Thursday, November 1, 2012


Look up and look around fellow junkers, this is something you do not want to miss.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday
June 26, 27 & 28
10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

What does this mean exactly? Well first off, it's summer and we are a little bored so we thought a special event was in order. Second, I am ready to redo my house; new paint, new curtains, new antiques, etc. so many of those lovely things you saw in the Country Living article will be in this sale, plus other things from my home you did not see. Also, my niece Cindy is always ready for a sale. She is also a junker and her house has more of a folky, vintage, mid-century vibe so she is bringing in stuff like that. The staff has also brought in typical garage sale items and if that wasn't enough, we are also selling our overstock, dented and seasonal sale items from the store. So to say there is 'something for everyone' is putting it mildly.

Because Natural Wear next door went out of business last month, their vacancy seemed the perfect location for this sale. Our lovely landlord agreed and we have been unloading and tagging furiously for two weeks.. YOU WON"T BELIEVE how much stuff there is. I even had to hire movers to unload my house and four hours later the 2,700 square foot space next door was filled. (Note: This will be an annual sale so we will have to change locations every year- all the more reason you need to be on our mailing list. Which by the way, the postcard company messed up royally, so expect it at the last minute).

Just so you know, 75% of the items are old (and older). Then to keep the purge going, we have brought in typical garage sale stuff and many bargains. I don't usually read those long lists of items in an estate sale ads but some of you do, so here goes.
Clawfoot bathtub
Vintage stove
Bergere chairs and ottoman
Iron pipe table/cart
Tall dresser
Vintage vanity
French style painted desk/vanity
Raw wood corner shelving unit
Stained deco style hall tree
Painted trunk
Dress forms
White iron patio glider and chair
French grey matching fan chairs
Willow rocker and chaise
Heavy and big white painted picnic tables
Suitcases, chandeliers and sconces
Giant shabby mirror
Textiles, rugs, camp blankets, pillows from vintage fabrics
My famous debutante painting!
Some of my Vintage Xmas collections.
Fabulous outdoor driftwood table from Lynn Steely
Many small items; Shaving mirrors, the entire collection of blue transferware you see in the photo above, vintage jewelry and tons of baubles and trinkets (and this is just my stuff, not Cindy's!) She also has furniture, art, smalls and tons of goodies.

Perfectly working TV and other misc. electronics
Old iMac
TONS of cool bags from Banana Republic to Old Navy
Shoes and boots- some vintage
M-XXL clothes, jackets, jeans
Music Cd's, video tapes, cassette tapes
Kitchen paraphernalia: pots and pans, pasta machine, juicer, espresso maker, white dishes, bowls, glasses, cutting boards, utensils
Bedding: Tons of Ralph Lauren sheets and misc. towels, duvets and fabric pieces
Small tables and chairs, tools, indoor, outdoor, pots, art, frames, etc. TOO MUCH TOO LIST- really!

This sale coincides with the weekend of the Prairie Village Sidewalk Sale so you might as well make a day of it!!!!

For all of you have been emailing already, my staff is not shipping any of these items- sorry. There is also not a pre-sale for friends or family. This is first come first serve. And be patient those first four hours as we try to double check all purchases and give you a speedy checkout.

Many of you have asked, "What now?" You seem to be terrified that I am changing my house! Know this: I have been in my house ten years and yes, it has been repainted three times, rearranged and styled to death. The latest transformation was deliberately dressed for the Country Living shoot, but now I want serenity- for just awhile. Fresh walls, simple furnishings,
white sheets. Some shades of grey, driftwood, galvanized metal, linen slipcovers and so on. My mission is to style it to be more calming. More Real Simple..... Think monastery meets Urban Prairie!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wall Streeet/ Main Street

.I received an email from a retailer yesterday asking me what was I going to do for Christmas this year considering the financial news we have been facing lately. ("Are you pulling back, lightening up, doing less?") As I was writing her back I realized this question deserved a blog post because I am sure most of you are thinking, what the heck do we do now?

First off, I am NOT anyone to offer sound, financial advice- (please consult your local accountant before taking this medication). I can only tell you how I am handling it and what my personal philosophy is on it. Maybe this will help, maybe not. You be the judge as this is fair and balanced blogging -or too much TV.

Know this, I do not have any money, period. I'm a retailer, remember? As I watch the news and hear of Fannie and Freddie (is that a new Broadway dance team?) I am comprehending about 20% of what is being said. Then the story on Lehman Brothers, AIG and as I write this I am watching a news conference hearing our taxes (almost a half a trillion dollars) are going to be used as a Band-Aid to keep this mess from "getting worse". Are you kidding me? How can Sally's Happy Corner Gift Store get her head around this? What the heck do we do? The country is broke which means mom and pop are too.

So how do we manage our retail businesses with this latest financial news? I am traveling to Sanibel, Florida in November to speak on this issue for the GHTA. I am still perplexed how to approach it so I am waiting for the results of my Christmas sales to help choose the direction of my speech. When the economy became more of my business this year, I had to review a few things.

#1: Who is my customer?
I think we need to come up with an average customer profile and not say, "Well some are wealthy and some are not, some have big homes, and some have cottages, some like pink and some like green so I need to buy for everyone. It's time to choose an average. An average of price point, an average of product choices and an average of inventory volume.

#2: Know what items you sell- all the time, with a great profit.
Study your sales and come up with best selling items and concentrate on them. Since I spend 90% of my time in my office working ON the business and not IN the business I always need to study the books to see what is moving and what is not. I took a list of my top sellers in each department to market.

I chose my Christmas theme back in January and bought for it accordingly. January is when I order the bulk of my decorating items and at the summer market I go back and concentrate on gifts.

This Christmas I feel my purchases were more narrow but still focused. My theme is The Big Chill so I was buying lots of white, icicles and snow. Having a theme always helps me buy style but what I did differently this summer was look at price tags- really look and study and calculate. I did not buy things because they were fabulous or would make a statement or to show off- I bought to sell. Now you may laugh at this because this should be our #1 priority to stay in business but my style of buying has always been my brand first, then price. Now, I need to challenge myself to find the great price and not just the unusual item. In other words, I need to stay in business.

When most of us go to market, I think we all get caught up in the shopping experience. Yes, it's hard work and there are a lot of bad items to overlook, but there is some pleasure in it. We are finally away from our store, we can search and design and compare and be around other retailers and vendors. Our design eyes are at work along with our business sense. January is especially satisfying because we hopefully have come off a good Christmas, have a little money and most of our purchases will be dated to pay for much later in the year so the pressure is off a little. But summer market is different. People are more cautious and there is always an uncertainty in the air because late Spring and Summer sales are not always thrilling. Combine this with the economy and election and there you have it. We're running around with our heads cut off not knowing what will work.

I recently had a run-in with my landlord. My a/c went out and $1,059 later, I called to see if they could help me with the bill. Weeks later they said no. Now I love my leasing company, I really do. They did a tremendous build-out on my store when I moved in and I personally like all the people that work there. But this did me in. This was the icing on the cake because lately I was tired of the juggle I continue to do with this shop every day. It is always something: hiring, firing, vendors, customers, merchandise problems, events, planning, buying, returning, sales- and ALWAYS the money, money, money. I had a meltdown when they said no to the a/c bill and I shot off a 'tell it like it is' email to all the powers that be. When they called me in for a meeting three days later I thought I might leave with a little help after all. What did they do? They slapped my hands! I was stunned. They showed no concern at all. Instead they said they were 'hurt' I had gotten so mad when I had praised them in the past. They showed no desire to help me whatsoever! I was stunned. They also used the ammunition that my sales were up 15% this year ("so what was I complaining about?"). I left there and wanted to crawl in a dark bed and sob. If my sales were up 15% why did I take a 20% salary cut three months ago when the rest of my staff got their raises? Why am I searching for 8% credit cards to get me through Xmas? Here I am again, feeling sorry for myself, being alone and struggling, wanting help from someone and no one was there. I was over it! This money thing has me so depressed I am rethinking my entire retail strategy. It may not be long before this retail circus I have created will have to end. No more special events, tons of sku's, wide variety, unusual displays and drama- it just doesn't make me money. It makes me famous, but it doesn't make me money. There is a reason Pottery Barn looks the way it does. Easy, simple, find it, buy it and get out.

