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Getting More From Siri, Surviving in a Struggling Mall and More of Your Questions for July

Don’t just use Apple’s intelligent assistant to help you find your favorite song.

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I’ve got an iPhone and have heard a lot about Siri. How can I use it in my business?

Too many people use Apple’s powerful voice-command system solely to play songs from iTunes and do basic web searches. But Siri is capable of much, much more. Here are just a few surprising things Siri can do for you: Find out next week’s weather. Get the daily UV index. Make the screen brighter. Launch an app. Get an app. Take a picture. Search for “images of new Tom Ford sunglasses.” You can even establish to Siri who is your wife and best friend are, and then tell your phone to call/message/Facetime/find the location of your wife or best friend. (Wouldn’t it be incredibly awkward if you found them together?) With assistance from Apple’s Home Kit Device commands, you can even lock your home or business’ front door, turn on or off your lights or adjust your thermostat. Get an extensive list of Siri voice commands at invmag.us/siri.

I am located in a mall and quite a few stores in it have closed. How can I tell if the mall itself is in danger of closing?

The retail industry — and the mall segment in particular — is going through a period of disruption and transition for a number of reasons (internet, demographic changes, the fallout from the last recession and so on). The loss of an anchor store is usually the biggest yellow flag indicating the future is less than brilliant. Another is when a mall loses mainline tenants like the Gap. If a big chain says it’s going to close a number of stores in a big city area and chooses the outlet in your mall, that usually indicates the numbers have fallen below a critical level.

How often should I be looking to change my window display?

This depends on the flow of traffic in front of the store. The purpose of a window is to capture customers attention and to keep them engaged. If your optical is in a location where many of the same people pass by every day, it is in your best interest to adjust the look of the window often. The change can be as simple as keeping a display for a month at a time, while changing only one eye-catching element and rotating through various frames or collections, says store management consultant Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts. “For other stores, where foot traffic is not as significant an issue, changing less frequently might be acceptable.” She adds that successful stores also know that keeping a consistent theme or look — between windows and between windows and interior displays, is an important part of getting the customer to focus on the product. “The decor should set the scene, but the merchandise should tell the story,” she says.

One of my salespeople recently resigned and opened his own sunglasses shop in a local mall. What should I do?

Unless he did something that was in violation of his work contract, you should forget about it. There’s always going to be competition, and the only way to keep a step ahead is to stay focused on building your business. People waste a lot of time and energy worrying about ex-employees who become competitors. Just concentrate on being the best you can be, and he’ll either need to find his own niche or he’ll face some tough market realities.

What if I see someone go to steal something and then put it back?

Ain’t much you can do, says Rick Segel, author of the Retail Business Kit For Dummies. “The police don’t arrest people for contemplating shoplifting.” Just keep a close eye on them and hope they don’t come back.

I’ve decided to fire a staff member for failing to perform. What should I tell other staff?

For legal and morale reasons, our advice is to avoid going into detail. Shortly after the employee is fired, make a brief statement to your other workers, saying that the employee is no longer with the store. Identify who will handle the tasks that person was responsible for, and ask them to direct any other questions to you.

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Are pay-per-click ads a good investment for an optician/optometrist?

Google’s own data makes it clear: Pay-per-click works extremely well for existing businesses that have already built a name or themselves. Pay-per-click performs poorly for businesses that aren’t already well known. If the name of your business is a household word in your town, consider investing in local pay-per-click. But if you’re still trying to build your name, put all your eggs into a single mass-media basket and then lift that basket to the sky, says Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads. “The biggest mistake you can make is to spread your ad dollars around, thinking you should cover all your bases. You don’t have the money for that. Have courage. Get focused. Talk loud and draw a crowd,” he says.

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What the Law Says About Retailers Who Say They’re Selling at ‘Wholesale’ Prices and More Questions for March

Unless it’s true, it might be a criminal offense in your state.

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How can I improve the open rates on my email marketing bulletins?

A few years ago, MailChimp.com did a survey of some 40 million promotional emails and found that those with the highest open rates (from 67 to an amazing 80 percent) were the ones that were — surprise, surprise — the least promotional. Typically, they had subject lines that told the recipient what was inside (they didn’t confuse e-bulletins with promotions or vice versa), they used the company’s name in the subject line, and had straightforward subject lines — they weren’t too “salesy” or pushy (this also helps you avoid spam trigger words). Most email providers will allow you to write subject lines of up to 60 characters but you should try to keep it short and to the point, between 30 and 40 characters and no more than five to eight words.

