Do You Engineer to Amaze?

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Are you engineered to Amaze?

Last year we moved to a new city. This year we refinanced our home. For any of you fortunate souls who have not gone through the mortgage process, let me tell you a few things about it.

  1. You have to share more details about your life with people you will never meet than when you get married.
  2. The number of forms you have to fill out prior to getting approved puts the word “Byzantine” to shame.
  3. The number of pages you sign at closing that say the same thing in multiple ways in order to make everything “clearer” is mind numbing.
  4. If you don’t plan on bringing a lawyer to closing you will likely have to admit that a large percentage of the papers you sign you will not fully understand.
  5. Apart from getting teeth pulled without painkillers, the mortgage process is typically one of the last things you will ever want to do.

When we refinanced our home I got estimates from different companies and ended up choosing Quicken Loans. You may have heard their commercials. They are “Engineered to amaze.” I didn’t really think much about their slogan since it seemed like typical marketing silliness.

Getting the initial quote was easy. I filled out all the information online in about half an hour. From that point on I actually was amazed.

Everything, apart from a couple of phone calls, is done online. Most of the paperwork is done with electronic signatures and uploaded scans of documents so you don’t have to mail anything. Every time I had a question, I filled out the form online and had a call back in about two hours.

When we finally got our closing packet I was expecting the standard inch-thick stack of legal paper that we’ve always seen before. Instead, I saw this:

Quicken Loan Package

Quicken Loan Package

Quicken closing package

Quicken closing package

Seriously? The box had a secret agent hat, font and ominous music on it! Regardless of the boring contents that were to follow, the box was at least amusing.

Next, I pulled out the closing documents. Somehow, Quicken Loans had managed to make the most boring package of documents in the world look important and interesting.

Mortage closing document cover

Mortgage closing document cover

 

Inside cover of closing document package

Inside cover of closing document package

Yes, they actually made this stack of documents almost exciting. They color-coded each section and explained what they were for. They kept up the Mission Impossible / secret agent theme and even called me a “special agent”.

The closing itself went exceptionally smoothly. The closer was a pro who knew how to organize everything and passed documents around our dining room table like a card shark. I think that were done with everything in less than twenty minutes.

The finishing touch was the inside of the closing box which congratulated us on a “Mission accomplished”, thanked us for our business and asked us to share our experience and refer some friends.

Refer your friends!

Refer your friends!

Look at this, we’re part of a club! It always feels good to be part of a group of successful people, even if it’s just a loan closing.

Share your experience.

Share your experience.

 

A pat on the back.

A pat on the back.

 

And a thank you for the business.

And a thank you for the business.

So what can a Catholic store owner learn from a mortgage loan company? Quite a bit.

  1. Make your shopping experience easy and memorable from beginning to end. Quicken Loans starts off with an easy-to-fill-out application and then provides an online tool that you use for most of the process so you aren’t mailing things or having to go to someone’s office.What do you do to make the shopping process in your store easier and enjoyable? Do you keep the store clean and organized? Do you help people find your store with advertising?
  2. Let your customers know that they are doing something smart and good by shopping with you. Shouldn’t everyone know that buying Catholic stuff to strengthen their faith is a good thing? Some of your customers may just be buying a gift for a First Communion and not even be thinking about the spiritual value of what they are doing. Did you notice how many times in that loan package we got a pat on the back? We accepted the mission! We accomplished the mission!Be sure to let your customers know, either through what you say, signs in your store or handouts you give your customers that they are helping people get to Heaven!
  3. Make your customers part of a club. Quicken Loans lets you know that other people have “completed the mission” and even gives you names, locations and a note from another “agent”.Do you have some sort of rewards program or a way of identifying your top customers for special offers?
  4. Never forget to say thank you. Quicken Loans thanked us at least three times for our business: once in the box, once with an email and once in a phone call from our loan agent.Your customers could be shopping on Amazon. Be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their business. Thank them at checkout. Send them handwritten notes.
  5. Invite your customers to come back. Even though refinancing isn’t something you do regularly, Quicken Loans gave us a coupon for our next loan.How do you get your customers to come back? Do you just assume that they’ll come back because your the only Catholic store in town? Do you ever write to your customers and invite them to stop by?
  6. Invite your customers to bring their friends. Apart from the coupon Quicken Loans gave us, they also asked us to share our experience on Facebook and Twitter and gave us coupons to share with friends.Do you have any plan to get new customers in your store? Do you ever offer your current customers coupons to give to their friends?

