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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Improve your KNOW, LIKE and TRUST Quotient to increase your bottom line!

Successful entrepreneurs know the importance of customer service and it is all about your KLT Quotient.  After all, a shopper who KNOWS, LIKES, and TRUSTS you is a shopper who will spend hard earned money in your store.  Most retailers know how to be charming and engaging, but many fall short when it comes to training their employees to do the same.  After all, we often assume that everyone knows how to answer the phone in a gracious manner, will think to assist an elderly patron with her packages, or will cheerfully distract a whiny child so that Clueless Mom can shop without annoying other customers.  Unfortunately, we all know the problem with making an assumption...too often the reality proves to be quite different than what we had expected.  Are your employees inadvertently sabotaging your efforts to create a warm and fuzzy shopping experience for the folks who pay your rent?  Hmmm....maybe the disconnect is on your side!

Most employees want to perform well.  Nobody likes missing the mark or letting down the boss.  However, it is hard to succeed if the mark is fuzzy and out of focus. 

What is Crafty Retailer to do?

Improve your communication skills, for starters! 

Most craft stores are owned by women and some women have a difficult time defining their expectations in a clear, concise and meaningful way.  Assertiveness seems to go against our DNA....we have an innate desire to be liked and to avoid confrontation.  Moreover, our employees  often become our friends in a way that is not true in a more Testosterone driven environment.  My husband would never think to discuss personal "stuff" with his staff and he certainly doesn't want to hear any intimate details from them, either.  Me?  I want all the sordid details, sister!  The people who work for me know about my dog's health issues, my daughter's last date, and my struggle with the scale.  C'mon....'fess up!  It is probably true with you, as well.

It doesn't take long before many of us are sharing snippets of life with our employees.  It makes work more interesting and companionable, to be sure.  The down side is that  it feels really uncomfortable to "boss around" our friends.  Accordingly, we often give a directive in a manner that sounds more like a suggestion than a requirement.  You know what I ask an employee if she can rearrange a display when she has a minute, rather than asking her to have it done by Friday.  You assume that it will be done within the next week and she assumes that it will get done if she has the time.

It is likely that the week will go by with the employee never finding that free minute.  You will be left frustrated and annoyed, staying late to create the display yourself, missing your son's soccer game and grumbling all the while.  Meanwhile, the poor employee senses your irritation but has no clue as to the cause, simply shrugging it off to Menopause----After all, she has been listening to you complain about hot flashes for weeks.  Ouch.

 It is easy to lose control of your shop if you do not establish clear processes and procedures. You have a right to expect the people you pay to do what is necessary to move the store forward.  However, you have a concomitant responsibility to make your expectations well defined and easy to discern.   Get over your fear of appearing bitchy--- You are not a bitch by making your expectations clear; rather, you are only a bitch if you communicate those expectations in a hostile or aggressive manner.  Channel your inner Steel Magnolia and get the job done!

 Cover the basics:  gum chewing, cell phone usage and texting, attire, attitude, etc.  

Put it in writing!
If you want the phone to be answered in a certain way, establish a procedure for it, discuss it at the weekly staff meeting (you are having weekly staff meetings, aren't you?), and put it in writing!  Keep a copy of the memo near the phone as a reminder. 

Train your employees as to the proper way to greet a customer.  "Let me know if you have any questions" is not an option.  Some more creative suggestions:

Is this your first time in the store?
If yes, then you have a wonderful opportunity to give a little tour and point out shop highlights.  If the answer is No, you can inquire as to her current project or ask what brings her in this time.

Whatcha working on?
We all love talking about our projects.  Nothing makes me feel better than having a chance to speak CraftyLove with another addict.  We have an instant bond and it adds to the whole KNOW/LIKE/TRUST factor that will turn customers in fans.

OMG!  I LOVE your sweater/scarf/necklace!  
Did you knit/crochet/weave it yourself?  Let me see it up close!
 I went into an office furniture store today to scout out my husband's competition.  I was immediately approached by a beautiful, well appointed woman who greeted me with a wide smile.  She stuck out her hand to shake mine but noticed my scarf (pictured at right)  and immediately changed was all about the scarf for the next minute.  She was genuine and delightful----too bad she is the competition because I could tell that it would be easy to KNOW/LIKE/TRUST her!  Interested in the Scarf  Tutorial?  Check it out here.

Give your trusted employees a degree of autonomy and decision making authority.
It will increase morale and inure to your benefit.  I had an encounter today where a strict an adherence to corporate policy would have been poison.  Fortunately, the employee had the authority to step outside of the corporate box to make an on the spot decision that made me KNOW/LIKE/TRUST the company.   I went to pick up some wall decals that I had designed as a giveaway for hubby's business. They were a special order and I knew that they were "non-returnable."   Unfortunately, the resolution of the image that I had sent was--unbeknownst to me--- inadequate, resulting in a flawed decal.  I was dissatisfied with the product and annoyed that the printer had not contacted me before the final printing to apprise me of the problem.   He was irritated because he figured that I knew what I was sending ---- he simply printed what he saw.    Clearly, we were at a bit of an impasse.    I could almost see the wheels turning as the salesman debated how to proceed.  Fortunately, he turned the situation into a win-win.  I will provide a better image and he will reprint the decals.  He even took the time to give me a bit of an education on his product line so that I can avoid a similar mistake in the future.

 He was excited and enthusiastic about his job, knowledgeable about his industry, and eager to move forward to make me a happy customer.  We are both confident that we will do more business together in the future.  His boss is lucky to have him and was wise to have given him a degree of latitude in daily operations.After a shaky start, this incredible sales guy went out of his way to get me to KNOW, LIKE, and TRUST him.  It worked....I doubled my initial order, placed an additional order, and left happy.   Win-Win.


The holidays are hectic for every business owner and a complicated craft project would push me over the edge right now.  Accordingly, I am DELIGHTED to be working on my latest, somewhat mindless, endeavor....a rag rug crocheted from colorful old T-Shirts.  I get to be thrifty and wax nostalgic at the same time!   My daughter wants to save every shirt as a "momento" but is willing to let me raid her stash to make a commemorative rug.  It will go in a bright corner of our kitchen once it reaches 48 inches. This would be a killer first project for a teen age crochet class because of the large hook size and easy to see stitches.    I adapted the Hexagon Tutorial from Lucy at Attic 24.

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.