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Friday, April 24, 2009

Welcome to The Crafty Retailer!

Welcome to the first edition of The Crafty Retailer, a blog aimed at the independent Retail Craft Store Owner. These are challenging times for many independent craft retailers...a flagging economy and intense internet competition make it critical for the shop owner to step up her game at the same time that inventory dollars are more scarce, the payroll budget is shrinking, and day to day responsibilities are on the rise.

. What is the overburdened retailer to do?

One thing you should not do is lower your prices in an attempt to compete with the online discounter or the shifty competitor three blocks away. A customer base that is built solely on price guarantees a customer base that is loyal only to price. You will set yourself up for disaster as you do nothing but trade dollars in a mad effort to keep the doors open. Yuck. Been there, done that. It is neither productive nor profitable. Better to focus on the factors that will create loyal customers who look to you for inspiration and a memorable retail experience, despite the higher price point.

So, how do you do that?

First, take a deep breath. Next, pour yourself a nice big glass of wine. Are you ready to think outside of the box? Good! Take a look at your store calendar. Have you planned your shop promotions for the next quarter? I am always a bit surprised by how many retailers ignore this part of the business. A promotion does not necessarily mean a deeply discounted sale. Retailers are often too quick to give away profit margin when they don't have to do so.
Instead, focus on the shopping experience. The savvy retailer will schedule one "big" promotion and several mini promotions every single month! The main promotion might be a Trunk Show, a wine and cheese "Gallery night" showcasing customer creations, or a Shop Hop with other area craft stores, just to name a few. The mini promotions are easy....ladies night out, stitch and bitch, etc. One of the most painless yet productive events we hosted when we owned our retail bead store was a weekly brown bag lunch tutorial, where we focused on a new bead weaving stitch every month. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial as we all learned together. Our seed bead inventory went from a pathetic bin of vials to a colorful room filled with them as the demand grew easily and naturally

Promotions need not involve a big expense...creativity and a sense of humor will carry you far! Patty Strong, of
Mountain Beadworks, told me about a last minute brainstorm she conceived when her sales needed a shot in the arm: email invitations were sent to the 1500 people on her mailing list. The event? A birthday party for her two golden retrievers, much loved store mascots. She served puppy themed foods such as hot dogs and animal crackers, discounted all "golden" beads, had party favors and balloons and offered an extra discount to any shopper who remembered to bring a doggie treat for the celebrants! She reported record numbers of customers, and best of all, her highest sales day ever! Her customers got caught up in the game and wanted to play along. Patty's playful aesthetic is further evidenced by her bead gumball machine, pictured at left! This concept can easily be adapted to feature buttons or other inexpensive baubles.

Advertise your promotions by preparing a "Bag Stuffer," a colorful flyer that is placed into every bag at the point of sale. Make sure that the employee manning the register knows to talk about the event as she shows the flier to the customer before placing it in the shopping bag.
The ability of your staff to engage your clientele to "buy in" to the event will determine the degree of its success. We want to hear about your most successful store promotions! Big or small, large budget or not, share your experience! All participants will be in the running for a random drawing. The prize? A copy of The E Myth, a valuable handbook for the small business owner, by Michael E. Gerber. If you find yourself constantly chasing your tail, putting out fires, and losing sight of your objectives before lunch, this book is for you!