This blog first appeared in Retail Week written by Ajaz Ahmed
I recently gave a talk to a group of business people, I reflected on recent frustrations and thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if people just got to the point and “cut the crap’ so that’s what I spoke about.
I called the talk #cutthecr*p and it was well received, the theme was no-nonsense advice about what it takes to be successful. I’ve registered the Twitter handle @cutthecr*p and encourage everyone to follow it and leave advice and wisdom, I will retweet the best tweets.
I broke the talk down into a series of hashtags so people could share it with their followers. Space here is limited so here’s an abbreviated version, feel free to share and tweet.
What’s the difference between a businessperson and an entrepreneur? I believe entrepreneurs have greater power of #observation, they see things that trigger thoughts that lead onto great ideas. They also have a greater power of #empathy, they can put themselves into their customers shoes and do not rely on market research or customers surveys to back up their gut felling. Lastly they ‘believe it before they see it’ whereas businesspeople need to #seeittobelieveit.
#dotheobvious - life really is about doing the obvious before it becomes obvious to everyone else because by the time it becomes obvious to everyone else its too late because people like you have done it and the others guys haven’t. Simple.
#pivot – when things aren’t going well and your customers have moved on, you need to pivot and change direction. When companies don’t pivot, they start to blame everyone else for their own problems, they simply don’t change direction. Business doesn’t stand still, pivot and move on.
#pickabigfight – if you’re launching a new venture, think big and pick a big fight. Don’t restrict your ambition.
#vestedinterests – Sony should have invented to the iPod, they manufactured and owned the Walkman brand and own music content. I suspect when someone suggested it, different divisions didn’t see the big picture and came up with reasons why they shouldn’t do it. It took outsiders like Apple and Amazon to show the incumbents what to do. Vested interests often prevent businesses from doing the right thing.
#swimmingnaked – Warren Buffet said “It’s only when the tide goes out that you can see who was swimming naked”. Any idiot can take money in good times, since the recession started we’ve all seen who was swimming naked.
#whatwhyhow – when you visit a website you should be able to answer these simple questions. What do you do, why should I care and how do I do business with you. Think about it, how many times have you visited a website and thought, what do you do? So what, why should I care? How the hell do I do business with you? Look your own website now.
#expertsarefullofsh*t – just because someone calls themselves an expert doesn't mean they know what they are talking about. Experts designed all the poor things that you’ve ever seen. Don’t be embarrassed to ask experts stupid obvious questions.
#uglybabysyndrome – we’ve all seen parents with ugly babies, they love them because its their flesh and blood. It’s the same with ideas. People fall in love with their idea because they came up with it. The best thing to do if someone tells you their crap idea is just be honest and say “its crap”, pretend you’re Simon Cowell.
I hope you get the idea, so #encourage everyone in your company to get to the point and #cutthecr*p.
This blog first appeared in Retail Week written by Ajaz Ahmed
We’re exposed to a mountain of visual stimuli everyday. The power of observation is a great gift and I love walking around shops, it gives me great inspiration. I love looking at how great retailers practise their art and I learn something new every time a walk around a shop. It’s the details that make the biggest difference, the lighting, the colours, the fonts, the visual merchandising and great design.
I love walking around Hollister even though I’m never going to buy anything. I’ve noticed that they have the best sound system in the high street, does that make a difference? Yes, I don’t feel like leaving. I love the copywriting that stores like IKEA and Pret use to entice their customers. I was in heaven when recently visited a Whole Foods supermarket in the US. I felt like buying things that I didn’t even need - what a truly clever retailer.
I love looking at newspaper adverts, it’s amazing how advertisers manage to grab your attention when they only have a few seconds to do it in. I love looking at websites to try and figure out how companies like Amazon make the experience of visiting their site so much better than their competitors. I love reading books and magazines to learn how people and companies achieve their success.
If there is so much to learn from other successful companies, why don’t more people learn by observing? Do they walk around their World blind?
I’ve visited some appalling companies in my time and I could cry when I see them making simple basic mistakes. If I asked the senior managers of these companies “how’s business?” they’d probably say it’s a struggle and list all the reasons why, but they’d never admit it’s their fault.
I’ve always wanted to ask senior managers at WH Smith, “what do you see every time you walk around your stores?” I think it’s a visual mess and other than fixed price products, everything you sell is available cheaper within walking distance of most stores. If they stood and watched the people walking into their stores at lunchtime they would observe that people buy food and drink somewhere else and newspapers and magazines from them.
It’s the same at Argos, it not a great in-store experience and did they real need to hire expensive consultants to advise them that the future for them is the Internet?
Why do struggling retailers not learn by comparing themselves to other successful retailers? When they go shopping don’t they ever ask themselves, “Why do I shop here? Why do I look forward to coming here?”
We have some fantastic retailers but we also have a lot of awful retailers, it doesn't matter what sector your business is in, there’s a lot to learn from good retailers.
The solutions to most of your problems are all around you. Simply open your eyes and take a good look around, don’t walk around your business with your eyes shut.
Go shopping and don’t buy anything, just look and take it all in, be inquisitive, be curious. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll see.
This blog first appeared in Retail Week written by Ajaz Ahmed
Why are so many retailers struggling and going out of business at the moment? Because before the recession it was easy to take money, easy credit drove the market and a good time was to be had by all, but as the quote says when the tide goes out, only then do you find out who was swimming naked.
This industry is full of people who simply are not retailers, it’s as simple as that. It’s full of people that have never worked in a shop and could never work in a shop, they simply don’t understand customers and its customers not spreadsheets that drive a retail business.
What’s the difference between a businessperson and an entrepreneur? The two biggest skills that an entrepreneur possesses is the power of observation and empathy. The ability to put yourself in the customers shoes is priceless, that’s how great retailers are able to become such a success without any formal qualifications.
