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Firing a Bad Apple and More Questions for April

Trust your gut, and let them go.

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What advice do you have for dealing with bad apples and the guilt you feel about possibly firing them?

Other than to look past the short-term mental anguish and focus on the ultimate benefits that will accrue to your bottom line, staff morale, to that unhappy misplaced worker, and to your own sense of mental being, not much. Average performers make for an average business. Bad employees make for even worse. When we’ve asked about this in the past, your peers all agree: Read up on your legal responsibilities and pull the trigger. No more delaying. No sugar coating the speech (that invites trouble). “We got rid of two full time employees that had bad attitudes. Best move ever,” says Kristina Swartz, owner of the The Eye Site in Mishawaka, IN. “Trust your gut when it comes to employees,” adds Paula Hornbeck, of Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids in Delafield, WI. “Over the years, I’ve had an uneasy feeling about an employee several times but hesitated to make a decision. Looking back, I should have let them go sooner and not drawn it out.” This applies even if it leaves you short-handed. “We made the decision to let someone go, and not replace them for several months,” recalls Stacey Harlander of CNY Eye Care in Syracuse, NY. “This left me as the sole optician, and it really forced me to see where I could improve patient flow, and learn to manage my own time and tasks more efficiently than in the past.” Don’t let another day pass. Go do it.

Should I use a paper or email newsletter?

Email newsletters are easy to assemble and distribute. They are cheap and trackable. And … they are easy to ignore. This is not to say you shouldn’t use them — there’s lots of evidence email marketing is more effective than the much more hyped social media options. But it also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally experiment with good old ink and paper. At a time when the average email user gets more than 100 messages in their inbox every day, it’s hard to get noticed, whereas a nicely produced flier in their real mail box might just tweak interest in a special offer or your regular services. And it’s not that much more expensive. A mail service provider will typically design and distribute your newsletter for less than 50 cents apiece and perhaps best of all, using an option like the U.S. Postal Service’s Every Door Direct Mail you can affordably target an audience by mail audience by age, income, or household size. It’s guaranteed in-the-hand delivery a spam message could only dream of. Even with a response rate of only two to three on 2,500 newsletters, that’s 75 potentially new customers or patients. A viable return!  

I’d like to capture some of the feeling of spring with flowers. What kinds do you recommend?

Daffodils are the traditional flower symbolizing spring but really, just about any variety will work. Color authority Pantone has named ultraviolet as its color of the year, which suggests opting for lavender, orchids, violet tulips, and African violets to send a signal that your optical is in touch with fashion trends. If a broader spectrum appeals, white roses or chrysanthemums always add a touch of elegance, blues and greens calm shoppers and encourage contemplation, while yellows and oranges will signal the coming summer. Roses (but not red ones, which are closely associated with Valentine’s Day) are still among the most popular flowers in the U.S., but be aware that they don’t fare well under hot lighting. Just be sure to go with fresh flowers. True, the silk copies have lasting power, but they tend to bring to mind grandma’s sofa-side arrangements rather than the excitement of the new season.

As I start thinking about doing my first trunk show, is there anything people don’t tell you?

Oh, just that it’s a TON of work. There’s the prep — figuring out the theme, the discounts, coordinating with your vendors to ensure they can be there, plotting decorations, food, and getting started on the marketing (creating ads, emailing your patient base, handing out flyers, building a “selfie wall,” and probably more important than anything else, working your phone contact list. If you’re offering medical services, it’s crucial you nail the appointments), and, finally, the day itself. If you’ve never done a trunk show, see what help your vendors might be able to provide. ZEISS for example, offers its Event in a Box, which it promises brings a Blue Apron-like ethos to holding an event.  

I’ve heard the late fees and extra interest we pay to vendors are tax-deductible expenses? What about the IRS’s late filing penalty?

