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  • I’ve been out of touch…

    I haven’t sent out an email newsletter in ages, and have only rarely posted to this blog. It’s been a much longer hiatus than I anticipated. As retailers, I’m sure you can all appreciated how long new projects seem to take to get off the ground. Not to mention the daily work of doing business.

    There have been lots of changes at Inspire over the past months. Now that those projects have some momentum, I’m renewing my commitment to keep in touch with you, and keep creating new articles. And hopefully some of you will join me here on the blog, and share your comments about what’s happening in retail in your neck of the woods.

    Here’s what’s been happening at Inspire:

    • Marie-Claude Coté has joined me as a merchandising consultant. You can get to know more about here here: (Just scroll down the page to see her lovely visage.)
    • In response to requests from retailers, Inspire can now help you with merchandising your store or retail cart in-person. Businesses in BC’s Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island can book Marie-Claude to help you merchandise your store or cart.
    • Improving this blog to have more features and allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds. This has been a major challenge, and I’m still working out technical issues.
    • Migrating and the website from to It’s not quite done yet. I’ll keep you posted.

    I’m working on the next e-newsletter which will go out shortly – today. I’ll be sending out an article that I recently had published in Retail Connections magazine about preparing for retail events. Stay tuned.

    In the meantime, add your comments below to let me know what’s been happening in your store lately…

    or what you’d like to see at Inspire, or this blog…

    or just say hello. I’d love to hear from you!

    Why would you want to subscribe to the newsletter?

    Well, if you don’t subscribe already – it’s a way to get the latest retail articles delivered directly to your email box – because we all forget to go back regularly to blogs we like. Even if you prefer to read the articles on the blog, the newsletter will send you the link when it is published. And, subscribers get to download the pdf Attracting Customers: Steps to getting more shoppers in the door.

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    What’s Your Biggest Retail Challenge Today?

    Here’s a question I received this morning in my email:

    “I was looking for some additional information on some tips on driving traffic into your store. I do run a textile retail store and am at the cross roads of whether to palm it off or continue…”

    I’ve already responded, but I’d like to hear from you…

    • is this the same question that is top of mind for you as a retailer?
    • how has your business been affected by the current economy?
    • what is happening in your community?
    • what is the biggest challenge facing you right now, today?
    • what are you doing that is working for you?

    Post your thoughts below.

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    What’s New at Inspire…

    It’s been a bit quiet here for a while, as I work on some new directions for Inspire. Here’s what’s happening:

    Teaching Fashion Retailing for John Casablancas Institute is one of the things I’ve been enjoying the most over the past few months. It’s great to see talented and creative young people who are planning careers as part of the retail industry – whether it is styling, buying, merchandising or owning a store. Now that I’ve finished the big job of revising the curriculum layout, I will focus on blogging here, and staying in touch with retailers on my Facebook Page, and Twitter. Come on over and say hello!

    Focus is the topic of my next retail article that I’ll be posting soon. I’ve working with a fabulous coach, Kathy, over the past year to help me focus the direction of my business. As a result, a new face, Marie-Claude Coté, has joined mine. She will be working on merchandising with local retailers in the Vancouver area. You can find out more about her here. (Scroll down the page to read her bio.) Marie-Claude is fabulous to work with. She is starting to work with retail cart and kiosk owners in response to requests from mall leasing managers, and will also work with independent stores.

    I was invited this week to participate in the start of an exciting new project with Retail BC. I met these great people – Darren at Lemonade Tactical Marketing, Joseph with NEBS and Gary at Business Advisory Team. We will be creating marketing resources that retailers can use to get more customers now. Help us help you by sharing what you need most right now:

    • In today’s economy, what do you need most in your business?
    • What marketing issue keeps you up at night?

    Make your voice heard! Post your thoughts below.

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    Store Displays That Turn Off Holiday Shoppers

    We’re well into the holiday season. Shopping fever is in full swing.

    Do you have what it takes to keep your customers engaged?
    Will your store look fresh right into the new year?

    Right after Hallowe’en store start decking their walls with lights and ribbon. The latest and greatest merchandise is stocked up. Fabulous displays appear, the best of the year.

    Have you ever noticed what happens in some stores close to Christmas?

    Stores start to look tired. Shelves become empty. Merchandise gets messy.

    It’s understandable – there are more customers through the store in December than the rest of the year. It is a challenge to maintain store standards.

    The busiest shopping days of the year are between December 18 – 23. The Saturday before Christmas has the highest sales volume of the year.

