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Is Growth the Best Thing for the Specialty Retailer?


Is growth good or bad? Some people say if you’re not growing, you’re stagnant. And if you’re stagnant, you’re regressing.

Why is it that we have to open a second store? Why is that we need to have a bigger store? Why is it that we have to employ more people? Are we making a store that’s better or one that’s just bigger? Is bigger better? If you’re Walmart, maybe bigger is better. But even Walmart is exploring the possibility of smaller stores.describe the image

What all specialty retailers have in common is a unique product that requires additional services provided by a service provider, and in a way that a big-box retailer couldn’t possibly handle.

The Secret to Being a Better Retailer

The better brands of today are not carried by Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and Target--the better brands are carried by the specialty retailer. Ask yourself, “How can I make the shopping experience and the brands I carry even more special?”

Exploit the specialty in specialty retailing. When was the last time you asked customers what they think of your store? How good are you at providing what customers want? Are you meeting the bare minimum, or are you doing things that make people say “Wow, that’s different.”

The key is to be different, but “different” means different things to different people. Be the leader. Take the time to shop industries other than yours. See what they’re doing different than the competition, and use what you find to set yourself apart in your own industry.

Professional golfer Tom Watson asked for advice from five colleagues about how to be a better golfer. All five answered the same: “If you’re playing with the best, you’re being the best.” If you’re shopping the best stores, you’re being one of the best stores.

It’s time for retailers to make stores sweeter, more memorable, more special. It’s time they look for the wow. Some retailers are way ahead; others are behind. But to settle for good enough in this competitive climate just isn’t good enough anymore.

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How 3 Companies Use Signs and Visual Graphics to Sell More


Every day, businesses have opportunities to extend their brand in many ways.  One of the most controllable ways a retailer or restaurant can do this is through signs and visual graphics. This might mean adding a new point of purchase sign for featured products or updating menu boards with digital displays to engage customers. In the book Signs Sell, written by Rick Segel and Matthew Hudson in conjunction with FASTSIGNS International, Inc., we learn about the essential nature of signs and visual communications to inform, educate, entertain and sell.  

Let’s look at how three companies use signs and visual graphics to sell more products:  

1)     New Dawn Nutrition. This health store needed help with branding for a new location. New Dawn Nutrition wanted engaging point of purchase signs, attention-getting promotional products and branded wall and window graphics. By providing professional signs and graphics, FASTSIGNS helped New Dawn sell more private label products.

Nutrition Center

2)     Rent One. This appliance, electronics and furniture rental business needed complete rebranding for all of their locations. To retain customers and increase sales during their brand makeover, Rent One asked FASTSIGNS to create unique point of purchase displays that stood off the wall, modernized their vehicle graphics, and ensured brand consistency for signage.


3)     BRYN & DANE’S. The healthy fast food restaurant wanted to set their business apart from the competition and establish their brand identity. FASTSIGNS provided eye-catching interior décor including framed artwork, digital signs and point of purchase signs, informative menu boards and wrapped catering trucks to promote the restaurant. The result was unique signs and visual graphics that helped BRYN & DANE’S reach their audience and sell more healthier fast food.


Looking for fresh inspiration on how to sell more using signs and visual graphics?

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Purchase your copy of Signs Sell today.

4 Ways to Build a World-Class Retail Customer Service Team


It’s official—your company has been open for exactly one year. Your sales are starting to increase nicely, your business plan is going pretty much as you had hoped and you have hired a good group of employees.shutterstock 163529669

It’s time to celebrate a successful first year by taking your customer service team to the next level. Consider the following tips:

Talk With Your Team

Yes, you’ve worked with your customer service employees for a year now, and you feel like you know them pretty well. But, don't stop at the typical boss relationship. Mindvalley Insights suggests that employers ask their staff about their work goals and what really helps them to feel successful at work. Once you realize what their goals and processes are, you can better encourage each of them and incorporate their interests and talents into their work. This results in an even better connection with the customers.

Furthermore, providing incentives and benefits can help your employees love their jobs. Entrepreneur notes that employees often show that they feel valued through dedication and hard work. To do this, try a weekly or monthly catered lunch, gourmet coffee in the break room or the chance to work from home or a paid afternoon off. Employers who care about their customer service team will be rewarded with a loyal group of employees who are ready to help you succeed.

Don't Take Data Too Seriously

While it can be useful to send out customer surveys and track phone calls to see how long employees are speaking with each customer, some metrics may be misleading or less useful than others. The direct feedback you receive from clients about your team and their performance will probably give you more tangible information than finding out how long Mary or Bob speaks with their customers.

