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Episode 028 : 09/16/2021

Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor

Bob Phibbs is an internationally recognized business strategist, customer service expert, sales coach, author of three books, motivational business speaker, and founder of SalesRX. Bob has worked with over a thousand retail executives from many of the Fortune 500, including Hunter Douglas, Land O’Lakes, Lego, MasterCard, Omega, Paul Mitchell, T-Mobile, Trek, and American Express. Last year, Bob was awarded the World Retail Forum’s Innovation Leadership Award 2020 in recognition of his efforts to help retail recover stronger from COVID-19.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Bob Phibbs

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • We’re in the middle of a time of the great human reconnection 
  • We’re all just sitting around the campfire hoping somebody notices us enough that we can tell a little bit of our story
  • Retail has always been the entry level into entrepreneurship

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:01] Welcome to SparkPlug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology. Brought to you by SnowShoe making mobile location smarter. SparkPlug is happy to welcome Bob Phibbs. Bob is an internationally recognized business strategist and expert and sales coach, author of three books motivational business speaker and founder of SalesRX. Bob has worked with over a thousand retail executives from many of the Fortune 500, including Hunter Douglas, Land O’Lakes, Lego, MasterCard, T-Mobile Track and American Express. And last year, Bob was awarded the World Retail Forum’s Innovation Leadership Award in recognition of his efforts to help retail recover stronger from COVID 19. So welcome, Bob.

Bob Phibbs [00:00:49] Thank you. It’s great to be here and join you both today. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:52] So glad to have you here, Bob. So you are quite the champion for retailers, so we have to have you on SparkPlug. Will you start by telling us about yourself and how you became the retail doctor? 

Bob Phibbs [00:01:05] Well, I’m from the future and I’ve been back to help you because there is so much negativity around 2021. It’s like, my gosh, so it’s kind of like Terminator only in reverse, so I’m kind of making sure the future happens. How long do you have, you know? I mean, it basically comes down to I put myself through college when I was working in the mall. My first job was janitor, so that’s probably why when I do business makeovers, I always start with cleanliness. But you know, I got my degree in conducting realize there was no way that I was going to be able to be a Broadway conductor after I wrote to 10 of them and they wrote back and said, “You got to have great piano chops” I was like, Well, I don’t have that. So then it was like, Oh, well, I’ll go teach. And then the day I walked into high school with student teaching and there’s 50 high school boys trying to play Stairway to Heaven on untuned guitars like, there’s not enought gin on this planet. And I just kind of fell into retail and I took a little group of Western Wear stores in Southern California from, I don’t know, six to fifty five became the biggest in the industry and actually got the highest increase of sales at South Coast Plaza number one mall in the world. And they came down and said, What the hell are you doing here? You’re just selling cowboy clothes because it doesn’t matter what I’m selling. I could be in Tiffany’s right now. I could be at Nordstrom. I could be any of those places, but it all comes down to what I do, when you come in, you feel like you matter when I work with you. And the owner of the company in a meeting said one day, what’s the company’s greatest asset? I said its employees, he goes wrong. I was like, OK, this would be interesting. So we went around the room with about 50 other people, and no one got it right. And he said his customers customers. And so I went down to his office and at the end of the meeting, and I said the only way we became successful was the employees and the people I developed. Customer customers go anywhere. Employees are going to be our iron steak that makes the brand, I can’t work for a company like this, I’m out in two weeks and literally in two weeks after 10 years and all the accolades. I was out and I licked my wounds for a few days. And then I went to a Tony Robbins seminar at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. And Tony’s big idea that I took away was, You better come up with a brand and nobody else can do better than you. And I literally the next morning filed the paperwork for the Retail Doctor to know exactly what that was going to be, but I knew that was going to be my moniker. And within a couple of months, I ended up finding my first client, who was a little coffee roaster who was going up against two Starbucks. His sales went up 50 percent the first year, 40 percent over the next. I called up the local media. Would you be interested in a story about this? They did a story about him. Then I got to the regional media and then one day I just said, I’m going to do this. And I called up the New York Times and I said, Are you interested in this story about how the big guy was beaten by the little guy? And they’re like, We are. And I met the reporter in July and nothing really happened, and I’m keynoting in Manhattan on October the 29th. This is like 1997, I think, or something. And I go down to the hotel lobby and I pick up the New York Times and it’s a Sunday morning and I flip it over and there’s my picture with Mike, and I open the business section and the entire top of the business section is Meet the Category Killer, Killer. And that was my introduction to the world, and from that to the L.A. Times offered me to do business makeovers, and I wrote the books and built the house that Jack built. And when people tell me, Oh, how do I be like you? It’s like, Well, you better be ready because when it happens, you know you, you have to have things in place, but also you, you better hit it out of the park or you’re just another person. Same thing with retail. You know, nobody needs another mediocre shop that you just love to buy things. We’re sustainable. Oh, wear this with like, yeah, we don’t need that. So what are you going to bring to it to make me feel so much that you’re my brand that I’ve got to come back and I’ve got a rave about it? And that’s what I help. Literally tens of thousands of people every day with my online trading SalesRX where we teach how to engage a stranger, open your heart, and actually have fun in retail. 

