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Come out of the Fog

Another busy season is in the rearview mirror. All of us made the deadlines, maintained great customer service, and worked until we were totally exhausted. The long hours, the weekends spent at work, and the many last-minute orders helped to ensure the 2015 busy season would be one of the best ever. We were all prepared, our staffs were well trained and at the top of their game, and everyone committed to going the extra mile. So, let’s take a moment and give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done!

Come out of the Fog

Get Inspired Instead of Tired After Busy Season

Fran Carville, CRM, Carco Awards/

(Originally published in the July 2015 issue of Recognition Review.)

Another busy season is in the rearview mirror. All of us made the deadlines, maintained great customer service, and worked until we were totally exhausted. The long hours, the weekends spent at work, and the many last-minute orders helped to ensure the 2015 busy season would be one of the best ever. We were all prepared, our staffs were well trained and at the top of their game, and everyone committed to going the extra mile. So, let’s take a moment and give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done!

For many of us, the end of busy season means a healthy bank account and a feeling of success. The end of busy season makes us want to high-five one another for not only surviving, but thriving. But the end of busy season can also mean being exhausted—mentally and physically. During the busy season we develop a sort of “tunnel vision” within the four walls of our businesses, where our only thoughts are about processing and producing orders in a timely fashion. There is absolutely no time for creative thinking. No time for innovation or trying to develop new ideas to make your business better. No time to brainstorm ways to grow and improve your business. Just no time. And while we spend busy season in survival mode, many times we have a hard time coming out of the fog when busy season ends.

tum going after busy season is over, but how can we generate new and exciting ideas when we have brain-drain after so many weeks of nonstop production? This year, at the end of the season, my brain had turned to mush. Other than cleaning up and organizing (while in autopilot mode), I did not have one new idea to help our business grow. Nothing. Nada. Naught. If some new ideas didn’t just miraculously pop into my head quickly, the second half of 2015 was going to turn into a same-old, same-old event.

I took time to look for inspiration online and in books, before realizing that inspiration was right in front of me. Every community has small business success stories and my city was no exception. Three very different retail businesses gave me the inspiration to come out of my post-busy-season fog. I hope at least one will inspire you!

Inspiration 1: The Pharmacy

For years, I have purchased the occasional prescription at the pharmacy located inside the grocery store where I shop. It was convenient, since I was there anyway. Service was definitely not an important goal to the employees, as often times customers would be lined up while the staff went about performing other tasks. When a customer dropped off a new prescription, the only conversations from the staff member were, “birthdate?”, “name?”, and “come back in an hour.” No service, but it was efficient in the world of now. And then, I had a health scare and had prescriptions for real medications. I stood in line, dropped off the new prescriptions, waited an hour, and stood in another line to pick them up. When I was finally first in line, I asked to speak to a pharmacist. After waiting 18 minutes, he walked up to the window and just looked at me. I explained that these medications were totally unfamiliar to me and asked if there was anything I should know. His reply was: “There’s a pamphlet inside the bag that will give you that information.” He then turned and walked away. Not an ounce of inspiration there!

Turns out, the new prescriptions didn’t work for me and when the doctor changed my medications, I decided to change pharmacies. The new, unknown pharmacy was also located in a grocery store. But when I walked up to this counter, I was greeted like an old friend. My prescriptions were ready in an hour and after I paid the very nice employee, she asked me to step to a private counter so that the pharmacist could have a word with me. What? He explained the best time to take the medications and what the common side effects were. He gave me his card for if I had any questions later. And he told me how much the staff appreciated my business. The following week, someone from the pharmacy called to see how the prescriptions were working. Wow! Guess who their newest loyal customer is?

How do we make this work in our businesses?

Of course, we are going to meet our deadlines and thank every customers that does business with us, but what else?

  1. Do you just sell the award, or do you give the customer presentation tips? These tips might range from how to hold the award during a presentation to how to set up a beautiful awards table. Check out Recognition is Rewarding under For Consumers on the Awards and Personalization website ( for great tips for all types of customers.
  2. Do you just sell an award or do you touch base after the customer’s event to make sure everything was great? Research shows that a follow-up call or e-mail after the sale helps create more loyal customers.
  3. Do you just sell the award or do you give the customer relevant information to make them feel they have made the right choice? If the merchandise is new or locally made, share that information. If the product won an award in our association’s product contest, let your customer know. Arming your customer with information will make them excited about presenting the awards.

