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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It is time for our April Craft Challenge: Keep Creative to Keep Sane!

It is time for our next craft challenge!  It is easy for Crafty Retailers to fall into a creative rut.  Don't let the nuts and bolts of running the store impede your ability to play.  Give yourself the gift of some "outside of the box" creative time! 
april 2010 craft challenge:

we are including a nice little selection of product in this challenge, but the Swarovski hot fix crystal rock is the star of the show!

we are looking for 12 volunteers to participate in the April Craft Challenge.
participants will receive the set pictured below:

We give it all to 12 lucky volunteers..for free!

show us what you can do with some spectacular sparkle! 
iron it, bead it, sew it, glue it, alter it....just show us what you got!
deadline for pictures of finished project:  May 1, 2010
Email me if you want to play!

Other news:

OK....I have to vent.  It has been a hell of a week.  Forget the Health Care debate.  Forget the economy.  All very important, but I am focused on a more serious issue.  The stuff that impacts me on a personal level.  No, not my weight gain, bad hair, or kid drama.  I am talking about my dog.  My Rosie.  She is the best dog in the world....except for your dog, of course.  She is a mixed breed three year old shelter rescue who has many talents.  She jet skis...seriously!  We live on a lake and heaven help the errant soul who tries to get on the lake without her.  She is very agile.  My son is teaching her to ride a wake board.  She is friendly and outgoing.  In fact, if you were to visit me you would be gifted with a leaf or a stick picked especially for you, accompanied by a full body wag.  Her friendliness extends beyond the boundaries of my property.  It seems that Rosie has been visiting two different neighbors every morning when I thought she was sleeping.

I have learned that as I am busy getting my daughter off to school, Rosie has an agenda of her own.  It appears that she has been adopted by two different neighbors.   She has a very rigid routine.  Every week day she wades into the lake to get around the fence surrounding our property.  Once free, she barks at the kitchen door of neighbor #1, who LETS HER IN!  Mind you, this happens at 6:45 A.M.  Despite the hour, this kind neighbor opens the door and welcomes Rosie into the house where she enjoys a light repast of tea and biscotti before moving on to neighbors #2.  These folks are retired with no pets.  The husband has  a reputation for being a bit of a curmudgeon.   Nonetheless, he lets Rosie into their kitchen where he reads the morning paper with Rosie at his feet.  He sneaks her toast while drinking his coffee.  She meanders home shortly thereafter and I am none the wiser.  I only learned of her travels because (1) she gained quite a bit of weight in the last year (biscotti and toast are heavy on carbs!) and when I took her for walks I would run into the wife of neighbor #2 and Rosie acted like they were old friends....'cause they were.  Silly, funny little dog.

Rosie was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer 12 days ago.  Rosie is my buddy, my pal, my friend .... and I have been bereft.  Tests revealed that the disease was confined to her leg, so amputation was an option.  I did a lot of research and learned that most dogs function well with three legs.  I read that God gives dogs three legs and a spare.  So...after giving it much thought and prayer, we amputated her back left leg.   Well, not personally.  I didn't do it....too squeamish, for sure.  A well paid vet surgeon did it.

Cutting off a leg hasn't been a picnic for Rosie.  The scar is gruesome.  Really, really gruesome.  I am not sure what exactly I was expecting....a neat little stump covered with clean white gauze, I think.  Not the reality.  To make matters worse, she is clearly in pain.  She went without eating....anything.....for over a week.  To add to the fun, I have a one year old French Mastiff.  A really big, really playful 100 pound dog.  Rosie hasn't felt much like playing.  My neighbor called to inquire as to her whereabouts...the biscotti was getting stale.  I have been second guessing my decision....maybe this wasn't meant to be.

....but I am hopeful.  Today she chased a jogger who had the audacity to walk by our home.  She needed to stop and take a rest on the way back up the driveway, but she did it.  She ate a meatball this afternoon and I walked in on my daughter sneaking her some ice cream.   She jumped off of the couch when I wasn't looking and held her own with the French Mastiff.  Whew.  Maybe it is going to be OK after all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is Dead Inventory Harshing your Mellow? Tips to unload!

Slow moving inventory gets in the way of profitability.  We have all been there---we got excited about a particular product and ordered it.  Lots and lots of it.  Unfortunately, the demand for the product did not meet our expectations and so we are left to carry the burden of the surplus merchandise.  Unfortunately, too many retailers simply leave dead stock on the shelves, rationalizing that it will sell.  Eventually.  Except that it doesn't.  Customers get sick of seeing it on the floor and there is so much money tied into the loser stock that the retailer cannot purchase new product. 

