Which Brain Should I Use?

Today I was in a store where they had run out of room for a product and put inventory for that article on the end cap podium.  Of course, that end cap was set up for a different product, and the display, price, and shelves were all set up for that article.  I asked the worker about it and asked if they felt customers might find this confusing.  After all, if I wasn’t paying attention, I might grab the article on the end cap thinking when I got home I’d be unpacking what I saw on display there.  I’d have a different product and have paid a different price.

The worker said, “I think the customer is smart enough to figure it out.”

But wouldn’t it have been better for the worker to have figured it out and avoid the confusion entirely?

Use your brain, not the customer’s.

Reality TV

There are quite a few reality TV shows that focus on better management skills.

  • Tabatha Takes Over
  • Kitchen Nightmares
  • Bar Rescue
  • Restaurant: Impossible

There are pro’s and con’s involved, of course.

Tabatha Takes Over

Tabatha Coffey (Tabatha’s Salon Take Over and Tabatha Takes Over)


Reality shows lie.  They sometimes stage their content, and they always simplify the complexities of the real world into a simple narrative.

For example, you can break any episode of the popular series “Intervention” into this simple equation:

  1. Show why the person is worth saving by opening with the positive aspects of the subject’s personality.
  2. Shock the audience with just how bad their addiction has changed them.
  3. Do a historic retrospective that shows the subject’s life, creating a simple narrative that traces their addiction to a single traumatic event.
  4. Show the intervention specialist trying to convince the family that they have to address the trauma in order to help the subject to accept help.
  5. Have the intervention, where the family either complies or denies.
  6. The subject makes their decision.
  7. We see the consequences of that decision, whether positive (and life changing) or negative (and devastating).


“Jesse is too friendly with her staff and needs to learn when to put her foot down” is a much easier message to take away than “Jesse is a complicated person with various shades of relationships with her employees, including a few instances of poor judgement.”

Watching an episode of “Intervention” can be an incredibly moving experience, because it’s a winning formula.  Combating addiction isn’t as simple as identifying a single trauma, but seeing where your life took a turn helps you brave the fight to take back control.

Sometimes it takes a storyteller to look at our lives and reflect it back to us in a parable that helps us better see it from the outside.

Gordon Ramsay (Kitchen Nightmares)

Gordon Ramsay (Kitchen Nightmares)


[Insert reference to Paula Dean here.]


What you’ll find the most surprising about success stories about loud, passionate people is that they were loud and passionate before they were success stories.  For example, if you watch the segment 60 Minutes did on Judge Judith Sheinlin before she became Judge Judy, you’ll see she was exactly the way she was exactly the same in her actual courtroom as she was later on her televised courtroom.

Gordon Ramsay was a soccer star before a career-altering injury sent him in search of a new vocation.  He’s known for his anger, fowl language, and intense pursuit of perfection.  I bet when his wife cooks for him, he picks her meal apart and asks her if the veggies are fresh or frozen.  The reality behind the star is that even Gordon Ramsay will muse about not wanting to sound like Gordon Ramsay.

The key to finding the correct balance is in treating people with respect.  Define whether the problem is the result of a mistake or a bad decision.  That will help you identify the best course of action in dealing with prevention of further mistakes or bad decisions.  If this problem is chronic, you need to decide whether it’s a battle worth choosing.  If it’s a chronic problem, your business is at stake, and you haven’t figured out how to get your message across, it’s time to tap into your inner Taffer and put some heat behind that message.

Passion is crucial.  Don’t put the flame under a bushel.  But also, don’t be a jerk if it isn’t necessary.

Jon Taffer (Bar Rescue)

Jon Taffer (Bar Rescue)


Shows like Mythbusters and Ghost Hunters and Deadliest Warrior boast the use of science.  They are also constantly criticized for their lack of actual science.

How much science can there be between “We’re going out of business” and “Now we’re the toast of the town”?


If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I love the sciences that helps me do my job.  Whether it’s how you reflect your customer base or how you set up your merchandise, an well-informed decision is always more rewarding than a shot in the dark grope.  That’s why I have a special place in my heart for Jon Taffer.

My favorite moment on his show, Bar Rescue, was a very understated one.  Jon is meeting the owner of his latest challenge for the first time, and it happens under a ceiling fan that is turning the lighting in that spot into a seizure-inducing strobe.  He asks the owner, “What do you notice right now?”  The owner couldn’t think of a thing, so Jon explained the problem to him.  The reason I love this moment is because I’ve been there on both ends.  As an inexperience manager, I’ve had my boss point out a problem that I’d walked past every day and never even noticed, and once I had gained what I like to call “my manager vision,” I learned to walk into a room and scan the place like The Terminator.

