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Monday, May 25, 2009

Turn your dead inventory into CASH!

Inventory management is a challenge for most Retail Craft Store Owners. Don't let dead inventory put a stranglehold on your cash flow! Buying is the easy part. Unfortunately, we don't score a home run with every purchase. The holiday charms that we thought would be a hit are still on the shelf in January. The pricey skeins of wool yarn that we loved at the trade show have met with a lukewarm response and summer is looming. It happens to the best of us, but dead inventory carries a hefty price tag; it takes up valuable store real estate, ties up your cash, and broadcasts to your customer that your inventory is stale. If inventory has been on your shelf for more than four months it is compromising your cash flow.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Use a little bit of imagination and some elbow grease to turn that stash into cash! Don't simply dismiss the slow movers with a shrug and rationalize that "they will sell eventually" as a recent store owner opined when asked about product that had been around long past its prime. Rather, take an objective look around your store to identify the dead weight. Most of the sluggish merchandise can be separated into three groups:

Low Hanging Fruit--This refers to inventory that is still desirable and thereby easiest to sell. You might simply have over purchased a particular item, or the season is drawing to a close, but there is still demand for the product.

Toxic Waste--Pet rock, anyone? It was great when it was great, but it ain't great anymore. The problem with toxic waste is that it has a tendency to taint all of the merchandise surrounding it by its very presence. The bitter reality is that toxic inventory has no tangible market value. Get it off the shelf....NOW. Donate it to a charity and take the tax deduction. The neon acrylic yarn might be perfect for a preschool art project but it no longer deserves a spot on your shelf. Forget what you paid for it...that was then and this is now. Cut your losses!

Everything Else--This refers to slow moving inventory that is not as attractive as the Low Hanging Fruit, but is not as poisonous as Toxic Waste.

Once you have categorized the inventory that needs to go, it is time to make it happen. The easiest thing to do is to discount it, but you have probably already done that and it still hasn't moved. Consider the following life support measures:

1. Bundle it! Put together specialty "mixes" that includes some hot "current" inventory as well as selections from the Low Hanging Fruit and Everything Else piles. You can put together an assortment by color (all blue beads, for example) or by category (fingering weight yarn) or even by purpose (embroidery embellishment grab bag). Bundles are a favorite with bargain shoppers and allow you to leverage your losses by including some higher margin items to take the sting out of the discount.

2. Have a contest! Challenge your employees to use the marginal merchandise to make up store samples. You know the drill....make it and your customers will copy it. The employee whose design sells the most product wins a prize.

3. Put together a charity raffle! Create a beautiful basket filled with both incredible merchandise and inventory losers and feature it prominently by the cash register. Ask your customers if they want to participate in a fundraiser for XYZ charity. For every dollar donated a raffle ticket will be placed into a fishbowl. At the end of the month a winner will be drawn and half of the money collected will go to the charity, half to cover your costs. It is a win-win and you are doing a good deed, as well. I can see your halo glowing from here!

4. Offer your sales staff a monetary incentive to move the product. Bribery works well with your kids and it will work equally well with your sales team.

5. Discount it! Put it on sale, but do it with creativity, not desperation. There is something "off putting" about a table of obvious rejects. Use some humor and make it fun! Consider putting the Low Hanging Fruit and Everything Else on a table and sell it all by the foot, by the ounce, or however else makes sense. Put beads in a bucket and sell them by the scoop. Some cash is better than no cash and it all adds up!

RETAIL STORE CHALLENGE FOR JUNE: No excuses....Get rid of your dead inventory this month! Procrastination is not an option....December will be here before you know it and then you will have a choice to make: Write off the loss or pay tax on an unmarketable asset. Talk about adding insult to injury! You need to unload the duds but we want to make it fun! Email us with the details of your Dead Inventory Resurrection promotions and five winners will be announced the first week of July. You have a month to unload the baggage and win an embellishment package featuring Swarovski beads and hand dyed silk ribbon!
JUNE PROMOTION IDEAS: Promotions don't need to be complicated. Do something silly! June is National Iced Tea Month....why not offer a fresh glass to your customers throughout the month? Other dates of note:

Perennial Gardening Month
Turkey Lovers’ Month
National Bathroom Reading Month
National Candy Month
National Rose Month
National Safety Month
National Soul Food Month
National Steakhouse Month
Jun. 6-13 Clothesline Week
Jun. 7-13 National Business Etiquette Week
Jun. 14 Flag Day
Jun. 20 Vinegar Day
Jun. 21 Father’s Day
Jun. 21 Summer Begins
Jun. 27 Great American Backyard Campout

ARTIST OF NOTE: It is always fun to spot someone who is mixing media with sophistication and grace. Artist Alyson G combines ribbon and pearls to create the stunning bangle pictured at left. Whether your store is geared to fiber or inspired to attract the cross over crafter!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are you doing what it takes to attract the teen crafter?

Teaching a child to knit, weave, or crochet is a gift that lasts a lifetime. I vividly remember when a kind family friend took the time to teach me to crochet. Armed with a metal crochet hook and a bag of acrylic yarn I made a drawstring granny square purse. I had created SOMETHING from NOTHING and I felt empowered! I attended an "alternative" school ---hey, it was the early 1970's after all---and was able to crochet during class! Heaven. One sad day I accidentally dropped the crochet hook down a storm drain and was was I going to make it through the rest of the day? Fortunately, a boy (who probably went on to invent great things) saved the day. He spit out his gum, grabbed a pencil and combined the two to reach into the drain and rescue the crochet hook. My hero.

Most women I know can recall equally well the day a mother, Nana, or other cherished adult passed down the gift of "hand work." We are living in very busy, "activity infused" times and I have noticed that my 16 year old daughter's friends always gather around to watch when they see me working. Many have never seen anyone knit,crochet or weave beads before.

Fortunately, there seems to be a renewed interest in all things "green" and handmade, and the teen demographic is very much a part of the movement. In fact, a quick search on the popular online knitting group Ravelry reveals 16 "teen" groups! These kids are even publishing patterns and online magazines. are you going to leverage the teen craft market?

VOLUNTEER TO VOLUNTEER! Most high schools have a community service requirement for graduation. Why not combine craft with altruism? A quick google search showed organizations looking for volunteers to provide assistance in the following areas: Quilting, Crochet/Knitting, Beadwork. Another alternative is to help your crafty teens organize a fundraiser....they can make felted dog collars to raise money for the local Humane Society, for example. All they need is space to gather and an adult willing to spend some time teaching them a new skill. Be the mentor and plant the seeds for your future!
OFFER CLASSES THAT TRULY APPEAL TO TEENS! We all do it....we try to pick out clothes for our teens but too often we are met with a shocked response. "How could you ever think that I would wear THAT?!!!!!" Oops. Missed again. It seems that no matter how cool I think I am, 16 is many decades ago. I probably shouldn't be the one to set the agenda for the teen classes. Go to the source and enlist the help of someone who really knows what appeals to a teenager. It isn't you and it isn't me. Trust me. The craft industry has young blood coursing through it right now and that is a good thing! A review of the handwork on the new 1000 Markets site demonstrates that there are some incredibly sophisticated young artists making money with their bead and needlework. Check out what they are making because it is likely to be what your teen market wants to create.

The killer cuff pictured below was created by a Sarah aka The Beaded Lily:

One of the characteristics typical of the Green "upcycled" work of the Indie Art community is the use of salvaged "found objects." It is all about reusing and recycling!

Sarah, a self taught artist, used free form peyote stitch and pieces of vintage watches to create this impressive piece.

Nineteen year old Scarlett Lanson is the brilliant and gifted darling of the bead community. She is a business savvy and visionary young woman who is bringing energy into the field and inspiring other teens to pick up a needle and thread and BEAD!

There is no doubt about it....the teen market is viable and energized. They are eager to learn and willing to craft "outside of the box."

Welcome teens into your might find yourself all the richer....literally and figuratively!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Continuing Craft Education is a MUST for Retailers!

Years ago, in what seems like another life, I was a trial attorney. One of the important aspects of my job as a litigator was to stay on top of my industry through Continuing Legal Education. Most professions require some sort of continuing education to practice that particular trade. Of course, there is no such requirement for the independent craft retailer, although your profitability depends upon it!

