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  • September 15, 2018 11:49 AM | Marty (Administrator)

    Time for Change
    By Marty Johnson

    “The only thing that is constant is change.” – Heraclitus

    Things are not the same today as they were yesterday, very different than they were a few years ago, and entirely different than they were decades ago. Our world, communities, and culture are changing fast, and with them our businesses must change too.

    I’m not talking strictly technological or strictly procedural. No, the change we’re caught up in is a matrix: an intricate pattern woven together from strands representing every facet of our business environment, each evolving in its own right as time marches on.

    Never before have the mores around us been so questioned. “Why is this the way it is?” “Why do we do this the way we do?” “Where did this practice come from, and why is it necessary today?” We’re in the middle of a reevaluation renaissance.

    Einstein famously said, “Question everything.” He also said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” It’s time for change.

    I have a new team member starting next week—someone who spent many years, many years ago, working by my side in a similar business. She’s incredibly quick and will be up to speed in no time, but through her update process I’ve been reflecting on all the changes that I’ve seen since she and I last worked together.

    Most noticeably, our systems have been revolutionized. Many of the ways we keep records, generate reports, and process clients are new. The way we market to our communities is quite different, now focusing on creating bonds through social posts and interaction. And the majority of the audience to whom we now market have needs and points of view entirely different than those of the generations before them, so we shift our offerings, adjust our services, and adapt to meet the demands of the new market.

    The way we communicate has matured from traditional phone calls and the occasional email to a myriad of messaging platforms, putting access to our clients literally at our fingertips, and their access to us just as handy. The on-demand world we now live in has challenged us to show up, putting our best face forward no matter where we are.

    Many of our newer profit centers are ones that would never have entered our imaginations a few years ago, and many of the ones that were our primary focus back then have all but died out. Some of the products we sell are inventions of just the past couple of years, and some of the products we sold just a few seasons past are now obsolete.

    At times, big shifts in technology and policy irreversibly transform the market. When that change happens fast, as it often does, our human nature causes us to mourn the loss of consumer demand for what we traditionally considered to be a core strength. We saw a dramatic example of this when the world went digital and our clients moved toward doing things themselves through online means. We cried for years about that perceived loss, but once we dried our eyes enough to see clearly, we realized that in that change existed fresh opportunities. We had to transition our business models to adapt and grow in the new climate, and it wasn’t easy. But we did it. And now our mix of services has made us much more diversified, and therefore more resilient

    I was listening to someone very wise speak the other day. They were addressing a situation in an organization where it seemed like a lot of progress had been made to bring the group into a new, more positive era of growth, but then leadership shifted, new programs were cut back, and the progress they had made seemed as if it had all fallen apart. They remarked that sometimes, when we take a step back, it only serves to build momentum for the next giant leap forward.

    If you’ve had a setback, use it as an opportunity to build momentum for that next big step. Be stubborn and refuse to give up without a fight. Throughout history, some of the most amazing and inspirational stories, inventions, and innovations have come as a direct result of what was initially thought of as a setback. I can attest to this personally, much stronger now because of fighting through challenges that could very well have taken me down had I not been so stubborn.

    If you’ve felt stuck, maybe it’s because you’re carrying too much weight. Get out of the driver’s seat for a moment and look at the situation from a new vantage point. Maybe you need to unload some unnecessary baggage, or maybe you need to rock back and forth a few times to create wiggle room and build fresh momentum to get unstuck.

    If you’re struggling to adapt to changes that have come so rapidly in recent years, months, and even weeks, don’t lose faith. And don’t lose your footing. Take a breath, reevaluate, and reinvent. You’re never too old or too established to adapt.

    Change is happening whether we like or not; it’s happening whether we’re ready or not. It can zip right by and leave us in the dust or it can catch us in its wings and carry us to brand new heights.

    Marty Johnson is a full-time shopkeeper and part-time writer, business coach, and community organizer. He loves to share what he's learned in business and in life and proffer his opinion—solicited or not. He serves on the board of directors for AMBC and is the owner of Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, NY, where he's also Co-Founder of the Collegetown Small Business Alliance. Learn more at askunclemarty.com. #AskUncleMarty

    ...

    Time for Change originally published in MBC Today Volume 20, Issue 2, on March 15, 2018. Also published on the askunclemarty.com on September 15, 2018.

  • January 19, 2018 10:45 AM | Marty (Administrator)

    A few years ago, I had a call at my store from a student asking if I did key duplication and how much it cost. Being a shipping and office services center, I indeed did duplicate keys, at the time only charging $2.99 per key. So, I told her, "Absolutely! It's just two ninety nine per key." All seemed well.

    She called back a minute or two later and said, "Wait, did you mean two hundred and ninety nine dollars or two dollars and ninety nine cents?" I was dumbfounded by the question. Making a snap judgment that it must be a prank, I gave her a sassy Seth Meyers-style "Really!?" Followed by a "Grow up." And then I rudely hung up on her. I did not handle the call gracefully, especially considering that it was most certainly not a prank...

