Bargain hunting

I am not a big fan of clothes shopping. Yet, from time to time, I am required to pick up some new clothes as the old ones wear out. As a shopper, I enjoy a bargain as much as the next guy. But when I was out last week, I found what was probably my best shopping bargain ever.

clothing discount price tag

How much is too much?

As you can read in the tag, the jacket that I bought was marked down from $220.00 to $22.00. That’s quite a savings!

My limited knowledge of the retail sector leads me to believe that department stores mark up the items that they sell by 100% or more. But if a store is reducing a product by 90%, surely the initial product must have been previously WAY overpriced. Can the store’s mark-up be so high that it could sell the jacket for $22.00 and still make a profit (or at least cover its costs)?

The Home Depot experience

Home Depot

Since becoming a home owner again earlier this year, I’ve made a few trips to my local Home Depot (#4137 is my local) to get various bits and pieces for around the house.

During this time, I have been repeatedly impressed with the quality of the sales floor staff at my local Home Depot. Always there when you need someone, proactive in their attempts to help (stand still looking at the shelves too long and you’re likely to be interrupted with a friendly ‘Can I help you find something?‘) and somehow always knowing where to find what you’re looking for. How do they do that?! Home Depot is a massive store with probably millions of different products for sale.

Happy and Helpful Sales Floor Staff

In thinking about the average Home Depot sales floor staff, I noticed that they are mostly older men, of a retirement or post-retirement age. Sure, there are some women and even a few younger guys as well. Yet, what really sets the staff apart for me is that they are all so darned enthusiastic about tools, DIY and getting the home repair done properly. From the amazing woman who sold me my first power drill a few months ago (I know, what does that say about me that I am only now owning my first power drill?) to the fellows who helped me pick the right filters for my furnace, I received detailed advice, unharried guidance and very patient and knowledgable sales help.

It is important to note that through its sales floor teams, Home Depot is offering more than just product knowledge and DIY skills. On every trip that I have made to Home Depot (and there have been about 6 to 8) since moving back to the US (in the summer of 2009), I have always been made to feel welcome by the floor sales staff. Pleasantly greeted when I walk in and directed to where I need to go to find what I’m looking for. Those Home Depot employees in the orange aprons are building brand loyalty. (I’ve not once been tempted to go to Lowe’s, so helpful are those Home Depot people.)

The Achilles Heel

While it’s clear to me that Home Depot have the formula down on the sort of people to hire for their sales floor, they more often than not miss the boat when it comes to the check-out staff. Why are the people working the cash registers always so darned grumpy? Is it jealously of the happy and helpful sales floor staff? Does Home Depot reduce its hiring standards for cashier staff?

Whatever the reason for the reduction in customer service, it’s unfortunate. As a result of a marked decline in the sense of welcome and customer appreciation, I almost always leave Home Depot with a reduced sense of experience enjoyment. Why can’t all the Home Depot employees be like the happy men and women of the sales floor?

I sure wish Home Depot could sort that out, as it seems to me to be its Achilles Heel. Why spend so much time and effort treating the customer as king only to disappoint at the last moment?

Reviewed: Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive

Swim with the Sharks without being Eaten AliveOn my recent trip to Bermuda, I used the blissfully quiet beaches to read through Harvey MacKay’s Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive. Well-written in a casual, self-effacing manner, the book highlighted a number of tips and practices – developed and borrowed by the author – for improving sales in the marketplace.

Overview

As I flipped from page to page, I knew I had a gem on my hands. The book is full of valuable insights and reminders about how to get ahead in business. What’s really so helpful about the book is not that it reinvents (or even claims to reinvent) the ‘business wheel’. Rather, many of Harvey’s ideas are common-sense and practical. Still, in the day-to-day practice of business, it’s easy to get focussed on the minutiae of meetings, deadlines and deliverables. A read through Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive is a great way to pull back from those finer details to think more strategically and tactically.

Key Points in the Book

Perhaps the greatest contribution the book offers is the Mackay 66 (PDF). Harvey MacKay takes customer knowledge and customer care to a new level. His detailed, methodical approach to client relations brings almost a science feel to what is typically more of a social skills game. By learning and storing a great many details about our clients and their staff, we can give ourselves the tools we need, both as individual professionals and as representatives of our own companies, to increase sales.

Another key aspect of Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive is the author’s emphasis on tying customers to the company – and not the salesperson. As the director of a small company, I am faced with this hurdle every day. How do I build a customer base that is loyal to LBDesign? As my own company grows, I’ll certainly be returning to this book to remind myself of Harvey’s tactics.

Looking for a Bit More

There is one aspect of the book that left me wanting more, though it’s no fault of the author. Harvey is a salesman with a manufactured product. His tips and advice focus on building sales of those products, which in Harvey’s case are envelopes. As a communications designer, I offer services – not products. After finishing Harvey’s book, I wondered: where can I get a similar book tailored to the services sector?

Related links: Harvey MacKay’s podcasts | Buy ‘Swim with the Sharks’ from Amazon.com

Clearing up cultural confusion: Cider

The Setting

Instant spiced apple ciderRecently I was conducting a job interview over Skype, using video.  I was speaking with a prospective employee, who was perched in front of a computer at lbdesign’s London office. My colleague was with this prospective employee.  As may be evident to regular visitors to this blog, I am currently based in Philadelphia.

The Incident

During the initial “Hello” and “How are you?” exchanges, I mentioned that I had just settled into my office chair with a lovely mug of cider. My comment was greeted with an unexpected silence … and the concern on the face of the prospective employee, and the look of embarrassment in my colleague’s expression made it very clear that I had said something wrong. Oops! But what?

Within a few moments we got to the issue: ‘cider’ in the UK is only used in reference to beer cider, like Scrumpy Jack, Magners and the like. So, in the eyes of my UK colleagues, I had just started to conduct an interview while drinking a can of beer (at 10.30 am my local time no less!)

The Resolution

I then spent the next several minutes explaining that ‘cider’ in America can also mean apple juice – with no alcohol.  Furthermore, spiced hot cider is a traditional American cold weather drink, like hot chocolate.

In Review

On a serious note, this funny little incident speaks to the larger issues that come with doing business across cultures. Although I spent seven years living and working in England, this particular issue around cider never previously surfaced because the British don’t drink warmed apple juice.

Now that I am back in the US, I have reverted to this beverage to fight the chill on cold autumn days. And then, by failing to fully appreciate the cultural (or epicurean) differences between me and my audience, I landed myself in an uncomfortable situation.

What other cultural pitfalls might I land myself in?

A minor milestone

When I started this little blog back on 17 March 2007, I did so mostly to help people find me online.  And whilst I do post on a regular basis  (not on set schedule per se, but a few times a month), I never really bothered about visitor levels and the like. My primary objective was top Google search listing results and once that had been secured, I didn’t worry too much about metrics.  Of course, I glanced at the numbers from time to but, but I never paid too much attention to them.

That said, I just checked my numbers this morning (out of a sudden rush of curiosity, as I do pay attention to web traffic levels on some of my other sites.) I was surprised to learn that, according the WordPress.com Stats plugin, there were over 1,000 views on this website for the past two months. Huh! Who’d a thunk it?!?

Thanks to all you visitors, whoever and wherever you are.  I appreciate you stopping by.