Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

Fulfilling your store's customer service potential

rebecca torpie1Rebecca Torpie, former marketing manager for a natural foods co-op in Philadelphia and now a consultant in marketing and brand strategy offers some insight on exceptional customer service.

Even with brick and mortar retailers struggling against online stores, and the mass market undercutting prices on natural and organic products, our industry has an opportunity for competitive advantage—offering exceptional customer service. Is there room to up your store's service game?

Recently, I had a conversation with my colleague Rebecca Torpie, former marketing manager for a natural foods co-op in Philadelphia and now a consultant in marketing and brand strategy.

Carolee Colter: Define customer service...

Rebecca Torpie: There are several pieces to customer service.  This includes having operation systems in place to meet basic expectations; for example, having an accurate POS, adequate parking, and clean washrooms. Beyond that, customers have expectations to be wowed and delighted.

Carolee Colter: How do managers make certain that wowing and delighting occurs in their stores?

Rebecca Torpie: First, leaders must articulate to the staff what it means to be a great customer service operator. If you can’t articulate it, you can’t share it. You need a customer service philosophy. Using an “off the shelf” philosophy developed by others is okay as long as you follow through and ensure that philosophy is used throughout the entire store.

Then you need to ensure training is done systematically for all employees at all levels, and not just for new people. Plan for training, say, every quarter or every six months.

Carolee Colter: What methods work best for staff training?

Rebecca Torpie: There should be written materials for trainers to follow to ensure consistency in what people are taught over time and across departments. Role playing works very well for practicing responses to difficult interactions so that people feel prepared. Be aware that role playing could make people uncomfortable, so keep them light and fun. And make sure staff feels comfortable going to their managers with a question.

Carolee Colter: How about training for internal customer service?

Rebecca Torpie: Customers observe how staff members interact with each other. In the training, address how to handle peer-to-peer interactions, including across departments.

Carolee Colter: At a store I consulted for, they had a saying, “Stay, listen and learn.” If you don’t know the answer to a question, take the customer to someone who knows the answer and then stay and listen to your coworker’s response and learn the answer for next time.

Rebecca Torpie: Also, budget for desk time and research time in employee schedules so they can learn about the latest products. Cultivate a culture of using downtime for learning. Also take advantage of sales reps’ offers to train about new products.

Carolee Colter: Another learning opportunity comes if a manager needs to step in to “make it right” with a dissatisfied customer. Then the manager can debrief with the employee, do active listening, acknowledge any bruised feelings and coach on how to handle it next time.

In the end, the culture of an organization is what the leaders actually do, not what they say. Should leaders always be asking themselves, “How do I personally delight and wow the customers?”

Rebecca Torpie: Leaders certainly do model for the rest of the staff. You can’t expect the staff to do what you won’t do.

Carolee Colter: How about leaders who are introverts? Once an introvert explained to me that everything he did in public was “theatre.”

Rebecca Torpie: Some people have a high comfort level interacting with customers, others less. But customer service is a part of doing business. You need to put on your social face and not fake it. It’s about quality, not quantity. If you make two good touch-points with customers that are excellent, that’s better than ten that are mediocre. •

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Make your health food store a winner

make your health store a winnerWhich silver car is it?  Tony Kibonge shouted, as I tagged a car and he raced by. This race to the silver car was a re-match of another race I had won one cold morning in Stuart Lake. We had raced through the water up to my chest and Tony’s neck!   While I had won both races, the truth of the matter is that Tony ­– who is 13 years old – is a much faster runner than I am.  In fact I think he might be one of the fastest 13 year olds in the country.  However, in both races, I made sure that I had distinct advantages. I really had no intention of losing, although in both races it was a real possibility.  More on that later.

But what about you? Are you intent on winning with your store? Do you have a strategy or are you going up against, quicker, faster, better competition and just hoping that you are going to win, without really even a hope?  So often we are going against competition that is so stiff that our goal is just to keep our heads above water and pay the bills. 

Give yourself an advantage

So why don’t we change the game?  When I raced against Tony Kibonge and his class the first time in a lake, I knew I had a clear advantage.  I knew that I weighed 100 lbs more and was a good eight inches taller than Tony and this would help me as I moved against the water in the lake to the finish line. In business, we often think that we have to run the race that our competitor has already established an advantage in.  I knew that if I was to race Tony in the 100, 200 or 400 meters that he so loves to race,  I would be left in the dust. So I don’t race those races.

