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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

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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Podcast: More Ways to Motivate Your Own Eyecare Business Team
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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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