Even though you certainly don’t have the time to employ the scientific method to every problem you have, there should be a science behind every decision you make in your business.  A television show isn’t going to be filled with science, because in the end, it’s an entertainment that is beholden to getting a broad range of viewers to watch their commercial breaks.  But a handful of bullet points wrapped up in a palatable experience is always easier to swallow.

At the very least, like a broken light, perhaps it will help you think about some things you may not have noticed.

Robert Irvine (Kitchen: Impossible)

Robert Irvine (Kitchen: Impossible)


American reality shows are obsessed with make-overs.

  • someone says “yes” to a dress that will make their wedding dreams come true
  • A well known celebrity mentors a group of unknown amateurs and weeds them all down to just one top contender
  • a group of groomers teach clueless people how to dress, giving them the confidence to be the person they were all along
  • half a dozen strangers get to live in a mansion and start being real in order to learn more about the bigger world around them
  • people compete in a series of challenges to win a lump sum of money and a crack at D-list celebrity
  • someone with TV good looks helps someone less photogenic remodel their home
  • people just like you and I get a chance to compete for a spot in the elite of any given profession, perhaps even becoming an idol in the process
  • someone with a small amount of money undergoes a risk in order to earn a larger amount of money, often giving us all a brief history lesson in the process
  • corporate CEOs get a view from the bottom and realize that actual human beings work for them, thus transforming the way they look at everything regarding their company
  • nerds get revenge by humiliating themselves for our enjoyment to prove that their king of a group of humiliated nerds

How is Let’s Make a Deal any different than Storage Wars?  They’re both just betting on “What’s in the Box?”  It’s game show formula, and it doesn’t really apply to real world limitations.

Besides, If I had a world-class professional come in to my business with a blank check, I’d be able to increase my sales too!


News Flash: Tabatha, Gordon, Jon, and Robert leave, and they take their checkbooks with them when they go.  If you can’t use their arrival as assurance that your business will succeed, you can’t use the fact they haven’t come as an excuse for failure.  Or complacency.

There’s a degree of art in management, and a great artist takes inspiration from everything.  Here’s a fun fact, Leonardo DaVinci had far less things to be inspired by than you do.  So if these shows speak to you at all, I highly suggest that you dig into these programs and get inspired.

If the guys from Duck Dynasty can build an empire out of nothing, there’s nothing stopping you!

Another Word on Merchandising

I call it the pet store philosophy.

If you have the puppy in your hands, licking you in the face, you will probably leave the shop with the puppy.

So when you are speaking with a customer about your product, make sure you place it directly into their hands and show them why it’s awesome!

And I think this goes without saying, but. . .  If the product is on a shelf, you want to make sure there is a “window” facing outward.  This could be an open area that shows the actual product (like the window on a Cabbage Patch doll’s packaging), a eye-catching graphic that shows off the brand (like you see on cereal boxes), or a cover page or a movie poster or. . .

You get the picture.

The important part is that you NEVER turn these windows off to the side for space.

You need to get the puppy on the glass, peaking out at your customers with longing, adorable eyes.

Merchandising Made Simple

In Western civilization, we read from top to bottom, left to right, front to back, and that’s also how we expect to browse as consumers.

A floor stack should be between hip high to chest high. Any higher, and you’re stealing from the psychological impact of your most precious real estate. Any lower, and you’ve merely created a tripping hazard.

The eyeline is your most important space in the store! It is where you should be putting the message you want to communicate the most. Screw this area up, and you’ll fail. Nail it, and you can’t fail.

The area above the eyeline is what sets the tone of your store. If it’s crisp, clean, and screams your brand, you’re doing it right. If it’s just where you keep storage, backstock, or trinkets and that’s NOT your brand, it’s time to take a hard look at the size of your backroom.

In addition, you should fully utilize the alphabet.  You should remember that keeping the store clean is how you make the customer feel comfortable to browse and welcome to spend their money and come back again and again. Information you provide should be communicated effectively, with brevity and a features and benefits approach. Price labels should be easy to read, understand (with “club prices,” this is easy to miss), and readily visible. Remember, a business is sometimes called an organization for a reason! Don’t cut corners!

Your staff is your most important piece of marketing in your store. The more you can create experts out of your staff, the more of an industry leader you’ll be. Note that I said “expert” and not “snob.”

And last, but not least, if you are creating a “bargain bin,” ignore all of the rules of alphabet and organization. Messy DOES have some power. It makes things appear “cheap,” and when you’re communicating “insane value,” cheap is your best friend. Just don’t let it communicate that about the rest of your store or you will undercut your brand.

Now go and sin no more.