Don't miss a post! Follow me by Email!

Monday, August 31, 2009

E-Newsletters are a low cost and effective marketing tool!

The online newsletter should be an integral part of your marketing plan. E-Newsletters are extremely cost effective and easy to disseminate. Ironically, the newsletter is also one of the most poorly utilized and misunderstood marketing tools. Most retailers look forward to writing their store newsletter with the same degree of anxiety and trepidation usually reserved for a root canal! As with that pesky trip to the dentist, the newsletter often gets "put off" to some future date when you have more time, more money, more staff, etc. You know that you should do it, but you do not get it done. The wheel just does not squeak loudly enough.

The economy stinks. SQUEAK, SQUEAK.
The holidays are coming. SQUEAK, SQUEAK!
Your classes are empty. SQUEAK! SQUEAK!

Yikes! That squeaking is loud..surely you hear it now!

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Get out the WD-40 and take care of business! Contrary to popular opinion, marketing newsletters are easy to write...just follow a few simple steps and you will be on your way!

1. MAKE THE NEWSLETTER A VALUE ADDED RESOURCE FOR YOUR CLIENTS. Consumers are overwhelmed by computer spam and have been forced to become serial "deleters." Be respectful of your customer's time and ensure that your newsletter is more than a transparent sales tool. You want to get customers in your store but you have to operate with a bit of finesse. Think back to your dating days....the guy who went right for the goodies got a slap in the face. The fellow who was charming, witty and made an attempt to appear interested in things that were important to you had a better chance of a getting a little sugar. The same is true in business.

A newsletter that factually lists the dates of upcoming classes or clinically reports on a new trunk show event will not only bore the recipient, she will recognize it for what it is: a patent sales push for your shop. Focus on your customer instead! Offer valuable tips and insights based upon your position as the expert on all things crafty. You want to become a "value added resource" for your customer base. For example, you could provide suggestions on how to organize an out of control craft stash. I just Googled "how to organize craft supplies" and got 103,000 hits! Offer links to free patterns or You Tube craft tutorials to spark creativity. Use the newsletter to tell a story and reinforce your brand.

LYS owner Mel Martin of Millicent's Yarns has a friendly "down home" feel to her newsletter. It is chatty and informal, with a feature called "Knitter's Thoughts" where she showcases a particular customer and why that customer is hooked on her craft. Jennifer Curran, of Simply Bead'N Around recently sent out an email blast touting her "Beads for the Brave" charity. She is collecting beading craft supplies to send to the troops in Iraq so that our gals (and guys!) in uniform can engage in "bead therapy" during down time. Newsletters can be an effective means to reinforce your values and build upon your shop "community."

2. Newsletters should be concise, professionally written, and include pictures. Think about the popularity of magazines such as People and In Style, where much of the attraction can be attributed to short snippets of information complemented by lots of full color photographs. Use action verbs to add interest and excitement. "Celebrate a Homemade Holiday this year!" has more impact than "You should make holiday gifts this year." Compare the following paragraph:

Don't forget our upcoming trunk show. We will be featuring some beautiful copper and enamel beads which are different from anything that you have ever seen before. The show will be here from August 23 through Sept 1. You will not want to miss this event. this:


It's here! It's here!

We are hosting yet another spectacular Trunk Show Extravaganza to tempt and delight you!

We just unpacked a dazzling assortment of enameled copper goodies from one of our favorite vendors. This is a hard show to book and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase this designer!

The event will only be here from August 23 through Sept 1, 2009, so mark your calendar, set the alarm, and
shop early for the best selection!

The same information is imparted by both versions, but the second is more likely to generate excitement. If writing is not your forte, consider hiring a professional to do the job for you. The $50 or so you will spend per newsletter
will pay for itself many times over in increased attendance at store events, higher sales numbers, and establishing a loyal store following!

3. Use an E-Mail Marketing Solutions Provider for greater success. While it is possible to genera
te emails through your regular email provider, those newsletters tend to look amateurish and unprofessional. I utilize Constant Contact but there are a number of similar services available. These programs are inexpensive, provide easy to use Templates, offer the opportunity to create graphics heavy newsletters, and enable you to send thousands of emails at once. One attractive feature of Constant Contact is the ability to "archive" your newsletters so that anyone who is visiting your website will have access to your newsletter. Best of all, every newsletter that you send generates a valuable report. You will be able to see who is opening your email, what links they are clicking, whether they forwarded the email to anyone, etc. These reports will give you an idea as to which customers are interested enough to read your email, but not interested enough to drive to the store. What a great opportunity for you to pick up the phone and reconnect! Your customer thinks you are know you are just a heck of a business person! There is a learning curve associated with using an E-Mail Marketing Service, but it will save you time and money almost immediately.

