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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Charity Craft Challenges and the Case for Sound Reasoning....

This is a tough time to own a small business. Two of my favorite crafty retailers just told me that they were closing the doors.  One was a customer and one was a Crafty Retail Rock Star.  The former had an opportunity to sublease her costly retail space and jumped at the opportunity to get the hell out.  The latter is closing the doors because the numbers just aren't working and she has done everything she can think of to make them work.  She is sad and frustrated but will not let emotions get in the way of sound business decisions, and sometimes the soundest decision is to cut your losses.

Man, Oh Man.

I know how they feel and I bet you do too.  We have either been there before, are sitting there now, or harbor fears that it could happen soon.    Let's face it....with the bleak national economic news pressing in on us from all sides it would be difficult not to have some concerns.

....and yet.....

I am ordering new inventory and adding fresh product lines.  I am developing a new line of kits and scheduling workshops.  I am planning for tomorrow.  While I am hopeful for the future,  momma didn't raise no fool.  A bad inventory decision is a bigger deal today than it used to be, so my decisions have to be more calculated than emotional.   I do a lot of research and ask too many questions.  I try not to make big decisions when I am rushed because mistakes are usually more costly than the time required to fully analyze the situation.  No doubt about it.... I am making inventory decisions very thoughtfully, and with much less exuberance than I did a few years ago.    There is big difference between "sound reasoning" and "reasons that just sound good"!  Today's financial climate requires that I remind myself of that difference on a daily basis.  So as I look to the future I try to work hard, employ sound reasoning, stack the odds in my favor, create, and, most of all... to pray.  After all, what else are ya gonna do?

IN OTHER NEWS

I am tickled pink and totally excited....the Etsy Craft Warrior Charity Site is officially up and running.

The CONCEPT
It is so easy to get caught up in the drama and tumult occurring in our little spot on the map that we can  forget to think about those who could use a helping hand.   I figured that  an ongoing Charity Craft Challenge would be a great way to combine work life with my desire to be of service to the larger community --- and the Craft Warrior was born.  The lady on the logo is my husband's Great Great Aunt Celia.   I never met her but I sure do treasure the picture...dour face, swollen ankles, bosom hanging low...I mean, what's not to love?  We tease my beautiful daughter that Aunt Celia looked EXACTLY like her when she was a young woman.  We think it is hilarious.  My daughter does not. 

...but I digress....

We announced our first challenge a few months ago and the deadline for submission was April 15.  Every artist who participated received a box of goodies from Aussie Threads and Fibers to use as a jumping off point.  The finished projects were donated and posted on the Etsy site, with all proceeds benefiting the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.  Wow!   I was humbled by the quality of work submitted.  We had a generous and very talented group of artists participating...including several national instructors and Swarovski Create Your Style Ambassadors.  The work is amazing and it is all available for purchase on Etsy.   Er......Did I mention that all of the proceeds are going to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation?
 
Yup...every cent.  

 Aussie Threads and Fibers will bear the Etsy expenses and fees. Please take a moment to see the terrific work and read about the talented creators of the "Pearls with an Attitude" submissions HERE .  After that,  head on over to Etsy to do some SHOPPING!   We priced every single article at the same low price to make it painless for you and profitable for the soldiers.  Let's raise some money for the families of folks who have sacrificed for our great nation. Make Aunt Celia proud!

Wanna participate in our next CRAFT WARRIOR CHALLENGE?  The kit is "TABAC TEMPTATIONS" and includes vintage and specialty coated Swarovski crystal, as well as some incredible beads and baubles.
Shoot me an email if you want to be entered into the drawing!  The finished project will be due on or before June 15.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Jumpstart your Email Marketing Campaign to Improve your Bottom Line!

I love getting emails.  Seriously.  I know that folks bitch and moan about getting "spammed" but the reality is that true spam is easy to deal with---a quick press of a button sends that bad boy to my junk folder forevermore.  It is a small price to pay for all of the good stuff that finds its way to my In Box:  coupons, free tutorials, recipes, a window into my competitors' world, etc.  Email  Marketing is AWESOME!  It is cheap, easy, fast, and effective...provided that you do it right.  Fortunately, there is a formula for email success.

1.  Build an Email Contact List.   Forget about the benign little guest register book on the counter---it is too passive and quickly becomes invisible. Train your staff to effectively gather this information from your customers on a consistent basis.   Many shopkeepers are surprisingly reticent to ask for this information.  Don't be!  Most folks will be happy to give up the address provided you offer value for the sign up by way of great newsletter content, sales information, free tutorials, etc. One surefire way to update your email list is to offer to email  a coupon for a free gift later that day.