    You see, shortly after that incident I had another student ask me the same questionseeking clarification on whether key duplication was in the one-figure or three-figure range. And since then I've had quite a few more young clients react in a similar way when they find out how much key duplication costs. In fact, just yesterday someone said, "I thought making a key would be at least $40!"

    Here's the skinny: most key blanks cost me between 17 and 29 cents each; it takes less than a minute to cut each one. I charge more than $2.99 now, but even at that price it was still a great margin on a very easy service to provide. And, being in a college town with students constantly moving in and out, I do quite a bit of volume in key making; I've even done them in bulk for some local property managers. Key cutting is a great add-on to my business, and the operation takes up less than three square feet of floor space at my shop. I love it! My prices are slightly higher now, but remain very fair and still less than but competitive with other options in my area.

    I've thought about it a lot: how could a good portion of this new generation of people sincerely not know if traditional non-chip key duplication costs $2.99 or $299.00? How do they have no concept of a price range? After all, it's just a tiny piece of metal with a few notches cut into it. Well, the answer is simple: they've just never had to do it before.

    A good percentage of the local students with whom I work come from privileged backgrounds, so they're not a representative sample of the population at large by any means. Most were born at the end of the 1990s and some in the early 2000s. Many of their homes used code pads or smart entries, not keys. Or, if they did have keys, likely the kids weren't the ones responsible to have them reproduced. Their cars used fobs, not traditional keys, with average fob replacement costs around $200 from a dealer (and up to $500 for luxury models). And I think it's fair to assume that they've likely had little need or reason to walk by the key machine at Home Depot and make mental notes of prices.

    It's purely a matter of one's frame of reference. For me, growing up in a similar family business to the one I now own, if I needed a new key for my car, house, locker, or mailbox, I would just make one myself on the old key machine that we kept in the back of one of our shops. And my first car, a 1985 white Chevrolet Impala with a V8 engine, suspension like a dream, a giant maroon vinyl bench seat up front, and a fancy schmancy tape deck with a removable face that I paid way too much to have custom installed when I was a junior in high school, didn't even need a key to start it by the time I was done with it. After 200K+ miles, the key starter bit was so worn out that all I had to do was twist the general area around where the key used to go and my baby would start purring. And, after I locked myself out a few times and had to jimmy the door open with a wire coat hanger, I learned that I could screw a spare door key (door keys and ignition keys were two separate things then) behind the front license plate (but not behind the back plate, because that’s where the gas tank was). Life was simple. And I feel like there was always an occasion to make a duplicate key for something or other.

    Those experiences aren't anything most in the new crop of young adults have ever gone through. Most have also never had occasion to write a check or address an envelope, so when they come in for the first time and have to mail a rent check to their #oldschool landlord who doesn't take electronic payment, they are completely lost and bewildered. I guide them through the processas Uncle Marty doesand give them a template I've made to show them exactly where the from address, to address, and stamp go on the envelope. They are fascinated by the process and many of them take a copy of the template with them to share with their friendsa novelty for the group.

    When they buy greeting cards, at least half of my student clients don't know that the envelope is included with the card at no additional charge; they don't know that matching envelopes designed specifically for each card are tucked in behind the cards on the rack. When they come to the counter to buy the card without an envelope and I point out that they're welcome to take the envelope that goes with it too, most of the time I get a blank stare in return. So, I walk them to the card rack, show them where the envelopes are, and watch their faces light up with excited revelation: "You mean the envelope is free!?"

    Many of the students I work with have never packed a box before. They come in to my shop to buy boxes when they're preparing to move, but when they come back to put those boxes into storage or ship them, I'm constantly amazed at how they've attempted to close them. Flaps are bent, folded, and crammed every which way but the way the box was engineered. They use every kind of tape they can find (including Scotch tape, masking tape, and duct tape, none of which are suitable for shipping) and put tape everywhere on the box except over the seam where it should be. It's really quite intriguing. What I think is common sense because it's what I grew up doing isn't common sense to them. Rather, constructing and taping a box is a brand new challenge that they've never had to think about before. And, to their credit, I can attest that they are seriously creative in their solutions to this challenge!

    The study of generations is fascinating. I'm fortunate to be part of a team at AMBC that's doing a lot of research in this area. One team member, Sarah, who's a baby boomer with millennial children, is an expert on the millennial mindset. Other team members, Seema and Fahim, who like myself are Generation X, study the topic hard and, because they have both millennial and Generation Z children, bring a lot of insight on the contrasts in thinking, processing, and frames of reference between millennials and Generation Ztwo groups often mistakenly bundled together, but really quite different. 

    We study these generations because their spending habits are so varied, and understanding those habits helps our and our friends' businesses market more appropriately and effectively, meet changing needs and patterns, and grow. I won't get into all of that generational generalization now, but I promise it really is an interesting area of research. (And, yes, I did check with #GrammarGirl to make sure I capitalized generation names correctly, the distinction among which is also quite interesting.) (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/when-to-capitalize-generation-names)

    My point with all this is to remind you and me to consider someone's context when they're doing something that might make absolutely no sense to us or when they ask what we might think is an incredibly stupid question, so much so that we may even assume they're playing a prank on us. Someone may be from such a different background, culture, level of exposure, or generation that something we understand as common sense may be a brand new concept to them. Sure, we may chuckle under our breath or roll our eyes at times, but deep down we must understand that where we're coming from isn't where everyone else is. 

