Two Necessary Questions
History is the greatest teacher. Specifically in business, learning from
our personal and corporate history is essential. That is why recruiters
want to see a resume and smart ones have it in front of them when
they are interviewing.
History is particularly helpful when used in its immediate aftermath.
While I was President of Buxton, our sales team had the reputation of
being the best presenters in the Retail Customer Analytics marketplace.
We earned that reputation for two reasons. First, Tom Buxton,
founder, was the consummate presenter. He knew the importance of
storytelling. Every presentation had to be like a Broadway show with
an exciting beginning, a great story, and a fabulous ending. I cannot tell
you how many times I heard Tom talk about this.
The second reason may have been more important than the first. We
got into the habit of asking two questions: 1) What did we do right? 2)
What did we do wrong? Now these questions were not just plaudits
looking for attaboys. These were serious questions. If we could not
come up with anything wrong, it was deemed that we were not paying
attention. One time we went with Tom to see a potential client. In the
parking lot after the presentation, we asked the two questions. Tom
was quick to say he was not prepared. He thought he knew the
situation so well that he did not have to prepare. Fortunately, another
team member saved the day and we earned the business; a lesson not
lost on any of the three of us. I never again witnessed Tom not being
So, each time we went on a presentation our skill sets were honed. We
became great at asking questions of the prospect to gain their point of
view. We became great at taking that POV and using our tools to solve
their problems. And we became great at either asking a closing
question or putting ourselves in a position to assume the sale.
I share this with you not to brag about our skill sets (OK, a little) but to
encourage you to ask the same two questions every time you go on a
sales call with someone else. When you put yourself out there and
allow yourself to be constructively criticized, you will build a better
sales team and a more successful company.
The pandemic has put ecommerce at the forefront of retail. Digital Commerce 360, an online media and research organization that delivers objective news and competitive data across e-retailing, B2B ecommerce, and digital healthcare, wrote an article that shares the data on how ecommerce has boomed during this pandemic. Consumers spent $347.26 billion online with U.S. retailers in the first six months of this year, up 30.1% from $266.84 billion for the same period in 2019. In fact, retailers that didn’t have an ecommerce platform, quickly started using third party companies like Shopify (if you’ve been following, Shopify, whose shares started at the beginning of the year at about $445 have more than doubled and currently fluctuates between $900 to a $1,000 per share). Amazon similarly has had a huge increase in revenue and share price.
Retailers offering products for home improvement and furniture stores are also thriving. As more people than ever are stuck at home due to coronavirus fears, homeowners have much more time to care for their homes, lawns and gardens. As such, landscaping and general yard care companies are seeing unseasonably good business. With people starting to work remotely, orders for office desks and chairs have gone up to help build an office space at home.
Retail sales have now returned to pre-pandemic levels, especially because of retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Target. Target added 10 million shoppers in just the first half of 2020. Their efficiency of their ecommerce platform and expanded delivery options and government stimulus programs have combined to make these retailers successful.
Although many industries serving the consumer have struggled during the pandemic, it is clear that a number of them have thrived—adapting and evolving into a better version of themselves enhancing and adding new services and channels of distribution — as they say, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.”
How Restaurants are Holding Their Own
In March, when businesses in the U.S. were starting to shut down or go remote, a great storm of change enveloped our country. The pandemic has forced many businesses to conform and adapt to survive. Restaurants have since evolved to better tread these rough waters until life can go back to some air of normalcy.
It’s been a roller coaster ride for many in the restaurant industry: forced shutdowns, easing of capacity restrictions and re-tightening of same. However, there are many restaurants that are booming, especially a number of fast-food restaurants who were already set for pick-up service and had a strong loyalty program with their customers. Domino’s sales increased 16% in the last quarter, while Wingstop and Popeye’s grew over 25% during the same period. The common denominators in these successes is pick-up service and marketing. Many casual dining restaurants have added curbside pick-up and delivery services. The latter often via companies like Grubhub and Uber Eats. Even having restaurants going digital with their menus.