    How much business are you going to lose if your front displays are half empty for just one day? Customers will walk by to the next store instead of stopping at your display.

    How many people will be disappointed when you tell them the merchandise in the window is out of stock? How much time will it take them to find something else they like? Will they take the time to look, or walk back out the door?

    Tired stores send a negative message to shoppers. Emptying shelves tell customers, “You should have shopped earlier. The best selection is gone.”

    The stores that will excel in the holiday season, are the ones that can live up to customer expectations all year long.

    Keep your store looking fresh and inviting right through the holidays.

    1. Have fresh merchandise arrive on the shelves the week before Christmas.

    Customers want to give gifts that their friends and relatives will love. Make sure you always have something new and attractive to offer.

    Having new merchandise in the week before Christmas and through Boxing Week will maximize your profits. Mark down the merchandise that is nearly sold out. Feature the new full price merchandise out front.

    If you don’t have the chance to get new merchandise in this year, move displays and merchandise to make it look new. And plan ahead for next year to have new orders arrive mid-December.

    2. Keep the front displays current and full.

    Make someone responsible to check your storefront every morning and periodically during the day. If you have a window display, make sure the items in the window are still in stock. If not, change it. If you have new merchandise, display it in the window.

    Evaluate front merchandising fixtures. Make sure they are full and displayed attractively. Rotate merchandise by moving products from lower traffic areas to the front.

    3. Make last minute gift shopping easy. Shoppers want to maximize time, and minimize decision making.

    Bundle coordinating products together and price them as a package. Wrap them up with clear wrap and a ribbon. A simpler method is to tie them together with raffia, ribbon, or even string. Then attach a tag.

    Merchandise stock right next to where the products are displayed. Shoppers can just grab and go. To the cash register.

    4. Schedule extra time to clean up the store. At the end of each day, schedule an extra 1/2 hour to an hour to focus on store presentation. High traffic takes a toll on displays and organization.

    After the store is closed, straighten merchandise throughout the store. Fill shelves. Clean up muddy footprints and dust bunnies. Wipe fingerprints off the glass. Make sure you are ready for the next day!

    Keep your store ship-shape through the busiest season of the year. You’ll keep customers all year long.

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    How Not To Serve Your Customers

    I have a problem with cell phones. My cell phone typically lasts about a year until I need to replace it because I’ve dropped it too many times.

    Until this year.

    I’m currently on my third cell phone since spring. No, I’m not just a klutz. Not usually, anyway.

    My phone tends to get dropped when I’m trying to load kids and groceries into the car, or trying to find my phone and make a call while carrying student projects home to be graded.

    The fact that my life, and cell phone, would benefit immensely from a slower lifestyle and less stress is obvious. Many of us are living life at an insane pace – and that’s why we like cell phones.

    Why am I telling you a story about cell phones anyway?

    A basic retail concept is that it costs about five times more to acquire a new customer, than it does to keep a current customer. It makes sense to serve the customers you have as well as you can.

    But cell phone companies don’t seem to understand this.

    Cell phone companies are totally caught up in the fight to acquire new customers. With free cell phones for new customers, and ‘My Faves‘ type promotions, they work to persuade users to switch providers. Cell phone companies are totally ignoring their best customers – the ones that don’t switch.

    Actually, I should correct myself. Cell phone companies are not ignoring us. They are penalizing us for being loyal customers. The customers who stay with the company are the ones who pay the costs of all these promotions.

    I’m not the only one who drops my phone. According to the Rogers website, “The two most common causes of damage are dropping your phone and exposure to moisture.”

    How to drive away customers.

    The first time I dropped my phone, I tried to get it fixed. I called Rogers customer service and was told that I could take my phone to their store in a particular mall near me. So I did. When I got there, I was told that I needed my original receipt for the phone so that they could see the date when I purchased it.

    Why couldn’t the service rep on the phone have mentioned that? Secondly, why can the service rep on the phone pull up my records electronically but it can’t be done in the store?

    I went home and came back with the receipt. Then I was told that it would take 2-3 weeks to have my phone shipped out and returned to me. They have a courtesy phone program, but unfortunately the waiting list for courtesy phones was huge and I wouldn’t get one.

    My cell phone is by business phone, so being unavailable for 3 weeks was out of the question. Next, the rep informed me that I could take my phone in person to the store where some repairs are actually done, and see what they say. Another piece of valuable information that the phone rep could have told me in the first place.