Ned Hayes [00:05:14] Well, I’m fascinated with your journey from conducting in music in to retail. So is there a connection between orchestration and orchestration in a store? 

Bob Phibbs [00:05:25] I just like to tell people what to do, what can I tell you? I mean, I come from a long line of preachers from both sides of my family, so I think there’s something out there about that. But, you know, I think it’s interesting, nobody’s asked that question before Ned, when you’re a conductor, you realize that you’re going to be doing the same thing over and over again. I can listen to the same song over and over again because I’m thinking, oh, well, in performance, it’s going to be this. And probably me as a trainer is the same way, it’s like, well, if I’m working with you or your crew or I’m virtually working with you, it’s just a process like, yeah, you’re going to do this again and again, it’s like coaching an Olympic athlete. But if you like that and if that doesn’t drive you nuts, which is me, you know, then people that that really need that and want that and they’re looking for it then is no different than somebody who’s coming into the concert hall, what they’re looking for is an experience that touches and feels they matter, and they’re changed by roughly 20 some songs that they’re paying you money for, and in retail, it’s they’re coming in to have something changed, they’re hopeful, sad people don’t go into a retail store at 10 AM they’re in the bar. So if you understand your goal is to bring hope, then what happens is it’s this meeting of the minds because you’re doing the same thing. Yeah, you’ve got a process we have to greet them and we have to do this. We ask this, we ask that we do these things and you realize that the end goal is that performanc. Now in a concert hall, when I did a thousand people at the carpet performing arts center with a full orchestra and chorus, yeah, we get applause. But I’ve had people since then say, you changed my life from a concert. This last November, a woman called me and she said, I just want to tell you a story, and I said, Oh, great. You know, I always like stories. Storytelling is great. And she was telling me how she is a piano retailer in Ontario, Canada, and she said it’s March last year, and she says, I’ve just fired all my employees because we don’t know what’s going to happen with COVID. She goes, I’ve turned off the lights. I am prepared to shut down my store. I’m near tears and I’m sitting at my desk and you’re coming across a blue screen telling me it’s going to be OK. She goes, do you know what impact that had on my life and I was like, obviously a lot and she’s like, It kept me going. We reopened. We’ve we kept in contact with all those employees, we were able to keep them, we’ve come back and now I’m ready for our next 60 years, we’re not going to lose it on my watch, and I just want to thank you for that. Well, that’s the world I work in. So for me, retail affords that opportunity to be in this place that very few people understand. They think it’s a widget. They think it’s a beacon, some other bullshit out there that’s got to be done by a machine instead of it’s about being more human in an increasingly technological world. And if you’re a CEO listening to this, you’re a COO, if you’re thinking the answer has got to be, we need less people on the floor, we need more discounts, then I think you’re going to miss it because we’re in the middle of a time of the great human reconnection. Yeah, people got put on some masks for a while. We get all that. But make no mistake, we’ve turned a corner and suddenly hobbies are important connecting, gifts, time with others. And retail is the vehicle we are able to do that. And you’re kidding yourself if you think that’s going to come from me clicking some silly ad that comes on one in front of somebody else’s store. Oh, but I can get $3 off over here like you’re missing it, and that’s why I’m amazingly busy right now, because a lot of people realize, Oh, what we’ve been doing may not be the right way. 

Ned Hayes [00:09:10] Absolutely agree. The human connection is what matters. And that’s what that kind of third place of a a store that you feel connected to provides. So back just to come back to that example of the retailer you spoke to who had laid off her staff, did you encounter a lot of people like that who you had to reassure or what was the initial reaction when COVID hit and what challenges did you and your clientele face? 

