Don't miss a post! Follow me by Email!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can't we all just get along? Bashing your Competition is bad karma, bad for business, and just plain yucky.

Crafty Retail can be awesome, but some days it is kind of like high school.  Yup, high school with wrinkles.  Snarky competitors love to make snide comments when your customers are in their stores, and snarky customers love to come back to you to spread the news....all in your best interest, of course.  They just "think you should know."  Sigh. 

A wise friend once told me that every fight she ever had with her husband boiled down to one of two basic scenarios:  one of them felt that his/her sense of security was threatened, or that his/her sense of significance was threatened.  SECURITY and is right.  Think about your last fight with a significant other....I bet that you can see security or significance at play.   I see it in myself, and I see it in my family.  Heck, I even see it in my dogs.

It is the exact same in Crafty Retail!   When the economy is great, and there are as many customers  lined up at your door as are at the door of your competitor,  you can afford to be magnanimous.  You know----C'est La Vie, Live and Let Live and all that chirpy stuff.  However, when you are worried about making the rent payment, you might not always be up to singing Kum Ba Yah with the lady stealing "your" customers/money/ideas, etc.

The economy is a bitch so the security and sense of significance for crafty retailers is under attack.   Although it is not surprising that there seems to be a tad more bitchy going around these days,  it is kind of gross.   I am always a little bit amazed that smart, savvy business owners fall into the trap.
The most common form of  Crafty Retail Snarkiness  that I hear about is the casually dropped "I've heard that her store is not doing so well."  This is typically said in a hushed sympathetic tone that implies that the Rancorous Retailer would actually be upset if the competitor closed.  PUH-LEESE! You aren't fooling anybody and your bitchiness is showing.

You might do it the same way that my sweet voiced Texas 'friend' does...she ALWAYS punctuates her Acid Sweet Snarkiness with the phrase---- "poor little thing!" as if it will serve to neutralize her bitchiness:

"Have you seen Suzie?  My God, that dress she has on makes her look ridiculous!
...poor little thing!"

YUCK!  I admit, it is funny as hell, but it is still yucky.

Don't fall into the Rancorous Retailer trap!   I get that we are in a business that is riddled with estrogen.  I get that we are stressed out, that our parents need extra help as they transition from old age to infirm, that the babysitter quit, and that you are worried about making your rent payment, but still....don't do it!

I know one shop owner that truly has the patience of Job.  She has held her head high and kept her own mouth shut while dealing with a competitor who is mean spirited, at best.   This Rancorous Retailer has spread ridiculous rumors about her, which include, but is certainly not limited to, the one where she tells folks that the Crafty Retailer has a disabled child that she leaves at home --all alone--because she is uncomfortable being around the wheelchair bound child.  Bear in mind that the "victim" retailer has no kids!  WTF?

Weird, huh?  I mean, seriously!  Where does the lady come up with this stuff?  Both women have been in business for years and each has a loyal following.  The Crafty Retailer is growing frustrated, her feelings are hurt, and she worries that her business is impacted by the slander.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

This is a tough one.  I think that I would consider either of the following:

1.  Contact the Rancorous Retailer and ask to schedule time to get together to work on a joint marketing venture. Send her an email so that you don't catch her off guard. Completely ignore the past animosity and work on something together.  Yes, really!  Consider a Shop Hop or a project that requires a visit to each store.  This woman is a bitch because she is insecure...remember, it is all about security and significance.  This will appeal to both and make her feel weirder about trashing you in the future.  You really DO catch more flies with honey than vinegar!

2.  Ignore it.  Who has time for the drama?  Note:  ignoring it means REALLY ignoring it.   If you are whining about it, you are not ignoring it.  Give yourself a 24 hour whine limit per occurrence, otherwise you are playing along. 

What about you?  How would you handle the Rancorous Retailer?  Inquiring minds want to know!

In other news:
Looking for an inexpensive way to expand your market base?  Consider starting a Meet Up group.  It is not the same as a ladies night out, or a stitch and bitch session because you have the chance to attract people way outside of your normal reach.

I had an opportunity to attend a Beads Meet Up group hosted by Holly Hancock of Beads last week.   Fourteen women attended and a local restaurant delivered dinner for anyone who was interested.  Holly had a sweet little spiral bracelet project on the agenda and sent everyone a supply list before the event.  Some ladies came with all of their supplies, while others (like me!) bought everything they needed (and then some!) that night.
Holly told me that although the group started out slowly, it built up over time and is now an important part of her store "community."  It has attained the status of "special event" and sales make it well worth the effort.  It was certainly apparent that the MeetUp members agree.  Barley, the shop mascot, ran to the door with each new arrival, even barking at some favorites as he saw their cars pull into the parking lot.  Store Regular Bonnie Anderson  entertained me when she got Barley to do a "high five" to earn his treat.

Holly has organized two separate for beading and another for dichroic glass.  The cost to the organizer is minimal.  In fact, two weeks ago I formed my own little Fiber Meet Up group in my area, to be sponsored by new "Retail Lite" venture, Urban Stitch Studio.   We already have 10 members and I will be hosting our first meet up event this Saturday.  Wish me luck!  


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Refine Your Crafty Business to Get the Life You Want!

We have been blogging a bit about the state of the brick and mortar craft store and it is fair to say that times are changing. There was a time when a creative individual with a passion for knitting/beading/scrapbooking/etc. could open up a store with relative ease.  I opened my store that way...I loved to bead, wanted to spread the love, had a tolerant husband and some friends who were willing to go into business with me. Voila!  I was a retailer.  The rent was reasonable, customers were plentiful, competition was non-existent.  Life was GREAT!

