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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Transform your retail store in a RETAIL DESTINATION by mastering the three "E's": ENGAGEMENT, ENTERTAINMENT, and EDUCATION!

These are interesting times for those in retail. Retail sales were down 5.2% during the first week of December as compared to the first week in November.  No doubt about it....Craft store owners face a bad economy and competitors who appear willing to discount themselves into bankruptcy.  Ouch.  On the other hand, the Customer Service bar is now set so low that a savvy retailer can use ingenuity and discipline to turn herself into a Retail Rock Star.  Prepare for success by mastering the "3 E's" of Craft Retail:  ENGAGEMENT, EDUCATION and ENTERTAINMENT.  This week's post will tackle engagement and education, while next week we wrestle the entertainment gorilla.

Engagement is the easiest to master, yet many retailers fail to adequately grasp its significance.  Big Box retailers are notoriously weak in this area, providing the Indie Craft Store with the perfect opportunity to SHINE.  You have a clean, well lit store which is staffed by pleasant, knowledgeable employees.  You have won half the battle already!  Now you must bring customer service to a higher level by seeking to truly engage with each customer.  Engagement goes far beyond greeting  people as they walk through the door and maintaining a friendly demeanor.  Rather, it is about affirmatively forging  a genuine connection with everyone
who enters your shop.  Imagine seeing the same woman at a cocktail party.  You would put your best foot forward, going out of your way to find some common ground.

Fortunately, you already have some common ground...the customer is clearly interested in crafting or she wouldn't have walked into your store.  Now you need to build on it!  Ask questions and see how much you can learn:  Who is she?  What brought her to your store?  Does she have other craft interests?  What are her crafty dreams?  Does she harbor a desire to open an Etsy Store?  Does she aspire to display her work in galleries or is she happiest creating gifts for friends and family?  Where does she learn new techniques?  Does she read craft blogs? Which ones?   How has the internet influenced her work?  Is she a member of online craft forums?   This sort of information is very valuable because (1) It helps to define your customer, which helps you refine your business plan (online vs print ads, this product vs that product, blogs to read for your own education,etc.) and (2) you will create a true relationship with this customer, making it more likely that she will become emotionally invested in you and your store.

You are not interrogating a witness and you want to exercise some finesse.  However, it has been my experience that while consumers resent pushy sales people, they relish conversation about a shared interest.  Your customer might be an attorney, a teacher or an executive assistant during the hours from nine to five, but you can bet that her occupation is not how she defines herself.  We humans are passionate about our hobbies, however outlandish or mundane they might appear to others.  Those happy hours at the spinning wheel, potting table, are what center us!  They give us power and joy---pretty heady stuff.  Focus on that passion and watch the transformation:  she will become more animated and her eyes will sparkle as she talks about her latest knitting project or the necklace she is making for her daughter.  She will leave feeling warm and fuzzy about you AND your wonderful store and you will feel pretty good, too!  

The bottom line:  Never forget that you are in the dream business.  The woman who knits baby booties for her pregnant daughter is dreaming with each stitch...wistfully remembering her little ones of yesteryear and planning for fun times ahead.  The young woman crafting jewelry for a friend's wedding party is dreaming, too.  Maybe this will be the start of something big!  Maybe she can turn her love for design into a business....and so on and so on.  Yes, you are definitely in the dream business and a successful retailer will identify and facilitate the dream for each person who walks in the store.  The more that you know about your customer, the easier your job will be and the more profitable you will become!


Education is important on two levels:  First, you must keep up with industry trends in order to stay relevant.  If you don't know about it, you can't sell it.  You are the Fashionista of the Crafty World---YOU MUST KNOW WHAT IS HOT!  You gain this knowledge by reading industry magazines and spending at least two hours per week on the internet.  The Google "image" search engine is a priceless tool and a great time saver.  Another hint:  find some blogs that you like and then go through their "recommended links."  You will be amazed and inspired by all of the extraordinary work that is being done all across the globe.  This sort of research can be a pleasant respite from your other duties and you might find that it invigorates you and sparks creativity.  Another hint:  read every craft magazine that you can get your hands on, not just the specific few targeting your store customers.  There is a whole lot of "cross over crafting" going on and you need to leverage it.  Slow sales might be a result of  client boredom and perhaps it is time for you to show your customers that you can do more with beads than string a necklace, more with yarn than crochet a sweater, etc.

It is no coincidence that the most successful indie craft stores are those that offer the most versatile and exciting class selections.   These business people know how to keep their customers coming back for more!  If I already know how to knit and the only classes that you offer are socks and old lady sweaters, then I am not going to be inspired by them.  Similarly, once I have mastered the basics of bead stringing, I want to see more on the agenda than  complex versions of what I already know...I can figure them out by looking at the design.  I want help learning the new stuff and so do your customers!