Inspiration 2: The Hair Salon

Most of us go to a hair salon for a good haircut and style, color, or a perm. Hair salons now offer spa services, makeup application sessions, and an array of products. Several years ago, my stylist retired, causing me a lot of grief. I tried a couple of salons before finding one that I love. What’s so good about it? What sets it apart, other than the stylist? When you walk in the front door, the receptionist welcomes each customer and calls most by name. Every client is offered a choice of coffee, soft drinks, or bottled water. The salon’s walls are covered with artwork by local artists. The other stylists make it a point to work as a team and get to know each other’s clients. It is a relaxing, friendly environment that offers a wonderful experience.

It is also a very savvy retail business. The stylists tell you about the products they use on your hair and when you check out, they gently ask if you need any products. No pressure—just looking out for their customers. During the holidays, they give customers small sample bottles of new products. If I like the sample, what are the chances I’ll buy the product on my next visit? Regular customers are asked about their appointment preferences and at the beginning of the year, the salon sets the client’s appointments for the entire year. This is for the customer’s convenience, so they can plan and never be caught without an appointment. Every trip to this salon ends with a sincere thank you and a “see you next time.”

How do we make this work for our businesses?

Another business with great service and a customer first attitude, but what else?

  1. Just like the salon asks each customer if they have product, we can increase our sales by thinking about what a customer needs. If a customer is ordering awards for a competition, ask if they need gifts for the judges, participation ribbons, or appreciation plaques for the event sponsors. If a customer orders corporate awards, ask if they have considered marketing their business with the promotional products you sell. If a group orders team trophies, ask if they need thank-you gifts for the coaches.
  2. Knowing the dates for my next 12 hair appointments makes it easy for me. Having the salon call and remind me each month is a no-brainer to continuing doing business there. For our customers, sending reminder notes for repeat orders take away most customers’ thoughts of trying somewhere else. Your reminders, your notes on what they purchase, will keep customers loyal to your store.
  3. If we provide a shopping environment that is comfortable to customers, they will enjoy shopping with you. Hot chocolate in the winter, cold bottled water in the summer can go a long way to saying, “We care about you.”

Inspiration 3: The Grocery Store

There are big-box, national, and regional chain grocery stores all over Baton Rouge. They offer price matching, 24/7 shopping hours, and a huge variety of merchandise. There are self-checkout lanes for those that don’t want to listen to the cashier complain about her job. There are stations for your shopping carts to be returned to, marketed as “for your convenience.” Not only can you purchase your groceries at these megastores, at many you can also purchase clothing, jewelry, gasoline, and paint.

And then there is the neighborhood grocery with higher prices and fewer shopping hours than the big box competitors that is not just surviving, but thriving. How?

The small independent grocer keeps a very clean store that is well organized. The staff is friendly and will walk with you to find a product you want. There is always a manager visible, greeting customers and thanking them for coming in. The store carries locally made products and will order an item for you if you ask. There is enough staff, so there is never a long wait to check out. An employee brings your groceries to your car, making small talk along the way and thanking you after loading your groceries in your car. If you are ill or homebound, the store will deliver your groceries to your doorstep, for no additional charge. The owners are active in the community and are a real part of the community. And from the moment you park your car in the store’s litter-free parking lot until you complete your shopping, the experience is always a very positive one.

How do we make this work for our businesses?

We all know that a clean shop, inside and out, is very important for consumers’ first impressions, but what else?

  1. Come to work every single day with a positive, happy-to-be- here attitude. This attitude will translate to your employees, as well as your customers. Instead of purchasing awards being a chore, it will be a good experience that your customers will tell other consumers about.
  2. If you aren’t the cheapest store in the universe, then you must offer variety, service, quality, and other unique reasons to choose your store over all other options. You must find ways to make shopping with you convenient. You must be willing to give the customers what they want when they want it.
  3. Commit to having an excellent company: excellence in service, excellence in marketing, excellence in training, excellence in selection, and excellence in community involvement. Never settle for the status quo, but always strive for better.

It’s time to shake off the post-busy-season hangover and come out of the fog. Look around your community and see what other retailers are doing to set themselves apart from their competition. Then figure out how you can improve your business by using what you have learned. As Dr. Seuss wrote, “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go…oh, the things you can find if you don’t stay behind.”

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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