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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Creative and Affordable Elegance" should become your crafty mantra as we proceed through 2010!

The current economy is impacting my world.   There have been a new wave of store closures happening in my neck of the woods.... beloved neighborhood restaurants have closed the doors, my favorite boutique is slowly withering as inventory sits and becomes "old news."    A local hair salon is clean, bright, and beautiful.  Yet, the owner struggles to make her rent payment and wonders how much longer she can hold on.  It is no fun for cash strapped shoppers and it sure isn't fun for the entrepreneur.

Daunting?  Don't let it be!  There are indie craft stores out there that are defying the odds and you can join their ranks.  I recently received the current issue of The Trends Journal and there is reason to be optimistic.  The author,  Gerald Celente,  is someone I have learned to take seriously.   He is like a human computer, sifting through facts and historic events to spot future trends. He analyzes data and predicts future events based upon that data.  No histrionics, no  finger pointing, no politics...just the facts, Ma,am.  Dragnet's Joe Friday would be proud.  Mr. Celente has predicted, years ahead of their occurrence, an amazing array of political and economic events.   I have become a believer in his abilities.

There is good news and bad news.  The bad news:  Mr. Celente is adamant:  we are going to experience "the crash of 2010."  He is looking to, among other things, a collapse of the commercial real estate market, which will ultimately lead to what he describes as "the Greatest Depression."  He supports his position with a plethora of factual data and I encourage you to consider it for yourself.

Now for the good news.....

Mr. Celente has identified "the next big thing" and you are a part of it!  People will be looking for something---anything--to make them feel better as the economy wreaks havoc on their lives.  During the Depression of the 1930s folks were able to escape to "the movie cinema" to vicariously experience the glamor and excitement of a distant Hollywood.  Going to a movie was a big event and the messages delivered were hopeful and uplifting.  However, as Mr. Celente notes "movie mania is not what it used to be and neither is Hollywood."

Celente believes that the next escape---and opportunity for big profit---will come as the "depressed and food fattened downwardly mobile American public" responds to a return to elegance and quality:

 "People will have more time on their hands and less money in their pockets, and an ample opportunity to tap into creative talents formerly submerged beneath the exigencies of the 24/7 job overload.  Self-made style will become the new style.  The design-it-yourself, tailor/sew-it-yourself trend will span the socioeconomic scale and serve as a high-fashion equalizer.  It will take time and talent...not just create great looks."

"The perfect storm of Elegance, quality, individuality, beauty and Depression-need will open new consumer markets for manufacturers, retailers and promoters who see it developing."

It sure makes sense to me.   I see it happening in my own life.  Hard times necessarily bring a concomitant need to enhance the spirit.  Crafting does it for me. My personal budget has been slashed so I am co-opting   my clothing budget/nail budget/hair budget to buy things that really craft supplies.  Interestingly, I am less inclined to focus on personal adornment when money is tight...somehow it seems too frivolous.   However, I am always willing to spend money to "feather my nest."  While it seems selfish to make yet another beaded necklace, I have no problem using up my bead stash (and buying tons more) to make a beaded table runner! 

After all, it is for the home, the family, THE NEST!   Toward that end, my recent crafty outbursts have resulted in a Nuno felted table runner for my living room...............

...... another Nuno felted table runner...this one for my kitchen....

.....a felted Rooster Pillow in my family room  ('cause everyone needs a rooster pillow) ....

 ...and a new valance for my daughter's bedroom window....

WHEW!  It has been a productive few weeks!  I was willing to spend money (carefully) in order to creatively feather my nest and totally dug the process.   There is a movement happening across the country... lots of like minded crafty types are snipping and weaving and sewing and gluing.   

Get 'em to do it in your store!

