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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. 


  1. The second paragraph is right where I stopped to write this and even though I should probably read the entire blog before I comment, I don't want to lose this - I am BURNT OUT. I feel that every RETAIL client is not a client but a potential argument and I find myself trying very hard to be someone I'm NOT - to please a stranger. I'm always busy - my day starts at 8am and ends at 1am or later.
    I'm in debt to my eyeballs and beyond and I can't dig my way out.
    I opened a SHOP to have fun. It was fun. And as we became more popular through magazines, we became less popular locally.
    Right now, I'm in the process of trying to motivate myself and my family, to give this one more get our goals back in sight. And as multi-faceted as we've become - we do not really need the RETAIL side of the business - but closing at this point - keeps feeling like failure to me. And I've not yet let go of that feeling..

  2. Keep reading, Kelli! Crafty Retailer Kim Schweitzer got it right when she noted that you can't do everything and that "walking away is a viable choice." Seriously. There are a whole lot of ways to be in RETAIL these days and not all of them require a full on Brick and Mortar Store. Define the life you want and you are guaranteed to win!

  3. so not alone - so right on - it has sucked the very life out of me for the last 4 years and i'm looking at celebrating 15 years very soon...

  4. Anonymous:
    What keeps you going? Seriously...inquiring minds want to know. Your story is one that I hear all of the time. What makes you keep going and how long can you keep at it? What is the most challenging? The economy? Internet competition?

  5. We can relate! Nice to see we aren't alone. Thanks for setting up the FB group. See you there!

  6. Worn out and Pissed off!July 13, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    Soooooo fed up! The customer is rude and demanding and you can kiss their !?$## but it won't do any good. They want it CHEAP without any concern for quality. They are oh soooooo willing to criticize everything from your choice of stock to your hours. Did you know that a small retailer doesn't have the right to close the shop on Sun-Mon. They don't have a clue that you work 18 hours a day/seven days a week even if you aren't open all that time!!! After 15 years I wonder why I bother - oh yeah, it was my passion to share my skills and help others find the joy of creativity. What a load of #%$##!!

  7. I think the key is to evolve with our customers. The internet is our biggest we try to give them what the internet can't...hands on service...special fun events and promotions....but even so with our economy it is exhuasting to work this hard when 5 years ago it was so much easier....but we trudge forward with hope...!
    fran / your design

  8. Worn out and Pissed off:
    Man, oh man! I am sure that folks were either laughing or crying when they read your comment. Been there, done that. Glad I am opting for "Retail Lite!"

  9. Fran:
    I have been on your website and it is obvious that you work very hard to make your place a shopping destination. Frankly, this economy is going to force some attrition in the ranks, but I know that you will still be standing when it is over!

  10. Yes it is good to hear others, walking in my shoes!...a few years ago it was fun..had the husband helping with mundane chores both at home and at the shop--all of a sudden he died..and my inability to juggle it all, along with 2 new puppies-has frustrated customers who just want what they want, when they want it. ofcourse, there are some lovely customer, who understand my inability to keep the same hours, and they just call first--but too many that don't!..I'm so burnt out--no time to be creative, which was the point of the shop..

  11. Hi Pat,
    Thank you for this blog. It has been very inspirational and comforting.
    I would like to join your facebook group but I think I am already a friend. I don't know how to sign in. I am looking forward to joining in on the conversations there.

  12. Anonymous:
    It sounds like you have gone through a tragedy that would bring most folks to their wonder you are feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. If you can take a few days off in November I would love to offer you a creative week-end with Carol would have a place to sleep and a spot in all three classes...on me. You just have to get here. Maybe it will help recharge your batteries!

  13. Pat::

    Thank you so much for this post. It has caused me to pause, and really think about my aspirations for the future. I totally agree with being able to choose your form of retail. There are many options, and if one isn't working there are more to explore.

    I believe we live in very interesting times. Isn't that some sort of a curse/blessing? "May you live in interesting times."

    Anyway, I feel as if we are watching, and are part of, an amazing shift for small business. The days of things being locally focused seem to be vanishing. At times I fear the brick and mortar shops of this country are headed for extinction. Our economies are becoming increasingly global, and globalized. The pace of business, the changes, the speed of communication, the availability of items from multiple sources is going to force many small business owners out.

    What are we to do as entrepreneurs? For me, it's letting go of models from the past that are no longer applicable. It's looking at technology as a tool instead of a beast. It's opening the lines of communication with folks far more gifted, and connected than I am. It's learning to take a step back from time to time to look at the road ahead. It's embracing with gratitude and excitement every day I'm given to be living my dream.

    I think your offer to Anonymous is one of the most gracious and generous I've encountered in a long time. I hope she can take you up on your offer.

    And one more thing... knowing when to go, when to say it's time to close is not failure. Businesses have life spans, just like people. Closing may seem like the death of a dream, but the beauty of the human spirit is that there is always another dream waiting to replace the one that's gone.

    Carpe Gaudium!

  14. Carol:
    Yes! Yes! Yes! You captured my thoughts much more succinctly than did my post! We really do have the power to change our vision of crafty retail. Why should anyone stay imprisoned by a retail model that is no longer working as it once did? We can simply refine, re-imagine, and do something different! Your closing paragraph was beautiful and I so agree with your sentiment!

  15. Pat! Once again you have proved to me why I hold you in high esteem. Not only can you juggle it all, be creative, and still be absent-minded (much like myself), you are without a doubt a kind person. Thank you for reaffirming my faith in humanity.

    On another note, I am in much the same position as those that are burned out. I have had a brick and mortar for over 7 years in a town of about 50,000. To keep customers happy, I'd have to have a million in stock, WHICH AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN in a town this size! They just don't understand you can't carry everything. Customers can be rough and it's stressful to deal with it.

    Also, a year ago an old customer of mine opened her own store down the street. A town this size just can't support 2 stores. Since I'm not the "new thing" in town, I'm not popular right now and have lost customers.

    Fortunately, I've been reading Pat's posts for as long as she's been posting them, and have been working on my own re-formulation as well. Happily, my husband just got transferred to Phoenix so I get to leave this ridiculous store and town behind and work on my new goals as a "bead store" as well as devoting myself to my family - as it should have been for so long.

    Thank God I found Pat's blog! It has helped me get through the disappointment of being the loser in the "competition war" as well as helping inspire me to greater and better things!

    Thanks, Pat!

  16. Cheryl:
    Congratulations on your husband's transfer...I know that the warmer climate will be a welcome reprieve for you! It sounds like you are at a wonderful jumping off point---some things are just meant to be. What a cool opportunity to totally redesign your life...have fun with it!

  17. Pat,

    Thank you for posting this story. I really appreciate it and all the comments are great. I thought I was going to feel like I failed but once all my wonderful customers emailed, called or stopped by to tell me how much my shop meant to them and how much they will wish it I knew I hadn't failed. My memories will always be with me. I went by the shop the other day and it didn't bother me that it wasn't there. I am enjoying a sun filled summer by the lake with my family. Every day is a blessing. Enjoy!

  18. Kim:
    Thank you for sharing YOUR resonated with a whole lot of folks. It feels good to know that others are in a similar situation...sometimes the isolation is the worst part of the retail challenge.

  19. Great post. You've really hit the nail on the head for a lot of folks. I'm in a different industry (boardgames) & on the design/manufacture/wholesale side.... but the story is the same for so many of our Mom & Pop customers. The world (& retail) is changing... the question is where is it going next?