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Ask INSTORE: February 2006

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Adding more physical activity to your day, in search of odorless ultrasonic cleaning fluid, and some basic advertising theory.

[h3]Get out of the store and get moving![/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]I’m a Type A personality who is getting an “F” in fitness. What are some good at-work ways of getting the old cardiovascular going?[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.]Nutritionist expert Samantha Heller suggests at least 15 minutes of “brisk walking,” be it in the mall or your store’s parking lot. Ideally, 30 to 40 minutes would be better. Set goals for yourself with a pedometer. Shoot for 10,000 steps or more in a day. If walking is a tad boring, put some purpose behind your pace by doing errands on foot when you can. Use stairs whenever possible and walk them frequently. Some admin work that can help get your heart pumping is hand-delivering messages to co-workers rather than instant messaging or emails. And, if you’re so inclined, try some maintenance work to make you and your store look better.[/dropcap]

[componentheading]MARKETING[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Ad Vices[/contentheading]

Advertisement

[h4][b]There are so many types of advertisements out there. Should I advertise my store or my products? What about using the same ad copy as my friend in another market?[/b][/h4]

What works for your friend may not work for you. Stay away from “category-specific” ads (or institutional advertising), says Wizard of Ads author Roy Williams. “Ads that fit everyone don’t work very well for anyone,” he declares.

As for product ads, while these can be of great benefit, they could also help your competitors who sell the same, or a similar, product. “Independent retailers should question whether or not to take the manufacturer’s 50 cents to run their product-specific ads,” says Williams in regards to co-op advertising. “Are they really paying for half of your advertising, or are you paying for half of theirs?” For long-term branding of your store, the best type of advertising is store-specific, says Williams.

However, he adds a caveat: “To write [store-specific ads] requires intimate, detailed research on the part of an expert ad writer. Rarely will a good, store-specific ad fit another advertiser in the same category.”

[componentheading]TOOLS[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Smell Better[/contentheading]

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[h4][b]Cleaning jewelry stinks. Where can I find a good ultrasonic cleaning fluid that’s odorless?[/b][/h4]

Our retail contacts provided us with a couple of options. The first is Gesswein Ultrasonic Cleaning Solution (available at www.gesswein.com, $19.95 per quart or $248 for a five-gallon bucket). Specifically made for ultrasonic machines, it contains no phosphates that thicken with use, so your ultrasonic tank is not damaged. “It’s the very best I’ve ever used,” says Dwight Belew of American Jewelry Co. (Mt. Juliet, TN). “Totally odorless and does a great job. It’s kinda pricey, but worth every penny. The five-gallon bucket, which is a concentrate, lasts a loooong time.” The concentrate ratio is 40:1.

Mike Kmet of North Coast Jewelry (Bow, WA) offers a less expensive solution: “Use Simple Green all-purpose cleaner, and cut it down some with water. Sometimes I throw in some Dawn dish soap. Cheap, no smell, and it works.”

[componentheading]STAFF[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Cashing In[/contentheading]

[h4][b]Should the total business that a store does have any impact on how much you pay a person who contributes a good deal of your store’s business? Or is it irrelevant?[/b][/h4]

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Store management expert David Geller provides a good rule of thumb: “If salespeople sell 80% of the day (with the other 20% allowed for administrative work), they should sell anywhere between 8 and 13 times their gross pay.” As an example, if the employee does $250,000 in sales, then he or she should be paid somewhere from $22,000 to $33,000 if the store is under $500,000 in annual revenues. Geller says to remember that the amount a person sells depends in part upon two things over which they have little control. First, store traffic (thus a half-million dollar store has less traffic or chances to sell than a million-dollar store).

Second, the number of opportunities the staff gets to sell. “If the owner gets all of the big sales, leaving smaller sales to the staff, they will be unable to sell larger numbers,” says Geller.