Okay, what do you do to amaze?

Are you participating in Catholic Store Month?

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Catholic Store Month

Several years ago I tried to get vendors to offer specials during the summer to Catholic stores so they could bring in more customers during the slow times by offering those specials to their customers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it fly at the time.

This year, thanks to the help of Ignatius Press and Catholic Word, Catholic Store Month is a reality!

Nearly twenty vendors, including Ignatius Press, TAN, Catholic Word, Pauline, Word on Fire and more are offering great specials during June to you so that you can make special offers to your customers in July.

You can check out the specials and sign up for updates at the Catholic Store Month website. Over 200 stores have already signed up!

Does Your Point of Sale Software Have These Three Essential Features?

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Kindle Unlimited

Current Catholic Retail News

Amazon has announced a program called Kindle Unlimited that lets Kindle users have access to 700,000 books and audio books for only $9.99 a month. While the list does have some popular titles, the program doesn’t seem to be a way to read all of the NYT bestsellers right out of the gate. I’m guessing that they will add a premium version of the program later for access to “prime” content.

When the Kindle first came out, I saw it as a device similar to a printer or a razor. The device wasn’t going to be where the money was made, the money was going to come from the consumables. The device was just how the manufacturer got you locked in to their consumables.

The fact that the Kindle is so inexpensive combined with this latest program, pretty much proves my initial thoughts. Oh, and Jeff Beezos admitted the same back in 2012.

As Catholic stores, we are going to have to figure out how to keep our customers while admitting the reality that physical books are going to become a smaller part of our businesses. I think we are definitely going to have to focus on events and education and change the way we think of our stores.

Christian Retailing Magazine had an article in its August issue highlighting a workshop about how to attract Hispanic customers to stores. They talked about promoting Spanish products and advertising in Hispanic media. After more than ten years running a retail store, I don’t have a solution for getting Hispanic people to shop at a store.

Both at Aquinas and More and my previous Catholic retail job, we tried to attract more Spanish-speakers by adding large amounts of Spanish products with little success. I added many items on the recommendation of the pastor of the Spanish parish in Colorado Springs and we almost never sold anything locally. We couldn’t even get permission to do a book fair at that parish.

Have you had success with Hispanic Catholics in your area? What worked for you?

Point of Sale System Essentials

You don't want a cash register

You don’t want a cash register

Okay, let’s get to the main topic of the show – choosing point of sale software. If you are in the market for a new point of sale system, there are three primary tasks that it really must accomplish. I say must because all of them are critical to running a healthy Catholic store.

First, your system must be able to process sales. This one is obvious and really, there isn’t a system that doesn’t do sales. Where your point of sale system needs to differentiate itself from a cash register, is that it needs to be able to keep an order history and integrate in some fashion with some sort of accounting software to make that part of your business easier to manage.

Second, your system needs to manage your inventory. You may think that you can keep track of everything that sells in your head but you are lying to yourself. You need a system that can tell you what sells best, when and in what categories so you can properly stock your store. On the opposite side, you need to be able to find out what isn’t selling so that you can clear it out for more popular merchandise or so that you can add more inventory to specific seasonal or popular categories.

Finally, your point of sale software needs to be able to keep track of your customers. Your customers are the life of your store. If you don’t know them and what they need and want, you aren’t going to have a successful business. Some of the things your system should be able to tell you:

  • Who are my best customers? You should be able to tell your system what best means to you.
  • Who hasn’t been in the store in X number of days, weeks, months, etc.?
  • Who are your best shoppers for ____?
  • Who responded to your last post card mailing?
  • What customers only buy when you have a sale?