I share this personal stuff on this shop owner blog because I know the majority of you reading are retailers. My customers would say, "NO! Debbie, don't sell out! Don't be like every other store!" But I am telling all of you, this is tough. I am not receiving personal satisfaction because of the juggling and pressure of shop owning and I am certainly not receiving financial rewards- so one or the other has got to give.

As I was sitting at my desk, complaining about all of this to a sales rep, I was cutting out some vintage images I had printed to put inside some new picture frames I had just received, I said, "See- look at this. Does anyone else take an hour to make sure the pictures in her frames are better than the ones they were shipped with?" My friend said I am too much of a perfectionist and that nobody would have noticed the original ugly pictures. This made my heart sink because of course I believe they do notice. But her point was this was the kind of thing that was making me crazy. It was another line on the to-do list. She suggested I let this go.

But this attention to detail is what has put my store on the map. But it is not helping make my retail life easier. And now, with the economy and trying to get people to buy something, just being a cute or inspirational store is not enough to keep us going. We have to get smart.

I had mentioned in my entry last July that the few buyers at the Atlanta Market knew times were tough but we had to keep it going. We had to go to market to buy something because just marking down sad old inventory was not going to keep customers coming in, we had to keep working at it.

So although the bulk of my Christmas decor was ordered last January before things started to get so bad, I will continue ordering some holiday throughout November & December. But this time, I do not throw out the discount catalogs or ignore online offers from vendors because ‘it’s not me’. I may not love these items, I may not even be 100% proud of the style in my store, but I have to dig for something to make me money. I have to think of my business, my employees, my rent and not my reputation. Normally, I look through catalogs once and my ‘old self’ marks what I really want, I may even write a purchase order. The new buyer in me writes the P.O. and then I let it sit for 24 hours. I go back and really look at the items and ask myself seriously, “Will this sell?” WILL THIS SELL? Do not say, I hope so. Do not say, I think so. If you have been in business three years or more, you know the answer to this. You really do. You know.

So in these hard times I am telling you what I am doing. I am putting my pride aside because at this point I just need to stay in business and keep the money coming in however I can. I am rethinking every single purchase from merchandise to paper towels. Come January, I will roam the isles in Atlanta completely differently too. It’s time to keep ordering and keep making the store great but I have to think like a consumer now and not a retailer. What would I buy, what do I need, how much will I spend? As retailers, we might have to juggle a few credit cards, take a pay cut or stay in a few dumpy hotels, but if we make it through the next year or two, I think we will come out stronger, wiser and perhaps wealthier. After that we can show off again. Maybe we need to teach these lessons to Wall Street.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Retail Questionnaire

I have been asked to participate on a retail advisory board and this questionnaire came in the mail for me to fill out. I thought some of you might be interested in reading it and thinking how you might answer it.

Questions on retail store and experience:

1. Please describe your retail store(s). Please provide information regarding number of stores, product mix, target customer, location type (strip center, free standing, urban, rural,etc).

I call Curious Sofa a retail boutique. Our tag line is 'Less Than Serious Surroundings'. We have a mix of casual furnishings, uncommon objects and offbeat gifts. We specialize in new slipcovered furniture, antique casegoods and smalls, vintage chandeliers and lamps, bedding, kitchen products, paper products, bath and beauty, jewelry and seasonal. I feel we have a little something in almost all areas- except baby and pet.

We opened in 2000 in an older building in a downtown location and moved to an outdoor neighborhood shopping center 2 1/2 years ago. We have one store with 3,700 SF in a former GAP location. Our target customer borders on the middle class to higher end as our store is literally on the border of starter homes and million dollar homes.

2. How many years have you owned and operated this store?
I have solely owned and operated Curious Sofa since September 16, 2000.

3. What did you do prior to owning this store? Why did you decide to open the retail store.
My prior career to being a retailer was as a freelance photo stylist for TV, print and film for nearly 20 years. I had burned out on this profession and wanted to take my interest in antiquing, decorating and small business and see if I could run a place of my own exactly the way I choose without any other authority.

4. Please describe what separates your store from other independent retail stores and “big boxes”.
My shop is unique from other independent stores as I make the extra effort to put a professional finish on my store. I (try) to pay attention to EVERY detail. From signage and paint colors to customer service and merchandise. We are often asked if we are a chain and I take that as a compliment because customers can see something is different. I mix our product with many one of a kind antiques as well as the newer items. I am always searching for the artist making unusual gifts or vendors introducing a new line. I also pay very close attention to our color palette, asthetic and displays. Nothing is just sat on a table but careful thought is put into the placement, theme and inspirational 'story' of each item displayed.

We also have an Open House four times a year in which the shop is virtually transformed into an unexpected seasonal display. This has created quite a buzz of anticipation.

Being in a neighborhood center we see a lot of the same faces and they have become friends. We make relationships here and customers prefer to shop somewhere they are recognized.

5. Why are you a successful retailer?
I think there are many ways to define success in retail. You can be successful by just keeping the doors open or you can be successful because you may not owe any money to anyone. Maybe you are a success because your product turns 4-6 times a year or successful because you get a lot of press. Maybe your success is defined because your employees are loyal or your customers keep coming back or you continue to make new ones. You can also be successful because you took the plunge and decided to do this when all the odds were against you and you are still open past the three year mark. But I would like to think Curious Sofa has accomplished the most important part of success- being different.

6. If there was one thing that you would do differently with your store today, and money was no object, what would you change?
Ah! This is the loaded question! If money were no object I would only carry the items I were 100% passionate about.

7. What has been your biggest disappointment as a retailer?
Carrying product I was not 100% passionate about! Having to carry items I would normally not want to carry because there is a demand for it. (ie: wreaths!)

8. What has been your greatest satisfaction as a retailer?
Having the store featured in Country Living Magazine, March 2007.

9. What 3 books have had the greatest impact on your life? Please explain.
The Bible because it is Gods textbook on life (and business).
The Secret because it can change the negative voices in your head.
Wishcraft by Barbara Sher because it helped me define what I wanted.

10. What role do computers play in your professional career? What software products do you regularly use, and how do you use them?
I could NOT run my business without them . It is my #2 addiction in life. It manages, educates, organizes and transforms my business. It keeps me connected, stimulated and proactive. I work on a MAC as I love to do graphics but my staff is on a PC. We bought a horrible POS system when I opened the new store and just recently switched everything to Quickbooks POS and it sings!!! I recommend it to everyone in retail no matter how small. It was the best investment and very easy to learn.

Questions on Your Own ideas:

When answering the following questions, please draw upon specific examples from your career.
11. Please describe what kind of volunteer work you are involved in. Please describe what your role in the volunteer work has been.
Curious Sofa has been downright lousy at any volunteer work. I keep thinking of the day when.... We donate product to local charities often and have done a table for DIFFA and the local Symphony Showhouse. But I long for the day when we can completely furnish a Home for Humanity or donate new sofas to any charity we believe in and never think about the cost of it.

12. Please describe what a “good rep” is to you. Please provide specific example.
A good rep knows my store! She walks around and gets a feel for what I am before she sells me something. She sees how I am different. She listens to my style. She doesn't force products on me or show me fluffy bunnies and fairy ornaments because she can see this is not my thing. Sometimes I just like a rep for her personality. She's easy and not desperate for a sale. She may just leave catalogs and let me look when I have time. She emails me (not calling) because this is what I prefer. Her label with fax number are on every catalog. She doesn't drag a dozen heavy cases and samples into my tiny office. Her books are organized, the pages in tact and wholesale prices are easy to see. She knows something about the line or admits she is still learning. She knows the minimums
and dating programs and the story about the maker of all her lines. She gets me the new catalogs ASAP. She solves problems. She makes my life easier!

13. Please describe what a “good vendor” is to you. Please provide specific examples
A good vendor has a pleasant person answering the phone and knows who or where to send my question.
A good vendor has unique products and has a fabulous showroom.
A good vendor ships fast on the requested date, calls about backorders and fixes problems ASAP.
A really good vendor remembers you at Christmas time.

