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4 Simple Ways to Create Amazing Customer Service

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
By John Bocker


I visited a small specialty retailer tonight and was amazed to unfortunately experience all of the missed opportunities for the establishment to make money!  I could have spent more then $200 but actually left empty handed.  I have been a retailer across various categories for more than 25 years and continue to be amazed at how much under-utilized information and training is available for retail businesses everywhere. Yet when it comes down to providing great service to sell a product, I continue to find the majority of sales personnel in retail missing the primary opportunities to maximize the sale.  Why is this a continuing issue and what can business owners do to correct it?

Retailers across America selling all types of products including tools and hardware, beauty products, apparel, sporting goods, and now even cannabis in Colorado are finding it very difficult to achieve their sales goals and are frequently scratching their heads and wondering why they're falling short of daily sales expectations. Sadly, I also continue to hear from business leaders that “we’ll make it up next week” and other excuses that fall short of addressing the obvious.  In this article I will outline four key areas that can quickly turn businesses around with management leadership focusing on the important selling behaviors that matter most.

These best practices have been proven through “A-Team” exercises over and over again where the best selling employees in the company were assigned to execute to the highest degree possible for a short period of time in a specific store. The behaviors and activities were choreographed, specialty areas were specifically assigned to team members, participants were monitored and supported by business coaches, and all were challenged with “stretch” sales goals.  In every A-Team exercise, the results blew away sales expectations!

1.  Hire the right person!  How many times have you heard this? 
One of my greatest mentors showed me the real impact of requiring retail sales candidates to actually move to the sales floor during the in-person screening process and actually “sell” a specific product to the interviewer.  This simple exercise really challenged the true capabilities of the candidate and revealed whether or not they actually possessed the skill-set, personality, courage, demeanor, presentation skills and product knowledge to be hired as a great sales person. Any candidate can say they know how to sell, and any candidate can say they really want to be a sales person but when you actually put them to the test of impromptu selling, you can quickly and easily validate those who are and are not qualified to represent you well and be a great sales person.

2. Set the expectation

Set the expectation with each sales person that every guest that walks into your business has the potential to purchase thousands of dollars in product if provided the best service and sales attention possible!  We’ve all been amazed when this happens and we celebrate such events but why not think of this as a standard instead of the exception?  When you set the bar very high, it exemplifies the fact that every customer can be the “magical customer” if treated with respect, made to feel important, treated as a “VIP”, and provided outstanding customer service beyond anything he/she can get from any other retailer in the area. Every employee should understand the simple fact that every customer who visits your business will maximize their spend if you qualify their needs, provide a solution, provide great service and build a relationship with that customer.

3.  Engage with every guest

Engage with every guest first by understanding whom they are, where they work or live, their name, their needs and how you can fulfill their total expectations. Today's retail world is unfortunately still filled with sales people who use the old-fashioned and tired approach of “Can I help you?” “Help you find something?” “Find what you're looking for?” and in the worst-case scenario, no approach at all. Today's consumer who is willing to spend as much as necessary for great service and product solutions is just waiting to be over- serviced as a “VIP” and approach that makes them feel special, respected, valued and important. When your customers feel all of these emotions, they become a customer for life and price becomes less important. Great selling is about relationships and rapport and not about price. If your sales people can understand the value of a relationship, you will win in so many ways! This is critical to your success as a retail owner and cannot be left for chance. This process has to be modeled, coached, validated, reinforced, recognized and applauded when executed correctly. Miss any of these aspects of the great sales process, and you will never achieve your full potential as a business owner.

4.  Coach your sales people to genuinely thank and reaffirm with every customer

Lastly, coach your sales people to genuinely thank and reaffirm with every customer how important they are to the business, how excited you are that they have visited with you, confirm that you filled every need that they had and go the extra steps to find out what their future needs are and build a lasting relationship.   Building your client relationship is more important than ever in today’s competitive marketplace. And it's the same reason so many people return over and over to their favorite coffee house, restaurant or lunch spot. There are several great retailers that do this well and if you can model their sales activities and professionalism, you can build your own mini super-retailer reputation and brand that will prompt customers to brag about you and become raving fans of your business. 