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Teen Sees Color for the First Time — Watch Her Reaction

Video Shows Just How Fabulous Eyeglasses Were in the ’50s — Take a Look
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Video Shows Just How Fabulous Eyeglasses Were in the ’50s — Take a Look

He Recorded a Song with His Optometry Equipment — and Absolutely Killed It
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He Recorded a Song with His Optometry Equipment — and Absolutely Killed It

Constant Contact, another service provider, recommends you state a clear benefit to opening the email. Email messages that have an “exclusive” offer in the subject line, such as “Private event” or “For select customers only,” can generate an additional 24 percent open rate, according to its studies. Of course, you don’t want to be too dry. Your content should be as friendly as possible. Open with the recipient’s name, use a tone that reflects your personality and end with your signature line. Most important, give them something they want. If they’ve opted in and you are responding to their interests, you too might be able to get super-high open rates.

One of the questions I always get, and hate, is “Do you have to charge sales tax?” How should I answer this?

Here’s a simple way to defuse this sneaky discount ploy. Look at the customer directly, smile, and say, “Actually, I don’t charge sales tax. I collect it.” They’ll get the point. And while everybody wants the best deal possible, they’ll probably trust you more for it. Because if you’d cheat on your taxes, why should a customer or patient trust you to take care of their vision?

My store seems like a reality TV show: unnecessary drama. Addressing it only seems to add fuel to the fire. Is there a way to bring it under control?

You’re not alone. After profitability concerns, this is the No. 1 headache of business owners, says business coach Lauren Owen. Drama and discord create stress and hurt productivity. There is no quick fix but there are a number of things you can do, starting with regular meetings. “Scheduled, well-run meetings are essential to clear communication and team building and addressing potential conflicts,” says Owen, adding that such meetings are conspicuously absent at stores with drama issues.

Other steps include confronting your drama queens, addressing your underperformers (there is often a hidden cost in the resentment they cause), performing a cost-benefit analysis on your high performance/maintenance employees (sometimes they just suck all the energy out of a store), and finally taking a good look at yourself. “Some people actually like drama, despite what they say,” Owen says. “If you were really honest with yourself you might understand that the drama is satisfying some need of yours. Attention? Power? Control? Do you avoid all conflict, even healthy conflict, at all costs?” And are you giving your staff a clear sense of purpose — that eyewear is about something much bigger than business?

My practice has never grown the way I had hoped … or hired for. To keep going, I feel we need to downsize. How can I do it without destroying staff morale?

Layoffs are tough. You can’t have high productivity without good morale, and you can’t have good morale unless people have confidence that the company has a future and that the business is going to treat them fairly if things get worse. Employees need to know that you respect and value their contributions and don’t just view them as a resource.

Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to order layoffs. In that case, remember three rules.

1. Do them all at once. Dragging things out will destroy morale.
2. It’s better to cut too much than to cut too little.
3. Make sure all remaining employees understand that what you’re doing is saving their jobs.

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Finding the Best Tax Professional for You and More Questions for February

Getting a head start on what could be a volatile year, and more advice for February.

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2019 seems like it’s going to be a volatile year. What should we do to get ready?

Eight years of economic growth and cheap credit allowed many business owners to gaze far into the future and craft successful, long-term strategies, but it does seem those times are coming to an end as trade wars, rising interest rates, political turmoil, spooked financial markets and ongoing technological change cast a shadow over what otherwise is still a strong economy. In such a shifting, unstable environment where visibility is low, Donald Sull, a London Business School professor, recommends “active waiting.” Contemplate alternative techniques, explore likely scenarios and focus on general readiness. This is a time of threat but also opportunity. “Keep your vision fuzzy and your priorities clear,” Sull says. “Maintain a war chest and battle-ready troops. Know when to wait — and when to strike. When you grab an opportunity or move to crush a threat, amass all your resources behind the effort.” At the same time, continue making routine operational improvements such as cutting costs, strengthening distribution, and improving products and services. “Though mundane, these initiatives foster efficiency, which can position you to snatch a golden opportunity from rivals’ jaws,” Sull says. It all sounds rather dramatic, but then high drama surely awaits.

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team

Podcast: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Podcast: Try Not to Blink Talks About the Business of Cannabis, and Its Role in Modern Healthcare
Try Not to Blink

Podcast: Try Not to Blink Talks About the Business of Cannabis, and Its Role in Modern Healthcare

The sales experts you quote often recommend role-playing exercises. But my sales staff always slinks away when I suggest them. How can I get them to play along?

