Specializing in bringing together all components necessary for long term business growth,
profitability and success; and ensuring
that they are working in harmony.

Archive for the ‘Finacial and economy’ Category

Marketing Strategies and Customer Retention

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

What good is a business concept without advertising?

What good is advertising without returning customers?

And what good is success without a long term strategy?

Effective advertising needs to reach your intended market – it requires consideration for the ideal ingredients to make this happen.

Maintaining and growing customer share is a result of perceived value, great service and an engaged team who are there to serve

Success comes when you offer great products and services and as a result, the customer falls in love with you!

Now – you have built a solid model for growth – knowing how and where to grow is the next part that is both fun and tricky.

Lessons From JCP

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Recent business articles have covered the downward spiral of J.C Penney. A once dominant force in retail and consumer goods has been slipping in market share for several years. Thinking that they needed fresh direction they hired Ron Johnson, the former Senior VP in charge of retail operations with Apple. Applying the skills that worked for his former employer, he began by not only rebranding Penney’s but completely changed their marketing strategy and product lines.

Rather than a calendar full of sales events (as Penney customers had grown accustomed to), they began offering everyday low prices instead. Suddenly, the re-branded JCP found itself not only needing to attract new customers, but also maintaining the existing ones. At the end of Johnson’s disastrous experiment, JCP brought back their previous CEO whom he had originally replaced.

It seems that in spite of new branding, marketing and product strategies designed to attract younger buyers while retaining existing ones, nothing seemed to work. Why is this?

Twenty five years ago, when I was married to a JCP manager, she often fretted over how her company was making a grave mistake by having any excuse for a sale which was going to eventually come home to roost.
“They are setting themselves up to fail”, she would say, “because they are training the customers not to bother shopping until there is a sale.” “Nordstrom’s doesn’t do this she continued; and if they do, they won’t do it like this!” “Worst yet she added, with so many sales they are cheapening their brand.”

I could not have agreed with her more. As a result, I too became the kind of customer she dreaded because I never purchased anything until they had a sale. To me, the next nail was when they moved Christmas creep to the actual edge of summer! That was a big turn off and showed me a sort of desperation on their part.

Finally, I grew tired of not having adequate help. I call it the Sears – a –fying of Penney’s. No, help no buy. Simple as that JCP.
Too bad because many shoppers used to like them a lot!

So, what can be learned from this?

One, don’t offer customers something you cannot safely take away. Two, understand the difference between value shoppers and bottom feeders. Bottom feeders are never loyal, value shoppers are.
Three, if you’re going to get people in your store, then make sure you have an adequate trained staff to take care of them so they do have a great shopping experience and want to return.

Don’t play games with gimmicks. Be straight with your shoppers and either give them a price break without a gimmick or forget it.
Don’t appear to be desperate or greedy. This Christmas creep business annoys a lot of people. And finally, do a better job at finding out what your customers really want instead of thinking that you know what they want.

What is it I do? And, what is it I want to do?

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Recently I conferred with a friend where I suggested areas in her business strategy that I felt I could further advise her.
From issues in business culture to resolving expansion challenges, I shared stories of previous engagements. I then turned our conversation to a business model I had been developing with previous business partners (a model in her sector) that I had always believed that had we continued – would have been immensely successful.

In earlier discussions, we also entertained the idea of utilizing my firm’s services to the benefit of her marketing and funding strategies. Therefore, I confidently assumed that she was already aware of “what I do.” However, as we broadened our discussion to other possible areas of strengths I could offer her she looked at me and simply asked, “What is it you want to do?” “I mean”, she continued, “you have shared stories about what you have done, but you have never told me what you really want to do?”

For a few minutes, I was dumb founded by the question. “Why doesn’t she understand what I do I asked myself?” Who else is there that still doesn’t get it? “Or is the question specific to “what is it I want to do” in the immediate case of the conversation?”

Ironically, later that afternoon I received a call from a respected business colleague who conveyed his own frustration with the same dilemma. “I am good at technology, analytics, problem solving and have a large roller-dx of investors.” But it seems like everybody just wants to put me in a box” he exclaimed.”
To his point, I suggested that he clarify his list of deliverables which are tied in with his love for what he does.

So here is what I want to do:
Bring my specific skills and talents to the benefit of engagements, which allows me to enjoy and profit from using them. Once again, my skills and talents include long and short-term business strategies, which are complemented through marketing and creative advertising.
Building on these attributes include, the capacity to assess employee morale/performance as well as increasing customer retention. (Remember, no advertising or growth strategies are meaningful unless both employees and customers are happy.) Finally, a qualified list of contacts and resources are also available/when required –as part of services provided.

