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Monday, June 29, 2009

Smart Retailers will use Social Media to enhance Marketing and Customer Service!

Twitter, and Facebook and MySpace...OH MY! Digg this, Stumble that....the vast technology that is available to those of us brave enough to jump in can be very daunting. Seriously...who Tweets? Who can even say "Tweet" with a straight face? Everybody, apparently! Yup, it seems that the whole world is Twittering!

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Many businesses are successfully using social media outlets to drive business, increase revenue, and improve customer service. Of course, one can have a successful retail craft store without going viral, but it makes sense to at least consider the possibilities. After all, the internet provides the ability to connect with gazillions (technical term!) of potential customers for very little financial investment. Communication has changed and there is no going back.

This point was brought home during a recent visit from my college age son and his girlfriend. The family was gathered around the television after dinner and EVERY SINGLE PERSON--Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter, Girlfriend--all had laptops. We were fully engaged in making fun of the television show ("So You Think You Can Dance"), laughing and talking together while tapping away on the keyboards. Daughter was simultaneously on Facebook and MySpace while researching used cars, College Age Son was working on his website (income producing, notes proud mom), Son's Girlfriend was shopping for a dress, Dad was on Facebook much to embarrassment of his children, and Mom was researching for her blog. Happy family, circa 21st century. If you are under thirty five or are the parents of teenagers, you probably recognize this as the new normal.

The fact is, the top ten highest trafficked sites on the internet include Blogger, You Tube, MySpace and Facebook---all social media outlets. It seems that most humans stay connected to one another via the internet. One need look only to the recent news coming out of Iran despite a media black out. Iranian citizens were able to send out images and information via cell phones and Twitter accounts to demonstrate to the world what was happening in their country. The change is powerful and it is here to stay.

So how can you leverage the technology? Start with baby steps! Many stores are using Twitter to keep their customers current as to sales, new product, etc. Twitter is a way to keep folks updated as to what is going on in your life. The message is limited to 140 characters, enough for a quick update, with points for creativity. For example, I just googled "bead twitter" and got a plethora of information from a number of tech savvy bead retailers touting their current bead promotions. The cost to them? Zip, zero, nada. Impact for them? Probably pretty high. A store savvy enough to post regularly on Twitter is also savvy enough to provide Twitter contact info to its customer base. Consumers under the age of 40 are clued in to Twitter and will "follow" any Twitter account worthy of attention.

An example of a brilliant use of Twitter as a customer service tool was illustrated recently by Raymon De Leon of Chicago. Raymon owns a number of Dominoes pizza franchises and was alerted via a Twitter service that there had been a complaint regarding a delivery from one of his stores. In the old days an unhappy customer might complain to a friend or two. These days a disappointed customer can complain--vociferously and within seconds--to thousands of people. Raymon got the Twitter alert and immediately responded to the customer via video. His apology was sincere and timely and he got invaluable publicity as a result. It was a win - win! The customer was happy with the new pizza and Raymon was thrilled with the media attention.

A non threatening, low impact way to use social media is to sign up for every industry newsletter you possibly can. There is no need to reinvent the wheel! Google the term "yarn store," "bead shop," "retail scrapbook," etc. for a treasure trove of information. Most stores today have a web presence and offer a monthly newsletter. Set up a hotmail, yahoo, or gmail account for the sole purpose of receiving newsletters. You will recieve a priceless education as a result: class ideas, stimulating promotions, killer websites, etc. I am always impressed by the creativity and ingenuity that I see online.

Blogging is another way to dip your toe into the social media pool. It is cathartic, fun, and can definitely have a positive impact on your cash flow. Face it...if you are doing things right, your customers become your friends. They like having a little window into your personal life and want to know what is new and exciting with your business....so tell 'em! Case in point...I have recently started to work with a talented young Spinner in Arizona. She is working with me to develop a new yarn line. I only met her once, but I instinctively liked her and got good vibes from her. But hey...my gut has been wrong before. Fortunately, I have been able to get to know her even better by reading her blog. She has opened an electronic window and let me in. I read a hilarious post about the antics of her three year old and it not only brought back warm and fuzzy feelings about my own naughty boys from yesteryear, the blog has enabled me to get to know the character of this woman and I know my instincts are correct. I feel comfortable conducting business with her.