    I strongly regret my reaction to that student who called about the $299.00 keys. I belittled her and hung up on her, though she was just asking a legitimate question. It's a hard lesson to learn, but I hope I can understand a little bit more moving forward. Sometimes we think we have a lot to teach someoneespecially someone younger with seemingly less life experiencebut the education works both ways. 

    What we have yet to learn is far greater than what we think we already know. 

    #AMBC4ME #AskUncleMarty #BabyBoomers #Millennials #GenerationX #GenerationZ

    ...

    Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com

  • October 06, 2017 2:22 PM | Marty (Administrator)

    There's this guy that works in the brand new building across the street. He looks official, and my suspicion is that he's not an office worker there, but rather a foreman or contractor--the lead on one of the few remaining small teams putting finishing touches on the structure.

    He came in the other day, desperately looking to purchase a utility knife. Of course, the one thing I just ran out of is exactly what he needed. Apologizing that I was out of retail knives, I offered to lend him one of our own store-use blades. He was very grateful to accept and, as soon as he was finished, brought it right back.

    He came in again today, this time needing a padlock. And I had plenty of padlocks in stock--both keyed and combination. As he was paying, he thanked me again for letting him borrow the blade the other day and said, "It's rare to find a place that will do that these days."

    I simply smiled and replied, "We're a neighborhood store."

    With an understanding grin, he replied, "And I'm sure that keeps you very busy."

    He was right.

    #Community #NeighborhoodStore #AMBC4ME

    Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com


  • September 26, 2017 1:46 PM | Marty (Administrator)

    What to expect at AMBC’s epic event, October 27-29


    You’ve heard buzz about it for months now. You’ve read e-blasts, seen the schedule, and started to make plans. Many of you have already booked your tickets and made your reservations. You’re excited. And so are we!

    AMBC’s October event in Niagara Falls is going to be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It’s more than a traditional regional meeting; it’s more than a weekend workshop. It’s a full-on whopbanger of a weekend, packed with hands-on labs, brand new classes, seminars, one-on-one coaching, demonstrations, vendors, immersion in an innovative and industry-leading store, a Niagara Falls tour, and much, much more! It’s a weekend designed to give you a clearer picture of the future of our industry … and to prepare you for it.

    The fact is, friends, our industry is changing fast. Our customers and their needs are very different than what they were even just a few years ago. And, as our industry shifts, so must our business models, mindsets, and profit centers.

    We, the board of directors and staff of AMBC, are here to guide you toward what we know is a very bright future for our member stores. We want to show you how to harness cutting-edge current and future technology to bring your businesses to new heights. We want to demonstrate the shared office concept—a model toward which we see many of our members heading. We want to prove to you why you should adopt relationship-based business practices instead of transaction-based ones. And we want to reassure you that, with the right tools, mentality, and drive, you can march into the future with confidence and excellence.

    We share what we can on the AMBC blog, in articles in MBC Today, in guest presentations at point-of-sale training weekends, in seminars at industry events and summits, and in countless one-on-one discussion, calls, and store visits with you, our members and our friends. But there’s nothing like getting together in a big group for a hands-on, roll up our sleeves, talk it out, hash it out, see for yourself weekend together to witness, in one our industry’s most outstanding and forward-thinking stores, what the future looks like and how you can get there.

    Our gracious and unparalleled hosts, Seema and Fahim Mojawalla, have been preparing for months to welcome our industry’s leaders, trendsetters, veterans and newbies alike to their fabulous location, Island Ship Center, in Grand Island, New York. They’ve recently completed a humongous expansion, adding a warehouse, a boutique, and a private membership-based business center with a wall full of more mailboxes than most of us could dream of. That, coupled with a rebrand, a renovation, and a ridiculous capacity to identify trends and work proactively toward the next big thing, this power couple have created a state-of-the-art, future-centric operation that everyone in our industry needs to experience firsthand.


    Just for this event, we’re collaborating with a bunch of guest presenters to bring you sessions on how to get the most out of your store lease and a better deal from your landlord, community-focused marketing action plans, the shared office concept, digital mailboxes, getting more scanning and archiving business, basic print design made easy, how to think of freight as “just a bigger box” and use your existing software to get more freight customers, anti-static merchandising, and social media strategies that get results (including “StorySelling,” how authentic stories, conversations, excellence, and generosity are so incredibly important). And, yes, Fahim and I will present our newest #FahimFix and #AskUncleMarty collaboration, Get Social!, which we debuted this year at the New York City PostalMate weekend.

