Podcast Episode 121: Georganne Bender & Rich Kizer | Retail Is A Comparison Game

Georganne Bender & Rich Kizer | Retail Is A Comparison Game

Bob Phibbs interviewed Georganne Bender & Rich Kizer, principals of Kizer & Bender, retail consumer anthropologists on the power of events, merchandising and changes in retail.


Tell me something good about retail

Georganne Bender & Rich Kizer: Retail Is A Comparison Game


Three takeaways:

• Events have to be events - not just a sale
• Try this fun event: Pin This To A Guy
• 10% of your business is changing every year whether you like it or not


Bob: Welcome Kizer and Bender, you are cultural anthropologists. What does that mean exactly?

Georganne: We study shoppers. We are consumer anthropologists. We study people in their natural habitats. We spend a lot of time in consumer focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and a lot of time in stores just observing what people do, what they pick up, what they put down, how much time they spend in a certain area, how they interact with displays, how they interact with the people who work in the stores.

Rich: You know we watch what they do and why they do it and we also watch what stores do to create a better environment to make that sale. So, it's kind of a two-way street. We're looking at it from both ends.

Georganne: We like to say we stalk customers.

Bob: I just pictured you in black capes and note pads. That's all I was thinking.

Georganne: Harry Potter cape!

Bob: Remind me, how did you two start out in retail? Actually, I know you didn't start out together and you are not married so we have to make sure that we always make that a point. But how did you get into retail and then how did you two start working together as sleuths, stalking people?

Georganne: I got into retail because when I got out of school my mother said to me, "Get out of the house and get a job and don't come back until you have one." And I walked into an independently owned department store and just fell in love with the place and applied and busted the manager until he hired me and then I went up through the ranks pretty high. When I left there, I was a buyer.

And then I went to work for The Gap and went to work for household merchandising, Ben Franklin stores; then I met Rich and everything else changed.

Rich: What happened with me is that I graduated from college and right out of college I went into the department store business and worked out of New York City and across...

Bob: What department store, Rich?

Rich: Klein Brothers Company. Their stores range from the east coast out through Kansas and Oklahoma.

Georganne: He's being modest, Bob. Rich pretty much ran the chain. He worked out of this huge store; he actually closed his competitor down and moved his store to the big development across the street. He's looking at me like quit telling the story but I'm pretty proud of that story, Kizer.

Rich: Back in 1985, I made a move to household merchandising which owned Ben Franklin.

Georganne: At the time, I was director of visual merchandising and Rich came in as director of training.

Rich: You're right.

Georganne: And that's where we met. We worked in different divisions, in different parts of the company, just happened to run into each other. Ben Franklin did giant trade shows twice a year. We would get thousands of retailers to come to it. It was incredible, they would take over entire convention centers.

So, I was doing a presentation on store planning and design and Rich was doing one on marketing and there was a panel discussion going on, and the meeting planner had two people drop out. So, she asked Rich and I if we would do it and we both said yes. And so, we sat on the panel and I think it was maybe five minutes before Rich said something that I thought was funny. I made a comment and he made one back and we kind of took it over. The meeting planner asked us to come back the next year and do a presentation together. I thought that was kind of a cool idea.

Bob: Nice.

Georganne: Kizer thought I was trying to pick him up.

Bob: That was the beginning, right?

Georganne: Yes, the rest is history.

Rich: I don't think it was six months later, Bob, we were out on our own, excuse me, had formed a company. And we've now been doing it for how many years George?

Georganne: It's going to be 29 in April.

Rich: 29 years coming now. That's a long time.

Bob: And yet you look so young.

Rich: Better life through drugs!

Bob: There you go, nice. I received my degree... I was going to be a music – teaching music and then I did student teaching and I was like, "There's no way I'm gonna be doing this." So, my part time job became my full-time job and I remember thinking at the time, "What will I ever be able to do with all this time and spending in retail." And then, funny how the same thing 30 years later, you're like, "Oh, I guess that was a good thing for me to spend time with. So, that's all good."

I know one of the things that you both talk about are events and planograms and things like that. What do you think are some of the things people do wrong and some things they should do better? And that could be... and I don't want to just limit this to thinking of individual small, little independent one-off stores but even the big boys. I mean, what would you say that... Let's just start with events, the three things that people do wrong or they do right with. Go.

