I ran out of gas today while cutting the grass. The timing was good. It was lunchtime. I grabbed my wallet and the gasoline containers and hopped into my pickup truck. After filling up with gas, I went to the local deli down the street. They have the best turkey sandwiches! When it came time to pay, I opened my wallet and realized I had no cash. I got out a credit card and the clerk quickly informed me that they didn’t accept plastic. “Really?” I thought, “It’s 2013!” Ok, no problem. I keep a $50 bill in a hidden pocket for just such emergencies. I handed her the $50 bill and she pointed to a sign taped to the register that said “No Bills Larger Than $20 Accepted.” I explained that I come here often and that I did not want to drive all the way home to get a $20. She refused to budge and told me there was nothing she could do. I left… hungry. Even though I love these particular sandwiches, I’m not sure I will ever go back to this store.
This situation made me think about how businesses place too many barriers in the way of a sale. Let’s look at the two barriers that effected me today and then I’ll talk about some other “barriers to doing business.”
Credit Cards Not Accepted
This blows my mind! Agree with it or not, credit cards are how people pay today. I use mine for the air miles and cash back. I know I’m not alone. Why not accept the most popular method of payment? The excuse most businesses give is that the fees are too high. Seriously? Even American Express is under 4%. Others claim that the cost of equipment is too high. In most cases, the business owner has the equipment in their pocket already in the form of an iPhone of Android device. Services like Square charge a flat fee of 2.75% per transaction with no monthly fees and it works right on your mobile phone, iPod Touch or iPad.
I’ll go on record and make this statement: “If your business is running so close to the edge that you cannot afford a 4% hit on a sale, your business is on already on life support.” Credit cards are about convenience for most. Like myself, many folks no longer carry cash. Don’t make one of the barriers to doing business something as basic as how your customers can pay you! Your competitors will gladly suck up a 2-4% fee to get your customers business. I know I would.
No Bills Larger Than $20 Accepted
No one wants a counterfeit bill. And many business owners use this as a sign to would-be thieves that there is little money in the register. The safety of your employees should never be compromised for sales or any other reason. But there is a better answer than the ominous “NO BILLS LARGER THAN $20 ACCEPTED.”
Beating counterfeiters is relatively easy. Buy the anti-counterfeit pens and educate your staff on how to spot a fake. There is plenty of information on the net to help you with this.
And take down that nasty sign! If you really MUST have a sign, instead post something that says “We keep $50 or less in the register.” It lets a customer know that you may not be able to make change for them if they have large bills. When the situation arises that you cannot make change, let them know that you will help them, but they might need to wait for you make a few sales until there is change available. They might not be thrilled, but at least you are not telling them you wont accept their legally tender US currency.
How hard is it to clean up the customer facing side of your business? In many cases, an afternoon of hard work might just do the trick. You’ve worked hard to become the best at what you do. You offer the best products and/or services. You deliver on time. You exceed expectations. Your customers need you. Don’t scare them off with a cluttered, disorganized or dirty sales space. This is a first impression (if you have a great website it might not be THE first impression… but that’s another story!). A new customer is going to form an initial opinion seconds after walking in the door. Why stack the cards against yourself when you haven’t even opened you mouth yet? Clean up your space and keep it that way.. Simple.. Right?
Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs…
Policies are important to any business. My businesses have policy manuals that all new hires get a copy of and are expected to learn. But I don’t feel the need to print the policy manual on the walls of my store. Unfortunately, many small business owners feel the need to do just that:
- “All Sales Final”
- “No Cash Refunds”
- “No Shoes No Shirt No Service”
- “No Dogs”
I’ve even seen signs as ridiculous as “Control Your Kids” and “We’re not your Baby-Sitter.”
Most of your customers will not try to take advantage of you. Most have common sense and understand basic courtesy. A small percentage of customers will try to take advantage of every possible thing they can. Your signs are not going to change that. By plastering “warning” signs all over your space, you are alienating (borderline insulting) your good customers while trying to protect yourself from the small percentage of idiots! You will always have idiots. It’s unavoidable. Just look around 🙂
Take the signs down. Deal with things on a case by case basis. If someone walks in without shoes, quietly explain to them that it is a health violation but you would be happy to bring what they need outside to them. If someone wants to return a special ordered item bought 2 years ago that is opened with parts missing….. Well you get the idea. Let common sense be your guide.
There Are Some Exceptions
Of course there are times when you need to have policies to protect the integrity of your core business. Perhaps a perfect example is how we schedule appointments at my car audio business. When a customer schedules an appointment, we require that they be able to leave the car for the entire day. This is not always popular. It is, however, necessary for us to maintain the quality that we deliver. Our installation quality is absolutely sacred. We will not compromise it for anything. It is central to our longevity in business.
I hate “All Sale Final” policies and think they should be removed from all local businesses. All of your “big-boy” competitors have aggressive return policies. Sometimes people just make a mistake. “All sales Final” is a form of punishment. However, there are circumstances when you need to hold the line: Special ordered items, items purchased more than 30 days ago, installed items, services, etc. Again, it’s all about common sense.
There are many other examples and exceptions, but the purpose of this article is to get you thinking about your own business. What barriers to doing business do you have in the way of making a sale? What can you do to remove them? Take a hard look at your sales process from beginning to end. Be honest with yourself. I’ll bet you will find things that would stop you in your tracks at other people’s business. The old adage is certainly true here: Don’t walk over dollars to save pennies.
I understand that a lot of what I said in this article may be controversial. It is a whole new world out there. The policies and procedures that worked 20 years ago might be a huge barrier today. Let me know what you think. I welcome all compliments and criticisms! And if you think that 1sixty8 media might be able to help you with your business, give us a call. It’s free and even if we do not work together, maybe we both can learn something new!