The "same old, same old" isn't going to cut it anymore. People need to watch their pennies and will be hesitant to spend them freely.  You are going to have to work hard to capture their dollars.  Leverage the affordable indulgence that crafting can provide. Think of less traditional ways to promote your current inventory.  For example, sponsor a city wide Design Challenge and see what an old sweater can morph into or what can be done with Nana's old jewelry.  Create several categories and offer prizes for the winners.  Better yet...schedule a "gallery night" to showcase the participants and invite the press. Even better...join forces with other crafty stores in your area to cross promote the experience.

You have the store.  You have the merchandise.  You have the chutzpah.  Now leverage your power and make it your mission to cultivate the success you desire!

In other news:

I am packing the boxes and heading to Tucson next week to teach at Swarovski's Create Your Style Event.  Although we will not have a booth this year, we still want to connect with you! 


Please join me on Thursday February 4, 2010 for a FREE WORKSHOP on making Embedded  Felt Jewelry as well as a light lunch of Empanadas and Sangria.  The festivities are scheduled to last from 10:00 am  until 1:00 pm and all materials to the learn the basic technique will be provided ....NO CHARGE!   

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Engage your Retail Community to Achieve Greater Sales and Profitability

Independent Craft Store owners face real challenges in the coming months.  Low priced internet retailers have made pricing and inventory management critically important issues, particularly with a stagnant economic forecast.  You are understandably hesitant to take chances on unproven new merchandise when dollars are scarce.  Worse, you are forced to lower your profit margin on the best selling basics to stay competitive.  The "pricing war" is a dangerous game to play...ultimately everyone loses.  The customer enjoys a short term benefit, but artificially low prices are unsustainable.  Stores close and fewer choices remain for the consumer.

The same customer who didn't mind paying higher retail prices when times were good is much more "price aware" now that her household budget has been slashed.  If she is looking for a commodity craft item  it will be tempting for her to order online at a better price.  I can't say that I blame her...the convenience and price point are mighty attractive.  I ordered 6 copies of The E-Myth through online behemoth Amazon this a great price with free shipping.  I am already familiar with the product and don't have a local book store that I adore.  It was an easy decision for me.  Conversely, I would feel a twinge of guilt at the thought of not supporting my local yarn shop.  The twinge is enough to get me out of the chair and into the car to  purchase yarn that I could easily access online. 

What are you doing to ensure that YOUR customer will "feel the twinge?" Make it your mission to provide the best VALUE to your customer.  You might get beaten on price, but never get beaten on the "value add" factor! One way to do that is through education and access to information.  A Crafty Retailer  will actively learn new craft techniques and will SHARE THE KNOWLEDGE FREELY!

Too many craft stores become myopic in their focus.  The yarn store touts  scarves and sweaters while the bead store focuses on earrings and necklaces.  Sigh.  Ho Hum.  Boring.  There is so much more going on in the craft world!!!!  There is remarkable cross over as scrap booking techniques have found their way into jewelry making, as felt makers discover the beauty of bead embellishment, etc.  Moreover, many Crafters  are looking for innovative ways to use up their craft stash in a way that satisfies the need to create while respecting a tighter family budget.  That is, they need to be thrifty but are looking for the escape that crafting provides. Regardless of the economy, your customer still wants to forge a human connection, to learn something new, and to be part of a larger community.    So.....make it happen in a way that doesn't break the bank!  Look at your existing inventory and figure out new ways to use it!

Here are some easy ways to improve your crafty credentials:

Schedule a staff meeting and bring a stack of craft magazines that are slightly outside your genre.  The Stampington publications are always a good choice...innovative projects with good instructions. Note:  Although I advertise in these publications and draw inspiration from their pages, I am not affiliated with Stampington in any way.   Give every staff member a different magazine and quickly peruse them, marking the pages that make hearts beat a little faster.  Pass the magazines around, looking for craft projects that inspire and delight.  Watch as everyone gets excited and enthusiastic.  Now comes the fun part!  Assign employees the task of  becoming well versed in a particular project.  You provide the supplies, they supply the willingness to learn.