    Bring your laptops and tablets because we’re going to have hands-on labs, helping you one-on-one to get your social media set up, tweaked, and analyzed to help you attract the windfall of business that it has the potential to harness. We don’t want you to just listen at this event. We want to hold your hands and work with you as you take steps, right then and there, to grow and blossom your online presence.

    There will be a logo sharing workshop, so bring your marketing materials to discuss what’s working, what can be updated, share suggestions and success stories, and help each other make simple changes that generate big returns. We’ll also show you how that mountain—graphic design—that’s kept you just out of reach of some major printing jobs is actually just a little ant hill. We have some new tools to share that you’re certain to be very excited about!

    We’re even bringing in real life millennials to show you exactly why you need to become familiar with the millennial mindset. Pay close attention and learn why this unique, ubiquitous generation—now the largest spending group in the United States—is one you absolutely must understand and embrace to power your business forward.

    Vendors and sponsors for the event include FedEx, UPS, PC Synergy (the makers of PostalMate), ShipRite, SupplySide, Pacific Office Automation, FotoZoomer, Anytime Mailbox, iPostal1, Kubox, ESR Commercial, Ship and Insure, Bloomhouse Distributors, Avanti, and W.B. Mason. You’ll see your favorite industry peeps there, including the whole AMBC gang, lots of vendor reps, and a whole gamut of outstanding store owners that you know, follow, admire, and trust.

    Because we’re in Niagara Falls, our ever-giving hosts have arranged a Saturday night personal tour of the falls for us, including a trip on the world-famous Maid of the Mist. That’s right, you get to go on a boat that takes you right up to the base of Niagara Falls! (Don’t worry, ponchos are provided.) All of the meals for the weekend have been locally sourced from small businesses and restaurants that Seema and Fahim work closely with. They want to show us the best of the best in their area, and our mouths are watering already!

    And the hotel is stellar: Four Points by Sheraton in Niagara Falls, set on the banks of the Niagara River with unbeatable rates that we’ve negotiated in the AMBC block. Why not plan to stay an extra few days to take in the magic of the area … and digest all of the great things you’ve absorbed over the weekend.

    As if all of this weren’t enough, to push the event completely over the top, Steve Merrick of SRM Spirit Group, the leading business coach in the mail and business center industry, will be giving free 30-minute one-on-one store consultations throughout the weekend. Though free, time slots for these professional coaching sessions are very limited. So, ask about availability today! We’ll have a waiting list.

    Truly, AMBC’s Niagara Falls event in October is going to be epic. The entire AMBC board of directors and staff will be there, all bringing everything we can to provide as much value to our members as possible. We’re pouring our hearts into this … and we can’t wait to see you there!

    There are still a few attendee slots open, though we expect the weekend to sell out soon. So, don’t wait! Sign up today. Contact kim@ambc.org for details.

    For more information and a full schedule, please visit our official event page.

    Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com

    ...

    Originally published in MBC Today Volume 19, Issue 5 (September / October 2017)


  • September 22, 2017 8:41 AM | Fahim (Administrator)

    Seema & I were truly honored to host the Shira's at our store last Tuesday,
    the 12th of September. We had an amazing learning and growth experience,
    exchanging ideas and experiences. (Thanks to ShipRite Services for hosting their
    regional workshop in Utica, for which Dave & Kim traveled all the way from northern California!)

    Here's a link to a 5 minute interview with them:


    https://soundcloud.com/fahim-mojawalla/fahimfix-friday-dave-kim-shira

    These are golden nuggets from veterans in our industry, provided for all of you to apply and grow your businesses.

    Please share this link with other retail shippers in our industry:

    https://soundcloud.com/fahim-mojawalla/fahimfix-friday-dave-kim-shira

    With gratitude and effervescence,

    Fahim Mojawalla, AMBC Director of Social Media

    Island Ship Center

    AMBC Certified Store
    10 Minutes from Niagara Falls, USA
    #SpaOfShipping #FahimFix #ExudeExcellence
    Email: fahim@ambc.org
    1879 Whitehaven Road
    Grand Island, NY 14072
    Phone: 716-773-6300
    Cell / Text: 716-775-2585

  • September 05, 2017 4:04 PM | Marty (Administrator)

    Sometimes we need to take a step back to see how far we've come in order to realize, even just a little, the enormous scope of the future's potential.

    I want to share a blog post that I wrote today for my store, in celebration of my sixth anniversary. It's titled "Three Cheers for Six Years." Maybe it'll give you some inspiration that there's always a new solution to find and a new profit center to embrace ... as long as you keep your eyes and ears open and your business model fluid and flexible.

    Three Cheers for Six Years


    September 1st marked our sixth anniversary in Collegetown.

    For the past six years, it has been our pleasure to serve this community. Looking back, we see how much we’ve grown; we see how much we’ve changed. And we love what we’ve become!

    When we opened in 2011, we aimed to provide Collegetown with a full service, friendly, fun, and frankly fabulous shipping and business center. And we’ve absolutely done that! But soon after we opened we realized that there were a lot of very unique challenges that our very unique neighborhood was facing, but not many decent solutions for them. So, we started changing and adapting what we sold and the services we provided, morphing into something we never quite imagined … but something we’re extremely proud of. We’ve become the area’s solution center.

