by Anne M. Obarski
I like to give advice. The older I get, I believe it is a “right of passage” to be able to share my experiences with those who ask for it. Whether they do anything with that advice is another story! I was recently interviewed by two people who were in the process of writing articles for two business magazines. Each one of the freelance writers took a different approach to some basic challenges that business owners face. One was how to motivate and keep good employees and the second was brainstorming some different ways that a business can market themselves during the fourth quarter of the year to guarantee a great holiday season.
As each of these people asked me my opinion about these specific challenges, I started to see how important both of these areas are to any business. The key is that both areas need to be addressed day in and day out and not just seasonally.
Training, retaining and motivating a great sales staff compliments a well thought out marketing program. Add a manager who is gifted in coaching and challenging their staff to deliver customer driven service and you have the foundation for a strong business.
My advice is to look at all of the pieces to the business “puzzle” and tweak each piece when needed to maintain the focus of the big picture. Too often business owners crave a “quick fix” or “band aid” that is just a temporary solution to a sometimes bigger problem.
I enjoyed reading an article in a recent edition of the Cincinnati Business Courier, entitled, “Big-box Busters: Local Mom-and-Pop Hardware Stores Win via Customer Service”, by Karen Meiman, that validated my thoughts on what it takes to keep stores in business.
John Humpert, a third-generation operator of a locally owned hardware store in Kentucky said, “You hear about service with a smile, but it is really true. Most of our employees are the cream of the crop. They can wait on two or three people at once and have a diverse product knowledge”.
He said that his employees must know everything from electrical to plumbing, even housewares. But he says, “ We also pay those people more money for that product knowledge,” Humpert also said that the staff at locally owned stores tend to stay on board longer than at larger retail stores.
The key to keeping and motivating employees is simple. Train, coach and reward your employees. When the hardware store owner said his people were the “cream of the crop” I could “feel” his pride in his employees. I would bet that he lets them know it everyday.
I would go one step further in saying that if he was that proud of them, they probably go out of their way with every customer to show them how much they enjoy their job. Inevitably, that translates to great customer service and repeat and referral business, everyday. A Kentucky resident says, “If I didn’t have these folks, I’d go nuts……my house would fall down!” If you moved in next door to this person, where do you think they would tell you to go for your hardware needs? Money can't buy that type of marketing!
So when it comes to the question relating to new marketing techniques to guarantee a good holiday season, you are probably wondering what my answer was for the free-lance writer. Very simply put. Market your employees first, market your business second, everyday, everyday, everyday. But never, ever stop marketing.
As I look into my retail "crystal ball" to predict how business will fair for the rest of 2003, this is what I see. The holiday season for 2009 was just average at best. Retailers were overly cautious and cut back on their inventories as well as their staffing from past seasons. The beginning of 2003 was clouded with severe weather, rumors of war and an Easter holiday that fell into second quarter vs. first quarter in 2009.
As those two quarters melded together, business owners are now struggling to make some sense of the beginning of second quarter and within a few short months, the holiday predictions will be making their way into the media, just like clockwork.
As I gaze into that ball, I see the following. Start your holiday marketing strategies immediately. Focus on these three areas now and watch your fourth quarter business sparkle.
Passionate Employees: Are they the "cream of the crop" in your business? Are they well trained in customer service and are they knowledgeable about the entire business? Do they feel part of the team? Have you, as the manager, shown them the goal line and how you are going to help them get there? What rewards can they expect when they help to achieve that goal? To what extent do you as a manager positively motivate your people on a daily basis? Ask yourself, "Would I want any of my employees working for my competition?" If your answer is "no", then you have a team that you should be proud of!
Passionate Customers: Do you know who your best customers are? Do you have a database that you can access at anytime? Can you develop some marketing tools that you can use to pinpoint certain segments of your customer database? How frequently do you communicate with your customers other than with your regular advertising? Are your employees in touch with your customers on a regular basis through a phone call or post card? What percentage of your customers are your cheerleaders? When they need an item you carry in your inventory, is your company the first they think of? If not, why not?
Passionate Marketing: How much of your marketing budget have you cut in light of current business situations? If you said, "very little", good for you! It is more important than ever before to keep your name or face in front of your customers on a regular basis. Remember the old adage, "out of site, out of mind"? Never has that saying been more current than right now. With the infusion of internet marketing, infomercials, print advertising and specialty advertising, the customer is in "communication overload". In order to stand out, be creative, be fun, and most importantly, be memorable, every time.
How many times have you wished, "If I only had a crystal ball", I would have a better handle on what would help my business” ? Well, I will loan you mine. As you gaze into it, I hope you see that businesses that have passionate leaders and employees, who creatively market quality products to an ever growing loyal customer base will be able to focus on what is and not what could be. Now, about that magic wand!
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