Georganne: They don't do them enough, they don't do events that are fun and they throw so much 20% off, 70% off, 60 % off, 40% off that the customer's heads are spinning. They can't keep track.

Rich: Sometimes they may be doing too much where they keep heads spinning because people will message, send a message a week later and a message a week after that. So, all of a sudden, everybody gets confused. We've seen the retailers who are always sending out a mailer every week.

Georganne: And those aren't events. That's just selling stuff. We always say that you need to run one major event and one to two minor events each month.

Rich: They call it...everybody gives a title to it, right?

Bob: Well, that's a good point Rich. Let's just drill down that a second. So, an event is there's a limited time you have to come to the store to get it. Are we all in agreement that what's an event is?

Rich: Yes.

Georganne: No. An event is something that creates an experience that gets me excited to go to the store. We went to one a couple of weeks ago where the retailer had partnered with a local animal shelter and she was doing pet adoptions in her store, and at the same time she was doing make it and take its – decorate a dog collar or decorate a leash. And she had little mini-seminars going on about care and feeding of pets. That's an event.

Rich: And there's two kinds of events. There's one that directly drives customers because of price but every retailer does those other kind of community events to attract people to their store as well.

Georganne: Those are promotions. There are events and there are promotions.

Bob: I'm thinking of events particularly as a day, we're coming into holidays now so people are thinking about doing their holiday event. Moms only come and they can shop at the toy stores, they can get all the toys wrapped and they give them champagne and chocolate. To me, that's an event.

Georganne: That's an event – an open house is an event.

Bob: So, what would be three great things that somebody should do with an event?

Georganne: Feed the people who come in. Rich and I have a saying and that saying is "Food is good." So stupid but we love it.

Bob: Should alcohol be part of that?

Georganne: I don't think alcohol should be part of it unless you have the proper permissions to do that. But you can do really fun things with mocktails. It's also been proven if you feed people, they stay longer. Good. There should be some sort of sale opportunity in there and also be something that's fun at the same time.

Rich: You know what Bob, I think too, it's a matter of really planning, making a really strong... You know most people say if you just lower the price, you will have a sale. Well, that's not really a good idea especially at Christmas time when we're being compared with every retailer slamming every one of their messages to everybody in the world.

So, what I would say is, and a thing that we probably stress more than ever, is not only is it the event itself but it's the plan. What is it going to look like? We introduced an idea called the "Sultan of Sizzle" and what we do is ask stores to give one person a month, and maybe at Christmas time, two people during that month and give them the budgets. It may be $25 or it may be $50. But it's about creating some kind of an excitement past just putting a sign up that says "Regularly $50, now $29.99". And that Sultan of Sizzle became a real competitive structure within the stores, a good one, that had everybody really jumping through hoops to make their month look really cool. But I do think plan is really key.

Georganne: It is key.

Rich: What do you do that makes it better than other people that are just running an event?

Bob: So, what's a fun event? What's a fun event?

Georganne: My favorite event is “Pin This To A Guy” – Pin This To A Guy is an event, it's an open house event, and for about 2 weeks prior to the event date the store passes out sheets a woman can fill out – or the significant other can fill out – that lists all the things that she wants for her holiday gifts and then she...

Rich: From that store.

Georganne: ...from that store, and then she takes it home and she gives it to her significant other. That person then comes into the store on the night of the event and can shop from that list and at the event...

Rich: And they have guy shoppers there, guy helpers.

Georganne: Guy helpers because guys like you need help shopping in stores. Bob, I have seen Rich shop for Christmas presents for his wife and it's heart breaking and frustrating because it takes him so long because he's so concerned – he wants to get the right gift. These events help you out. So then there's entertainment, there's food...

Rich: Gift wrapping.

Georganne: ...free gift wrap, free cards. We have a template for it if anybody wants a copy of that template. But it's really fun to watch the women filling out what they want for their holiday gift, and it's really fun to watch the men come in to shop because they're really not sure what they should get, should they get it all?

