I have been asked to participate on a retail advisory board and this questionnaire came in the mail for me to fill out. I thought some of you might be interested in reading it and thinking how you might answer it.
Questions on retail store and experience:
1. Please describe your retail store(s). Please provide information regarding number of stores, product mix, target customer, location type (strip center, free standing, urban, rural,etc).
I call Curious Sofa a retail boutique. Our tag line is 'Less Than Serious Surroundings'. We have a mix of casual furnishings, uncommon objects and offbeat gifts. We specialize in new slipcovered furniture, antique casegoods and smalls, vintage chandeliers and lamps, bedding, kitchen products, paper products, bath and beauty, jewelry and seasonal. I feel we have a little something in almost all areas- except baby and pet.
We opened in 2000 in an older building in a downtown location and moved to an outdoor neighborhood shopping center 2 1/2 years ago. We have one store with 3,700 SF in a former GAP location. Our target customer borders on the middle class to higher end as our store is literally on the border of starter homes and million dollar homes.
2. How many years have you owned and operated this store?
I have solely owned and operated Curious Sofa since September 16, 2000.
3. What did you do prior to owning this store? Why did you decide to open the retail store.
My prior career to being a retailer was as a freelance photo stylist for TV, print and film for nearly 20 years. I had burned out on this profession and wanted to take my interest in antiquing, decorating and small business and see if I could run a place of my own exactly the way I choose without any other authority.
4. Please describe what separates your store from other independent retail stores and “big boxes”.
My shop is unique from other independent stores as I make the extra effort to put a professional finish on my store. I (try) to pay attention to EVERY detail. From signage and paint colors to customer service and merchandise. We are often asked if we are a chain and I take that as a compliment because customers can see something is different. I mix our product with many one of a kind antiques as well as the newer items. I am always searching for the artist making unusual gifts or vendors introducing a new line. I also pay very close attention to our color palette, asthetic and displays. Nothing is just sat on a table but careful thought is put into the placement, theme and inspirational 'story' of each item displayed.
We also have an Open House four times a year in which the shop is virtually transformed into an unexpected seasonal display. This has created quite a buzz of anticipation.
Being in a neighborhood center we see a lot of the same faces and they have become friends. We make relationships here and customers prefer to shop somewhere they are recognized.
5. Why are you a successful retailer?
I think there are many ways to define success in retail. You can be successful by just keeping the doors open or you can be successful because you may not owe any money to anyone. Maybe you are a success because your product turns 4-6 times a year or successful because you get a lot of press. Maybe your success is defined because your employees are loyal or your customers keep coming back or you continue to make new ones. You can also be successful because you took the plunge and decided to do this when all the odds were against you and you are still open past the three year mark. But I would like to think Curious Sofa has accomplished the most important part of success- being different.
6. If there was one thing that you would do differently with your store today, and money was no object, what would you change?
Ah! This is the loaded question! If money were no object I would only carry the items I were 100% passionate about.
7. What has been your biggest disappointment as a retailer?
Carrying product I was not 100% passionate about! Having to carry items I would normally not want to carry because there is a demand for it. (ie: wreaths!)
8. What has been your greatest satisfaction as a retailer?
Having the store featured in Country Living Magazine, March 2007.
9. What 3 books have had the greatest impact on your life? Please explain.
The Bible because it is Gods textbook on life (and business).
The Secret because it can change the negative voices in your head.
Wishcraft by Barbara Sher because it helped me define what I wanted.
10. What role do computers play in your professional career? What software products do you regularly use, and how do you use them?
I could NOT run my business without them . It is my #2 addiction in life. It manages, educates, organizes and transforms my business. It keeps me connected, stimulated and proactive. I work on a MAC as I love to do graphics but my staff is on a PC. We bought a horrible POS system when I opened the new store and just recently switched everything to Quickbooks POS and it sings!!! I recommend it to everyone in retail no matter how small. It was the best investment and very easy to learn.
Questions on Your Own ideas:
When answering the following questions, please draw upon specific examples from your career.
11. Please describe what kind of volunteer work you are involved in. Please describe what your role in the volunteer work has been.
Curious Sofa has been downright lousy at any volunteer work. I keep thinking of the day when.... We donate product to local charities often and have done a table for DIFFA and the local Symphony Showhouse. But I long for the day when we can completely furnish a Home for Humanity or donate new sofas to any charity we believe in and never think about the cost of it.
12. Please describe what a “good rep” is to you. Please provide specific example.
A good rep knows my store! She walks around and gets a feel for what I am before she sells me something. She sees how I am different. She listens to my style. She doesn't force products on me or show me fluffy bunnies and fairy ornaments because she can see this is not my thing. Sometimes I just like a rep for her personality. She's easy and not desperate for a sale. She may just leave catalogs and let me look when I have time. She emails me (not calling) because this is what I prefer. Her label with fax number are on every catalog. She doesn't drag a dozen heavy cases and samples into my tiny office. Her books are organized, the pages in tact and wholesale prices are easy to see. She knows something about the line or admits she is still learning. She knows the minimums and dating programs and the story about the maker of all her lines. She gets me the new catalogs ASAP. She solves problems. She makes my life easier!
13. Please describe what a “good vendor” is to you. Please provide specific examples
A good vendor has a pleasant person answering the phone and knows who or where to send my question.
A good vendor has unique products and has a fabulous showroom.
A good vendor ships fast on the requested date, calls about backorders and fixes problems ASAP.
A really good vendor remembers you at Christmas time.
14. Why do you want to volunteer to be on the Action Group in GHTA?
Because it's lonely out there. A small retailer feels he's the only one struggling, trying to figure this all out. Customers think you are rich and having the time of your life and employees think you take everything too seriously.
15. Please describe “one thing” that you would like to change in our industry, and if it changed, how would that impact you and your business.
I wish I could change the customers idea of what style is and the cost of it. Impossible I know, but what an impact it would have on what I carry and what sells.