14. Why do you want to volunteer to be on the Action Group in GHTA?
Because it's lonely out there. A small retailer feels he's the only one struggling, trying to figure this all out. Customers think you are rich and having the time of your life and employees think you take everything too seriously.

15. Please describe “one thing” that you would like to change in our industry, and if it changed, how would that impact you and your business.
I wish I could change the customers idea of what style is and the cost of it. Impossible I know, but what an impact it would have on what I carry and what sells.

Eating Crow

For about 2 weeks now I have felt enormous guilt over having a shop owner blog and giving or posting random thoughts or advice on being a boutique owner. The reason? The current state of the union. I need to rethink every aspect of my business right now which makes me feel as though I haven't a clue where to start. It's different than when I opened for the first time because at least then, ignorance was bliss. Now, I should know better, do better and be better. But currently, I am not. I was not prepared for the state of the union or the customer or whatever state anyone else is in. I know many of you are feeling this too.

Today, I had a number of emails from a retail financial consultant (Jay Goltz) that stumbled upon me through a mutual friend. I jumped at the chance for this man to teach me something. After reviewing my business, he basically told me, "I am full of s..t", "Feeling sorry for myself" and "I don't get it"!!! A lot to handle on Valentines Day. I had such a knot in my stomach all afternoon, my head was spinning with his observations and finally went home thinking I am a horrible fraud.

After I calm down I am going to pick myself up and use this man for all he's worth.
-I need to learn how to think like an accountant instead of an artist.
-I need to tighten the wallet and work from a real budget instead of spending just because we have it.
-I need to seriously evaluate down to the letter what sells, the markups, the turnovers and the square footage that each item is taking.
-I need to look at every shop expense and if it's worth it or fluff.
-I need to know the hard facts of what type of advertising has really paid off.

This new education is painful. It just goes to show that there is always something to learn in business. This retail stuff is never completely figured out and as I have focused my energy on finding great stuff, making the store dramatic, preparing and getting great press- I have ignored the big picture: building a solid financial foundation to get through tough times (and there will always be tough times in retail). I think every few years, despite the economy all of us need to rework the business. Most of us are in the habit of reworking what the customer sees, now it's time to work on what they don't . Pass a Saliva Drug Test and I am fortunate to have a lot of cheerleaders for Curious Sofa but especially my staff who care that we stay successful, do the smartest things during this time and help take some pressure off of me. I have been down right humbled at their concern and willingness to help.

In the meantime, let's all get back to business- as well as we can.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Okay ladies, it is time to gather 'round the campfire. I received an email from shop owner Valerie Dumas tonight. She along with partner Jenni are Curious Retailers who own The Vintage-Flea in Newnan, Georgia. The email went something like this:

Hi Deb... This is Valerie from The Vintage-Flea in Georgia (I sat next to you at our Curious Sofa Dinner). I had an idea that I wanted to share with you for your shop owner blog. Jenni and I both paint and while going through the latest issue of "Artful Blogging" (which by the way is a magazine dedicated to artists and their blogs) I got to thinking why isn't there something like this for business owners? I am constantly scouring local boutiques, Flickr photos of Anthropologie, favorite blogs (like yours), and magazine articles. I am looking for new products but especially display ideas, store set-ups, promotional concepts, etc. That alone is a full time job, wouldn't you agree?

So my thought was to offer a "meeting place" (ex: your shop owner blog) for store owners to be able to post their blog links. It would have to be store blogs only because we are not interested in their cute kids- only their cute stores! The dinner you hosted in Atlanta was truly inspirational because not only did we learn more about you but everyone had some wisdom to share. What do you think? Everyone could post their links in the "comments" form so you don't have to keep up with it. Just be prepared that with your following, you might have hundreds of comments. (Just let us be the first... Ha Ha) Have a wonderful day, Valerie

Great idea, right?
So here it is: Send me the link to your shop via the comment button on this post and I will look them over and post them to the right of this Shop Owners blog main page. The Vintage-Flea will always be listed first because this was Valerie's idea.

Here is the fine print that will undoubtedly upset someone:
1. You must have a bonefide, brick and mortar store. Not just a blog, or Etsy page or an antique booth- a 100% open every Saturday, name to a lease, never have enough money kind of store.

2. You have a website. If you also have a blog, viewers can find it via your website (where you hopefully have a link). If you do not have a website but a blog only, I will study your blog and make sure it is 90% business related before the link is shown. (No pictures of your kids in the bathtub please). If it is not, you might want to edit.

3. You're good. (Sorry, this is my blog and I can post you if I want to).To keep things professional and looking like the kind of store we all want to be or visit, I would prefer websites and/or business blogs to look the part: Ideas about display, events, advertising, products, market, business, etc. Be good at it, be different. You do not need to look like my store (please don't) but any style you have done well- and yes! I will allow color.

4. Your website is generic enough to look current or is updated often.

5. You do not have to sell online or have lots of bells and whistles on your web page but it should say something about your store, your hours and most importantly- have ideas (text or images) that educate or inspire.

I have my own list of favorites that may never read this invitation but I will post them anyway and some of you may send me your favs as well. I will look everything over and choose the best of the lot with a good mix. If this works out we will all learn we are not alone out there.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Shop Lighting

Q: I wanted to thank you again for being such an inspiration and responding to e-mails. You are really kind and there are not many retailers out there who go out of the way to help others as you know.

We are moving our store into our new location this fall and I get access to the building on July 1. The photo above is terrible as it is in 'as-is' condition. It is full of junk left behind by previous tenants. As you can see now it has hideous fluorescents that have to be changed to fit the décor. There are tons of windows on three sides of the building so I do get lots of natural light. My husband and I can’t come to an agreement as to what the best choice is. He wants me to keep fluorescents for energy efficiency. I want drop lights similar to yours for ambiance. He says it will raise my electric bill and I will constantly be changing light bulbs. I will also have several chandeliers at different times hanging. OK … my question is this…

When considering changing lighting for your shop, what are the best options and things to consider? Your shop was lit perfectly and really helped create the mood. How important are the overhead lights to figure into the budget? What are your thoughts on costs, etc? Since you were a stylist I would value your professional opinion on lighting in general. Just and idea for you to ponder for a future topic and I will forever be a fan. Thanks again. Amy

A: Amy, First off, the pictures are NOT hideous. This is what spaces look like before we do our magic.

I do not want to come between your marriage but hands down, without question, the fluorescents HAVE to go. Throw them as far away as you can. However, if you are planning on driving a fork lift around the shop they might work for you, otherwise, NO. If you are putting up a dividing wall for workroom, office, etc. they can stay there. But NEVER EVER EVER where a customer can see them. The price of your merchandise just dropped 20% by having them. You are (hopefully) setting a mood, showing your brand, creating your style and my dear, please tell me fluorescents are not among the list! (I know they're not).

Energy costs? Well, sure you'll pay more for bulbs and power but to be honest that NEVER crossed my mind. Really, it didn't. That is how important aesthetics are to me. The bones of your space: Ceiling, lighting, paint, walls and floors need to be the first thing done right because it is the hardest thing, nearly impossible to change once all the stuff comes in. So think it through seriously and be certain. Of course the cost of new lighting is a factor but style does not have to be expensive. Case in point

#1 picture: Lowes for $35 and #2: Home Depot for $47, #3: Home Depot $34

First off, lucky you to have natural light and a lot of it. This has already cut your costs. I have approx. 2,600 sf of showroom space and planned to install my barn style lights (see below) every 6 feet in a perfect grid pattern. I am also using 75w bulbs as that was the most attractive, high wattage bulb I could find.

My particular style has to have a long neck on them so I cannot not use regular bulbs. My 36 fixtures cost about $100 a piece wholesale with all the added caps and rods, etc. I also buy my bulbs from a wholesale lamp parts shop. (Kirks Lane). Which reminds me, my electrician was installing my lights and said, "Ma'am, these lights only take 250 watt bulbs". (Meaning he was used to installing 500 watt bulbs who knows where in other stores and warehouses). I said, "Well that's good because my bulbs are only 75 watts." He thought I was nuts but as I pointed out to him later, "Don't you think 2700 watts of light are enough for this place?" !!! Ugh, these guys.

