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Tip Sheet: July-August 2014

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The vision was primarily that eyewear is jewelry for eyes or the face.

Words to Remember

In describing the thought process behind the design of her store, Sonoma Eyeworks, in May’s “America’s Finest” feature in INVISION, owner Cindy Harmon provided a quote that’s important enough to repeat in this issue, if not print on the first page of your employee manual, and possibly even tattoo onto your arm. Says Harmon: “The vision was primarily that eyewear is jewelry for eyes or the face.” That’s a fantastic way to think about what you are selling — one that makes every sale both more meaningful and more fun.

Too Good to be True?

Test new advertising mediums with an offer that’s “too good to be true.” Let’s say you plan to spend $5,000 with a radio station. Try spending the first $1,000 this way: Create an ad offering a $150 pair of designer sunglasses for only $10 for the first 10 people who come in with the secret code-word. Your cost is $500 for the advertisement, and $500 to subsidize your product cost. If 10 people don’t respond to your ad, you’ve likely saved yourself $4,000 on a medium that probably wouldn’t have worked for you. Of course, if they’re lined up 20-deep outside your store, you will certainly be advertising on that station again soon (though probably not with such a jaw-dropping offer).

Cool Cross-Marketing

It’s summer vacation season, and until the back-to-school rush starts, it may be a slow time for your business. Take a cue from Dr. Mary Boname of Montgomery Eye Care in Skillman, NJ. She donates water — one inexpensive case of 24 bottles at a time — to the nearby gym where she works out. Each bottle bears a sticker with her practice name, so she gets her business in front of new people and keeps them hydrated, too.

Try a Small Courtesy

Give your satisfied customers a handy tool to spread the word about your business. Put a dozen small courtesy cards into the case along with every pair of glasses you sell. Cards can read something like: “You love my glasses, don’t you? Get your own perfect pair at Acme Eyecare.” Add URL, address, phone and a special offer as necessary.

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Put on Your Party Dress

Though dress codes are a powerful business-branding tool, they are not for everyone. Nevertheless, even if you don’t have a store/practice dress code on regular business days, it’s a smart move to have one for special store events like trunk shows. Having a uniform look makes it easier for customers to identify your team members in the crowd. What kind of look? You can’t go wrong with basic black.

Speak, Wait, Listen

Just about everybody believes they need to improve their speaking skills. Yet just about nobody wants to do the one thing that can help them improve fastest: to listen to recordings of their voices. Christy Fletcher, a spokesperson for QVC, advises you use this trick: Don’t play the recording back immediately. “You must allow time to separate yourself from whatever you have recorded, so you can be more objective,” she says in a column for eHow. “Record something. Wait a day. Then listen to your voice.”

Egg on Your Face

Have you ever screwed up, big-time? As a business owner, it’s time to step up and take responsibility. In his book 1,001 Ways to Energize Employees, Bob Nelson describes the actions of one tech company founder after a disastrous earning cycle. During one of his company’s annual conferences, he walked up on stage and discussed in great detail a mistake he had made. He then proceeded to smash three fresh eggs on his forehead.

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Tip Sheet

What’s the Title of Your Autobiography? And More Tips for April

Plus who doesn’t like a party? Especially when the ‘gifts’ are positive reviews for you business.

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planning Be an Idea Machine

Write down 10 ideas a day. “Do it for six straight months and see what happens. It actually turns into a super power,” says serial entrepreneur and author James Altucher. To collect his ideas, Altucher buys 1,000 waiter’s pads at a time from restaurant supplies websites (10 cents a pad). “They’re great for meetings because I have to keep concise lists, and they’re always good conversation starters.”

marketingThrow a Party

What month was your company born? Throw a birthday party and ask your customers to bring “gifts” of testimonials that you can use in your marketing. Including such third-party recommendations on your website and in your ads is one of the best ways around to convince others that your store is, indeed, the best place to shop, says Entrepreneur magazine’s Idea Site For Business.

managementThe Power of Perspective

When somebody gets down over a minor setback, ask them something in the vein of, “So that’s what you’re going to title your autobiography? I Had a Slice of Pizza and Spent the Rest of My Life as a Fat Blob?” And while sarcasm can motivate, best if you follow up with, “Hell no, you get back on track the next day as if nothing happened.” Our thanks to the Reddit diet community.

operationsDon’t Make It Weirder

Sign seen on the door of a store in Vulcan, Alberta: “No soliciting. Seriously, don’t make it weirder.”  Hat tip to Sarini Fine Jewellery for telling it in a tone that would warm the heart of Dr. Spock.

managementWhat Can I Do for You?

Once a month, make it a practice to individually ask each of your employees “What one thing can I do better for you?” After listening to and acknowledging the employee’s ideas, then tell them the one thing that they can do better for you that month. This helps build better communication, and keep both of you focused on continuous improvement, says Bob Nelson in 1001 Ways to Energize Employees.

salesNumbers Game

If quickly working out percentages, such as a 4% discount on a $75 item, trips you up, keep this hack in mind: It’s often easier to flip the sum, i.e. 75% of 4 (for which the answer is — and even we got this — 3!) 18% of 50, 14% of $300 (50% of $18, 300% of $14) … it’s a doddle, right?

communityShare the Ride

April brings us Earth Day (April 22), and if you’d like to do your bit to encourage a more sustainable way of living, take your cue from McCulley Optix Gallery in Fargo, ND, which gives credits to people who show a receipt for ride-share expenses to get to their office.

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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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