Engagement requirements are not just the amount the financial reward, but that I stand to truly benefit clients objectives from the use of my skills and talents. If not, then I am not interested.
Having multiple business skills does not make me a Jack-Of-All-Trades. I am not. I am not claiming to be a plumber also or software designer too. Nor do I repair cars or build electrical grids. I am however, an expert at taking a full and complete look at a business so that one piece of the flywheel supports the other.

Marketing needs to bring market share. However, when the market share is realized then the company must be ready for the growth that follows – and this is the philosophy I have built my practice on.

As indicated on our website, the mission is:
“Specializing in bringing together all components necessary for long-term business growth, profitability and success; and ensuring that they are working in harmony”.
What part of that do I love? All of it! Because it is all-inclusive for a company’s success!

So what about you? What are the things you are good at? Are their additional services your business can offer which are truly co-complementary? Are you really good at it, or do you need to take some time to further develop it? Whatever you chose to offer, be sure that it diversifies your services in a positive way, which is consistent to providing the best resources available.

What are you wearing?

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Mark Zukerman arrives on Wall Street wearing a hoodie and tennis shoes. While he is still dressed like an adolescent teenager walking into your local high school, those around him are decked out in $1000, 00 plus business suits.

On a hot afternoon day with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, I drive onto an auto dealership and am greeted by a salesperson wearing a shirt and tie. His face is sweating from standing outside in the sweltering sun. When asked why he was dressed so uncomfortably he replies, “it’s the dress code sir, we have to look professional.”

Something is out of whack!

There is a growing trend of young successful business people looking like “adolescent slobs” while poor car sales representative are required to work in a “clothing imposed sweat lodge,” – just doesn’t seem to add up. What gives?

We recently went to a nice restaurant in downtown Austin where the total tab for two of us came to $183.82. When I rose to go to the restroom, I was appalled at one person dinning across from us in shorts and flip- flops. Standing in the entrance waiting for their table were two more, this time in tank tops and blue jeans. The restaurants manager explained that this was part of the new norm and that everyone needed to be tolerant or each other’s preferences. No, I am NOT tolerant because dressing up for nicer occasions (and seeing that others also engaged) in a traditional norm of social etiquette. In essence, the slobs are ruining the experience for the rest of us by cheapening the experience and the restaurants stand to lose their credibility for what they are charging. After all, ambiance has always been part of the dining experience, hasn’t it?

On the other hand, silly corporate policy always amazes me. I chose not to get out of my car when I was greeted by the sweating car sales representative because I was so disgusted by the dealerships dress code policy. A few days later, our neighbor shared a similar story about the same dealership. “I don’t know why I left she said, I really liked the person who was helping me but after I got home and shared my experience with my husband, I realized it was because it made me so uncomfortable watching him wearing that shirt and tie in the Texas heat, that I did not want to stay.”

Consciously and sub-concisely, consumers make their buying decisions. Sometimes it is about ambiance, other times it might be about how he or she feels when interfacing with a company representative who is obviously miserable. Either way, it affects sales.

In the meantime, Zukerman could periodically rise to the occasion when attending an event and oppressive corporate dress policies might want lighten up a little bit.

Getting all of the ingredients for an effective ad campaign

Friday, March 1st, 2013

How many of us have visited a great restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal that tasted just perfect? Contrary to this experience, how many times have you been disappointed with an order that “you know,” just did not taste right? Perhaps because, it seemed “that something was missing?”

There are many similarities between creating a great dish of food and a developing an effective ad campaign.
Yesterday’s advertising tended to emphasize the use of TV, radio, print or outdoor media.
A careful review of the intended demographics being considered needed to be conducted prior to implementing a marketing strategy. Focus groups were also a part of this research. The result would see to it that a strategy would take into consideration the habits, preferences, and true needs of the intended buyer (the consumer)

For some companies, a specific media was preferable, however, most successful campaigns called for a careful blend of mediums.

Today’s interactive technology offers new and exciting vehicles for reaching the intended audiences. The digital age has ushered in exciting ways to do this. Websites, you tube, social media and phone apps are part of the ever-evolving new normal of advertising. Businesses and prospective customers alike are rewarded with the instant gratification, which comes with digital media.