Calendar a date when that employee will educate the rest of the staff on the technique.  Do this once a month for the next six months.  Employee morale will improve, the team will become closer, and best of all, the creative energy will spill over to the customers. A bead store can easily schedule a class on creating altered tin art using much of the product on the floor, while a yarn shop can offer a stash buster class on making yarn mosaic lamp shades like the one created by The Crafty Chica at right.  Think outside the box to keep your customers coming back for more!   Worst case:  you will have a great time and will be in a better position to determine the viability of adding a new line.  Best Case:  you will expand the scope of your knowledge and add to your reputation as Crafty Messiah.    Yup, I feel the twinge.

Don't have any employees?  No sweat...engage your customers by encouraging them to join you on the learning curve!  Keep a jar by the cash register and ask customers to toss in ideas for future "skill building" classes.  Pick a new skill to learn each month via a random drawing and invite your customers and staff in for a skill building session where you learn the process together.  Ten heads are better than one.  You can charge a materials fee to cover the costs. These learning opportunities will go a long way toward  building a sense of community since your customers will feel an investment in your success.  Send out newsletters and encourage a party will be a marketing bonanza!  Twinge, twinge.

The bottom line:  Challenging times mean that you must "up your game."  What was working for you before might not be working for you now.  The success of your business requires that you be creative and disciplined to refresh old inventory so that customers look at it with a new eye, offer classes that use existing product in a new way, and treat your customers like they are your friends.  After all, friends support friends, in business and in life! There is a big difference between experiencing a transaction and TRANSACTING AN EXPERIENCE.  What would your customers say about doing business with you?


QUICK PROMOTION IDEA:  Snag teen crafters!  My daughter and her friends recently enjoyed an afternoon learning to fix all of the cheaply made jewelry and clothing that they bought from Forever XXI.  The products look great, but wear very poorly.  Each girl had a drawer filled with broken jewelry parts.  RE USE, RE CYCLE, RE IMAGINE!  It was a great opportunity to spread the crafty love to a new generation of crafters, while subtly pointing out the value of quality workmanship. 

SPECIAL INVITATION for Tucson Trade Show Attendees!

I want to extend a special invitation to all of my customers as well as  everyone who is participating in my Nuno Felted Scarf Workshop!  Sign up for the Workshop!  There are  only a few spots left!

Please join me on Thursday February 4, 2010 for a FREE WORKSHOP on making Embedded  Felt Jewelry as well as a light lunch of Empanadas and Sangria.  The festivities are scheduled to last from 10:00 am  until 1:00 pm and all materials to the learn the basic technique will be provided ....NO CHARGE! 

Although you won't leave with a finished necklace, you will have the skills you need to complete it at home, and teach it thereafter!!!  SPACE IS LIMITED.  RESERVE YOUR SPACE NOW!

FLYING SOLO" Update:  Thank you to all of those brave independent retailers who do it all alone and have joined our little group!  The questionnaires have been  making their way to me and it is a blast getting to know you.  We still have a few slowpokes in the group...please return the questionnaires because the fun starts next week!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Keep it Loose and Keep it Tight ....finding the proper balance in an out of balance world.

Small business owners seem to wear a lot of hats, often all at the same time  It is certainly true for me!  The fourth quarter of every year seems to provide extra challenges for me ...and for most business owners who are also wives, mothers, caretakers, etc.  Family commitments rise during the fall months (school functions, sporting events, extra socializing  and visits from family).  Business commitments also tend to increase.  After all, it is shopping season and you need to "get while the gettins' good"!   I have an added component tossed into the mix....the big industry trade shows happen in January.  Those shows require considerable prep work in the months prior to the actual event, so the holiday season usually finds me tense and distracted too much of the time.

It is during this period that it is easy for me to feel out of control...I pedal faster, then a little faster, and even faster still.  I conduct a Priority Triage so as to take stock and reassess my commitments.  Family priorities trump business priorities almost every single time.  Good for family, but bad for business.  I work hard, in the words of Amos Lee, to "keep it loose and keep it tight" in an effort achieve a successful balance.  It is not always an easy task and I am constantly reassessing---personally and professionally.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Review and refine and then refine some more.