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Quit smoking the HOPIUM and get rid of that ball and chain!  Sell what you have now so that you can buy what you want later!  Let go of any emotional attachment you have to your stock---it will only muddy your focus.  Take a cold, hard look at the numbers---they do not lie.  If a product is not selling in a reasonable period of time, you need to unload it.  Sitting inventory costs you money.  Do you have inventory hiding in a stock room, under a table, in a closet?  Those are the worst offenders of all because they never even had a chance!  It costs approximately 2% per month to maintain inventory on a shelf.  No one likes to sell a product for less than it costs, but it sure beats losing all of your investment.  Craft trends come and go...your inventory has a shelf life.  A little cash now is better than no cash later....get what you can for it and get it out the door.

Determine which inventory items are slow movers by evaluating inventory turns.  After all, if you don't measure it, then you cannot manage it, so KNOW YOUR STOCK!  A product that has not sold in six months is not stock you want to maintain.  Take an hour this week to make a list of surplus stock and make it your mission to get rid of it in the next 30 days.  You can do it!

Start thinking outside of the box to come up with promotional events to help you do the dirty work:

Weekly Craft challenge:  Charge a small sitting fee and organize a weekly craft challenge.  You GIVE AWAY the materials (er...dead stock) and your customers have two hours to make something fabulous.  Take photos and blog about the fun.  Vote on a monthly winner and give away a small prize.  Build community while unloading the yucky stuff.  Win-win.

Grab Bag with a twist:  Use the excess inventory as the basis for some grab bags.  Put a "golden ticket" in a random bag and offer a nice prize for the holder of the ticket.

Treasure Chest:  Put the untouchables in a treasure box by the register.   Allow customers to pick a free item for every $10 they spend.

Gumball Machine:  Patty Strong of Mountain Beadworks knows that Beads fit very nicely into gumball machines.  Who can resist a handful of beads for a quarter?

Scratch off Tickets add excitement to the sale:  Give a scratch off ticket to customers who buy select [aka "LOSER"] product.  You can make your own customized scratch off tickets to add to the fun.  Check out the awesome tutorial from Artmind.

Get your employees focused on the task, too.  Offer incentives to get employees focused on liquidating the slow movers.  Make it a game...check out the sample "Employee Bingo" game...simply modify the squares to reflect your goals.

Discount it.  Sales and markdowns are always a viable option, but remember that today's consumer is bombarded with sale messages.  You need to discount with creativity and humor to get noticed.  Consider putting the duds on a table and selling it in an unusual manner.  Fat quarters by the pound, beads by the handful, etc.

It will take some time and some attention, but unloading excess inventory is like spring cleaning with a cash bonus!  Do it now, do it aggressively.  You will feel better!

Other news:
Last week I blogged  about bumps in the road and shortly thereafter I  hit a pretty big bump.  Rosie, my three year old dog, was diagnosed with a very aggressive, high grade cancer.  The vet oncologist feared that the cancer had spread and was talking about a 2 to 6 month life expectancy.   Rosie is a funny looking little mixed breed dog whose parts never fit well together. Nonetheless, I see her with my heart instead of my eyes and she is perfect.  We have been on pins and needles waiting to get the results of her latest lab work.  Yesterday I learned that the disease was confined to her leg.  She will be a three legged dog, but she will survive.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing!  Life is good....

....and I want to celebrate!  I will draw a name from those who comment on the blog during the month of March.  The winner will receive a package of  fiber and crystal goodies with a wholesale value of $100.  Start talking!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"If it feels good, do it" is not necessarily a good business strategy.

"If it feels good, do it" is a mantra that worked in the 1970's, but it does not qualify as a business plan!  Too many of us react to whatever stimulus is in front of us.    It sure is true of me!  Over the years the "Mom me" learned to go with the flow in order to handle the day to day drama of life.   Wipe this nose, administer first aid to that child, etc.   Although at the time I never thought about having a method to my madness..the fact is that I did have a fuzzy "Mom Plan" floating somewhere in my subconscious.  You probably did too.

You knew your destination, even if you never verbalized it.  In fact, we probably had similar destinations. My goal?  Easy... to raise children who morphed into productive, independent, value centered adult humans.  Knowing where you want to go makes it easier to notice the bumps when you get off track.  Observe your sweet kid  behaving aggressively after a video game orgy?  Bump.  Have a teen daughter who is starting to dress like she should be on MTv?  BUMP.  You pay attention to the bumps so that you will ultimately realize your goal...having Thanksgiving Dinner with offspring/well adjusted adults who still want to visit you after they build happy lives of their own.