As the old lights were taken out and new conduit added I showed the electricians where to also install outlets and support hooks so I could hang my chandeliers. Lucky you to have that fabulous wood beam ceiling as you can bang a nail anywhere and hang a chandelier as long as the power is near. Having lots of lighting for sale in the ceiling can be a mess of cords and extensions and the first time the Fire Marshall comes in you're screwed. So do it right. They do not like extension cords much so plan ahead.

Here is what I suggest: Take out the fluorescents in the showroom. Sketch a grid and decide from the existing power where to replace with new fixtures AND where to add your new outlets. Extra lighting outlets should be added to the front windows for display and Xmas decor. Go to Lowes or Home Depot and see what kind of industrial stuff they have. Sometimes they are tons cheaper than a wholesale lighting specialist and they can have really cool stuff in galvanized metal or rust. Ask you electrician to put your overhead lights on dimmers and timers (this might make your husband happy) and to also divide the lighting into separate on/off switches so you can control the front area and not turn them on if a lot of natural light is coming in. Also, keep your ceiling fans. With a space as big as yours this will really help to cool the place. We have a separate switch for overhead, a separate switch for chandeliers for sale and I WISH a separate one for table lamps. We leave window display and lamps on 24/7 as we are in an outdoor shopping center and restaurants and a Starbucks are open until 11:00 and many people walk the center late at night. I consider it advertising to allow them to see inside the store and check us out rather than stare into a black hole.

If hubby insists on keeping the fluorescents, at least paint them the same color as the wood beams to hide them more. Good Luck.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Q: What do you do about people spying on your store? (Customers, manufactures or other retailers writing down names and vendors and asking your staff where your products came from.)

A: At one time or another, this will happen in your store. I used to get so bent out of shape when a stranger would come in and say, "My friend is opening a store just like this!" Each time I heard this I was the first person in line when the new store opened and each and every time I was miffed at how they could think I looked anything like that store. We weren't even close! This falls into the category of 'customers say the darndest things'. I eventually learned to stick to what I do, maybe investigate a little if the rumors where ongoing, but let it go.

Getting 'shopped' or spied on is something we all do. If you are a shop owner reading this blog we cannot go into a store anymore, whether it be a Crate and Barrel or the Cute Shop Around the Corner without studying, learning, listening and educating ourselves. It is a natural habit. But doing it for education and doing it so you can get your neighbors sources are two different things. In the end, the Golden Rule applies.

When I moved to my new location three years ago, I researched all the other stores in my center to learn what to carry and not carry to be fair to the established retailers here as it was I who was moving in. Only on one occasion did I call a vendor and ask for them to make an exception and let me also carry a line (of small decor items) as what I ordered was a little different than the other neighborhood store. I had also been in business for 5 years and had established a lot of vendors already, so to not continue to carry certain lines was painful but I wanted to be fair to those who carried it here (in a different zip code than I use to have).

Months after I moved in, I ordered a line of jewelry I used to carry at my old location. Then one retail neighbor knocked at my back door and threw a fit that I had ordered it too. The vendor actually mailed it to her store by mistake and the store kept it, opened it and tagged it and would not return it to me as they were that mad! Needless to say I am condensing this story but I will never forgot the ordeal that transpired. When I saw this childish behavior I decided never again would I care who had what. I was over it. I was going to be as fair as possible, contact reps, but a show down was not going to happen. I was just going to serve my customers who come to my store and buy what I have. Period. Yes, shops to my left and right might have a line of soap or ornaments or candles, but I do not care anymore. I move on. I have had MANY customers say they would rather come here than go anywhere else (over a number of lines I carry)- so remember that.

After this nasty experience I came up with my own theory: Forget about it. Spying will always happen, some people are down right rude about it and others are more discreet. If I am in another shop I simply buy the item and research it later or I may write it down when I get to my car. If I am out of town, I introduce myself and tell them who I am and if they would have a problem with my asking for their contact. I have even offered to pay the person for a contact as I want to assure them I am not competing.

One retailer I know had to ask a group of researchers to leave as they were literally walking around, taking notes and having a meeting among themselves in her store! That is another problem altogether and should be handled with the company leader professionally. Hallmark is a major manufacturer here in Kansas City and I for one love their support and the friendships I have made with them, but some store owners feel they are spying for new product ideas. My take on it is this: I am not a Hallmark store. Little of my products look like their brand and if they 'stole' an idea of mine, in the end would it really look like my design? Most likely, no. It will be worked and reworked and messed with and focused group to death and it will end up completely different than my original (like the "store that looks just like yours!").

If you are an artist and worried about other artists stealing your ideas you also must move on. My friend David who owns Vagabond Vintage told me when he first discovered Cody Foster (of Backporch Friends) he told him, "Watch out. Everyone will copy you now. So keep moving on. Go on to the next design, the next idea. Always move forward and be proud you were the first with that idea. It's the nature of the business." He is so right and if you are a creative type, this should keep us thinking and on our toes to come up with something else to wow the crowds. Challenge yourself to be a trendsetter. (But it doesn't mean it won't hurt a little to see your hard work being copied).

Customers will always ask where you get your stuff. You and your staff should have a set answer. Ours is, "From all over!". We tell customers I find a lot of things on my travels, from research or from secret sources and this pretty much stops the investigation. Most customers comment from sheer amusement, not realizing they have asked a loaded question, so respond accordingly. If we are asked about a particular artist or vendor we sometimes play dumb or maybe we will even share it- it all depends on the line. If another retailer asks my staff for vendor info, we ask them to email me directly. Then I can check them out.

When it comes to a bigger, more wealthy store taking a line you were loyal to, that is a vendor issue. If that vendor does not honor that you opened with them first, move on. Find another one and maybe another. I carry a line of bedding that only a few have in K.C. Yet I cannot look sideways without one local retailer throwing fits if I carry a pillow like hers. At first I rolled my eyes, then I shrugged it off, then I called the president and told him to tell her to get a life. It was bordering on the ridiculous. I am absolutely, 100% no threat to her business and miles away, yet she has made it a major issue and you know what? Everyone in town talks of her and her nasty reputation and how she handles herself in her business- THIS speaks volumes. Time and again customers say they do not want to buy from her and it has nothing to do with what she carries. Keep this in mind.

In anytown USA a retailers reputation must be as honest, fair and as businesslike as you can make it. Pay your bills on time, return calls, be fair, be courteous, keep appointments. Don't be a scatter brain; organize your selling, your buying, your shelves, your backroom- work on YOUR business and customers will notice and love you for it. Finally, watch what you say about customers, retailers and reps as they all talk and they all shop in the same places. If people do not hear bad junk about you- that will speak volumes about how you handle your business and longevity as a retailer to admire.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Article

Someone has taken me under their wing. This is what I have been up to:

The first story.
The second.
And watch for continue stories beginning June 16th for the New York Times Online!!!


Friday, August 10, 2012

Calculating Success

Q: I stumbled upon your blog yesterday and just wanted to tell you that although you are obviously a brilliant retailer, I believe you may have missed your calling as a writer. I have read novels that were not nearly as entertaining!

In one of your posts from back in February you mentioned that you were working on some sort of business consultation idea. I'm just wondering (for future reference) if that is still in the works. As a new retail business owner (April is my 6th month in business), I am constantly looking for any kind of helpful information, but finding very little. This is my first experience in retail of any kind and I am doing it on the tiniest budget you can imagine. When people ask "How's it going?" I always answer "Great!", but truthfully, I really don't know how it's going. My first month open, I had no idea whether to expect $100 in sales or $100,000. The only way I know to determine what kind of sales potential I have in this location is to find out what other similar shops in the immediate area are are doing, but it's not like I can call them up and ask. I am curious... how many employees did you start out with, and how quickly were you able to add them? I am a one-woman show here, and wondering how long I will be able to keep it up. At the same time, I don't see any extra money in sight, and I don't think I'm going to find anyone willing to work here out of the goodness of their heart. Also, with respect to when you were first starting out, was there one defining moment when you knew it was going to be a success? Or even if there wasn't "one" moment, how long before you felt confident that you had done the right thing? My confidence-level fluctuates daily.

