Monday, September 28, 2009

I met Erica Ehm

So yes the title is a bit sensationalist. But it sounded much more interesting than A Feminist Self Analysis. And meeting Erica Ehm is what started it all.

So the story begins the evening I met with various other Moms from the Yummy Mummy club. The occasion was the founder of the Yummy Mummy Club Erica Ehm was in town. We had a lovely dinner, mostly with women who I had met on twitter but never met in person before. Dinner, like the yummy mummy club, had interesting and varied conversation. We were empathetic, supportive and cheerleaders for each other. We were women, who happened to be Moms, having nice adult conversation.

The night got me thinking though (stewing for several weeks actually). I consider myself a feminist that respects and supports the decisions of other women. I spent volunteer time supporting and mentoring young women and an organization committed to promoting women in leadership (Women in Leadership Foundation). But when I think back to the time when Erica was breaking ground at Much Music I certainly wasn’t supportive - nor were many other young women I knew. My teenage friends and I gave Erica a pretty hard time (not directly of course). Instead of realizing how great it was to have a girl playing with the boys at Much Music. We gossiped about everything she wore, said, did or didn’t do. I don’t know how I would have held up under such tough scrutiny when I was in my early 20s. But Erica excelled and grew in her career. She paved the way for other women to follow their dreams. Today she continues to support other women through her Yummy Mummy Club. (and NO I didn’t have the balls to admit this to Erica or ask her about those early days in her career)

Of course it is easy to look back and say that was over 20 years ago and times have changed. But have they?

Think about when Katie Couric took over the anchor desk at CBS Evening News. The news and media were skeptical. She was scrutinized for everything she wore, said, dated, did and didn’t do. I’ve never seen such a critical analysis of a male anchor before. But Katie must be doing something right because another major network has decided to take the “risk” on a woman at the anchor desk. Diane Sawyer, one of the most respected women in journalism, has finally been offered the ABC anchor desk. That is now 2/3 of nightly network news anchored by women.

And look at Hilary Clinton in the news this summer about her trip to Africa. She is the US Secretary of State and was asked what her husband thought about a specific policy. The media focused on that one incident for weeks. The reason behind for the trip lost while they raked her over the coals – she was even accused of having a bad hair day.

I guess the short note is that women continue to break ground, paving the way for the future. And while we have come a long way, we have a long way yet to go. And we need to start with ourselves. Do we support the women in our lives? Do we support the ones breaking ground in your community? Society? Country? We need to stop judging each other. And like the yummy mummy club start listening, supporting and cheerleading each others dreams and choices. It is that sort of positive support that will only make it easier for us to realize our individual dreams. And lay an even stronger foundation for ourselves and the next generation of women.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What does your retail staff say about your business?

I worked a few retail jobs during my youth from local grocery store, to a toy store, to fashion boutiques. All of them were small businesses with an interesting assortment of hands-on owners. So I understand how difficult and boring these jobs can be. But the owners of this type of business need to understand both their customer and their staff.

As a marketer I have a new perspective of these jobs and their role in marketing a brand. The people that are in your stores are not just sales people or cashiers. They are the living breathing version of your brand. Every single time a customer comes into contact with your brand they leave with a perception of that brand – whether they buy something at your store or NOT.

This is particularly important in a slow economy. Customers have a choice and those that treat their customers and staff well should weather things long term. Pushy, gossiping, upselling, policy pushing, corporate robots can do a lot of harm for your business. Training and managing staff is hard work, but it is a core part of your marketing plan. They need to understand your brand and your priorities. And it shouldn’t just be SELL more product.

This seems like Sales 101, but a few things I’ve learnt…

  1. Not all customers WILL buy from you.

    I had a boss that was convinced that you could sell something to every single person who came into her store. She was a very fashionable boutique situated in a trendy ‘lets hang out and wander around on a Sunday’ part of town. These people were NOT actually shopping. They might buy something on impulse, but generally they were not going to drop $400 on a dress. These people did not react kindly to the high pressure sales tactics we were told to use. So as an employee I was constantly getting cranky customers telling me they were ‘just looking’ as soon as they came into the store. The owner was well known for her tactics and locals knew to enter the store with their guard up and ‘no thank you’ at the ready. I wasn’t pushy enough as a sales person so I didn’t last long, but then again neither did her business.

    You need to know who your customer is and adjust your sales pitch accordingly. Not all customers are the same. Most would like to be greeted warmly and then allowed to look around. Staff should be approachable and helpful. While they may not buy this time, if you leave them with a poor taste in their mouth they certainly WON’T be back to buy next time.
  2. The upsell is more than just annoying.

    I personally hate shopping at stores where you instantly know the staff has been trained in the ‘upsell’. I’m shopping for jeans and they say “have you checked out our accessories which are half off today?” Sure once in a while it works when you have found a dress you love and the staff suggest an interesting piece that matches it. But most staff doesn’t know when to use the upsell to make it relevant to their customers.

    The problem here might be that most staff doesn’t have time to actually service these days. And it annoying to essentially have no service until you get to the cash and then a (unseen until now) staff person starts making suggestions. This makes me think of “would you like fries with that?” And I can imagine you don’t like your store being compared to fast food.

    As a business you are meeting a need – this is sales 101. If your staff is well trained they need to get to know your customer a bit, so they can make suggestions that meet that need. Then when an opportunity exists they can recommend a little something extra to a customer. The customer will appreciate this added value. And your brand will benefit in the long run.
  3. Your store isn’t a water cooler.