    Since I’ve already spent the better part of an afternoon on this, I was not thrilled about driving to yet another mall, for more of this infuriating service. The sales rep offered a new phone. I had spent enough money in my contract to ‘qualify’ for new phone and only pay $50 bucks for the most basic phone – if I sent in the mail-in rebate on time.

    So – I went home, much relieved, with a new phone.

    A year later, I drop this phone. I don’t even consider getting it fixed after the last fiasco. I go in to replace it. This time I’m told that it is going to cost me nearly $400 bucks to get a replacement basic phone.

    The rep told me that if I phoned customer service instead, I could get a phone for cheaper, but he couldn’t do that for me in the store. However, if I called customer service, it would take 2 weeks for the new phone to arrive at my house. Too long.

    Apparently, I could tell the telephone rep I was unable to wait that long. Then I would be able to pick up the new phone at the store instead of waiting for it to be mailed.

    So, if I drove home, phoned customer service, told them I needed a new phone, I could drive back to the same store and pick it up for a lower price. How ludicrous!

    I expressed my displeasure with these service policies that actually encourage users to switch to another company. The rep shrugged and said, “Well, then you have to buy out the rest of your contract.”

    I was tired of arguing. I said, “Just give me a phone!” At the end of the transaction, the rep said, “Oh, I have to add a service charge (around $30-35) but you can probably get it reversed if you call customer service and ask them.” So, the overall cost was over $400, and I had homework to do to: send in a mail-in rebate, and call customer service for a discount. Arrgh!

    Two months later, the screen just stopped working. This time I called customer service first. They had me check the phone for potential moisture damage which would void the warranty. There was none. So they sent a new phone. It’s french. Which matters little to me practically, but made me feel like my replacement phone is ‘leftover’ stock.

    I don’t feel like a valued customer.

    A week later, I’m in a hurry, and one of the kids is yelling. In my rushing, the clip on my phone holder slips, and the phone falls into the toilet.

    I’m devastated. The thought of dealing with Rogers again terrifies me.

    After letting the phone dry out, I search & search for cell phone repair in Vancouver. I come up with several businesses in Toronto. The Rogers site says in bold, “Phones that are moisture damaged cannot be repaired.”

    I also come across this statement “Customer satisfaction means everything to us at Rogers Wireless. We do our best to make the repair process as seamless as possible.” This tells me that management is not aware of what is going on at the customer level.

    Then I discover a forum post responding to someone else who had a wet phone. There is phone number listed for repairs. This looks a little dodgy, so I Google the number. It’s listed to a business in Richmond, and has a little website. I phone them up.

    Customers want you to solve their problem.

    The man that answers is lovely. He tells me a wet phone is no problem. He needs to see it first, but he figures it’ll cost $70. I ask him how long it’ll take. He says, “Two hours.” I’m immensely relieved, although still a little nervous.

    I take the phone in, drop it off. The man I had spoken to on the phone, and a woman at the desk are so reassuring and wonderful to deal with. The next day they phone me, one hour after they open, and tell me the phone is ready.

    Totally stress-free and easy.

    Unless you count trying to drive in Richmond on a weekend in November. But that’s another rant.

    Make it easy for customers to do business with you.

    Think about your sales processes from beginning to end. Make sure it is easy for customers to find what they need, pay, and leave. But don’t stop there.

    Anticipate customer problems. Create a smooth process for resolving customer complaints and returns. Problems are an opportunity for you to please the customer. If you can solve their problem, you will gain a more loyal customer than you had before.

    Notice that the key is in how the customer feels. If you can turn feelings of frustration and anxiety into feelings of relief and reduced stress, you will have a customer who keeps coming back.

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    Target’s virtual fashion show

    Retail News:

    Target held this model-less fashion show at Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall on November 6 and 7.

    Business Week ran this article about the 3D production and applications in business and fashion.

    Here’s another example from Diesel with real models and ‘holographic’ projections:

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    Packaging Your Store: Why The Wrapping Sells The Product

    Your store is one big package for the products and merchandise you have inside.

    It’s the package that sells the merchandise.

    Let’s say I give you a present. Well, not really – just in your imagination. Play along, OK?

    I’m giving you a present. It’s not big. You can hold it in your hand. It’s wrapped in an exquisite Japanese-style handmade paper. The creamy gold-flecked paper is complimented with a gold fabric ribbon. The handmade tag bears your name in elegant calligraphy. A light floral scent wafts from the package.

    You’re absolutely thrilled to receive such a lovely gift. Imagine all the care and attention that went into wrapping this special present. You are so touched by the gesture.

