Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Some Retailers SUCK and others ROCK

In the current economic climate, one would think that a retailer would go to great lengths to consummate a transaction. Here's a story of one retailer who avoided (lost) a sale and one who perfected the sale:

Two days ago, I entered a PUMA store with the sole purpose of purchasing a digital watch for my wife. Within seconds, I found my "one-of-a-kind" in a trendy, pink design that was clearly more form than function. The price tag? A mere $80 - an insignificant amount in the watch world, but in the retail world (and to a company who needs to sell watches, shoes, t-shirts, hats and sunglasses) a healthy transaction that took less than 3 minutes to complete. BUT, as I inspected the watch up close at the checkout, it occurred to me that the digital numbers were nearly impossible to view. The illumination was almost non-existent. The "salesperson" quipped by disclosing that he had never sold a watch at PUMA and that all of these other watches in the case looked the same. He even suggested that I take my newly purchased watch to a jeweler for a new battery as most of the watches in the display had been there for as long as he could remember.

I left the store thinking that with my technical prowess, I could easily troubleshoot the illumination problem and present my wife with her new Thanksgiving present.

Not the case.

Frustrated, I ventured back to PUMA the following day determined to leave with a functional watch. I was delighted to find a new "salesperson" behind the checkout desk; someone who was sure to know more about the pink PUMA watch. Nope. Amazingly, I was given the same suggestion of replacing the battery on a brand-new watch. For a brief moment, my mind went adrift as I gave thought to how I would handle such a situation in my business. No doubt, I would have taken the watch to the jeweler literally NEXT DOOR, paid $3 for a replacement battery, a presented the customer with a fully functional pink watch 5 minutes later.

So, I left with no watch and PUMA lost (blew) an easy $80 sale.

Not all retailers blow the sale. Some even take their customer to unimaginable levels. Here's the story of a small retailer who went the extra mile. Make that 30 miles:

My mom, Kathy, and my brother, Adam, a learning disabled adult, recently went clothes shopping in Columbus, Ohio (Short North district). They were specifically looking for dress suits as Adam wears a suit and tie to work (like me!). They discovered a fashionable boutique on High Street offering Ben Sherman designs and quickly found their one-of-a-kind. Unfortunately, this clothier's tailor had recently quit leaving no qualified replacement at the store. Because my brother doesn't drive and he lives on the other side of town, coming back to the store when a qualified tailor was re-hired wasn't a practical alternative. So, the deal was done. No suit.

But this local boutique owner wouldn't give up. What happened next is pretty special.

A few days passed and the boutique owner called my mom to inform her that he had just taken a class on how to properly fit and pin a suit for alteration. He asked for a chance to custom-fit my brother for a new suit. Coincidentally, my brother was at my parent's house nearby (and not on the other side of town) recovering from H1N1. 30 minutes later, they were back in the boutique and in the dressing room. So pleased with the service they were, they decided to purchase not one Ben Sherman suit, but two.

A week had passed while the suits were being altered and the boutique owner called my mom. "Your suits are ready," he said. "I would like to personally deliver them to Adam (on the other side of town) if that's okay."

Do you think this boutique owner has a happy customer? Absolutely. Do you think PUMA can say the same?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bankruptcy is Immoral

I know it's a bold statement, but it's a bold move, too.

First, I am very clear about the legal rights afforded to businesses and individuals as it pertains to filing for bankruptcy. Second, I also realize that some people have no option but to file. When you have NO money and no way to pay for things by which you are obligated, you are left with no other options. As a tactic, filing for bankruptcy is not immoral.

However, refusing to pay (more like re-pay) the creditors consistutes an immoral action.

I completely understand one's inability to repay a debtor in the NOW world. But what about next year? Or five years from now? Or fifty years from now? Therein lies the moral aspect. Because one who chooses and succeeds in filing is saying to the world, "I can't pay you now. Please forgive me. Oh, by the way, I am choosing not to pay you for the rest of my lifetime - even when I can afford to do so."