However, under the veneer of the new normal lies a potential problem. The assumption, particularly amongst smaller companies, is that a website or social media campaign is all that is required to bring in the intended customers. True, there is merit to part of this; however, one size still does not fit all. In the old days of advertising, TV ads were not necessarily the only or best way to reach an intended audience. Nor were print ads, radio or billboards. It all came down to who the campaign was intended to reach. However now this equation includes other forms of interaction technology. When, where and how to use, include or incorporate into the mix?

Just as incorporating a great mix of ingredients to make for a scrumptious dish of food, the same holds true for advertising.

Want better results? Next time, don’t always assume that you are supposed to do what everyone else is doing.

Want to really be successful, and get your name and brand out? Then as they say, think outside the box – and in some cases incorporate some of the old approaches with the new. Remember, it is all about whom you are trying to reach and delivering a way to demonstrate that you are truly unique.

GOING UNDERC0VER andThe Value of Critical and Honest Employee Input

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Without employees who are productive and happy, growing a company will be difficult. This is why I always encourage candid and open dialogue between management and employees. On the same token, it is generally more beneficial to keep a pulse on company morale and direction through an independent third party. This is because it is often difficult to get honest and direct answers from employees on what they really think.

An outside independent party will – take a careful look at your offices, stores or locations to assess how things are running from a professional outside perspective. Then, by earning the trust of key personnel, will be able to successfully troubleshoot areas weakness.
Here are a few Case Examples:

A Deli in Walnut Creek, CA.
Total employees – 73

A onetime popular destination for hungry patrons twenty-six miles east of San Francisco, the small chain of delis was quickly losing market share. “I’m not really sure what the problem is exclaimed the Senior Partner, we used to have line out the door, but now business has dropped off. Can you help us develop a marketing strategy so we can win back our customers?”

“Well sure, I replied, but before we do that, I think it behooves such an investment to focus on what people are currently experiencing first, and identify any problems or deficiencies that give customers a less then delightful experience.”

As with many other similar situations we began with an in-depth customer survey followed by me going under cover. The difference between a Mystery Shopper approach and going under cover is that I play the role of the Mystery Shopper from a specific professional perspective of knowing exactly what I was looking for. And yes, this is a big difference!

• How easy is it to find? How is the signage?
• Is parking adequate, or do I need to worry about door dings?
• What does the place look like? How does it smell? Is there music that compliments the inside ambiance and environment?

1. I walked into the first location to a low vibe environment. “No energy here, I concluded. Why would I want to patronize a place that was boring?”

2. At the next location, I noticed a unpleasant smell and then looking up toward the top right ceiling observed a thick group of cobwebs. “So what else was un kempt?”

3. The third location was equally boring, but at least had no cobwebs. Nor did it have an attentive staff. While I looked at the menu board, the employees busily stared at their phones, one texting while the other seemed fixated on Facebook. “Nothing worse than inattentive employees who don’t acknowledge the customers!”

Taking my notes with me, I set up a series of meetings with various employees in the organization until I was meeting with Hillary, the General Manager. My conversation began with my experience from going under cover.
Thirty minutes after earning the trust of Hillary, the middle aged woman suddenly stopped me by asking, “do you really want to know my opinion, and I mean – my honest opinion?“ “Of course I replied.” She then excused herself and returned with a large folder. “I have been keeping notes on everything that has either happened or has gone wrong with this company for the last six years, but the business owners have not listened, this is why things have gotten so bad around here and why we have not been making any money. Even worse, she continued, this is why it is so difficult to get my people to give a damn! Why bother? Management does not listen or seem to care anyway, so why should the employees?”

We reviewed the file and were able to use it as a toolbox for harvesting valuable information and feedback from other personnel. Much of this confirmed serious management deficiencies. As a result, the argument for recommending changes in policy and protocols was a simple one.

Benefits and Results: The client agreed to consider the changes, which originated in Hillary’s files, thus returning their chain of Delis to profitability. (Sometimes the people in the trenches have a better feel for what needs to be done to be successful then those who actually own the company) I suggested that we give the process several months and see if this will be enough to begin the process for winning back customers. The ad campaign was then designed with a theme of “finding out what has changed!”

Because fundamental issues were resolved between management and employees, major expenditures for adverting were averted. The other realization however, was that the company owners were ready to sell – and retire. Eight months later, this too was carried out after referring them to a competent business broker.

A Tree Service in Austin Texas
Total employees – 35
A small company built and managed by the owner and his GM (brother) had an issue with discernment. The problem was that they were good at what they did, but not necessarily good at reading people. After all, some of the key people that were with the company were friends and relatives. Therefore, it was not always easy for the owner and GM to accept that some staff members were skimping on their responsibilities or worse, had addiction issues that kept them from either coming to work, or performing well when they did.