...until it wasn't.  I lost my motivation.

Several competitors popped up and many were much better financed.  Customers became more demanding as the craft world became larger and the choices more plentiful.  My partners and I started squabbling. Internet stores began to appear and I recognized that the competition would  be an additional burden. The business took too much time away from my family.    My husband became less tolerant.   I felt frazzled and frustrated.  I was busier than ever, but seemed to be accomplishing less.  I was burnt out. My partners were burnt out.  Sound familiar?  It wasn't working any more and the bead shop was sold.  It was a happy day for all of us ---a great burden had been lifted from our shoulders, but only one friendship survived.

Running a successful retail business is not easy.  It takes a wicked amount of time, energy, focus, and money.  It is hard.  It is getting harder.  It is no longer enough to have a well stocked shop and a knowledgeable staff.  Today's Crafty Retailer must  master Social Media (if you are not on Facebook, GET on Facebook!), design inspiring classes, have an interactive e-commerce website,  plan promotional events, send out weekly newsletters, and more.  It is exhausting just thinking about it.

Many retailers are deciding that the personal sacrifice is no longer worth it.  I had an opportunity to speak with Kim Schweitzer, who recently made the decision to close her bead shop, EmMi Beads, in upstate New York.  Kim was a savvy retailer...she has a business background as well as a creative streak.  She opened her store 5 1/2 years ago and watched her business expand and grow over the years.  She was lucky to have a wonderful support team.  Her husband did her books, her artistic and bead loving daughter worked at the shop, and her mom was her right hand relative to operations..  She recently took on a larger space and business was good.  Unfortunately, life happens and Kim found that the demands on her time were growing exponentially.  Her daughter's interest understandably waned as she entered college, her father grew ill and her mother's focus was required elsewhere.  Kim believed that she was no longer able to be the mother/daughter/retailer that she wanted to be....her plate was beyond full and she "felt as though [she] was not doing a single thing well."  I absolutely know where she is coming from and I bet that you do, too.

The loss of her father was an awakening...we all experience that "Aha" moment where we come to grips with just how finite life is and Kim knew that something had to give.    She missed having lazy moments with her young son, longed for the joy of creative discovery, and  missed her she decided to make different choices.  Kim conducted a priority triage and determined that the store was no longer a good fit for the life that she wanted to live.  She has no regrets.  She learned from her experience and has moved on, acknowledging that she simply "can't do everything and that walking away is a viable choice."

She is dead on!  One of the lessons that I learned after lots of bumps and bruises is that just because you CAN do something, it doesn't necessarily follow that you SHOULD.  Sometimes the smartest life decision is to close the business and feel good about it!  I was tickled when Kim reported that yesterday was eventful for her:  she had the time to paint her toenails and had learned to knit!  She was exhilarated by  her crafty accomplishment and said that it was a joy to feel the happiness that her customers felt.  Congratulations, Kim!

While some retailers are closing the doors, others are opting for Retail Lite.   Consider renting booth space in a store.  Jewelry Designer Sheryl Stephens of Cool Moon Beads has chosen that option.  Sheryl made the stunning necklace pictured at left and has experienced success in selling her designs, as well as bead inventory, by maintaining a booth at a local antique mall.  While she does not earn enough to support herself, she is able to contribute to the household income, and is fulfilling her creative desires, without sacrificing her life.  Way to go, Sheryl!

Others are sticking with Brick and Mortar, but are defining the terms.  I know one crafty retailer who closes the store on the spur of the moment to deal with a sick pet or to attend a child's school play.  It certainly annoys customers who have driven across town to make a purchase, but she is training them to call before they make the trip.

Life changes and the crafty retailer will transition to accommodate it.  My business has been in a state of flux for years!  Young business needed to change.  Seriously sick business needed  to change.  Husband involved in a  new business needed to change. Fortunately, the ability to choose something different is one of the coolest things about being a grown up!   I find that I am continuing to evolve.  While sales for my wholesale business have flattened with the economy,  I am getting more teaching opportunities, as well as more requests for retail kits.  Moreover, Swarovski recently asked me to join their Create Your Style Ambassador team, which is totally cool and provides wonderful exposure. It is all good.....the timing is youngest child is heading off to college, my husband's business is growing, and I have more control over my time. 

Although I am no longer interested in brick and mortar retail, I am drawn to something more "Retail-Ish"  and am working on a retail website, Urban Stitch Studio.  It will serve as both a personal branding site for my workshops and will feature my own line of hand dyed fibers.   It is a work in progress and I would love your feedback.  Additionally, I have started a more personal blog to catalog some of my crafty adventures...please check it out.  Finally, I have a companion store on Etsy and will have my Facebook page up soon.  I started a Fiber Arts Guild a few days ago and will have our first get together at the end of the month.  WHEW! I am doing all of the things that I have been urging others to do for years.  It is slow going, but I have realistic expectations and am willing to move at my own pace in order to craft a retail business that will best suit my life. 

Want to join me?  We have an incredible group of women over on Facebook...exchanging information and feedback with Crafty Retailers from  the U.S. and abroad.  It is nice to feed off of the knowledge and experience of others, and even better when you do not have to re-invent the wheel.  If you are in retail and would like to participate in the dialogue, send me a friend request on Facebook with a request to join the group.  Please identify your store and website.  The group is closed, so the posts are only visible to group members.