I recently took some time to re-examine something that has become a "this is the way I have always done it" aspect of my life.  Bead store owners all over the United States are gearing up for the Tucson trade show.  It is the biggest trade show in the industry and I have attended, either as a buyer or a vendor, for years.  I went when I did not have the money to go and I went when I did not want to leave my kids.  I went when I was sick as a dog and I went when I was seriously understaffed at work.  I went because it was good for business.    The Tucson show was always the "line in the sand" that I drew between family and work.   My husband and kids could shuffle along in the absence of the head Cook/Chauffeur/Laundress for a week or two and the business needed for me to attend the trade show.  Period.

Traveling to trade shows as a store owner is part work/part play.  Traveling as a vendor is primarily work --- physically and emotionally.  It is also exhilarating --- getting to meet your customers face to face, seeing what the competition is up to, hoping for positive feedback.  I would not miss it!

....Except I made the decision not to go as a vendor this year.  The price is too high.

Not the booth fee, not the hotel fees, not the plane ticket....not any of that stuff.  Mind you....I am aware of those fees and never mind paying them.  We are in a down economy so it is even more important then ever to attend trade shows and industry events.

.......and yet, I am not going.  The price is simply too high.  The price?  Almost two weeks.  Yup....12 days away from my family. 

I am a homebody.  I love my business, but I love my other world, too.  I love my husband, my kids, my animals, my life.  My "baby  girl" is 17... a few blinks away from adulthood.  My eldest graduated from college in December and will soon be moving across the country to follow his dream.  My middle son is a minute away from shadowing his brother's footsteps.  I recently buried two of the pets of my children's youth.  12 days away from home?  I cannot do it this year.  The price is simply too high.
I am at peace with the decision but there is a part of me that is still somewhat shocked that I made it.   I always exhibit at Tucson.  While I feel all warm and fuzzy family-wise,  I am cognizant that choices have consequences.  So...I decided to hedge my bets, as it were!

I am delighted to have been asked to teach the Nuno Felt Scarf Workshop at Swarovski's Create Your Style Event on February 3.  I made the decision to do a bit more teaching this year, so the workshop will further my business plans and it should be a heck of a lot of fun.  Register here.    I am also conducting a free Felted Soap demonstration on Friday that could put me in front of potential customers.

Moreover, I will have the opportunity to actually walk the trade show...something that I haven't been able to do in many years since I was the one behind the booth.  Finally, I am planning to invite my customers to a  free Craft Social (details to follow in a future post, but the necklace pictured below will provide a bit of a hint).   Yup,  it seems that I will have an opportunity to do some finely tuned marketing and promotion after all.    Best of all....I will be away from my family for less than 5 full days.

Will there be any fallout?  I am holding my breath....and will let you know in March.  My competition will be out in full force....better staffed and better financed.  It will be interesting  to compare the numbers to years past to determine whether there was a substantive difference to the bottom line.  I will keep you posted!

JUST PUTTIN' IT OUT THERE............So what about you?  What happens when personal and business priorities collide in your crafty world?  Inquisitive minds want to know!

In other news....Two new "Finallys" to announce:

finally got the Aussie wholesale shopping cart functional and I finally finished my latest fiber necklace.   It has four very large Swarovski crystal stones embedded in the felt (The drop at the bottom has a 40mm stone!).  The necklace was much more fun....the website damn near killed me.   Thank goodness for free customer support at Volusion.  Please let me know if you encounter any snafus with the computer and we will resolve them as quickly as possible.    Users are required to register in order to access pricing to better protect our customers.  Check it out!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Get Proactive --- the Crafty Retailer will Manage her Business, not simply Respond to it!

I have always loved new beginnings.  The start of a fresh, new school year excited me as a kid.  I liked organizing my new school supplies.  Yup, I was THAT one...the annoying one who always did her homework and reminded the teacher if she forgot to collect it.  My sincere apologies to all of my classmates---I am much better now... really...I am!  

