Monday, October 22, 2007

Less is More When it Comes to Your Store…

While speaking at a regional PMA meeting this weekend (thanks to Jerry Sullivan at Precision Camera in Austin, Texas for all his hard work), the topic of store design came up, and it was clear from some photos depicting successful photo retail stores that less is certainly more when it comes to creating an inviting place to shop.

Today’s retailers are so aware of the cost per square foot of their stores that the instinct to cram as much as possible in each space is a strong one. It’s like watching your seven year old grab a handful of candy at the supermarket check-out counter; she just can’t help herself!

I implore you to try.

The effective use of open space and simple design can be far more appealing than trudging through nooks and crannies stacked with inventory and ‘sale’ signs. Think of your store as a stage for storytelling---what do you want to convey, and what do you want your customers to know?

You’d be amazed at what you can do with a small footprint. Find one underused area in your store and consider converting it to an open design with a colorful and thoughtful display. Then watch to see how many people are drawn to it.

Imagine a time-starved woman with two small kids in tow coming into your store searching for ideas for Christmas gifts. Is she more likely to respond to an environment that is aesthetically beautiful and colorful in design or will she prefer to search through stacks of product?

As for this mother of three?

My money’s on Choice A.

How To Turn National News Stories into Local Media Coverage for Your Business

Our previous post explains the difficulty Francis Ford Coppola experienced after a break-in last month where years of his work and favorite photos were lost when his computers were stolen from his home.

We sincerely hope his valuable equipment and the cherished information it contains is returned to him.
We can also help our customers learn a lesson from his experience.

Digital Photography for Busy Women includes the FRAME™ Method, which is a simple checklist I created to help people understand what to do with their digital pictures after the moments have been captured. One step includes archiving pictures on two formats in two different locations. This strategy can protect your customers’ most valuable photographs and data from fire, theft or natural disaster.

Taking a national interest story and tying it in to how your company can provide a solution is an excellent way to gain news coverage from your local and regional media. For example, the piece about Coppola’s burglary could be tied to a new workshop you’re introducing to help protect customers from losing digital pictures. It could also be connected to using your online digital photo storage service or other related product. You can even offer a tip of burning two copies of photo CD-Rs and giving one to a loved one for safekeeping.

Consider contacting your local reporters to let them know that this is an important issue and you’d like to offer some advice to readers. Keeping in touch with your local newspaper can provide numerous opportunities to promote your business by offering advice and guidance to readers in your community.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Francis Ford Coppola Loses Computers/Back-Up Hard Drive to Theft

Francis Ford Coppola is a man at a loss.

In more ways than one.

When it comes to valuable data, few people would argue that 15 of Francis Ford Coppola’s work, scripts and personal photographs would qualify as having substantial financial and sentimental value.

Coppola recently told an Argentine newscaster that he had lost 15 years of valuable data, including precious family photos, scripts and other works. He pleaded for the return of his computers and back-up hard drive, all of which were stolen when his home in Argentina was burglarized last week.

This is yet another reason why, when it comes to backing up our favorite photos, we need to have two methods IN TWO LOCATIONS for the best possible protection.

We hope his valuable scripts and cherished photographs are recovered and retuned to him soon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Does it Feel Like Groundhog Day to You?

In the movie, Bill Murray keeps reliving the same day until he learns a valuable lesson that frees him from the maddening sentence of sameness.

Sometimes we all feel like that.

Our days run together and our tasks pile up faster than turkey leg bones at a Renaissance Festival. Our grand ideas of doing better, doing more and expanding our business are lost under the clutter of everyday tasks.

If you’re looking to break through the rut, consider creating a weekly plan.

For those of you who loathe day planners more than toddlers loathe turnips, don’t panic. All you really need is fifteen minutes, a piece of paper and a pen.

And if you want a margarita, too--well, good on ya.