Remember that one time we saw that guy who leaned over to the guys who were sitting and waiting because the store associates were fulfilling the orders that were on the sheets. And then one guy looks at the other one and goes, "Did you get everything?" And the guy says, "No, I'm just getting a couple of things on the list." And the other one goes, "Underachiever. I'm getting them all." They're egging each other on.

Rich: And the other guy turned around and said, “Well, I got everything on the list so go ahead and get those other things."

Georganne: He did. "Go get them all!" It's fun.

Rich: But you know what that's one that drive sales and it's a great PR gimmick but it really, really, it works.

Georganne: It's great for social media.

Rich: One of the favorite things George, that I saw when we were on the road, was Santa Paws not Santa Claus. Everybody has Santa Claus and there's nothing wrong with that. But they had Santa Paws where they teamed up with a local pet adoption but they had Santa Claus in the store and the gimmick was bring your pet and have a picture taken with Santa. And people were bringing their pets in, decorated up, right? They had tinsel and antlers and...

Georganne: They bring everything from hamsters and guinea pigs... one woman brought in a small donkey. This was at a hardware store, a nice hardware store. And another person brought in a 350-pound Vietnamese Pot-bellied pig and it took like four people to hoist it onto Santa's lap.

Rich: You're gonna break his (Santa’s) legs.

Georganne: And the store owner was playing Santa. He goes, "Next year we're hiring out for this one," because people really get into it.

Bob: I love that. I love that.

Georganne: It's fun.

Rich: There is one other promotion that we have shared with people for the last couple of years that we picked up in Michigan from a large store. They had a promotion that said from the day after Thanksgiving till the day of December 17, I think or December 15th or whatever, save all the receipts that you spend because the total of your receipts will be the amount of money you have in credit for an auction.

Georganne: Cash Register Receipt Auction.

Rich: And it was a Cash Register Receipt Auction technically. And what they had done is they went to all their vendors and said, "We're going to have a big event and we need door prizes." And almost every vendor has a budget; you don't know it unless you ask. "Send us things that we can promote your brand and show your product." But they displayed the entire front of the store with all these items. The night of the auction people came in and it was absolutely crazy. The auctioneer got up there and bid. We saw people forming syndicates because they saw a wreath that they really liked and they formed a syndicate – they shared it.

Georganne: You get it this month…

Rich: January, February, March, you name it, April, May, June. It was amazing what happened. But at the end of the auction, it started at 7:00, and it was about 9:30, the store owner came up and said to us, "What am I gonna do?" And I said, "What are you gonna do about what? The store is packed." He says, "We're supposed to close in 20 minutes." And I looked at him and I said, "Wait a minute. It's five days before Christmas," or whatever it was, "your store is packed with people and you're asking me if you should close the store in time?"

Georganne: Not happening.

Rich: Those kinds of events differentiate you in the marketplace.

Georganne: How that works then is if I spend $500 in the store in those two weeks prior to the Cash Register Receipt Auction, I have $500 in (play) money to spend at the auction. So, why would you want to shop any place else?

Bob: Crazy. I love that.

Georganne: It's so fun.

Bob: What do you think the biggest challenge has been the last 3 years for your clients and how you've seen them try to overcome it?

Georganne: There's so much that they have to do now that they never had to do 10 years ago. Now we're worried about sales and online and am I keeping up on social media? Am I sending out enough email blasts? Do I have enough face time on the floor? Am I getting in the right products? It's a tornado.

Rich: I think it's safe to say, Bob, that we always say to all the retailers we work with, "10% of your business is changing every year whether you like it nor not." That's really true. So if we don't re-invent ourselves every year, at least by 10%, in 3 years we're 30% behind everybody else. I think that the rapidity of the retailing environment is changing so rapidly that everyone's got to stay so on tune and be so edgier at least on their toes about what they do because it's now a comparison game everywhere you go.

Georganne: And it's really interesting too that even big companies with deep pockets and social media managers and managers for all these different things, it doesn't seem like the departments talk to each other. I was in a store 2 weeks ago with my daughter and they had a different price online than they had in the store and my daughter figured it out. You know what, the price should be the price and the retailer should figure that out. The consumer shouldn't have to do that for them. There's just so much to keep up with.

