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....

Thursday, January 5, 2012

When Do You Know?

Q: There are so many things that go into this one question but I'll try to make it simple, I know you are a very busy lady. My question Is, how do you know you are ready to open a store?

I feel the only thing that is holding me back is MONEY. My mother and I have had numerous antique sales, we now have a booth at a home furnishings store that sells new and antique items. We have a business plan written, and we have done lots and lots of research. What do you think, If we had the money should we do it, and how much money is enough? Any help will be appreciated.

A: This is a loaded question with a lot of answers.

You are ready to open a store if:
You have to open the store when the desire to do it is greater than the fear of failure.
You are certain you have something special.
You are certain your sales will support the store. (maybe not you, but the store's expenses)
You have gotten some experience similar to what you want to do (already in a mall, worked in a store, been a buyer, etc.)
You have carefully thought through the worst case scenario (your sales cannot pay your expenses for two months or more) and the best scenario (you are sold out of nearly everything the first week and when it comes in, it goes out again; you're so busy and tired from customers, you have to hire but cannot find anyone....) etc.
These are just a few.

There is NEVER enough money but here is a formula:
If the space you are leasing is 1,000 square feet you should have at least $40,000 of inventory in the store when you open and be prepared to sell and replace that amount 4 more times. approx. ($175,000 a year). In a perfect world you should also have 4 months of overhead in the bank to prepare you. Do the math, do the math, do the math: Salaries, rent, utilities, accountant, phone, insurance, income tax, sales tax, employee earnings tax, workmans comp, landlord fees and dues (if any), supplies (sacks, tags, tissue, cleaners, toilet paper, paper towels, flowers, music, light bulbs, POS or cash register), advertising, delivery & shipping fees, truck rentals, travel expenses, furniture repair, glass cut, lamp repair, postage and oh yea, the merchandise.... Like I said, there is never enough money.

I know there are a million other things, but this is at the top of the list.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Here is the latest in something that has been brewing at the shop for the last five months.

Read on.