Step 1:

Spend a few minutes writing down what’s on your mind. No organization needed here and punctuation is optional. What are you worried about? What ideas do you have that you wish you could implement? What nagging tasks really need your attention? Getting all this clutter out of your head and onto paper can do a great deal for your mental clarity.

Step 2:

Write a simple list of five things that must be accomplished in the coming week. Assign one task per day and tackle it first thing in the morning if at all possible. Having a nagging task hanging over your head every day can wear you out; getting it crossed off creates positive momentum that will carry you through the rest of the day.

Finally, choose one new thing that you’ve wanted to work on—such as a new workshop schedule or researching a new product line-and write down your ideas.

Step 3:

Put the ideas in a drawer.

Ignore it for a week and then pick one thing each day that will move that initiative forward. It can be as simple as a phone call or as lengthy as a report. Just pick one thing and give it your enthusiasm and attention for a half hour.

I call this the “Things I Love, Things that Nag Me List.” By getting it down on paper, I can finally break out of my rut and get something accomplished outside of my daily routine. I cross a tricky task of my list and get a new project moving forward.

Now, where’d I put that margarita?

You Can’t Be Serious….

When you’ve got a frustrated customer in your midst, you may feel the urge to duck and cover, pass her off to another employee or placate her with standard company-approved responses.

Maybe she just needs to lighten up a little.

Effectively using humor to bring down a customer’s guard can help repair a relationship that, if lost, would take future sales from your doors. Just be careful that your methods are designed to put the customer at ease and give her the recognition she is asking for.

Consider this exchange:

Anne walked through the door of her favorite retail store with a non-functioning digital camera card and a bad attitude. Her work week had already been interrupted by two doctor’s appointments, one dinner meeting and a shortened deadline; she needed her digital camera to be fully operational for a weekend filled with sports activities and a company-sponsored picnic. Simply put, she had neither the time nor the patience for one more frustration.

She made a beeline for the service counter and greeted the manager with a tight-lipped smile. Placing the card on the counter, she said, “I just bought this card, and it’s not working. I’m here on my lunch hour, and I’m not happy about it.”

The manager looked at her, looked down at the card and said, “You know, I keep telling our employees to stop jumping on these cards before putting them out for sale, but they just don’t listen.”

Anne’s stern features softened and she cracked a smile. The manager continued, “Seriously, I’m sorry you’ve had to spend your lunch hour here. Our food is lousy. Trust me; you don’t want to eat in the break room.” He picked up the card and added, “Let’s see about getting this taken care of quickly for you.”

The manager in this story used humor but did it in a way that demonstrated that he recognized her frustration. He didn’t blame her, tease her or use humor in a cutting way; he used it as a method of getting her guard down so she would be receptive to his offering.

Think of humor as an olive branch you extend to a disgruntled customer. By acknowledging concerns and even being a bit self-deprecating, you can save a souring relationship and keep a loyal customer in your fold.

Just don’t greet her with a knock-knock joke. You’ll lose her for sure.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

So, What's Your Story?

If your business were a book, what would the title be?

When a customer walks through your doors, what is that experience like? Does your business say, “I’m a camera store, and we sell frames, too!” or does it say, “Here’s the place you need to be for everything related to your favorite memories”?

Photo retailers understand quite well the importance of helping customers tell their stories through photography, but this expertise isn’t always applied internally.

Like a great photograph, a store’s environment can excite, inspire and compel people to act. Here are a few ways to share your own unique story:

· What message do you want to get across to your customers? Do you specialize in a particular area, or do you have a workshop schedule that gets rave reviews? Don’t rush this step. Think about what you want to convey to your customer and see if you can articulate it in a sentence or two. Ask employees for their input regarding what you’ve come up with and incorporate any ideas that resonate with this vision.

What's Your Angle? When you reach that point, use that ‘story angle’ as a way to evaluate your store displays, your communication pieces and your web site. Begin taking steps to synchronize this vision with your store environment and messaging.

