From a reader: Thanks so much for sharing your experience at the Atlanta Gift Show! You have NO idea how much I've learned from you and your blog! Background on me - I received my business license in August. I plan on opening a small retail home/lifestyle boutique this year. I have a few questions and any insight you are able to provide would be SO appreciated!... Tonya
Q: Is the Atlanta Gift Show the show you would recommend attending over all others? A: Yes, Atlanta has a better selection to choose from than the others. But- I like to attend all of them at least once to compare vendors as you never know what you will find. None are easy and they all have bad product somewhere. After you experience them all (and you should) you will decide on your favorites.
Q: Is it possible to initially buy for your store without attending a Market first? A: Sure, if you research and order catalogs. Vendors get inquiries all the time. I call and email for anyone I hear about all year long to add to my stash. Buying doesn't just happen during market, shop owners buy all day every day 24/7. The more resources the better.
Q: Would you delay opening a store until you COULD attend a Market? A: Depends on the style of your store. If you don't need a lot of new items there is no harm in it. But if you want unusual things no one has seen you need to do your homework and market is where that gets done. Keep in mind the saying: you have one chance to make a first impression. Opening your store while still building and creating it as you go along will take longer for a buzz to happen about your shop. Impress them right off the bat.
Also, many buyers are at market to buy for their store that will be opening soon. Have your retailers license, tax ID and a 'fake' business card with all your info for delivery. Look as legitimate as possible. Higher-end vendors will be more suspicious because they care how they are represented and the style and reputation of your store (and higher minimums), but smaller vendors just want to sell.
Q: I attended the Seattle Gift Show this summer - what a let down! I think there was only one vendor that shared the same vision as myself. A: Welcome to the world of retail!! This will happen even at the best shows only on a larger scale. This is why it is so much work to hunt for the items you need. Keep in mind these markets are supplying hospital gift shops, drug stores and all styles of gift and home decor shops. There is a lot of bad design out there. Keep your blinders on.
Q: Debbie: I know you've touched on this subject a bit already on your blog... but I was wondering if you could give me any more advice on this specific issue:
I am in the planning process of opening a small retail boutique in my small town. I had what I thought was a pretty solid list of vendors that I wanted to use and that no one else in town was carrying. In the meantime, another boutique in town has all of a sudden started carrying literally every vendor that is known to man. I hear it's because she plans on opening a variety of specialty stores in the near future. She's attempting to tie up any and all vendors. The visual style of store I am planning on opening is very different than her store. Is crossover on some product acceptable or should I start all over in regards to finding product that would fit my brand? Help! Much appreciation.
A: First, if this other store owner is a real concern or threat to you, call or write her a sincere letter and say you'd like to take her to lunch and discuss vendors as "you do not want to overlap or be competitors." She should immediately respect you for this and hopefully agree. Come prepared with a list of vendors and items you desire to sell. Negotiate some things if possible. For instance: If you both want the same vendor maybe you only buy the bath products in white and she buys in blue. Or you sell the frames and she sells the candlesticks. On the other hand, I actually like to leave this dirty work to the rep. I will complain to the manufacturer long before a store owner as they should be watching for territory protection. Recently a store across the street wanted to open with a line I have (but I do not buy consistently from) so I agreed via the rep they could sell it as I was tired of the line but- they had one product I couldn't find anywhere else (drawer liners). So I told the rep they could buy whatever they wanted except this one item. I think it worked out fine as the line has dozens of other products to choose from.
If this woman is on a mission to take any and all good vendors and she has the money to do it, you may be out of luck. On the other hand- if you are certain your style is different than her store(s), if you feel confident you are going to do it better than she will, then stick to your guns. Build your clientele based on your unique style while keeping your nose down. Buy what you want and do your best to display it more uniquely. Sometimes paying too much attention to your competition takes your eye off your own business.
Finally, you should ALWAYS be looking for great merchandise that no one else has. This will forever be your challenge. Not just for the competition, but more importantly- for your customers. Good luck! Deb
QUESTION: Can you do everything right and still have a lousy year? I figured out the best way was to increase money coming in was to increase every sale by $5. So, I brought in a few higher priced items, reorganized merchandise, stocked up in the areas working the best and cut back on the stuff that was taking up too much space but not bringing that high of a return. I made aggressive, but doable sales goals and bought according to the goals with a little room for error.
The first three months of the year it was great, as planned. Since April, we've had fewer sales and the summer has never really heated up. I've cancelled, reduced orders where I can but have been playing catch up with invoices for a couple months now. I don't have much room, financially, to maneuver to do anything drastic to increase business and, to be honest, don't know if it will help. Now here comes holidays and I'm starting to really worry. I've cut back on expenses (worked weekends by myself for 7 weeks, cancelled trip to NYC, etc.) and even considered taking a second job on my days off to help bolster my income. Now, I'm resorting to prayer (no joke)!
ANSWER: Your first mistake was to 'resort to prayer'. Honey, this should be priority #1. Every day, all day, for any season, in any state of your shop. How in the world can we predict when a sale is going to happen? We can't. We ALWAYS need Divine Intervention to stay afloat, buy smart, sell smart and keep it rolling.
Here are some other ideas: Do what it takes to stay open without borrowing too much money to do it. Swallow your pride and ask some of your neighbors how they are doing. Call customers and ask honestly why you haven't seen them lately. Email a coupon or sale event. Open an eBay store to help during these months. This is better than taking a job as you can still be in the store.
Three years is about the time when these emotions of yours start. Daily business starts to slack, the newness has worn off and customers are not easily impressed anymore. I am happy you are staying on top of the math. Calculating and estimating what it will take to meet goals. This is smart. But when it doesn't happen, it's very disheartening isn't it? If I knew what to do, I wouldn't be whining myself. So the answer to your question is- yes! You can do everything right and have a lousy year because you cannot predict consumer behavior. I think the key is to prepare for these low months because they do and will happen this year and in your 15th year. Every month I also analyze, strategies and try to get ready for what might be the calm before the storm. Sometimes it works, and other times it doesn't. I think the biggest issue (besides the money which is ALWAYS an issue) is your mental state. Try not to freak out. Try not to do anything drastic. Try not to lose sleep. This is retail. As I told my banker once, how in the world does anyone make money in retail when we have to keep spending it?!! Until we brand ourselves and have our products in every store USA, the small, private shops like ours simply need to learn to live on less, pray for more and ride with the tide.