As more and more Americans resort to the strategy of bankruptcy, the once-strong moral fibers of this nation weaken. Future generations will look back and recognize The Great Recession was a moral one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The New Joint Venture: Your Customers

Question to Homebuilders and Developers:

What thoughts come to mind when you think of a Homeowner's Assocation meeting? Do you think of axiety, anger, tomatoes, frustration, friction and burning torches? Probably. I've had those thoughts, too.

Last Thursday, I entered such a meeting.

But this one had the makings of being worse. I was about to inform the homeowners that the construction of the clubhouse and pool would be delayed indefinitely. Not permanently, mind you, but for the foreseable future. Financing of the clubhouse and pool had recently by de-funded by my construction lender leaving me with no choice but to postpone the December 2009 opening.

Not surprising, tensions rose; emotions erupted. Profanity ensued.

After a period of civil discussion (missing from our culture in every day America) something amazing happened. I mean AMAZING. A handful of homeowners offered to loan the money to pay for the clubhouse. Unbelievable.

Details haven't been worked out and I'm sure there will be a few. One thing is for sure: My business has a new Joint Venture. I couldn't be happier.

In these (economic) times, can you think of anyone you'd rather partner with than your customers?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How Much Do You Charge for Integrity?

I know, it's a strange question.

But it seems to me that too many people are willing to compromise their integrity. In other words, people will discount their moral values to get the deal done, to please the boss, to avoid scrutiny. Some people don't even hide their intent.

You already knew that.

Here's the interesting part: I'm seeing this (lack of integrity) trend within prospective buyers of our homes. It's strange because I come from the school of thought that the buyer is always right. It occurs to me, though, that some buyers are only in the deal for themselves. There is no reciprocity.

Don't get me wrong. I respect the fact that people are looking out for themselves. Sometimes, you are all YOU have.

What I challenge is the immoral actions these buyers will take. For example, a prospective buyer who works with a buyer's agent (without a written agreement) for weeks in search of a new home only to then exclude the agent when the right (or wrong) home is chosen, hoping that the builder will slash the price even further. That's lack of integrity.

No doubt, the economy is wreaking havoc on our pocketbooks. It doesn't have to take a toll on our integrity.

At the end of the day, if you're only left with your integrity (and literally nothing else), you'll live a life worth living.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

See You at the Cheesecake Factory

While on vacation recently, my family and I were biking the beautiful trails of Beaver Creek, CO. As lunchtime approached, we began searching for a nice lunch spot. A place where we could find a nice salad, some refreshing iced tea and enough fuel to get us back to our final destination.

We rode thru a quanit mixed-use shopping center housing some trend retail stores, your corner coffee shop and a handful of restaurants - all of which would likely satisfy our hunger after two hours of biking. After skipping over three or four dining establishments, our interest was piqued by the line of people waiting outside of a normal-looking cafe. Just like that our name was on a list (behind 13 other people).

The last thing we wanted was to wait 30 minutes to silence our growling stomachs. We could have easily walked across the street and grabbed a table for five and finished our meal by the time we were seated at the first place. But we didn't.

So, there we were, like the dozens and dozens of patrons with handheld pagers at The Cheesecake Factory, waiting for a table. The same people I mock every time I go to the mall. What in the world would cause someone to wait in line (sometimes hours) for an average meal, with average service at an average price when you could go across the mall for the same thing? BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT.

Human beings like to be led. In other words, humans like to follow (See Seth Godin's, Tribes). A select few (people, restaurants, amusement parks, automobile manufacturers, athletes) choose to lead. Learn how to lead and the people will follow. Add incredible service, great value and quality products and you'll have people waiting in line to buy from you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are you a Kategadi

Last night, I (thought) I had the greatest idea. I was watching an episode of Property Virgins on HGTV and..............Wait a minute. I should probably clarify why I was watching HGTV at 9:00 on a Monday evening.