And don't forget that if you can build a team that executes to these four points, you owe it to the team to recognize and reward them in creative, sincere, fun and relative ways.


John Bocker is a professional retail and hospitality business strategy consultant specializing in maximizing profitability, risk management, employee integrity, training, and driving success! John is Founder and Principal at JB Group, LLC based in Denver, Colorado where he partners with business leaders to exceed sales and profit expectations.  Visit www.jbgroupco.com or call (720) 514-0609 for more information.

How to Get Your Business On Google's Map and the First Page of Google Search Engine Results

Thursday, October 13, 2016
By Kendra Fernandez


Local businesses struggle with gaining an online presence when it comes to Google search results. This tutorial should answer the question, "How do I get my business on Google and the Google Map?". Approximately, only 37% of businesses have claimed their listing on Google's map. If you do this today, chances are you will be one step ahead of your competition!



EPA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announces the release of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I Solicitation (https://www.epa.gov/sbir/sbir-funding-opportunities) to support the development and commercialization of innovative environmental technologies. The solicitation is posted on FedConnect, and all applications must be submitted through this electronic system.

EPA is one of 11 federal agencies that participates in the SBIR Program as a result of the Small Business Innovation Development Act of 1982. EPA is calling for small businesses to apply for Phase I awards up to $100,000 to demonstrate proof of concept in the following topic areas: air and climate, manufacturing, toxic chemicals, water, water and homeland security, and greener buildings. See the full solicitation for specific subtopics under each topic area and for details on how to apply. Successful Phase I companies are eligible to apply for Phase II funding, up to $300,000 for two years with a commercialization option of up to $100,000, to further develop and commercialize their technologies.

For general information on how to apply, visit https://www.epa.gov/sbir/how-apply-sbir-contract.


Missed the June 14, 2016, webinar on how to apply for the 2016 EPA SBIR Phase I Solicitation? Learn more: https://www.epa.gov/sbir/sbir-special-announcements

The EPA SBIR Program is part of EPA's Sustainable and Healthy (SHC) research program.

Key People to Add to Your Business Team

Monday, July 18, 2016
  By Kat Rico
  

You’re in business for yourself, yes, but you should never be in business by yourself. In order to be productive, you need a team of people behind you! Here are some key people we recommend that you have on your side for better and for worse while you’re in business (in no particular order).
  1. Accountant – You don’t have time to learn all of the tax and bookkeeping ins and outs, and you shouldn’t have to. Of course you should have a basic understanding of the concepts, but an accountant can help you figure out where your business might be hemorrhaging money, opportunities to save on taxes, and whether you have adequate cash flow to hire that first employee.

  2. Attorney – Things happen. Contracts go bad. Maybe you said something you shouldn’t have. Whatever the case, your attorney is there to help you and go to bat for you. They can also help you before you make a potentially bad decision by helping you select an entity type, review a lease, draw up a standard contract to use for jobs and more. Along with your accountant, your attorney can be a strong business ally. The best option is to have an attorney before you need one.

  3. Mentor – This is a person who has business experience, preferably in your industry, that you can bounce ideas off of and will give you constructive advice without sugarcoating reality. Your mentor needs to be someone who doesn’t have a stake in the business (so no investors), they only have a stake in your success. Meet them once in a while and catch up on the good, the bad and the ugly of how your business is doing. Don’t use your mentor just to vent or brag, but to learn about how you can do your business better. As a shameless plug for our services, this is the best area where the SBDC can help!

  4. Banker – Don’t just have a bank, but a banker. A real person you can call at your bank when you don’t understand a fee, need to buy some equipment or need to order checks. Communicate with them on a regular basis. Your banker is your friend and can alert you to potentially fraudulent activity, but only if they know how you normally spend your business money.

  5. Marketer - Your marketer should be able to help you identify who your customers are, how to reach them, and understand if you're reaching them. The best description we've heard comes courtesy of Larimer SBDC Social Media Specialist, Amy Alcorn, who told us, "Not having a marketing person for your business is like trying to flirt and winking in the dark." Don't invest money in advertising, online or otherwise, without talking to your marketer about your strategy.
Of course, there may be a couple of other people you want to regularly consult with about your business depending on your industry, but these are a good starting point to build a supportive network to help your business succeed.