Those who are succeeding in this industry have enhanced their websites, added delivery and increased frequency of promotions. Those are the most obvious ways. In addition, some are focusing on promoting themselves through social media, email, and even calling their customers (who have called in previously to place orders). Some foods do not travel well so some have limited their pick-menu. Adding product is often the way to increase sales, so many have actually increased their offerings, giving the variety seekers reasons to call again.
Now that many months have passed, some trends in the Grocery industry have become apparent. Big box grocers such as Target and Walmart have had consistent and significant growth during the pandemic because they already had efficient ecommerce platforms, and they continued to enhance services with Walmart increasing curbside pickup locations and same day delivery and Target adding fresh and frozen groceries to their pick-up offering. According to consulting firm Brick Meets Click (BMC), June 2020 online shopping had risen to 45.6 million households compared to 13.1 million in 2019.
Grocers without an active ecommerce platform had to accommodate shoppers with more frequent sanitizing, social distancing markers, face mask, shields at the check-out counter and other requirements suggested or required by governing health administrations. Even after these precautions, many have had to develop or improve their online presence and add curbside pick-up and delivery. The good news for this industry has been the increase in demand for their products – generated in large part by consumers working from home and avoiding dining out. As a side note, many of the top brands in meal preparation and delivery like Hello Fresh and Nutrisystem have experienced skyrocketing sales as a result of people spending more time at home and less at restaurants. Taking advantage of this trend, several small businesses that offer meal prep and delivery are also seeing increased demand.
Shopping in Place
This month’s shopping expedition is based on our desire to follow the government’s instruction of SIP (you know, Shopping In Place). With that in mind we decided to compare and contrast two terrific brands working in the same retail vertical, your kitchen. We spent time looking at both the long time industry leader Williams Sonoma and the more recent contender to the throne Sur La Table.
Both of these companies offer the consumer incredible selection. I don’t know who needs to look at 301 different Chef Knives (there were other things in this selection than just the knives like sharpeners and sleeves) but you can find that many on the Williams Sonoma site. There are many gift ideas on both of these sites as well.
So, when we shop a retail store, we look to see how the store is “working.” We want to know how it appears to the consumer, how it works for the sales-people and how it works for management.
When we are Shopping in Place (SIP), we want to ask some of those same questions.
As I said from the beginning, both sites are terrific. I would tell you I think Sur La Table is a bit easier to navigate than William Sonoma. Both have great product and pricing is similar. If there is a scale bender in my opinion it is Sur La Table being more in tune to what is going on in the world today. And taking their strength and presenting it to the customer with great relevancy.
April 27th, 2020
It says here there is a significant change in the world of business that no one is talking about. We have read much about the temporary closing of restaurants and retail stores. We have read about the 90% + decline in hotel room nights and airplane travel. We have also read about the 200%+ increase in Zoom traffic. What we have not read much about and what the long-term consequences are is the Convention Business.
Businesses go to conventions because it is an efficient way to see lots of customers and potential customers at one time. They go there to show off new products, venues, developments, and ideas. The costs to attend these conventions have soared. It is so costly that some companies put a paper to pencil to weigh up the benefits of attending the conventions. There will be billions of dollars saved this year by not going to conventions. Billions that can be put back into the attendee’s and the exhibitor’s pockets.
These B2B companies are now having to put their thinking caps on to create other ways of getting in front of those very same customers. What is also interesting is that the decision makers in the retail and restaurant communities are attending fewer internal meetings and are taking a few more calls.
It is time to begin the selling process again. You have to be sensitive. You will hear “we are in the survival mode” a lot. But you won’t hear it everywhere. If your timing is good, and if your product or service is good, you have an opportunity to revive your business.
It will take old fashioned leverage of your relationships. If you don’t have relationships, find someone that does. (You might want to look at the tool https://6dos.co/. They are not associated with us but I think it is a pretty cool tool if you have some discipline in your organization.)
Did you know that AT&T said voice calls are up 200%? People are remembering that the first app for a smart phone was a …phone.
The question that conventions/exhibitions must ask is, “Will this last?” Will businesses decide they are better off spending their exhibit money on salespeople and hold them accountable? Or, would they rather spend the money at conventions?
My money says it will be a slow come back for Las Vegas. Until a vaccine is developed for Covid-19 people are going to be very cautious of huge gatherings. The lights will come back on after stadiums are allowed to be full again.