As Inc. notes, traditional metrics often look at the average length of time on the phone, which means the shorter the better; however, you have to remember that quantity can often mean quality. For example, your customer service team might take extra time to walk customers through the process, which takes longer but also provides a better customer experience.

Turn to the Cloud for Help

Not too long ago, successful businesses could get away with a few phone lines and a regular-sized email inbox for their customer service needs. These days, busy companies are finding it more difficult to keep track of their emails and calls, especially those that might require responses from different employees.

As you dive into your second year in business, it might be time to switch to a cloud-based customer support system. For example, Zipwire is an inbound cloud center that allows your team of employees to provide the best customer service possible in an organized, streamlined and efficient way. It has speech recognition for issues that don't require an agent, skills-based routing for directing customers to the right agent and personalization and context tools for each customer.

As a bonus, Zipwire can help to measure the effectiveness of each member of your team, and helps them successfully assist each customer from start to finish.

Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting 

The Social Video Starter Guide

TFF M3 SocialVideo (1)
Social Media and Retailers. 

In Retail, Silence is not Always Golden


Silence is golden, so they say. And as a parent of a 3.5 year old, I do understand the bliss in this quote. However, in retail, silence can often times be deadlyGetty Images

For most of us, we read things and agree with the premise, but it does not really affect us until it happens to us. Recently, we had a new home built for our family. When we moved in, we found many "issues" that needed to be resolved - things like water leaks, paint touch-ups and floor boards messed up, etc. Some of the issues were major and required cabinets and floors to be torn out and rebuilt. 

Six weeks into our new home, nothing had been done. Well, that s not exactly true; they had torn out everything, but the mess was just sitting around and we could not use the shower or sink. Since there were no responses to my phone calls, I decided to put my frustrations in writing to the owner of the company. I tried to craft an email that was fair and balanced and did not exaggerate our situation (as customers tend to do.) I included some pictures so he could see I was not exaggerating. And then, nothing.


No response. No, "I got your email and we are working on it." No, apology. Nothing. (By the way, the beauty of a read receipt is that you know it did not get lost in a SPAM folder.) Two weeks pass by and we reach out again; this time explaining how the silence had made things worse. In fact, a couple who just visited the model home stopped and asked us if we would recommend the builder. Yeah...not so much. Smart couple by the way. 

The whole experience left me filled with an array of emotions. I was sad for our new house. I was disappointed in our new house. I was mad at the builders for messing everything up. I was frustrated by the apathy. All of these emotions instead of feeling joy for the blessing of a new home. And most of all, I was hurt by a company that made me feel so "valued" during the buying process only now to be relegated to a number in a complaint box. But I was also stuck in the middle trying to serve my family well by getting "answers" and coming up empty every time. 

The other emotion I had was shame. I started to think of those times in my retail stores when I had bad news for a customer (or just no news) and avoided the call. I never realized how much pain silence could cause until it effected me. But isn't that how lessons are learned?

We read articles like this one and think, good tips, I should use them. But we never truly connect to the principles being shared in the article in an emotional way. Think about our advice in The Retail Sales Bible - Logic makes us shop, but emotions make us buy. It is no different when you are reading an article. Logically, you agree with what's being said. But until you connect to it emotionally, you do not learn. I am not saying bad things need to happen, just illustrating the power of emotions. 

Remember, learning is a change in behavior. It's not enough to "know" you have to "do." I am sure when I related the story about not calling a customer, most of you reading this can relate. We don't want to disappoint our customers. After all, as a small business owner, I need every customer I can get these days. But the silence can do more damage than you realize. 

I did not actively seek out people to talk too about our builder; a couple stopped and asked us in our front yard. In other words, customers do not have to be proactive in telling others about your poor service - they will get asked. I even refrained from using my Twitter account to "teach this builder a lesson" (and with 35,0000 followers, I do have some reach.) 

But most customers would not refrain. They will joyfully post about you on Facebook or Twitter and tell the world their opinion of you. But when you resolve the problem, they always go back and repost to let everyone know, right? Keep in mind, the old adage if customers like you, then they will tell a few friends, but if they do not like you they will tell 7-9 friends. Not anymore. They will tell hundreds and sometimes thousands of friends via social media. It's easier. They have an always open complaint messenger in the palm of their hand and it is just begging to be used. (You and I call it a smartphone.) 