7 Steps to Start a Business

Wednesday, July 06, 2016
  By Kat Rico
  


Ok, so it can end up being more complicated than 7 steps, but we’ll do our best to keep it concise for you. Do yourself a favor and hold off on the business cards until you’ve completed these steps.

*Disclaimer: Depending on your industry, where your business is located, and the type of business you are operating, this may not be a complete list. As a business owner, YOU are responsible for complying with the law. Do your due diligence BEFORE starting your business.*


  1. 1. Location check – Where will your business be located? If you’re operating out of your home, you need to check with your landlord or HOA to make sure you are not violating any clauses about home based businesses. If you’re renting a space, verify with your landlord and the city/municipality that your business will not violate any existing zoning laws.

  2. 2. License check – Some businesses require special licenses that can take months to apply for. Colorado has an “Occupational License Database” online at: http://www.advancecolorado.com/business-colorado/occupational-license-database.

  3. 3. Local registration – You may or may not need to register your business with your city or county, you’ll want to check both to make sure. This can also vary if your business is home based. The key to look for is a “Business” section on their website, from there you should see information about potential licensing requirements. While you’re there, pay attention to how to pay sales and use tax if this applies to your business, you may need a separate tax license.

  4. 4. State registration – In Colorado, you must register your business with the Colorado Secretary of State. Again, look for a “Business” section and you’ll find information about how to register your business. The entity type you register as will affect your taxes as well as how much legal separation there is between you and your business, so choose carefully. It can also be difficult and expensive to change your entity type after you’ve started, so again, research is key. You can search here and make sure your desired business name is available in your state as well.

  5. 5. Federal registration – For tax purposes, you’ll likely need to register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the IRS online. Your entity selection will affect how income from your business appears on your tax return and whether or not you’ll be responsible for paying estimated taxes.

  6. 6. Separate your banking – This is a really big deal, even for small single owner businesses. Set up a separate bank account! Your banker will need your EIN and to see you’re in good standing with the Secretary of State. Both your accountant and attorney will recommend you don’t ‘pierce the corporate veil,’ which in essence means that you are walking, talking and acting like a business, and this is especially important with finances. If you co-mingle funds or operate your business from a personal bank account, not only will your accountant charge you more to sort it out, but it can put all of your funds in a legally liable position if something goes wrong.

  7. 7. Walk the walk, talk the talk – Now you can do things like buy business cards, technology for your business, take jobs and make sales under your official business name. You’ve still got a long way to go towards building your dream business, but you’re going in the right direction!

Still lost? Check out our upcoming workshops for "Start-Up Orientation" for classroom training, or register for consulting.

DOL Rules - What You Need to Know

Thursday, June 30, 2016

by Stacy Stolen

Real Value Consulting/VolkBell Insurance




The rules are here … now what?

Here's What You Need to Know

Anyone earning less than $913.00 per week; or $47, 476 annualized base:
• Is now (most likely) entitled to overtime pay for any hours worked over 40 in a week
• Is now required to track and account for all hours worked within respective time keeping periods

How you make and communicate required adjustments to an individual's current salaried compensation is up to you, and there are several options you might consider. Here are five simple steps you must take now to comply with the FLSA’s latest changes, and make sure you stay in compliance in the years ahead.
1. Increase salaries of current exempt employees to more than $913 per week or $47,476 per year. Exempt employees earning more than that will not be entitled to overtime.

2. Reduce bonuses for exempt employees whose overall compensation exceeds the new minimums. Increase salaries by the bonus amounts.

3. Reclassify exempt employees as nonexempt and pay them hourly. Of course, you will still have to pay overtime when they work more than 40 hours per week.

4. Reclassify exempt employees and pay them on a commission or fluctuating-workweek basis. Consult your attorney to learn more about the fluctuating workweek system, which pays a salary to nonexempt employees whose schedules vary from week to week.

5. Increase staffing levels to eliminate unnecessary overtime.

You can be assured that the DOL, which has already increased its investigative force by 33% since 2010, will put employers under even more scrutiny in 2017 by visiting many employers and auditing; be sure to reach out if you need more information!