So anyway, I am truly appreciative of every single tidbit of information that you are putting out there. Keep it up and I will stay tuned! Becky

A: Congratulations on six months in business. You are right to be concerned about all of this. No one shares, no one talks and no one has written a book for any of us with a small retail business. There are a few out there with too much worthless information when all we really want to know is how to do this- not get a Harvard education in retail. I learned the little I know by reading a lot of stuff- although my comprehension level is low as I only want to look at the pictures! I have asked a lot of showroom owners, reps, wholesalers and people that are really behind the business of retail instead of other shop owners, as they do not want to talk about how tough this is, especially now. Something is happening in the marketplace, the world and with consumers and although I am no expert, I have been doing it long enough to see a change going on and I am completely perplexed as to what it is and where retail is going. I am glued to my computer, TV and trade magazines every day to try and be prepared.

I understand your concerns with the money, sales and the general progression of your business. I was just that way when I first opened (and still am) and there wasn't a book out there that could help me on my level. I wasn't a restaurant or a Crate & Barrel or a fancy organization. I just wanted to be smart, stay open, pay bills, rotate products and not go crazy. I am not sure I have succeeded at any of these!

Here is a crucial piece of info someone told me once and it really helped me to see if I was on track: Retail businesses should sell between an average of $150 - $300 per square foot each year. This is calculated for the entire square footage not just your showroom space. So if your shop is 1,500 square feet you should be selling between $225,000 - $450,000 a year in sales after taxes. Divide this by 12 to get your monthly average which is $18,750 - $37,500. Frightening isn't it? But it is a great radar to stay in. The range is based on a couple things: Where are you located? High traffic, good parking -vs- a small town shop in the country. If you are in a popular shopping center the location alone can take your sales over the $300 mark into the $500+ per square foot which is what Pottery Barn & Gap's strive for. Consider this: The Starbucks in my center does $700 a square foot! But smaller, off the beaten path shops (small towns, off the major streets, bohemian neighborhoods) are usually at the lower end. The other crazy thing about retail is that it fluctuates SO much. One month you will be below that number, another month way over. It is enough to make you drink (more). Another factor to consider: If your business needs to sell $ 225,000 a year to be 'successful' then you need to have 25% of that amount in merchandise on the floor at all times to keep things rolling. Because the rule of thumb is to turn your product 4-6 times a year to stay active and in the groove of a professional retail venue.

So lets consider you just started, you rent 800 square feet and you are in an affordable place. Not fancy, not a shopping center but a cute neighborhood or destination place. The rule of thumb is this: On the safe but lower end you should be selling an average of $10,000 a month or $120,000 a year. AFTER ALL TAXES. You should have $30,000 in product on your floor at all times. This is at WHOLESALE cost and in a perfect world, you should have 4 months of overhead saved. (does anyone?). Here are also some numbers that may help. If you have $10,000 coming in each month then you should spend 48% of that on new product, save 10% (good luck with that) and the remaining is your overhead or monthly bills. Also keep in mind taxes have already been paid. So technically, around $12,000 came through your cash register. OK, now I have to do the math for my store because I am sure my numbers aren't anywhere near this either!

When I opened my first shop, all I wanted was to be able to pay the rent. I knew the sales would be there to do that but I was not sure I would ever be able to quit my day job to pay myself, but I did. From the first day we were open I was able to take a salary. So I guess in some ways I knew then the store was a success based on what customers would say and the press that miraculously appeared. I was also self supporting so there wasn't other money coming from anywhere. Some weeks I got paid, some weeks I didn't. I worked 6 days a week and bought antiques on the 7th day for the first 5 months and sometimes asked my niece to help me on Saturdays. I then hired a girl for $8.00 an hour to babysit the store while I went to market. She later stayed on to work Tuesdays by herself so I could have a day off and then I worked the store 5 days alone. I finally hired another girl and had 2 part time employees my second year and then changed to one full time, one part time my third year because I had to or I was going to lose interest and my sanity- fast. I did not want to hire as I was afraid of the money going out. But there comes a time you take that step from 'playing house' to 'business owner'. I am such a business owner now that I have 5 employees with paid vacations, Xmas bonuses, workmans comp, health insurance for my manager, etc. NEVER did I think it would get to this but it has. I still worry about every detail 24/7. From money to employees to customers to display to advertising - you name it. It's all my responsibility. Even with the BEST employees (and I do have them) it is still my job to try and make them happy, keep the store fresh and full of product, juggle money, plan the next season, stay educated on the business of retail, trends and the marketplace and buy, buy, buy.

You have just started so do not rush it. I would say just concentrate on keeping things fresh, be different, get to know local press and reporters, fine tune customer service and your email data base, have special events, and eventually a customer, friend or relative will come forward and help out on an as-needed basis. Sales are uncertain right now, not just for me but ALL over the country. Staying afloat is rule #1 so do what you can. When the economy turns then you can experiment and play with ideas more. For now, keep it interesting, pay bills and be creative with money and display. Planning ahead for an e-commerce site is also the future even if it's only eBay.

Best of luck and I would like to post this on the blog as I get tons of letters like this one.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Letter to Readers

First off, forgive me! I have been so preoccupied with the store I have neglected this Shop Owner Blog. I received the letter you see under this entry today and felt it was worthy of a response. When I posted it I realized I had 11 comments on my first entry and never knew it! I thought they were comments for the Curious Sofa Blog. Sorry!

I knew there was a sisterhood of business owners out there (and wanna be owners) as this is the bulk of my email and I also knew that we are all dying to have someone to talk to. None of us know if we are doing this right, if the money is there or coming or going, if the lease is too complicated, if the employee is right, etc. There are so many issues I cannot begin to list them all. Today Abby, my business manager told me to stop writing this advice for free. "Charge her!", she said. I am not sure how to do this yet so for now, it will be here in small doses. Instead of spilling my knowledge, maybe I should take questions (keep them short please) so other gals can be heard.

Bring it on.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Market News

Just an FYI for any of you in the New England area, I will be speaking for the GHTA at the Northeast Market Center in Boston during the summer gift show, Sunday, June 21 & Monday, June 22, 9:30-10:30 a.m. This is my first time in Boston so I jumped at the chance to go. Please join me if you can, it will be a very informal, open and educational forum. Come prepared with lots of questions. (and send me some shops I need to visit as I am staying an extra two days!)

Also, I was recently interviewed by Accessory Merchandising Magazine. Some of you might want to read.

Monday, July 9, 2012

New Retail Education

I just stumbled on this show today. I've learned a lot 15 minutes in.
And do not forget to tape this show. Amazing to go behind the scenes of how Anthropologie really does it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making It Personal

How to increase sales and customer loyalty.
A gentle reminder.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ordering Product

Q: I have a question about inventory and vendors. I have a list of wonderful, possible vendors, each who have things I love and would like to include in the store. How do I decide whose products to carry, and how much do I order from each? I see that you spoke to this in your blog earlier ~ is it just ordering from vendors and seeing if things fly off the shelf or not? I'm just starting out, so I don't want things to look too sparse, and yet, I don't want to be overloaded with inventory! It's time to start buying ~ I'm excited, but I want to be smart about it.

A: This is obviously a new venture for you if you do not know exactly how to order (do any of us?) but let me try and take some of the anxiety out of it for you.

First off: ACCEPT YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE MISTAKES!!! If all the vendors I ever ordered from were producing mass profits for me- well, I would be writing this from my custom built cabin on the lake. Second: Know what kind of store you are. Your style (your brand) is everything and should always be at the front of your mind when making any decision about your store.