So, in the mean time start getting creative. And if you are stuck on how to get in front of Mr./Mrs. decision maker, contact Taylar Gomez (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or Rich Hollander (email@example.com ) or just go and visit our web site and www.axcelora.com . We are both very creative in helping our clients.
In our never-ending effort to keep our readers on the cutting edge of retail, we made the sacrifice of going to New York City and shopping at Hudson’s Yard. And, before any of you ask the question many have already asked our team of shoppers, no, we did not climb up to the top of the Vessel. There was no line, because there was a massive heat wave in New York the three days we were there. But, the Vessel is impressive. If you plan on going, go earlier in the day as it won’t be as busy. You will have a great time.
In today’s modern shopping center there are two things that must be in place or you won’t have success. It is no longer sufficient to just have great retail; you have to have great entertainment and eatertainment as well. Hudson Yards hits the ball out of the park here.
All of the retailers you would expect to see in an affluent shopping area are here. Cartier, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Rolex, and Tiffany in the jewelry category are all front and center and on the first floor. It is very impressive. If I were looking for something for Terri, I would have to make this a consideration stop. In clothing there are Chanel, Dior, Coach, Dunhill, Kate Spade and Athleta to name just a few. But there are surprises as well.
This is the first shopping center I have been in where H&M, Uniqlo, and Zara are so close to each other. And, I will tell you Zara is the clear winner here. Their merchandising of the store makes the other three look drab at best. They create the value with every aspect from their windows to their service. By having all three so close you can really tell who the big winner is in this category.
There are other outstanding surprises in this shopping center. Heidi Klein, Jo Malone, Milk & Honey Babies and Rhone are really well done stores, and stores you don’t see everywhere. Bring your friend’s credit card because this is high quality merchandise. But wait, there is more.
If you have not been in a B8TA yet you must go. This may be a new way to introduce products to the world. It helps this is a high traffic mall, but this was clearly the busiest shop in the center. They take new items a consumer might have seen on e-commerce sites and let them get their hands on the product. The manufacture pays a fee to have their product shown. If you want to buy it you can. For the most part they are then shipped to your home. I went by several times on different days and the shop was swamped each time.
My favorite shop of the trip was Love-Pop. This is a greeting card store, yes a greeting card store where I spent nearly $100. They are pop up cards that are so fun. Originally seen on Shark Tank, they now have this one store. (they have holiday pop up stores during the holiday’s). They have the exact correct formula for success…great merchandise, good location, and friendly, knowledgeable people. This is a home run, but I would not expect to see one in your neighborhood anytime soon. My sense is they got a deal on the rent.
Now food is always high on my list of importance. And Hudson has you covered. There are two markets (who could live with just one.) Citarilla Gourmet Market. It is perfect for New York. Great assortment, a butcher, a baker, no candle stick maker. And then, if you go to the basement you will find Mercado Little Spain. OMG this is a beautiful place and lots of tapas restaurants as well as a paella restaurant that will blow your mind. The paella pans they use are the largest pans I have ever seen. The theater they put into this effort takes the top spot in the mall.
As for sweets, there were two hits and one miss. Van Leeuwen Ice Cream has vegan ice cream. There was a line to get into the store so you could get in line. I am not kidding. They had a security guard managing the line. That is the type of store I want. (May I see your ID, so you can get in line, please to pay me 80% gross margin). If you want all of the traditional Jewish desserts, go a couple of doors down to William Greenberg Desserts. Not only do they have black and white cookies but strawberry and blueberry and white cookies. The one miss, Dylan Candy, may have been because of my expectations. I was really expecting a unique candy store. The store was not bad, but there was NOTHING special about the store. Knowledgeable people and happy to give me a taste, but nothing I HAD to take to my granddaughter.
This is how I see retail continuing to be successful. Make shopping an experience that happens to have merchandise. Make it a fun day with treasure hunts and surprises. If you are going to be ordinary, go spend 10 dollars and get a “Going out of business sign.”