DOL Labor Standards Changes

Monday, June 27, 2016

by Stacy Stolen

Real Value Consulting/VolkBell Insurance



On May 18, 2016 The U.S. Department of Labor released its final rule regarding the changes to the overtime threshold for the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Among other things, the Department has doubled the minimum salary needed to qualify for these exemptions, from the previous level of $455 a week (or $23,660 a year) to $913 a week (or $47,476 a year).


Key Provisions of the Final Rule

The Final Rule focuses primarily on updating the salary and compensation levels needed for Executive, Administrative and Professional workers to be exempt. Specifically, the Final Rule:

  1. 1. Sets the standard salary level at the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region, currently the South ($913 per week; $47,476 annually for a full-year worker);
  2. 2. Sets the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees (HCE) subject to a minimal duties test to the annual equivalent of the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally ($134,004); and
  3. 3. Establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every three years to maintain the levels at the above percentiles and to ensure that they continue to provide useful and effective tests for exemption.

Additionally, the Final Rule amends the salary basis test to allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level.

The effective date of the final rule is December 1, 2016. The initial increases to the standard salary level (from $455 to $913 per week) and HCE total annual compensation requirement (from $100,000 to $134,004 per year) will be effective on that date. Future automatic updates to those thresholds will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020.

For more details:
https://www.dol.gov/featured/overtime


10+ Retail Holiday Marketing Tips

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Our partner location the Larimer SBDC recently held a "Retail Holiday Boot Camp" after hours event. Presenter Alyson MacMullan of Peak Retail Group gave some great takeaways that we wanted to share for retailers to remember as they enter their holiday planning period.

1. Lay all your key dates from November through January (yes, January) on a physical calendar
• Sometimes you may see correlations on paper that aren’t obvious in a digital format.• Small Business Saturday is November 28th this year!
2. Determine your goals for the holiday season
• Do you want more sales in dollars or in transactions? Do you have targets for how much inventory you want to move? Are you aiming for less January markdowns?• If you don’t have data from last year to drive your goals, make sure you begin collecting it this year! What works? What doesn’t?
3. Pick a color pallet for your store displays and stick to it!  
• Highlight high margin inventory in your displays.• Hint: It doesn’t have to be red and green, in fact, your store’s brand colors work very well! 
4. Consider all elements for the in-store experience: Sights, sounds, smells 
• Offer extras like a free stocking stuffer, free gift wrapping and bounce back offers with every purchase.• Do everything you can to keep shopping stress-free and easy for your customers. 
5. Proper staffing is a challenge for retailers during the holidays
• Signs are your silent salespeople. Make them informative and interesting so customers can answer their own simple questions.• Arm your salespeople with mobile payment options so they can help customers avoid lines at the register.
6. Social media is your friend!
• Post every day! Use a planning/scheduling service like SnapRetail, Hootsuite or SproutSocial to help you plan out several days in one easy shot.• People love contests and flash sales, utilize these techniques!• An image is worth 1,000 posts. Show your staff decorating the store!
7. E-mail is your friend too, but be cautious.
• Find an e-mail template and stick with it for the season. It will make your life easier and your customers will recognize your communications.• ONE offer per e-mail only, and keep it clean and concise. People are already stressed during the holidays, your communication should make it easy for them.
8. 12 Days of Christmas Promotions are very effective!
• Drive traffic into your store by offering serious discounts (50-75% off) on a high margin, highly stocked item each day.• These are top secret deals! Resist the urge to reveal the promos early. Pre-schedule deal communication to save yourself a headache.
9. Your merchandise assortment shouldn’t vary dramatically during the holidays; the majority of your stock should be tried and true items
• NEVER run out of your top sellers, that’s a missed opportunity!• Don’t accept late deliveries from your vendors. Communicate clearly and directly when you need your merchandise by and if they can’t meet your deadlines, don’t accept deliveries.
10. Restock key items for January and mix up the look of your store

Sound like a lot of information? We assure you, this was only the tip of the iceberg! 