    We’ve found small solutions…

    Greeting Cards: We started with a few lines of unique greeting cards, basically because greeting cards are fun, Marty loves them, and we know how hard it is to find something different than the everyday cheesy stuff you see at every corner drug store. Word spread about our cards and soon we found ourselves traveling to stationery and gift shows all over the place just to source more unique lines to add to our selection. Now, we have a whole wall of cards and change our inventory often to keep them fresh, super classy, and always unique; we’ve become one of the most popular greeting card destinations in our little city!

    Moving Boxes: Students are constantly moving and constantly needing boxes. By default, many were going to big chain stores and paying entirely too much for their “moving” boxes, only to find that they’d fall apart after they were filled and implode when anything was stacked on them. So, we expanded our selection of sturdy, durable shipping boxes into sizes that are perfect for moving and storage. We now stock over 50 sizes, all highly rated and very fairly priced. Each year, during our busy May move-out season, we sell way more boxes than we did the previous year. Word is spreading, and our boxes are the best!

    And we’ve found monumental solutions…

    International Shipping: Ithaca has a very large international and internationally-connected population, but international shipping wasn’t easy for most of Collegetown’s residents and visitors. Before we opened, we got all of our authorizations in order and became the first DHL Authorized Shipping Center (DASC) in town … and have remained the highest volume DASC in the region ever since, offering DHL rates that are less than DHL’s online published rates! We became a FedEx Authorized ShipCenter (FASC) and, through our unbeatable service, soon built up our FedEx volume to the highest available discount tier … and now our FedEx Express International shipping rates are also better than FedEx’s own online published rates. We have state-of-the-art software that compares all shipping options side by side in one screen to help our guests find the best option for their needs and budget. And we always print the labels and customs paperwork for you so all you have to do is sign! We’ve digitized and simplified the very confusing, complex world of international shipping … and do it at the best rates available in our area.

    Private Mailboxes: People needed a solution to the inherent headaches that come with changing your address when you change dorms or apartments each semester. So we added private mailbox rental so students can keep the same address for their entire tenure in Ithaca. And now those mailboxes are popular with much more than just students–perfect to meet the needs of home based businesses, non-profits, clubs, and individuals who travel and need mail forwarding … or maybe just need a little bit more privacy.

    Storage: Students needed a better storage solution. Most of the options available before we got here were disjointed and confusing. There were seemingly dozens of storage start-ups that would flash and fizzle, often only around for a season. Many of them didn’t have an actual brick and mortar location, but rather just a flashy website and hired hands who would show up in a rented truck, take your boxes, and then leave you with no idea of where your boxes were being held or who was watching over them while you were away. Then per-pound pricing and add-ons would really drive your final storage bill through the roof. So, we turned our year-round Collegetown shipping and business center into a storage facility as well! We offer flat rate, simply priced storage options, personal pickups, and extremely flexible delivery and shipping options on the back end. Our storage has grown exponentially every year, smashing records again in 2017 (and the year’s not nearly over yet!)

    And there’s so much more we could talk about … like how our resume, thesis, and dissertation printing prowess has saved the day countless times, how our key duplication service has totally blown up, or how our come-to-you pickup and delivery solutions have brought our services to many folks who could otherwise not access our storefront.

    In retrospect, looking back on all that’s happened, how we’ve changed, and milestones we’ve reached, six years seems like a long, long time. But in other ways it seems like we’re just beginning.

    Because we indeed are just beginning; we’re in this for the long haul. And we can’t wait to see what the next six years bring!

    #HappyAnniversarytoUs #UncleMartysOffice #Collegetown #SixYears #AskUncleMarty

    Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com

  • August 15, 2017 4:16 PM | Marty (Administrator)

    Do any of you have an insurance agent?

    Do you know who they are? Better yet, do they know who you are?

    I want to tell you about my friend Frannie.

    Probably about five years ago now, I decided I'd switch my business insurance. I didn't really have a good reason for doing so, but the company I was with at the time was just kinda OK; they were nothing special--faceless, out of touch, out of mind, just there in the background somewhere and pretty much blah. Since business insurance is so very important, I really wanted to sit down with a local agent who knew the community, understood what I needed, and, even more importantly, understood what I didn't need. So, I googled.

    Frannie ran a State Farm branch here in town and her business's online presence impressed me. She had a clean, professional site, good reviews, and was clearly well favored and involved in the community. That, paired with the fact that I knew exactly where her well-presented office was, prompted me to reach out to her.

    I sent her an email and, right away, Frannie got back to me and we made an appointment. She understood that I was running a shop solo--retail hours--and didn't have the availability to meet at her office. So, she came to me.

    We sat down and worked out a plan catered to my needs. She recommended coverage I didn’t have before and took away line items that made absolutely no sense in my situation. Insurance confounds and confuses me, but she made it clear; she spoke my language and garnered my trust.