I still love new beginnings---the dreaming, the optimism, the hope.  Like the rest of the world,  I have my standard resolutions:  this will be the year I finally deal with the family photos, lose the weight, quit giving my dog so many treats so that she can lose her well as the  more important ones:  speak only with respect to those I love and keep my mouth shut if I am afraid it won't come out that way...and so on.  Yup, to my optimistic January self  everything is possible and I have 12 months to get it done!  Totally "doable!"  Right?  Right!   C'mon...I know you know what I am talking about!

What about your business dreams?  Have you been thinking just as hard about those?  Sometimes I find myself so busy in the course of my day/week/month/life  that it is tempting to steal time from other parts of my life just to keep up.  We are all busy, yet some business owners always seem to be moving forward, while others are forever racing to catch up.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

MAKE THE BUSINESS OF BUSINESS A PRIORITY IN 2010!  My typical day is jam packed and I am sure that yours is equally so.  There is never enough time.  This is how my yesterday played out:

5:30  Wake up, make coffee, walk dog.  Note:  I live on 1 1/2 acres of totally fenced property.  I  never walked a dog to "do her business."  Ever.  I opened the door and said "Go out."  The dogs would go out and I went about my life until someone barked to come in.  It was a great system.  Unfortunately, when my pal Alaska died in September, her buddy (14 year old Trixie) decided that she would only do her thing while being walked on a leash. WHAT??????  Yes, indeed, old Trixie has decided that she wants to be properly walked, like all of the other dogs in the neighborhood.    Several accidents later, I learned the new system.

6:10  Wake up daughter, then empty diswasher

6:20  Wake up daughter again and this time, MEAN IT

6:30 Make daughter's lunch for school.  Yup, she is 17 and totally capable of smearing peanut butter on some bread, but I like feeling that I am nurturing her with this little effort.   In fact, if I am really channeling my inner Mrs. Cleaver I will make her old fashioned hot chocolate to drink while she drives herself to school.  Mmm Mmm...a Chocolate Mom Hug!  There is nothing better!

6:40  Open the gate and wave good by to daughter

7:15 ASAP..get dressed and ready for the day

7:45 House is straightened  and a load of laundry is merrily bouncing around in the washer.

7:50  Walk outside and travel the few steps to work (Yeah... no commute.  I am really lucky).  Check email and get down to business.

8:30  Leave for mammogram appointment.

9:45  Thank God THAT is over for another year!  All is well in Boobland.  Take a quick detour to pick up feed for the chickens. 

10:30  Back to work.  Oops.  Almost forgot that I needed to speak to daughter's Guidance Counselor regarding a school issue.  Make the call, leave a message.  Back to work.   Work, work, work.  Give the dogs a treat because they are so darn cute.   OMG! No wonder they are hungry...I forgot to feed them breakfast.  Immediately stop what I am doing and go back in the house.  Remember to give Rosie the diet food.  Feed dogs, move over laundry.  Back to the office.  Take a few minutes to remember what I was doing and get back to business.  Check my email.  Big mistake...more distractions!  Where was I?  Work, work, work. Call from Guidance Counselor.  Mission where was I?  Work, work, work!  Pop some popcorn for lunch.  Still hungry.  Drink coffee instead of eating anything else.  We are still short staffed due to the holiday.  Argh!  I don't have time to do what I need to do.  Look at the clock.  EEK!  Time is running out!

3:30 Daughter is home from school.  Take a few minutes to connect with her and inquire about the day.  Talk about what is for dinner.  Nag her about homework and messy room.  Try not to sound naggy while I nag.  Hmm...judging by the look on her face it is not working.  Oh well, I am a mom.  I nag, she gets annoyed.  It is what we do!

5:45  Start thinking about dinner.  I have some chicken breasts thawing.  What to make?  Quick internet search.  Chicken Marsala it is!  Shut down the studio.  Go inside and start dinner.  Put on another load of laundry.

