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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crafty Retail Superstars know that NICHE BRANDING will enhance profitablilty!

conventional wisdom  noun

  the generally accepted belief, opinion, judgment, or prediction about a particular matter 
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM.....hmmm.  Conventional wisdom suggests that successful retailers must embrace the notion of Shoppertainment.   Event Marketing is part of  creating an exceptional retail experience and I have blogged about it here, here and here.

However,  I know that there are lots of ways to achieve success and this week's  Crafty Retail Rock Star tells me that she not really big on marketing or shoppertainment.   Holly Hancock and her husband Bruce  have owned Beads! in Tampa, Florida for four years.  There is no shortage of competition for Holly.  Tampa is home to a large number of Crafty Retail Stores.  You will find 5 or 6 bead stores at any given time, 2 great yarn stores, several boutique fabric shops, a smattering of scrapbook stores, and the big boys: Michael's and JoAnne's.

There are plenty of retailers clamoring for the Tampa craft dollar, yet Holly certainly seems to be winning her fair share of the business.  In fact, in a year where several craft stores have closed,  Beads! is profitable; in fact, it is the sole means of support for Holly and Bruce.  When I asked her about store events and promotions she told me that the notion of Shoppertainment doesn't really cross her mind. Rather, she is focused on meeting the needs of her customers.   Her success comes without Newsletters....without Facebook....without expensive Store Promotions....without lots of Sales....without Twitter...

Wow.  No bells or whistles?   No marketing?   What is her secret?

 Holly told me that she has established a reputation as the "Go To" store for bead weaving supplies.  She buys narrow and she buys deep when it comes to that area of inventory.  She carries 850 different delicas, a full range of seed beads and other stock to delight the most discriminating weaver.  Gemstones are also a "specialty" and she has more gemstones than 3 or 4 other stores combined.  Customers know that if they go to her place, those areas will be well stocked, every single visit.   


Holly has a Discount Club that has proven very successful for her.  She offers three tiers of membership.  A $10 investment gives you the Copper Discount Card which entitles you to 5% off every single purchase for a year.  The Silver Discount Card runs $30 annually but affords you 10% off all purchases.  Finally, the $60 Gold card will knock 15% off  each sales ticket.  Simple but brilliant.  Customers choosing between several stores will certainly be inclined to go to Beads! for the extra discount, which even applies to sale items.  Holly reports that the $60 card is the most popular.

Holly told me about the Tampa Bay Beadwork Meetup Group that she had started.  The group has 226 members and small groups meet regularly at her store.  She provides the location, and will often provide a project as well, free of charge.

 Holly recently made up some beautiful necklaces in honor of a friend who had  lost her battle with Ovarian Cancer.  She hosted a little silent auction,  offering her customers the chance to bid on the jewelry, with the proceeds going to Ovacome, a charity focused on Ovarian Cancer.

While I was on the phone with Holly I heard her dog Barley bark excitedly as he recognized a customer's car as she pulled into the parking lot.  Barley actually pushed open the door and ran outside to greet the woman!  I heard her laughing as she walked in the store.  Holly made sure to let me know that not EVERY customer got that sort of treatment.  Barley is a respectful pup who knows when someone will be happy to see him and when he is better off resting under a table.   

Holly had to cut our conversation short...there was a customer in the store and she knows where her priorities is all about CUSTOMER SERVICE, after all.

Well Stocked Store.  Discount Cards.  Meet Up Group.   Charity Auction.  Trained Doggie Ambassador.  Intense Customer Focus.

Holly might not be calling it "Shoppertainment" but she is clearly getting the job done!  Way to go, Holly and Bruce!

In other News:

We have our sixteen participants for the Felted Cuff Challenge and all of the kits have been mailed out.  We were delighted to see a number of fiber gals opt in for this jewelry challenge.  Many of the beading participants have never worked with felt before so this should be fun all the way around!  The deadline is March 31...can't wait to see all of the fabulous creations!

I am still in the midst of a manic crochet-a-thon.  I am currently working on my version of the Babette Afghan.  I have yet to get proficient enough at knitting for it to become a soothing, mindless activity.  It simply requires too much concentration for me when my life is busy.  Accordingly, I am totally digging this crochet project.  Total Craft Buzz.  It allows me to drift to that wonderful Zen place, stitching effortlessly while watching American Idol and crushing on Steven Tyler.   Yum.

The other thing that has my attention is the  " brand new to me" used serger that I got on Craig's list.  The serger made it to my "gotta have list" after I became inspired by Katwise, the  artist who makes the most amazing coats from recycled clothing.  Her work is truly eye candy.  I am not sure that I could pull off the Elf Coat pictured at left, but I am determined to do up a version more suitable for middle aged me.  Toward that end, I picked up a Vogue jacket pattern, figured out how to thread the machine, and started to play.  It works!  I can't wait until the week-end when the project will get some focused attention.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Avoid the Retail Death Spiral! Take steps to ensure that your Brick and Mortar Store remains viable in an Internet World!

