Monday, September 10, 2012

Sisterhood

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.
Thanks.

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

Competition

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!!!

.