[componentheading]MANAGING[/componentheading]

[contentheading]THE Great Escape[/contentheading]

[h4][b]How can I make planning vacations seem less like work?[/b][/h4]

In a recent article from Fitness Business Pro, Debra Siena, regional VP of Tennis Corp, says to start by giving at least a four-month notice to your staff. The lengthy lead time allows you to make sure your second-in-command isn’t on vacation as well, and to ask some folks to work a few extra hours. Make sure the person in charge during your absence knows basic day-to-day operations and can assign daily tasks. Develop a team manual, says Siena. “You have to have systems in place so you’re not so dependent on people,” she says. “Empower the whole team so everyone knows these systems.”

The fitness of these systems can determine how long you can be away from your store. If you want to test the waters, take an extended weekend break before taking a week or more off. In the days before your departure, do a series of detailed walk-throughs. Identify key areas that should be closely monitored. And, establish set times when you will call in to get updates on what’s happening in the store while you’re away.

[componentheading]INVENTORY[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Public Property[/contentheading]

[h4][b]What type of jewelers buy from the public, and why? Is it a lucrative way to earn extra money?[/b][/h4]

Lots of jewelers buy off the street, says store management guru David Geller – always independents. Some buy straight out, and others also take trade-ins. It’s all for a good cause: “This is one of the best ways to get engagement ring diamonds so you can sell lower than your competition.” But be careful not to overbuy, he warns. If you don’t want to buy something, offer a really low price. If the customer accepts, then take it and dump it someplace else, advises Geller. To get rid of slow movers, try an online marketplace like Polygon or eBay, he adds.

[componentheading]HEALTH[/componentheading]

[contentheading]OK Computer[/contentheading]

[h4][b]What’s the best way to set up a computer workstation to lessen risk of musculoskeletal injuries?[/b][/h4]

It may look easy, but working at a computer can be a pain in the neck – literally. Aches and pains associated with such work are also called “repetitive strain injuries”; carpal tunnel syndrome is just one example. In order to limit such ailments, your workstation should be set up to allow you to carry out work tasks in comfort, and also to move around easily, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. The Centre says that an adjustable chair is a must, and an adjustable desk can really help (or a foot rest to help you adjust to the height of the desk top). The Centre also advises the following:

• Wrists in a neutral position (no bending)
• Thin, detached, and movable keyboard directly in front of you
• Mouse close to the keyboard and at the same level
• Shoulder and hip in line
• Backrest fits inward curve of spine
• Arm rest at elbow height
• Knees slightly lower than hip
• Seat height just below kneecap
• Feet flat on floor or foot rest

[componentheading]COMPENSATION[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Benefit Buffet[/contentheading]

[h4][b]How can I maximize our company benefits while meeting the various needs of our employees?[/b][/h4]

One of the most underrated and underused employee benefits available for small businesses today is the “cafeteria” plan found in section 125 of the U.S. Tax Code, says Trent D. Bryson, CFP, president of Bryson Financial Group. Under this plan, employees can withhold a portion of their pre-tax salary to cover certain medical or child-care expenses. “Because these benefits are free from federal and state income taxes, an employee’s taxable income is reduced, which increases the percentage of their take-home pay,” says Bryson.

“And because the pre-tax benefits aren’t subject to federal social security withholding taxes, employers win by not having to pay FICA — or workers’ comp premiums — on those dollars.” Potential benefits under this plan include pre-tax health insurance premium deductions, allowing employees to withhold a portion of their pre-tax salary to pay for their premium contribution under your employer-sponsored health plan; flexible spending accounts, which allow employees to fund out-of-pocket medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance; and dependent care flexible spending accounts, a similar benefit for children or parents of the employee. For more information on cafeteria plans, check the July 2005 newsletter at www.brysonfinancial.com.

[componentheading]HEALTH[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Address Stress[/contentheading]

[h4][b]I need to reduce stress levels but don’t want to take medications. Got any natural stress busters?[/b][/h4]

The American Institute of Stress reports that the leading cause of stress is work. Delegate as much work as possible and find ways to unwind. If you’re a weekend warrior around the house, delegate or outsource there, too. Prayer and spirituality have helped to lower blood pressure for some people. Another way to lower your stress is to let go of your grudges.