    Especially since I haven’t even met you!

    The presentation and packaging of the gift matters.

    A lot.

    You don’t even know what is inside yet, and you have formed an impression about both the gift and gift giver. Even a small token gift – a chocolate, or a bar of soap, will feel exquisite and special when wrapped in a fabulous package.

    You assume the gift-giver is caring, generous, and thoughtful. (Which, of course, in this case, is true.) You believe that care and attention has gone into choosing and preparing the gift.

    The next time you hear from me, you remember the gift. All those positive emotions and associations come back to you.

    Now imagine I gave you the same gift.

    This time, instead of the handmade paper, it is just wrapped in some leftover colourful wrapping paper I had at home.

    No ribbon. No tag.

    It looks OK, but nothing special. When you open it up, you are pleased to find a small box of your favorite mouth-watering chocolates. You are happy I thought of you.

    The pleasant experience lasts only as long as the chocolates. You might remember the experience the next time we meet, or you might not.

    Missing in this gift-giving encounter is the anticipation, the emotion, the assumptions and associations attached to the packaging in the first example.

    Let’s imagine again…

    Instead of a gift wrapped package, I hand you a crumpled paper shopping bag. You wonder if I’m handing you my trash.

    Inside, you are surprised to find your favorite chocolates. I obviously didn’t have time to wrap the gift, or perhaps I didn’t want to spend the money on ‘frivolous’ wrapping.

    You make assumptions about me. Perhaps you think I don’t care much about you, or that I’m cheap. Worse than no association, or emotion, now you have a negative association about my sloppiness and lack of attention.

    Can you see where I’m going with this?

    Shoppers make assumptions about your product based on your store presentation and appearance.

    The package for your merchandise should create anticipation about what is inside. The presentation needs to evoke positive associations and emotions. The store exterior, layout and visual merchandising should be designed to make shopping exciting and memorable.

    Is your store a gift that is packaged with attention and care?

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    Visual Merchandising Is Crucial For Retail Success

    Visual merchandising is becoming increasingly pivotal for retail success. As retail becomes more and more competitive, shoppers have more options than ever before.

    Shoppers aren’t just shopping for products, they’re buying experiences. The stores that put more effort into making an exciting, and emotional experience for customers, are the ones that will be successful.

    In Canada, effective merchandising is becoming even more critical to retail success as retailers struggle to find staff. Not only is it hard to find qualified employees, it’s challenging to find anyone at all.

    This means that the people retailers employ will find their jobs more demanding as they work longer hours, and work harder with fewer team members to share the load. Employees will also be less skilled in serving customers.

    I went shopping this week with a list of items to buy to wear to some upcoming events. I visited at least a dozen stores – buying in about half of them. Each store displayed prominent help-wanted signs. And in every store, not one sales associate tried to actively sell to me.

    No one suggested additional merchandise. No asked me what I was looking for. I was assisted with the fitting room, staff were knowledgeable when I asked questions, and they were all generally helpful and pleasant. But I had to approach them. In some stores, the sales people barely acknowledged me.

    I was obviously spending money, as I was carrying a few shopping bags. Yet, for the most part, I had to navigate my way through the stores, and find what I needed on my own.

    All I had to rely on were the visual merchandising cues. To find what I was looking for, I had to depend on visual clues to tell me:

    Where is the new fall merchandise located?
    Where would I find pants?
    What is my size? Where is my size?
    What merchandise coordinates with these pants?
    Where are the sale items? Is there anything there worth looking at?

    Most of the stores did a pretty good job of organizing their merchandise so that I could find my way around easily. In the ones that were confusing; I looked around and left. Maybe I could have stumbled across a great find, but it wasn’t even worth looking.

    The most frustrating experience was with the department store, which was disorganized, had empty shelves, and had few visual cues to direct me from one area to the next. The department store also had the fewest sales associates available for assistance. It’s no wonder department stores have struggled for survival.

    If retailers are going to survive in this competitive market, visual merchandising will become even more vital to their business. Store owners need to focus on visual merchandising strategies that sell their products. If they don’t, they won’t be around long.

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    Why Your Retail Store Needs Drama

    Great retail is like theatre.

    Opening the door and stepping inside a store, is like the curtain going up on stage.

    Shopping is a play we all participate in. Even those who say they don’t like it. Great stores entertain us, share new ideas, make political statements, express our values, and then send us home with more stuff than we intended to buy.

    A great play starts out with a great story. Just reading that story on stage doesn’t make great theatre. There are many other elements that make a story into a dramatic production.