Once you have these main requirements covered, you’ll want to see what other benefits the system offers. Here are some features that will definitely help your store even if they aren’t absolutely essential.

  • Website integration
  • Coupons
  • Customer loyalty program
  • Up sell and cross sell
  • Quotes (that can be turned into orders later)
  • Documents related to product (When you sell a rosary, can your system print out a how-to guide?)
  • Integration with Spring Arbor or other distribution websites
  • Reporting
    • Bestsellers
    • Best customers
    • Lost customers
    • Slow product
    • Low profit product
  • Sales

What other features do you consider a necessary part of your point of sale software?

Marketing Tips to Cure Your Summertime Blues: HTRACS Ep 4

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Marketing tips for your summertime blues

We all know that the time between Confirmation and the fall upswing is a slow time as Catholic store owners. Here are some summer marketing tips to help you make the best use of this slow time instead of spending it looking at the calendar waiting for fall.

First off, Christian Retailing Magazine has some tips for doing a summer cleaning for your store. While this isn’t what you may think of as marketing, freshening your store really is because it gives customers new things to look at and gives you the opportunity to highlight portions of your merchandise.

Remake Your Store

They have five suggestions for your cleaning.

  1. First, empty your store. This may seem like a lot of work but the opportunity to “clean your slate” and redo the layout is a wonderful opportunity.
  2. Second, as you start to rearrange the store, think about creating focused retail locations based on specific themes or topics. Also remember that people naturally enter a store and turn to the right so position your displays to catch the eye of those who are just coming in but give them some breathing room at the front door so they don’t feel like your products are jumping out at them.As an example, for the Feast of St. Dominic you could put out a display featuring medals and statues of him along with rosaries and rosary cds and pamphlets. For a more permanent display, you could do an apologetics section.
  3. Third, reuse the displays you have as well as displays that others are getting rid of. Craigs list and closing businesses are a great source for inexpensive fixtures. I don’t recommend buying new from a fixture store unless there is no other option for what you want to display. If you live in a large city there is probably a local used fixture store there. Some of them also carry slat-wall sections that are brand new but far cheaper than ordering in.Apart from the actual display pieces, think about thrift stores for display accents. You could get used sporting equipment to go with a St. Christopher sports medal display or gardening supplies to put with your outdoor statues.
  4. Fourth, bring in some color. This is something that I am lousy at. I can see something and say it looks great but I can’t even start doing color displays from scratch. What I recommend is hunting on Pinterest for ideas.
  5. Fifth, tell your story. You (hopefully) have a unique reason for running your store and your customers should be more excited about shopping with you because they know it. Maybe you could hang a chalk board over your register that tells about your store. Maybe you could have displays around the store that focus on your specialty.You could also create bookmarks with information about your store and a coupon on it to bring people back.

“Real” Marketing Tips

Apart from sprucing up your physical store, here are some more summer marketing tips for your “real” marketing.

First, figure out what your marketing is doing for you. I’ve created an ROI advertising spreadsheet you can download to help you with the cost but here are the steps you can use on your own:

  1. Make a list of all your advertising sources – even ones that are free.
  2. Write down what it costs you each month to advertise for each of those.
  3. Write down your total income from each source.
  4. Calculate the cost of product for each source.
  5. Do this math: (Total income – cost of product)/cost to advertise x 100.

If your total is over 100 you are making money.

If your total is under 100 you are losing money.

If your total is exactly 100 you are breaking even.

If you weren’t able to put any numbers for total income and cost of goods for any of the sources that cost you money, stop them immediately until you can figure out how to track them. Any advertising that you can’t track is a waste because you will never know if you can improve it.

Next, take a look at each of your ads. If you haven’t changed them for a while, see if there are things you can do to improve the message and the “hook” to get your customers’ attention. Be sure that every ad can be tracked through a coupon code or some other special so customers will tell you why they are shopping with you. Make sure that you are keeping track.