In the health food business, we too need to change the odds so that they are in our favour. We need to think about what we are better at than our competition, both online and mass.  If our competition has better prices than us, then, we better focus in an area where we can add value and price is less of an issue.  This may be great service or exclusive products.  To distinguish ourselves, we need to really be different and find customers who are willing to pay for that difference.

Setting goals

And what does winning mean? In every race, there is a finish line and a goal that we are striving for. However, most small retail health food stores don’t have real goals. We are just plodding along hoping that our store is going to grow without having any real plans, any targets for sales or marketing, profit, or any other measurable outcome. 

If you would like to double your business in three to five years, you need to grow at 20 per cent a year.  So, how do we do that?

  1. The first step is to establish a goal and to write it down.  Put that goal up on a wall or white board – somewhere you will be reminded of it often and everyone on your team can see it. 

  For example, “Sales Target: by 2020, we will have two million dollars in sales.”  

  1. Pick a Strategy to Achieve Your Goal – It might take time to work this out with your team, but if you want to get people on board, you might want to include them in picking the best strategy. If you have a really small store, it might mean that you need to set time aside to put some thought into how your business will achieve the goal.  What specific customers are you going to go after? Where is the area that you are going to have a distinct advantage over your competition? Do you need to change your pricing model or your marketing strategies?
  1. Lay out some tactics to achieve the strategy. These might be things like: We are going to start putting on more seminars in the store; we are going to focus on brain health this year; I am going to spend 50 per cent of my time each week working on the business and getting more people in the store, and 50 per cent working on the floor. 
  1. Measure your progress.  Once you have started working towards your goals by implementing your strategies and tactics, you need to measure the progress and celebrate the wins. In the retail health business, we need to play to our advantage.  Just as I tried to beat Tony by setting the parameters of a race that I could win, you need to do the same thing with your business.

Focus only on areas where you have an advantage. Know where the finish line is, and celebrate each and every accomplishment. Make your health food store a winner! •

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Social media and your staff

social mediaWhat role can your staff play on social media?

How can they represent your business?

To answer these questions, I turned to Holly Fearing. As a social media advisor with the Filene Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin, she helps credit unions, co-operatives, small businesses and non-profits use social media channels to find and connect with their target audiences. She’s also president of the board of Willy Street Co-op, a three-store natural foods co-op in Madison, Wisconsin.

Informally, employees can share your store's posts on their personal social media channels, Holly suggests, and even add a personal connection that will resonate with their followers, e.g. "This is a perfect example of why I'm so proud to work for my store!" 

However, you could have a more formal program with certain employees designated as  “brand ambassadors.” By asking for volunteers, you’ll likely get the most enthusiastic staffers and also give a voice to an individual or department that feels under-represented.

At one natural foods retailer, an employee who took photographs as a hobby became a brand ambassador. Her artistic photos of products are now featured on the store’s social media.

Holly advises giving staff high-level guidelines:

  • Don't use any personal information, including names and photos of individuals, without permission.
  • Refrain from saying anything that doesn’t match your store’s brand.
  • Stay away from controversy and confrontation. “If you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, don’t say it on social media,” Holly cautions.

LinkedIn

Brand ambassadors can also respond to customer questions on social media in a customer service capacity much as they would if roaming the floor and were asked a question.

Another role for staff on social media is as recruiters. If any of your people are on LinkedIn, they already have the capability to connect and network with others in our industry. “There's a networking group for almost any professional topic,” Holly says, “and people really help each other out with ideas in LinkedIn groups. It's also a fantastic place to advertise job openings, recruit new talent and showcase your organization's culture for those looking at your store to potentially apply for a job there.”

Of course you need to stay in compliance with your provincial Employment Standards. If an employee voluntarily chooses to share store posts on their own social media, you can thank them but make it clear that they are not “on the clock” when they do so.

However, if you ask an employee to be a brand ambassador or recruiter on social media, their time must be paid. And you’ll want to put some boundaries around their hours on social media so that they don’t inadvertently run into overtime. Holly gives an example of a food co-op that set 10 per cent of an employee’s hours for brand ambassador activities. This full-time employee then knew she had four hours a week to spend on social media.

With the proliferation of mobile devices, this time might not all be spent sitting in front of a computer; it could also involve roaming the floor, taking photos and texting. To avoid the impression that an employee is using a cell phone on personal business, Holly suggests wearing a button with a message like, “Hi! I’m a brand ambassador.”