Bob: I think there is and I think that the challenge becomes, for most of us, that... I'm about to hire my first assistant, which I'm very excited about but also scared to death because I haven't hired one because I'm always afraid I'm not gonna know the right way to manage them. Put me in the store, I know how to do that but... What do you think one of the most worthwhile investments you've made in your business? Let's switch out now from you helping people to just your own business? What do you think the most worthwhile investment you guys have ever made? And it could be together or separate.

Georganne: We hired an assistant. I have to tell you what; it's made a huge difference. There are things that we can give to Kate and Kate takes care of it. We don't have to worry, we know that it's gonna be done right. It's nice to have someone who's keeping us on track. You know what it's like. You have 57,000 balls in the air, plates spinning and you're trying to make sure that you're keeping track of all of them by yourself. It's tough.

Rich: And Kate's got that. I mean, she's got that.

Georganne: She's a Millennial.

Rich: I think she sees the paradigm. She's a Millennial and I mean she doesn't miss a trick.

Georganne: And a mom.

Rich: It's amazing to me. She keeps us more on track than we have got to worry about putting her on track.

Georganne: She took a different look at our marketing. Right now she's doing most of our Twitter. She took a different look to it, and she is posting things that are primarily business related, and then we still do the color posts when we're out taking pictures or doing things. But it's gotten us all kinds of notice that we didn't have before because it's a fresh perspective, Bob. I mean, you know that you're doing things right, and you're doing things well, but are you doing things as good as you could?

Rich: So, Bob, I have to laugh because when you said, "I'm not sure I know how to manage this assistant, I know retail and I can do that." Here's my word, if you get the right one and you hire them, they're gonna manage you. They're really gonna lead you and that's really cool.

Bob: What's been your biggest challenge in the last 3 years?

Georganne: My grandson!

Bob: It has to be about your business. Nice try.

Georganne: No, that is because I want to hang out and do things with him. That's been my biggest challenge to keep on the road, doing the things that we're doing, and not having home time. I've worked it out; I've figured it out, so that it's fair and equitable to me on all spaces. But that's been hard.

Rich: You know what? I think too that the mission that we have and it's getting more intense every year is staying absolutely on the ball and being more and more relevant to what's happening in the market that we share with the retailers. You know they're under a lot of pressure and we go and speak. I think they're looking for more and more. "Don't give me what I already know. Make sure you give me what I don't have any idea about and make my eyebrows rise."

Georganne: And they also don't want motivational anymore. They want content. They want fun and they want content. The other thing is that we're doing a lot more consulting now than we ever have in the past.

Bob: I think the thing, it's interesting you say that, Rich because I follow an awful lot of speakers who either want to slam somebody on the side of the head, and their first slide is closed and it's like, "Retail is under pressure right now." And it's like, "Wow, dude, did you not read your audience?" But frankly I got so many people who will listen to everything I have to say, and they will agree with me absolutely, and will absolutely do nothing with it and I think that's...

Georganne: I knew you we're gonna say that.

Bob: I think that's the challenge that really is. That I can say the same thing for over many ways and time and then someone one day, for whatever reason comes to it and says, "Oh, I have never heard you say that before." And you're like, "For God's sake, I've been saying this for 20 years." But everybody has a different learning model. Somebody until you're pushed in a certain way don't hear it right, or they don't see it right, or whatever that could be, and I think that's always the challenge that I am not the guy that goes out and says, "Oh, you all need to go on Instagram and you need to find a new way to do this and this and this," because frankly, in my business, it's about bringing on the basics. Mine is very few can execute and I think you can understand it, I think you can take a new tack. To your point earlier about events, everybody can understand an event but unless you really understand how to unpack it and how to be, and I think to your point it's not just doing one at the holidays. It's realizing, "Oh, I should have at least two every month and they have to be fun." That's a tall order and that's hard to execute.

I don't want to lose track of our time because we could probably talk for hours and hours. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you end up doing? Or what kind of questions do you ask yourself to get out of that? And this is about your business not your consulting.

Georganne: We leave the office and we go do something fun. In the summer, we go fishing, or we go to a town that's got lots of restaurants and retail stores and we just turn our business head off and just go out and have fun and try and do something else and it clears our heads.

