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This last week we attended conventions for the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools (UAPCS) and the Utah PTA to expand our screen-printing side of our business. This is a new avenue we decided we would go down to see what type of traction we could get.
We started the week with the Charter School convention, this was very different than what we thought it would be. As expected there were a lot of people in attendance who didn’t make decisions, it just happened that there were far fewer decision makers than we thought (we would later learn that we were wrong). This convention consisted of teachers and administrators, but mostly teachers. Of course, we made the most of it and were able to pull people into our booth by our giveaways and our raffle.
We had samples of our apparel and journals that we customize to fit any specific need. At first, we didn’t place too much attention on our journals because we were there to push our apparel business. This worked great, but we kept getting questions about our journals and what we could do with them. They asked if they could put the school logo on front, change bindings, add an events calendar, school directory and so on. Because of this, we decided that we had been taking the wrong approach, luckily, we caught this early on.
Being in the age of technology we are used to having everything online and easily accessible. This isn’t necessarily true when it comes to schools. They are used to paper forms and slow back and forth transactions. We decided to solve their problems.
But what problem do teachers face?
If you haven’t guessed, ease of access and convenience.
We started solving problems by pitching our ability to create web stores that eliminate all the hassle schools are accustomed to. As we began selling these teachers and administrators on the ease of online portals they began to become more engaged, they asked more questions and realized that although they normally don’t have the ability to make decisions, they actually could.
This totally changed our mindsets for the following day.
We were able to have better conversations with teachers. We helped them realize that they can make decisions by providing options to the students and their families. They realized that they could make their classroom more engaging by having class t-shirts for field trips, events and whatever else they wanted.
The PTA convention, on the other hand, was fairly close to what we expected. A bunch of moms who knew what they were looking for and could make decisions. There were approximately 100 vendors trying to convince each PTA president why they should go with their company for their school fundraiser. That’s what we were there for too, so we thought.
We quickly learned that these schools actually end up losing money on school apparel and that they don’t even think twice about it being a fundraiser. The schools will either sell apparel for cost so they break even or they have to purchase everything up front, meaning they have to guess the correct quantity of each size. This typically means that they over-buy and are left with too much and lose money.
Within thirty minutes we changed our approach. We began telling schools that we, in fact, didn’t want them to use us as their fundraiser (we learned that we were the only ones doing this) and that they had the flexibility to do what they wanted. We would create their web store and they could charge cost for the apparel or mark it up and we would take the excess and donate it to the school. As soon as we started doing this we would have one PTA member come, love what we had to say and then they would send the rest of the PTA members over. This again solved problems they faced–but they didn’t know it until we helped them realize it. By adapting to their needs we were able to help them realize that there was an easier way than what they were used to, they didn’t have to lose money, and that they could actually make money off of it without it being their one and only fundraiser.
After we had a smooth flow, we started to realize that there was more we could offer. More solutions to problems that we didn’t realize. At this convention, we again brought our journals, but we also brought custom wrapping paper and magnetic calendars. We just had these for display and for giveaways to help with our branding and recognition. As we did so these ladies began to talk to each other about how “cute” it would be if they could turn the journals into a planner or do other custom things with this (You’d think we would have learned after the first time), how convenient magnetic calendars with school schedule and contact information would be and they began to ask more about our wrapping paper.
After hearing this, we started over.
These PTA members didn’t care about cut and dry products. They wanted to provide options, they wanted to have one place they could go, a one-stop shop. We adapted our original pitch of an online web store to customize apparel to using the website to customize any of our items (something we do for other customers). Most of the attendees were moms with kids in different grades and too much already on their plate. They don’t want to handle money, order forms and work with several different companies. They want convenience and the ability to get what they need.
The moral of the story is that we need to adapt and do so quickly. Oftentimes, if we are in a sale, or exhibiting we focus on what WE have to say and what WE want to sell or market and forget to listen. I have learned that if I am able to slow things down, listen to the person I am talking to and continually to look to solve THEIR seen or unseen problems, the more successful I become.
Sometimes we face issues of not having the autonomy to change our pitch or we aren’t compensated enough to change our pitch. Here’s the trick though, sell what you can to whom you can and do it the right way. Think “what problem are they facing and how can I solve it”, you aren’t going to sell a hammer to someone that needs a screwdriver. You may be thinking to yourself, well I don’t get paid as much to sell that item so I’m not going to do it. Well, what if that person doesn’t want your item, are you going to let them walk away empty handed? I would rather solve their problem and provide them something I don’t get much out of then nothing at all. It’s a win-win. You solve their problem and you make a little money.
I have noticed that the harder I work, the luckier I get. I may have a bunch of small deals, but my deals may add up to be more than your one big deal. Plus, I can still get big deals on top of my small ones.