing is flipping burgers or working the cash, but they are an integral and vital part of the entire process and are important to the mission of the company. Without purpose, people perish.
⬤ Contests are fun, but don’t use cash. This may sound contrary to what many think (or even claim to know), but countless studies have shown that employees will compete more for a prize such as a weekend getaway than for a cash prize, even if the value of the getaway is lower. With some of our higher end restaurants we have a weekend getaway prize drawn monthly that they go absolutely crazy for. Get creative—it can be an LCBO gift bag, a trip to Niagara Falls, a dinner and movie night, etc.
⬤ IF you choose to do monetary prizes, pay out in fresh, crisp cash and do it publicly. One of our clients had $500 bonuses to the top salesperson every month, and he would walk out in the middle of the showroom around all the other sales folks, and pull out fresh $100 bills and count them out slowly, one at a time, making sure they make that crispy “snap” when shuffled and hand them over to the winner. This got everyone salivating for the bills and working hard to earn the prize next month.
⬤ Set boundaries. Often, as “the boss” it can be tough to walk the line between boss and friend, and there are times for both, but clear boundaries need to be set. And when a superior is too friendly and doesn’t uphold the rules of the shop, a bond with employees is NOT formed. In fact, respect is lost.
⬤ Don’t waste everyone’s time with endless emails. Instead, use a software like Slack to solve endless intercommunication. When there are 5 people in an email chain, and everyone hits reply all, it gets out of hand really fast. And don’t kid yourself, enforcing employees to keep each chain to one subject, and to change the subject line as needed doesn’t make things any easier. Instead, put everyone on Slack, create channels within it for specific departments, and keep all conversations in one place. Plus, you can avoid the dreaded, “But he said this and I thought he was doing this and…” By putting all important conversations take in one place, it makes finding who said what a breeze—and keeps people accountable to their word! (Note, I receive zero kickback for recommending Slack, just a loyal client, and we use it within all our companies.)
⬤ Avoid the desire to have yet another conference meeting. Meetings have this strange sense of accomplishment and productivity attached to them when truthfully many are not. A one hour meeting that has 10 people in attendance is actually a 10 hour meeting, NOT a one hour meeting. Each attendee is losing an hour of work. If you must have meetings, keep them short and on point, provide an outline prior to the meeting, and STICK TO IT.
Okay, I am nowhere near finished but this is getting pretty long so I’m going to wrap this up!!
Perhaps at a later date I’ll finish off the Staffing Basics, talk about Follow Up Procedures, go into Sales Basics, etc.
I do want to end with one important point: If you want to be an anomaly, you have to act like it. If you want to be one of the few who make it big, you have to act and do things that only a few would actually do. You can’t just “out-work” everyone else, because we’re all limited in time. You have to out-think everyone else, out-strategize them.
Whenever I speak in front of audiences I like to ask the audience who would like to make 10 times more than they are currently making. Invariably, nearly everyone raises their hands in excitement. I then say, “Great, all you have to do is work 10 times harder and bam, you’ll earn 10 times more,” and of course, I get a bunch of awkward chuckles of disappointment.
The truth is, unless you’re only putting in a few hours a week, you CAN’T work 10 times harder, so hoping you can work harder to earn more simply makes zero sense.
Instead, be smart about it.
When I was running my other business, I thought I was on top of the world. It had been about 6 years, business was booming, and I was doing everything right… or so I thought. After some serious convincing, I signed up for a business coaching program and a consulting program and boy, did my blinders ever come off.
Despite how much I thought I knew about business, bringing in outside eyes completely revolutionized my business and we doubled every year for the next 3 years.
* INSERT SHAMELESS PLUG *
I do a variety of different work for clients, but my biggest love, my greatest passion, is marketing and business consulting. And one of the very first things I do when I start working with a client is evaluate everything that’s already in play. I mystery shop, I call, I email, I book appointments, I test the follow ups, and I basically do a CAT scan of the business to identify hidden opportunities, overlooked assets and previously unseen possibilities for major upside gains.
With or without us, I strongly encourage you to put your business through a similar scan and see where the breaks are. You’d be amazed at what you’ll find.
I sincerely hope you found some value in this article, and I would love to hear your thoughts 🙂
And now my coffee is finished and it’s time to get to work!
To your success,
CEO RYS Group
The Blais family enjoying the views at Lake Tahoe.
RYS Group Inc.
Your Back Office Is Our Business!
We specialize in building systematized businesses with automated cash-flow for celebrities, speakers, authors, and entrepreneurs.