This works on a number of levels:  the retailer has an opportunity to verify the validity of the email  before giving up any goodies and the customer makes a return trip to the store to redeem the gift---an additional sales opportunity!

Remember to use your website to capture email addresses.  An attractive sign up box for visitors to register for  newsletters, product updates, etc. is a painless way to grow your contact list.  The coupon give away works just as well online.

2.  Divide and Conquer.  It is a good idea to divide your list into groups, so that the emails can be narrowly targeted.   For example, I have a Master Contact List, which includes my entire customer list.  However, I have subdivided the list into several smaller groups:  Bead Store Owners, Yarn Store Owners, Needlepoint Store, Spinners, Felters, Jewelry Designers.   A carefully targeted email will increase the odds that the recipient will be happy to receive it because it is relevant to her.


3.  Make it a Habit.  Your customers will get used to seeing your missives and-- if you have quality contact--- they will build you into their daily ritual.  Despite what many retailers think, once a week is not too often.  A recent study reported that the unsubscribe rate actually increases with the infrequency of the email! If folks aren't used to seeing you, they will delete you!   The Crafty Retailer should send out a weekly email filled with pictures and links.  The more pictures, the more interesting.  Crafting is all about the visual. I am always kind of blown away when I see a craft retailer who advertises classes without posting any project pictures:   SERIOUSLY?  How can you excite and inspire without the eye candy?  Pictures are a  no brainer.  Additionally, the more links within your email, the higher the click through rates and the lower the unsubscribe rate.  Remember...your customers like to craft and you sell product they love.  Your email is like comfort food!

4.  Be Careful about the "From" line.   Will your customers recognize your name as the sender or is the  store name more likely to garner greater recognition?    I typically delete email from unknown sources, so an email from a known local store "The Fiber Factory" will get opened, while an email from "Mary Smith" --who the heck is she?--will not.

5.  Use the Subject Line to Hook your customer!   You know the drill...it is all about Salesmanship.  "Newsletter Update from the Bead Barn" might get put on the back burner, while there is a greater sense of urgency to read "Just In!  New shipment of Gemstones at 2005 prices!  Get 'em while you can!"

6.  Offer High Value Content to Improve your "Click Through" rate.   Art/Artist related newsletters typically garner a 17.53% open rate, and a 3.54% quick through rate.  How do your newsletters compare? I keep a newsletter cheat sheet near the computer so that I can jot down notes when I come across an item of interest while surfing the net.  That way, when I am ready to sit down and actually start typing I already have an outline.  You can download a newsletter cheat sheet here.

The definition of "high value" will vary.  I tend to open newsletters that give me something:  information, eye candy, a coupon, warm fuzzies, a giggle.  For example, a fiber store could include one of the hilarious photos from "What Not to Crochet," while a bead store owner could give directions on how to clean Swarovski crystal.  Consider including a favorite seasonal recipe, or note that your best customer's son just made it to the Little League All Star team.   It is all about building community!


In the Studio:
The recent fiber earring challenge left me very inspired!  In fact, we are working on a line of Felted and Embellished Earring kits that are wonderfully easy and delightfully inexpensive.  Here is a sneak peak at one of the designs...whuddayathink?
 

Update: Cooper the Demon Dog

 I lost my glasses.....and then I found them....sort of.

Cooper - 1, Glasses - 0.

Nonetheless, Cooper and I seem to be making our way. Only two accidents this week and no dead chickens...it is all good!
Of course, we had to restock our chicken family after the most recent massacre and the new girls are happily nesting in the studio for now.  I am hoping that familiarity will encourage Cooper to feel more protective than  predatory!
So far, he is fairly disinterested.  I'll count that as a win!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Define the life you want and refine your business to accomodate it.

It is time to hit the "applause" button.  We deserve it, dontcha think?  Those of us who have survived the last few years and lived to tell about it are due a pat on the back and some raucous applause.

WHOO HOO!  You go, girl!

We have downsized, belt tightened, sold off dead inventory, kept folks employed and tap danced to keep customers happy.  We have paid bills on time and scheduled marketing events and sent out emails.  We have worked harder than ever to keep the doors open.....and they are still open.  It feels good.  In fact, my little business is in a bit of an expansion mode at present.... and THAT feels really good.

You see, not too many years ago the story was much different.  I had huge sales numbers and thought that I was kicking ass.  Ironically, my business was in a crisis mode but I was totally clueless until it was almost too late. Oops.  I didn't realize that the economy was cyclical and that I had simply been riding a wave. [ Errr...you mean the good times don't last forever?   Who da thunk?]    I was more artist/marketing strong than process/accounting strong.  I didn't like the yucky stuff like bookkeeping and there was always a squeakier wheel to grab my attention.   I had a family with three busy teenagers.  My internet business was home based, and in my head that meant that I was a stay at home mom...meeting every need and expectation except for some important ones required by the business.  It only took a few unexpectedly slow months for the world to crash in on me.  Cash flow seemed to disappear overnight.  Gulp.  I had way too much inventory....WAY too much.  The debt appeared to be unsustainable.  Hubby was pissed.  I was freaked.   I couldn't meet my financial obligations for the first time in my life.  I talked to a bankruptcy attorney, but knew that I would not be able to live with that option.  It was a dark time.