After interviewing key staff and personnel in the field, it was determined, that three counterproductive office employees and two outside project managers needed to be dismissed.

Benefits and Results – led to the removal of several unproductive employees thus saving the business $15,388.00 per month. More importantly, the office morale increased with an immediate lift of positive attitude and energy. The company environment was saved along with money no longer spent on unsavory or poor performing employees. As an incentive, a portion of the money saved was redistributed into higher salaries for key productive employees as a reward for doing a great job.

A Renovation Contractor in Oakland CA.
Total employees – 86
A fast growing company, with over eighty employees was experiencing an unusually high turnover rate. Fifteen employees were interviewed and an assessment report provided several pages of valid grievances. In addition, we discovered that the employer was in violation of labor laws, thus vulnerable to fines and/or lawsuits by disgruntled personnel.

It was recommended that Company President allow us to conduct an open and candid meeting between himself and his employees and to listen to all the grievances with an open mind. We followed up several weeks later to make sure that company changes – as agreed upon were actually being implemented. We also sought additional improvements and long-terms systems designed to maintain mutual trust between him and his team.

Benefits and Results: Employer immediately implemented changes as required by State Labor Laws. He then authorized policy changes in response to employee grievances, currently affordable along with the promise to add additional employee request, within the coming months.

This engagement dramatically eliminated distrust between management and personnel resulting in a significant drop off in employee turnover (and cost associated with turnover).

In addition, reduced “shop stealing” of tools and equipment by disgruntled employees. In the spirit of cooperation, created protocols and systems, this streamlined day-to-day operations. Implementation of these changes resulted in low turnover, improved customer retention and a solid ten-year averaged growth of 38%.

A Restaurant in Prague, Czech Republic, Europe
Number of employees – 73

In the 1990s as Eastern Europe was celebrating its newfound independence they were also wrestling with how to evolve their business models to adapt to Western business standards. In 1995, I began advising a number of companies in this region on improving their business models so that increased profitability could be reached through a combination of good systems, enhanced management to employee communication and dramatically improved customer service.

One of my favorite clients was a restaurant on Wenceslas Square, in the center of tourist foot traffic and business lunches. They had contacted us because they realized that they were not experiencing the repeat business from business parties and worse – had, on a weekly bases, tourist simply walk out due to lousy service. I met with the business partners and suggested that over the next week I go under cover as a patron. They agreed and for the next several weeks tuned from Business Adviser to Mystery Shopper. True to what I had been told, service was slow and inefficient. By comparison with other restaurants and eateries, the food quality was inconsistent and mediocre – where from time to time, it was great, but generally served lukewarm. As time progressed and I established a rapport with the wait-staff and began conversing with them to find out what from their perspective – “was going wrong?”

“Oh, we just work here, Honza politely replied, but I guess we are not motivated because we are paid little and the tips are lousy.” I looked at the menu and realized that for average lunch items (around $20 US, and dinners starting at $35, then tips should be a lot better than their average return of 2 – 4%. Especially with consideration to the tourist trade.

It was recommended that we conduct an in-depth employee survey with encouragement for honest candid input and assessment. This included their perception of management and customer inter-action and experience. An immediate fundamental change regarded tipping. Whereas the previous system was based on a joined tip jar, now each wait-staff member was tipped on his/her individual performance. From a western business perspective, this was a no- brainer. But in the 1990s, many businesses were still running from a Communist cultural mindset.

Benefits and Results: Employee turnover decreased by 82%, tips increased by 61%, return customers increased by 64% and profits increased by 58%.

Summary:
Here are some basic things to keep in mind for increased employee performance:
1. Encourage employee empowerment and responsibility
2. Develop processes designed to give your employees the ownership to take care of each customer as if they were their own personal guest.
3. Always look for ways to create respect, cooperation and harmony between staff and management
4. Weed out the poor performers and the culprits who bring toxic energy into the office environment.

Your Brand – So, what makes you worth their visit?

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Many times businesses (new businesses in particular) fail to understand how branding is an intricate part of their marketing campaign.

In strip malls across the country, businesses come and go. An entrepreneur launches a business, puts up a sign and even tacks up a “grand opening banner” which indefinitely hangs above the location.

Unfortunately, many seem to think that this alone will do the trick, only to die a slow and unnecessary death because they could not attract enough customers.

The same thing is repeated in various internet campaigns. Potential customers are blasted with loads of information but not enough true branding that clearly defines purpose or reason for a reader not to click the delete button. To them, it is nothing different, just chatter.