Finally, I asked if millennial customers and employees tend to favour social media more than other generations. Holly replied, “Millennials were the ones who cracked the nut of what is possible in digital communication channels. But all generations are using these channels now.”

For more ideas on social media for your store, you can contact Holly at holllyfearing@cdsconsulting.coop.  •

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Nine ways to make your business healthier

alive rick kroetschRick Kroetsch, associate publisher of Alive Publishing Group had some wonderful information to share with retailers who attended the Puresource retailer conference in June.  The basis of his presentation was to inspire attendees to be opened minded in their quest to make their stores healthier.

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The Decision Matrix

When an organization is going through rapid change, roles within the organization change, too, and not always  in a consciously thought-through manner. Expansions can result in forming new layers of positions.

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What is CASL and why do I need to comply with it

 casl lawa wendy hulton(CASL) came into effect back on July 1, 2014 and while Canada was late to the anti-spam movement, it caught up fast with one of the toughest and widest reaching anti-spam regimes to date.  


 

(CASL) came into effect back on July 1, 2014 and while Canada was late to the anti-spam movement, it caught up fast with one of the toughest and widest reaching anti-spam regimes to date.  

But CASL applies to much more than traditional “spam.”   CASL applies to all your electronic messages (think email, text, SMS, etc.) that you are sending in Canada, if any aspect of the message encourages participation in any kind of commercial activity.  You can stop reading this article now, if you already know that CASL (with a few exceptions) essentially prohibits sending commercial electronic messages (aka CEMs) to anyone in Canada without their consent.

 Under CASL, consent can either be “express” or “implied.”  Express consent is preferable because it remains valid until it is revoked.  In order to obtain express consent, you must clearly disclose: (1) what you are seeking consent to send (promotions, sales, etc.), (2) information identifying the sender, and (3) mention that the party may unsubscribe at any time.

Implied consent, for example, is valid for six  months from the date the recipient sent a request for a quote to the sender, unless withdrawn sooner.  Implied consent also applies if there is an “existing business relationship” between the sender and the recipient, based on the purchase of products or services between the parties within the past two year period preceding the date the CEM was sent.

CASL’s provisions allow CEM type messages to be sent without full CASL compliance in a B2B context such as messages sent within an organization, or by an employee, representative, consultant or franchisee to another employee, representative, consultant or franchisee of that organization, in connection with the activities of that organization or to another organization, if the organizations “have a relationship” and the message concerns the activities of the recipient organization.

Messages sent in the context of a “Family Relationship” or “Personal Relationship,” are also exempt.  In this case, “family” means individuals related by marriage, common-law partnership or a legal parent-child relationship and a personal relationship typically means individuals who have had in-person, voluntary, two-way communications where it would be reasonable to conclude that they have a personal relationship.

CASL also contains provisions that permit one commercial electronic message to be sent following a referral by any individual who has an “existing business” or “non-business relationship,” family or personal relationship with the person who sent the message and that discloses the name of individual that made the referral and the fact that the message is sent as a result of the referral.

So, what happens if you don’t comply with CASL?

You run the risk of potential significant penalties and lawsuits.  CASL provides for either actual damages or statutory damages of $200 for each violation, up to a maximum of C$ one million/day for individuals and C$10 million/day for corporate entities.  In determining the final amount of damages to award, courts analyze the personal/corporate history of the violator(s), the financial benefit obtained and the nature and scope of the violation(s).  Considering that marketing campaigns may involve millions of CEMs, potential damages under CASL may escalate very quickly. A person can seek to avoid liability for a violation by showing that it/he/she exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the violation, among other common law principles. 

Examples CASL enforcement action over the last couple of years:

  • Compu-Finder

The first notice of a CASL violation involved 3510395 Canada Inc. (doing business as Compu-Finder), which was slapped with an administrative monetary penalty of $1,100,000 for repeatedly sending CEMs without recipients’ consent, as well as sending CEMs without a properly functioning unsubscribe mechanism.