I am new to Blogging and found the concept intimidating. Accordingly, I was thrilled to discover Diane Gilleland's new E-Book, Making a Great Blog, which is geared specifically toward Crafty Blogs. Her practical advice is invaluable and made the process much less daunting for me. In fact, I have become such a believer that I want YOU to let go of your inhibitions and give Blogging a try! We will draw a name from those who comment on any Crafty Retailer post from June 30 through July 31 and the lucky winner will receive a copy of Diane Gilleland's Book!

Don't be afraid of the new technology...embrace it! You don't want to turn into one of "those" people....you know the ones I mean....those folks who are so afraid of change that they miss out on incredible opportunities! Ride the technological wave and see where it brings you and your business!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Use a Marketing Calendar to Beat the Recession into Submission!

More than a few businesses have posted signage which declares that they have chosen "not to participate" in the recession. Hmmm ... I get it .... I think. Such optimistic bravado is an attempt to push past the negative news that we read in the newspapers and hear on the nightly news. Good in theory, but not particularly effective in the real world.

If I choose not to participate on a diet I generally find myself with jeans that don't fit. If I choose not to participate in the discipline of my children, I wind up with spoiled brats. Ignoring reality does not make it go away, regardless of the rosy tint of your glasses! People are losing jobs, belts are tightening across the nation and many folks simply don't have a choice about participating in the recession! It's here. Rather than ignore the recession, beat it into submission!

Unemployment numbers in my home state are at the highest level in 35 years, and yet many retailers are thriving. Are they the lucky few? Nahhhh! It has been my experience that the harder I work, the luckier I get! I am sure that the same is true for those "lucky" shop owners. Is it true for YOU? You have great product, you have wonderful employees, but the economy might be taking its toll.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Create a Marketing Calendar and do some event planning! NO EXCUSES, NO MORE DELAY. Promotions are the life blood of a successful retail store. A marketing calendar is a versatile document that will help you keep track of your promotional objectives by outlining what is going on and where you should turn your attention next. You do not need any fancy software; rather, you can use an excel spreadsheet or a word document. Simply break the next 6 months into four week blocks and plan at least one activity for each week of each month. The activity can be relatively passive (a book club knit-a-long) or a more monumental event (a wine and cheese product launch). Your marketing calendar might include the following columns: Week, Event Name, Description of Event, Date of Event, Projected Cost, Advertising/Promotion plan, and Event Critique. This detailed event log will prove invaluable over the months as you endeavor to refine and improve your promotional savvy. Send me an email at TheCraftyRetailer@GMail.com and I will send you a copy of the spreadsheet I use!

Need some inspiration? Joyce Rapezzi of My Craft Room in Troy, Michigan knows how to get it done, despite living in a state with a 14% unemployment rate. The upscale craft store showcases beads, yarn, cardmaking, and more. Joyce has owned the store for six years and works hard to attract the "Cross Over" Crafter. She knows that the woman who comes in to buy yarn probably has a smattering of other craft projects in the works and she wants to get her share of that creative dollar too! My Craft Room has a number of promotional events in the works at all times. Some of my favorites:

Free Classes for the Unemployed: If a customer or her spouse has lost a job within the last year, Joyce encourages her to come in and take some classes at no cost. Moreover, all class materials are provided FOR FREE and information on selling home made crafts on sites such as Etsy is passed along to attendees. In addition to providing a much needed boost to someone who probably needs it, Joyce has garnered some priceless publicity for her efforts.

Customer's Garage Sale: This one is brilliant! Customers are encouraged to bring their gently used craft supplies to the store for a "Garage Sale." Each customer is assigned a number and as sales are rung up during the event, they are recorded appropriately. Upon the conclusion of the sale the participants are awarded a store gift certificate for the amount of their sales.

Big Bag Event: Customers are offered 25% off of everything they can fit into the "big bag." If the bag breaks, the deal is off!

Yarn Tasting: New Yarns are displayed in Cocktail glasses, food and beverages are served, and a good time is had by all!

Christmas in July: No explanation needed! The time is now....get this promotion scheduled as there are holiday gifts to be made! There are only six months left until Christmas....pick one week next month to decorate the store, wear your jingle bell earrings, turn down the air conditioner, and serve up some hot chocolate!

Corny? Yup! Effective? Yup!

RETAIL STORE CHALLENGE FOR JUNE: You have one more week left to tell us how you are RESURRECTING DEAD INVENTORY and turning it into CASH! 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!