· How long has it been since you’ve given your store a redesign? It doesn’t need to be expensive or elaborate, but if you’ve got many of the same basic displays and messaging you had a year or two ago, consider giving your customers a visual treat by speaking to new issues and inspiring creativity through your messaging.

· Consider getting a secret shopper. You don’t have to employ a company dedicated to providing secret shopping services. In fact, you may want to approach a few people you know and ask them to simply visit your store and give you their impressions of everything from the time they walk in the store until they leave. Just let them know that they aren’t doing you any favors by being polite. Their impressions may reveal some trends you don’t see simply because you’re in the environment every day.

Remember, it’s not just your customers’ stories that matter. By telling a compelling tale, you’re in a better position to help your customers do the same.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Manager’s Quick Tip: Watch Your Language!

It seems that managers and parents have a lot in common.

It is not what we say, but whether what we say and we do are in sync, that affects those around us.

What happened the last time a customer complained to you about poor quality or lousy service? I’m not talking about what you said to the CUSTOMER; what you say ABOUT the customer to your employees afterward is of equal importance.

Did you say something negative? Maybe felt like tossing in some sarcasm to lighten the blow of her complaint? If you did, you can expect your employees to follow suit and not take customer complaints to heart. After all, if the manager belittles the customer, it sends the message that her view really doesn’t matter.

Your cash register thinks otherwise. Her opinion matters a great deal.

This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the occasional outrageous complaint, but always treat the customer with respect, whether she’s in earshot or not.

She may not hear you, but your words are being heard.

Monday, March 26, 2007

What’s the Big Deal?

I have to say this was the first time my doctor actually waited on me for a change.

He had asked me to bring pictures of my kids (he delivered my twin boys) to my next appointment so he could see how they had grown. Tucked in my briefcase was a digitally-created scrapbook, complete with a leather cover and lots of journal entries telling the stories behind the snapshots. It wasn’t a big deal, really. Photo books aren’t new. In fact, we’re so used to seeing them that we take this concept for granted.

I learned that was a big mistake.

When I took out my scrapbook, my doctor was instantly impressed and began asking me more questions—not just about my kids but about the process of creating the photo book. Soon, the office staff were surrounding me, peppering me with questions and passing the book around as though it were a pitcher of fine ale. Then, people in the waiting room were coming up and asking questions. There was so much excitement that I was both encouraged and a bit bewildered.

I mean, these weren’t even their kids!

But, it wasn’t about me and my family. They were envisioning this possibility in their own lives and how they could begin chronicling and sharing their own stories. I simply can’t find the words to convey the enthusiasm in that office.

I learned an important lesson that day.

When it comes to inspiring our customers, we must continue to put these new methods of preserving memories and storytelling in front of them. We need to see these items in the way our customers see them.

It’s not just about the products.

It’s about the possibilities.

Getting Out of Overwhelm

There is a downside to going to PMA.

It seems that all those exciting new ideas and concepts gleaned come with a price. We must return to everyday life, complete with staffing issues, inventory problems and the constant juggling of the countless details of running a retail business. This reality can suck the enthusiasm right out of you.

I discovered something that can help.

It’s called the Kaizen Method, which is a Japanese concept loosely translated as ‘slow and continuous improvement.’ As part of preparing for my Long Term Photo Care presentations at the PMA show, I contacted the author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. Dr. Robert Maurer was incredibly gracious in responding to my email, and his book teaches us how to apply this concept to both our work and personal lives.

The Kaizen Way explains how small steps on a regular basis can bring big results. He delves into topics such as how this method can help our brains circumvent the ‘fight or flight’ response so often activated when any significant change takes place and why small incremental improvements are often better than huge audacious goals (think walking on a treadmill for a few minutes successfully rather than failing at one hour five times a week right off the bat).

Come to think of it, this strategy can also help our customers. If they’re feeling overwhelmed because they don’t know what to do with all their digital pictures, we can offer one small step forward rather than a laundry list of ‘what you should do.’ We can show them that they only need to do one thing right now. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, and this realization can help create lasting change.

