Bob Phibbs is a business motivational speaker, and consultant. He is also the author of "The Retail Doctor." While I don't work in retail these days, retail is close to my heart because I come from a family of entrepreneurs and I worked in retail businesses from a very young age. Many retailers and small businesses have taken a hit in the last couple of years and I really think Bob's book is a great read for anyone wanting to transform their business, from returning to basics to leveraging Social Media. Below is an interview with Bob.

1. You've written a great book about growing and turning around a retail business. How did you get started in retail and what motivated you to start sharing your expertise?

My first job was as a janitor at a jewlry store in Glendale California when I was 16. i learned then that appearances were everything.  I put myself through college working retail and like so many people my part time job became my career.  I build a small regional set of western wear stores from 5 to 55 before quitting and realizing I could do more on my own as a consultant. I never looked back.

2. Social Media has become an extremely hot topic for businesses because it is now fairly easy to engage directly with customers and potential customers. What are some of the most important things retailers should be doing to use Social Media effectively?

How about what they shouldnt do? Social media is not taking your Val-Pak coupons and tweeting them or offering Facebook Fan page coupons.  Most effective are finding ways loyal customers can share things meaningful with your other loyal customers. Encourage them to post a video of the child who received the gift purchased at your store. You can't be like the big brands so keep it small and honest. That's what brings people back time and again. In the book, I mention Pufferbellies in VA, I think they do a great job with  their blog and Facebook page.

3. What are some small business examples of doing "social" well?

Product videos like
Local farmers like

4. Should entrepreneurs and CEOs be blogging, tweeting and creating videos?

Especially entrepreneurs because that's how you show your expertise. Bill Marriott's blog isn't just Marriott related but shows him as a person as well. That's really important the larger you are because it humanizes the brand. Most people are so hung up on making a blog, tweet or video "perfect" that they do none of it. I say, jump in and learn. You can't break something. You can always take it down but get over yourself. The Internet is people being human, not the manufactured images of Madison Ave.

5. What about ecommerce? How important is it for retailers to be able to sell online through online storefronts or third parties like Amazon and eBay?

I wrote a whole blog on why you shouldn't do it: Basically, if you can't be as good as Amazon, don't try. The margins aren't there, the demands are high and cookie-cutter won't work.

6. Without giving much away, what are some of the key things that retailers should be doing to "diagnose, treat, and cure" their businesses?

a) Look at your financials to see exactly where you are. Not profit and loss but average check/transaction, number of customer counts, etc.
b) Evaluate your crew how well they are moving the needle of sales. More than likely they are clerking the merch - that just won't work.
c) Cut out your bottom 20% of categories and bottom 20% of SKUS to run leaner and put that money either in your wallet or into the top 10%.
d) Have a sales process.
e) Stop marketing like it's the 50's using coupons, Yellow Pages ads and fliers on cars.

7. How do our personalities affect the way we do business and what can we do to become better leaders/managers?

We tend to hire people just like ourselves which means we usually just "click" with customers like us. That can give a business a "hive" or "club" feeling if you are not that personality type. To become a better manager, you need to become a chameleon by being able to quickly recognize the four personalities, speak to them in a way they want to be spoken to and train your staff to do the same.

Turnover is one of the biggest problems in retail. How can a company find, train, and keep talented employees? Go shopping, give your card out to anyone who goes above and beyond in a dry cleaners, restaurant or other service business. Just hand them your card and say, "If you ever would like to pick up some more hours, please give me a call. You do a great job."  Too many retailers hire by "Help Wanted" crisis which rarely fills any need but the schedule.

8. If you could change the way universities are teaching business today, what would you change to create better business leaders?

Have them sell something every day. A variety of things. We must bring back the entrepreneurial spirit of getting to know people if we are ever to compete. Right now book learning/computer learning/elearning is in a vacuum. How do we develop the young people who are risk and person -averse into someone willing to wait, to serve, to put their own needs second? Solve that and you'll have been a great teacher.

9. Is there a point in which a retailer or small business should simply call it quits? What is the best exit strategy in such situations?

If you are not profitable for 2 or more years, get out. The second part is the hardest. You have to become profitable or you won't get any money for your business so never try to sell when you are losing money. No one will buy a hardship. They will at most buy a job, but not a sinking ship.

10. What about those who are considering starting a new retail business. Is it a good time to do it and how can they differentiate in potentially saturated markets?

Please see this blog - as current today as last fall when I published it Don't open a "me too" business. You'll be creamed. You must be different. You must be clear on why you are opening it. You must have a plan as to the need, how many widgets you need to sell to be profitable and how you are going to market. "Build it and they will come" is NEVER true.

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.