4. Build your E-Mail Database. Newsletters only work if folks read them. You do not want to be a spammer and would be well advised to create a "permission based" data base. Your email list will not grow quickly by putting a guest book by the will become like the treadmill in my bedroom...there, but invisible. You must be PROACTIVE in order to achieve SUCCESS. E-mail addresses are the life blood of your what it takes to get 'em! Consider offering a $5 off coupon in exchange for the address. Send the coupon to the address to confirm that it is viable. Your customer will then have to come back to the store (and do some more shopping!) in order to redeem the coupon. Of course, it is also important to maintain a "subscribe" feature on your website. This feature will allow online visitors to sign up for your newsletter.

5. Frequency and Consistency of Contact matters. There is a bit of a balancing act involved in determining how often to send out your newsletter. Most stores find that weekly contact is too much, with monthly contact the minimum. Provided that you have valuable information to impart with every missive, then once every three weeks is reasonable.

Newsletters can be a valuable part of your marketing plan. Make every newsletter relevant to the lives of your customers by impart information that is helpful and inspiring. You will be sure to reap the benefits!

Congratulations to Joanne Yalch of Crystal Bead Bazaar, who is the recipient of a Swarovski Crystal embellishment package. Thanks for participating in last week's challenge question!

"What would yo
u do?" Challenge Question for the week:
Life is truly stranger than fiction! A client is experiencing some competition terrorism, the likes of which I haven't seen before. Specifically, the Kooky Competitor is telling mutual customers that the owner of the competing store has a wheelchair bound child who is the source of humiliation to her.
The owner is said to be so embarrassed by the handicapped child that she keeps her hidden at home and denies having any children when asked. The gossipy customers shake their heads in disgust and disbelief . Frankly, the tale strikes a chord with the typical craft store shopper---a married woman with children she adores. The idea that someone could reject a child...a handicapped child no less... is understandably repugnant to them. It happens that the owner of the store does not have any children, but when she is asked the question and answers honestly, folks assume that she is hiding the truth. She has actually lost a few customers over this rumor. One previously loyal customer recently 'fessed up to the reason she had been avoiding the store. OUCH! How would you handle it? Share your wisdom and you have a chance to win a $25 gift certificate from Aussie Threads and Fibers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Refine your Brand Identity to Enhance your Profitability!

Children all over America might be enjoying the waning days of summer, but their mothers are counting the seconds until the school bus starts making the rounds again! Summer vacation is a struggle for want to provide your child with a wonderful break from routine, but you still have a business to run. Many retail craft store owners put the business on cruise control June through August as they turn their attention to the family. You have to do it, but the reality is that the business suffers. You have a lot of catch up work this Fall!

Plan NOW to ensure that you get your share of the shrinking shopping dollar during the holiday season. Use this "lull before the storm" to take a clinical look at your business. Pat yourself on the back where you deserve it, but be merciless where you must. Consumers have a world of shopping choices today. The internet is cheap, easy, and fast. Your brick and mortar competitors are working hard to persuade your customers to shop with them instead of you.

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Take the steps necessary to ensure that Carly Crafter will get in her car and drive past your competitor to shop in your store!

One of the biggest challenges facing craft retailers today is the need to establish a clear and compelling brand identity. Many of the independent craft stores that I visit look like clones of one another. Seriously...they are "cookie cutter" identical. It is apparent that many buy from the same vendors and they stock "commodity" inventory rather than one of a kind pieces. Ho Hum. Face it: If it is the same stuff that can be found on-line and in the shop down the street, then it will have to be dirt cheap to attract clientele. Unfortunately, if you have to "give it away" to customers who are loyal only to price point, then it is a bad business model and you shouldn't be stocking it anyway!

A successful retail craft store needs to be a CREATIVE DESTINATION worthy of a customer's time and money! It must be a oasis from the mundane. Look objectively at your own store and ask yourself a few questions. Do you carry a product line that no one else carries? Do you offer innovative classes that cannot be found elsewhere? Does your brand evoke warm and fuzzy feelings that customers find irresistible? It is critical that you differentiate yourself from the competition. The wonderful qualities that make you unique must be consistently expressed in every single thing that you do: from extraordinary product to exemplary service, from clever business cards to compatible store signage, from a delightful store atmosphere to a winning employee culture. Your must be able to articulate your vision to your staff so that they understand your store brand and their responsibility for promoting it. Are you making the grade?

Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has been very inspirational to me and countless others. One of his life changing "habits" is to begin every journey "with the end in mind." The idea is that you should identify your destination so that all of your future actions will be taken with an eye toward achieving your goal. He describes an airplane pilot who operates pursuant to a specific flight plan in order to get from Point A to Point B. Weather considerations might force the pilot to alter his course temporarily, but as soon as is practical the pilot reverts to the original flight plan in order to reach his destination. The same is true for all of us! Success doesn't "just happen." Nope...the harder you work, the luckier you get! Define your goals and stay on course! You will deviate from the plan from time to time as you deal with family pressures, financial challenges and the like, but if you keep focused and get back on the path you will ultimately reach your destination.

I think back to my experiences as a young mother. My friend and I had children around the same time and we were determined to be the best mothers in the world. We read the books, attended "mommy and me" classes, and documented every giggle and burp. We were really good moms. We were certainly not like those OTHER mothers! We would always be patient and our precious progeny would never be seen in public with runny noses. I still remember the day I watched her tie a bottle to the crib, positioning it so that her infant could feed himself while she dealt with one of her other children. Mind you, this woman had four children under the age of four and it was a matter of survival...for everyone. Nonetheless, I was uncomfortable....propped up bottles and infants wriggling around searching for the nipple weren't in the plan! The point is, life sometimes gets crazy and things don't always work out as planned, but you don't give up. My friend was having a bad day and she forgot her "mother of the year" goals for the moment. However, she quickly got it together, jumped back on the path, and her kids morphed into productive, amazing adults who have managed to avoid therapy and jail time! In fact, despite having been seen in public with a runny nose or two, my kids are equally productive. All is good and we are still in the running for the "Best Mom" trophy.

The same is true in business. Do you remember the store that you envisioned when you first decided to go into retail? It was going to be warm, happy, busy, and fun. By George, you were going to be rolling in the dough. You had a plan. Have you achieved your goal? Every step you take must be consistent with your vision so that you can turn the store of your realty into the store of your dreams. We all lose our way from time to time....just make sure you get back on the path that will lead you to your goal...RIGHT NOW!

Refine your focus, spiff up your brand and get marketing. Do your business cards need a face lift? If they are not advertising who you are...or who you want to is time for a change. Spend the money for a professional to design your will be worth it in the long run. The font, the graphics, the colors and the "flavor" will set the tone for your in-store signage, your newsletters, your print ads and beyond. It will give you a starting point for creating the image you want to promote.

Does your store atmosphere promote your brand? The lighting should be bright and cheerful. There should be ample room for crafting and creativity. Music should be playing and if possible, food and drinks are always a plus. Customers should be able to move about freely and not forced to navigate tight aisles. You should be scheduling at least one major promotional event and three minor events every single month.

Your staff is part of your brand. Are your employees reaching out to a limited audience? How many times have you walked into your local yarn/bead/scrapbook/paper store to find every employee twenty or thirty years older than you? I frequently hear complaints from younger Indie artists that they do not feel welcome at these establishments. Maybe it is time to rethink your hiring practices so that your employees further your brand identity. One of my most effective employees was a young cutie whose tattoos and piercings were way ahead of her time. However, her enthusiasm was contagious and customers seemed to enjoy soaking up her "coolness" by association.

Need some inspiration? Check out these retailers, each of whom has an established brand identity that works:
You've Got to Be Beading in Mystic Connecticut
Paper Tales in San Diego, California
The Yarn Garage in Rosemount, Minnesota
Ornamentea in Raleigh, North Carolina

Change is always hard, but going out of business is even harder. Carve out some time this week to articulate your vision. Brainstorm with your staff and put it in writing. Determine what it is that is special about your store and capitalize on it. Spread the word, talk the talk, and train your employees to do the same. Stay on the path and focus on the goal. Success is within your reach!


Congratulations to Cathy McKillip of Wish Upon a Quilt and Kathy Withers of Unique Designs by Kathy. Each lady won a beautiful hand dyed velvet fabric package for their contributions to our "True Confessions" Challenge Question last week. Ladies: please contact me with shipping information so that we can get your goodies to you ASAP.

Challenge Question: What steps have your recently taken, or are you going to take in the next month, to reinforce your brand identity? Shoot us an email by Sunday, August 30 to share the creative wealth and you might win a Swarovski Crystal embellishment package!

Coming next Week: We are going to focus on how to write an effective customer newsletter! Most store owners would rather have a root canal than get a newsletter out. We will give you a winning formula to take the misery out of this important marketing tool.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Focus on business and leave the emotion out of it!