Silence is deadly. Communicate well with your customers. Go ahead and call them with an update on their special order, even if it is to say you have no news. The fact that you care enough to reach out to them does wonders. My employees did not like the Monday calls to our customers to update them on the status of their repair or special order or transfer from another store. Often times, they had to tell them we still did not have the order or the repair still was not done (even though promised a week ago). However, because we proactively reached out each week, our customers gave us more grace and patience.

We never let silence be part of our culture or part of our business - at least we tried. As I said earlier, even I failed in this myself. It makes me want to go back to those customers and say I am sorry. We did get our stores to the place of ridding silence from our business, but there were some casualties along the way. 

Last year, we did a study and found out the damage "meeting customer expectations" can do to your business and wrote several articles about it including this infographic. The main point is that in today's competitive retail environment, it is not enough to meet customer expectations - you have to exceed them. Silence will neither meet or exceed expectations. It will only show that you do not care. And if you do not care, there is a silence that can be deadly for a retailer - the silence of the cash register not ringing! 

Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting 

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In Retail, You Have To Exceed Expectations

Exceed Expectations Infographicexceed retail customer expectations

Retail Advice - Good Business/ Bad Business Series #1


Good BusinessUnderstanding that your customer is not always right but that they are allowed to make mistakes; explaining the reasons why they might want to think about something in a different way

Bad BusinessThinking that your customer is always right

Too often retailers become rigid when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong. Understand that we are meant to enhance the customer’s experience. By telling customers they are wrong, you’re not enhancing—you’re aggravating them. Be understanding, be compassionate. Know that customers will make mistakes, and expect their mistakes. But remember they are still the customer and the ones paying your salary.

Good Business—Studying the customer service your competitors deliver

Bad BusinessIgnoring your competition

If you want good customer service to be an integral component of your marketing strategies, you need to be aware of the kind of customer service your competitors deliver. Doing so provides you a benchmark to meet and exceed. Some retailers suggest we each mind our own business—that if we keep our noses to the grindstone and ignore others retailers’ tactics, we’ll do just fine. This is not the case. We need to be aware of the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses to create opportunities that differentiate our business in the marketplace.

When a competitor of mine was creating his website, he visited mine 137 times. He did an excellent job of being aware of what I was and wasn’t doing.

As my grandfather once said, “Just be good at one thing, and be better than anyone else at that thing.” So go shop your competition. Visit their websites, visit their stores. What are they doing, and how can you do it better?

Good BusinessFocusing, managing, and engineering the customers’ experience with your business

Bad BusinessIgnoring your customers’ experience

Some businesses remain extremely successful by doing what they want to do despite the customer experiencethey nearly insult their customers by how they conduct business. But know these companies are few and far between. They are the exception. Yes, you should remain true to your beliefs, values, and mission; however, if you ignore the customer experience in today’s competitive marketplace, expect that customers will begin to ignore your business. Prioritize your customers by intentionally engineering methods to best serve them.

For some reason, salespeople are notorious for telling customers about a wonderful product they once sold but not longer carry in the store. Do not do thistrain your sales teams to avoid these conversations. This frustrates the customer, and it does nothing for your store. This method does not entice the customer as some may think.

Remember the rule of one: customers give you one chance to find what they’re looking for. If you do not have it, customers will say for the rest of their lives that you carry nothing. Focus on and generate chatter about what you do have, not what you’ve sold in the past or what products will come in.

Good Business—Practicing “meticulous exposure”

Bad BusinessLacking a detail-oriented mindset

Laying in a hospital bed for a carpal tunnel surgery, I heard the surgeon used the phrase “meticulous exposure.” I asked the surgeon what she meant. She explained that when during surgery when a patient is cut open, she and her team have to be meticulous about their every move. This mentality applies to business. Pay attention to the details. It’s the little things people notice.

I recently stayed at a historic hotel in the Pocono Mountains. The magnificent, castle-like structure was built on 5,500 acres of land, and it’s foyer floors were covered with old oriental rugs. The atmosphere was so rich and regal--guests were required to wear jackets to dinner. I had a wonderful experience, but I began to question their long-term success as a business for one basic reason: lack of attention to detail. Their beautiful porch overlooked a magazine view, but the paint on the flower boxes was chipped. The area surrounding their indoor pool was dirty. I noticed small holes in the walls.

These issues are minor, but they mean so much more. You may not notice the little things, but the customer always does. Every business needs someone who sees things from the customer's perspective. Visit and shop your own business, and analyze the details.

