Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Let's Try This

Okay, the response to the 'Eating Crow' blog post has me thinking of what I can do for all of us. Here is a thought:
If you are a shop owner, email me directly your email address. Hopefully from your email address I can see that you own a real brick & mortar store. If not, send me all your info.

1. Shop name, address, etc. (Some of you I know so this won't be necessary).
2. Web site or blog site so I can see you really are a business owner.
3. Email

Send to curiousdeb@curioussofa.com

I do not want to post all that I am learning on this blog as I know some customers and competitors check this. But to all of you business owners wanting to learn like I am, I have a plan.

Monday, February 7, 2011

So Many Questions, So Little Time

Pictured above. The Curious Retailers. Unfortunately, nine of the girls had already left- so you can just imagine the crowd!

Now that the dust has settled from the Atlanta show and the Curious Dinner Party is over, I have thought long and hard about all the gals that were there and have also received a few e-mails from others wanting to know more about that evening. Other than the delight of just meeting these other store owners, one thing is crystal clear: we all need someone to listen to us. We all wanted to share and learn and talk and know we are not alone. Today I ran into one of the dinner gals at the mart and the first thing we said to one another was, “Why are we still here?!” Then we laughed as we agreed it was just too hard to shop for a lifestyle store in six days because this trip basically stocks our store for six months and it is just not enough time to buy for two seasons.

We continued to talk about the dinner party and how exhilarating it was, and now days later, how much more we wanted to say and ask and share. I felt it was a huge hit for a first time event, but now looking back, I wish I had spent so much more time with everyone by really getting to know their stores, their situation and their history. Some even came with a list of questions for me and then I knew, they all had questions and I wanted so badly to answer them all. Not that I am any expert, but many just wanted to talk to other shop owners because in your own town we all keep quiet and do not dare share the highs and lows of this business when in reality- we are all going through uncertainty. And none of us here were competitors. I also l have yet to meet anyone who has gone to a retail university.

What all this meant for me was the ability to take a deep breath and know that we are all going through the retail angst together. We are not alone although we feel like we are. Later that night, one of the gals (Karen) gave myself, Michelle and Stephanie a ride back to our hotel. We sat in the lobby until 2 a.m. and shared more stories, advice and anguish. From employees to vendors to being robbed to accountants to clients... it could have lasted all weekend. I also came away knowing I was not the wise one. There were years of experience at the dining table that night; from one who owned a store for 32 years to another for two months. Others had multiple stores but most of us owned one. Some with large stores in the city to 600 square feet in the country. Some also sell products online, some do not. Some had partners and some didn’t. It didn’t matter because we all learned from each other. It really was amazing. Some of us have distinct looks, others offer services, others are filled to the brim, others are struggling, while others keep reinventing themselves. But one thing is clear: we all want to find the secret to success. Is there an easier, bigger, better, faster way to do this? Can we buy and sell in any sort of logical way? Can we get press, stay ahead of the game, pay bills, travel, hire, pay ourselves and not go nuts all at the same time? For me, I came away with my answer and although it may not be the right answer, it was good to have some clarity. Each and every one of these girls were obsessed with their business and trying to make it the best it can be. This for me was so magnificent because we ALL thought that way. Not once that night did I hear anyone talk of their husbands or kids or fashion or current events because we are all consumed by our stores. Just breathing the same air was calming. So although we are nuts with doing this, knowing we are all nuts doing this was such a comfort. NO ONE has it figured out and it's okay!

A perfect example was later that night at the hotel I shared that my accountant (Ira) does not understand why I keep spending money when we may have had a slow month at the store. I explained how he is going to freak out that I finally (and I do mean- finally) have zero credit card debt which was my goal by January 1. Now, after this market, it is back up there again. I explained, “He is going to freak!” All the gals sitting with me shook their heads and just nodded. “I know, my accountant doesn’t understand that either,” said Karen. “They just don’t get it”. And all this time I thought I was managing my purchasing badly. Aren’t I supposed to make more than I spend? (well yes, but if the shelves are low, customers aren’t buying or seeing anything new then I have to spend to keep it interesting). My accountant just does not get this.

Case in point:
Ira and I meet at our local Starbucks once a month to discuss the State of the Sofa. The last meeting was about two weeks ago when Starbucks had just removed all the red and white Holiday decor and put up what I describe to be their new zen design. I noticed it earlier that day and had to walk right up and touch the new signage because it looked as though it had burlap fabric behind it. But it’s not. They photographed burlap and layered the graphic over the photo. Brilliant I thought, because it really did look like fabric which you never see in Starbucks signage. I also noticed how their theme for the New Year was to ‘rejuvenation, reinvent, be calm,’ etc. Perfect for January as this is when we all want to try a fresh start. So I am taking in all this retail styling at Starbucks and analyzing it for my store because earlier that week I had decided to buy deeper into candles and soap and jewelry for the first quarter; smaller impulse items that women may want since gift giving had stopped- my attempt to try and keep the sales up. So I make the connection that Starbucks is sort of doing the same thing with their tranquil, ‘all about you’ campaign. I’m feeling kind of puffed up because my theory was not that far off to what they were targeting...

So when Ira and I meet there later that day, I say to him, “Did you notice their new signage? Isn’t it great? It looks like burlap fabric doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s a photo of burlap." He could have cared less, didn’t blink an eye, not even looking up, but did manage to say, “No I didn’t notice. I did however notice how many people are in here and how much money they are making from them.” -So notice who is thinking like a retailer and who is thinking like an accountant.

I too, have sat in Starbucks and studied the crowd. Especially when I knew I was moving my business into the neighborhood. I sat and counted bodies in 30 minutes and realized each person probably spent $5 a head. A cash cow business if ever there was one.

So to think someone else on the outside is going to understand your passion for retail is just not going to happen. But for a few hours on one lovely Sunday night, I was with my peeps. I was home.

More answers to some of their questions in future blogs.