Women are emotional creatures. We were designed that way! It makes us great nurturers, superior nest builders, and sometimes....very poor communicators. Yup, the extra dose of "warm and fuzzy" is a double edged sword. Women can --- occasionally, once in a blue moon, every now and then---let emotion impede sound business judgment. We let emotion take over and cloud rational thought: we permit a rude customer to ruin our day, view a competitor as an enemy, and say "Yes" because we don't want to offend by saying "No." It can be exhausting!

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Focus on business and leave the emotion out of it! Last week's post presented a real life challenge recounted by a friend. The comments and phone calls I received on the topic were fascinating. Here is the scenario for those who missed it:

A retail craft store owner hosted a FREE customer appreciation event which involved crafting, food, alcohol, and a gift for attendees. Customers had to pre-register for the event and one of the registrants was a "toxic" customer. You know the secretly cringe when she walks in the door. Toxic Trudy is loud, rude, and socially inept. She comes to all the free events, but spends very little money. To make matters worse, Trudy is a small time competitor who teaches classes in your field. She has a history of telling other customers that she sells product X for less. The store owner is not a happy camper when Trudy is in the store. It raises her blood pressure and probably makes her long for a glass of wine or a Prozac IV. You get the picture.

Fast forward to the big event....the festivities are going well, folks are socializing and having a good time. Things start to go downhill when the proprietor observes Trudy passing out business cards to advertise her own classes. She whispers a request to Trudy to "please put away the cards," but the situation rattles her and the customer becomes indignant. The moment is awkward at best, customers noticed, and Toxic Trudy was heard complaining and lambasting the store owner to her friend, a shop employee. It cast a pall on the evening and frustrated the business owner, particularly when the employee opined that she "could see both sides." Ouch. I wonder if she would see both sides if she was no longer on the payroll, but that is a different issue for another day.

The audacity of the customer was impressive and, not surprisingly, those who responded to the post were appalled by her behavior. I chatted about it with friends and the response along gender lines was interesting. The females of the group jumped on it like a dogs after a bone. They got themselves worked up on behalf of the proprietor.

"Can you believe the nerve?
"Think of the money and planning that went into the event! That poor business owner!"
"What is that customer's problem?"
"What a bitch! I would have kicked her out on her ass then and there!"

And so on and so on. Voices were raised in righteous indignation, each woman expressing more outrage than the last. The sole male to comment did so only after repeated prompting from the gals: he simply looked up from his sushi and said "McDonald's wouldn't hand out coupons in Burger King."

The mental image made us laugh and it shut us up. It really was as simple as that...there was no emotive drama and most importantly...NO WASTED ENERGY! What was different about the way the man and the women responded?

The man looked at it like a minor business issue, not worthy of much focus; rather, one to be handled and forgotten. The women took the faux paux personally! I do it all the time. I have learned to fight the instinct over the years and it has made my business life much easier. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, it has not yet become second nature. I have to constantly remind myself to "take the emotion out of it and process the situation analytically," but it comes to me at a much earlier point in the process these days!

Looking at Toxic Trudy's behavior in that light, I am confident that there was nothing remotely personal about it. Trudy appears to be a social misfit. My guess is that she behaves the same way everywhere....even at your competitor's place. She is an equal opportunity offender, as it were.

OK, so we have defined the problem, but what do you do about it? Roll back the clock a bit......

Trudy slithers into the shop while the festivities are in full swing, garnering a genuine welcome from you and the staff. You leave to get her a cocktail and upon your return you see her putting her business cards on the table where the customers are working. Fighting against every quivering instinct in your are screaming in your head, after turn to your guests and sweetly introduce Trudy yourself as you nonchalantly gather up her business cards. You mention that she teaches craft classes and then you turn to Trudy
and suggest getting together later in the week to discuss the possibility of teaming up for some sort of promotional event in the future. All of this is done with a smile and sincerity. She is surprised by your offer and the discussion is over. Your customers have been watching the exchange and are impressed. Evening saved. Wow! That was not too hard! You are strong! You are powerful! Life is good!


You just realized something.....the evening will end and you have created an expectation . You don't want to work with Trudy on a joint venture. Heck, you don't want to have to ever see her again, you don't want to breathe her air, you don't want....OOPS! You are doing it again. You are being a woman. Sigh.

What's the crafty retailer to do?