That may be because the focus is negative, says sales trainer Dave Richardson. Make the role-playing positive and fun. First, play the role of the salesperson and let your salespeople critique you. Then, when it’s your turn to play the customer, instead of saying, “Here’s what you did wrong,” start off by telling the person what you felt they did well and what you would change if you had the opportunity. Always finish on a positive, encouraging note, Richardson says.

Our marketing team’s images were recently lifted and used by the vendor for their advertising without crediting us. When I contacted them, they said, “We’re sorry; it was the intern’s fault.” How should I handle this?

If it was “the intern’s fault,” who approved the final vendor layouts? But regardless of whose fault it is, you should get some compensation for the use of your images, says business management consultant Kate Peterson. The vendor would have paid for the images had they used any other marketing professional to create them, so they should have no issue with paying your in-house team. “I would suggest that the retailer assign a fair price (what she typically pays her team per image) and send an invoice directly to the head of the company with pics of their ads and an explanation. If applicable, tell them you will apply the amount of the invoice against an outstanding balance,” says Peterson. “The key here is to remain positive and confident, as opposed to challenging. Assume they are expecting to compensate, and communicate in a tone that expresses confidence in their interest in doing the right thing.”

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My business is only four years old and up until now I’ve done my own taxes but now I’d like to find a tax pro. Where do I find a good one?

Online directories such as CPAdirectory.com, Accountant-Finder.com and AccountantsWorld.com are a good place to start. Most will allow you to search by name, location and industry focus. The National Association of Tax Professionals also offers an online database of tax preparers, and the American Institute of CPAs has one for CPA firms. If you do contemplate hiring a tax preparer you found online, request referrals to past clients so you can ask about the quality of the service they received. A possibly better strategy is to ask people in the industry. This is because your ideal target should have some experience doing returns for vision-related businesses as every industry has its own rules and deduction options.

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Personality Clashes and More Questions for This Month

Read the answers to some of your holiday questions.

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Our holiday events are approaching. What are the best finger foods for an in-store event?

Balancing what tastes good — usually greasy or gooey food — with what looks sophisticated and doesn’t leave crumbs around the store or sticky fingerprints over your eyewear or frame boards is a tough balancing act. But store trainer Kate Peterson thinks she’s seen the answer: small, clear plastic drink glasses. “One presentation had a small amount (about three-quarters of an inch) of ranch dressing in the bottom of the cups, along with a variety of veggie sticks (carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash). The glasses were all arranged on a tray, so instead of having to pick up the veggies and scoop dip onto a plate, guests simply picked up an easy-to-handle, pre-made serving, which could then be dropped into a trash bin when they were done. Peterson adds that she saw a similar but more “savory” twist on this treatment with cocktail sauce and jumbo shrimp (tails removed). Don’t want ranch dressing in your store? Try cubed cheese and seedless grapes, which are always a crowd favorite, and easy to prepare.

I need ideas on how to give my optical a quick, cheap facelift before the holiday season starts.

The problem with quick, cheap facelifts is that they look exactly that — quick and cheap. Take a hard look at your store and if you find worn fixtures splash out and get them refinished. Then focus on creating a killer (but easy-on-the-pocket) winter-themed display. Bare branches, lots of white, big candles, spray-on snow… Be bold about moving your merchandise to new locations. Try them in higher or lower positions, with new props or with more space than usual. And if you’ve got a boring wall you just don’t know what to do with, throw up another mirror. People are endlessly fascinated with themselves.

I’m thinking of opening a new retail optical outlet in what’s possibly the most crowded market in the country; there are over three dozen optical retailers here in a college town of 400,000. I feel I know this market but should I look elsewhere?

A crowded marketplace isn’t necessarily a bad sign; conversely, it may be an indicator of the huge demand for a product or service. The secret to business success isn’t finding an empty field, it’s filling a need, and that generally means a niche. Sometimes niches are created because everyone is chasing the big-ticket-buying crowd or the youth market or there are changes in fashion or technology that the existing players may have missed. The real question is whether you can do something better or differently. “Just don’t think you can do it by being the cheapest,” says marketing expert Brad Sugars. “You’re the little guy; you don’t have economies of scale. The big guys can make up in volume what they lack in margin. You can’t.”

I’m a junior member of a front office team of eight. They’re all good people but one of the older girls bugs the hell out of me. It’s purely a personality thing. What do I do?

Focus on the positives. Remind yourself of the contributions she makes. If that’s too hard then at least don’t fall into the trap of recruiting allies to your cause. Sure, it feels good to have someone confirm she’s annoying but it also makes her presence a bigger issue. Try to minimize contact and ask yourself, does she irk everyone or is there something about you that has you grimacing like this?

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