The economy is said to be recovering. The jury is still out on that claim, but whether you are a believer or not, one thing is irrefutable: RETAIL HAS CHANGED AND THERE IS NO GOING BACK! The brick and mortar craft retailer is dealing with a new kind of shopper. Today's Crafty Shopper is much more sophisticated. She gets free "How To" training from online craft sites such as Craftzine, Craftster, and Ravelry. She is able to try new trends, often before you have even heard about them! Moreover, she might not feel the need for a neighborhood crafting community since she can form a circle of crafty friends through blogging and chat rooms. Yup, in the words of Bob Dylan, "the times they are a-changin.'"
The fact that you have a beautiful, well stocked store in a convenient location is no longer a guarantee of success. No location is more convenient to me than my living room couch and I can do plenty of shopping right there in my PJs!
What is the Crafty Retailer to do?
Engage, engage, engage! You will need to captivate your customers to keep their interest and win the sale. Here, in random order, are some proactive steps to take RIGHT NOW to attract new business, keep the old, and have some fun while you are at it:
1. Get active in your community. Join the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, or other civic organization. They are great networking tools and you will feel good for doing good.
2. Empty out your stock room! Make sure that every bit of inventory is ready to sell. One of my favorite customers told me that she had 2 year old stock that has still not made it to the sales floor! It doesn't do you any good to keep stock in a box waiting to be entered into "the system." No excuses.
3. Time is money. Are you paying sales staff to stand around? Don't do it! Slow times should be used to further your agenda. Prepare a "script" and require your staff to get on the phone and call each and every customer in your data base! Talk about an upcoming event or the new class schedule. Tell the MIA customer that you miss her and offer her 10% off her next purchase. Make it a game. Have each employee keep track of the customers she called. The employee who has the highest number of customer store visits wins a cash prize or store credit. I can hear your groans from here. Promise yourself to make three phone calls every single day. Is it fun? NO. Is it effective? Absolutely!
4. Women notice the little details. Keep a well stocked "personal care" basket in your store rest room. The basket should include items such as lotion, aspirin, tampons, mints, etc.
5. Take a close look at your store signage, both interior and exterior. Is it friendly and easy to read? There is something off putting about signs which declare that "shop lifters will be prosecuted" and "restrooms are for customers only." I mean, really! The price for graciousness is small, but the rewards are huge. I remember the days when I shopped with three small children in tow. The shop owner who let my toddler use her restroom won my loyalty for life.
6. Keep a huge umbrella in the stock room and offer to walk customers to theirs car on rainy days.
7. Fun promotion: Offer a standard Rainy Day Discount. Customers get 15% off when it is raining. Put a storm cloud sign in the window when the sale is on in order to give drive by customers a reminder.
8. Send out email newsletters AT LEAST twice a month. Some folks will unsubscribe, but you will make up for it in new business....guaranteed!
9. Now that you have mastered Email, it is time to go after customer Twitter accounts. You can send out quick and easy reminders of store events this way. Tweet, tweet!
10. Ask every single customer if she sells her work. If she does, ask her to teach a class for you. If she doesn't, ask if she would be interested in attending a free class on marketing/selling craft work.
11. Light some candles...aromatherapy works.
12. Play music. A "too quiet" store is disconcerting.
13. Use "bag stuffers" to get the word out. The person manning the register should personally put a sales flyer into the shopping bag of every single customer, every single day. The flyer provides the staff member with the opportunity to talk about the event and serves as a visual reminder to the customer once she gets home.
14. Advertise in your church bulletin.
15. Consider buying shirts with your logo to use as prize giveaways.
16. Call your Realtor friends and ask to put a free gift or a coupon in their new home packages.
17. Be a good neighbor...contact the folks in your strip mall and ask to put coupons in their stores. Offer to reciprocate. The Wine Boutique can offer a Free Bead Class coupon with purchases over $50 and you can offer $10 off a bottle of wine for every purchase over $50.
18. Put a magnetic sign on your car touting your shop. You might as well be your own traveling billboard!
19. ...while we are on the subject of billboards...you are a walking billboard for your store! Make sure that you are well accessorized at work and beyond. The woman who complements your necklace in the elevator is a potential customer. Give her your card and offer her 10% off her first purchase! One of my favorite customers makes it a point to visit tony boutiques when she is dressed to the nines and wearing one of her handmade nuno scarves. The scarves are showpieces which always garner praise. Most store owners fall prey to her evil plan and ask about the scarf, making it easy for her to broach the possibility of a business relationship. She is slowly but steadily adding new wholesale accounts to her business.