Kudos to
Cathy McKillip, owner of Wish Upon a Quilt, who offered this brilliant solution:

...I agree that the store owner was spot on in asking the person to stop handing out business cards. Because this person is so vocal, I would have followed up with an invitation to coffee and steer the conversation around how the two might work together on future events since the customer wants to reap the promotional rewards of hosting an event. Once the store owner explains splitting the costs/benefits of such an event, I would bet that she will not have further trouble with this customer. I frequently have customers come in and tell people where they might find something for less and I do not hesitate to interrupt the conversation and start discussing what the customers are working on etc. Seems to work when done with a smile.

The beauty of Cathy's plan is that it resolves the problem in a charming and gracious manner. It does not involve conflict. It brings about a win-win resolution without any of the negative emotional drama that seems to plague the female of our species. Cathy was thinking with an analytical mind to determine what was in the best interest of the business. Added benefit: think of all the time you saved! Now you don't have to spend all that time angsting over Trudy's gall. Your husband doesn't need to suffer through your replays of the debacle. Your girlfriends would rather talk about their problems anyway. Everyone is happy. Way to go! You crafted a win-win! [Insert sound of raucous clapping here]

Other News:
Congratulations to Far'ha and Tandy Chazar who won July's random drawing. The lucky winners will receive a copy of Diane Gilleland's eBook, Making a Great Blog: A Guide for Creative People. Look for an email download to be sent to you by Ms. Gilleland. Please contact me to verify that I have the correct email information to provide to her

True Confes
We are
busy people with funny idiosyncrasies and weird ways of making life work. I am pretty obsessive compulsive about a number of things. Housekeeping is not one of them. Don't get me wrong.... the public parts of my house are always neat as a pin. However, I have secret pockets of chaos within the calm. For example, I have a Sock Bucket.

Yup....a Sock Bucke
t. Every time I do a load of laundry I find a sock without a mate (where do they all go?!!!!). Rather than take the time to find the MIA sock, I toss the survivor into the bucket. It drives my husband crazy, but I hold my head high. I am simply giving those socks an opportunity to mingle. Over time my kids start running out of socks and the bucket fills to the brim. My job is done...They have all found their match. Instead of knitting while I watch TV that night, I sort socks. The system allows me to ignore the socks on a daily basis and to deal with them when it is convenient to do so. My kids think I am weird, and my husband has taken to wearing flip flops more often, but it works for me.

What is your Sock Bucket? What do you put off/hide/ignore/wiggle out of in order to make your life work? Share your story and have a chance to win a package of hand dyed velvet fabrics!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Motivating your employees will increase your sales and decrease your headaches!

Do you employ sales clerks or sales professionals? There is a world of difference between the two. A sales professional knows the store inventory as well as you know it. She is happy, enthusiastic, and enjoys her job. She is invested in your success and enjoys the craft she is promoting. If you have a true Sales Professional working for you, count your blessings!

Alternatively, a sales clerk does little more than collect the money at the register. She is bored during her shift and wishes the day would go by faster. This job is not part of her life plan but she needs the cash. In fact, she wouldn't be working for you if a better job fell in her lap. She resists change and thinks that your ideas for store promotions are lame. She will not talk up store events or hand out bag stuffers unless she knows that you are watching. Of course, she is happy to sit around collecting a paycheck for as long as you are willing to pay her for babysitting the cash register.

Ugh. The reality is that many retail shopkeepers have more experience with Sales Clerks than Sales Professionals. Unfortunately, one bad apple really can ruin the bunch. An unmotivated employee can be toxic to your work force. I remember, somewhat shamefacedly, a summer job experience I had as a college student. I had landed an internship at the Worker's Compensation Bureau Legal Department. I was immediately assigned to...where else...the Mail Room. No sweat....I was all about building my resume and was fresh faced and enthusiastic.....for a while. It didn't take long to realize that my co-workers didn't have much of a work ethic. All Mail Room employees---every single one---spent the morning watching game shows and the afternoon watching soap operas on a little black and white portable TV. The little bit of work that was done during the course of the day could easily have been accomplished by one part time employee. The lackadaisical work standard appalled first. Unfortunately, by summer's end I experienced a twinge of resentment when forced to leave the trials and tribulations of General Hospital's Luke and Laura to actually deliver mail!

Was I a bad employee? Yes, but in truth, I was not solely to blame. I was bright and eager to learn. However, I was poorly trained and had no one evaluating my performance or coaching me. The same is true for many retail employees. Oftentimes, new hires are taught how to operate the register but are not given the tools they need to move beyond Sales Clerk to Sales Professional. The majority of employees who fall short do so because of a failure at the management level.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Inspire and motivate your staff through example, education, training and incentives! You can turn a mediocre employee into a business attribute, but the burden is on your shoulders. After all, the speed of the leader is the speed of the pack. You must be positive and enthusiastic. Do not bemoan the state of the economy or make excuses for lagging sales. Negativity is toxic and contagious. Tweaking your world view to a more positive outlook will benefit your staff, your sales, and your blood pressure. Challenge yourself to get through the day without saying "No." If a customer comes in looking for 16 gauge wire and you are out of stock, don't simply say "We are out." Offer her the 18 gauge at 10% off. If an employee has a suggestion for a promotion, don't tell her why it won't work. Rather, brainstorm a way to make it work.

