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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Curb Appeal isn't just about selling houses!

Does your shop have curb appeal? The housing market is painful right now, and real estate brokers everywhere are focusing on the need to improve curb appeal if a buyer wants to stand out in a competitive market. You know how it is….that patch of dying grass on your lawn has been there so long that it has become virtually invisible to you, but it shines like a beacon to someone interested in a new home with a beautiful garden.

The same is true for the specialty craft retail store! Does your store have curb appeal? Sometimes it is hard to be charming in the midst of a strip center, but it is possible! A creative window display offset by flower infused window boxes will make your shop a welcome respite from the average hum drum retail store. If you are lucky enough to have a stand alone location for your business, your creative possibilities are much more expansive! Are you proud of your first impression? Please send us a picture to share your success.

How does your shop measure up to the fantasy that exists in your head? Get to work earlier than usual one morning and make sure to bring your digital camera with you. Look around you with a fresh and objective eye. Take photographs…the pictures might shock you. Are there visible boxes spilling out of your stock room? Is the paint job stale? Is the stock dusty? Is your signage clear and easy to read? Is it welcoming?

I was recently in a fabric shop that had a very large sign on the front door that listed the shop hours. So far, so good. There was another sign that spelled out all of the items that were not allowed in the shop: No Food, No Drinks, and No Cigarettes. OK, so the owner felt the need to set some boundaries. It struck me as a little much, but what really bowled me over was the third and final sign written in large, bold letters which read “NO SMALL CHILDREN ALLOWED.” Huh? What a welcome! There were so many “Don’ts” that I didn’t have high expectations when I walked through the door. My instincts were right on…the owner was a pinched face, rather uptight woman who probably had a well organized closet at home, but had very little flair for customer service. It didn’t surprise me to learn that she was planning to close her shop.

Alternatively, I recently

had an opportunity to visit an incredible boutique in Manhattan. My 16 year old daughter Rachel and I were experiencing a “girls only week-end” which included a Broadway show and lots of shopping. We had been walking for much of the day and were both tired, hungry and moving quickly toward grumpy. We decided to hail a cab at the corner and happened to pass by a shop that had an eye catching window display. There was not much opportunity for the shop owner to differentiate her shop from thousands of others and the window was small, but it was used to maximum advantage! Rachel and I did not speak as the window made the decision for us! We turned and walked in, exhaustion quickly replaced by SHOPPER EXHILARATION! Our feet no longer hurt, lunch could wait---we had our second wind!

The shop was a trendy establishment that offered a wide variety of clothing, shoes, and jewelry that held significant appeal to both of us. The prices were uncomfortably high, but I had anticipated the temptation and had established a budget for both my daughter and myself in an effort to avoid trouble with my husband upon our return home the next day. I reminded Rachel of our shopping limits and we quickly got down to business. The shop was beautifully appointed with tasteful displays, the lighting was impeccable, the music was cheerful, and, best of all, every mirror was a skinny mirror! Paradise! We were happily gathering items to try on and suddenly a shop employee appeared at my side. She had a beautiful smile and was enthusiastic, gracious, stylish and a heck of a saleswoman. She had taken the time to observe the sort of clothing that was attracting me and had pulled a number of pieces that she thought I might like and put them aside. After she hustled me into a dressing room she repeated the performance with my daughter, discussing music, jewelry, and current events as she continued to bring age appropriate/color appropriate selections for us to try on. I tried on a pair of jeans that needed high heels, but I was walking around in flip flops…no worries….the smart sales woman had thought ahead and brought a pair of sexy stilettos that did the trick. It is no surprise that I bought them!

Both my daughter and I were captivated….by the store, by the sales woman, by the entire shopping experience. Needless to say, we blew the budget and left the shop many dollars poorer, but richer for the experience. My husband might argue the point, but he does love the stilettos!

Does your sales staff measure up? Sure, there are some people who were born to sell. Our New York saleswoman probably never needed any coaching…it is in her blood. However, most incredible sales associates get there through training! Many store owners, particularly women, seem to find it difficult to say with specificity what they require of their employees. The desire to be perceived of as nice often supersedes the need for clear communication and employees are left without direction. I have been the employee who did not adequately understand the boss’s wishy washy, poorly defined expectations and I have been the boss uncomfortable with giving orders. Both positions are equally unpleasant, but only one cost me money! If you find yourself giving mixed signals to your sales staff, it is time to train the trainer! Need more information? Check out this great article by sales consultant Sam Manfer.

I recently called upon a shop owner who got up to answer the phone five times during our brief conversation. I watched her work the register and stop repeatedly to answer the phone, annoying almost every single customer trying to check out. This owner was not understaffed. She even had a portable phone that could have been given to the gal positioned idly by the “yarn winding station.” This owner simply had not done a good job training the staff to “own the phone.” Whenever she was interrupted by the telephone she became more flustered, taking longer each time to get back to the original task at hand. She grew frustrated that her sales staff failed to take the initiative to deal with the ringing phone. The sales team was clearly oblivious and totally unaware of the owner’s expectations. Ouch!

Communication is critical. If you want to create a change or make a new policy…put it in writing. Draft a memo to post in the break room, and discuss it at the weekly sales meeting to make it official! It is imperative to get your team to buy in to the system in order to feel personally invested in the success of the shop. Hold formal meetings or informal brainstorming sessions on a weekly or biweekly basis to focus on promotion ideas and sales initiatives. If your team is a part of the process then each member will have a better understanding of her role in meeting the goals of the team! Ask your staff what they would do if they owned the store…you might be surprised by the answers.

A good sales person is worth her weight in gold. She will know your product line as well as you do, will enjoy crafting so that she can engage your clientele, will be personable and chatty without becoming cloying. She will take direction, but retain initiative, even offering suggestions to improve the process where appropriate. She will up sell at every opportunity and will make every customer feel like a valued friend. Does your staff make the grade?

Tell us about your sales floor MVP! We want to hear the details! What special role has your key sales associate played in a recent success story? Every contribution will be entered into a drawing for a gift package valued at $25 for both you AND your team member!

Congratulations to last week’s winner! Scarlett Lanson of The Beader’s Muse, will be receiving a copy of The E Myth by Michael E. Gerber. Check out Scarlett’s website for some inspirational eye candy! This amazing beader is only 19 years old and possesses an enviable design aesthetic. Her work is extraordinary.


  1. Pat,
    I want to take a moment and thank you for writing this blog! As a store owner it is great to hear idea's from others that have worked well for them and I love to hear about your experiences. Keep up the good work.
    Kelly Dale
    Off The Beaded Path
    Forest City North Carolina

  2. hi Pat...
    visiting via Scarlett today..
    so glad we popped in..

    mona & the girls

  3. I'm not and hopefully will never be in the position where I call these kind of shots-- but as a consumer I'm with you every single step of the way. Nice article!