Bob Phibbs [00:09:38] Oh my goodness, are you kidding me? I just hired two new people, and I think our very next day they said, well, you’re firing us, right? And it’s like, No, why would you say that? It’s like the brand goes on. This is, you know, this is going to be a different time for us. Unfortunately, I think an awful lot of retailers went through and they repeated what that music retailer did. However, they didn’t stay in contact with their employees, and they didn’t realize that after a couple of months like, Oh, we might make it through, things would be different. We’re going to come back. So they didn’t keep in contact with these people or they they didn’t think of them as, Oh, that’s like my arm, I need to have that. And so they were very foolish because they didn’t stay in contact. Those people found other jobs or they decided to work remotely or fill in in other reasons. And now, when they most needed them, they didn’t come back. And then they’re like, Oh, those damn lazy employees like, dude, you didn’t show you cared. So why? Why would they? I think the thing that that really happened, you know, I work with an awful lot of sewing retailers. And if you go back to the day that the CDC said, you need to wear masks, they they had already fallen off a cliff. That because that took a while, that didn’t happen. The next day, you know, as Tom Hanks has COVID and the next day, we’re all like, Oh my god. Tom Hanks has it all right and we’re all rushing it home. They went from no business to suddenly you took a blowtorch to their business. They had no inventory there. They weren’t set up for limitations on their online stores. So they’re selling massive amounts of machines they don’t have massive interest in it at a time when curbside is going on. So that’s the one side, sewing really was amazing. But yeah, when it came to apparel retailers and people were panicked, you know, but other retailers took a different tack. So Stage West or one of my sales are clients and they close her down, she’s outside of Dollywood. We’re being told no one will be going back to any amusement areas for two to five years, no one. And she’s like, I don’t think so. So she ended up taking her whole crew back through SalesRX through Zoom calls did roll play through them. She reopened three months after they were lockdown outside of a tourist destination was told No way you’ll do this. She increased your sales 20 percent over the previous year and has ever since then. But she said This is going to be my time and I think that’s my message to anyone. That’s that’s a retailer listening to this, you’re in it. You know, most retail businesses that I know are making money. This is the time to invest in your employees is to upgrade your POS, is to redo your entire website. Just a side note, I’m redoing retail doc right now because the core assets Google’s algorithms are just killing us and you’ve got a really just fundamentally bite the bullet and we got to rebuild it from the ground up. It’s the same thing with your crew. You can have the. Core foundation down because thinking that people know how to talk to strangers isn’t going to happen in a world where we talk by text. And that’s why it’s not like young people are stupid or the smartest, most hopeful people I know, they haven’t had it modeled. Great customer service is I got my Frappuccino in 10 seconds because I use the mobile app, right? So if you’re trying to sell, particularly at the higher end, you’re trying to sell a $5000 dress, custom kitchen, any of these other things that are more of a luxury. You better upgrade your skills because if not, another retail is going to clean your clock. 

Ned Hayes [00:13:16] Right? One phrase that I’ve heard that really resonates for a lot of our clients and our partners is that they are moving from kind of a commodity perspective to a community perspective. So they’re trying not to sell to the bottom line. You know, you can get five percent off today, seven percent off tomorrow, but instead we’re building a community here and we’re about community. We’re connecting with people. And so that shift from commodity to community really makes a difference. 

Bob Phibbs [00:13:46] Well, certainly running stores, bike stores, anything that’s athletic, I think they’ve already kind of had that. But it’s it’s stronger, I think, than than before. And the challenge for bike retailers, sewing retailers, anyone home improvement, you know, they’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop. How long can we do this where we’re up so far over last year, over 2019 and we’re up so far over 2020? When is the magic turn off going to happen? And most of my clients are like, Yeah, we’re expecting to go back down to two or three percent growth rate after. But we aren’t seeing the wave even close in the rearview mirror because of supply shortages and, you know, the freezing of the petrochemical plants in Texas and those kind of things. 

Ashley Coates [00:14:32] Mm-Hmm. Well, and so to address the other end of the spectrum, some retailers really weren’t able to stay open last year. And I’m curious if you had any clients who weren’t able to stay open and how you counsel them through that. 

