It Could Be Worse

There are problems and then there are real problems.

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There are problems and then there are real problems.

Wars, Ebola, acts of genocide, the tragic suicide of a person who made millions smile, mass forced migrations, riots, floods, fires, famine… the bad news and related human suffering seems particularly acute of late, and much of it Biblical in scale. A plague of locusts would seem like a walk in the park compared to some of the horrific events showcased in various media outlets in all their mind-blowing glory. These days it’s tough to escape the world’s dire straits even on social media feeds. Once bastions of innocuous family and friend updates, they are rapidly becoming bully pulpits for venting about what’s gone terribly wrong and wild accusations of who’s to blame.

Sadly, much of this death and destruction has nothing to do with unavoidable acts of God. Rather it’s the result of conscious human decisions. Really bad ones. Choices that didn’t have to be made. The shooting down of a passenger jet that killed 298 innocent civilians over Ukraine. The launching of rockets indiscriminately into a neighboring country’s cities and towns. The belief that one has a green light from God to slaughter thousands of defenseless men, women and children who happen to practice a different faith. The rationale used for such barbarism is laughable, only there’s nothing funny about the crimes against humanity it unleashes.

All this mayhem makes any problems in our industry seem downright miniscule in comparison. Missed a sale? Rest assured more shoppers will come into your store, offering plenty more opportunities. At the very least, we can take solace in the fact that consumers are showing no signs of going barefoot en masse any time soon. (That would be the mother of all problems in our trade.)

Your re-orders are marooned on a slow boat from China? They will get here eventually, but there must be other in-stock options to offer customers in the meantime and, for those chronically unreliable shipping partners, replacement brands to consider carrying.

The point is, retailers have no excuse to let customers leave empty-handed. Most who enter your store do so with the need or the desire to make a purchase. Sure, a few may be “showrooming.” But if they’ve gone to the trouble of actually leaving the confines of their homes, you must try to close that sale. You’ve got an arsenal of effective weapons at your disposal, including helpful advice, an enticing selection, an inviting ambiance and, perhaps, even a cappuccino to offer. Online dealers can seem like a mega-problem to brick-and-mortar retailers, but they lack the sensory advantages and human contact that give you a competitive edge.

Got a bad review on Yelp? Realize that there are relatively painless steps you can take to try and remedy what caused a disgruntled customer to vent to total strangers. If possible, reach out directly to the writer through the review site. Express concern and encourage him to contact you by phone or e-mail so you can try to fix the situation. Hopefully, you’ll change his mind about your store—and impress other potential customers who read your response in the bargain. Millions of consumers base their buying decisions on what they read online, so take time to find out what people are writing about you on review sites and turn it to your advantage.

The weather didn’t cooperate as expected? Well, when has Mother Nature ever behaved the way you wanted? Be prepared for the unexpected and offer a range of merchandise that is not entirely dependent on a seasonal forecast. And why not seize the rainy day with a portable umbrella display near the entrance to your store? It’s an accessory—an ideal add-on purchase. That’s just one product line extension that can enhance your bottom line. Two more that sell themselves are nail polish (especially during sandal season) and hosiery, which is as much of a fashion statement as shoes these days.

I don’t have space here to mention every industry-related problem. There are wholesalers increasingly selling direct-to-consumers, MAP pricing concerns, economic uncertainty, markdown demands, rising fixed costs, and finding and retaining reliable employees. The list can seem endless and overwhelming. But it could be worse. All of these industry-related problems pale in comparison to the plights of far too many people struggling just to stay alive. If nothing else, a big picture perspective might encourage you to tackle the challenges you face with renewed confidence and vigor. It’s easy to make mountains out of molehills, but problems, no matter how big or seemingly hopeless, have solutions. In a world that seems beyond repair of late, that’s an important point to remember. We don’t need divine intervention. We just need our own God-given capabilities to work together and solve our problems.

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