So....what is your business plan?  I am talking about more than the nuts and bolts business plan that every business owner contemplates; rather, I am talking about the dreams you have for your business. 

It is important to identify your destination so that you can stay on track.  In the early years my company morphed  as I reacted to external forces.   For example, there was a time when the market called for growth.  I figured that since I had the power to grow my company, then I should grow the company. Duh.  Growth ensued.  Yup, I reacted to the market conditions, but I did not contemplate the ramifications seriously enough.  I simply put a whole lot of effort into growing the business.   One day after "bumps" started feeling more like sinkholes,  I  took a hard  look around me.


I realized that just because I could do something did not mean that I should do it.    Although it was a lesson that took me years to learn (and I am still paying the price for the lumps I took for taking so long to learn it!) it was one worth learning.....And learn it I did!  I think....until next time....

So...back to you....what is your dream for your business?  Do you want to build a neighborhood hangout that promotes warmth and creativity?  Great---make sure that you  follow a plan certain to create such a haven.  Do you want to be the destination for high level crafty education?  Awesome!  Stay on top of the industry and book national instructors to delight your clients.

The bottom line:  If it is broken, fix it!  If customers are not coming in, take a hard look in the mirror and do what it takes to get them in:  host events, send out emails, promote yourself.  If you can't (or won't)  stick to the plan, it is perfectly reasonable to modify your vision or to retire----accept the good and the bad of who you are and move on.  The upside to being a wrinkled old grown-up is that you get to be the boss of you.  

Ideally, your life and your business will work in synergy.   My favorite local yarn store, Fiber Arts,  illustrates this point beautifully.  Roze opened her store about 5 years ago, with a desire to be a fiber arts destination, not simply a yarn shop.  The store was housed in a tiny space in an awkward little strip center.  Nonetheless, I willingly made the pilgrimage to her fuzzy, fabulous storefront.  Roze's enthusiasm for fine yarn was infectious and she successfully (finally!) taught me to knit. No charge, just a friendly smile and lots of encouragement along the way.  There was always a kind customer  available to answer a newbie question if Roze was occupied.  Ravelry exploded onto the scene and everyone seemed to be knitting.There was little in the way of competition and the business grew. 

One day I received an email announcing that Roze had moved the shop to a great new spot down the street.  More space in a  better location came with a concomitant increase in rent.   Competition started to spring up, both the on-line and the brick and mortar variety.  Roze found that life wasn't quite as much fun anymore:  She was suffering from some health issues.  She was so busy that she had no time to knit.  Her dream of moving into other areas of fiber was stymied by her success with high end yarns,  for reasons of space and economy.  Moreover, like most commercial tenants, Roze had personally guaranteed the lease and the rent burden was a gorilla on her back.  She was  able to make  the rent each month, but some months were much easier than others.  The stress started to take its toll and the pressure she felt was apparent to her "regulars." Her dream was turning into a nightmare and Roze quietly devised an exit strategy and made plans to retire as the end of her lease drew near.

Accordingly, I was surprised and delighted to learn that Roze was moving to a new space.  Her emails are full of excitement and enthusiasm.  This is the gal I knew!  Hmmmm....what was going on?

I had a chance to speak with Roze this morning and was amazed by how different she sounded.  She was focused.  She had vision and she had a plan.  She recounted that she was all set to retire when she realized that she didn't really want to retire, after all.  She just wanted "different."  

It is always nice to figure out what we really want, because it makes achieving it so much easier!

Roze moved to a space right next door to her current shop.  It is slightly smaller but superior in a multitude of ways.  The layout is better suited for retail  and Roze negotiated a heck of a price per square foot.  In fact, she has plans to lease additional space to accommodate a new fiber studio.  She said that she realized that her customers needed her and she needed them.  She laughed as she said it, saying she "knew it sounded corny."  No!  It is not corny at all.  The connection we feel is what rocks our world or we wouldn't do what we do for the money we get paid to do it!  We just have to remember to stick to the  plan so that it works for us.

Congratulations, Roze...I am glad that you are sticking around!  Every knitter needs her favorite LYS~

Other News:

NEW TUTORIAL!  Felted Hoop Earrings!

Craft new life into a pair of some tarnished old hoop earrings.  It is incredibly easy and affordable--the perfect Make and Take project for the reluctant felters amongst you!  Seriously, the earrings are almost instant gratification and will appeal to those looking for budget friendly crafting. 

Need some newsletter filler?

This Very Stupid Joke might do the trick!  Warning:  Mild sexual references

Sue and her three beading (Knitting, felting) friends spent were excited to attend a week-end workshop with a national instructor.  They couldn’t wait to get away.  Beads with a side of spa treatments!