Good BusinessListening to customer complaints knowing that these customers often become your best customers

Bad BusinessIgnoring or arguing with the customer about a complaint

Dealing with an unhappy, complaining customer isn’t the most pleasant activity. But listening to this kind of customer can seriously pay off.

Most often customers complain because they actually care about the business. (Some complain about everything no matter what, but these people are a different breed.) When a customer complains, don’t argue with them. I don’t care if you’re 100 percent right, arguing with a customer means you’ve already lost.

Instead, listen to what they say. They will communicate to you--although unintentionally--areas of your business that need to be improved. They are teaching you. View their complaints as valuable information. Retailers need to design programs where they can monitor customer reactions and experiences so they know how to improve business.

Excerpts from the upcoming book - Good Business Bad Business

Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting

5 Great Places to Put Signs and Visual Graphics in Retail


Guest Post: Greg Shugarts, owner of FASTSIGNS® of Kirkland, WA

Smart retailers and restaurateurs use signs and visual graphics to communicate with customers and reinforce their brand’s personality. Deciding where to place the signs and graphics is just as important as the message itself. When customers feel welcome and know how to find their way, they’ll be less frustrated and more confident when deciding to make a purchase. Here are five essential places to put signs and visual graphics to direct customers around the store, communicate messages and create a great customer experience:  

                                                                                                                                           1.     On the outside of your building or location to identify your brand.

Exterior signage is the first visual branding visitors see so the signs on your building need to make an impact. Just as a well-placed, properly sized and nicely designed sign can enhance the company’s image, the opposite can be said about a poorly placed, sized and designed sign; it can negatively impact the credibility and image of a retailer.  Choosing a low quality, low budget option for your exterior sign can be very costly in the long run for any retailer.

QFC exterior       

2.     On windows to extend your brand.  

Exterior windows are large blank canvases that provide retailers a great opportunity to tell their story.  By incorporating product or lifestyle photos along with brand graphic elements, window graphics can do a great job communicating a retailer’s key messaging.   


3.     On the floor in the entry to direct people to a featured area of your store. 

One area of the store that is traditionally the most under-used and overlooked is the floor.  Well positioned and designed floor graphics can be a highly effective tool to either promote a product or direct buyers to a particular section of the store.

4.     On the back wall to indicate where discounted merchandise can be found.

Much like the exterior windows, interior walls can also provide retailers a great opportunity to showcase products or reinforce brand messaging.  But more importantly, wall space can be highly-effective in identifying different departments or areas such as discounted merchandise.

QFC interior

5.     On the shelf at the point of purchase.

A well-organized point of purchase signage plan is extremely important, and can be the difference between making a sale or not.  Few things are more frustrating than attempting to shop in a store and being unable to find a particular product because of a poorly organized signage plan.  Observing customer traffic patterns can provide a tremendous amount of data in determining how “shoppable” a store is.  The shorter the time it takes customers to locate the product they’re looking for, the more effective the signage plan likely is.

For more tips and tricks for to make your brand stand out with signs and visual graphics, purchase a copy of Signs Sell here.  

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Use Twitter to Nab Leads, Drive Retail Sales & Get Recognized


Many people use Twitter to read the news or share their thoughts with friends. But the highly interactive site is also a powerful sales tool for retail. Earlier this month, Media Bistro cited surveys that indicated 55 percent of Twitter users follow brands they like, while more than half of respondents claimed they were interested in receiving special offers and other similar alerts via Twitter to stay up-to-date with their favorite brands.Twitter Retail

With its highly interactive model, Twitter holds the potential to help businesses of all sizes entice people to purchase products or services and cultivate meaningful relationships with customers. Here are some tips for Twitter engagement, including examples of how businesses are using the free Web tool to drive sales:

Cast Your Business Authority

Engaging influencers on Twitter is key to driving sales and creating an appearance of authority online. Ross Simmonds blogged on that influencers are typically "well-connected, vocal and involved,” so it’s important for businesses to keep a list of influencers to connect with around the issues that impact your industry or company.

Think about the stakeholders in your industry and find those with a high number of Twitter followers. Who are your clients? What audiences are you trying to connect with?

Twitter is ideal for making lists, both to track sources and to connect with specific audiences. Free tools like Hootsuite can help you schedule and manage your tweets to keep an even pacing of messages to targeted groups such as client companies, experts, specific demographics or people in geographic areas.