A recent study showed that forgiving those who have wronged you lowers blood pressure. About 60 percent of people who are stressed say they don’t get enough sleep. Calm down before hitting the bricks with a soothing shower, bubble bath, or chamomile tea. Vacations are also good stress reducers. But don’t schedule a trip that will make you worry about mo

ey. A low-cost extended weekend should suffice. Also, consider trying yoga. Even one class can cut levels of the stress hormone cortisol. If bending and twisting isn’t your bag, find a yoga class that specializes in low-key hatha yoga or give tai chi a try.

In the great tradition of “saving the best for last”, remember that sex, or even snuggling up to your partner, is a time-honored stress reducer.

[span class=note]This story is from the February 2006 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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How to Promote Healthy Competition and More Of Your Questions Answered

It all depends on how you present it.

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How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting for Lord Of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated in some way, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive consequences of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out and highlighting low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

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We want to lay off a sales associate, but we’ve never done it before. If we are to give them “a month’s pay,” does that mean their base pay, or do we factor in their average commission earnings as well?”

Suzanne Devries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions, says that legally, you’re required to give them only the vacation, sick and personal days they have accrued, although she recommends that you base your decision on how valuable an asset this person has been to your organization, and how long they have been with you. “If it’s a long time and they have been loyal, you should definitely consider a certain amount of days per year. Second, make sure you have documentation that states why you are having layoffs.” She also advises you do an exit interview and have the person sign documentation stating that they understand why “they are part of a force reduction.” An important thing to keep in mind is how other staff will view this. They will want to know that they will be treated fairly even when times are tough.

I keep hearing contradictory advice: Set goals or don’t set them. What’s your take?

There are three main arguments against setting goals: One, that they can lead people to focus on the wrong things (by, for example, becoming too aggressive in chasing sales targets) or cut ethical corners; two, that they become demotivating when it becomes clear they can’t be reached; and three, that it’s healthier to live your life focused on the present. The secret to smart goal setting, then, is to do it in a way that addresses these problem areas. That means:

1. Set challenging goals, but don’t make a big deal of it if someone falls short.
2. Structure goals that focus on behaviors, so your people are learning and improving, rather than wildly chasing a financial goal.
3. Be specific. Setting vague goals can produce higher rates of success with motivated staff, but if your employees are normal human beings, being specific will prevent procrastination.
4. Make the first couple of milestones easy so that people can build momentum toward the major goal. Progress is a huge motivator.
5. And finally, don’t make goals a death march; have fun trying to accomplish them.

I’d like to hire a trainer, but I’m worried about the return on investment. How can I be sure it will be worth it?

To really get your money’s worth, you need to focus on two things: 1.  Hard skills. Overinvest in training that helps to increase ability, rather than motivation. Focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills. It could be when to pause in a presentation, how many features to stress, or phone manner tips. Break tasks into discreet actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. 2. And this is just as important: Follow up. Bring in a trainer, but only if you yourself are willing to buy into their lessons and do ongoing training and reviews.

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How to Be Safe at Company Parties, the Best Interview Question for a Prospective Hire, and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus how to avoid becoming a mediocre business.

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How do I lift my store out of the rut of mediocrity?

According to work by the Brigham Young business school on high-performing teams, peers manage the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining standards. But how to get to that almost mythical land of self-enforced high standards?

Joseph Grenny, a social scientist and author of Crucial Accountability, says there are four leadership practices that can help:

1. Start by showing the consequences of mediocrity to connect people with the experiences, feelings and impact of bad performance. Keep the issue alive by telling stories that illustrate work well done and the real human cost of shoddy work, such as lost diamonds, ruined weddings and upset customers.

2. Set clear goals and explain why they are important. “Use concrete measures to make poor performance painfully apparent,” says Grenny.

3. Establish peer accountability so that people feel comfortable challenging one another when they see mediocrity. Regular weekly reviews can provide opportunities for mutual feedback and establish peer-accountability as a norm, Grenny says. It’s key that your store becomes an environment where everyone feels entitled to challenge anyone if it is in the best interest of the business.