While I intuitively sensed that watching soap operas on the job wasn't putting me in line for employee of the month, I was not clear on what it was that I should be doing. I took the path of least resistance and fell in line with the employee culture, pathetic though it was. People do not automatically know what you think they should know, regardless of how basic it is. You must be perfectly clear on your expectations. Younger employees will text on the job unless you establish a rule about cell phones. Employees will hide behind the register unless you define your desire to have them walk the floor. Set up a process and put it in writing. I watched a store owner become increasingly frustrated as she stopped to answer the phone several times while ringing up customers. The customers grew annoyed as the check out process became interminable. The only store employee was in a back room winding yarn, oblivious to the mounting chaos at the register. The shop owner was angry that the employee didn't answer the phone, even though the employee hadn't a clue that she was expected to take on the task. It would have been very easy to establish protocol regarding the phone but the store owner chose instead to spend a whole lot of time and energy being frustrated over a simple and easy to resolve issue. You will get what you tolerate!

Do you want your employees to engage your customers? Don't just tell them to do it...teach them how to do it! Role playing is an under used but incredibly effective teaching tool. Prepare index cards that describe several types of customer scenarios. One could be:

Middle aged woman
"just looking"

Brainstorm with your staff as to how to best handle such a customer. Possibilities include:

"We sure have a lot for you to look at!" followed by a brief overview of the store layout.
"We just got in some spectacular turquoise beads/silk yarns/etc. Would you like to see them?"
"What project are you currently working on?"

This sort of practice is actually problem solving and will help your staff feel more confident when they work with customers.

Establish your daily sales goal and train your staff to do what they need to do to meet it. One way to get there is through the UPSELL. Have you trained your staff to do it with every purchase? Do your employees even know that you think add on selling is important? There are a number of ways to do this:

When you see the customer walking around with product, offer to take it the register. A customer with free hands is more likely to buy more.

When you see the customer choose a product, talk about a companion product that goes hand in hand with that product.

Keep basics at the register so that you can take advantage of the "I forgot I needed that" sales opportunity. Office Depot keeps reams of paper by all of the registers and employees are trained to ask if the customer needs paper.

Micro management is a guaranteed motivation killer. No one likes to exercise initiative if it will cause them to be subjected to criticism. Gift your staff with the ability to exercise ownership of certain aspects of day to day operations. It is hard to let go but the rewards are worth it! Have a creative writer on staff? Put her in charge of writing the first draft of your newsletter. Employ a social butterfly? Have her brainstorm store promotional events. Give your staff a degree of autonomy in handling customer issues. Perhaps each staff member can have the discretion to give one customer 10% off one item each week.

People are motivated by a number of things: money, recognition, and a need to please, just to name a few. Get to know your staff so that you can best gauge the incentive systems that will be most effective in your store. Financial incentives can be particularly successful. After all, an hourly employee will simply not be as motivated to sell as one that will "get something" out of the sale. I once worked for a law firm which put $200 into a monthly "kitty." Each attorney was required to bill 140 hours each month. All of the attorneys who billed more that 140 hours shared the money on a pro rata basis. It certainly worked to motivate me! I routinely billed extra hours and came to count on an extra $50 to $70 dollars in my paycheck. The $200 proved to be a small investment for a substantial increase in revenue.

Consider a similar incentive for your sales staff. Establish your monthly sales goal. Once the goal is reached, you can reward the employees on a pro rata basis based upon their share of the the sales. It will certainly make your staff concentrate a bit more on selling!

Another way to motivate your staff is through weekly sales contests. Sales people are generally competitive by nature and many businesses owners use competition to motivate team members. Consider a STAFF BINGO game, where different store related goals/activities are written in the squares. The first employee to complete five activities across, down, or diagonally wins a prize. It is fun and reinforces the employee training. Email me for a copy of a craft store employee bingo game card.

The bottom line is that well trained employees are happy employees. Spend your energy on creating a store climate that is upbeat, positive and creative. You cannot control the economy, but you can control your attitude. Be the leader that your staff wants to emulate and you will be on your way to retail success!

