Monday, April 11, 2011

The Ride

What a wonderful turnout at the Atlanta summer market Curious Cocktail Party! Despite the sometimes shabby service of the Westin staff (sorry, but I call ‘em like I see ’em) we managed to consume adult beverages, nosh, network, share war wounds and laugh for over four hours.

At 6:00 pm Sunday evening, Sandee and I were greeted by my Boston trip guide and gal pal Carol and then others emerged after market to the Lobby Bar at the hotel. I counted 27 of us at one point and realized half were veterans from the Curious Sofa Dinner last January and the other half were new friends who heard about the event or read the blog invitation.

It is amazing to see the mix: new shops, old shops, 3 months to 35 years! All of us with aching feet, heavy burdens and empty wallets. But how encouraging it was to share vendors, marketing ideas, travel tips and squeal and squeal about our love for magazines, our files of tear sheets and love of this retail chaos we are all in. How many times that night did I hear, “Have you been to that store? It’s my favorite”, or squeals of an article we saw or a designer we love.

Laurie from Bittersweet and the team from Angel Court were the invited manufacturers and we loved hearing about the other side of the business as many of us carry their lines. Laurie was featured on the back cover of our Curious Sofa Country Living issue so we shared what has happened to us since the article.

I tried to spend some quality time with each and every gal but some had to leave or I had to interrupt others, but all in all I think it was a success and a tradition in the making.

As I stumbled to my room that night I am sure I felt as everyone did which is that it is just good to meet others that are going though some of the issues we are all facing right now. Although the evening was entertaining there was certainly a lot of education being thrown around. For instance: I awoke at nine the next day and there are already two emails telling me thank you and , “Oh by the way, you must see this vendor in building one, she has a product you will want”. This is what it is all about. Looking out for one another with ideas, good product and encouragement. (and boy were they right!!!!)

On one level this July Market was what I had expected: slower attendance with a lot of moaning in the isles about the state of the union (from vendors and buyers). On the other hand I also heard that though the volume of ordering was down, the dollar amount of those orders was steady. The lookers were minimal and the buyers that were there were being smart. I heard of careful planning and exact ship dates, minimum quantities to be certain and spreading the reorders out. This is just smart retailing and if it takes a slight dip in our economy to make us ’straighten up and buy right’- then hooray for us for taking our business this seriously.

The final day of my trip I met with my friend Cinda of the GHTA and self proclaimed retail enabler and we discussed these very issues. Maybe because of this blog or the press I had in Country Living but I have been emailed by many over the years who want to open a shop or already have a shop or think it would be fun to have one. The reality of it all hits them when after the first few months of opening customers stop coming or maybe they never came in or an employee leaves or gas prices hit $4.00 a gallon. What do they do? My friend and I confirmed many women are simple shell shocked and realize this is a full-on BUSINESS. It is not about being cute or popular or chatting with customers.... (although it is about that too). There is a mindset that must come with being a successful business owner. Its work and study and endurance and then one year it starts making sense. You stop bitching as much and get in a flow with the economy, the customers, the employees, the buying and the general rollercoaster ride of it all. This is when the heroes emerge.

On the plane Sandee and I were discussing the on slot of closed shops that are happening. (By the way, since the Curious Sofa Dinner Party last January, four of those 24 retailers have closed their store). Does this mean they failed? No! Does this mean they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Maybe. I think if I were to interview each one I would hear many different things. Yes, it is always about money or lack of sales, but I am betting they would all have a different strategy if they were to do it all over again. Different location, different theme, bigger space, smaller space, more education- the list goes on.

What I realized about most of the guests at the cocktail party were that they have gotten into a groove of making it work. I told Sandee I cannot judge anyone who closes their store because I know how hard it is. But then I added, "Closing is not an option for me. If things were tough for me, I still wouldn't. I have business loans to pay off for another 5 years! I have no alternative. I would end up cutting back on buying, letting employees go, renting out some space if I had to, selling my house - whatever it took to keep it going. But then, I have no life! If there was a husband or kids or extra income coming in, I might close the store to take it easy for awhile.

I applaud all of you for the time, effort and hard work involved in shop keeping. Whether you are a new shop old shop, open three months or 35 years.... it's all hard work to keep at it.

Keep the faith.

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