Finally, start thinking about advertising venues that you haven’t tried. Here are a few ideas:

  • The religion section of your city paper
  • Homeschooling newsletters
  • Google local ads
  • Your diocesan newspaper

I hope these marketing tips will help you make the most of your summer.

Download the ROI Advertising Worksheet

If you haven’t signed up for my ten tips to improving your Catholic store newsletter, now is a great time!

 

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five tips for being a center for evangelization: HTRACS Ep 3

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Baptism of Christ

This week the Catholic Marketing Network trade show was held in Chicago. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend so I had to rely on the Internet for my news about the event. This turned out to be an educational experience because there was almost nothing posted on-line about the show.

Gary Zimak and Lisa Hendey were the exception here. They both posted a lot of photos from the show but I still couldn’t get any news from those posts.

I checked out the CMN Facebook and Twitter feeds and both were silent. I realize that the CMN has a very small staff  so social media updates are not as high on the list as other critical projects but I think there should have been some mention of their event of the year. Some of the publishers had some pictures on Facebook and Ave Maria Press even posted a video. The problem with all of these efforts is that there wasn’t any coordination so for the bookstore owner that couldn’t attend or even the Catholic general public, there wasn’t any way to grasp what actually was happening at the conference or what it was.

I think I’m going to see if there is some way to coordinate news from the conference next year.

This lack of publicity about the CMN show leads into my main point today – evangelization. You as a store owner need to think about your store as a center for evangelization. Pretend for a moment that your store is called “The ____ center for evangelization” instead of “The _____ Shop”. Would that change how you view your mission? Would it change the activities you engage in and promote?

Here are five tips to making your store more evangelization focused.

  1. Give something away – holy cards, pamphlets, fliers. Make sure that your customers always walk out of the store with something to educate them about the Faith.
  2. Keep your displays liturgically seasonal. Your customers may not really be aware of the liturgical seasons. Be sure to have things displayed in the front of your store to promote upcoming Catholic liturgical events.
  3. Offer a class – Liturgy of the Hours, Great Adventure, etc. Apart from the cost of the DVD and finding the place and time, this is a very inexpensive way to spread the Faith and you may get extra shopping from people buying workbooks and browsing your store.
  4. Sponsor a speaker at a parish. This doesn’t have to be very expensive and you can usually get a table at the parish to display your products during the event.
  5. Hold a book fair at a parish. This probably takes the most work but it gets your Faith tools in front of people who may never otherwise visit your store.

 

Are you doing things to evangelize and not just sell Catholic stuff? I’d love to hear about it. Also, if you went to the CMN, what did you think? What interesting things did you come away with?

How to Make the most of attending a Trade show: HTRACS Ep 2

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Waterfall Press

Welcome to the How to Run a Catholic Store Podcast. Here’s what I talk about in the show this week:

Amazon is getting into the Christian publishing market with a new imprint – Waterfall Press. This may not seem like a big deal to Catholic stores but as has happened before with books and music, it is bound to affect Catholic retailers eventually. So what can you do to be proactive about this?

1) Become an expert in Catholic product, don’t just sell it. If people know they can trust you for advice about Catholic media they will shop with you more than if you don’t know what you are selling.

2) Make your store a place to learn about the Faith. Have classes and book discussions. If people are in your store they are likely to shop with you.

Catholic Marketing Network Trade show

Catholic Marketing Network Trade show starts in less than two weeks

The Catholic Marketing Network Trade show is just ten days away so here are some tips for making the most of the show.