While these are high-end shops, you can do it everywhere. Look at what Target is doing with Disney. And, they are getting special merchandise from Disney to do it. Your whole store doesn’t have to be unique, but some of it must be. At Warby Parker they have WIDE glasses, WIDE Glasses I say again. I have a fat head and this is the first time I have ever seen wide glasses. Unique, but not the entire store, just a couple of SKU’s. This is not technology, it is creativity and it is what your customers are demanding of you if you expect to stay in business. It is what you have to do to earn their business.
Retail is an exciting place today, and Hudson Yards is a great place to practice your profession.
6 Steps to a Successful Sale
In the past I have spoken about selling, after all, it is my passion. I was at a conference last month and a member of the group got up and said he was not a natural born sales person. I would like to debunk that myth right now. There are no natural born sales people. There might be some people more social, or outgoing than others, but they are not natural born sales people. There are some people that have better listening skills, but these people are also not natural born sales people. Because, sales is a profession, just like being an attorney, a doctor, and accounting, a hair dresser, an actor, or a baker.
Even without medical training, my mother and my wife have health care training. Can they do a heart transplant, odds are not in their favor for success. They may be able to try, but it would not be on my heart. David Glover reads all the legal agreements for his company, but if there was an agreement to sell the company, even though he could read the agreement, I am certain he would bring in a professional. When my children were small, their mother cut their hair. But they would not have thought for a moment she could do that for prom, their wedding, or an important meeting. And, I am a baker, but I would never attempt a wedding cake, I would certainly miss so many of the details that make wedding cakes special. And, therein lies the difference between a “natural born” sales person and a professional. I am certain that when Boeing is competing for business with Airbus, they want a professional sales person, one that does not skip any of the six essential steps for a sale. They want someone who is setting up the right scenario that will lead to the closing moments of a sale.
If you follow along, even if you are a professional, a reminder is always in order. With these six steps I am sure you will see an increase in your closing ratio. It is logical, and uncomplicated. You will need paper and pencil along the way, because that is your reinforcer. Here we go.
Step 1- Narrowly define your target customer.
Write down a description so you can have it in front of you when you are at a show, making calls, or sending communications. (By the way, have you noticed how little “snail” mail you are getting these days. Do you think you could get noticed if you sent a real letter to a prospect?) If you are in the commercial real estate business and you have space for rent how have you determined who you are going to rent it to. Consider the size available and who fits into that size as your first cut. Next, are they in the general market but not in your specific areas could be your next cut. Or, is there a dying center you could steal a customer from, or one that is overpriced. Work it down until you have 10 specific retailers that you would like to have in your center that would benefit from being there.
Step 2- How will the customer benefit from your product or service?
For each of the ten targets write down specifically how they each will benefit from your product or service. While many of your attributes will apply to all the targets, you should have a few which benefit each individual target. Going back to real estate, it could be co-tenancy, adjacency to business out side of your center, or foot traffic just to name a few. But, be specific and put yourself into the customers shoes. I cannot tell you have many clerks simply don’t understand the importance of this step. It is what makes the difference between a professional sales person and a clerk.
Step 3- Determine a time and place you are going to make the call.
Where are you most comfortable and can focus best on calling or communicating with the customer? I hope it is not a coffee shop, because the customer will not be able to hear you. My suggestion is to find a quiet place. Plan on one hour at a time. And for that hour just pick up the phone and call. It is really that simple. You have defined the target, you know why your product will help THEM so just pick up the phone and give them a call. I promise you this; you cannot break anything. You may fail, heck, you will fail more often that you will succeed, but while not the best outcome, it is much better than not picking up the phone. When you finally get the prospect on the phone, have a CONVERSATION with the prospect. Don’t talk at them talk with them. It is the first time they are hearing you so slow down and speak clearly. (Do the same thing when you are leaving a voice message. This is not a race to say as many words as you can in 25 seconds. Slow down and leave a professional message). Learn about their business, the functions of their responsibilities, and what is giving them pain. Then slowly give them an overview of your product or service and how you think it can help them. What you are looking to do here is gain an in-person appointment. There is no sense in going into great details here, you just must share enough information to gain the appointment. Make sure you walk away with a specific point of pain they would like to have go away. Because when you do show up in person you are going to show them how you can achieve their goal.
Step 4 Follow Up and Prepare.