    After I signed up with Frannie, she kept in touch. She checked in now and then and often invited me to local business-to-business networking breakfasts. Granted, I never went because, as I've mentioned in my writing in the past, I take serious issue with 7AM meetings. But the gesture was very appreciated!

    A year or so into my relationship with State Farm through Frannie, I had a pretty bad flood. A sprinkler pipe in a shared hallway of my building froze and burst and water rushed through my shop, washing us out from the back door to the front. Soon, the store was crawling with firefighters and I was hustling to lift as many of my customers' items and outgoing shipments off of the ground as fast as possible, knowing instinctively that they were the priority. Product can be replaced, but something precious that a client has entrusted to our care cannot.

    After the water got shut off, I called Frannie. You know those State Farm commercials where the agent just appears out of nowhere in crisis? Well, that's pretty much what happened. In no time, she was at my store, wearing a winter coat and rubber boots, trudging through the water that was still draining through the open front door on that frigid February day.

    She assured me that she'd take care of it; she assured me that I was covered. I needed to hear that. Then she took pictures, preliminarily assessed the loss (which was significant), and we created a plan of attack together. My landlord actually ended up paying my claim directly, but Frannie was on my side and by my side through it to make sure I got a fair deal … and a new carpet.

    Frannie has since moved on, contacting me personally to let me know I'd be taken care of by another agent she trusted. She added a pair of twins to her brood and was offered an opportunity for bigger and better things in her field. And I was nothing but grateful for her service and happy for her move; I have serious respect for what she's accomplished!

    When I think about it, I honestly don't know how my premiums with Frannie compared to other options. I mean, I shopped around a bit when I signed up with her, and know for sure that her offerings--catered to my needs without extra unnecessary fluff--were far less than what I was paying with my previous, faceless company. But the bottom line is that I didn't and don’t care. I trusted Frannie, knew the price was fair as a result, and knew that service and support that I receive in return was well worth it.

     Let's all take some lessons from Frannie and apply them to our own businesses:

    1. First and foremost, she invested in and polished her online first impression: the most important investment a business can make.
    2. She went out of her way to be part of the community, in turn gaining the business and trust of other community-minded people like myself.
    3. She met me where I was, showing me that she wanted my business and was willing to go out of her way to make things as easy as possible for me.
    4. She invited me to participate in networking events outside of our business contract, strengthening our relationship as fellow local business owners.
    5. She kept in touch, checked in periodically, and assured me in good times that she would be on my side in crisis.
    6. She responded immediately when there was an issue, and exceeded my expectations with her professional and expeditious resolution.
    7. She made sure, when her tenure was up, that I would be taken care of as she moved on.

    What a business model! Why would we not want that type of relationship with all of our clients? It keeps giving and giving, growing and growing, connecting and reconnecting.

    Ask yourself this: Do your customer know who you are?

    Better yet, do you know who they are?

    #CustomerService #RelationshipBased #LikeaGoodNeighbor #StateFarm #Frannietastic #AskUncleMarty

    Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com

  • August 07, 2017 10:37 AM | Fahim (Administrator)


    I wanted to share this podcast with you about my CAGE Method, one which I spoke about in Vegas last year at the RS Expo Breakout sessions for Social Media 201.

    It's important to note that consistency, authenticity, generosity and excellence are winning qualities in business and in life.

    Here's the link for you to listen and share with others (it's only less than 10 minutes long): https://soundcloud.com/fahim-mojawalla/fahimfix-podcast-for-cage

    Each letter of the "CAGE" stands for a particular quality that I would love for each of you to adopt when posting on social media. . The C in the CAGE method stands for consistency: Consistency in our posting, consistency in our timing, consistency in whatever we do has a great impact and effect. It is very effective when we are consistent with something and we know that with our stores, consistently opening on time, consistently closing on time, consistently being there with customer service, and consistently performing better than any of our competitors allows us to exude excellence. The same consistency principle holds true for social media. So, be consistent.

    The A stands for authenticity. #BeReal. #BeYourself. Excellence only comes about when you are your true self and you alone know who you are. So, tap into yourself first. That is called introspection: Looking inside of you. Who is the real you? Look in the mirror and find yourself and then display that person, that human being, that male or female in front of an audience of listeners, of talkers, of social savvy people, and just go with it and keep posting with that authenticity, with that real self you know. If you like a particular sport, go with that. If you like a particular game, go with that. If you like a particular activity, go with that. Use that even in your business posts because that will resonate with all the people that like that sport, game, or activity, etc. So, authenticity is truly important. People can smell out the fakeness. They can smell people who are just not doing it right and they will leave you. A lot of my posts on social media, whether they're on my personal page, personal profile, or they are on my business page, they're real. A lot of people come into my store and they already know who I am because of the way that I post online and it resonates with them. I say things the way they are and I'm extremely respectful when doing that, but I like to tell a story. People come in for that inspiration, for that motivation, for that upliftment, and for that rejuvenation. It's part of my mission. Find your purpose, find your authentic self, and then share it with the world. You would be amazed how much you will grow because of that.