  • PlentyofFish
  • In the second CASL case, PlentyofFish Media Inc. (PoF), the operator of the online dating web site Plenty of Fish, voluntarily entered into an undertaking with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in order to settle several alleged violations of CASL.  These included sending CEMs to registered users of its own web site that contained an unsubscribe mechanism that was not set out “clearly and prominently” and was not able to be “readily performed.”  PoF’s penalty was only $48,000.
  • Porter Airlines

In the third public CASL case, Porter also entered into a voluntary undertaking with the CRTC after Porter was found to have sent CEMs to email addresses for which it was not able to provide proof of consent, as well as sending CEMs that did not provide complete contact information required by CASL. Other CEMs sent by Porter either contained no unsubscribe mechanism or one that was not set out “clearly and prominently”, and there was at least one instance where the unsubscribe mechanism was not given effect within 10 business days as required by CASL. Porter’s penalty was $150,000 and Porter was obliged to take corrective measures such as updating its mailing list and ensuring that its CEMs met form requirements, as well as implementing a compliance program.

Rogers Media Inc.

Rogers Media paid $200,000 as part of an undertaking to resolve alleged violations of CASL. The CRTC’s investigation alleged that Rogers Media failed to comply with various CASL requirements between July 2014 and July 2015.  During this period, the company allegedly sent commercial emails containing an unsubscribe mechanism that did not function properly or which could not be readily performed by the recipient.  In addition, in some instances, the electronic address used to unsubscribe was allegedly not valid for the required minimum of 60 days following the sent message.  Rogers Media also allegedly failed to honour, within 10 business days, requests from some recipients to unsubscribe from receiving future commercial emails. 

Why should you be more concerned about CASL after Canada Day?

As of July 1 of this year, Canadians will also be able to launch private and class action lawsuits to collect damages for violations of CASL.  Because the CASL requirements are so broad, so strict and so easily violated, most people expect to see a flood of CASL-specific class action lawsuits.  The private right of action allows parties to sue for actual and statutory damages. Statutory damages could prove to be quite significant.  If your organization has cyber / privacy liability policies, you may want to determine whether they cover third-party claims, class actions and penalties arising out of privacy/CASL violations.   You may also want to check any applicable directors’ and officers’ liability policies, as they may exclude marketing or privacy violations.

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Why a project manager?

why a project managerWho is your project manager?” is one of the first questions I ask when I start working with a store on a design project. I’m often given a look that says, “What do you mean?

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Five things you can do to get your customers to buy more often 

dave fuller 1articleMy friend Aaron likes to tell the story about how he arrived at a hotel and how they greeted him at the car. Shortly after, a staff member said, “Aaron, you’re a Manchester United  fan, aren’t you?

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Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

The concept of emotional intelligence is now part of popular culture. Just as we each have an IQ or intelligence quotient that measures cognitive ability, some social scientists say we have an EQ or emotional quotient.

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Mixing marketing with interior design

Mixing marketing with interior design

Walking into a Whole Foods or a Loblaw’s is exciting for most people for so many reasons: the food smells simply incredible, the atmosphere is electric with the chatter of happy shoppers and the ring of the registers is almost soothing. These aren’t just circumstance - they are planned. Just like the floor you walk on and the perfectly lit product you race to.

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The price of survival

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of running a retail operation in the wellness industry in Canada is working with suppliers who have inconsistent or unsustainable pricing strategies.

The result is that retailers are left between a rock and a hard place and have to be very adept when setting their retail price.  Just high enough to maintain margins, but low enough to retain credibility.   Due to market conditions, online sales, and industry consolidation, this balance is and will become increasingly difficult.

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Building a sales system

Building a sales system

One of the keys to a business’s success, and a factor that needs to be paramount in the success of many small businesses, is the ability to relate to customers and sell his products and services.  While selling seems to come natural to a few people, to most of us entrepreneurs, it takes work and we need to understand that there is a science to it.  Below are the steps to being successful in selling.

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The Recommender

Perhaps the most important role in natural retailing is the role of the recommender... the person who helps choose which product will bring the greatest benefit and value to the end user, the consumer.

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Creating accountability

A manager of an independent natural food store, when her store was smaller, met individually with her department managers every week to talk about how things were going in the department. If this GM noted any performance issues in the department, she would bring them up in this meeting. She would ask if the manager wanted any help in strategizing how to address the issues. Sometimes they would go over “talking points” for the manager to use in a conversation with an employee.

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Capital budgeting without the headaches

For entrepreneurs without a strong financial background, the job of capital budgeting can seem overwhelming.  Capital budgeting – essentially the process of deciding how to invest excess cash within a company on items that are not regular “operational” items – covers a wide range of activities, and can include everything from purchasing a new piece of equipment to making a substantial investment in capital assets for a new location. 