Ok, now you have the appointment. You have set a specific time. Make your travel arrangements. Immediately prepare your presentation. Now, and this is another key, write down as many questions as you can think of that the prospect will have. WRITE THEM DOWN! Don’t skip this part. A couple of days before your presentation send a reminder to the prospect of your up coming meeting. Practice your presentation. If you can get a friend to listen all the better. Bill S and I went to his first presentation and he was great. I asked him if he had practiced. He said he practiced so much with his wife he was sure she could give the presentation. (He earned the business). Get to the appointment at least 30 minutes early. It is OK if you must sit in your car but get there early. If you are going to give a power point, ask if you can get in the room early and set up. You are ready to go.
Step 5 The Presentation
First rule of any presentation, stand up during the presentation. It will give you much more energy. It will show your excitement. Second rule of any presentation listen more than you talk. When you start, you can set the rhythm of the presentation. Simply state you have done your homework on the company, but it is always better if you hear the state of the company from the prospect. And then actively listen. Don’t interrupt, just listen, take notes, and think about how you can best shape your presentation to what you just heard. Now during your presentation remember to tie everything you are saying to what you just spent the last 10 minutes listening to. They told you their points of pain, you now must shape your presentation to give them the medicine to make them better. Back to the real estate scenario you could demonstrate the advantages of your center being close to a hospital and all their well-paid employees which should deliver foot traffic, something they just told you they were missing. All you must do is listen and react.
Step 6- Ask For The Order.
People expect professional sales people to ask for the order. That is one of the roles of a professional sales person. It gives the customer an opportunity to explain any objections and ask for clarity in any areas that may be confusing. There are many ways of asking for the order, each situation will call for a different option, but you must ASK! It will be awkward at first, but practice makes perfect. And remember, the first no is the first step to you. The customer is simply sharing their problems in your presentation, the pricing, or the product. Here is your time to listen and respond to the customer. A professional sales person will have thought about the potential objections and be prepared to answer them, and then pose a closing question again. “What do you think of this for next steps?” “Does that answer your questions?” “When would you like to kick off the project?” All good closing questions. It is your responsibility and the client expects professionals’ sales people to AFTO.
If you think about the steps outlined above, you can see none of it is “natural born.” And the best sales people practice and then practice some more. When I started at Buxton, I took the time to observe the other sales people. There were two types of sales people. There was the slap you on the back type of folks that took all their clients out to dinner and drinks. Telling wild stores (mostly not true) about the prowess at one thing or another. And then there were the professional sales people, the ones with a plan and working the plan. I will let you determine which one you want to be.
If you want to join a great group of sales people look at www.axcelora.com because we would love to have you as part of our team.
Peloton Exercise Equipment
In many of our past store shops we took you through large locations. At Home, Buc-ees’, and Ikea. For this months shop we thought we would take you to one of the hottest concepts in the country, Peloton exercise equipment.
For those of you sleeping under a rock and not watching television commercials, Peloton is the latest craze in exercise. You get to ride your Peloton exercise bike connected to a coach, others in the riding community or by yourself on rides they have filmed around the world.
The people I know that own Peloton exercycles all swear by them. All of them. Not one of them wants to trade it in. I was surprised by how many people I know that own this product. They love the coaching, they love, the competition, and the fitness they get from the machine.
So, I went to one of the top fashion malls in the country, Aventura Mall in Miami, to find a Peloton store. I was surprised by the store because it is not really a store, but a pop-up store that has been there about three years now. This store is in the middle of a courtyard area of the mall. There is no roof, but there are open walls around the kiosk, so it does look like a store…sort of.
When I got to the store, I asked the sales person how long they had been there, and he said three years. I asked if they were looking at a permanent location and he said they were. (Like most malls in America today there are several vacancies, so that was suspect to me). The store has three pieces of merchandise in it. Three, two exercycles and one treadmill. That is, it. No shirts, no clip-on shoes, no swag of any type. And remember, I told you that people that buy this product are fanatics.
