Catholic Business Tips

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?

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:

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  • 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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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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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.

The Difference Between Being a Salesman and Creating a Selling Relationship

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Sell me the car I want!

Sell me the car I want!

 

Right now I’m doing a lot of driving between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs while we try and sell our house and move as part of my new position as Operations Manager at Book Center of the Rockies. This commute really requires a small, gas-sipping vehicle while for several months I’ve been driving the miracle minivan with over 300,000 miles. I don’t know why it hasn’t pulled out a gun and shot itself yet but last week it gave me a warning and so I started looking for a new (used) vehicle.

I sent email to two car dealers in Colorado Springs with very specific requirements. One on the south end of town sent me a list of vehicles that were the right make but all over the maximum price I was willing to pay. If you haven’t shopped at a car dealer before, this is a common tactic to see if you really meant the top price you said. I wrote back and told them that they didn’t actually read my email since none of the cars matched. That dealer never wrote back.

The second dealer, after I specifically said in an on-line chat to just send me links to cars that met my criteria and not to call me, called me at work to ask when I could come down to take a look. I told the sales lady that I had specifically asked for links only and reiterated my criteria. That afternoon I received an email with about ten links and another request for a time when I was going to come by the showroom. Of the ten vehicles, only ONE was even the correct manufacturer. I wrote back explaining that they hadn’t read my email.

The next day I received another email from a different sales rep containing…. the. exact. SAME. LIST. OF. VEHICLES. I had rejected the day before and a request to call with a time to come in. I wrote back and told her that she obviously had no interest in selling me what I wanted and to quit contacting me.

Today I received a perky email from a manager at the same dealership asking how my shopping was going. Obviously, she hadn’t bothered to check with here sales team first. I actually doubt the email was sent by a real person. I would bet money that it is just an automatic email that goes out if you respond to one of their sales reps.

It’s been so long since I’ve purchased a vehicle from a dealer (a bad experience then, too) that I hoped that these stupid tactics would have been abandoned for something REAL. I’m talking about a sales rep that asks questions and wants to know exactly what you want and why instead of focusing on getting you on the lot to sell you something you don’t need. Have these people read any sales and marketing books written in the last ten years?!

I honestly believe that selling these days is more about finding what your customer really needs and satisfying that. Once you do, you’ve earned loyalty because you listened to your customer.

So here’s your homework for the week. For the next business week, every time you have a customer come into your store, instead of asking “Can I help you?” Which typically results in a “No”, ask “What can I help you find?” It will at least make the customer pause since he has to come up with a full sentence response. If he doesn’t give you a specific product, ask at least two questions to better figure out what he is looking for. Remember, the goal here is to find the customer what he really needs / wants, not to sell him something. In some cases you may have to honestly say that you don’t have what he is looking for. Even then, if you can point him in the right direction, you have earned trust and that is something worth far more than the $4 you would make on that book you didn’t sell him.

[Image created by suphakit73 at freedigitalphotos.net]

I’m Glad Business is so Good You can’t Talk to Me

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Bad mechanicI am in the market for a new(er) vehicle. My 1996 Plymouth Grand Voyager is a magical vehicle typically whispered about in the same breath as Bonny Prince Charley’s imminent return to Scotland.

When we bought the van it had 76,000 miles. It has been serving as the Aquinas and More company vehicle since our family grew into our 12-passenger van many years ago. During that time it has hauled bricks, kids, product displays, trailers, computers, kids, dry wall, paint, did I mention kids? Now the van has 315,000 miles. It is still running on its first engine and first transmission. But on the way home from Mass last week I heard a “clunk” and suddenly the van wouldn’t get out of second gear. It was a long drive home at forty miles-an-hour. Since then the van has been working as well as any vehicle that has traveled as far as the moon and started on the return voyage. However, it was clear that the van was letting me know its time was coming.

So, for the first time in seven years, I’m looking for a car. Preferably something that gets good gas mileage and is inexpensive. I found two vehicles that looked promising and called two different mobile auto mechanics in Denver to see how much they would charge to inspect the cars. The first I contacted through an on-line quote form on Monday evening. The second I called on Tuesday and left a message.

It is now Thursday night and neither has bothered to call me back – not even to tell me they aren’t interested. Is this how your customers see you? Honestly, it is how our customers have seen us lately. We don’t currently have live phone support so it sometimes takes us a day and a half to get back to everyone. Definitely not an ideal situation and I know it has cost us business. We are finally in the position to correct that and will shortly be bringing back live phone support.

Don’t be like this. If you don’t want the business, don’t have a quote form on your website or voice mail that actually takes messages. Tomorrow I’ll be trying company number three and hoping for better success.

