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Dealing with the Employee Who Needs Time to “Find Himself” and More of Your Questions for May

Consider giving him extended leave, with some portion of his pay.

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My best salesperson, who’s 45, wants six months off to “find himself.”

What should I do?Give it to him. Tell him to take the six months off and that you’ll even pay him 20 percent of his salary while he his gone. “What?!” we hear you saying. “That’s money for nothing!” Ask yourself, though, how hard it is to find good staff and then reconsider. If he’s been in your store seven or 10 years, working the floor, watching the world go by through your window, it’s no surprise he’s getting a little restless. Simply ask that after he’s done traipsing through the Andes, training for that triathlon or spending more time with his kids, he returns and works for you for at least one more year. His absence can give you the opportunity to train a junior staff member for more senior responsibilities — and inspire long-term loyalty in other staff members who may someday want a sabbatical, too.

I saw the article in your January issue on the store that wrapped a car with a promotional messages, and I’d like to create my own rolling advertisement. What will it cost?

Creating your own Eyemobile? Cool. The gurus at BuyerZone say that cast-vinyl wraps (designed to last a year or longer) for cars and SUVs run between $2,000 and $3,000 including installation. (Rates will vary based on your vehicle size and location.) Shorter-term “calendared vinyl” installations can be 40 percent cheaper, but since you’ll probably be keeping your message on your car for a long time, ignore this option. Before you start, do an image search for “car wraps” and look at a lot of them. Invest in having your design professionally done. Last but not least, make sure your URL and phone are easily seen in your design.

Our website stinks. But I’m not sure we can justify an upgrade right now. Why should I spend the money?

A recent survey of over 1,300 U.S. consumers found that 58 percent have decided not to do business with a company based solely on the business’ website. What does that mean? To Daniel Feldman of The Visionaries Group, it means that “just having a website isn’t good enough anymore.” Says Feldman: “In a time when over 80 percent of consumers will research a business online before ever walking through your doors, do you really want to risk the future of your practice on a website built by your next door neighbor’s nephew in trade for a pair or two of Ray-Ban sunglasses?” Evaluate your website honestly against local and national competitors to see how you stand up. Another angle that might convince you: Ask yourself, what if a good website could bring in just one more patient every week? At a price of $115 per exam, that works out to be $5,980 in increased exam fees in one year. Let’s say two-thirds of those people purchase a single pair of eyeglasses (you should be selling them all more than one pair, of course) at an average cost of $250 per pair. So add $8,500 more in annual sales. That is almost $15,000 in increased volume due to your new website, based on a very conservative estimate of sales.

How can we add a little drama to the moment when we present a client with their new eyewear?

Think luxury, says Mike Rolih of Mirro, employee training and marketing consultants for optometrists and independent opticians. First step: toss out those plastic “job” trays you’re probably using and invest in jewelry trays with a felt or leather base. (Extra-credit technique: Wear white gloves when revealing the new eyewear.) Present the customer with a cleaning cloth (with your logo on it), a case, spray cleaner, and a nice bag (again with your logo). Even if you’re selling a pair of low-end frames, you can still create a high-end experience patients will appreciate … and remember.

Our website stinks. But I’m not sure we can justify an upgrade right now. Why should I spend the money?

A recent survey of over 1,300 U.S. consumers found that 58 percent have decided not to do business with a company based solely on the business’ website. What does that mean? To Daniel Feldman of The Visionaries Group, it means that “just having a website isn’t good enough anymore.” Says Feldman: “In a time when over 80 percent of consumers will research a business online before ever walking through your doors, do you really want to risk the future of your practice on a website built by your next door neighbor’s nephew in trade for a pair or two of Ray-Ban sunglasses?” Evaluate your website honestly against local and national competitors to see how you stand up. Another angle that might convince you: Ask yourself, what if a good website could bring in just one more patient every week? At a price of $115 per exam, that works out to be $5,980 in increased exam fees in one year. Let’s say two-thirds of those people purchase a single pair of eyeglasses (you should be selling them all more than one pair, of course) at an average cost of $250 per pair. So add $8,500 more in annual sales. That is almost $15,000 in increased volume due to your new website, based on a very conservative estimate of sales.

How can we add a little drama to the moment when we present a client with their new eyewear?

Think luxury, says Mike Rolih of Mirro, employee training and marketing consultants for optometrists and independent opticians. First step: toss out those plastic “job” trays you’re probably using and invest in jewelry trays with a felt or leather base. (Extra-credit technique: Wear white gloves when revealing the new eyewear.) Present the customer with a cleaning cloth (with your logo on it), a case, spray cleaner, and a nice bag (again with your logo). Even if you’re selling a pair of low-end frames, you can still create a high-end experience patients will appreciate … and remember.

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What’s a good growth rate?

Some growth is necessary for any business to keep up with competitors, benefit from economies of scale and provide new opportunities for its staff, but there are more important things you should be focusing on. As Brazilian businessman Ricardo Semler noted in his book Maverick, the only things in the world that grow for the sake of growth are businesses and tumors. If you focus on cash flow, profit, taking care of your staff and customers — and basically doing a good job — growth will take care of itself.