Buying product will always be a learning process as you find that happy medium between:

1. what you really want to carry -vs- what your customers are wanting and buying
2. what your competitor is carrying next door
3. the price point
4. the profit margin
5. the current trend
6. the season or shelf life
7. the vendor minimums
8. will it sell fast or is it an item with a slow turn
9. if you changed your mind about the style, quality or design
10. the other similar brands you have in the store to this one
11. if the item has lost it's luster after carrying it for awhile
12. Your location or demographics

A lot to think about each and every time you order anything; from a $2.00 sachet to a $2,000 sofa. Consider the departments you have, for instance:

Soap (Bath & Body)
Paper products
Kitchen products
Seasonal, etc.
- or whatever departments fit your style of store.

I think the experts might tell you to cover the basics with a low dollar item, a medium and a high price item in each category. But if you sit and do a chart with this formula, you are apt to go nuts as I have tried it many times and it gets thrown out. But since you are ordering for the first time, this formula might be wise. Another way to see it instead of with price range is in subcategories: Like this:

Say in the jewelry department you want a little of everything: So you order $300 of gold color, $300 of silver and $300 of color. That is another way to look at it. Or in soap you have decided to only carry 3 scents. Then you can buy various products from different vendors in those three scents. Maybe this isn't you at all, maybe you like variety. You want shots of color around the store so you order candles in 8 different scents but just one size (not 3 as the vendor may offer) and you make a colorful display with them and show the variety.

Retail experts may also tell you to chart out low ticket items, medium price and high luxury items and give each one a percentage of what you expect it to sell. Items under $20: order 50% of your overall budget in this price category, $20-50 items: 30%, $50-100: 15%, over $100: 5%. Now if you are like me I lost you when you saw the first percentage point. But, again, this is another way to order and I am sure the Wal-Marts of the world order using a formula something like this. But we are small shop owners. Just one of us, no lawyers or accountants over our shoulder everyday telling us how to do this. We need to learn the hard way; trial and error. So my advice, don't experiment too much. Would you buy this item in your store for that price? That is one of the best questions you can ask yourself.

As I write this I can see myself tackling this strategy and for me it's ALL ABOUT THE STYLE of the item and the style I want my store to have. When I order anything I think about a bigger picture: Is this what I want the store to look like? Does this label match my brand? Does this shape look like Curious Sofa? Does this color go with the palette of my store? I am not a color person (I think too much color in a retail store is confusing and looks messy- but this is just ME and part of what I have created). Then I get into the item itself. The price, the quality, the scent, the texture, the season, etc. As with every part of your business this needs to be about YOU. What do you like? What do you want? What pleases you? Being smart about each and every item helps. You do have to think all these things through and no, I cannot order everything I want to carry (I long for a store like that) but I have to compromise and buy what fits within my brand, the direction of the store (who we are), please the customer and make a profit.

Since you are just starting out, start with 3 items in each category, buy minimums, buy cheaper... see what your customer is asking for after you open. Also buy something here and there with a WOW factor. Something no one else has or something that is really you. You must do something to make you stand out from the store next door and it should be a combination of display, product and customer service.

In summary, a long running retail buying strategy goes like this: Buy 33% of what you love, 33% of what you hate and 33% of what sells. I swore I would never buy anything I didn't love, but sometimes you have to make money!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Atlanta Market

Here I am again at another market.

In the cab on my way to the Westin, I realized this is about my 8th or 9th time in Atlanta (in 8 years) and I have finally found myself comfortable with the market routine. I am sharing a room with my retail friend Sandee from K.C. This is her first time attending the Atlanta Market and I found myself talking her slowly through it like I was preparing her for her first year of college. The right shoes, the right bag, condense your purse, get your book, plan your route, start at the top, work your way down with the stairs or escalators, look for showrooms you already order from, stumble upon the rest. Eat breakfast, power bar lunch, good dinner. How funny the things you learn over time. I can remember my first market ever- High Point! Can you believe it?!! I had no expectations. I remember being surprised by how dressed up everyone was. These were the power hitters of retail. I also remember thinking I was supposed to see every showroom of every floor in every building and tent. I really did. And believe me, I tried. I have since learned one simple lesson: Take it easy.

The only time I am ever away from the store is when I am working for the store shopping at market or antiquing. It's always an ordeal, it's tough, it's long, it's hard, there is never enough money, or research or hours- so you have to learn to do what you can as there will always be something fabulous you will miss (and a lot of junk you want to).

The second best advice is networking. Talk with vendors, showroom managers, other retailers about the business. Learn you are not alone in your worries, success, highs, lows or failures. How often do we get to do that at home? Also share in your finds, good values, fun showrooms, great ideas. This might help us think we see it all.

Hope to see some of you in the WESTIN LOBBY BAR, Sunday night, 6:00.
Hang in there.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Atlanta Market

Ladies (and Gents)
If you are exhausted by Sunday and need to vent, relax, share or listen please join fellow retailers at the Westin on Peachtree

Lobby Bar
Sunday, January 11
6:00 p.m.

We had a great time last year eating, drinking and sharing stories. Friends were made , vendors were shared and this year specifically I'd like to get us all to share tips for getting through 2009.
Hope to see you!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hiring an Architect

Q: Help! My landlord requires an architect for my move to a shopping center. It is basically a vanilla box now. He has given me a list of names to choose from but I have no idea what I am doing. Any thoughts?

A: If your landlord requires an architect, then there is nothing you can do. My landlord provided me one that in the end, I felt was a waste of time. I remember many meetings when I could tell he just didn't get my vision and at one point he said sarcastically, "So basically you want it to look like an Italian restaurant". I almost slapped him.

Let me get to the heart of this: A landlord may want an architect for many reasons:
1. To actually see something in black and white and approve your design.
2. To have technical blueprints for the contractor so work goes smoothly and professionally.
3. To make sure the interior build out stays on budget, is not a hodge podge of crazy ideas and amateur rigging so it is usable for the next tenant.

After going through all the above procedures here is what I learned in the end: I did not need an architect because I knew exactly what I wanted. My space was a former GAP so everything was simply cosmetic to transform it into an older, time worn interior. It was a big open room- how hard could it be? I am good at pre-visualizing so I knew what it would look like when it was finished. I wasn't one of those gals that had to see paint swatches or wood samples and sleep on it to make a decision. I had done a plan on my computer (although amateur) to show the scale, the check-out counter, the storage, all the electrical outlets, the overhead lighting, the toilets, the phone jacks, the computer, the plumbing, the kitchen, the storage- everything. In my head it was done. I just needed to explain it all to others. But with any work that needs a permit from the city, you do need blueprints if the build-out is over so many thousands of dollars. I hired all the painting, distressing, wallpaper, computer, security, utility & music people myself. That was not up to my landlord. I also went out and picked out the entry flooring, the ceiling tiles, the ceiling fixtures, the front doors and hardware, the toilet and sink and faucets, the kitchen cabinet and sinks. I had to have all that ready for them when they needed it. Some of that I paid for, some of it they did.

I became good friends with the general contractor hired by my landlord to redo my space as well as his foreman and all the workmen. I was here every morning checking in to answer their questions and make sure they were on the right page, went to my old shop and worked during the day, then came back every night to see what they had accomplished. The foreman and I would sigh many times over the blueprints because the architect did not follow a lot of my plans and jazzed things up too much and made things more difficult for the crew.

So the #1 thing I learned. START WITH THE JOB FOREMAN! Find out from your landlord who will be working on your space and ask HIM about architects because he and his crew are who have to deal with the plans, work from them and make sense from them. This is a HUGE lesson. Some general contractors meet with the landlords but it is really the job foreman who has to read the blueprints, deal with getting the job done, manage the carpenters, the painters, the plumbing and electrical, doing things in order, hiring and finding the supplies and be in constant contact with you. Make sure you like this guy. They have their favorite architects, believe me. At one point the foreman said he could have done my blueprints as he had that skill. If only I knew that before hand, how much smoother it would have gone. All in all it turned out 99% exactly as I wanted. A year later the architect brought a camera crew in to shoot my store for his portfolio. I had to keep my lip zipped as none of it was his idea, he simply drew up the plans which were overworked. Hope this helps. -Deb

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Letter To Save

I received this in an email, (author unknown).