For example, cold connection metal work is very popular in jewelry making right now.    The lovely cuff at left was crafted by lawyer-turned-metal artist Lynn Ballinger.  The technique is also used by those who scrap book, make art journals, altered books, mixed media artwork and beyond.  It is a versatile skill and could lead to a new group of cross over customers.  The craft magazines and  forums are all over it, and the entry bar is low.  That is, the line could be added for a relatively small amount of money, the learning curve is minimal, and it will sell existing product...the perfect "add on" line for a bead store.  The Winter 2010 issue of  Bead Unique Magazine has a wonderful tutorial on the subject.  I see it taught all over the country by community art guilds and in private workshops, but  many  bead store owners are completely ignoring it.   I have been told that is because "No one has asked for it."  Huh?  Please do not assume that your customers are only interested in the product you currently have on the floor or that they will go up to you and ask about product they do not see.  It is more likely that they will simply leave and order online, leaving you to wonder why your sales have diminished.  Remember, it is your job to ENGAGE your customer to find out what interests them.  Crafty education is critically important so that neither you, nor your store, become stale.

One way to get up to speed very quickly is to bring in some NATIONAL TALENT.  Shopkeepers who bring in internationally known instructors generate big buzz and cement a reputation as the "go to resource" for crafty inspiration.  It is easy to find fabulous instructors...just check out who is teaching workshops at the big industry trade shows such and TNNA, The Quilt Market, and Bead & Button.  A visit to the teacher's website will give you a list of workshops, past and present, making it easy to check out some references.  It is always helpful to talk to another shop owner who has "been there and done that" to get some tips and helpful hints.

Shopkeepers fail to consider the possibility of such a workshop because they assume that it is not economical.  The facts generally prove otherwise, particularly if you use a bit of imagination and employ outside of the box thinking.  Get a teacher who is willing to spend  two days, which creates an opportunity to teach up to four different workshops.  You can charge $95 to $125 dollars per session and instructors will work with you to include as many students as is practical in an effort to enhance profitability. Consider bringing in a multifaceted instructor whose resume would be appealing to Cross Over Crafters, so that you could align with a non-competing shop owner.  For example, Carol Cypher is a name that is well known to both fiber and bead enthusiasts.  She is an internationally acclaimed instructor who has published many books that are considered to be industry staples.  Frankly, it was a picture of one of her beautiful felted jewelry pieces that first drew me to fiber!  My personal copy of  Hand Felted Jewelry and Beads is tattered from years of loving perusal.

Carol recently told me that it was quite common for bead stores and yarn stores to join forces to "co-host" a workshop with her.  It is a win-win!  Both stores get to benefit from the promotion, the expense becomes more palatable, and by exchanging contact lists for advertising purposes they will increase their customer base!  Carol is a gifted teacher with an incredibly generous spirit.  She charges a daily fee, as well as travel and accommodation expenses, all of which will easily be covered via tuition fees.  Schedule a workshop with her and watch the magic unfold!  You will be sure to reap a multitude of benefits...financially AND creatively!

Don't stagnate, INNOVATE!

Other News:
MARKETING TIP:  Newsletters play a very important role in customer engagement.  Email newsletters that are transparent sales tool have a lower open rate than those offering  helpful information or fun factoids in addition to the sales pitch.  Toward that end, here is something to share in your next newsletter:

Carol Cypher is a talented cook.  In fact, she worked as a professional chef for 22 years before she morphed into a full time artist/teacher/author.  She recently gave me the following cake recipe, which I made for my family this week.  It is absolutely delicious, incredibly easy, and requires few ingredients...perfect for the busy holiday season!

Carol Cypher's Chocolate Decadence Cake:

12oz bag of great quality dark chocolate
4 room temperature eggs
3 tablespoonsful butter
springform pan or 10" disposable aluminum "take-out" container with straight sides, greased and floured
425 degree oven

1. melt the chocolate in a large bowl over boiling water
2. stir in the butter until smooth
3. separate the eggs: stir, ONE AT A TIME, the yolks unto the warm melted chocoate while beating the whites until stiff but not dry in an electric mixer.
4. Fold the stiff whites into the warm chocolate egg mixture rapidly
5. pour into pan
6. bake for 15 minutes in the hot oven.

The cake will look underdone and may have a crack or two. C'est la vie. It is more of a souffle than a cake so forgive and get on with it. Whip some cream with a little vanilla extract and sugar to serve on each wedge (plus it covers the cracks;)
In the summer time I like to cook fresh mint leaves on the stove in a pan of cream for half an hour or so. Strain and chill the cream before whipping and sweetening it to serve with the chocolate decadence cake.

I NEED YOUR HELP!   I am doing some research and would like to speak with Craft Store Owners who fly partner, no full time sales help.  If you are one of those ultra independent crafty retailers, please drop me an email....I want to talk to you! 

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