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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 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Ask INVISION

How to Attract Top Salespeople and More Questions for April

Also, how to structure their compensation to remain competitive.

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We have a very young-looking salesperson who worries people don’t take her seriously. We’ve styled her in planos but what more can we do to make her look more professional?

“Professionalism is really about projecting confidence,” says Anne Sowden, managing director of image consultancy Here’s Looking at You. “And confidence is reflected in clothing and body language. As a general guideline, dark colors — black, navy and charcoal — convey authority.

A jacket automatically makes someone appear more professional. Pair it with a light-colored blouse (conservative neckline), knee-length skirt and she’ll look professional but approachable. And ensure the clothing fits properly, is not wrinkled and she will feel comfortable in it.

“If you’re comfortable, you’ll automatically be more confident,” Sowden notes.

When it comes to greeting customers, remind her of Mom’s dictum: Stand up straight and don’t slouch. “This will indicate that confidence and approachability. Add to that eye contact and most importantly, a smile and she’ll make a dynamite first impression,” Sowden says.

I have an employee at my high-end eyewear store who makes $16 an hour and commission based on gross profit. She earns close to $60,000 a year but feels underpaid and that paying commission on gross profit is contrary to the industry standard. How can I convince her she has it pretty good?

She does indeed have it pretty good, says industry consultant Andrea Hill, owner of Hill Management Group, noting that her hourly rate is almost 50 percent higher than the average for retail sales people of $11.50 and even more than the average of $15 paid by very high-end luxury retailers.

As for the commission, Hill says you are very much on the right track and your employee will probably have to get used to it wherever she decides to work; “wise” businesses are increasingly moving away from a commission based on the retail price to a portion of the gross margin. “In this way, sales professionals are challenged to balance the need to get the highest price possible with the need to close the sale,” Hill says.

“When commissions are paid out on total sales only, then it becomes very easy for the salesperson to sacrifice profits for the easy close,” she says.

While exposure to such numbers should mollify your associate, what you really want to do is excite her about the potential of earning as much as $100,000 a year — which is what top luxury salespeople make — although that requires building a “strong book” of customers through active networking, clienteling and prospecting work.

Keep in mind, however, that even the most generous commission rate won’t help if you’re not on top of your game, meaning advertising intelligently, keeping up with changing retail trends, providing the right technology for how consumers today want to shop, and maintaining an exciting inventory that reflects current tastes, says Hill.

“If the retail business owner does not ensure that they are running a strong merchandising and marketing operation, then even the best sales person in the world will not be able to turn the promise of commission into actual earnings.”

I still can’t get my head around kelvins and color temperatures. Can you help?

It probably helps to think of the original theoretical model that underlies the index — that of a black metal radiator, whose color changes as it is heated, from black to orange to red to blue to white hot.

Similar to Celsius and Fahrenheit, the Kelvin scale marks different degrees of thermodynamic temperature, but it is the association with color change that makes it useful as a way to designate light bulbs.

Where it gets confusing is how at the lower end of the scale, from 2000K to 3000K, the light produced is called “warm white” and ranges from orange to yellow-white in appearance. Meanwhile, color temperatures further up the scale, between 3100K and 4500K, are referred to as “cool white” but the bulbs are emitting a brighter, hotter light.

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Ask INVISION

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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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.

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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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