To All My Valued Employees,
There have been some rumblings around the office about the future of this company, and more specifically, your job. As you know, the economy has changed for the worse and presents many challenges. However, the good news is this: The economy doesn't pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is the changing political landscape in this country.However, let me tell you some little tidbits of fact which might help you decide what is in your best interests.
First, while it is easy to spew rhetoric that casts employers against employees, you have to understand that for every business owner there is a back story. This back story is often neglected and overshadowed by what you see and hear. Sure, you see me park my Mercedes outside. You've seen my big home at last years Christmas party. I'm sure; all these flashy icons of luxury conjure up some idealized thoughts about my life. However, what you don't see is the back story.

I started this company 28 years ago. At that time, I lived in a 300 square foot studio apartment for 3 years. My entire living apartment was converted into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you.
My diet consisted of Ramen Pride noodles because every dollar I spent went back into this company. I drove a rusty Toyota Corolla with a defective transmission. I didn't have time to date. Often times, I stayed home on weekends, while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business - hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.
Meanwhile, my friends got jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a modest $50K a year and spent every dime they earned. They drove flashy cars and lived in expensive homes and wore fancy designer clothes. Instead of hitting the Nordstrom's for the latest hot fashion item, I was trolling through the discount store extracting any clothing item that didn't look like it was birthed in the 70's. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into a business with a vision that eventually, some day, I too, will be able to afford these luxuries my friends supposedly had.
So, while you physically arrive at the office at 9am, mentally check in at about noon, and then leave at 5pm, I don't. There is no "off" button for me. When you leave the office, you are done and you have a weekend all to yourself. I unfortunately do not have the freedom. I eat, and breathe this company every minute of the day. There is no rest. There is no weekend. There is no happy hour. Every day this business is attached to my hip like a 1 year old special-needs child. You, of course, only see the fruits of that garden - the nice house, the Mercedes, the vacations ... You never realize the back story and the sacrifices I've made.

Now, the economy is falling apart and I, the guy that made all the right decisions and saved his money, have to bail-out all the people who didn't. The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed a decade of my life for. Yes, business ownership has is benefits but the price I've paid is steep and not without wounds. Unfortunately, the cost of running this business, and employing you, is starting to eclipse the threshold of marginal benefit and let me tell you why: I am being taxed to death and the government thinks I don't pay enough. I have state taxes. Federal taxes. Property taxes. Sales and use taxes. Payroll taxes. Workers compensation taxes. Unemployment taxes. Taxes on taxes. I have to hire a tax man to manage all these taxes and then guess what? I have to pay taxes for employing him. Government mandates and regulations and all the accounting that goes with it, now occupy most of my time. On Oct 15th, I wrote a check to the US Treasury for $288,000 for quarterly taxes. You know what my "stimulus" check was? Zero. Nada. Zilch.

The question I have is this: Who is stimulating the economy? Me, the guy who has provided 14 people good paying jobs and serves over 2,200,000 people per year with a flourishing business? Or, the single mother sitting at home pregnant with her fourth child waiting for her next welfare check? Obviously, government feels the latter is the economic stimulus of this country.
The fact is, if I deducted (Read: Stole) 50% of your paycheck you'd quit and you wouldn't work here. I mean, why should you? That's nuts. Who wants to get rewarded only 50% of their hard work? Well, I agree which is why your job is in jeopardy.
Here is what many of you don't understand ... to stimulate the economy you need to stimulate what runs the economy. Had suddenly government mandated to me that I didn't need to pay taxes, guess what? Instead of depositing that $288,000 into the Washington black-hole, I would have spent it, hired more employees, and generated substantial economic growth. My employees would have enjoyed the wealth of that tax cut in the form of promotions and better salaries. But you can forget it now.
When you have a comatose man on the verge of death, you don't defibrillate and shock his thumb thinking that will bring him back to life, do you? Or, do you defibrillate his heart? Business is at the heart of America and always has been. To restart it, you must stimulate it, not kill it. Suddenly, the power brokers in Washington believe the poor of America are the essential drivers of the American economic engine. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is the type of change you can keep.

So where am I going with all this? It's quite simple. If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, my reaction will be swift and simple. I fire you. I fire your co-workers. You can then plead with the government to pay for your mortgage, your SUV, and your child's future. Frankly, it isn't my problem any more. Then, I will close this company down, move to another country, and retire. You see, I'm done. I'm done with a country that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, will be my citizenship.
So, if you lose your job, it won't be at the hands of the economy; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country, steamrolled the constitution, and will have changed its landscape forever. If that happens, you can find me sitting on a beach, retired, and with no employees to worry about ...

Your boss

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trade Show 101

In 2007 Curious Sofa participated in a Holiday Mart Show at the local convention center. Sponsored by the Junior League of Kansas City, 230 vendors displayed their goods over four days to a crowd of 20,000 people and many lessons were learned. Although this was technically not a true trade show as it was open to the public, the set up, rules and logistics are very similar. Keep in mind as I write about my experience, this was a large, well attended show. You may be considering doing something on a smaller (or larger) sale. If the event you are doing is for only one day with small attendance, much of this advice will be unnecessary. However, I feel an event of this capacity is more crucial to our business than smaller venues. But more on that later.

In January of '07 the staff and I met for a State of the Sofa meeting. We voted that because of lackluster sales, the economy and the size of our store we needed to get our name out there. We chose to do three events that year: DIFFA, Symphony Showhouse and Junior League.
(see my other blog entries about those events). Each and every one very different but none with the probable financially success as Junior League. The mere numbers of attendance speaks for itself.

You should know, I was not one for participating in anything like this. I had always wanted to stay secure behind my little counter downtown, or just hide in an antique mall buying my goodies, minding my own business. But when you see that you 'have to do what you have to do' to stay in business, the writing was on the wall. I gave in.

First off: Why do these shows?
#1 reason: EXPOSURE.
Print advertising doesn't always do it. It is rarely memorable, very expensive and fleeting. For the most part, turn the page, a quick look, then on a table to never be opened again. But to do something with an audience that can look, touch, feel, smell and experience your store- and hear you explain it, this is another thing all together.

#2 reason- MONEY.
If done right, sales can soar at a time when desperately needed. I would have given anything for this show to have been in April or June as sales are slow, the shop needs a kick in the pants to get motivated and the timing is perfect. But then it wouldn't be a Holiday Mart. My only dread was it was 10 days before our Christmas redo so the staff and I are beat. But- it is also fresh in our minds and a great dress rehearsal for making our open House come together effortlessly. (well, easier anyway).

#3 reason- ROUTINE.
Do ever feel like Bill Murray in Ground Hogs Day? Same hours, same parking spot, same lunch, same phone calls, same customers, same dialogue? Any event (outside the shop) helps to stir the pot for you and your staff. When owning a retail store you begin to think, 'How many ways can I do Spring? or Fall? or Christmas? What theme, or color, or product can entice this year?' When you stare at the four walls of your store, day after day after day, month after month- these events really help. It's like taking a working vacation (although there is nothing relaxing about it) and it helps your mind focus on something else. It feeds the retail buzz we got in this business for in the first place and educates your mind. If you like the business side as much as I do- there is so much to learn.

So before you think Curious Sofa rolled in the dough, be warned: this was our first time doing anything like this and many products worked, some did not and many ideas were expensive and did not pay off either. So, without exposing a spreadsheet to you right here, I would say we broke a little above even after all the lessons we're learned but we gained a significant amount of new customers for the rest of the year. So the longer we do this, the more financially successful it will become by the shear fact of experience. Many people make their living doing these shows and my eyes were wide open learning how they manage this momentary chaos. It was fascinating! The trucks, the gear, the displays, the condensing, the storage...

I am interviewed now and then by people in the trade and often they ask , "How do you keep customers interested in this economy?" I find myself saying the same thing, 'Take your show on the road." It is needed now more than ever.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Eating Crow

For about 2 weeks now I have felt enormous guilt over having a shop owner blog and giving or posting random thoughts or advice on being a boutique owner. The reason? The current state of the union. I need to rethink every aspect of my business right now which makes me feel as though I haven't a clue where to start. It's different than when I opened for the first time because at least then, ignorance was bliss. Now, I should know better, do better and be better. But currently, I am not. I was not prepared for the state of the union or the customer or whatever state anyone else is in. I know many of you are feeling this too.

