Monday, April 25, 2005

Shopping at Costco

Anyone who is in business observes other businesses. Sometimes people who are not in the business of business question the reasoning behind someone like me, who if you didn't know is in the business of business.

My lovely wife Jamie, who clearly is in the business of not-being-in-business, questioned my questioning of the Costco employee whose job it is to mark my receipt with a black magic marker.

If you have ever been to a Costco, you know that to enter you must show your little plastic Costco membership card. Although this is a little picky, I understand the concept.

My problem when it comes time to leave the store. As you exit a Costco, there is a line of shoppers waiting patiently to have their receipt marked by an employee. This person uses a black magic marker to put a vertical mark on the receipt, but never takes the time to count items, check prices or add it all up.

This past weekend, Jamie, the boys and I went shopping at Costco. After running around the store in our usual pattern, it was agreed that we had found all the things we couldn't live without for that trip and made our way to the checkout counter. (I found a cool little remote control airplane that John, Adin and I took home and immediately crashed into the house.)

After the usual exchange of credit cards, we headed out of the store only to stand in line at the exit awaiting this little lady and her magic marker. As we stood in line, my brain had nothing else to do, so it pondered what the hell was the point.

Of course, you could say it was for security. They want to make sure I had paid for all the junk I had just paid for. However, the Costco employee didn't even read the receipt. She just marked it with her little black marker and moved on to the next person.

Since my brain has the interesting habit of engaging my mouth pre-emptively, I had to ask her what she was doing. All I got in response was a silent pointing to a sign. So my brain engaged my eyes to read the sign.

According to the sign, she was checking my receipt for my protection. The point was to ensure I had not overpaid for anything. This is completely amazing! To think that this little lady with the magic marker has all the SKUs and prices in her head!

I stood there for a moment and began to engage her in further discussion on the uselessness of her position, but was cut short by my wife, Jamie, telling me to drop it and get moving. This caused further discussion with myself and the shopping cart as I made my way across the parking lot, but none of that conversation is worth repeating.

My big issue with Big Box Stores is they can't be honest. The point of the lady at the door is an anti-theft deterrent. We all know that shoplifting is a huge line item for these retailers. Why won't they just give her a gun and call her a security guard instead of a magic marker (which doesn't have any real magical abilities)?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Tents Growth

Over the past few months, I have been making some serious investments in my Tents and Events company. Here is just the short list:

1. Bought out the major competitor in the Charlottesville market.
2. Changed the layout on Hayes Investment's first industrial building from a rental investment to a Tents and Events facility.
3. Purchased about $300,000 in new rental inventory.
4. Invested in a dishwasher. (I don't even wash the dishes at home.)
5. Bought another truck. This one is a 20' box with a lift gate.
6. Hired an additional operations manager and two new installers.
7. Invested in a custom party rental order entry system with asset tracking.
8. Reworked all of our brochures and graphics.
9. Rebuilt the website.

Here is where we are. For the month of May, we will do more revenue than we did the entire year 2004. But that isn't enough. Once I get everything in place and organized, it is then time to push the pedal to the floor.

So many small businesses never make this last step. They invest, hire, train, and manage, but they never build the brand.

Your brand is nothing more than what people have experienced with you in the past and what they expect to experience with you in the future. Since this is a new company, I need to establish the brand via advertising.

Now, I am not talking about running a little 1/8 page ad on sundays and maybe some late-night television. I am doing a full-court-press. We are spending a huge amount of money to be everywhere someone looks for a period of about 6 weeks. Instead of doing a little at a time, we want to be everywhere for a short period, then back off to do maintenance.

Of course, I will be testing this in my smallest market to preserve my budget. The exciting thing is the buzz we will create. This includes print, radio, TV, and heavy PR.

I will keep you informed.


Monday, April 11, 2005

On buying a vehicle

I just spent the morning negotiating with a car dealer on a new, gas guzzling, SUV for my lovely wife Jamie. This should be a happy occasion. One that is not unlike the birth of a child or your favorite team in the playoffs. But thanks to sales people being "sales people" and car dealers stuck in the negotiation stage, it is more exhausting than it should be.

Jamie and I began our new car search about a month ago. We had previously had a Chevy Tahoe which was nice, but lacked some of the more modern features such as a brain sucking dvd player and the all important heated seats. (I have a cold butt!)

We looked at the Consumer Reports info. We tested a few vehicles. We don't call a Tahoe a car, it is a vehicle, just like in the Marines where a gun is called a weapon. After reading and test driving, we ended up with the Toyota Sequoia which is ironic since the Sequoia is a tree and this "vehicle" does have a single piece of wood in it, not even the wood-grain interior is wood. So in this case, Sequoia which is probably a native word for "Big Tree" is changed to "Big Metal and Plastic SUV".

So we showed up with all of our data taken from the net. We had options, MSRP, dealer invoice, blue book trade in, black book, interest rates and brochures. We knew exactly what our price was, what the trade in was, and what we wanted to buy.

When we arrive, our salesperson: Mary Margaret (this turned out to be her first sale and she had only started last week) took our trade-in keys and got to work making us wait. When it was said and done, we spent 2.5 hours to buy a "vehicle". We argued, discussed, ran number, countered, discussed some more, threatened to leave, and finally talked with the new car sales manager (which I thought meant he too was new to the job, but as it turns out, he was in charge of selling new cars).

In the end, we got what we wanted at our target price. Here are a few lessons learned:

  1. Always know your numbers before you enter the store. Know the dealer invoice, the trade in value, any and all specials and what interest rate you will pay.
  2. In knowing your numbers, it is assumed you know the vehicle and package you want to buy. Don't settle for what is on the lot. These guys can get a vehicle from another dealer easily.
  3. Double and triple check their numbers. On today's adventure, the dealer kept changing their numbers and I would have paid $3,000 more if I had not checked.
  4. Before you sign anything, check the numbers again. The final sales agreement supersedes everything else.
  5. Negotiate the new car price before they see your trade-in. Lock down the best you can on the new car, then talk the trade.
  6. Finally, be willing to walk away from a bad deal.

I like to think of buying a new car as training for all the other negotiations I must do in my business. If you can't negotiate with a car dealer, then you shouldn't be in high-stakes business. You will lose your shirt.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Been Too Long

Okay, sorry for the long time since my last post. The past couple of weeks have been nuts.

Here are the updates:

On the side, we are finding success in the Google tests. Thus far, we are getting around 2.5% conversion rate. That is above the industry average, but below our target of 5%.

Getting to a 5% conversion is possible, although difficult. I will let you know when that happens.

On the Hayes Investments side, we have finalized the sale of our parcel in Fishersville. It will be the site of a hotel during the next couple of years.

We have also finalized the contract for 33 acres in Waynesboro, VA. This will be a commercial park with spaces for mid-box stand-alone stores. It will be a pretty large project, so I expect tons of activity. That reminds me: it is time to update the site.

On the Tents and Events side, we are finally done with implementing our new software. Rentmaster is designed for rental companies (no kidding!) and works pretty well. We are doing a ton of mods to it, but it should work pretty well.

I still am trying to find my "voice" on this blog. To be honest, thus far, I don't know if it has any value or readership. I welcome any comments on direction. Somewhere in my head is valuable information that is worth the reader's time.