Bob Phibbs [00:14:47] I said, it’s hopeless, they’re all going to be on Amazon. I know that there is a guy out there saying how you know the big like Amazon and Target and Walmart are only going to get bigger, and it’s kind of fruitless for you to try it on my great message. Great question. You know, I just say it doesn’t have to be you. That’s always been mine. Yeah, there’s a million things that are going on around here. I just say it doesn’t for you. It just like me. I go to work every morning at five a.m. I’m up or we actually we filmed all of SalesRX six weeks ago. There’s no one’s going to have a better training program than us because that’s what we have to do. Do the hard work of your four walls. It’s easy to find the shiny object syndrome to go off and my oh, TikTok, I’m going to make a TikTok it’s going to be so fun, going to change our shirt and then we’ll have the pot and it’ll be. So it’s like, Yeah, you can do. You absolutely can fill your day with crap. But when you really look at what your goal is as a boss, as you make your employees day, make no mistake, make their day, they make the customer day, you make the employees feel that they matter, they make the customers feel that they matter. If you miss that, if you think that you can sidestep it and I can say, Ashley, did you go greet that guy? Yeah, I did. And now it’s this kind of a it’s it’s a nagging aunt or uncle, you missed it, because retail is a great job. I know a lot of people make over a hundred grand a year in retail. But this image that you’re this poor loser that doesn’t deserve anything and you’re this. Yeah, if that’s your mindset, why are you here? I’ve always said, if retail sucks, please get the hell out because we really don’t need your little story on Twitter. Oh, I did. It was just horrible. This woman wanted her money back, didn’t have her receipt what a b i t, you know, it’s like, great. You win. Life sucks. Yay for you. Yeah. Well, go out and be a marketing professional, see how easy that is. They’re going to run into it. I don’t care where you are. If you look at most CEOs who are successful, they started somewhere in the line in retail where they learned it’s about somebody else over you. You know, I don’t remember how I I’m I’m much older than either one of you. But when I was going to college and I was running a shoe store in the 80s, and I think, how did I go to a disco till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and get up at eight and be at work at nine and work for 12 hours or eight hours, 12 hours on my on my feet and go do it again. I have no idea. But I’ll tell you one thing I knew that that was my job was and I didn’t let it get in the way of it, right? I didn’t make an excuse like, Oh, I was really out late. Customer doesn’t care. All they want is you to make their day. That’s all we’re looking for. You know, we’re all just sitting around the campfire hoping somebody notices up enough that we can tell a little bit of our story. And when that happens and we can go back and forth, that’s magic. 

Ashley Coates [00:17:46] So I want to talk about your process, Bob. So you provide training and inspiration for retail brands in need of some success. What is your initial process for when business owners who want to differentiate themselves? What’s your process and how does your vision come to life with them? 

Bob Phibbs [00:18:03] Depends on what the situation is. If I can, I’d rather go experience the brand, but see what it’s like, feeling that, I usually start with show me your training materials. Oh, we don’t have any or, Oh, we’ve got that somewhere or Oh, Jane, does it? Oh, has Jane worked in a retail store before? No, she’s our training director. Bob was the guy before her, and he he did a few videos and we’ve got him on YouTube. We haven’t watched those like, Oh, that’s probably what will start. You think so? Like. Yeah, I think so. 

Ned Hayes [00:18:37] Right. It sounds like those are some sure signs of a business that needs your help. Once you figure that out, then then what do you do next? 

Bob Phibbs [00:18:45] To be full of myself? Just a little bit, Ned. The reality is, I get them on SalesRX. If I hadn’t already figured it out for literally hundreds of thousands of people, if I hadn’t already figured it out, I would do it as a bespoke training. You know, let’s let’s Ashley and Ned. Let’s get together. We’ll talk about it. We’ll spend the day. The problem with that is why sales are I started was because I would go and do a day long sales training because that’s what our mindset would be like. Oh, I’ll hire Bob to do sales training. Great, and you have a lot of fun. I play a lot of games. We blow up balloons, there’s paper, there’s paper airplanes. We do all sorts of games. And I have presented the idea of what Bob thinks is exceptional experience looks like. And then I would get on the plane and the because the client would say, So how do we how do we implement that, like by my book like that was about it. Because at that moment when the guy said that to me in Los Angeles, I realized nobody is going to be able to duplicate this because they had a good time. But it’s like exposure. It be like, Oh, we bought the diet book. Great. Uh oh, I have to open it. Yeah, you have to open it, but you’ve got to change your behavior. And only if somebody else is holding you accountable is that going to happen? And you can’t make all those choices at once, right? So if you’re used to having three eggs of sausage and bacon like I probably was in my teens and you know, you can’t suddenly say, and today, you’re going to have kale like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And that’s it. You’ve got to get rid of some of that other stuff to make room for it. So when I started looking at that and saying, All right, so what’s the future going to be? It’s going to be online learning, not a pixilated head like Max Headroom from the 80s. It’s going to be bite size three to five minute lessons. It’s going to have to be interactive. So I ask questions. The whole system stops until you answer it and then it’ll pick back up. It’s got to be accountable. We got of reporting, we’ve got to have a leader, but we’re just adding leaderboards, gamification. We’ve got user stories inside of it now and diversity. Because let’s face it, it’s a little different looking world than it might have been when we were first doing it. And just bringing all of that together really made me understand how much I’m putting a community together for our customers and for our clients. 