    We have all experienced the store where the staff are gossiping with each other or are on their cell phone chatting with a friend. I know it can get boring working in retail. But if a customer is in the store they really don’t need to hear your latest gossip. By all means don’t do the reverse and stalk the customer around the store. But understand that you are reflecting on the business and its brand reputation.

    To be honest owners are often the worst. They are trying to get business done while working in the store. And I’ve heard some pretty heated discussions between owners and staff or suppliers. To me this reflects very badly on your brand. If you treat your employees and partners with that much disrespect in front of your customers - I can only assume what you say or do when we aren’t there. Have an office for your work phone calls and bring in some staff to support your time in the office. The extra hard cost will be worth the potential damage to your business.
  4. Are your staff properly trained in corporate policy as well as common sense?

    How many bad PR stories have we seen recently where poorly trained staff used ‘corporate policy’ to support a bad decision. H&M in Vancouver had such an incident where a staff person tried to get a nursing mom to move to a quiet room to nurse. The corporate policy was to have a room available in case a mother wanted privacy. But that poorly trained person told the mother she had to move it was ‘policy’. H&M got national press and a ‘nurse in’ the next week (although I was impressed how H&M head office handled the poor press). To be honest I’m not surprised that someone at H&M got it wrong. All my experiences there lately have made me wonder if some of their staff members have any brains at all.

    All staff needs to be well trained in corporate policy. But you also need to hire people with enough common sense to think through a situation and adjust accordingly. Each and every sales staff member is a potential spokesperson for your company. They can’t just look good. They need to think too!
  5. Your staff needs to care.

    I know how much customers can get ridiculed by staff. And a customer can tell when a corporate environment considers this appropriate behavior. You can tell when the staff just doesn’t give a crap. Think about an episode of The Office. They don’t really care about their customers. They are just sales to them. This speaks volumes about your brand. Treat people like individuals and valued customers. And they will likely become repeat and valued customers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Applications for New Friends

When you become a new Mom you usually make new friends with other Moms. New Mom friends usually have similar age kids, are available for play dates on schedules close to yours or like the same social media networks you do. New friends’ often have similar parenting values so you can exchange stories, get advice and cry on an empathetic shoulders.

My real life BFF lives across the country. And finding that true new Mom BFF is harder than getting a dance in the 7th grade. So what to do?????? I decided to accept applications.

New Friend Application Form

Just like any good yet useless magazine survey, please answer the following questions as truthfully as possible. See the answer guide to see if you might fit the profile of a new friend for me. If yes, then please apply in the comments below.

1 – Are you a perfect parent?

a) Yes
b) No

If you answered yes please proceed directly to the bonus question as I can’t be the only imperfect one in a friendship.

2 – Which best describes you?

a) Stay at home mom
b) Work at home mom
c) Mom Entrepreneur
d) Work outside the home
e) Not a parent
f) Other:

There is no correct answer here. Just gives me an idea if you will be available for play dates during the week or weekends. Or if it is best to reach you on twitter around midnight?

3 – How would you describe your sense of humour?

a) Give me a glass a wine and I’ll laugh at anything
b) Sarcasm is my friend
c) Life is funny
d) An episode of “I Love Lucy”
e) Black comedy
f) Left my sense of humour in the maternity ward

If you picked (f) I’m not sure how you got this far into this ‘tongue & cheek’ application.

4 – Please indicate your favourite obsession?

a) Shoes
b) Chocolate
c) Wine
d) TV
e) Shopping
f) Do I have to pick just one?
g) None of the above

If you picked ‘none of the above’ thank you for completing this application, but the position has been filled by a more qualified candidate.

5 – A friend’s child does something embarrassing in public. You?

a) Laugh
b) Share your friends horror/shame/embarrassment
c) Check to make sure kid is okay - then laugh with your friend when the kid isn’t looking
d) RT the story on Twitter later
e) Tell a story about how your child did the same thing when….
f) Buy her a book in child behaviour
g) Glare

My first reaction is usually to laugh – sometimes I check that the kid is okay first. But happy to entertain new friends who answered all but (f) and (g).

6 – Do you do any of the following?

a) Cloth diaper
b) Co-sleep
c) No sugar diet for kids
d) Let kids watch TV
e) Attachment parent
f) Bake
g) Home school

If you are like me this answer doesn’t matter. You parent the way you feel is right for you and we will share our stories and experiences as we both learn along the way.

7 – Do you use any of the following?

a) Email
b) Facebook
c) Twitter
d) Blog
e) Ning
f) Flickr
g) Huh???

All answers are considered okay, but if you answered only (a) or (G) you might be a bit hard to understand when I share my latest escapades in parenting with a RT to a blog with a flickr photo album.

8 - Do you play cards or board games?

a) Yes

b) No

Not a deal breaker for me. But my hubbie would LOVE if I had more friends that like a good night of canasta, euchre or poker.

Bonus question

9 – Who is your favourite Doctor?

Any woman who answers any of the 10 Doctors to date (can’t count the 11th yet as his episodes haven’t aired yet) IS a friend of mine. And if you didn’t know this was a Doctor Who question I can forgive you, as this was just a bonus question.

If you feel you fit the bill to be my new Mum BFF, please apply in the comment section below. If you feel I have gone too far with this application process you are free to opt out.

Please note that only those selected for a wine/chocolate/shopping filled interview will be contacted.