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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Retail success is all about the branding!

I am back from my hiatus and delighted to be here.  A comforting diet of Merlot and cookies---as well as the support of a good pal----kept me going as I adapted to new demands on my time.    Happily, humans are resilient  and with practice, I have learned to keep all of the balls in the air ...for the time being...well, most of the time, anyway.  Truth be told, things are blissfully under control for the moment....and I am tickled to be back in blog land.

My Fiber/Crystal business has become a  part-time endeavor as I focus more intensely on helping my husband get his new company, an office furniture business, off the ground. [ NOTE:  I said "Part Time."   We still love to sell fiber and crystal.   You can see our current special here.]

No doubt about it, the challenges of  this new business are a bit daunting.  The store is housed in a somewhat forlorn warehouse on a great street.   The carpet is a disaster.  The interior signage is non-existent.  The website is an embarrassment.  The office cubicles utilized by the staff--and visible to the public--are old, mismatched and in disrepair.  Did I mention that it is an office furniture business? 

The business hemorrhaged cash for many months, making Husband reluctant to spend money on marketing.  Since I am all about marketing, his reticence caused me a degree of anxiety.  Of course, as often happens, the delay proved to be a good thing.    We did not have a feel for our niche in the market until recently, so an early move toward branding would have been premature.  We needed the last few months to learn who we are as a business and to identify what we want to grow into over the next few years.

Part of the education came as a result of  research investigating the websites of Office Furniture businesses all over the country.  It was a real eye opener.  I learned of trade associations that I had never heard of, found new vendors, saw what product others were dumping, etc.  It was good exercise and I encourage every small business owner to do the same thing.  You might uncover an idea for a class, store promotion, or free pattern that would never have occurred to you.

One take away:  most office furniture web sites look exactly the same...each one indistinguishable from the next.   BORING!  Worse, most folks consider an office furniture purchase to be a chore, as well as an unwelcome expense.  Customers are not coming to our store for warm fuzzies, they are coming because it cannot be put off any longer.  Further, most of our competitors sell similar items at an identical price point and competition in this tepid economy is fierce.   Our target customer is looking for a bargain.  Sound familiar?

My current challenge is to develop a brand that is memorable even thought the  product is not.   After all, one more showroom with a sea of  wooden desks and one more website with pictures of even more wooden desks will simply get lost in a sea of mediocrity!  Ho Hum.   Accordingly, we are endeavoring to build a brand  that is a  informal and a bit charming, so that visitors remember the experience... 
          ...using virtually no cash!

In the immortal words of my former business partner......

I guess it is time to pull another miracle out of my ass.

No sweat...I am up for that! 

First, a quick fix to the interior:

I am building life size cut outs of "Mad Men" stylized "characters" to populate the sales floor.  Unexpected and fun.   Our signage will incorporate an old fashioned "typewriter" font to reinforce the vintage message.  We have created interesting vignettes -- previously non-existent--using typewriters and office supplies from the 1950's and 1960's to add interest to  the stuffy executive desks.  We are using vintage toys to inject playful pops of color to make the store even more engaging.  Remember the good old days?  The days when life was simple and people were honest and true?  Yup, that's us.  We even have plates of fresh cookies scattered about the place.

Second, a new website is under development.  It will reinforce the brand and will be tied to my new small business marketing blog (in the works) so that prospective customers will have a reason to come to the site, even if they aren't in the market for office furniture.  After all, we want our business to be "top of mind"  if and when the need for furniture does arise.  The same sort of marketing would work for you!  Consider offering free patterns on your site--and change them often--to keep your customers connected.

Third, beginning January 2011 we will be hosting monthly networking parties that will feature different speakers well versed in a subject important to small business owners.  January's speaker is a Collection Attorney, February's features a Commercial Landlord offering advice on how to renegotiate your lease, March is all about Web Site Optimization and so on.  We will serve wine and light appetizers and hope to build a sense of community.  Hmm...maybe folks will come in for warm fuzzies after all!
In short, we have been working hard and working focused and it seems to be paying off.  Last month was a profitable one, albeit a "so tiny you could hardly see it" kind of profit, but we were exhilarated. 

High five!

In the studio:
The last few months have been equally productive, from a crafty perspective.
I have been doing a whole lot of crochet and am also in midst of some fiber projects.  For those interested in a very simple introduction to felting, consider the simple felted headband with Swarovski embellishment pictured at left.  It is quick and easy....the perfect holiday Make and Take for bead or fiber stores.

 Check out the video tutorial:

I also finished a bright crochet pillow inspired by Lucy of Attic 24 The ripple blanket  seen with it is based on one of her tutorials, as well.   Any fiber retailer who is unfamiliar with Lucy's colorful work is missing a wonderful opportunity to get customers thinking beyond the scarf.  She is a gem and has great free tutorials.

I even completed one of the UFOs that had been dogging me for months--yet another rooster pillow.  I love the way the velvet got all brainy looking after the wet felting. 

In other news:

Rosie the Three Legged Dog continues to chase squirrels and chickens, Cancer be damned.

As her adorable Veterinarian  --an Antonio Banderas look- alike--says in his equally adorable Spanish accent:

"The cancer, it will catch her, but it hasn't catched her yet, thanks God."

Thanks, God, indeed.


  1. Yay, I was thrilled to see a new blog post. Welcome back, Pat!

  2. Thanks, Cathy! It is funny.... blogging has become part of what makes my world happy and I have missed my cyber pals! It is good to be back.

  3. Pat! I've missed you! So glad to hear you in Blog Land again.