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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!

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