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Building Plans That Work for You

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I developed what I considered to be a brilliant plan to make the shopping experience with our company more enjoyable for our customers. It was a plan to increase sales and grow our customer base. I called it “Plan A” as a joke, never imagining I might need a Plan B or a Plan C.


Explore all options for inspiration when forming your next plan


First published in the September/October 2021 issue of Insights

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I developed what I considered to be a brilliant plan to make the shopping experience with our company more enjoyable for our customers. It was a plan to increase sales and grow our customer base. I called it “Plan A” as a joke, never imagining I might need a Plan B or a Plan C.

Plan A took time to develop and implement. It took time to prepare, and then it was launch time. And 6 months later, our business had seen very little return on investment from my fabulous plan.

Now, my first (and second) thought was that this was time wasted for nothing. No more great plans. No more brainstorming. No more using my time to look for new ways to make my business better. Nope. The great Plan A was a big old zero. But after a couple days of feeling defeated, I was reminded of an old quote: “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

Hmmm … and so, it was time to get started on a Plan B. To make a long story short (it’s probably too late for that), my Plan B was no better than my Plan A. And Plan C? Well, let’s not go there. After much time spent on complaining that my plans were not yielding the results I wanted, it was time to “pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.” And so, work on Plan D started.

We all have a couple of choices: Keep trying new, wellthought- out plans or do nothing and accept that nothing will change for the better. With those two choices in mind, ask yourself: Are you 100% satisfied with the status of every part of your business? Are you excited to walk in every day, content that nothing could be improved? Have you used every resource available to you to help your business grow?

For me, the answers to those questions are no, no, maybe, and no. Always working to move forward, but not quite sure how to make something happen. Sound familiar? We all reach a point where we need help. By the time I got to Plan D, I was out of ideas. Was it going to be back to “nothing changes,” or was there another answer?

The great comedian Jonathan Winters once said, “If the ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it.” That quotation was the inspiration for my Plan D. This time, rather than just relying on my ideas, I was going to solicit advice from innovative professionals in my own community. And not just retailers, but anyone who seemed to be successfully reaching their goals in unique ways.


Competition is fierce in the furniture industry. Advertisements for the big chains are everywhere, and they all seem to be having endless sales. But one locally owned, stand-alone store seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds. I asked the owner how he competed with the big stores and was amazed to learn that his business grew by 22% over the past 2 years. His advice: Be different, be you, be the best at what you do. Don’t follow a trend without a good reason, and don’t apologize for doing things in a different way. He said customers to his store are never greeted by overzealous, commissioned salespeople, but by one of the owners.

He said consumers love dealing with “someone in charge” who seems to have the customer’s best interests at heart. Every customer is welcomed and offered a cup of freshly brewed coffee. His showroom is well decorated, and no employee expects the customer to make a quick decision. His staff will come to your house with fabric samples, there is ongoing training to develop the staff’s listening skills, and there is never any pressure to purchase. This retailer does not aim to be the cheapest or the biggest. His goal is to give consumers the best shopping experience possible. Good service, good experience, and always in the customer’s comfort zone.


Many religious leaders have realized that attendance is dwindling for services, even before the pandemic started. One clergyman decided to conduct a survey with nonactive church members to determine how to better engage former members (customers, in our case). Rewards were offered to return the completed surveys, which increased the rate of return from a normal rate of less than 10% to almost 30%. He called members he had not seen in some time and asked what would get them back in the sanctuary.

He reviewed all results, and two things were mentioned over and over: Members did not want to get dressed up and sit in a stuffy building, and members had no one to leave their children with to attend a service. Changes were made and today there is an afternoon, casual service held in the activity center. There is free day care during the service. Attendance went from zero to more than 150 members, without losing members from the regular services.

Many times, we take complaints and do the easy thing— we ignore them. To increase participation in his church, the minister took the bold step of opening the door to criticism and doing something to fix the problem. Listen to valid complaints by your customers and do something about the issues, before they find a retailer willing to listen and respond.


Convincing children to read on a regular basis, just for fun, is not always an easy task. When a new teacher took over the accelerated reading program at her school, there were 12 students participating in the program. The teacher decided to make reading for fun the cool thing to do. She started monthly themed parties, complete with refreshments and awards. The other students noticed that the readers were having fun and wanted to be a part of it. In 1 year, the program went from 12 students to 76 students.

She said that finding new and different ways to encourage the students meant thinking outside the box. Rather than making the students (customers) think in the same old ways, she looked for ways to engage them. Give potential customers new and exciting reasons to do business with you.


The salon where this young stylist works is dedicated to making every client feel special. From personal telephone calls to remind about appointments to greeting customers by name when they enter the salon, personal service is the focus of this business. Every client is offered a beverage, and every client is treated like the best customer by everyone from the owners down to the housekeeper. “Whatever it takes” is the motto here and all employees live by this.

Everyone in the salon understands that customers have many choices and believe that making clients feel like a valued part of their company keeps them loyal and happy. Treating every customer like the best customer builds loyalty and creates positive word-of-mouth marketing for your business.


My accountant is my partner, always looking to help our business be more profitable, pointing out potential issues before they become problems, and setting meetings on the weekend to accommodate our schedules. He gives me a sense of security, knowing that he is working with me to make my store successful. Oh, and after tax season is over, he hosts a crawfish boil to thank his customers.

Most people don’t like going to the CPA, the dentist, or the doctor. This CPA has found ways to ease the pain and make his clients comfortable. Many consumers don’t like picking out awards, but if we partner with them and find unique ways to make our customers feel appreciated, they will reward us with their continued business.

There are opportunities to learn how to improve your business around every corner. Throughout the years, I have gotten merchandising ideas from the grocery store, time management ideas from school administrators, and customer service ideas from members of the clergy. You can find ideas on professional websites, in industry magazines, from your employees, and from you fellow Awards and Personalization Association members. Look around your community, your industry, and your association for help with your next plan.

Now, back to work on my Plan D.

Fran Carville, CRM, is an Awards and Personalization Association past president, educational speaker, 2008 Speaker of the Year, a member of the Hall of Fame, and winner of an Award of Excellence from the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Fran and her husband, Tom Carville, CRM, own Carco Awards in Baton Rouge, LA.

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