  • Plan ahead
    • Decide what talks you are going to
    • Choose what vendors you have to see and why
    • Schedule meetings before the trade show
    • Try to spend a day sight-seeing
    • Check all the vendor deals and see if you can shift your ordering to take advantage of specials
  • Do new things
    • Don’t eat with people you know
    • Buy an author or vendor lunch
  • Get religious
    • Attend Mass and adoration
    • Go to confession

Book recommendation for the week:

The War of Art

The War of Art is a quick read. I finished it in a day but it does a good job of identifying the problem we have of actually creating things. It doesn’t matter if it’s a book, a painting, a business or just a blog post. We have a built in resistance that we need to overcome to move our lives forward.

Links from the show:

Do you have tips that I missed to make attending a trade show more worthwhile? Please leave comments!

Interview with Alan Napleton – HTRCS Podcast Ep 1

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Catholic Marketing Network Trade show

 

For our inaugural episode of the How to Run a Catholic Store podcast I interviewed Alan Napleton, President of the Catholic Marketing Network about industry trends and the upcoming trade show.

The Changing World of Catholic Retail

Books are no longer the main-stay for Catholic retailers. Over the past few years there has been a big drop in the shelf-share given to books and it has been replaced with gift items. Even Barnes and Noble does this. Have you noticed how much of their stores are dedicated to toys now? With Amazon being a click away on the phone, Catholic retailers need to figure out ways to set themselves apart from being just a store. This leads me to:

Your Store as a Center of Evangelization

You need to find ways to make your store a destination for Catholic education, not just buying. Run classes, have special events, open a coffee shop; but do something beyond just selling stuff. I’ll talk about this more in depth in another episode.

The World of Christian Propaganda

God and the Gay ChristianEver since the Mormon and Catholic Churches were vilified for their roles in the California Marriage Amendment, homosexual activists have been looking for ways to neutralize Christian resistance to their agenda. Their anti-Mormon campaign seems to have been pretty successful as the Boy Scouts changed their membership policies without any objection from the Mormon Church.

They have also been trying to get books published by Christian publishers using the Bible to defend homosexual sin as moral. The first publisher to fall for this was Convergent. This imprint is owned by Random House and is overseen by Stephen Cobb who also overseas the WaterBrook Multnomah imprints. He says that each imprint is separate and the staffs don’t have to work on the same projects. See what they did there? They created a separate Christian imprint to tear down Christianity while making money off Evangelicals through the WaterBrook Multnomah imprint.

The more unfortunate thing is that Mr. Cobb also oversees the Image Catholic imprint. This imprint was resurrected by Random House several years ago and has been putting out some fine titles. I hope that this imprint doesn’t join Convergent as a tool for anti-Catholic propaganda.

Links from the show:

Cold Calling Done Right

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Christian Brothers Moving Packet

We recently moved to a new city which of course entailed moving all of our stuff. My company paid a moving company to move us so we didn’t have to go looking for a mover. The surprising thing was that a mover came looking for us!

Christian Brothers Moving and Storage sent me the following package a couple of months before we moved:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

  • Handwritten envelope
  • Letter about the company’s services and “free boxes” in bold letters.
  • A business card
  • A cute greeting card that hits the right pain point for moving – stress

Had I not already been committed to another company and wasn’t planning on doing the move myself, I would have at the least given them a call for a quote. Why? Because they took the initiative to reach out with an attractive presentation.

I assume that Christian Brothers keeps tabs on the MLS to see what homes are going on the market and then sends moving letters like the one we received to all of these homes. It’s possible that they have some sort of criteria for choosing who to send the letters to but either way they have figured out how to reach their target audience at a very minimal cost.

How do you take advantage of seasons or events to find new customers for your store?

Trashing Opportunity

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Is this how you treat opportunity?

A week ago we moved to a new home in a new town. In the process of setting up our electric, gas, water, sewer and other services, we didn’t get trash service set up before we moved in. The day that the moving truck showed up I was outside directing movers all day. During that day I saw trash trucks from all three companies go by our house. Two of these companies are locally owned and the third is national.