I recently attended a Jeff Shore sales training workshop ( in Charlotte and he recommended that we watch HGTV (especially House Hunters) to see how real prospective home buyers search for, (think about) and purchase property. Hint: everybody compromises.

Anway, I saw the most awesome way to market your home. Take the market value of your home, slash the price 25% (and reduce that number by $100), and advertise the lower price. Instruct all prospective buyers they have one week to present any and all offers. Seems catchy, doesn't it? For example, your home's market value is $380,000. You decide to list it for $284,900. Seems like it could be the deal of a lifetime, right?

Hopefully, the pool of prospective buyers know that the $284,900 asking price will likely be met and exceeded since it is significantly below market value. Consequently, those "bidding" on the home during the one-week silent auction period will get caught up in the frenzy (because people assume other prospective buyers are doing the same). Assuming the home you are marketing isn't average, you might dupe the marketplace into paying more for your home than if you had just listed it for $380,000.

You've created urgency.

Those of us in home sales know how hard it is to create urgency (in today's market). It's as hard as shooting a 59 on a par-72.

But are you willing to commit yourself (and your company, and your employees, and your reputation) to schemes; gimmicks (e.g., Cash for Clunkers, $8,000 tax credit); distrustful techniques? Are you a Kategadi (Greek slang for scam artist)?

Or are you the consummate professional?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On the Road to Recovery. I DON'T CARE.

News flash: The Economy is on the Road to Recovery

As Dana Carvey (the Church Lady) used to say, "Well, isn't that special."

It sure would be nice to think that these "experts" are correct. Signs (as miniscule as they may be) of recovery and so-called 'green shoots' are apparently popping up across the economic landscape. The stock market is up; housing starts are up; the sky is still up.

On the other hand, one could make an argument that recovery, while eminent, is not upon us. There are even accusations that the media is falsely reporting signs of an economic recovery. Unemployment is growing; foreclosures are mounting; and Tiger just choked on a 54-hole lead in a Major.

Here's the cool part: I DON'T CARE.

I don't care because my plan isn't contingent on statistics or data. My future success isn't predicated on anyone other than ME and the energy I commit. Notwithstanding the support of my wife, my parents and siblings, my treasured employees, a few select friends and, of course, my bankers, I cannot (and will not) allow my energies to adjust like a thermometer depending on the latest news flash that makes me FEEL better (or worse) about being in business.

This is why you won't view me Twittering or emailing or regurgitating these economic statistics or fighting to save these useless government programs (see The Clunker Close blog) intended to spur economic activity.

Here's to being a thermostat.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dress Up Thursday Club

I'm not Old Fashioned. Not even close.

I am Old School. Particularly when it comes to the clothes I wear to work. Specifically, I wear a dress shirt and tie every day. I prefer to wear a suit with the dress shirt and tie but these Carolina summer days make that impossible.

It totally shocks me the way that American businessmen dress Monday thru Friday (we'll get to weekend dress another time; i.e., flip flops). It pains me to see that the short sleeved golf shirt has become a staple of the businessman's wardrobe. Add a pair of cheap cotton pants and some loafters and you have the modern-day nine to fiver.

I'm not here to change the sartorial preferences of my peers, at least not all at once. I would, however, like to introduce the concept of Dress Up Thursday for those that may want to reinvent their work style in baby steps. We'll have our own club that distinguishes itself from AVERAGE by wearing old school busines attire each and every Thursday. This includes: dress shirt (preferably French cuffs), neck tie (bow ties don't count), dress slacks (not khakis) and dress shoes (lace-up). Three-piece suit for bonus points.

I'm not endorsing we attend major league ballgames in fedoras and seersuckers. I'm not Old Fashioned.

I am inviting you to join the Dress Up Thursday Club. Old School.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's All About the ENERGY, Isn't It?

It's all about the engergy, isn't it?