4. Be quick to defend the high standards. A chronic poor performer is a clear impediment to the goals you’ve set. How you handle this situation will let your team know whether your highest value is keeping the peace or pursuing performance.

“When you ask a group to step up to high performance, you are inviting them to a place of stress — one where they must stretch, where failure is possible, where interpersonal conflicts must be addressed,” says Grenny. “If you shrink from or delay in addressing this issue, you don’t just lose that person’s contribution — you send a message to everyone else about your values.”

I’m planning my company party, but one concern is that somebody might get drunk and have a car accident. Got any advice on protecting myself?

Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant, or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol, and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar— or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available, and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths during the interview process?

The indirect method is often best when it comes to getting at a prospect’s true strengths. Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question: What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses.

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How to Tell When that Struggling New Hire Can’t be Saved, and More of Your Questions Answered

Also, the Golden Rule of Triggers and a better way to set goals.

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I got really angry at a customer the other day and left a pretty rude message on their voicemail. So, OK, I’ve lost that client. But how can I keep this from happening again?

If you feel that anger management is an issue that’s affecting many parts of your life, go see a mental health professional. However, if you’re like the rest of us, and anger is more a cause for periodic embarrassment or regret, we fully recommend business author Tony Schwartz’s Golden Rule of Triggers, which is “Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t.” Instead, he says, take a deep breath, and “feel your feet” — a distraction tactic that allows you to pull your head out of the red mist. You can no doubt remember occasions when you’ve told yourself (or others) to “take a deep breath” or to “count to 10” before exploding in rage. What Schwartz’s rule removes, though, is the need to reflect on whether we’re in such a situation. Instead, it recommends interpreting any sign of compulsive behavior as an indication that the action is probably imprudent. Rather than battling compulsion, his rule co-opts it as a warning system. The Golden Rule of Triggers may seem ridiculously simple, but in that tiny gap between the total grip of “flight or fight” survival mode and doing something you’ll regret, more likely to be an ill-considered email or text message these days, simple rules are all you’ll be capable of following.

How do you know when a new employee can’t be saved? How much time should you give someone?

When you have coached someone carefully and repeatedly, invested large amounts of energy and they show no signs of improvement, that’s a solid signal you probably need to act. The clincher comes when their co-workers start showing their frustration and stop trying to help the person. This is often at about the three or four month mark. A lot of bosses will let it drag on past that, but it’s really in everyone’s interest for both parties to pursue new opportunities.

What should I do if I think my store is being “cased”?

There are several immediate steps that can reduce the likelihood of a robbery or burglary. Jewelers Mutual offers the following advice. First, alert your employees by using a pre-established code word or phrase. When that happens, your employees should take the following steps:

1. Have an employee with a cellphone leave the store to observe from a safe distance.
2. Make more employees visible on the sales floor.
3. Write down the description of any suspicious people and, if possible, their license plate number.
4. Make sure cabinets, showcases and safes are locked.
5. Greet the individuals and attempt to engage them in conversation. If they are robbers, your attention will be unwanted and they will leave.
6. Call the police and ask them to visit your store as soon as possible. Explain that you think your store is being cased for a potential robbery or burglary.
7. Store customers’ merchandise in a safe place out of sight.
8. Review procedures to follow should a robbery occur — stay calm, do not resist, obey the robber’s orders, do not say or do anything unless you are told to do so.

Morale is bad and moaning seems to be part of our culture. Any ideas on how to turn it around?

Bring an upbeat attitude to the store every morning and make it clear you expect the same positivity from your charges. In this new era, it’s expected your employees will take responsibility for their own happiness and effectiveness. For truly disgruntled staff, there’s not much a manager can do except to make it known they are on the wrong bus. (And it’s often a couple of bad seeds that will set the toxic tone for a store.) A jewelry store is no place for people who throw their hands up in the air and declare, “This place sucks!” at every setback.

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