As each one passed I thought about the opportunity they were all missing by stopping to say hello and offer some move-in special to me, a potential new customer. I ended up calling all of the companies and comparing rates and services and settled on one of the local guys. When I was on the phone with each of their customer service reps I asked if they had a move in special for new customers, especially because of the large amount of packing material and other trash that tends to result from a move. Not one of them did but they all made it very clear that I would be charged per bag of trash that was over the edge of my cart. Talk about making you feel warm and fuzzy about a business.

Now just imagine if one of these companies followed the principles found in books like Raving Fans or The Thank you Economy and created a slightly different new customer experience:

What if one of those trash truck drivers had stopped at our house and asked if we already had a trash service?

What if he had offered a business card with a referral code and coupon?

What if that referral code was tracked to his name so that he would get a bonus for new accounts?

What if he had also told me about a move in special?

What if when I had called customer service they had welcomed me to our new town?

What if they had said that they know how much trash and recycling you can end up with when you are first moving in and that they would let us have ten non-charged bags for free?

What if they had said that the first pickup could be as large as we needed?

If any of this had happened I would not only have signed up but I would have promoted that company all over the place to tell how much they cared about making new customers feel wanted.

As it is, I just signed up for a typical trash service that happens to be cheaper than the others. Yay.

 

Three Low-Cost Advertising Ideas from McVan

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Pinterest Button

McVan, Inc., a manufacturer of Catholic jewelry and rosaries has a new post out with three suggestions for low-cost advertising for your store. I think two of the three are great ideas but one I really wouldn’t spend much time on. Read the whole post.

Social Media

Suggestion one is to get involved in social media. We’ve been on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter for years and definitely get sales and customer engagement from these sources. We also have a Google + page but haven’t seen anything result from that. The one thing you have to keep in mind is that these venues, while “free”, require something else that is very valuable: your time. Remember that these platforms are called SOCIAL media for a reason. You can’t be social by showing up every couple of months, asking people to buy something and vanishing again. No one will take you seriously and you will probably do more damage than good.

Facebook ButtonFacebook

If you are going to hop into social media, I recommend starting with one platform and building it. Facebook is a great place to have conversations with your customers and also to promote your products. You should set aside at least a half hour in the morning to post something of interest to your customers that isn’t sales related and only post sales  items every 4 or five posts. Make sure that what you post is of interest to your customers. Get them involved. Ask them questions.

McVan suggests doing advertising on Facebook but I think the verdict is still out on how effective advertisements for Catholic products are on Facebook. Maybe we just haven’t figured out how to create the “right” ones but our success with ads has been minimal. Our posts produce far more engagement and website traffic.

Pinterest ButtonPinterest

If you have beautiful pictures of your products, then growing a following on Pinterest will be worth while. Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board where people post, organize, share and comment on images of things they like. You don’t have to spend as much time on the site but you will have to find pictures that are eye-catching and share-worthy. Think of Pinterest as a photo portfolio where you show off your best.

QR Codes

QR Code exampleQR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that you have probably seen on advertisements and fliers. They have been around for over ten years but there is a debate right now about how useful and effective they are for marketing. Some people think that QR codes are a dying marketing idea. Others don’t. In this case, it’s the same person.

Personally, I think you need to consider your market.  Catholic shoppers tend to be older and probably not as tech-savvy as younger shoppers. QR codes require not only a smart phone but also that you find and install a QR code reader on the phone. They also require that you create a website that plays nicely with a smartphone so that if someone actually scans your QR code, he can use your website. Those are a lot of technological hurdles to overcome.

Blogging

Blogging requires more of an investment than other types of social media and has a better return than I think you would get from QR codes. Remember, that like other “free” social media, you have to take your time into account. You also will have to spend a little bit of time setting up the site and writing regular posts so that people keep coming back. If you are interested in blogging but don’t have any idea how to start, Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson, did a video tutorial that will get you up and running with a self-hosted site and your own domain name. This costs a little bit of money each month but gives you flexibility in what you can do with your site. You can also get a completely free site at Blogger.com or WordPress.com.

What do you think? Have you tried social media or QR codes? What was your experience? Feel free to leave questions or tips for others.