You have a responsibility to your store (and to your customers) to stay on top of all of the current craft trends. Are you making the grade? Thumbing through the latest issues of Bead and Button, Quilting Arts, Vogue Knitting or a similar trade magazine is simply not enough. Your customers are using the internet to maximum advantage. They are reading the craft blogs and soaking up new techniques such as altered art image jewelry and paper making, felting, resin jewelry, upcycled clothing, and more. They are exchanging ideas and offering "how to" tutorials. Many of the hot projects feature a blend of several different mediums: fiber with beads, paper with fiber, metal with fiber, and on and on!

I came across a Craftster tutorial on "Free Form Lace scarves" while researching something else entirely and I was so inspired that I stopped what I was doing, dug out my sewing machine, and spent several hours making a much modified version of the project which resulted in the shawl pictured below. The project required yarn, ribbon, thread, beaded embellishment and a sewing machine. My sewing skills are elementary at best yet the endeavor proved easy and rewarding.

My internet research has been inspirational on a creative level and I have recently started to play with a number of mediums I had never dabbled in! However, I have to tell you...finding the supplies has been a challenge. For example, I had to travel to four different stores to find products I needed for the above project: the temporary fabric adhesive was at one store, but they didn't carry the water soluble stabilizer. The next two stores had nothing. I finally found the last item at a combination scrapbooking/quilt store. Whew! I live in a large metropolitan area that has a number of boutique craft stores as well as several big box locations. I too often find that the boutique store owners are completely unaware of the products I am looking for and many of the big box stores are either out of stock or only offer the merchandise on line. There seems to be a real need for retailers to participate in continuing craft education!

I decided to take my research a bit farther to prove out my theory by attending two different Guild meetings this week. The first, a Sewing Guild, was held in a small rural community about an hour away from my home. The level of artistry exhibited during "show and tell" was amazing. The group leader had a Quilting Arts DVD playing as attendees gathered around to learn how to alter fabric with stamps and dye. Attendees had traveled from up to two hours away to attend this bi-monthly event. Clearly, these men and women possessed a real love of crafting and should be a craft store's ideal customer. Sadly, when I asked each person where they got supplies the answer was unanimous: ONLINE. I assumed that price was the issue, but I was quickly set straight....Nope, it seems that few of the products could be obtained from any local retail store. Yet, their projects were of the sort featured almost monthly in many craft magazines and which appear all over the Blogosphere. Truly, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between some retailers and their customer base.

Of course, many retailers are spot on and getting the job done! For example, the second meeting I attended was a Surface Design Guild whose eclectic membership is made up of artists with many passions: beading, weaving, dying, sewing, felting, glass, and beyond. It was a visual and social treat---an opportunity to chat with people who are passionate about the things I enjoy. In fact, I joined the organization and signed up for two workshops. There was one retail store owner in attendance and it was apparent that she has successfully put her finger on the pulse of the art community. Karrie Klement of Fiberologie is involved in orchestrating a gallery show for guild members and her fabric shop offers a sophisticated array of workshops far beyond the quilting norm; rather, she targets the cross-over crafter with classes on felting, apparel design, screen printing, and beyond.

What is an overburdened retailer to do?

Easy! Take some time to see if there are similar guilds in your area! You will learn a great deal about other mediums that will help you market your store, with the added benefit that you will meet people who will enthusiastically spend money in your shop! Some sources to consider: Bead Guilds, Fiber Guilds, and Quilt Guilds. Can't find a guild in your area? It is easy to start one! Consider organizing through or follow the steps outlined in this EHow article.

COMING SOON: Do your store promotions need a shot in the arm? A monthly "Customer Challenge" might be just the cure! This month I am participating in a Fiber Guild challenge that requires participants to create something that includes: a flower, a butterfly, the colors red, yellow, and orange and the number 6. I have a number of ideas cooking and can't wait to see the competition! We are working on a similar concept for our readers....STAY TUNED!

CALL FOR FEEDBACK: Is there a particular challenge that your store is facing right now? We would love to help! Shoot us an email at with the details and we will pow wow with the experts to see what we can do to assist you.

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.