CHALLENGE QUESTION: A client recently recounted an experience she had at a promotional event hosted at her store. A toxic customer (one who is also a small time competitor and who makes small, infrequent purchases while advising store customers that she sells similar product for less) registered for the event. She showed up and started handing out business cards. My client asked her to stop and the customer became somewhat indignant. She settled down but complained to a store employee (who is her friend) about the treatment she received. The employee told her that she understood both sides of the issue (ie, the desire to hand out business cards vs. the store owner's desire for her to stop). I see a number of issues at play in this nightmare. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Thrilling Customer Service EXPERIENCE will attract a loyal following and generate sales!

Mediocre Customer Service is Dead. Long Live the EXTREME CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE! Gone are the days when it is enough to have product on the floor and a pleasant body behind the sales counter. Customers have a plethora of retail craft options available to them via the independent craft boutique, big box craft store, and internet retailer. It takes a great deal more effort these days to stand out from the crowd. Many business owners are pinched financially and limited on time, yet they recognize the need to make some big changes in order to outshine the competition.

What is the crafty retailer to do?

Make your store the kind of place that makes folks feel warm and fuzzy. You know what I mean...the kind of place where the customer thinks of you as a friend, where she feels so connected to you and your staff that she brings her pals in to soak up the karma. Your store becomes her oasis...her "feel good" zone and she is invested in your success.

Creating a crafty social hub is more Martha Stewart than Rocket Science. Think about the last time you hosted a get together at your home. You probably spent much of the day cleaning the parts of the house that were going to show. The front porch was swept and well lit. You prepared refreshments that would be visually and gastronomically satisfying. You lit scented candles and made sure that there were fresh towels in the guest bathroom. You went out of your way to make your guests feel welcome, greeting them warmly and with a big smile. When a slightly tipsy guest spilled red wine on your white carpet you smiled and assured him that it was no problem, even though you were screaming in your head. You were gracious and funny and there was a great deal of laughter. As the evening drew to a close you walked each guest to the door and perhaps even walked them outside to their cars. In short, you did everything humanly possibly to ensure that your guests had a happy and memorable experience in your home.

The same philosophy works equally well for the retail store owner! Unfortunately, many shop owners fail to treat their customers as treasured guests and their failure is your chance to shine! After all, anyone who is helping to pay your rent and feed your kids IS AN ABSOLUTE TREASURE and here are 25 easy ways to enhance her customer experience:

1. Use your front window to set the mood! Window displays make a statement. What does your window say about your business? Knit Purl, an amazing fiber shop in Oregon, knows that a playful display gets attention! Check out the felted Thanksgiving Dinner window display they showcased in November 2008. Spring brought forth a charming Easter display.The store is currently working on a felted crane origami art installation and the progress is on display to the delight of passersby.

2. The store should be well organized, well lit, and easy to navigate. Will your aisles accomodate a wheel chair bound customer?

3. Make sure that signage is professional and upbeat.
Unless it is incredibly charming and part of your store decor, a handwritten sign sends a slipshod message. It only takes a minute to print out a professional looking sign and pop it into a frame. Take the time.

4. Product should be clearly marked with visible pricing. Customers will often decide not to make a purchase rather than be compelled to ask for pricing information.

5. Provide a clean and usable rest room. I have been in many stores where the rest room also functions as a stock room. Aside from the theft issue, the owner appears disorganized. The walls in my bead store restroom were completely papered with pictures of amazing bead and jewelry creations. It was fun, inexpensive, and garnered a lot of positive reaction.

6. Cultivate a fun store culture. Do you have a place where customers can hang out? This includes comfortable chairs, good lighting and adequate table space. Crafting is a convivial group activity and if you make your shop an informal place where folks can comfortably sit and play, they will do it.

7. Greet every single person who walks through the door with a warm smile and genuine conversation. If you are busy with another customer, no sweat...a nod and a smile will suffice. I was recently in a local scrapbooking store and had a surreal experience. The store owner was behind the register talking to the only other customer. The sole store employee was cleaning up after a crop class that had just ended. Neither acknowledged me. I was looking for something very specific and tried to find it on my own, to no avail. I endeavored to catch the eye of the employee but she was not going to be diverted from wiping down tables . Alrighty then! I stood in line behind the customer at the register. She and the owner were engaged in a lengthy conversation about upcoming classes and the owner was not going to shorten the conversation on my account. I waited this point it was becoming rather entertaining and I wanted to see how it would play out. The conversation lasted 15 minutes. Yup, I timed it! Finally, the customer left and the owner turned to me blankly and asked if she could help me. It was weird and I will not go back.

