Q: I heard some controversy on the radio recently about shops and cafes upselling items and the fact that it was annoying for customers. What is your view?
A: Like many things in the retail sector, there are good examples and bad examples of most things. Clearly, going into a garage to fuel your car and being asked do you want to play the lotto is a crude example of upselling.
The lotto transaction has nothing to do with the customer's initial purchase and I can see that if you were asked this repeatedly how frustrating it must be. The job of every retailer, café and restaurant is to maximise their sales. The role of their staff is to sell, there are two types of selling staff can do. Upselling and related sales.
Let us first look at related sales. This is where I go into a café and ask for a coffee and the staff member says to me, "Do you know if you buy a pastry with that, it is only €1 extra".
The suggestion is logical and related to what I am purchasing and it is up to me, as the customer, to make a decision to accept it or not. Many customers will be delighted with the prompt and if worded in the correct way, usually does not cause any offence or agitation.
The second technique, upselling, is where I go to buy a laptop and I specify a particular model. The sales assistant demonstrates it but adds "do you know that for only €60, you get double the storage capacity on this model and a free laptop bag".
Most customers would be interested in this information so that they can then make an informed decision.
It's when staff start suggesting things that have nothing to do with the initial transaction that it becomes unprofessional. We can't criticise retailers for selling, but they have to do it in such a way so as not to annoy their customers.
Q: I have started a new business manufacturing a range of luxury treats like Turkish delight. I am working with a good brand designer but I am very confused about things like barcodes, etc. Are there minimum requirements?
A: I am delighted to hear you are working with a good brand designer, as ultimately the success of your brand will depend on how well the consumer understands it.
Do make sure that you communicate your story well. It sounds like you are producing a premium product that will probably have a premium price and therefore the consumer needs to link to some story on the packaging aside from the look and feel of the brand.
Specifically, barcodes are very important, obviously on where you are going to sell your product. If you are selling it at a farmers' market or online to the consumer, then barcodes will not be required. If on the other hand, you plan to sell through speciality retailers, or the mainstream supermarket you will require a barcode.
A barcode is a unique indicator of information about your product and the retailer, through their scanning system, can tag information onto this about the price, etc.
There are numerous online sources where you can buy barcodes. However, the important thing to look out for is that the barcodes you purchase, must be recognised and accepted by the retailer. When purchasing one it is critical that no one else in the world can be issued with the same barcode. You can imagine the confusion at the checkouts in supermarkets if lots of products contained the same barcode.
In reality, GS1 is the only global organisation who can guarantee you this uniqueness. When you secure a listing with one of the larger retailers, one of the first things they do is to check who owns the barcodes which have been submitted. In many cases with some of the cheap online barcodes you purchase, you don't actually own these. With GS1, they guarantee that no one else will be issued the same numbers. What might look like spending a small bit of extra money at the beginning of your journey, can save you a fortune further down the road. I have met producers who have had to completely relabel all of their packaging once they had realised they had purchased the wrong bar codes.
Q: Do you have any tips on how I could promote my new window-cleaning business? I am 21 years of age and I am running this in parallel to completing my college studies.
A: Well done! It is always great to hear about young business entrepreneurs and clearly from your question above, you certainly want to succeed in what you are doing.
Window-cleaning is one of those businesses where word of mouth is very important. It is important that customers trust that you will do a good job and that they hear from someone else who validates this.
One of the things you could do as you clean the windows on a house, is to pop a leaflet into the letterbox of four or five houses on either side with a message on them which says "we just cleaned your neighbour's windows".
You could also create referral cards for your existing customers and encourage them to pass them onto neighbours.
It might also be a good idea to use a website and Facebook to show a schedule of routes you will be covering.
This would allow customers to know when you are in their area and possibly they could even book a slot with you online or via a simple app.
Most people forget to get their windows cleaned until they have reached a very dirty stage, so for all your regular customers, it might be an idea to get their permission to text them a week ahead of when you are due to visit and get them to confirm whether they need the windows cleaned or not. I would be surprised if most people don't say yes.
It might also be an idea that if you travel around either in your car or a ladder on your bike, to have a sign with your contact details on it, so when you're parked outside someone's home, others can see your contact details.
Finally, the old-fashioned knocking on doors really does work. Not everyone will be in a position to have their windows cleaned on the day that you call, so do leave your business card with them for future reference.
Good luck with the business and please do let me know how it is going in a few months.
Send your questions for Feargal to firstname.lastname@example.org marked 'Problem Solver'