20. Take some of your dead inventory, gather up customer volunteers to assist you, and teach a class at the local senior center. You will get rid of inventory that hasn't moved and your customers will feel good about themselves and about you. Win-win.
21. You can do the same thing at the local Children's home. When it comes to charity attention, the babies always get the focus, while the less adorable teens get the shaft. Make it your business to teach a teen to knit or crochet, if only for an afternoon. You know the comfort that crafting has provided you...give that gift to someone who can really use it!
22. Collect unwanted craft supplies to donate to the senior center or the Children's Home. Let the press know what you are doing so that you can collect on a larger scale and make a bigger impact. The fact that you get nice publicity is an added plus.
23. Join an adopt-a-highway program.
24. Host a blood drive at your store.
25. Donate slow moving product to the local high school Home Ec department and offer to teach a class. Hand out coupons for the kids to bring home!
26. Write handwritten notes to customers to thank them for their business, congratulate them on a promotion, etc. Don't just file this away under "something you know you should do"....DO IT!
27. Consider honoring the dreaded Michael's/JoAnn's 40% off coupon. It is only good for one regular priced item so it shouldn't be too traumatizing. No need to reinvent the wheel....it is working for the big boys, it might work for you!
28. Consider putting one category on sale every day (or every week), and only advertise it via Twitter. Your customers will give up their Twitter names more readily when they understand what is in it for them! 10% off all red yarn on Day 1, with 15% off all patterns on Day 2, etc. makes your place the destination of choice for crafter's in the mood for some retail therapy.
29. Keep fresh flowers by the register.
30. Food is ALWAYS a plus. Make every Wednesday cupcake day.
31. Make your displays interesting. You are in the fantasy business...you cannot afford boring and humdrum. Clean and tidy is not good enough. One shop who has set the bar very high is Suzie Q Beads of Calgary. Her displays are memorable and her color choices make for a vibrant and creative environment. Who wouldn't want to play here?
32. Be innovative. If you are not innovative, find the trendsetters and follow them closely. You know who the leaders in your genre are...and if you don't, spend a few hours researching online and you will figure it out fast. Look at their websites and see what products they are carrying and what sort of classes they are offering. Where do you measure up?
33. Spend a few hours surfing the internet every week. You need to keep on top of the trends because your customers have access to the same internet search engines. They know what is going on "out there" so it is critical that you be even better informed. I have found that a simple google blog search using craft terms quickly brings me to the sites I need to know about! Similarly, a google image search is a powerful tool to "see" what is out there.
34. Schedule some holiday Make and Take Classes. Search the web for some easy crafts that will use existing inventory where possible. Jamie Chan of Urban Fauna Studio has a gift tag idea that is too cute not to pass along. I had some fun in the studio this week-end working on the easy felted soaps pictured below. Each bar used only a bar of soap, 10 grams of fiber and a few beads. The felt covering acts as a washcloth and the flower embellishments can be snipped off and recycled into a pin. Click here for the directions.
Consider a cute crochet Holiday Wreath Pin. Its diminutive size makes it a quick and easy project that can be embellished with beads.
35. Take some chances, but limit your risk. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Take a chance by pushing your personal boundaries. For example, pick up the phone and make that customer phone call. Limit your risk by protecting your financial exposure. For example, do not use your personal credit cards to purchase inventory. I can hear you laughing. Everyone uses their personal cards to purchase inventory. Nope. Not everyone. Small business owners do and it is risky. It will keep you up at night. Get rid of your dead inventory and pay off that credit card. Start limiting your exposure...you will sleep better.
36. Form an alliance with other business owners. It gets tiresome fighting the world all by yourself! Network with others who are similarly situated and the journey will be easier. It is great to be able to ask another retailer how many turns she gets on a particular product category or how she handled having to lay off a loyal employee. Many Bead Shop owners have enjoyed the camaraderie of the Local Bead Store Alliance. Ravelry has a group specifically for small business owners.
37. Take some time to recharge your batteries. Worry is exhausting and try as you might, you simply cannot control the economy. Play in your studio, play with your kids, play with the dog, and don't forget to play with your significant other. Rekindle your passion for your craft AND for your customers...the business success will follow!
11 months ago