It’s all about momentum, baby.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Employees and Email Don’t Always Mix

After leaving several voicemail and email messages for a customer support rep regarding the fact I’d been double-billed for several months for the same service, I finally received proof that my pleas had not been pitched into a black hole.

His eloquent, empathetic response to my last email request?

“Working on it.”

No, I’m not kidding.

Nothing else. No “we apologize for the inconvenience” or anything of the sort. My being financially penalized for being a customer wasn’t even met with an automated response or even with the account rep signing his name.

Chances are his manager may not even know he handled this so poorly (but that will soon change).

If you want your customers to flee like guests at an IRS-sponsored cocktail reception, feel free to duplicate this example. Of course, we know that you want to keep your customers happy; unfortunately, it’s what you may not know that’s costing you money.

Who Gets To Represent Your Company?: Are all of your employees set up to communicate on behalf of your company? If so, do they understand the guidelines and parameters of how to handle an email communication? Email has become such a standard method that we often get sloppy at times in our spelling, punctuation and choice of words. Give employees specific guidelines—including exact phrasing—on how to respond to the most common issues.

Better yet, use an automated system for standard responses. It will not only save you time, it will also ensure that your messaging is consistent and properly articulated. Using automated messaging properly leads to the next item...

Choose Words Wisely: You’d be amazed at how a few poorly chosen words can unravel an entire customer relationship. Perception matters a great deal here and choosing words that extend respect and concern are always a good idea.

Got a Sarcastic Employee? Tell him to save it for the people who aren’t paying for his service. If he wants to give cutting barbs to his buddies or family, that’s his business. Keeping him from doing it to customers is yours.

And as for my current customer service experience?

Well, let’s just say that I’m going to give management a chance to make it right, and if they don’t, they certainly won’t be getting referrals from me.

It will cost them, they won’t know it, and they won’t miss it until it’s too late.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

So, When Are You Going to Fix That?

Fresh Eyes Can Improve Your Bottom Line

When we’re in the same environment day in and day out, it’s easy to overlook things in our retail store that need our attention. Ditto with our website, store signage and monthly store calendar.

A personal experience: We’ve had an ongoing issue with a portion of our roof, which has lead to our dining room having so many contractors and repair people coming through that I might as well have installed a subway carousel. We aren’t expecting the Queen over for dinner anytime soon, so we haven’t worried too much about it, but we’ve gotten a bit lazy about this area. Whenever we have company, we almost have to remind ourselves to straighten up the clutter. We see it all the time so we’ve gotten used to it.

Is there an aspect of your store like this? Maybe you’ve been meaning to change out a display or update an area but just haven’t gotten around to it? While you may be used to seeing it and can dismiss it, your customers may see it differently. We don’t want our customers believing that our businesses aren’t keeping current and aren’t “the place” to be when it comes to their digital photography needs. What we view as non-critical can be viewed by a customer as apathy or laziness.

If you want to find out what kind of update your store might need, consider the following:

Bring in the Newbies: Find a few people who don’t spend much time in your store and ask them to take a look around. What do they notice that needs work? Let them know that you need their honest advice and won’t take offense to their responses. And if you say it, honor it. It doesn’t mean you have to take all the advice, but they may be in a better position to tell you what might stand out as a negative to your customers.

Think about Theater: What story are you trying to tell? What makes you unique? Do your store signage and display areas convey those special attributes? If not, it’s time to take action. Solicit ideas from employees and favorite customers; you may find an idea that will literally transform your shopping experience.

Focus and Delegate: Create a simple action plan—one page or so—that outlines your vision for your store and what needs to be done. Make sure to create sections for the person responsible for the area and the completion date. And when you meet those goals, celebrate by ordering in pizza for the team or bringing breakfast to your next manager meeting.

