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Fun and Fresh Merchandising Ideas for Valentine’s Day and More of Your Questions for February

Including helping a dysfunctional team find the love.





Do you have any good, low-cost visual merchandising ideas for Valentine’s Day?

The key is not to overwhelm. When it comes to showing love, a little can go a long way. Display expert Larry Johnson suggests you pick judiciously from the following:

  • Scatter some heart-shaped candy or even vintage Valentine’s Day cards among your displays and frame boards.
  • Find attractive hearts made of some unique construction or material to draw attention to the uniqueness of your merchandise. Again, keep them small so they do not overwhelm the merchandise.
  • Stuffed animals can be incorporated into the display by holding gift ideas or even wearing sunglasses.
  • A great accent platform can be created with old books of poetry or love sonnets (Shakespeare, Browning…) Place them in a small stack with titles showing or open one to a particular page. Place a frame or other gift idea on top and accent with a single rose.
  • Try a mix of pale and hot pink accents to decorate the store instead of the usual red and whites. Similarly, try a couple of lush feathers instead of flowers, ideally positioned near the HVAC vents so you get some motion.
  • From National Wear Red Day on Feb. 3, have the staff wear something with a red accent up until Valentine’s Day.
I’ve raised my prices to boost margins, but sales have dropped off. Is this because the economy is slowing or are people balking at my new prices?

Economic slowdown or not, this basically comes down to knowing why your customers are buying from you, says Andrew Gregson, author of Pricing Strategies For Small Business. If people are deciding to shop with you based purely on prices, you need to build a new customer base — because, as you may be finding, these guys have no loyalty. If you believe price is secondary for your regulars and sales are falling, you need to do a better job of satisfying their needs. This may mean rethinking your inventory and services or your sales approach. Is your sales team matching customers with the right items? Finally, there are good customers you don’t want to “fire” but for whom your price points are now possibly out of reach. For these people, you need to find some value that can be surgically removed (a warranty, a free service, cash only payment) that lowers the cost for you and the price for them, Gregson says. Or conversely you could add value without adding cost and keep the higher price. “Can you offer easier credit terms, a guarantee or something else?” asks Gregson.

Our team is pretty dysfunctional. Nobody wants to go the extra mile, there’s constant petty feuding, problems just get swept under the carpet, and as a result, we’re not performing as a business. I don’t get it. We pay good salaries. It makes me despair.

There’s a saying that if money could fix a problem, it’s not a problem. We’d suggest the first thing is to go and buy yourself a copy of The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team, the classic management book by business consultant Patrick Lencioni. The issues you describe form much of his “dysfunctional pyramid,” which from top to bottom reads: 1) Inattention to results. 2) Avoidance of accountability. 3) Lack of commitment. 4) Fear of conflict. And underpinning it all, 5) Absence of trust. You may have thought he’s talking about your staff, but these are all management failings as well. At the risk of oversimplifying Lencioni’s work, the answers are thus: 1) Focus on outcomes. 2) Confront difficult issues. 3) Focus on clarity and closure. 4) Demand debate, and the big one, 5) Be human and treat your staff like humans. To a lot of bosses, a great culture — i.e., the opposite of a dysfunctional one — means employees who will keep working hard even when no one is watching. Trust is thus central, and it underpins not just the last of these principles but all of Lencioni’s pyramid. Be clear about your goals and standards, demand excellence but also give your employees the space they need to do their best work.

How often should I do in-store promotions?

James Porte, of the Porte Marketing Group, recommends one a quarter. “In some instances too many promotions can drain your sales staff and depending too heavily on promotions can take away some of their punch if they are overdone.” More important than the quantity of the promotions is how well the promotion is communicated, he says. “Combining social media, telemarketing, e-mail, TV/radio and direct mail is paramount to informing consumers about what you are promoting. You can create the best promotion in the world, but if only you and your staff know about it, what good is it?”

What does the law say about conducting a body search on a staff member I suspect of theft?

It says keep your hands to yourself. The laws regarding searches (body and workplace) all stem from the way the Constitution guarantees American citizens a basic right to privacy — and your worker has a very strong privacy interest in his or her own body, even when fully clothed. If you have a strong and legitimate concern that a staff member has stolen anything, call the police in to take it to the next level. For more information on searches, try The Essential Guide To Workplace Investigations by attorney Lisa Guerin.




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