Rich: You know Bob, I have a real hard time, and I'm always criticized by Georganne about it, but I have a real hard time turning off business.

Bob: Absolutely Rich, I'm right with you.

Rich: Sometimes it drives me crazy but it is what it is.

Georganne: And I could flip it like a light switch.

Rich: And one of the things that I continually say to myself is, "What are the core five things you're concerned about with your business?" Because what happens is, with all the change, we're just like a retailer. With all the change that's flooding our way in our industry, you can't do them all. So, I go back to that core instinct, what makes sense for our business? I'm not letting someone else run our business which some retailers do. They'll just copy the competition. That's not it. Where do you want your heart to be placed?

Georganne: You, and Bob, I'm probably gonna say this for you too; you have gotta get out of your own head. You got to get out of your own head sometimes and stop thinking about...

Bob: I appreciate that Georganne, but everything is work. As a choir director, I was a conductor, for me going to any concert is usually work because I'm like, "Why did they put that there? That didn't work. You've lost the audience," or, "Wow, that was amazing." Or same thing if I go to a great hotel; I am having a great experience, don't get me wrong, but I'm also unpacking, "How much training do they do to deliver this at every table?" And that's exciting to me. I don't wanna sound like I'm a...you know...

Georganne: You guys gotta be boring dates. That's all I can say.

Bob: Well, luckily for you, we're not dating you Georganne.

Georganne: No kidding because I'd kill you both. "Look at this lovely restaurant." "I wonder how much that waiter makes." "Shut up. Enjoy the food."

Bob: No, that's not me. That's not me. For example, a great example, I'm staying at the Virginian in Lindsborg, Virginia about two weeks ago and I'm having a great breakfast, and they're wonderful people, and notice on the side of the...they're having a big 60-inch LED TV, which I'm never a fan of, but then I'm looking around, I'm realizing, "Okay so, they're probably setting themselves a little meeting space." And then I notice the track across the ceiling which has the artwork attached to it which when they are not serving breakfast, as I talked to the manager, they put the artwork back over that covers it. And just the thought of how that worked together is pretty incredible to me that you are always thinking about, "How does this function for our customer?"

So, we're towards the end of our boring time with Georganne and Rich since we're the ones looking at everything. Tell me something good about retail. I'll start with you Rich. Tell me something good about retail.

Rich: You know what, I think I get double and triple vision and what I mean by that is I get so many messages coming my way I'm not sure which one to look at first or second or third. Here is what is happening, those retailers that do the unique things, it's not opening at 4:00 in the morning on Black Friday or whatever the case but those retailers that take a look and say, "We're going to be really unique about the things we do," are going to start to win.

Second thing is, they just didn't hire numbers. They brought people in early enough, and we preach this, that they've gone through everything, so that the staff knows how to greet, how to say goodbye and everything in between as a thrilling experience to a customer that they don't get anywhere else. And I think that that's really the key.

Bob: Good. So, Georganne, tell me something good about retail.

Georganne: I'm excited about merchandising. I'm seeing stores do things in new ways: new ways to set displays, pop-ups in the stores, demonstrations. We were at the Restoration Hardware RH store two weeks ago in the Seattle area and I don't... Have you been to one of those yet?

Bob: I have. They're pretty amazing.

Georganne: Oh my, gosh! You can't buy a thing in the store but you walk in and it looks like the most spectacular hotel you've been in on the planet.

Rich: It was an emotional experience.

Georganne: It was an emotional experience, right. Then we went across the street to an independently owned garden store that was so incredibly merchandised in detail, with intricate, beautiful product, and everything was curated so that you wouldn't just buy one thing on display, you would buy four or five. And I'm excited about that because I'm seeing retailers, even department stores, doing less of just shoving things on shelves and putting together great displays because that's what they are supposed to do. And taking time to curate and merchandise. That excites me.

Bob: I would agree. That's great. Well, how can they find out more about you two?

Georganne: www.kizerandbender.com. You can find out anything on our website. Connect to our social medias, to our Retail Adventures blog. You can find us all there.

Bob: Very good. I appreciate you all joining me today and we'll look forward to more of your shopping adventures online.


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