Some business columnists recommend what they call the “Bill Belichick model of staffing”: Hire cheaply, and when employees want more money, replace them with people who are young and hungry. What do you think?

We have our doubts Bill and his hoodie belong in eye retail. To be sure, you need to get the most productivity for every labor dollar. But in retail, stinting on employees doesn’t actually save you money. It just gets you less for less. Nothing will sell your store — and your inventory — more than a fulfilled, knowledgeable and helpful sales team. If you hire a good employee at below-market rates, market forces guarantee that she’s going to leave sooner rather than later, and high turnover is very, very expensive. (Some recruiting agencies put the cost at eight months’ salary.) It also makes it hard to create consistency in the workplace, which can lower productivity, service quality and customer satisfaction. Investing in your staff shouldn’t be a losing proposition; it should pay healthy dividends.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Ask INVISION

How to Get a Staff Member to Close a Sale and More Questions for September

And your return policy may not be as ironclad as you think when it comes to minors.

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I got really angry at a customer the other day and left a nasty message on their voicemail. So, OK, I’ve lost that client. But how can I keep this from happening again?

We fully recommend business author Tony Schwartz’s Golden Rule of Triggers, which is “Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t.” Instead, he says, take a deep breath, and “feel your feet” — a distraction tactic that allows you to pull your head out of the red mist.

I have a no-return stipulation on all my eyewear. But somebody told me that if a minor buys, for example, a pair of fancy sunglasses from me, they have the right to return it for a full refund and I can’t do anything about it. Is this true?

It is, in most states. And it’s something many merchants are unaware of. Basically, it comes down to what the law regards as “capacity to contract,” something minors are considered to lack but which is an essential element of any valid commercial agreement. The law doesn’t state, however, you must return the money immediately. You can insist Mom or Dad enforce the big-spending youngster’s right to disaffirmance in a court of law. Faced with such a prospect, the child or his parents are likely to come to an arrangement.

My store is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Am I leaving sales on the table by not being open?

Not necessarily. In fact, you may actually be improving business by giving your team some regular time off. Roger Beahm, professor of marketing at Wake Forest University School of Business, told radio station WFDD that you should first consider the “personal values” of your business. “We know that there’s a lot of businesses, for personal reasons, that like to keep their doors closed on Sunday, give their employees a day off for family, to go to church, and those kinds of things.” Employee happiness can translate into “efficiency, a high-quality product, and a loyal customer who keeps coming back.” Beahm says that work/life balance should lead to profit. “While they may be leaving money on the table in the short run, it’s probably assured that in the long run, they’re continuing to generate revenue because of the satisfaction level of both their employees and their customers.”

I’ve got a woman on staff who adores eyewear and never fails to engage a customer in a lively discussion, but for the life of me I can’t teach her how to close the sale! Help!

Failure to close is most often a combination of lack of basic skill and fear of being ‘pushy,’” says Kate Peterson of retail consultancy Performance Concepts. You can’t effectively teach ‘closing’ as a separate and disassociated thing, she says, but if your associate is good at engaging the customer, focus on teaching her how to make emotional connections between what they want and what the merchandise provides and to listen for signals that indicate it’s time to close. When it comes to more expensive fashion wear, remind her that most customers are often looking for permission to buy. “Providing good service means giving it to them by asking for the sale,” says Peterson. Finally, consider your commission structures. A motivated staff will use their time in the store as efficiently as they can, because it’s in their interest to make as many sales as possible.

When people look in your window displays, how do you approach them without scaring them off?

Open the conversation by asking their opinion on the display itself, says selling expert Dave Richardson. From there, you should be able to find out what they are specifically looking at and extend an invitation for them to come in and see it more closely (as well as a business card). Such boldness is well worth your effort, says Richardson. “Best-case scenario, you make a sale … worst-case scenario, someone new has your card.”

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The Art of Closing the Sale and More Questions for July and August

Don’t miss: How to set attainable goals and offload older merchandise.

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I keep hearing contradictory advice: Set goals or don’t set them. What’s your take?

There are three main arguments against setting goals: One, they lead people to focus on the wrong things or cut ethical corners; two, they demotivate when it appears they can’t be reached; and three, they emphasize the future at the expense of the present. The secret is to set goals in a way that addresses these problem areas. That means:

1. Set challenging goals but don’t make a big deal of it if you fall short.
2. Set goals that focus on behaviors, so your people are learning and improving rather than wildly chasing a financial goal.
3. Be specific. Setting vague goals can produce higher rates of success with motivated staff, but if your employees are normal human beings, being specific will prevent procrastination.
4. Make the first couple of milestones easy so that people can build momentum toward the major goal.
5. It’s not a death march; make it fun.

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
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How can I get my salespeople to sell the older merchandise in the store?