Fortunately, I am as tenacious as a bulldog and failure was not an option.  I refused to bankrupt the company --it was a  moral issue for me.  I also determined that my my family would not risk financial security to pay the price for my foolishness.   Some how, some way I needed to pull a miracle out of my ass.  I found a business mentor, learned some humility, and got it together.    I spent the next two years working 12-15 hour days in a state of barely suppressed  panic.    Bad choices necessarily forced other choices and I paid a heavy price for my irresponsibility.    I had to forgo a  paycheck, no money for perks,  not enough time for my family and certainly no time for crafting....every penny was thrown at the debt and every hour was thrown at the business.  It was awful, but it was effective.  Although I am not yet completely debt free,  I am getting close.  The remaining debt amount is insignificant enough to make a banker yawn.  Yup, I have morphed into a halfway respectable business person...my Quickbooks balance actually matches my bank account balance.  It is a beautiful thing!

My two years of  Panicky Debt Hell ended when I realized that I was actually Going To Make It.  I had dodged a bullet---the business was going to survive, the debt was going to get paid.    Now what?  I did what I had to do when I had to do it, but I was no longer willing to work  12-15 hour days.  I wanted more time with my family, with my dogs, in the garden and in the studio.  Once I had defined the life I wanted, it was easy to refine my  business to accommodate that life..  I downsized, dropped some product lines, said good bye to some high maintenance/low margin customers, tightened my belt, watched my inventory like a hawk, and cut back on my work schedule.  If I don't have cash, I don't buy.  It works.  Another benefit?  I learned to work smarter, not harder.



Of course, I continue to refine the business as my life morphs from one stage to the next.   I will soon be presiding over an empty nest. Sigh.  One minute I am a teary, weepy mess as I bid adieu to my daughter's little girl self, and the next I am excited by the new opportunities that await me.  [Menopause, manic depressive, or normal?  You be the judge].

I am putting the finishing touches on  a number of workshop proposals as I seek to increase  national teaching opportunities for 2012.  Additionally, I am getting ready to launch a new line of felting kits, which has me totally jazzed.   I have more ideas than time and  cannot wait to wake up in the morning.   The funny thing is...I am working 12 hour days again, but it doesn't feel like work.  I am happy and invigorated.  I am thankful for the lessons that I learned during those difficult years.  The economic challenges of today seem small by comparison! I will never, EVER, EVER get into debt again. My heart is filled with gratitude and I look forward to each day.

Fortunately, not every retailer has to learn the hard way.  There are many who have good instincts and get it right the first time.  Carol Garfield, of Dancing Beads in Medford, Oregon  is just such a Retail Rock Star.  You first met her a few posts back.

Carol owned a retail bead shop from 1995 to 2006.   The shop was her day job and it needed to support itself and her, so for 13 years she made certain that she was the "go to" place for beady inspiration.  However, as her 50th birthday approached, she decided that she was ready for a change.  [Menopause, manic depressive, or normal?  You be the judge].

Carol was able to close the doors debt free because she had always "paid as she played."   [insert sound of wild applause here].    She packed up her gorgeous inventory and went home, where she started a home based web design business.  Fast forward to June 2010.  Carol was not enjoying the isolation of her home office and decided to rent some space.  While looking for an office, she found the perfect retail space:

As I stood in the middle of the room I was astounded by the light coming into the space.  There were two rooms, and the smaller one was a sunroom!  Hardwood floors, a fireplace, and walls painted a great color further charmed me.  As I stood in the middle of the room soaking it all in a gentle voice declared with much authority, "You just found your bead store."  I didn't even know I was looking.

Carol's return to crafty retail after a two year hiatus came with some surprises....the out of control price of silver, for example.  However, most surprising was the dramatic way that marketing had changed.  
I think I closed the old shop at just the right time, and I know I've re-opened it at just the right time.

I've been amazed at how much the world changed in the two years I was gone.  Of course, the price of metals is beyond ridiculous, but as a red head, I prefer copper anyway, and have gotten my customers excited about it.  Shipping?!  Sheesh, twice as much, and twice as slow.  The online competition is daunting, and before long I will have an online catalog.  I do have a website, a blog, and a Facebook page for the shop, all of which I maintain myself, so the catalog is slow going.