Freeserve was born out observation and empathy. I’ve worked in retail (Dixons/PC World) for many years and one of my observations is that when senior management visited my store, they would very rarely talk to the staff. They would never take time to ask the people who spend all their time on the front line shop floor “what do you think? How can we improve things? What are our customers asking for?” The solutions to many problems often lie with the staff if only someone would ask them.
Comet has struggled, so how much change has been made to the retail part of the business since OpCaptia took over? Not a lot. Here’s an interesting fact that the guys sitting behind their desks at head office and the private equity guys might not understand, it’s the retail part that customers see, not the cost cutting or the operations, they see the shops. Customers walk into the shops and spend money.
A number of my friends work at Comet and I would often ask them “what would you change?” They came up with all sorts of common sense ideas that would make huge difference to Comets business. But did anybody ever ask them? No. I asked my friend who is a store manger, when the chairman, John Clare came to visit your store, did he talk to any of the staff or any customers? No was the answer.
That’s why Comet is going bust, because none of the Private Equity guys or Senior Management of Comet are retailers with observation and empathy skills. They are too arrogant to bring themselves to believe that someone on the shop floor might be able to make a suggestion that could make a valuable difference. Because people at head office never went into the stores and asked the staff what they they thought, they look down on the staff that work on the shop floor.
Retail greats like Sam Walton and Ingvar Kamprad walked the shop floor and talked to their staff and customers. You can’t run a shop from just spreadsheets sat behind a desk.
British retail needs more retailers.
This blog first published in Retail Week
One of the first big Internet companies was Freeserve, it launched in 1998 and the Internet boom started. For years people talked about e-commerce, but nothing happened. Smug people said "I told you so," a few years later than expected, companies like Amazon finally came onto the scene and then the e-commerce boom started.
Then people said e-commerce would have a big effect on the high street but nothing really happened, and the same smug people said: "I told you so." Things have now changed so the big question now is, has the tipping finally arrived?
This year, Retail Week has been busy with lots of stories, and the truth is the next generation has caused a lot of this. Older people like me use the Internet in one way, but younger people have grown up with the Internet and use it in a different way.
The thing that's changed everything is the smartphone. Wherever I go, people have got a smartphone in their hand. People are addicted to it, go on a train or bus and people are looking down at their phones. When I look at my family at home, young and old, they are looking their phones, it's seems part of their lives. Companies that are doing well are the companies that know how to exploit this technology.
The other thing that's changed is the next generation not only live on this technology, they don't think twice about using it to buy something and but they don’t think twice to return something if it's not right. Older people don’t like to send stuff back, younger people don’t have a problem sending stuff back.
I've got three teenage daughters, and there is a constant stream of parcels to the house. I still prefer to go to town to spend my money, but my daughters are happy to use the technology and importantly also return things if they are not right.
When the Internet first arrived, people used it just to surf the Internet, they didn’t use it buy anything. The technology to buy anything wasn’t there. When mobile phones first came out we only used them to make phone calls, the technology to anything else wasn’t there. Remember we only took them out of pockets when the phone rang?
Now I am in a panic when I can’t feel my smartphone in my pocket. It tells me everything. Retailers are only limited by their imagination, every time I pay for my pasty at Greggs using ApplePay, I have a smile on my face, it’s absolutely fantastic.
I am in no doubt the tipping point has now arrived and the companies that are doing well are the ones that know how to exploit the technology. As you read this, don’t forgot what you’ve got in your pocket and which companies are worth a fortune. Don’t be the ones that said “I told you so.”
I recently watched a US episode of TV’s “Undercover Boss”, and in it, the boss of a large car manufacturer was shocked by what he found. I was more shocked that an intelligent, highly paid boss had never mystery shopped or engaged with his staff before. It was the same when I watched the UK version this week with the CEO of Moss Bros going undercover.
Believe me when I tell you that buying a car is a truly soul-destroying experience. If that is the case, I must conclude that senior executives in the auto industry have never actually tried to buy a car. They are given company cars, so they bypass the whole showroom experience.
What’s wrong with a car showroom? Everything. Every time I go to a car showroom, I’m amazed at how little these guys know about the basics of retailing. I end up walking around imagining all the changes I would make by using simple retail principles that would increase sales. How? By just using empathy and imagine that I am the customer, it's not rocket science.
But it's not just the car industry that makes it difficult for customers to do business with them, lots of retailers and retailers websites could also make it a lot easier for customers to do business with them.
The big question you need to ask yourself is “do I employ people whose job is to make it as difficult as possible for a customer to do business with me?” A “Sales Prevention Department.”
I’m convinced that in some companies the sales prevention department is, in fact, the biggest and most influential department.
Why does it take a TV program for the chief executives to engage with staff and customers?
Why do companies employ mystery-shopping companies? Why not ask staff in your head office to go and visit your stores unannounced. Get them to observe what your customers feel. Get the people that sit behind a desk sending out emails to go out onto the shop floor of your business and your competitors and talk to staff and customers.
I worked in retail for 17 years and had plenty of planned visits from directors, we used to call them “Royal Visits,” and in all that time, I never once saw any of those directors talk to a customer and I never had anybody turn up unannounced just for a chat.
This is basic, basic stuff. This is what entrepreneurs do - they talk to their customers and staff.
My advice to retail bosses is, don’t complain about poor sales, get out there and improve your customer experience. Don’t use market research and surveys; they are for insecure middle managers.
Get out onto the shop floor and ask people about their experiences. I warn you, if you’re easily offended, don’t do it, stay behind your desk.
And finally, disband your sales prevention department now, then watch your business improve.
Ajaz Ahmed founder, Freeserve and Legal365.com