    The G stand for generosity. Tony Robbins says that, “The secret to living is giving,” and really giving doesn't mean just money and wealth but information, which is the new currency in the social world. This revolution that we’re going through now is the technology revolution and its currency is these social qualities and a huge currency is generosity. When we give proper information to our clients who come into our stores, and we empower them with that information that the other stores don't give them, about FedEx, UPS, Postal Service, DHL, we have seen over the years, as you very well know, how much business that gets us because we become the go-to source. Well, why don’t you do that in social media? Give away that information to people. Show them how to pack, show them which copies come out better, which color paper works, which scans are truly excellent, whatever it is about our business; how we can do same-day business cards, why they need a rubber stamp for an endorsement stamp, how we can save them time in terms of packaging, and then let them be empowered with that information and then allow them to make the decision and 9 times out of 10, they will make the decision in the favor of our business and that's a really great business strategy. But it's long-term and it is essential to social media.

    And then, of course, the E stands for excellence. So, one of my favorite hashtags and one that hangs on my wall (one of the three that actually hang on my wall) is #ExudeExcellence and if anything, my biggest struggle right now, is working with people and convincing them or shall I say, inspiring them to move from mediocrity to excellence. Because, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, mediocrity does not sell; complacency does not sell; excellence sells. Being the best at what we do or at least, trying to be the best expert at anything, really makes people gravitate towards us in terms of our services, and in terms of our products, and overall, in terms of our business. So, take a look around you, see what needs improving in your life, in your store, in your relationships, in the products and services that you offer, and then daily, weekly, monthly, make a list and start checking it off one by one. Then, just work to improve your weaknesses, and as you now go from mediocrity to excellence in the way your store looks or in the way you've added another product, post that process (whether through pics or video) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest or YouTube, etc. Share that experience with people. Instead of being solicitational, be social and that's what social media is all about. That’s what this “CAGE Method” is all about. In order to get out of your cage of hesitation, your cage of limitation, and your cage of negativity, I encourage you to use the CAGE method for posting and for life.

    With efficacious effervescence, and sincere gratitude to be of service to you and ultimate ongoing kindness, I remain yours, Fahim Mojawalla, AMBC director of social media. You can find my videos at FahimFix.com and also contact me at fahim@ambc.org. Thank You.

    Fahim Mojawalla is the social media director for AMBC and the effervescent co-owner of Island Ship Center, an experience based retail shipping store, conveniently located 10 minutes south of Niagara Falls USA & affectionately called the "Spa of Shipping" by its clients. Fahim has been studying social media for over 10 years from some of the top experts in the industry, including Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin and Mari Smith. Fahim is also referred to as the "hashtag guy" because he uses many hashtags to explain his ideas. His YouTube video, which recently was launched earlier this year, entitled, "Get SMart with Fahim," covers many aspects of social media in an easy to understand format, a format which Fahim uses in his breakouts as well.

  • July 26, 2017 1:53 PM | Marty (Administrator)

    I'm from a New York Italian community where pizza is a way of life. I'll take on anyone and debate the merits of crust, sauce, cheese blend, hand tossing, oven styles, fresh or canned mushrooms, anchovies, or any other topic or topping. I know good pizza; I value good pizza.

    But I have a dirty little secret: one of my covert indulgences is by no means "good pizza." No, indeed gas station pizza is quite the opposite. You've seen it at nearly every mini mart you've ever been to … heated up behind the counter from a frozen package, with ingredients that are definitely not fresh, with dough that is definitely not hand tossed, kept in a little glass warmer next to the scratch-off dispenser with leftover breakfast sandwiches wrapped in foil scattered along side it on the not-washed-in-a-while round metal rotating trays, and usually served by a clerk with a dirty shirt and smoker's breath on a paper plate entirely too small for the slice so it flops over the edges onto the stained, ancient Formica counter. It's really quite disgusting. But it's also really quite delicious!

    I eat gas station pizza entirely too often. Though, in my defense, I don’t have many dinner options on my way home from work. I close my shop at 6pm, often have evening pickups or deliveries to do afterward for my clients, and then start on my hour drive home. The roads between Ithaca and Endwell are not exactly bustling with commerce, and despite my best intentions I don't always have healthy snacks packed for the ride to sustain me until I get home. So, when I just can't hold out, my quick on-the-road dining options consist of an old Burger King (which I've vowed never to go back to after the manager felt that the appropriate response to a friendly request for extra sweet and sour sauce was to use obscenities before berating me) or one of half a dozen mini marts along the road for a hot dog, a sausage, or a slice of pizza.

    Last night, exhausted and entirely too verklempt to think about cooking, I stopped at my favorite mini mart for a couple of slices. To my delight, one of my favorite clerks was working: a very friendly fella, probably in his mid-20s, in wide legged skater style baggy pants, wearing oversized untucked shirt, inked on every limb, with sagging holes in his ears where enormous gauges once were, and consistently sporting the cheeriest demeanor in that little town.