6:30  Husband home, dinner almost ready.

7:00  Eat dinner as a family.  Start to decompress.

8:30  Kitchen clean, glass of wine in hand, watch TV with the family.  Try to finish embroidering new felted necklace.  It is so cool~I am totally loving it!

9:30  Daughter heads off to  bed and I throw on a coat to walk Trixie.  Brrrr....cold.  I am not thrilled with this new dog walking system.  Think about Lucky, the 15 year old cat who died last week.  Feel grateful that I still have Trixie to walk.  Let mind wander.  Get distracted thinking  about The Business----Trixie gets a particularly long walk and I have a  work related brainstorm.  Happy  Dog and happy me.  Go back inside the house, but not before making a pitstop in the office.  Check email, write myself a note about the idea I had while walking Trixie.

10:00  Husband watching a movie on HBO.   I turn on the computer to try to do some work but I feel guilty.  I will feel even worse if I don't get this done.  I keep working but try to remain somewhat engaged in the show.

10:30  Decide that I cannot do husband deserves some attention too. Put away the laptop and vow to wake up early tomorrow..will catch up on computer work then.  Scootch closer to my husband and feel like a good wife. Do you see my halo glowing?   Happy sigh.

10:40  Fall asleep on the couch. OOPS.

And so it goes...sometimes I wake up early the next morning and sometimes I don't. Fortunately, while it is true that yesterday represented a typical workday for me, it does not  represent my typical work planning day.  Every business owner should have you?

I have one day every week---usually Wednesday or Thursday--when there is a major rule change.  I do not spend  time on the phone and I do not have much interaction with staff.   I "hermitize" and NOTHING gets in my way.  I do not meet with the accountant, I do not order merchandise, work on the blog, or put our fires.   I do not handle day to day business issues AT ALL.  Planning days are SACRED because they are the days when I move the business forward.  I dream, I plan, I put pencil to paper.  I read marketing books.  I have conversations with my mentor.  I read business blogs and see how I am measuring up.   In short, I focus on the Business of Business!

My Planning Day, which in reality often shrinks to a half a day, has changed my life.  It has clarified my vision and kept me focused on the ball.   The day keeps me fresh and has empowered me.  I am much less reactive, and much more proactive.  You have a lot of time and money invested in your business.  Don't sell it short!  Give it the time it requires in order to be successful.

You might not be able to give yourself a full day each week, so start small.   A few years back I was overwhelmed and sick to my stomach.  The business was in a bad place and there was never enough time in the day.  I happened to be stuck in traffic and I WAS TOO BUSY FOR THIS!  I spent way too much time sitting in traffic.  I was family chauffeur and my husband thought my business was a nice little hobby.  I was frustrated and losing control. 

Fortunately, I stopped feeling sorry for myself long enough to notice that the van in front of my car was marked "Dry Cleaning to Your Door.  Hmmm----a mobile dry cleaning service---perfect for Too Busy Me!  The business number was listed on the van and I used my cell phone to call it, right then and there.  The owner answered and it turned out that he was the driver of the vehicle in front of me.  Better yet, his prices were the same as my regular dry cleaner.  He agreed to follow me home, took the dry cleaning from me and brought it back the next day.  Whew! I found an hour and you can find one too!

In fact, I bet you can find a few extra hours if you get creative and make finding them a real priority.  Get to the store early two or three days each week.  Have an agenda for each of those hours and stick to it.  You will be amazed by what you accomplish!  YOU CAN DO IT ---your business is counting on you!

In other news:  
I am organizing a small group of crafty store owners who "Fly Solo" to network together for support and inspiration.  We currently have a group of ten brave souls who operate without a partner or any full time help.  These ladies represent a variety of craft genres--they are bead, quilt, and yarn shop owners.  If you would like to participate, please send me an email this week.  We will be kicking things off next week---it should be fun and informative for all!