Now that the holiday rush is over, this is the perfect time to look at your business with fresh eyes and, more important, execute those ideas. Once you do, you’ll find that you inspire your customers to do more with their digital pictures, and isn’t that why we’re here in the first place?


Are you attending PMA this year? If so, now is the perfect time to begin thinking about what you’d like to accomplish at the show. This year’s PMA promises to deliver a variety of great programs, innovative displays and opportunities to connect with colleagues.

What will your days look like? What do you expect to accomplish while you’re there?

Is there a single problem or issue you’d like to resolve regarding your business? Try to articulate it in a sentence or two and jot down a few ideas, which companies you’ll need to visit and what questions you’ll need to ask.

Make sure to connect with old friends. Send out an email to make plans to get together.

Check the PMA program and write down the sessions you’d like to attend. Taking a few minutes to add these sessions to your Outlook Calendar or on your planner will help ensure that your biggest priorities are protected and you don’t miss that really great keynote.

This year’s PMA is full of promise. Just like your business.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Study shows tech confidence, not ability, a primary difference between men and women.

A recent study completed by Northwestern and Princeton Universities uncovered that men and women are comparably skilled when it comes to the Internet. The main difference is how women describe their abilities versus how men rate their own skills.

The study asked participants to perform a number of online tasks ranging from locating tax forms to location a particular candidate’s views on abortion, and the results showed that men and women handled the tasks with equal aplomb. When women described their abilities, however, they were far more likely to minimize their abilities.

Men had no such problem.

“Not a single woman among all our female study subjects called herself and “expert” user, while not a single male ranked himself as a complete novice or ‘not at all skilled’” noted Eszter Hargaitti, a co-author of the study.

I suspect this issue has similar results in digital photography. Confidence is key when it comes to hunting down the best camera, playing with it to better understand a camera’s features and experimenting with a new software program. You may find that some of your female customers are more reticent about explaining what they need or their ability to use certain features.

That doesn’t mean that she’s less skilled than her male counterparts, just less boastful about her abilities.

You can address this issue and ring up sales. Take some of the mystery out of the products. Show, don’t just tell, and when you tell, speak to specific solutions regarding questions she’s asking. Don’t throw acronyms at her as though they were rice at a wedding. Don’t give her information she hasn’t asked for. Let her lead the conversation, and she’ll guide you where she needs to go.

Giving her an opportunity to gain a little confidence can translate into sales and return visits. Once she gives herself proper credit for her abilities, you can bet she’ll back to do more with her digital pictures.

To learn more about the study, click

Friday, January 5, 2007

The One Meeting You Should Have Each Week

It’s no secret to those of you running retail businesses that keeping on top of daily tasks is about as simple as finding a cure for the common cold. It’s easy to see how key actions that can grow your business never seem to get done; they’re often lost in the daily bustle of store visits, customer issues, inventory management, employee concerns and the countless other rigors of your daily work life.

It’s time to turn your attention to something that will help your business keep customers loyal and increase referrals of new customers.

Start talking about them.

No, not behind their backs and not in a negative way. Consider having a regular weekly meeting with all your employees to learn what key customer concerns have come up over the week as well as share success stories. A few tips to make the meeting a hit:

1. Bill the meeting as a way for you to learn from your employees as well as a way for them to help one another better serve your customers.

2. Keep the meeting short and start before the store opens; people tend to have more energy and enthusiasm at this time, and the meeting can encourage a positive frame of mind throughout the day.

3. Show them the love: Supply some doughnuts, coffee, yogurt and fresh fruit. Demonstrate that their input is appreciated.

4. Ask each employee to share on success story and one challenge. Ask them how they handled the challenge and ask the team to help brainstorm other ideas as well.

5. End the meeting on a positive note and provide one key initiative for the week ahead.

Each employee holds valuable information about the customer experience in your store. Thirty minutes once a week can provide a wealth of knowledge to uncover issues you weren’t aware of as well as allow you to build on successes. It will also help you build something your customers are looking for—a community they can trust.