Ashley Coates [00:21:20] So given your experience in brick and mortar retail, do you agree that everything would be hybrid moving forward, especially with all these online experiences you’re talking about? Is omni channel really the reality for all retailers now? 

Bob Phibbs [00:21:35] Well, I think we need to pivot and I think we need the omni channel and I think we need to value every guest. I can talk as much PR as the next guy. Look, you know, we used to just call it shopping. Why did we get into all of this like whole channel where it’s it’s it’s there, they’re doing it by Instagram or VR/AR. They do it by catalog, you know, at the end of the day, Sears used to be Amazon in the day, right? You could buy it in person. You could buy through the catalogs, their showrooms. There are a million different ways. They’re independent contractors. There are a million ways. So do I think it’s important? Of course it is. But don’t kid yourself the reason. If you’re a smaller retailer, you would have a website is is because people are going to look to you to buy whatever that widget is first. And if you’ve got that site, you can fulfill it. Great. But make no mistake, you’re not going to take on Amazon. Amazon is 50 percent of online shopping, make no mistake, going after that, unless you’re a big person, I think is a fool’s errand, then the whole idea of direct to consumer, that’s another buzzword. Give me a break. There’s a story in USA today. Last month, retailers better worry because all these up and coming brands are going to be stealing their business. And I was like, Oh, I got to read this. What is this? Yeah, a young woman who created a cosmetic product and she sold $3000 last year. And I’m like, That’s a hobby. That’s not a business. Why are we elevating this? That this is what it is? Yes, everything is becoming a fragmented market. I get all of that. And as much as that gets fragmented, you’re going to see department stores are going to come back and you’re going to see malls come back. Why? Because they can show you all of that in a way that helps you cure rate the selection. The idea of endless aisle is baloney. I was at a Lowe’s to buy a new light fixture, and I’m looking up like, that’s the one. Oh, that’s on our endless aisle. Oh, where’s that? Yeah, up in the cloud. Oh, just scan this. Oh, three to four weeks drop ships from from a supplier like really? Is that so is that great customer service? Because I think most of us would be if we’re going into the store, that’s what we want. So this idea that seems to have taken hold now in a lot of retailers, which is if I was looking for this shirt, for example, and I go, Actually, you have this on a large and you’d go and you might check the back. Doubtful, you’ll probably just hold up your iPad and say, Oh, no, we don’t, but we could ship it to you. And and like, Oh, aren’t we great? We’re shipping from store. No, you didn’t. Here’s the problem. That sale isn’t final until I put it on. Oh, we have a virtual mirror. I don’t give a damn. It’s still not on my body. I still haven’t said, How do I feel in this? So this idea that we’ve checked these boxes, I think you’ve added friction to the process. That’s all I’m looking at, right? That’s why so many apparel retailers who have not opened their fitting rooms is so short sighted. They’re saying it’s Covid, but it’s not Covid, they’re not bringing enough people back to man and they didn’t man them to begin with. So that’s a whole nother discussion. But if a person who goes in the fitting room is like gold because the return rate on them is something like six percent after they walk out the door. Yet online retail is 50 percent return rate. So now millennials like, but it’s got to be sustainable. Yeah, well, it’s sustainable. Why are you telling me it’s all about we have to rent more stuff when you’re shipping it in these boxes over and over and over again and the gas and all of that. Why isn’t anyone saying the real original sustainable operation is a retail store? 