What’s in it for your customer?

• People drive by, and if they do notice the signs may ask to themselves, so what?
What makes them curious enough to want to check your place out?

• If they do – What is the compelling reason that they should have to get out of their comfort zones and try you out through a purchase?

Consider the last location or website you, as a consumer recently visited:

• Were you aware of them before?
• Did your experience successfully anchor you as a return customer?
• Would recommend them to your friends, family or business associates?

Remember, every place or business has a brand.
Even as a non-brand, it is a brand unto itself.

Good branding creates an image for a possibility outcome = consumer curiosity = intention and visitation = initial impression = decision to purchase = experience = retention and refer or decline to return with possible negative consequences.

This can be through either a walk in or a visit to an inter-active website where a service or product is available. Moreover, once your prospect is engaged in checking out your business, you have an opportunity to live the brand and image you have created. If you are successful, then your customer retention rate and referrals go up. If not, then they stay the same or decrease.
Bottom line:
Brand yourself from the start – along with good signage which creates the graphic image, make sure that you can clearly demonstrate – why you are different
Then prove it!

Big banks and fees – here they go again

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011


In response to new rules that recently went into affect designed to insulate merchant’s excessive fees, Bank of America, and Chase have decided to shift the burden to their customers by having them pay a monthly 5.00 fee for the privilege of using their debit cards. And, just one swipe per month will do ya! Wells Fargo is also trying out a lower fee of 3.00.

In fairness to the banks it is important to point out that they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create a system that provides for debit card services. This investment included the technology and infrastructure to support required, to offer debit card convenience. Wal-Mart and Home Depot led the efforts to alleviate the cost to the merchants through legislation. I personally would have supported relief for merchants generating under fifty million annually.

Needless to say, the fees are being shifted AND because the big Banks have lost their credibility for goodwill – it is difficult to feel sorry for them. So let me reiterate, this is a charge levied against you for accessing your own money! So, let’s get this straight, first you get paid literally next to nothing for giving them your money to invest, then they charge you excessive credit card rates* for you to borrow (compare your APR to the current Prime rate for lending – even 8% is excessive)

Worse yet, many small business owners today are often sneered at by these guys at the idea of giving them a loan, or a decent line of credit.

Fee addition: How did we get to this?

For any of you old enough to remember, there was once a time Banks actually liked their customers. Rather than charging excessive interest rates on credit cards and loans, they actually paid decent rates for holding your money. Now of course, one hardly is paid anything at all (if anything) and for many, is expected to pay them to take your money.

Banks use to climb over one another to offer you a free toaster or microwave oven if you opened an account with them. Then came the ATMs. Suddenly they were offering additional incentives to get us all hooked on using ATMs. The banks also competed for bragging rights as to who actually had the most ATMs. Then the big push began to encourage consumers to use their ATM cards (soon to be renamed their debit or check cards. Of course all the incentivizing and bribing was not necessarily carried out to the benefit of the customer (as the banks would have you believe)

  • Labor savings – ATM machines kept their cost down by allowing banks to eliminate staff, which would have been previously required to manage those who needed to cash a check. In addition, automated withdrawals though ATMs also reduced human error through computerized record keeping.

As an added bonus, banks realized a financial bonanza in charging non-customers excessive fees to access their networks!

  • Debit Cards – As with ATMs, debit card use was incentivized to lower their cost of business under the guise promoting customer conveyance. Once again, it reduced the labor cost of constantly refilling their ATMs with cash. Better yet, removed another roadblock for a customer to spend money if they did not want to use their credit card. Now, the “I will need to write a check or withdrawal from the ATM” obstacle was eliminated.
  • Overdraft Fees – For years, banks enjoyed another money bonanza of offering overdraft protection for anyone who spent money without having an adequate balance. The majority of those affected were not intentionally over-drawing, they just neglected to double check for new fee’s banks were slipping in which affected their balances.

  • Fee’s are like heroin to banks – Senior Bankers I have spoken with actually confided that they have “fee committees” set up to think up new fees! It is an addiction for Banks to both make up and enforce them. Therefore, when they are taken away to the benefit of the consumer, well, the banks, like any heroin addicts, get upset!

Rather than placing focus on taking care of their customers and encouraging long-term satisfaction, Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo are moving forward with a plan to access fees for their customers who use their Debit Cards – and the continued war against their own customers grinds on. Well unless their customers wise up and move their money to a Bank or Credit Union that is not so fee addicted.

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