With apologies to Alice Cooper, school’s never out for business

By Gordon Hecht, Contributor

While some people think of Memorial Day as the kickoff for summer activities like grilling, swimming, graduations and vacations, the scientific minded among us marked June 21 as the Official Start of Summer.

Yet for me and other connoisseurs of the great music of the 1970s, summer didn’t truly begin until Alice Cooper’s rock anthem “School’s Out” was played across AM stations in our Gremlins, Pintos and Oldsmobile Cutlasses.

You don’t hear the song too much anymore, which is probably alright in the business world as school really never ends for us. Your business is like a shark: it must keep moving or it dies. And unless you want a dead great white on your hands, you must continue to grow your business, which means growing with it.

Part of growth is learning, and your business education should never end. There is no set curriculum and you set your own hours and learn at your own pace. There are, however, daily tests. They arrive in the form of shoppers, employees, competitors and the economy. Sound tough? Then you better start studying!

Reading books is a great way to learn at your own pace and fill the gaps between shoppers arriving at your store. Just reading a few pages a day can open your mind to endless ways to improve your business. Here are some of my favorites, most available from your library or on Amazon for a few bucks:

“No Thanks I’m Just Looking,” by Harry Friedman: This is one of the few books devoted to high-ticket retail selling. Friedman takes you through the complete selling process and you’ll learn how to overcome those difficult customer objections and get more closes.

“Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers,” by Bridget Brennan: It’s not true in every case, but for the most part our industry is dominated by a bunch of 50- to 60-year-old men trying to sell products to 25- to 45-year-old women. Bridget Brennan explains the shopping and buying practices of the people who make about 80% of all buying decisions in North America (and probably even more in our industry).

“David and Goliath,” by Malcolm Gladwell: You may remember Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point,” published a few years ago. “David and Goliath” tells the story of how underdogs manage to win despite being undersized, under powered and understaffed. If you’re fighting the big-box guys in your market, this may be the perfect book for you.

And there’s more to read than books. If you are not signed up for industry publications like Sleep Savvy, Furniture World, Furniture Today, TWICE and Dealerscope, then you should subscribe today. Each has a free online edition. Slap that on your fancy iPhone instead of “Bejeweled Blitz” and reap the benefits.

You may say “OK, but I hate to read.” Part of me wants you to get out of your comfort zone, but if you don’t want to read, how about watching TV? If you really want to learn how to sell, flip on QVC!

If you are lucky enough to see Robin Daily presenting Serta bedding, you are in for a treat. But whether it’s beds, knife sets or the latest countertop appliance, the people on that channel know how to sell. Just like “Gilligan’s Island” and “Bewitched,” the script is always the same:

  1. Introduction that creates a need
  2. Demonstration
  3. Feature-feature-feature
  4. Benefit-benefit-benefit
  5. A close, tied to a deadline (look for the clock ticking off the time)
  6. Added value
  7. More features and benefits
  8. A payment plan.

Get your team to practice that presentation script to every shopper every time and you’ll be amazed at the results.

You can also learn by walking around. A great way to improve your retail experience is to see what other industries are doing to distinguish themselves from the crowded competition. You can go around the world, but chances are good that if you just go around the neighborhood you’ll learn something fresh and new. Check out:

Chick-fil-A: Stop by for a frosted coffee or peach milkshake, but the sweeter treat may be seeing the happy and smiling people working behind the counter. It may be the environment or the culture, but the chain offers a refreshing alternative to the typically snarly, grumpy and uninterested fast-food clerks.

IKEA: Sure, it’s cheap and it’s available. But the real attraction is the “please touch” atmosphere the company has created. Look at their shoppers sitting in upholstery vignettes, opening kitchen drawers and grabbing kitchen tools. If your display items have a hidden “Please do not touch” sign, you may want to change that.

Old Navy: Yup, it’s cheap too! Go there for the music. Whether the store is packed with shoppers or you are the only one in the building, it feels like there’s a party going on. BTW, check out the front cash/wrap counter. It’s hard to resist the little accessory items lining the queue for $1 to $5.

Moe’s Southwest Grill: You’ll know you’re in the right place as soon as you walk in — every employee shouts “Welcome to Moe’s!” every time the door swings open. And you gotta love the names of the food items (I’m partial to the “Art Vandelay”). They make each item to order, just the way you like it, and everything on the menu comes with free corn chips and chip basket refills. Moe’s is about four times the price of Taco Bell and ten times better.

Enjoy the summer. For lots of us, it’s the best time of the year. But remember: School is always in session if you want to build your business.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YourSource News. You can reach him at Gordon.Hecht@aol.com.

Upcoming Events