Image courtesy of supakitmod / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

These Aren’t New Year’s Resolutions

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2014 Resolutions

I can’t remember ever making New Year’s resolutions. I see the rationale – the end of the year is a great mental time to start anew. This year with the major changes at Aquinas and More and an upcoming move to a new town for our family, I’ve been making changes throughout the year to get my life and business in better order. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

  1. Getting more done. With ten kids, a full time job and Aquinas and More, my to-do list was a collection of sticky notes, a paper notebook (or two, since I frequently would set it down somewhere and forget), Outlook reminders and my leaky mind. This really wasn’t sustainable and I constantly felt like I was buried in obligations that were so numerous I couldn’t prioritize. Through Michael Hyatt’s podcast I found Nozbe – a simple-to-use to-do list app, website and desktop application. The interface is simple and it syncs across all your devices. You can email and tweet tasks to it and it integrates with Evernote. I had tried several other to-do list apps but for some reason this one just seems to work more smoothly. Oh, you can also create projects and share lists with other users so you can both work on a list at the same time!Nozbe
  2. Read the Bible. I’ve read parts of the Bible but never really committed to regular reading or to any kind of plan. My oldest daughter is going to be doing the Understanding the Scriptures course for school starting next month and my younger kids are reading the Children’s Golden Bible. Last year I did a podcast with the folks at Logos Bible software about their new Catholic product, Verbum. They gave me a basic edition to review and it has an Android app which follows the daily Lectionary readings. I’m going to start with that and help my daughter with her scripture study class.Verbum Catholic Bible Study
  3. Organize my paper. I have a file cabinet with labeled folders and I do a reasonable job making sure that everything gets filed regularly. My problem is all the other things I need to keep track of – that great idea I heard on a podcast, the melody I need to learn for the Thanksgiving talent show (We sang Gaudete this year), all of the notes I take about procedures and processes at the warehouse, ideas for blog posts. There is a lot of information that I need to keep track of and I have found that paper notebooks are great for holding data but lousy for finding it later. A couple of years ago I got an Evernote account to keep track of photos and comments I had about potential locations to move our store. It was simple to use but I didn’t really “get it”. After having read a few books with different ideas on how to organize it as well as some podcasts, I think I see how I can really take advantage of this digital notebook. I’m not planning on going paperless anytime soon, but this is a good start towards better organization.Evernote
  4. Go on a pilgrimage. Before Thanksgiving my wife made an incredibly bold proposal. She suggested going on the pilgrimage to Chartres for our twentieth wedding anniversary. I was blown away. This isn’t something that we can just hop on a plane and do, it is going to require serious planning as well as a commitment to really getting into shape. The pilgrimage is a three day, seventy-five mile hike from Notre Dame in Paris to Notre Dame in Charte culminating in a high Mass at the cathedral. The pilgrimage covers roads, fields and trails and frequently involves rain. If you want to follow my wife’s chronicle of our preparations, she is at Kittle Eleison. We each bought running shoes for each other for Christmas and my parents bought us hiking poles. If anyone wants to watch ten kids for a couple of weeks while we’re gone, let us know!Chartres Pilgrimage
  5. Start learning more about things I like. I’ve attended several of the CNMC events and even had a podcast for a while (which will be coming back next year) but I never really got into listening to podcasts as a regular thing. I’ve had a two-and-a-half hour drive to work several times a week since April and between talk radio itself and the commercials, listening to the radio was getting very tedious. I finally found a decent podcast app for Android – Doubletwist. It has some quirks in the interface but it syncs non-podcast media such as music and audio books with my laptop and wasn’t very expensive. I first started listening to The Catholics Next Door with Greg and Jennifer Willits. They have an engaging show and even though they occasionally Georgia the pronunciation of words like “Guadete” and “Estes Park”, I was able to get past that and I’ve actually listened to every episode. I also enjoyed listening to Catholic Stuff You Should Know. Unfortunately, they are taking a break for several months to finish up seminary. Apart from the Catholic podcasts I’ve found, there are several other life and business podcasts that I enjoy listening to. Michael Hyatt’s This is Your Life and Cliff Ravenscraft’s Podcast Answerman are both great. If you have a lot of driving time, I definitely encourage you to find something other than the radio to listen to. Whether it’s podcasts or something from the Great Courses collection, it’s a far better use of your time. I’m also planning on attending the Modex 2014 Supply Chain expo to increase my knowledge of warehouse management. A lot of you probably have your eyes glaze over at the thought of seeing exhibits showing the latest in storage and order processing but I love this stuff! I might also attend the Catholic New Media Conference and am really considering going to the SCORRE conference next year.The Catholics Next Door
  6. Set goals – and plan to make them. Setting goals is very easy, it’s the reaching them that is hard. Several months ago I downloaded the Life Plan workbook from Michael Hyatt’s site and then forgot about it. A few weeks ago he offered a 5-day program to get goals together for the coming year. I signed up for it as I was having a hard time figuring out how best to attack several of the things I wanted to do next year. It was worth the cost. Apart from having a step-by-step approach to not only planning ahead but taking a hard look at what was behind, the community of participants has a lot of great ideas.Best Year Ever

 

What did you do this year to improve your life? Not necessarily New Year’s related.

 

2014 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Interview with Influence Resources

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Influence Resources is an Imprint from the Assemblies of God. This imprint is just over a year old so I thought it would be interesting to interview a publisher that was getting started right as the digital revolution started to take hold.

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