There's positive energy, high energy, negative energy, low energy. There's kinetic energy, electrical energy and nuclear energy. Let's, however, focus on the former. This isn't science class.

Energy creates life. Energy wins elections. Energy sells.

Energy will lead us out of this economic tragedy, but not just any type of energy. It will take Positive energy (with a dose of high energy).

Having mentioned all of that, I experienced some good energy at one of my new home developments today. A wonderful group of high (and positive) energy salespeople from Allen Tate ( enjoyed a tour of the community and an awesome brunch (thanks, Sherri). By my account there were nearly 70 in attendance and the atmosphere was electric.

We didn't sell any homes today but we did create some positive energy. Thanks to those who attended and for sharing your energies. Let's keep in going!

Monday, August 10, 2009

What's in a Name

At EPCON Communities, we have 11 different floor plans (as far as I know) and each floor plan is given its own name. We have Aboreta, Bramante, Colonnade, Ducal, Abbey, Canterbury. We have Villa and Chateau and Portico and Promenade. Did I mention the Palazzo?

So, I was thinking. What's the point of all of these exotic and hard-to-spell names and why does every other brand marketer do the same thing?

Pulte (Sun City Carolina Lakes) has 23 different plan names! They have Kenwood, Brookside, Muirfield, Pine Spring, Copper Ridge, Surrey Crest, Willow Bend, Crestwood get my point.

Actually, what is the point?

Take a look at General Motors (er, Government Motors). They have 8 different brands and each brand has its own model names. Chevy alone has the Aveo, Cobalt, Colorado, HHR, Silverado, Malibu, Camero, Impala, Equinox, Traverse, Avalanche, Tahoe, Suburban and Corvette. What the heck is a Traverse?

How much time (and energy.......and money) is spent coming up with these silly names when the same amount of time (and energy........and money) could be spent on product efficiency and quality control? I'll bet you GM (and Pulte) have employees whose main job description is naming each of the products they build.

I don't drive a BMW, but they've got cool car names: X6, Z3, 750, M5.

So, what's in a name?

Friday, August 7, 2009

That's What I'm Talking About

I value customer surveys. I've been using them since I began my business 10 years ago and they provide a dashboard view as to how I'm doing. A report card of sorts.

Being in the building business you can imagine some of the surveys we've received over the years. We've had our fair share of negative ones - and we deserved most of them.

In just the last week, I had two great experiences related to customer feedback. One was an in-person visit from two couples that bought five years ago. They shared with me their experiences over the last few years; the enjoyment of using the clubhouse; the waiting list for certain homes in the community; the annual charity spaghetti dinner; the satisfaction of living in the community.

The second was a survey response from a customer who recently closed. They had the following comment:

"Living in Stonecrest Villas is like being on a never ending vacation ! We're always excited to show relatives, friends and prospective buyers our new home. The location for us is ideal. Twenty minutes from Charlotte and the airport and a few short hours from the mountains and ocean. In general, we won't have a need for any rocking chairs. Lots of things to do !"
Now that's what I'm talking about.
That's a tribe.
Those looking for an average home (for average people) can find literally millions of new homes and thousanda of new home subdivisions. Only a few can deliver a remarkable experience. And none of it has to do with price.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Records Were Meant to be Broken

Records Were Meant to be Broken. At least that's what they say.

Jack's 18 Majors; 3:43:18; 8 consecutive birdies; 762; $11,664,239,541,368 (our deficit). Were those records MEANT to be broken or is each individual accomplishment an invitation to be a participant in history?

I had lunch today with an old college buddy and teammate on the golf team. 17 years ago, this same friend shot a course-record 63 and took $20 of my lunch money (and the lunch money of 15 other teammates). It was a remarkable accomplishment. Like many other records, it seemed impenetrable.