ETHICAL QUESTION FOR RETAILERS: A customer told me a story recently that got me thinking....it seems that she had scheduled a trunk show with a popular vendor and had spent a significant amount of money promoting the event. Cards had been mailed, e-mails had been sent, and phone call reminders made. The big week-end came and went with dismal sales. It seems that her competitor had learned of the event and decided to put all of that vendor's product on sale in her store at 50% off. My customer was frustrated and disappointed. What do you think of her competitor's actions? Fair or foul? Would you do it? Let us know your thoughts!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TNNA lessons: Great shop displays will attract attention and increase sales!

The National Needle Arts Trade Show has come and gone...what an incredible learning opportunity! The retail shop attendees were enthusiastic and eager to do business. We had a vendor booth and went with the intent to introduce our latest product line and make some contacts. Order taking was not part of our plan; rather, we envisioned an opportunity to meet and greet while testing the market for our new kits and embellishments. The retail shops would have none of it! They saw innovative product and they were ready to buy.

Those with whom we spoke were exc
ited about the state of their businesses and were weathering the economic storm nicely. They were seeking out new markets and working hard to attract the Cross Over Crafter to their retail establishments. This was our first experience with the TNNA show, and according to show staffers, the numbers were down about 10% from the previous year. Maybe so, but we did not feel the pain! Of course, there were plenty of denim vested, duck appliqued grannies (not that there is anything wrong with that!) who were not interested in anything outside their comfort zone, but there were many others who were eager to learn about a different segment of the DIY market. It was very cool to see, and a heck of a lot of fun!

We recently added a new product line featuring hand dyed luxury wool and silk top for felting and spinning. We had a tiny booth and needed to get some attention directed our way in the midst of some spectacular (and expensive) well established displays. In the days before the show I was out feeding the chickens (who reside in Cluckingham Palace, pictured at left) and pondering the booth dilemma when inspiration struck! Chicken Wire! Yup, chicken wire was the answer to my prayers.

I hit all of the local thrift stores
---and managed to catch two of them on their 50% off day---to stock up on wooden picture frames. I painted them black and replaced the glass with chicken wire. I was able to weave the beautiful roving in and out of the chicken wire to create an eye catching "art gallery" of fiber.It was easy to make, inexpensive to ship, and we did it all for under $30. The same concept would work equally well in a retail store to display a yarn sample, beaded necklace, or fabric.

The always innovative Pick Up Sticks had a spectacularly fun "Bake Shop/Ice Cream Parlor" Theme. It was adorable...beautiful apron adorned attendants serving up ice cream inspired balls of yarn. Cute, cute, cute and most important....MEMORABLE! Even the most exhausted shopper will remember where to go for knitted felt kits!

We were equ
ally inspired by some of the awesome folks that we had an opportunity to meet! It was a personal thrill to have an opportunity to spend some time with my felting hero, Carol Cypher. Carol has written a number of extraordinary books and if you have any desire to learn the ancient craft of felting, you will need to add two of her books to your library: Hand Felted Jewelry and Beads and How We Felt. In addition to serving as an ambassador for Tulip Company, Ltd., Carol was nice enough to take some time to teach me the intricacies of bead crochet.

The Fun
Shop Owner Award goes to Steven Berg of The Yarn Garage. We first noticed him at the end of the long first day and watching him was like a breath of fresh air. He was dressed like a rock star and looked like Rod Stewart's cooler younger brother. I had an opportunity to meet Steven and his mother, Christa, on the last day of the show. What a treat! The man is charismatic and passionate about fiber. His enthusiasm is contagious and I can only imagine what fun it is to be a Yarn Garage customer. Steven co-owns the shop with his sister, Monika. His mother was a hoot....as she left the booth she looked back at me and said "I know that you see a lot of people. If you can't remember Steven, you will certainly remember me. I am the old lady who knits." Too funny. Forget Steven? AS IF! Special kudos to The Yarn Garage---those folks know how to use technology and social media to promote their store brand. Check out Steven's Facebook and the store blog to see how it is done!

Cool New Product Update:
I couldn't leave the TNNA show without snagging a KNIT KIT. This is one of those items that makes your knitting life so easy that you can't imagine what took so long for someone to invent it! It is the Swiss Army Knife of knitting accessories and retails for $19.95. The product launched in March 2009 and the company has already sold 30,000 units! It has a built in measuring tape, scissors and more....perfect for the cross over crafter!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Customer Service in the age of Shoppertainment!

I opened my retail craft store about ten years ago. There was only one similar store in my area and the owner had a well earned reputation as a curmudgeon. The staff was comprised of family members and each seemed grumpier than the next. It wasn’t difficult to steal customers from this store. Heck, all I needed to do was refrain from snarling and I was ahead of the game.