    In retail, the story is the product.

    You might have the best product since the ipod, but just putting it on a shelf doesn’t mean people will buy it. To
    successfully sell a product today you need to create a shopping experience for consumers that they enjoy. If they don’t like it, they’ll go somewhere else.

    In theatre and retail, drama and entertainment are created with the same elements. You need:
    a great setting, great lighting and great talent.


    A great setting creates a mood, an image. A place for the action to happen. The setting is integral to the story.

    A setting can be created on stage with all the trimmings and details – a complete re-creation of another place. Or it can
    be a mere suggestion of a place – a single chair, painted backdrops. The audience still gets the picture. Their
    imagination fills in the rest.

    The same is true in retail. Some stores are very elaborate in their design and merchandising, with every tiny aspect considered. Others
    use paint and a few carefully chosen pieces of furniture to suggest an atmosphere.

    If you get the setting wrong for the story, the audience is confused. In retail, this is like selling designer clothes in
    a discount store. Linoleum tile, garish signs and crowded aisles won’t interest someone who wants to buy a suit by
    Giorgio Armani.

    That shopper wants to see a small boutique, lots of floor space, maybe a couple of armchairs and a coffee table. The
    floor might be hardwood, or perhaps decorative stone tile. It would be crazy for Walmart or Zellers to try to create an upscale mood like this. Their customers would immediately assume the products were too expensive, without even setting foot inside.


    An important part of creating an effective and dramatic setting is lighting. A professional theatre production would never be done without proper lighting. However, many retailers do not understand the role of lighting in their stores.

    I saw a high-end theatre production that used only minimal props, and created scenes with pantomimed actions and clever lighting. A powerful scene that I will never forget was created with absolutely no props. A rectangle of light on the stage floor suggested a grave. As actors went through the motions of throwing shovelfuls of dirt onto the grave, the light gradually dimmed. The scene ended when the light had faded leaving the stage was completely black.

    Retail lighting can be equally powerful. The price range of the stores products are suggested by the levels of light. Discount stores are lit with bright fluorescent bulbs, giving an even level of light throughout the store.

    The overall level of light in the store is called ‘ambient’ lighting. It is the lighting that sets the mood for the store.

    Expensive boutiques have a lower level of ambient lighting. They use accent lighting to highlight merchandise and important areas of the
    store. These are usually spotlights, used to draw your attention to displays. Because your eye is drawn to light, you will naturally move through the store to these ‘pools’ of light.

    A mid-priced shop with use a combination of these two types of lighting.

    Unconsciously, as a shopper, you will get a message about the value of the products because of how they are lit.

    For example, an expensive product lit the wrong way, will cause a shopper to assume the product is poor quality and overpriced.

    A successful retailer needs to make sure that the lighting is consistent with the setting and the story.


    A great theatre production also has the right talent. Only the right person can create a believable character. An actor’s build, appearance, ability and experience are all part of what makes him or her the right choice for a role.

    A successful theatre production needs a strong team of people. Each one needs to be able to create a convincing and powerful character. They also need to work well together as a group.

    In retail you also need great talent. What would happen if retailers thought of their staff as the cast of a production? Maybe they would be more careful in hiring just the right people. Retail staff need to clearly understand their role. They need to know the story. They need to work well as a team.

    Both in theatre and in retail, a cast member who comes across as phony or insincere will ruin an otherwise great

    A successful theatrical or retail production needs to have all three of these elements working together – a great setting, great lighting and great talent.

    If any one of them is out of tune with the others, the audience leaves disappointed – and may not ever come back.

    What are you doing to create a great retail production?
    Please share your comments.


    Learn from a Retail Legend

    This week I received an invitation from Ian Portsmouth, of PROFIT magazine, to ask a question of John Forzani, the sporting-goods retail king. (Sport Chek, Sport Mart, Coast Mountain Sports)

    Ian says, “PROFIT magazine runs a regular feature called “Ask the Legends” in which high-profile Canadian entrepreneurs answer questions submitted by the general business public. Recent guests have included Jim Balsillie of RIM and Harry Rosen.”

    Forzani will be the next guest entrepreneur. So, if you have a burning question you would like to ask this retail giant, you can send it in by email to

    Forzani is Founder and Chairman of the Board of The Forzani Group Ltd. and a former Calgary Stampeder offensive lineman. He is currently Chairman of the Calgary Stampeders.

    So, ask your question.

    You just might learn something. And, you get to see your name in print – welll, digital print.

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