Just last week, this same friend began a friendly golf match at the same golf club. This time, someone else seized the invitation to become a participant in history. An otherwise normal day of golf took a dramatic shift after three holes of inoccuous pars. Hole number four yielded an eagle; then a birdie; and another; and another; and another - a front-nine score of 29.

A birdie on hole #10 served as the Ah-ha moment. Seven under par (-7) thru just 10 holes matched the 18-hole course record of 63. Problem was, there were 8 more holes to play. This is where the story gets good.

Pars on 11, 12 and 13 took a little zip out of the zap. But, a tasty birdie on 14 quickly added some zing. But, oh, if it weren't for the brutal par-3 15th hole - 220 yards of torture - and a stingey bogey. Par on 16. Par on 17. Ho hum.

What seemed like an oh-so-historic round-in-the-making was on its way to standing alongside history. (Recap: the course record was 63 (-7). The current history challenger is -7 thru 17 holes - one hole to play). The tee shot on 18 landed in the middle of the fairway leaving a mid-iron to an elevated green. Like many of the previous iron approach shots, this one had a direct path over the flagstick. Problem was, the severity of the elevation meant no one could see the end result. Would it be a side-hill 3-footer for birdie (and the course record); an uphill 15-footer for history?

As the foursome approached the elevated green, there was no Titleist in sight. Hearts started beating faster. Bunker? Deep rough over the green? Nope. History was made that day. This record was meant to be broken (after 17 years). Can someone say EAGLE, as in SLAM DUNK, as in course record 61.

This record wasn't meant to be broken. It just was.

What if Your Passion is Your Passion

I'm a passionate guy.

Not in that sense. At least, that's none of your business.

But, I have a lot of passions. I'm passionate about my country, my real estate business, the game of golf, stylish clothes, World War II veterans, sales theory, downtempo music, fitness, conservatism (not in the green sense, in the money sense) and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I am passionate about my family. I am passionate about learning.

I am passionate about a lot of things and that's my point. Many of us were taught to follow our passion. None of us were taught to follow all of them.

There are 24 hours in the day. How many are you using?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Clunker Close

You've heard of the Trial Close; the Assumptive Close; the No-Close; the Ben Franklin Close; the Takeaway Close. What about the Clunker Close?

I wonder how American dealers plan to sell new cars once the ridiculous Cash-For-Clunkers program ends. 250,000 vehicle sales in just four days is an amazing feat but how much of it is attributable to remarkable product offering combined with effective sales and closing techniques and how much is attributable to The Discount Mentality? How are dealers going to maintain their sales successes when they can no longer use the Clunker Close?

Aren't we becoming a bargain nation when it takes a discount (price apology) to sell goods and services. What about offering a remarkable product with remarkable service and fair market pricing? Will there be a market for that?

The same applies to home sales. What's going to happen when the $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit expires in just 4 months? Will your product be strong enough and will your sales strategies be good enough to overcome the discount mentality.

A lot of questions, I know. I suspect we'll revisit this discussion and hopefully before the art of selling becomes the art of discounting.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Getting Back to the Basics

Maybe it takes a Great Recession to relearn the fundamentals needed to succeed. Maybe this is all about getting back to the basics.

Two years ago, my business was more about Paperwork than Peoplework. I think about the mindboggling number of hours spent studying reports and financial statements and cash flow diagrams and employee evaluations. I think about the amount in time spent in MEETINGS!

No more. At least it won't be as much.

Recently, I've been spending more time away from the office and in the field - in the trenches. I've been meeting with homeowners, touring the home sites with prospective buyers, inspecting homes with warranty claims - taking a more personal approach to the business. It all reminds me of how I started in the business 10 years ago. More Peoplework and less Paperwork.

And it's working.

My company just finished its best July sales performance EVER. As far as I'm concerned we've already started a trend. Some will argue that a month does not a year make. And they would be correct. But don't bet against me.

In closing, how much time are you spending on Paperwork versus time spent on Peoplework? If it's the former, how's that working for you?