A whole lot has changed in 10 years. The internet has altered the way that we shop. The economy has changed the amount we spend when we shop. A quick Google search makes it easy to compare prices from the comfort of our living rooms. Consumers have more choices than ever before.


What is the Crafty Retailer to do?


You can go to the store each morning and hope that business walks through the door, or you can take the steps necessary to guarantee it! Focus on Customer Service and improve your Shoppertainment Quotient!


If I need a bead or a skein of yarn, I can easily get it online. So what makes me hop in the car and take the time to go to a retail store? Shoppers buy things to reward themselves, to make a statement, or even boost self-esteem. Face it…retail therapy is fun. Are you doing your part to turn Shopping into SHOPPERTAINMENT? It really doesn’t take a whole lot of time or money to WOW your customers. Start with the baby steps.


The Greeting. Imagine walking into a yarn store. You start to peruse the merchandise and a sales associate looks up from the register and says in the requisite monotonous sales voice: “Let me know if I can help you with anything.” Do you feel warm and fuzzy? Nope, not really.


If it doesn’t work for you, don’t think it is going to work for your customers. In fact, at your next sales meeting please issue a moratorium on the phrase. No good sales person should be permitted to utter that lame greeting ever again! Seriously. A better alternative would be to ask about the shopper’s craft interest. Is she looking for an item to complete her current project or is she jumping into something new? You already have something in common….you are both crafters…now build on it!


The Image. Dress the part. You are in a creative industry. Wear it on your sleeve! You knit? Adorn yourself with amazing sweaters. You bead? Wear jewelry that will turn heads! A year or so ago I called upon a store that was well stocked and well staffed. Unfortunately, every single employee wore clothing more suitable for a sweaty workout than a business establishment. The store is no longer in business. The sloppy attitude carried over into other aspects of the store. Speed of the leader, speed of the pack. Set the standard! Your associates should dress and act like the professionals you pay them to be!


Communication. Keep a bulletin board in a prominent place. Use it to announce current store specials and sale items. Announce happy customer news…birthdays, new babies, etc. You are creating a community culture!


Answer the phone within three rings. It sometimes helps to assign phone duty so that there is no question as to who will “own the phone.” There should be a uniform store greeting that everyone must use when answering the phone.


Take responsibility for mistakes and fix them---FAST---even when it is not your fault. People like to forgive … give them an opportunity to do so!


Go the extra mile. It really isn’t too hard to stand out from the crowd. We have all stood in line for too long while the sales girl had a private conversation on her cell phone. We've scanned the aisles to find a sales person---any sales person--- only to find a whole pack of ‘em talking together in the electronics department. Sigh. You know what I mean…those moments when you are smiling on the outside but screaming in your head.



It only takes a bit of extra effort to WOW your customers. After all, when you do something positive and unexpected, it makes people feel good. They remember it. They associate those feelings with you and your store. Make the effort … it will come back in spades!


RANDOM PROMOTION IDEAS: Create a promotion that causes commotion! You want your promotions to create a buzz in the community. Think outside of the box...the promotions need not even be related to your industry. Anthropologie, the high end clothing and accessories chain, recently generated a great deal of excitement when it sponsored In Store Craft Workshops to repurpose and refashion clothing. Think about it. A store that SELLS CLOTHES had a workshop teaching customers how to "UPCYCLE" THEIR OLD CLOTHES. What a concept. The publicity that this promotion generated was priceless. This is a perfect promotion for any craft store...start working on your press release now! The "Green/Recycle" angle will appeal to your local newspaper and garner attention. Go for it!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Jump Start your Business with Low Cost Marketing Ideas


FAST IS SLOW AND SLOW IS FAST

Take a look at your calendar. The year is almost half over and summer is looming on the horizon. How many store events have you had so far? Do you have your promotions planned for the remainder of the year? Many specialty craft store owners are so busy working in the shop, they are unable to work on the shop. Life is busy, personally and professionally. Promotions are often the last thing on your mind until cash flow gets weak, at which point you simply throw together a quick sale and post some signs in the window in the hopes of increasing revenue. Sound familiar? Believe me....I know how you feel! Not too many years ago I was struggling with the demands of a life that had gotten overwhelming. I not only felt like I was dropping the ball at every turn, each time I dropped it the darn thing bounced back and hit me in the arse. Seriously. I couldn't get it all done and I had legitimate reasons for the failure: we were understaffed at the office....I was still acting as family chauffeur...I had to leave the shop early to meet the needs of my family...employees called in sick.....I had a husband who thought of my business as a hobby....and so on!