It’s true that interest, late fees, and penalties are all considered legitimate business expenses. But not IRS penalties. But why are you paying delinquency penalties in the first place? If you can’t get an extension and don’t have the cash, you should still submit a return by the deadline — then you’ll only have to pay the 0.5 percent per month rate for being late. Late filing is a symptom of a financial carelessness that doesn’t augur well for your company.

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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

Promoting Healthy Competition and More Questions for Year’s End

Also, proper staff gift-giving etiquette and getting the most out of staff trainers.

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How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths and weaknesses during an interview?

Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question (and revisiting it periodically if you do hire the person): What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths (unbridled upside) of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses (never more than incremental gains).

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the U.S. Than We Think?
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Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the U.S. Than We Think?

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?
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Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting of Lord Of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive outcomes of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

What is proper etiquette for gift-giving in the workplace?

Your watchwords should be considerate, fair, and inclusive. Aim for gifts that can be shared and enjoyed by everyone such as food. (If people have diet restrictions, they can simply pass on the offering without making a big fuss.) If you do decide to give gifts to every staff member, steer clear of knick-knacks. Most people can barely see their desks as it is. The last thing they need is another coffee mug or pen-and-pencil set. Keep it clean. Do not consider gag gifts that rely on sexual innuendo or ethnic stereotypes to be funny. Do not give anything that could remotely be considered intimate. And be generous down the chain. Give your assistant or intern at least as nice a gift as the one you give your manager.

I’d like to hire a trainer for my staff, but I’m worried about the return on investment?

Our reason for existing at INVISION is to make ECPs better ECPs, and we believe professional trainers can help you enormously. To get your money’s worth, focus on two things: 1.) Hard skills. Overinvest in training that helps to increase ability versus motivation. Yes, it’s nice to have your staff leave a training session all fired up, but for lasting results that will give you that return on your investment, focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills. It could be when to pause in a presentation or how many features to stress. Break tasks into discrete actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. 2.) This is just as important. Follow up. Bring in a trainer, but only if you yourself are willing to buy into their lessons and do ongoing training and reviews.

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Ask INVISION

When to Let That Questionable New Employee Go and More Questions for October

Plus its all fun and games until someone gets drunk at the company holiday party … how to protect your business from potential trouble.

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How do you know when a new employee can’t be saved? How much time should you give someone?

When you have coached someone carefully and repeatedly, invested large amounts of energy and they show no signs of improvement, that’s a solid signal you probably need to act. The clincher comes when their co-workers start showing their frustration and stop trying to help the person. This is often at about the three- or four-month mark. A lot of bosses will let it drag on past that, but it’s really in everyone’s interest for both parties to pursue new opportunities.

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the U.S. Than We Think?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Is Eyecare in Canada Really More Like the U.S. Than We Think?

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries
INVISION Podcast

Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

I’m planning an end-of-year company party, but one concern is that somebody could get drunk, have a car accident, and I might get sued. Got any advice on protecting myself?

These days, the Grinch must be a lawyer. Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant, or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar — or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

I haven’t got around to writing a will yet. What would happen to my business if I died unexpectedly?

When there’s no will, state law (“interstate succession” statutes) usually takes charge of your estate. “Each state has precise laws about who gets what when there is no will, and there are differences among the states,” says Norman M. Boone, MBA, CFP, a nationally renowned financial adviser. “In California, for example, the spouse inherits all the deceased spouse’s community property, but the separate property is shared with the children. In New Jersey, your spouse gets the first $50,000 of your estate and one-half of the rest; your children get everything else. If the children are minors in either state, then the court appoints someone to manage their property (including your business), and then supervises their activities, which involves more intrusion and more expense. The children receive their inheritance at age 18. For singles, the assets are parceled out to relatives in an order determined by state law. Usually, children, parents and then siblings are first in line. Friends, lovers (even domestic partners) or charities are left out.” Without a will, there is always a chance the estate will be fought over by the above claimants, a process which can drag out and potentially ruin a business. Don’t like those prospects? What are you waiting for? Write that will!

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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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