Ned Hayes [00:25:22] No, here here in Portland, we have some businesses that are kind of defiantly analog cash only. Old school all the way, really a unique customer experience. I know a coffee shop that feels like I stepped into the 80s. There’s no phones out the the the whole experience is really curated, really oriented community, and they’re doing a great business. But I’m curious if if that kind of throwback experience is something that is how the pendulum swings because people are tired of the endless aisle and they want to go in and have somebody know their name and have somebody actually share that real face-to-face experience. 

Bob Phibbs [00:26:03] I’m not a Luddite, so I’m not saying no. What you’re describing there is you have an entrepreneur who is probably working the business. They’re there every day, so it’s their ethos. That’s what they believe. That’s kind of hard to manage if you’re going to grow to two or three or five stores. Because make no mistake, Gen Z is plugged in and they have been trained by Starbucks that the app is what they want. And so, yeah, you can proudly say, we’re not going there. Great. Just like I was 10 years ago, I’ll never and I actually said this, I’ll never do training online. There’s no way it could replace me. Well, it actually could be better because I’m in Dubai right now. I’m over in England, I’m in South America. I’m physically to people I’ve never met. So to your point, I think the brands that get it Hammitt Handbags is one of our clients, and they are really focused around making sure that the stores like Dillard’s and others that carry them really understand how that connection feels and the process to go through it because they understand that connection to the product starts with a human being. I think that’s what we’re seeing. But woe to the retailers who take it for granted. You’ve armed all your staff with iPads and you think that’s the answer. I was in a Dick’s Sporting Goods a few months ago, buddy of mine was trying to get a pair of shoes. And he says, I think I’m 11. There are fitting devices there that he use it know, so it goes any checks, No. 11 gets an 11 and a half. Well, we have 11 and a half goes back. Meanwhile, my buddy is getting more impatient like, well, what do you have? And so Fleet Veep, who is using volume metal and if you read about them, but the scanners that are amazing, their whole job is to get your shoe off and get you to that. And then they can say these are the ones that will fit you. Great. That’s really a great use of technology, isn’t it? I mean, that’s amazing. Or you look at podium who you can switch your landline into a text of all messaging so that people can talk to you in real time. And it’s now the brand you’re talking to. You’re not somebody else. So I think there are a lot of great tools out there, and that’s not a, you know, that’s nothing else than just to say, if I was a retailer, I would absolutely be looking at ways I can connect to my customers. But it’s not a way of saying, how am I less human? It’s how do I deepen that? Because imagine the Ned, you’re there with a running store and I can show you these are the five ones you love those. These are the five because they’ve tried all these other people on have tried this and said, that doesn’t fit when you know that with certainty, you can sell two or three pair now. And that’s the magic. I think instead of, these brands are all on sale. Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be over here being bitter on my phone. 

Ashley Coates [00:28:56] So, Bob, let’s go from general to specific. Do you have some specific suggestions on how businesses can create excitement to gain more foot traffic and sales in their brick and mortar locations? 

Bob Phibbs [00:29:08] Survey after survey for the last 30 years, number one thing that pisses people off is what when they walk in the store? Nobody said a word to me. I didn’t get greeted. Nobody said anything. So why you start at the basics? Like, how hard would that be? It’s really very hard because when you haven’t trained employees? I call it the hell zone. But first, eight feet of the store. Customers don’t want to go there because they’re going to as soon as they walk in, they’re afraid someone’s going to come up. I’m like, Can I help you with something? No, these are on sale. Here’s this like, I was a gap not that long ago. Here’s our coupon. It’s an extra 10 percent off. Like, really, really. That’s it. That’s the best you have. Like all the things you could say to me, that was the best thing you could say or you walk in and you’ll never see anyone. So if you just fixed that one, that’s like the first thing that we teach in SalesRX is how to greet somebody, the time and how to deal with the hell zone because it really is a real thing. So the other thing that I think so many people have gotten away from is figuring out what a add on is. You know, if I buy a new coffee machine and I don’t get a new coffee grinder, shame on you, because someone in somewhere down the line will eventually say to me a friend or somebody, Oh, what are you using to grind the beans? Oh, I got this sale. When it was ninety nine, it was a two for one. I got one from when I was a Macy’s last Christmas. Oh, great. They did explain that chips the beans doesn’t grind them like a bird grinder, which runs forty nine ninety five up to one hundred and fifty. But because you felt that was pushy because you didn’t want to sell the merchandise. The customer left with the espresso machine and you rewarded that employee without really understanding. You really didn’t do customer service. You were a warehouse. And so that’s one thing that actually, I don’t think most people realize most people are making their stores into a warehouse at a time. You can not afford that if you want to be a warehouse, Amazon’s already done it and they’ve done it better than you ever could think about. But when we don’t have a connection to the product, the good stuff sits and it only goes out the door when it’s on sale. That’s whether it’s apparel, that’s where there’s electronics, etc. If all you can do when I go to Best Buy and ask if I want the extended warranty, if that’s the extent of your training, because your markup is so high, then you don’t really understand what moves sales. You’re still over here with tactics instead of the strategy, right? 