As the trip approached, Sue's husband got petulant….he didn’t want her to go, told her they couldn’t really afford it, etc.  Two days before the group was to leave Sue told her friends she would not be joining them. 

Fast forward two days……

The three friends make it to the hotel and are surprised to see Sue sitting at the hotel bar drinking a glass of wine.

Sue explains the turn of events:

"I was at home and my husband came up behind me and put his hands over my eyes and said 'Guess who'?" I pulled his hands off to find him standing there in his birthday suit! He took my hand and led me to our bedroom. The room was scented with perfume, he had two dozen candles on the mantle and rose pedals all over the floor!   The little devil even had had handcuffs and ropes on the pillow!  He told me to tie and cuff him to the bed, so I did.

 And then he said, "Now, you can do whatever you want."
So here I am."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Does your Brand Identity need an Extreme Makeover?

Life is full of surprises.  My husband recently...and somewhat unexpectedly....wound up in the office furniture business.  The existing business has seen better days and my husband is a "turn around guy," so it could be a good fit.  One of the challenges facing him is to establish a brand identity that sets the business apart from the multitude of similar companies in the area.

True Confession:  Office Furniture isn't sexy.  Nope....I do not get excited by office furniture.  No disrespect intended to those whose fantasies include a solid mahogany work station---I am simply not an office furniture me, office furniture is kind of invisible.    A cherry veneer desk is a commodity item that can just as easily be purchased from Office Furniture Depot as Business Furniture Warehouse.  Nonetheless, when my husband asked me to jump start the marketing program, I was intrigued by the challenge and have found myself spending  time in an unfamiliar world.
  Funny thing I walked the floor of the business it was easy to identify some of the problems.  The space is well stocked, spacious, and clean.  However, it is sterile and without personality.  Ho Hum.  I see craft stores like that all of the time!    Take a look around your shop.  What do you see?  Clean, well stocked, and easy to navigate fall far short of establishing a BRAND IDENTITY.

 What makes your store stand out from the competition?

Branding is about emotion---a successful brand identity will make people feel warm and fuzzy when they think about you.  It will make them get in the car and drive to  your store to make a purchase that could easily be made from an on-line competitor.  It will make them stop by when they are "in the neighborhood" just to see what you have going on in the shop.  It will make them recommend your store to friends and family. It will keep your cash register humming along!

 The branding process is multi-faceted.  It has to do with the clothes you wear, the product you sell, the look and tone of your store.   You are in a creative industry.  Your store should be "artsy."  A plethora of slat wall and beads hanging like little soldiers leave a bit to be desired.  Ratchet it up a notch!    Artful displays provide visual interest and creative inspiration.   Your windows provide a wonderful opportunity to showcase your brand.  No time to focus?   Put the word out that you are looking for display help.  Many colleges offer classes in retail merchandising....ask a professor to have the class adopt your window as a project. Alternatively, team up with a new charity each month and change the window display to showcase every charity.  Raise money for a cause and engage your customer base at the same time.  Don't forget to notify the press!

Craft store owners are not just in the creative industry, they are also in the fashion industry.  Bead store owners should show up at work wearing statement jewelry and dressed to sell.  Yarn store owners should be wearing killer knits.  You are the dream makers and you need to play the role!  Your job is to create an aura that people will want to emulate.   Incorporate that tone into every email you send and every event that you host.

Some businesses use "tag lines" on their websites, business cards, and letterhead to reinforce the brand identity.  Poco Creations and Beads in Winnipeg has a short but effective line:  "Poco...where every bead is a gem!"  It is cute and it is memorable.  Other businesses focus on a visual logo to further their brand identity.  Geico might have a little green lizard, but Alaska Bead Company has a cute little bead lovin' polar bear.

Retail success in 2010 is about establishing your brand identity and engaging with your community...whether you are selling craft supplies or office furniture!  Now if you will excuse me, I have some office furniture to rearrange............

In other news:

how 'bout a sparkly challenge to jump start your creativity?

I am looking for challenge participants from various backgrounds (beaders, quilters, stampers, scrapbookers, etc).  who want to play with some incredible Swarovski cupchain!  This special order product is a real treat.

          Show us what you can do with this spectacular sparkle!
Sew it, Glue it, Solder it, Alter whatever you want, just 

We are looking for some crafty souls who are willing to think outside the box and meet an April 1 "picture of finished product" delivery deadline.   You will also be asked to take pictures of your work in progress along the way and offer a brief explanation as to technique.  Each participant will receive a selection of  the product pictured above as well as a thank you gift from Aussie Threads and Fibers.  Please send me an email with contact information if you would like to participate in the March Challenge.