It's also important to monitor what others are saying about your business and industry to share in conversations that potentially drive viewers back to your primary website. In a piece for Entrepreneur, author Ted Prodromou encourages businesses to promote their company products or events on Twitter, including a link to a landing page where customers can sign up for the events.

Companies That Use Twitter Well

An infographic at lists virtual crafts vendor Etsy, personal computer firm Lenovo and online men’s apparel company Bonobos among the most successful users of Twitter.

For example, Etsy encourages sellers to connect their online stores to Twitter by adding the "Tweet" and "Follow" buttons to their shops. By expanding its messages across that available network of shops, Etsy saw 1.3 million tweets each month mentioning the brand name, which led to 825,000 clicks back to its site.

LifeLock is another company doing it right. With more than 20,000 followers, identity protection giant LifeLock has a firm grasp of Twitter to drive commerce with its @LifeLock feed. The company is not merely selling its services on Twitter. It’s driving community conversation about data security issues, sharing tips about how customers can protect themselves and positioning itself as an authority in the industry.

That position is essential. Oftentimes, consumers will see your brand or services for the first time via Twitter. Making sure they are engaged is a critical first step to guarantee they take the time to consider buying.

Copyright 2014, Matthew Hudson & Rick Segel are award-winning retailers and authors of over 20 books on retail, sales and marekting

Has the Retail Industry Changed That Much?


By Rick Segel

I recently received criticism from a reader stating that although my material is helpful, it is old fashioned. I didn't take that criticism lightly and had to do some soul searching to look at my career and its current state.

I’m reaching 40 years in the retail industry. I certainly wouldn’t be considered a rookie; I study retailing now more than I ever have before. I mystery shop now more than ever, I shop online now more than ever, I collect and review stories about shopping experiences and retailers’ nightmares now more than ever, and I evaluate retail stores for awards programs now more than ever.

After analyzing my presentations, my work, and the current state of the retail industry, I can honestly and sincerely say that retailing at its foundation is constant and will not change.

Where Retailing is Constant

Over the holiday weekend, I looked at all the advertisements pushed out by the major chains and saw that Kohl’s offered customers $10 for shopping in their store. Really? Is modern retailing only about reducing prices? I certainly hope not. If you believe paying someone to come into your store to buy your products is revolutionary marketing, then you haven’t studied retailing over the past 50 years.

Here’s the truth. Retailing is still about selling customers the maximum amount of merchandise at the highest possible price. The person who sells the most items doesn’t necessarily win, it’s the person who sells the most at the highest price who wins.

This is why decreasing prices alone won’t cut it. Modern retailing must push beyond price reductions and work towards an improved customer experience.

How to Sell More Products at the Highest Price

I’ve been working for a company called Woodcraft as a mystery shopper, and I’ve now shopped eight of their 70+ stores.

On a recent visit, I went in to pick up parts I needed for making pens (a hobby of mine). I stood in the aisle going back and forth on which parts to purchase. It was obvious I needed assistance. The store manager approached me and offered to help. I asked him questions about which parts I needed, and he replied stating that their pen specialist (who teaches pen-making workshops) happened to be in the store that day.

The manager brought the specialist to me, and we hit it off immediately. We had a long conversation about pen making, and he showed me what I needed to buy. It was as if we became good friends.

And then he said something to me that a $10 Kohl’s coupon could have never communicated: “After you make your pens, please bring them in so I can evaluate your work and help you improve your craft.”

After such an offer, you know I’m coming back to the store. He requested my email address, and I told him I was already on the email list. “No,” he said. “I want your personal email address so I can check on you and keep you posted on our upcoming workshops.”

A couple days later, I received an email from him thanking me for coming into the store, informing me of the next workshop, and reminding me to come back so he could evaluate my pens.

I spent $185 on the initial visit, and when I went back, I spent another $113. And you know what? All of the supplies I bought are now gone, which means I will be going back to the same store to purchase more products.

The Product’s Price Should Remain Secondary

My mother who started our business in 1949 would say, “We need make two sales: 1) sell the product and 2) then sell the price.” And here we are 60 years later. Let’s continue to make products and customer experiences so good that price is secondary.

That’s how Woodcraft turned me into a repeat or loyal customer. I was willing to make large purchases because I knew I would get the product and service I needed.

If saying that the retail industry is much more than price reductions, then call me old fashioned. I will never succumb to a price game. Retailing is still about having a customer buy multiple items and coming back again and again, despite the competition we have today.

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