    They had only three pieces of pizza left in the display case: one very crusty slice of three-meat and two less crusty but still way past their prime slices of pepperoni. So I asked for the two pepperoni, and my favorite clerk looked at me with a little side eye and asked me if I was sure. When I told him that I was, he insisted on giving me a side of ranch "to soften them up a little bit." I expressed my gratitude, to which he responded, "That's how you run a good business … keep people coming back!"

    He was spot on.

    I go to this mini mart over the other ones because their pizza is usually decent. I go there because their clerksthis one in particularare often very friendly. I go there because I feel appreciated as a customer. But last night, the pizza wasn't fresh; it wasn't good. I really kind of had to choke it down, dipping it in ranch, and loathing myself a little bit more with each bite. And the clerk was up front about the substandard pizza before he sold it to me, knowing what I had come to expect there. So he did something above and beyond to help make it better, knowing that that if he couldn't provide his best product he could still provide his best service … and keep me coming back.

    #CustomerService #KeepPeopleComingBack #GasStationPizza #DirtyLittleSecret


    Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com


  • June 29, 2017 2:14 PM | Marty (Administrator)

    Independence Day is just around the corner—a day on which we celebrate the tremendous freedom we have as Americans, look toward a future full of unlimited possibilities, and remember the cost at which our freedom came. And then we eat too much, drink too much, and light things on fire. It’s fabulous!

    I've been thinking about the freedom we have as independent small business owners. Being independent means you have the right and the freedom to say "yes" and to say "no." You can do what you want, sell what you want, and cater your business so very pointedly to meet the needs of your immediate community. This is a huge—HUGE—advantage! As independents, we sculpt our offerings so they’re just right; we wiggle.

    You hear me talk about my dear friends Seema and Fahim a lot. And that’s because we have a whole lot in common: we own our own independent shipping stores, serve together on the AMBC Board of Directors, collaborate on coaching for our mutual clients, and have studied each other’s businesses in depth. I’m here to tell you that, while I have a serious case of the wiggles, Seema and Fahim have full-on wigglemania! And it’s a beautiful dance to behold!

    When I first opened, I had a large section of gifts. At other stores I’ve run in the past, small gifts, plush, souvenirs, and trinkets did fairly well. But I found quickly at my store that my mainly student demographic wasn’t into it. I sold some, but the majority just sat on the shelves collecting dust (though my Swiffer and I didn’t let that dust settle). Eventually, I clearanced all of that out and wiggled things around to make more room for products that do sell in my area: office supplies, gift wrap, greeting cards, etc.

    Seema and Fahim also had a large section of gifts in their store when they opened. But their customer base is entirely different from mine and their gift section and unique one-of-a-kind leather goods quickly became very popular. In little time, their store evolved into a well-known gift destination and its savvy willing-to-wiggle owners shifted their floor plan accordingly. When they remodeled a couple of years ago, a main goal was to set aside a large chunk of their retail area to create a boutique. It’s gorgeous! It’s successful! And it perfectly complements their “Spa of Shipping” mission.

    One of my largest profit centers now is student storage, even though this offering isn’t very common among shipping centers in traditional markets. When I opened, I heard that storage in my community was in high demand, but I didn’t realize fully its scope. I offered it, but it was a lot of hard work and I really didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it. As a result, I didn’t push it as much as I should have during my first few years. But then I looked hard at the numbers and the margin on storage is fantastic! So, I wiggled my mindset. I pushed storage and this past year my storage business was up exponentially. It’s now one of my most popular SKUs and storage customers often turn into shipping customers—many moving internationally when their storage term is up, shipping those heavy boxes to far and away places through my DHL and FedEx services because I do it the best, make it easy, and solve their problems in my one-stop shop.

    Seema and Fahim have studied my storage process, but it doesn’t make sense in their market right now. However, they’ve wiggled their way into other services that have done very, very well! While my younger demographic tends be very tech friendly, doing most of their own design work, many of Seema and Fahim’s customers are of a generation that often needs more assistance. So Seema, already inherently gifted in design, has studied technique and sourced the right tools to assist their clients with amazing graphic design.  

    I have so many more examples of our chronic wiggling that I could share, including how I was able to shift floor space in my very tight store to make room for a few freestanding banks of new private mailboxes, but Seema and Fahim took expanding mailbox offerings to a whole new level by building the most impressive business center I’ve ever seen alongside a huge new backroom (more like a warehouse) expansion they recently completed. Or how I’ve wiggled into a great niche in printing and binding master’s theses and doctoral dissertations and Seema and Fahim have found uncanny results by producing and selling their own line of delectable homemade soaps, lotions, and lip balm.

    So, as we celebrate our American freedom this weekend, think about your freedom as a business owner. What could you do in your area that just might turn out to be huge? How can you wiggle your way into a new profit center? Where are you stuck and how can you change your mindset to break into a new market?

    Celebrate your independence with a wiggle. It’s the American thing to do.

    #SmallBusiness #IndependenceDay #Wigglemania

    ...

    Marty Johnson, AMBC Director of Marketing | askunclemarty.com

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