Start by appealing to their belief in the possible, something all good salespeople should possess. And remind them there’s no accounting for taste. “Remember that somebody at the manufacturer was inspired enough by the idea of the product to create it. And somebody else in your company liked it enough to buy it,” says sales trainer Harry Friedman. That makes at least two professionals who believe in this particular product, he says. It also means that even though this piece may make them shake their heads, there’s a reasonable chance there’s a customer out there who will like it too. If that doesn’t do the trick, opt for an aggressive commission, says David Geller. “The commission many stores pay usually isn’t enough to get people excited,” he says. “If you normally pay a salary plus 3 percent, pay 9 percent on old items. It won’t cost that much, relatively speaking!”

What’s the best way to tell a customer you’d rather not take their AMEX?

There are reasons to wish they just would leave home without it. AMEX’s extra charges and reputation for slow payment are annoying but once you make it clear through store signage that you accept all major cards you don’t have much choice. “Don’t ever, ever, ever, ask ‘Oh, do you have another card?’ In terms of customer service, that’s just plain lame,” says Rick Segel, author of Customer Service For Dummies. Remember, your customer might be saving up points for a reward, or be close to their limit on their other card, and your hesitancy to take their AMEX puts them in an awkward position, he says. Try to take comfort in the fact that American Express targets a wealthier clientele.

What’s an appropriate policy for funeral leave?

A funeral leave policy should cover which employees are entitled to it, which family relationships qualify, how much time is permitted, and what provisions exist for extending time, with or without pay, says Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions Inc. She suggests these guidelines: full-time employees should be entitled to at least three days’ absence with pay in the event of death in the immediate family (spouse, children, parents and siblings). For part-time employees, leave should be based on scheduled workdays, while funeral leave pay should not be granted to employees attending a funeral during periods when they are not at work for other reasons, such as vacation or illness. According to Devries, leaves to attend funerals of other relatives or friends should be granted at the discretion of the employee’s supervisor, and this condition should be stated in the handbook. You can also state that supervisors may ask for proof of a death, i.e., a funeral card or a death notice. This is rarely necessary, but including it will keep your policy from being abused. “Be sure to send a card and flowers, and express condolences,” says Devries. “These gestures assure employees of the good will your policy has put in place, and their loyalty is worth your effort.”

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How Much Community Work is Too Much Community Work and and More Questions for June

Also how to deal with (or with being) a helicopter manager.

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I appreciate giving back is a smart way to run a business, and it feels good personally, but community work can also be a distraction. Are there guidelines for ensuring we get the balance right?

In terms of the personal benefits, different studies done in the U.S. and Australia over the last two decades have concluded that about 100 hours of volunteering a year, or two hours a week, yields the optimum return in terms of happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem. The studies found there were no benefits — for the volunteer at least — of doing more than that. As for your business, coming up with a similarly strict “cut-off point” is prudent. The Internet software provider Salesforce.com, for example, uses what it calls its “one percent” formula: one percent of company profits, one percent of company equity, and one percent of employee hours all go to the communities it serves. The clarity of such a cap not only provides a guideline for this expenditure of energy, but makes it easier for you to deal with requests from your community for your time or money: “We wish we could help but for now we are concentrating all our community efforts through …XYZ.” When it comes to helping others, a soft heart and a hard head are often the best combination.

I’ll admit I’m a helicopter manager, but if I didn’t keep a close eye on everything and intervene constantly nothing would get done properly. How can I get my staff to show more initiative and responsibility?

It sounds as if you’ve micromanaged your staff into drones. Basically, you’ve got two options: Go big picture, where you give them ownership of their responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, or go small, where every procedure and system is mapped out in detail. The first requires employees with the right personality and experience who will know what do when you say, “OK, our goal is to wow every person who comes in the store. Go to it!” The second requires a lot of work from you in putting systems in place and providing the necessary training. In such cases, one approach is to imagine that you’re planning to open another business 3,000 miles away and putting in writing everything you’d want the remote employees to know about managing the practice, from how to run the point-of-sale system to how to make deposits to who to call if there’s a problem with the building. With such a reference, you’d be able to step aside and in theory, be confident your staff would be equipped to tackle most situations. Keep in mind though that these situations often reflect as much about the manager as the staff. Taking action is how micromanagers deal with anxiety – just as surrendering control is how under-functioning staff deal with challenges. Breaking the pattern is tough, because the manager needs to step back and do less, which means potentially letting bad things happen and tolerating the resulting anxiety. Can you handle that?

I know I should focus on my business, but I get a warped glee out of competing with the unethical rival up the road. There’s nothing wrong with having such an enemy, is there?

Research testifies to the fact that humans partly enjoy having enemies; they clarify the world for us and bolster our sense of righteousness. So, sure, why not channel this sometimes less-than-admirable truth to good ends? And it’s certainly easier to keep an eye on what your rivals are up to in the Internet era. The only thing we’d say is that you don’t lose sight of who your real enemy is. Is it the guy so bad at business he’s cutting legal corners, or is it Amazon, or something else — like your own complacency, inertia, or fear of change that poses an existential threat to your business? Enjoy your day-to-day skirmishes with the schmuck around the corner, use it to motivate yourself, but channel your energies into evolving and growing your business.

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