I felt frustrated and the loose ends were overwhelming m
e. I know that many of you find yourself in the same stilettos and it is easy to feel conflicted. I was working harder and faster than ever before but getting less done and making more mistakes while I was at it!

WHEW! What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Y
ou are already working hard, but are you working smart? Perhaps it is time to tweak things a bit. You must pay your company the attention it requires and you can do it---you might simply need to be more creative about how and when it all gets done. A wise mentor (OK, it was my Mom, but she is very wise) once told me that "Fast is slow and slow is fast."

Huh? What does that mean? It didn't take long to figure it out---I realized that during those periods when I ran around at breakneck speed and took shortcuts at every turn, I made mistakes and disappointed people-----personally and professionally. It took me more time to fix the problems and smooth over the ill will than if I had done things right the first time. I thought I was saving time but I was actually making the situation worse because I was constantly being REACTIVE rather than PROACTIVE.

I bet many of you have experienced the same thing. Take a deep breath and schedule a few hours---no matter how busy you are---to get focused. Pl
an your store promotions --- at least on a skeletal level---for the next twelve months. Don't wait for a fiscal emergency before you try to plan a promotion. Store events are truly the lifeblood of any retail establishment and in this weakened economy it is critical to give your customers a consistent reminder of how wonderful you are. Brainstorm with your staff and get the team on board. Here are some ideas that require more elbow grease than cash:

1. Send out educational and informative emails monthly. There are a number of email providers who make it a snap to put together an instant email promotion. I use Constant Contact, an inexpensive service that is currently running a 60 d
ay free trial. It is the perfect opportunity for you to give the email blast a try! Colorful, photo laden emails will do wonders for your foot traffic. Tout a new class, promote the latest inventory, consider including a coupon. You might need to invest a few hours in learning the email program, but I guarantee that you will see results. Make it short and sweet and be sure to include pictures.

2. Go where
your potential customers are hanging out. Summer months bring out the street fairs. Consider setting up an information booth at community fairs and festivals. Offer to demonstrate a technique: knitting, spinning, beading, weaving are all attention getters. Provide a "make and take" opportunity to really attract attention and build your mailing list.

3. Align yourself with a charity. Collect canned goods or used clothing for a needy organization. Offer your customers a discount each time they bring in an item. Photograph the growing stash and prepare a press release. The publicity that you get
will be priceless, not cost you a dime, and you will actually be doing a good deed. Talk about a win-win. Never written a press release? Its easy! You can work with a different charity every month to spread the wealth and keep the publicity flowing.

4. Consider a "Magic Number" Direct Mailing. This
direct mail campaign offers your customers a chance to win a prize by walking through your door. Sequentially number the mailers during the printing process and have a drawing to determine the winning numbers. Promote the event heavily and encourage customers to come in to see if they have won a prize.

5. Key Promotion. Customers who spent a certain amount of money are entitled to receive a key. Ideally, you will be handing out a large number of keys during the month or two of the promotion. Put together a locked treasure box filled with store treasures. On the day of the event all of the customers will come in to try their key to see who has the one that will unlock the treasure box.
6. In Store Demonstration. Attract the cross over crafter and increase your traffic! Offer to demonstrate a technique that might be unfamiliar to your target customer, but which will be compatible with your inventory. For example, a yarn shop might offer a felting or spinning demonstration, while a bead shop might do well to offer a hot glass demonstration.

7.
Off Site Seminar. Many women's groups and libraries offer educational opportunities for their members. Offer to conduct a demonstration. It will take a little time, but you are sure to garner new customers!

8. Insure
against an unlikely occurrence. Lloyds of London will issue zany insurance policies and many retailers have taken the opportunity to stage successful promotions based upon unlikely events. For example, offer a rebate for all June purchases if the temperature on July 4 reaches 100 degrees.

9. Use your vehicle to promote your business. Promote your shop while you are running errands! Order some magnetic signs from your local sign shop, or for a more elegant alternative, check out the option at promo plate.

10. Take
your business cards with you every time you leave the house! You might be at the ball field with your son, or working the concession stand for your daughter, but small talk leads to big business. Do not leave home without your cards.

11. Auction Event. Award play money once purchases reach a certain point. For example, your customer gets $5 in play money when she spends $50. Schedule an auction event where customers are invited to the store to bid on product with their play money. Sales will increase and you get to decide what is auctioned.


Get out your calendar and start planning your next event! There is money to be made, folks!