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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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When Big Ideas Don't Work, It's OK To Move On!

Learn from the example of a Las Vegas mogul.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (May 2, 2011)

One of our best ideas ever was to make an effort to actually see the places we have the opportunity to visit. We’re grateful that we took a day to be tourists in New Orleans just a month before Hurricane Katrina hit. We'd been to that wonderful city a hundred times, but we’d never before taken a day to see the sights. We kicked ourselves for having been there so often but missed so much.  Never again we said.

Now, you would think that, given the number of times we visit Las Vegas each year, we'd have seen it all. Not so, but since our pact, we've seen just about every show on the Strip. We've left each one, shaking our heads, wondering what took us so long.

One of our favorites was AVENUE Q, the Tony award winning Broadway musical, at Wynn Las Vegas. If you haven't seen it, AVENUE Q is kind of Sesame Street meets South Park. It's unique because the puppets tell the story, but the audience gets to see the puppeteers too. Sometimes we didn't know where to look because "both" performers were so good. It was pure fun, but definitely not for kids. It apparently wasn't for Las Vegas either because it didn't even last a full year.

Steve Wynn bought the exclusive North American rights to AVENUE Q and built it a beautiful theater, but it never connected with Las Vegas visitors. Perhaps it didn't have the word-of-mouth excitement that it enjoyed on Broadway. Maybe it wasn't flashy enough, or didn't have a song everyone can hum whether they've seen the show or not. Even though it's a fun show that should have been a hit, the thing that impressed us most was Steve Wynn's ability to move on.

Wynn is well known in Las Vegas for his attention to detail. When the Venetian Resort opened a model hotel room on the Strip for potential guests to preview, Wynn is said to have re-designed an entire tower at the Bellagio -- and it wasn't even open for business yet. Wynn Las Vegas had been open just five years when he decided to remodel all 2,700 guest rooms. Expensive changes, yes, but Wynn knows change is a critical factor in his resorts' success.

Steve Wynn works ON his resorts, not IN them. His focus is not on how great it is, but rather what he could be doing better. Funny thing, Steve Wynn runs a multi-billion dollar resort, yet he's a lot like you: he constantly evaluates his business, making changes until he gets it right. He's on top of what his competition is up to, and when it makes sense, he outdoes them.

Sure it would be a lot easier to leave his resorts the way they are and adopt a "build it and they will come" attitude, but that attitude just doesn't cut it with today’s savvy and demanding consumers.

So, here's the big question: how good are you at tweaking your store? Do you constantly review what's going on? Are you on the lookout for new ideas, or are you content to make subtle changes and hope shoppers will notice? They won’t. Here are some things you need to make a part of your operational activities:

1. Visit your competition every six weeks. More often if your competition is known for making changes. Cruise their parking lots and stop in their stores. Watch how customers shop, and what they say to store associates and other shoppers. Visit their websites. Google their names and read their social media posts. And sign-up for every single thing they offer to customers. Have the snail mail delivered to a post office box; get a free e-mail account so you can receive their weekly blasts. This under-the-radar, stealthy move will give you a heads up on their plans before their ads hit the street. And don’t worry about what competitors will think about you visiting their stores -- if they’re smart, they’ve already been in yours.

2. Look at your store through your customers' eyes. Because you come to work each day with a list of things-to-do that’s as long as your forearm, it's easy to get Retail Tunnel Vision. When you have tunnel vision, you walk through the store with blinders on; it’s time to take them off!

After a day out of the store, grab a pen and paper, and stand just inside your front door. Write down everything that would bug you if you were a customer. Be very objective. Nitpick. Then ask a customer -- yes, a customer! -- to do the same exercise. You will likely fill a page or two, but your customer will fill three or four. Prioritize the things on the list and get busy fixing what needs fixing. Trust us, customers will notice!

3. View your merchandise with an objective eye. You may love a certain line or department, but the product just isn’t selling. No matter how much you love it, if it doesn’t sell, it's got to go. You have to make room for product that can pull its weight.

If your sales floor has looked pretty much the same for more than 30 days, you have work to do. Move product around, set new speed bump displays, refresh your gondolas, and add some demos and make-it/take-its. And build foot traffic with fun and creative in-store events. If that product still doesn't move, then hold an End of Season Clearance Sale and price those goods to sell -- you’ll be able to reinvest those dollars on merchandise that does.

Afterwards, do this exercise:

1. Draw three columns on a sheet of paper: use the left column to list marketing ideas you've seen competitors (and other non-competing businesses) use that could be tweaked to work in your store, too. In the center column list ways you can spin each idea to make it different, unique, and memorable.

2.  Stick this piece of paper in a handy spot, but don't look at it again until the next day. You have to give your ideas time to simmer.

3. The next day, review the ideas listed in the center column, then use the space in the right column to expand your original ideas. Make them bigger! Make them better! Make them so unique to your store that they'll be tough for competitors to copy.

4. Have your team to do the same exercise. Tell them that it's okay to go a little crazy with their ideas, because no idea is a bad idea. We're certain they’ll surprise you with things you've never thought of before.

Your store is a constantly changing and evolving entity that needs your care and attention to thrive. Starting now, vow to work ON your store, not just IN it. Take a risk! Steve Wynn could have opened with a sure-bet show, but a sure-bet show would not have been exclusive to his resort. Sure, it's safer to buy commodity brands and top selling lines; you need them, but you also need to be unique. If you're not uniquely different, then you become just another store selling "stuff."

Starting now, choose to be different! Try a new direction. And if it doesn't work, get rid if it and try something else. Creative change, after all, is the lifeblood of your store.


Rich and Georganne will conduct two seminars at the CHA Summer Conference & Trade Show July 19-21 (with education starting July 18) in Rosemont, IL.

1. "Advanced Social Media Strategies for Retailers" (S110). It's Tues., July 19, 2:00 to 3:00 pm. Topics include Tips To Improve Your Facebook Business Page ... How To Create Tweets That Get Re-Tweeted ... Smart Ways To Promote Your Business on Facebook and Twitter ... What -- and What Not -- To Say to Encourage Customer Conversation ... How Much Time You Should Invest Each Day in Social Media ... The Latest Tools Available To Help You Evaluate Your On-line Effectiveness ... How To Measure Your Marketing Success in Terms of Interaction and Sales ... Social Media Sites You May Be Missing

2. "Time for a Change: Jump-Start Sales with Cross Over Products -- for Paper and Scrapbook Retailers" (S117). It's Wed, July 20, Noon to 1 pm. Topics to be covered include Things to Think About When Selecting Your New Merchandise Mix ... How To Mine the CHA Show Floor for New Ideas ... How and Where To Display Your New Lines on Your Sales Floor ... How To Cross-Merchandise Your New Additions with Your Current Categories ... Inventory Management Must-dos ... How To Build a Buzz About Town

Online registration begins May 5 at www.chashow.org.

(Note: Meetings & Conventions magazine took a survey of meeting planners asking them to name their favorite speakers/keynote presenters – and Kizer & Bender make the list, along with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen R. Covey, Mike Ditka, Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Leno, Colin Powell, and others. To read previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

KIZER & BENDER Speaking! 

Keynotes | Seminars | Consulting | Store Design

103 North 11th Ave., Ste. 206, St. Charles, Illinois 60174
Phone: 630-513-8020 | 24/7 Mobile: 708-347-2682 Fax: 630-513-8098
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