Here is where things became interesting. I asked the salesperson (there were three people working in this 15 x 30 store) to explain the exercycle to me. He did a great job. He explained all the programs, he explained the pricing, he explained and demonstrated some of the different rides you could do, he even explained the studio they use in New York that you could go and see. Technically he demonstrated that he knew everything about the exercycle. He lauded the Peloton community and how you could use an exercycle in any of their stores to get your ride in if you were on the road. (not this one by the way because it was a kiosk). This sales person knew this product as well as any person I have ever encountered in the retail environment.
There were just two small things missing. 1-He never asked me to get up on the exercycle. I was wearing tennis shoes, a nice tee-shirt, and wind pants. No reason I could not have gotten up on the exercycle and gone on one of their easier rides to take “ownership” of the bike. I realize I am 70 years old, but I am pretty fit, and I have the where with all to be able to purchase this $2,200 piece of merchandise. But our well informed “sales” person never asked me to get up on the bike. 2-He never asked for the order, never. He asked for my contact information (which I gave him) we chatted after he told me about the bike, but he never AFTO. I even gave him another chance. I asked about the monthly subscription fee. Our friendly clerk (because he obviously is not a sales person) explained the program and the advantages of paying annually, but still no close.
And, he never asked to show me the treadmill. I wandered over there, but there was no excitement. None. And the other two clerks kept themselves busy talking to each other.
I tell you all of this to highlight the importance of teaching your sales team how to sell. The importance of practicing every day with your sales team.
Now for the good news. The Peloton team did follow up with me. They both sent email and called. They were professional, curious, and politely persistent. They asked for the order twice. I did not buy one as it would not fit where I live. But I can tell you, it is a first-class product. Too bad it is not for sale in Miami.
In my 46+ years in business I have had the fortunate opportunity to work for a great many leaders. At Tandy Corporation I worked for Jim Nichols, Ron Stegall, John Roach, Clint Thomas, and Vic Sholis. I also had the opportunity to work alongside Len Roberts, Lewis Kornfeld, and Alan Bush. At Cash America I got to work for Dan Feehan and at Buxton I got to work for Tom Buxton. Each one of these leaders had different strengths and weaknesses. Some were intellectually brilliant, some had great leadership skills, and some just simply had the strength to will things done. But each had their philosophy and had the unique ability to get their team to buy into that vision.
Here at Axcelora our vision is unique. There are many companies that have the ability to make an appointment for you with a retail or restaurant organization. They employ actors, cold callers, bots, and other types of impersonal touches. When I was President of Buxton we tried using these services for a couple of years so we could free our best sales people up to actually spend their time presenting to prospects. It was expensive and it did not work. We paid them if they did or did not make us an appointment. They had no idea what the retail/restaurant business was about, and it was the most impersonal type of contact you could get.
At Axcelora we sat as a group (that group of four had about 140 years of experience) before we made any attempt at a business, and determined what our philosophy of business was going to be. Because,we realized that, if we knew what we were going to be about as a group, then wherever the business was going to take us we would never lose sight of our vision.
Our first determination was that we were going to service retailers and restaurants. That is what we knew about even though one of us was a merchant, one from marketing, one from finance, and one from store operations. We all knew retail. We next agreed that we were going to leverage our knowledge from our careers. We knew retail/restaurants and how they worked. We also knew the B2B world from both an agency point of view and a selling point of view. We also knew about multi-unit management and all of pitfalls it could have. We then agreed that we were not going to make things complicated. We all knew, from previous excursions in business, that the more complicated things were, the lower the likelihood of success. And finally, the last thing we agreed (and we all knew from the beginning), the customer was always going to come first. If we could help our customers become successful, then we would have success. Or, as my Cuban friends in Miami used to tell me, “If we take a shower than you get wet.” (Maybe that is why it rains so much in Miami)
So our Philosophy was set. We were going to help people that wanted to work with retailers and we were only going to be happy when they were successful. That has led us to try things that work (our initial appointment setting program through our “Partners), and things that don’t work (our Temporary Executive program). And, it has encouraged us to continue to try new things like our Customer Advisory Boards where we have our first two clients up and working. And, while we are not bots, cold callers, or Oscar Award winner actors, we are always thinking about your business and how we can help you win. So, tell your friends about us and ask them to give us a call.
Rich Hollander is a retail expert with over 40 years in the industry.