Ned Hayes [00:31:36] A really great example of this is that the story goes that Amazon was going to kill the bookstore, right? And so Amazon has every book in the world, including self-published books, write every single book. And yet the growth of independent bookstores has been astronomical over the last 10 years. And it’s because when you walk into Cannon Beach Bookstore, for example, the person knows you. You mentioned there was a book with a green cover that I saw somewhere in there like, Oh yeah, that’s the new bestseller Sunset or Something was nominated for the Booker Prize two years ago. Great. You know, that’s by Richard Powers. You know, it came out in 2018 and it was nominated, but it actually didn’t win. So they actually know their produce, their goods inside and out, and they can match those goods to the customer preference perfectly. 

Bob Phibbs [00:32:28] But here’s the problem with that, my friend. Yeah, I’m right with you. Would I’m right with you? But what? They never go the next level, which is and you’re picking this one up. You know, if you like that style, this is a great when you should consider, too. Oh, and by the way, you know, we just got where the crawdads sing it back in again, Reese Witherspoon’s making a movie of it. This would be a great thing for your summer reading. We don’t do any of that because booksellers, we were purists. No, we don’t want to be pushy. We don’t. It’s like, Oh, for God’s sake, so what do you do? You merchandise them all the same. Like they’re the flapjacks at IHOP on the table, just sitting there, the poor little books like Buy Me, Buy Me. Maybe you put a little paragraph at Powells or something out of, you know, our reader actually likes it because, but are we going to read that? No, it’s up to that poor book to say, Please buy me. So if you’re listening booksellers like Keynoter American Booksellers Association many years ago, when my book The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business first came out, you’re the ones that can do this, too. But instead, when I go to an independent bookstore, do you know what I say more often than Ned and Ashley a sign on the front. If you see it here, buy it. Amazon is, you know, busting our butt and we need your help like really, that’s what you’re leading with. That’s that was like of all the things we could say, like, we’re glad to see you. We roll out the carpet like, please, if you see it, buy it from us and then you walk in cricket’s. You walk up to the wall of their counter and you’re supposed to feel something. The whole category is ready for a reinvention. And yeah, I’m a sales guy. Do you want a sales guy? Because when someone walked in the door, they’ve already raised their hand. Do you know how much it took them to walk in there to put down their iPad last night and say, I’m going to go in that that little store and then get in the car and find a parking place, forget the mask and everything else, and they’re here. And yet you casually think, like, well, if they want something, they’ll buy it. No. They want an experience of feeling for that 10 seconds, that 20 minutes a feeling that they matter and people who feel they matter by that’s at the heart of SalesRX. That’s at the heart of every keynote. I give that if you get that right. Life is easy. But if you’re bitching about your hours and those damn employees and they’re not doing what I want, there’s only one answer look in the mirror. You can change this. 

Ashley Coates [00:35:01] Thank you for that. So what do you see changing in the years to come for retailers? What inquiries do you expect to face going forward? 