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The Core Shopper

I believe the core shoppers of health food stores amount to about 15 per cent of Canadians.  The core shoppers are fully engaged with the natural health food store lifestyle.

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Running an impeccable front-end

Running an impeccable front-end

You can have great merchandising, selection and product knowledge. But customers’ experience checking out through your front-end can make or break your store. How people feel after that interaction determines how they feel about your company.

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Sales. profit, inventory

The three key areas to focus on in order to thrive are sales, profit and inventory.  Sales is generally the first focus of a business because without sales, there is no business. 

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Post-Expansion Burnout

Post-Expansion Burnout

You’ve been working on this project for several years. After overcoming every obstacle, putting up with countless delays, raising hundreds of thousands in financing, moving all your inventory, and staying up all night, you open the doors in your beautiful new store.

While the big push to get the new store open may seem like the hardest work you’ve ever done, a harder job lies ahead of you – getting through the next year or even two years. As a colleague of mine says, “You open the doors and then the hard work really begins.

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The advertising mix

The advertising mix

In the world of retail marketing, there is a huge choice of media, strategies and techniques that a retailer has at his or her disposal to promote their store.  Whether the objective is to create traffic with point-of-sale promotions, build the store brand or promote specific events… no matter the type of promotion, the tools available to reach the desired audience are collectively known as “the advertising mix.”

The concept of the advertising mix was developed in the early 1950’s. It is essentially a toolbox of different media and promotional techniques that a retailer chooses to fit the needs of their specific marketing objectives. For example, a retailer that has identified that their clientele are highly mobile, may decide to invest a portion of their marketing dollars into radio. It’s a great way to reach travellers – particularly to and from work – and it is an ideal media for high frequency and saturation. It is a very good fit for reaching this demographic.

Conversely, retailers drawing from a large geographic area may choose television for its vast coverage and multi-demographic reach. Retailers focused on specific age-groups or demographics may choose media or promotional techniques that are particular to those potential customers.  Trying to reach seniors?  Sponsor the weekly bingo or perhaps place ads in the senior’s newsletter. Promoting all-natural acne cream for teenagers? Try social media or on-line promotions. Over-stocked on protein powders and L-glutamine?  Try a coupon campaign in conjunction with your local fitness club.  Melatonin sales plateauing? Why not run ads after midnight on the local radio station? Trying to boost your cold and flu remedy sales? Perhaps a few well-placed ads on the Weather Channel will do the trick.

Each of these examples utilizes a specific advertising technique (or media) that is best suited to reach the desired audience. And each offers the optimum chance of capturing the attention of that market.

Since its inception, the advertising mix has evolved as the sophistication of the markets has intensified and as the number of promotional ‘tools’ has increased. For many years, newspaper, radio and television advertising were the stalwarts of the mix. Nowadays, a retailer can also utilize direct mail, couponing (with instant gratification via UPC scanning), live and video in-store marketing concepts, outdoor advertising, transit advertising, google ads, facebook, instagram, twitter and the whole realm of social media,  websites, web sales and webinars, guerrilla marketing (flashmobs to promote your new location?), product placements, email campaigns, public relations (a column in your local newspaper is unbeatable), community outreach programs, award, team and event sponsorships, QR codes, branded store promotional items, free samples, and so on and so on.

Your ability to reach your market(s) – those groups of customers that make up the largest percentage of potential customers – will ultimately determine the techniques that will give you the best return on your investment. Choose wisely. But take note, everything you do to promote your store is a really good thing. Just do it, do it well and do it often.  •  by Doug Muldoon

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CNHR News Podcast

cnhr radio hour

News, Views and Happenings in the world of Canadian Natural Health.

Check out this month's podcast here

CHFA West: February 22-25

 

Reach your key retail customers in CNHR’s Show Preview Issue.  

An early show requires early messaging.  Get your Spring sales message out early with an ad in CNHR.  Reach the key retailers well before CHFA West.  Here’s what your ad can do for you:

  • share your spring promotional plan with all retailers
  • help your sales team reach sales targets
  • introduce your new products BEFORE the show
  • tell retailers about your show specials early
  • help open doors for your sales team
  • create traffic at your booth
  • solidify brand loyalty
  • tell retailers about your new services, too!  
  • support all of your in-store, digital and consumer marketing efforts

 

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