8. "Take 10" every day! Take ten minutes before the shop opens to speak with your employees. Review the daily sales goal and discuss current promotions and upcoming events. You are a team and will perform better if everyone is on the same page.

9. Play music all of the time. An overly quiet store can be disconcerting. Keep the music playing and make sure that it is upbeat and energetic. Easy listening might be fine for the ride home, but it is a snooze at a retail store.

10. Take a picture of your store from the front door and critique what you see! All too often we get so used to our reality that we fail to see it clearly. I visit one shop regularly where the owner ALWAYS has boxes of new inventory spread everywhere...on the floor, on the table.... while she checks it in. The process lasts for days and when one mess is inventoried, another box arrives from UPS. I am confident that the store owner views this as transitory, although it has been the same for years. The back classroom cannot be used by the customers and the look is disheveled and distracting.

11. Make a list of those items that can never be "out of stock" and put someone in charge of monitoring the inventory. A yarn shop can never be out of knitting needles and a bead shop always needs string. Make sure that the basics are always plentiful!

12. Train your associates to smile, make eye contact, and engage in friendly banter. The art of creating small talk is critical for sales success. How do you feel when you walk into a store and a bored sales clerk tells you to "let her know if you need anything." LOSER. Alternative query:

Hey there! What brings you into ABC store?
Are you looking for a new project or finishing up a current one?

This approach is open ended, forces a response from the customer, and creates an opening for additional conversation. Crafting is the common on it!

13. Phone Etitquette counts! Answer the phone within three rings and every staff member should be instructed to answer it the same way.

14. Prepare weekly "bag stuffers" to tout current store events. The employee manning the cash register should be responsible for talking up the event and putting the bag stuffer into the shopping bag. Need a sample bag stuffer? Email me and I will send you a copy of one used for a recent client event.

15. Accept returns as happily as you accepted the initial sale. Things don't always work out. Customers sometimes want to return an item. It is a cost of doing business, not a personal attack. Be lovely and gracious.

16. Brainstorm with your staff. Don't operate in a vacuum. Ask your sales team to write down five things that can be done to improve customer service and implement the changes.

17. Form a customer advisory board. Invite your best customers to get together once a quarter to offer advise and feedback. Provide food and drink and ask the hard questions. You will be amazed by what you learn. Of course, each board member should be sent home with a small gift for her time.

18. Do some role playing with your staff. Pretend to be the bitchy customer that makes everyone crazy and see how the associate handles it. Practice add on selling, which can really impact your bottom line. Point to a product and see who can identify the most "add-ons" to increase the sale. You can't go into a McDonalds for a burger without the teen behind the counter suggesting that you "upsize." It works for the fast food giant, it will work for you!

19. Offer free patterns and design inspiration! Everyone goes through a dry period creatively from time to time and it is helpful to have some direction. You should be THE SOURCE to keep the creative juices flowing!

20. Stage customer appreciation events! One of my customers is hosting a series of "SPARKLE and SPIRIT" nights to thank her customers for their business. The free event includes the opportunity to learn how to make a tropical alcoholic beverage, food, and a free gift (donated by a vendor). Space is limited to 20 people each week. The investment is minimal, but the impact is huge!

21. Implement a dress code. If you own a fiber store or a bead shop then you are in the fashion industry. Make sure that you and your staff dress like it! You are a walking advertisement for your business....good or bad. Do you like what you are communicating? This point is beautifully illlustrated by one of my customers, a talented nuno felter from Tucson. Her work is featured in many high end boutiques and she garners the accounts by wearing her creations and looking absolutely stunning while shopping. The store/gallery owners are frequently enchanted and inquire about the design. She coyly acknowledges being the creator and deftly hands over a business card. Another new account landed by stealth attack.

22. Serve food. Food and drink are always welcome. A chocolate cookie goes a long way to making friends. My family moved to a new neighborhood when I was a young girl. I was bored and painfully shy. My brilliant mother sent me out to the curb with a bag of candy, which I promptly started to eat. I managed to meet all of the the neighborhood children before the bag was empty. It is amazing what can be accomplished with a few goodies!

23. Take pictures of your customers wearing their latest creations! Post them on the store Brag Board, include them on your blog, and feature them on your shop Facebook. Follow up with a note for a job well done and include a copy of the photograph.

24. Acknowledge your customer's children and have a safe place for them while Mom shops. A small TV with a videotape playing will enable mom to shop without distraction and take up minimal floor space.

25. Create a store resource/inspiration area. Keep an idea book on hand and considering loaning "how to" tapes and back issues of magazines for free. You are the expert...dispense information generously!