Bob Phibbs [00:35:11] I think the health concerns are always going to be with us going forward of some type. I think, you know, it’s crazy. When 9/11 hit, we’re like, Oh my God. And there was a nine 12, which is we kind of forget like, no, that day that was like we didn’t think that was even possible. And then the meltdown of 2008, when suddenly the whole the ATMs aren’t going to work. Holy crap. And then last year, like, Oh, we’re going to lock down every major city, like, Oh, I didn’t see that coming. I think there’s still going to be crap like that. I don’t know what it’s going to be. I hope to God it’s not as long. But one thing about retailers is they are incredibly versatile and flexible. So I think for again, depending on your audience, right? The smaller retailers of medium size who have kind of said, I don’t need to. Whatever it is, social media or full featured website or any number of things, I think they are going to be left behind just for the simple reason that, yeah, it’s great to say we’re not doing any of that, but it doesn’t scale. That’s the problem. And the other thing that I think most people are going to be looking at is how do we get middle management back? How do we have a path from a part-time employee to full time to store manager, regional, et cetera, into the into the operation because most of them lost that and now they’re constantly chasing their tail, trying to find someone to work instead of just realizing, Oh, we need to develop all of that. So I think I think those are going to be the challenges. You know, everybody says, Oh, everybody wants to work remotely. Some people want to work remotely, and it’s a luxury to be able to work remotely. But retail has always been the entry level really into entrepreneurship, into your life, so we’re going to have to find a way. And there’s other people out there that believe it, as well as realizing that we’ve got to get rid of the stigma of retail and actually build that up if we are going to have physical stores still. And I think we are and I think what’s going to happen? I think it’s going to be a power play between the few of us that believe it’s all about people and the 90 percent who are going to be telling us it’s all about the tech. Quite simply, if I buy something on this smartphone, Verizon or AT&T gets a piece of it, Visa so everybody else. There is a lot to be said for making fear in the marketplace right now on brick and mortar retailers. So you will be online. I am not going to say there’s this vast conspiracy, but make no mistake, a lot of these companies have a lot more PR, and there’s a lot more ways to get that story. The physical retail’s dying. It’s dangerous to go shopping. Be aware of, you know, whatever could be of getting sick or number of things and who benefits. I think in the face of all of that, when I’ve gone out to the malls lately, I know about you, but it’s like Christmas. I am shocked at the number of people with packages who are actually smiling and enjoying it, and that flies in the face of most every narrative that is out there right now. And that’s the world I get to work in every day. 

Ned Hayes [00:38:23] That’s fantastic. Well, I know 20, 30 years ago, most people were not predicting the kind of collision of technology and retail that we have now. So if we could turn you into a prophet for a minute, Bob and look out 20-30 years. What do you think retail is going to look like? 

Bob Phibbs [00:38:42] We’re going to a chip at our neck that’s going to give us Velveeta cheese from Amazon. You know, I think it depends on where you are. You’re speaking. I think in the United States, there’s no mystery. We have been over mall. I remember when I lived in Los Angeles in the 90s, and it was like all these malls were being built at every off ramp. And I remember saying, like, how does this scale? Because it’s a Lowe’s or a Home Depot at one with a Michael’s or a bed bath and beyond, a Starbucks or a Dunkin Donuts with a Party Time and you know, and and realistically, none of that was there. The demand wasn’t there then. But Wall Street let them do it. And, you know, it was the easy way to make a buck. So I think we have been over store’d. There’s too many places to buy, too much of the same thing. Are we going to? Are we all going to become brands of one? That seems to be one thing that that, you know, I’m so picky. I need to know that Ned. Oh, I hate Ned because Ned has dark glasses, and I don’t like people who have dark glasses, so I’ll find other. Is that going to be what our litmus test is? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you the one thing that’s going to be exciting and I think China is leading the way and Asia, this idea that there will be one basket that will follow you around. So whether I am in your store, I’m in the restaurant, I’m online, I’m on an app. It’s one basket that will checkout and that’s going to be huge because you won’t have to be logging in and it will it will all be connected. Do I think that it’s going to be a minority report? Do I really think that we’re going to walk in? The gap and it’s going to say, Hi, Bob, how do you like that blue shirt, if it ever gets to that, I think it will become laughable, but I hope to God we don’t all end up in our little cocoons saying how much we hate everything in life and give up what makes us human, which is to go out, open your heart to another human being and being surprised. That’s really what retail is all about. 

Ashley Coates [00:40:42] Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives and the benefits of all of your experience. So happy to have you. We have one last question for you, which is what is your personal mission and what do you hope to accomplish in the years to come? 

Bob Phibbs [00:40:57] Well, I believe we can change the world by the people working and shopping and retail. It’s really what my mission has always been. 

Ned Hayes [00:41:15] Thanks for listening today to the SparkPlug podcast and brought to you by SnowShoe For smarter mobile location, Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of SnowShoe all content. Copyright 2021 SparkPlug Media.