What I've been the most amazed by has been the change in marketing.  I've always been a good story teller, and I've blogged since 2005.  Social networking wears me out, but I do it.  I tend to be more social face-to-face, than online.

I'm celebrating National Craft Month (along with everyone else in our industry) and have sent out an email newsletter to the nearly 600 bead lovers on my email list.  I've started a monthly 'Make and Take' and aa result... I've made bag stuffers outlining all the fun that will be happening this month.  I'll be making bag stuffers every month as I have all my promotions, events, and sales scheduled for the year.  There is dead inventory in the closet that will soon go away as grab bags, challenges, or a donation to a homeless teen center.  I talk about The 3/50 Project to anyone who will listen.  I'm blogging, and posting my status on Facebook as often as possible.  Yesterday, the shop reached 100 'likes' on FB and lucky number 100 has a $10.00 gift certificate waiting to be collected.  I'm filming things around the shop I think might interest my customers.  I email a newsletter every other week, and I make certain I tell everyone thank you.  They're the reason I'm working so hard. weekly Beading Circle.  Seven people volunteered to help me teach classes this session, and we've scheduled 24 different projects, and techniques as
Community.  I had no idea what a hole I'd left by closing in 2008 until re-opening in 2010.  My old customers have been coming back in droves.  They missed the shop, the vibe, and excitement.  They love the new space.  The economy may still be rough, but people will always want to be surrounded by beauty, and are willing to spend a little to fulfill their need to create.  We're in the best business there is, we get to fulfill those needs, and our own at the same time!!
Wow....I couldn't have said it better myself.  Carol's brand new business is supporting her and she has recently expanded.  Her tips for success:
Make a Daily TO DO List and DO IT.  Carol always starts her day with a clear vision of what it will hold for her, whether it is a three hour marketing session or benign store housekeeping issues.   She does what she has to do before she even thinks about doing what she wants to do.  No quick peeks at Facebook, no playing with the inventory, no NUTHIN'....until the list is finished.  
Put your hopes and dreams out to the universe.    "I would like to make X dollars today."  Carol says that more often than not, she finds that she gets what she needs.  Don't laugh.  The universe currently knows that I am looking for a used leather couch for my studio.  It will come.  
Stay Fresh:  Constantly explore new techniques.  Carol loves to teach and says that as she learns and changes, so do her customers.
Be "Other Oriented."  Ask yourself what you can due to improve the shopping experience of every individual who walks in your door.  This one seems so obvious, but ask yourself....When was the last time someone treated you like that?  It is so rare that when it happens, loyal fans are born.  Carol spoke the truth when she told me that her customers are hungry for what they cannot find from on-line retailers...Human Connection.  
Say it, Girfriend!  Unh hunh, Unh hunh.
IN OTHER NEWS: 
Those of you who have been with me a while know that I went through hell and back when I lost my dog to cancer late last year.    I did what I swore I wouldn't and  adopted little Cooper, in part because he had a certain Rosie-ish  shape to his face and in part because he needed a family.   
  Oh.  My.  God.
He is a terror.  An honest to goodness Demon Dog.  He pees with gleeful abandon the second he comes inside....after peeing quite happily and productively outside.   He hangs by the cat litter box looking for tasty treats.  He has slaughtered several of my chickens and even managed to kill the meanest rooster that I have ever owned.  This rooster was huge and had two inch spurs---I cannot even imagine how it happened.   The Roo was an ornery cuss  and would regularly attack  me when I stepped too close.   I guess Cooper actually performed a bit of a favor there, but I have to protect my hens!   
I  Googled "how to stop a dog from killing chickens" and learned ---from resource after resource---that it was fairly easy to do.  It merely involves tying the dead chicken's lifeless body to the dog's collar and letting it rot there for a week.  It is widely suggested that the dog be separated from the family during this process as the flies can be overwhelming.  Wow.  That kind of training is sure not going to happen in my lifetime.  Sigh.  Yesterday I found him in my bed, happily gnawing on the leathery foot of a long dead turtle carcass.  Today he cremated a baby finch hopping about the driveway.  Louder Sigh.    
My dog-loving daughter confessed that she wouldn't be upset if Cooper found another home.  My dog-loving husband thinks Cooper is a nightmare.  Of course, I am into "high maintenance and difficult," so I already adore him.  He looks quite the imp with that little patch over his eye and a dead turtle hanging out of his mouth.  What to do?
I guess it is time for me to pull another miracle out of my ass.  After all, he does remind me of Rosie.  She used to exult in Rooster Chasing, too.  So....Game On.  I am going out whisper the Dog Whisperer.  I am going to win this battle.  I hope.  Oops...gotta go...Cooper is heading toward the cat litter box again!
Pray for me....