Today, I had a number of emails from a retail financial consultant (Jay Goltz) that stumbled upon me through a mutual friend. I jumped at the chance for this man to teach me something. After reviewing my business, he basically told me, "I am full of s..t", "Feeling sorry for myself" and "I don't get it"!!! A lot to handle on Valentines Day. I had such a knot in my stomach all afternoon, my head was spinning with his observations and finally went home thinking I am a horrible fraud.

After I calm down I am going to pick myself up and use this man for all he's worth.
-I need to learn how to think like an accountant instead of an artist.
-I need to tighten the wallet and work from a real budget instead of spending just because we have it.
-I need to seriously evaluate down to the letter what sells, the markups, the turnovers and the square footage that each item is taking.
-I need to look at every shop expense and if it's worth it or fluff.
-I need to know the hard facts of what type of advertising has really paid off.

This new education is painful. It just goes to show that there is always something to learn in business. This retail stuff is never completely figured out and as I have focused my energy on finding great stuff, making the store dramatic, preparing and getting great press- I have ignored the big picture: building a solid financial foundation to get through tough times (and there will always be tough times in retail). I think every few years, despite the economy all of us need to rework the business. Most of us are in the habit of reworking what the customer sees, now it's time to work on what they don't.

I am fortunate to have a lot of cheerleaders for Curious Sofa but especially my staff who care that we stay successful, do the smartest things during this time and help take some pressure off of me. I have been down right humbled at their concern and willingness to help.

In the meantime, let's all get back to business- as well as we can.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chicago Market Press

Thank you to the Chicago Market for choosing Curious Sofa as Retailer of the Month!
Read about it here.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

GHTA Speech

Dear readers,
This weekend I attended a retail conference in San Diego. A month ago I was asked to join a retail advisory board and give a quick speech to reps and maufacturers along with the other members of the panel. Above is a photo of all the women in my group having one of many meetings that weekend. (I felt like I was back in college!). They were all terrific and I encourage you to read their bio's on the advisory board page. I learned so much and was inspired by many motivational speakers on ways to perfect my business, my relationships and my life. If you are in the trade, I encourage you to join this group as their mission is to educate all of us. Below is the seven minute speech I gave.

The speech:
It is an honor to be the newest Retail Board Member of the GHTA. I feel my short 7 years in retail is nothing compared to what most of you have experienced in your long career in this business. I have already learned so much this weekend and am energized to get back to my store and take on the New Year, which will be unbelievable.

I was asked to speak on the topic of ‘the importance of timely and complete delivery in helping retailers achieve merchandising excellence’. Or as I like to paraphrase: Give me what I want, when I want it.

Delivering the goods is a major issue. If I do not have the goods, there is nothing to sell my customers. But it goes beyond that. If I do not have the right goods at the right time, I have missed the boat altogether. I have missed what retail is all about.

I am a specialty store and I like to order just that- things that are special.

I am guessing many manufacturers have probably come to a crossroads when you needed to decide who you were- just like any of us who are retailers.

Are you big or small? High priced or affordable? Do you sell special things slowly or not so special things fast? Do you care about quality across the board or are you tapping into trends with a short shelf life? Do you rush it through, deposit the money and order another truck load? Or do you carefully study our customer, give them what they want, decide you are going to be this and NOT that and move forward? If you are like me, you have attempted all of the above and maybe, just maybe, you have settled on your identity.

Keeping this in mind, some vendors and manufacturers along this path of identity have decided early on if they will enforce strict shipping procedures or be more flexible when dealing with a small retailer. They might have shifted gears in mid stream because one way didn’t work. I know my store has done this more than once because better customer service, easier or more profitable lessons continue to be tested.

I am going to make up a statistic because I am fairly certain I am close to accurate: I am going to say 80% of specialty stores are run by women. I was too lazy to actually research this but a quick walk throughout the Atlanta Market and this statistic speaks for itself.

So I think I am speaking for the majority here. Women need accuracy. Women want you to say what you’ll do and do what you say.

If I need an order shipped on a specific date, that is what I want. I do not want you to sneak it in a week earlier because you need to make your quota, I need you to do this for me so I can spread the wealth. I have to pay for something on a certain date because that is when I will have the money or I need it in my store on a particular holiday or an event.

Over the years I have learned to be very specific when giving a ship date because product has to flow through my store daily. I need this not only to manage my showroom- but to manage my back room. This way, my staff can maintain a constant flow of preparing product, displaying product and selling product.

As many of you do, I order based on seasons, special events, inventory level and customer requests. But one of the prime factors of receiving timely and complete orders is one that some vendors may not think about too often; drama. That’s right, drama, Because retail is detail.

On my flight to this conference I was reading IN STORE magazine published by the Dallas Market Center. Page after page is filled with advice on achieving a successful retail business but one comment from a retailer stood out. She said, “I have never worked as hard as I am right now. Customers want to be entertained by their retailers”. Or as another book I recently read said, ALL business is show business.

If the goods I order are not delivered, complete and in a timely manner- I lose the drama. I might lose the sale and I might even lose the customer, because I need to make an impression and nothing makes a stronger impression better than a completed look. If one item is missing, it could be the key item. It may weaken my display.

Think of the bride who is dressed perfectly from head to toe on her wedding day but the bouquet never arrived.
Or the new baby who comes home from the hospital and the new crib is sitting on a dock somewhere.
Perhaps your new in-laws are coming for your first Thanksgiving dinner and the pair of candelabras for your centerpiece were delivered across town to the wrong address. You get my point.

Sales reps and manufacturers suggest we buy into a complete line to create a look. We are encouraged to display all the colors and patterns available because this sells the product better. Sometimes we order this way and it still may not arrive complete- and you feel you’ve been had. But if you have a specialty store like myself and are trying to compete in the marketplace you do not always want to order a complete line because the store down the street has it too or you would like to think you have a better eye than that. We want to mix and match from different showrooms, vendors and manufacturers. This is what is necessary to create drama and to be different from everyone else. It is how I see something. It is how you see something. It is the survival of the most entertaining!

Receiving an order in a complete and timely manner is crucial to success as each one of us wants to think smart, plan ahead and be the first shop with the new toy. This is what creates merchandising excellence. But we cannot do it alone.

Retailers need accuracy. If I need an order shipped on a specific date, and it’s not doable, tell me in advance. I also need communication. Real people answering the phones or returning e-mails as soon as possible, taking care of an issue or a claim. I need great web sites that I can reorder product at midnight and know if it is in stock. I also need you to know that most of us receive your packages at the back door- between phone calls and customers, crawling over boxes and supplies- we will carry those boxes in ourselves. Whether it be a large box full of individually wrapped glass ornaments or a palette full of iron garden furniture-- so how you pack your product is important too. And most of us do not have loading docks.

As Max Carey said yesterday, make the experience easier! Make us happier and we in return we will enjoy ordering more because it is easier. And anything easy in this business is a welcome change. Just as I have to bend over backwards many times for my customers, the vendors I love have also done it for me:

In closing I want to say thank you to the few vendors that have understood my issues.
I remember 6 years ago I called Votivo candles and told them of a display idea I had and asked for 250 empty boxes of their red box candles to build a Xmas tree. They sent them no questions asked only that i send them a photo and later received a letter thanking me for putting forth that effort....

One manufacturer made 400 candles for me in 3 days for a special Holiday Market.

One vendor gave me a hefty discount on bulk product for a charity event.

Another time I called to say, “I can’t believe I ordered this” you said, “keep it and give it to charity. We will credit your account”.

I want to also say thank you when you call ahead for backorders to make sure I still want it or warn me a day in advance that a palette is on it’s way.

I appreciate dating programs, low shipping costs and condensed packaging.

I like knowing you are trying to help me with these issues because you know how many things we juggle as a small business owner.

And finally, I really appreciate when you have taken the time to create drama for me in your showroom with unusual products and great display ideas. As a small business owner we need to know someone wants to entertain us as well.

Thank you....