If you’re a retailer and need help digesting and applying this information, we encourage you to schedule with a North Metro Denver SBDC consultant now to help with planning out your holiday strategy!

10 Signs You Need Better a Better Understanding of Your Business Finances

Friday, September 04, 2015
      by Brian Cathcart, CPA, MS
Larimer SBDC Consultant
The Financial Lab

You are probably really good at providing the products and/or services of your business. But you might not feel so competent or confident about the accounting and financial analysis part of your business. Maybe you need to change your mindset regarding your financial reporting as something to get excited about. 

Don’t you get excited about things that make you money?  Financial reporting and analysis makes you money!

10 Signs You Need Better a Better Understanding of Your Business Finances
  1. You don’t know the role of accounting or what accounting means. 
  2. You are not using financial information regularly to make better business decisions.
  3. You don’t know how to calculate your break even or how to calculate sales necessary to achieve a desired level income.
  4. You don’t know what accounting infrastructure means.
  5. You don’t know what accrual based accounting means.
  6. You don’t understand why the balance sheet is the most important financial statement.
  7. You don’t understand why it is necessary or how to perform monthly reconciliations and close the books.
  8. You have a large accounting role without adequate training and education.
  9. You are a business owner or manager that would like to freshen up on all this accounting stuff.
  10. You are not excited about monthly financial analysis.
Do any of those strike a chord with you? The good news is the Larimer SBDC is here to help! We have free, confidential, individual business consulting with professionals like myself who understand the impact financials have on your business growth, as well as several upcoming training options. 

Check out the following helpful classes that are coming up soon:

Friday, October 2 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM
Quick Books Step 1 - Getting Started 
Brighton 
Friday October 9 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM
Quick Books Step 2 - Setting Preferences
Brighton
Tuesday, October 13 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Tax 101
Westminster
Monday, October 19 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Accounting Basics Designed for Entrepreneurs (2 Sessions)
Westminster

Need help sooner? Classes don't fit your schedule? 

Click here to request an appointment.


Leading Edge Fall 2015 Registration Open

Thursday, August 20, 2015
Spring 2015 Leading Edge Graduates

Starting a business is not for the faint-hearted. Most of us were never taught to be business owners: we were taught to be employees. This 10 week course is designed to help entrepreneurs develop a business strategy and/or business plan through a discovery process that starts with a business concept, moves to designing and testing for a viable (profitable) business structure that results in a executable plan of action (business plan). It is in a blended learning format that combines an online learning platform with classroom time. The online learning platform will be filled not only with the information needed to write a business plan, but to actually start and run a business. Class time will be dedicated to interactive learning exercises and guest experts to act as guides for your business success. Depending on individual needs, you will complete either a formal written business plan or an internal working strategy that outlines actionable steps with measurable outcomes and time-bound deadlines. The course registration fee includes one participant and access to the online training materials and business resource library.

For multiple registration or more information, please call 303-460-1032 after your initial registration. Unregistered guests will not be admitted to the course. Seating is limited. 

WHAT TO EXPECT:

  • - Peer learning with a group of like-minded entrepreneurs
  • - Minimum of five hours of one-on-one consulting assistance
  • - Access to an online resource library with videos, white papers, financial spreadsheets and templates to help you build your plan of action
  • - Ten three-hour weekly classroom sessions including interactive group work and guest speakers; plus reading assignments, online presentations, group discussion forums, and homework assignments
  • - Introduction to potential lenders at a funding options panel
  • - Feedback on your business plan or strategy three times during the course
  • - Entry into a business plan competition for a chance to win prizes and have your business plan reviewed by a banker and an accountant
  • - Optional participation in Trout Tank, a pitch event held one month after graduation where you will pitch your idea to lenders and receive feedback from a panel 

IMPORTANT DATES 

Free Info Session | September 15, 2015 | 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm | Click here to register
Registration Deadline | September 26, 2015
Weekly Course Sessions | September 29, 2015 - December 8, 2015 (Skips November 24)
Tuesday evenings | 6:00 pm - 9:00 p.m.

10-week course
$495 Regular Course Fee
Additional Guest - Please call 303-460-1032

Register for the Fall 2015 10-Week Course


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