Many Specialty Craft Retailers are running scared.  They hear the evening newscasters report that the Recession is over and that The Recovery Has Begun, but they aren't feeling it.   Some of their customers don't appear to be feeling it, either.  I speak to a variety of store owners with a range of specialties:  Bead, Yarn, Fabric, Scrapbooking.  Reports of fourth quarter sales that fell below same quarter 2009 are not uncommon.  

Despite cheerful forecasts to the contrary, the challenges are very real.    While some experts are touting the economy  as "A Jobless Recovery,"  such a  recovery  works best for those who are gainfully employed.   For those with no paycheck....not so much.    These customers will not stop crafting. After all, like any addiction, the desire to craft will be sated and I have the yarn/bead/fiber stash to prove it.  Instead, customers will choose to be much more discriminating with their dollar.

You know the scenario:  Your beloved customer will hop on her computer and she will Google "best price pure pima cotton yarn" and she will find it.  Lots of it.  18,300 results in .24 seconds, in fact.  Much of it will be priced significantly below what it would cost her in your store---with free shipping and no sales tax. Sigh.  Your best Vendors---the ones who previously sold only to Brick and Mortar stores, are now offering their lines to Internet Retailers. They are running scared, too and, like you,  they are in the business of making money.  They see the writing on the wall!  It is predicted that 11 million American Households will make their first online purchases this year!  Internet retailers are selling lots of yarn...and beads...and fiber.  The Economics and Statistics Administration of the Department of Commerce reported that On-line Retail sales were up 16.4%  in 2010.  Hmmmm.....maybe that was where all the money went.  The reality is that your competitor is not just the shop across is every shop at the click of your customers' fingertip! 

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Accept the reality of the future and adapt to it.  There are shops that are doing well despite the challenges facing them.  There are stores in depressed geographic areas that continue to shine, month after month. There are owners who are dealing with divorce/aging parents/ illness that manage to get it done.  It definitely ain't easy, but it is do-able.  
Master the media needed to survive!  Your website MUST be more than a brochure site---it should be an active revenue stream. Fortunately, it has never been easier to have an e-commerce site---it takes time but it doesn't take much money.    You don't need to do everything at once.  Rather, start uploading the more unusual inventory.  For example, lots of E-Tailers sell crystal bicones, so your site would not easily be found by a customer looking for bicones unless you were willing to spend a ton of cash on Pay Per Click Advertising.  Instead, feature harder to find, trendier items that will stand out within the Search Engines. 

Sign up to become a Fulfillment Partner with Shop-a-Tron.   It is a great concept.  Many manufacturers "sell" their products on their website.  The manufacturer does not actually ship the order; rather, the order is sent to a retailer who carries the line.  It is a great way for retailers to take advantage of the internet market for very little effort.  I have talked to several yarn store owners who report that some days their only sales were the Shop-a-Tron Sales!  

Start Blogging!    Again, there is a short learning curve but the payback is so worth it, provided you use the blog for more than a platform to hawk your product.  Blogging is about engaging the reader, not selling to the reader, so focus on information that will be helpful or interesting to your audience.   Someone who does a google search for a free peyote stitch pattern might find just what she is looking for on your latest post.  She can then find your website and a new customer is born!  Blogging is a tremendous vehicle to enhance goodwill and create a crafty community for your customers.  Don't be shy!  While your customers like hearing about the latest shop happenings,  they also love to know what is going on in your life, within reason, of course.

Write informally---I tend to write the same way that I speak---so that your voice do not come across stilted.  Include a recipe or write about your current craft project or life beyond the store.  Include lots of pictures to break up the verbiage.  People tend to focus on short paragraphs rather than a lengthy missive.  You must be consistent to build an audience----blog weekly if you can.    A great way to prepare for the blogisphere is to find some blogs that are inspiring and follow them.  I just did a blogsearch for "blogs by retail bead store owners" and got over five thousand results.  You will see what works--and what doesn't---very quickly!  Reading blogs is a great way to keep on top of the industry, too! 

We are going to meet  two different CRAFTY RETAIL SUPERSTARS who will share some of their tips for succeeding when so many others are feeling the pain!

We  have space for three more participants in the current craft challenge: Felted Cuff.  The kit, pictured below, will be mailed out by the end of the week.  Pictures of the finished piece must be sent to me on or before March 15.  The kit is lovely...I had trouble capturing it in the photo...and includes a yummy mix of crystal stones, hot fix and sew on crystals, Swarovski yarn, hand dyed spiral fiber and more!

Shoot me an email if you want to participate!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Crafty Retailers Create! Participate in our Felted Jewelry Craft Challenge!

It has been far too long since we have crafted together!  I am game for a new craft challenge and I hope that you want to play along. There are16 kits similar to the one pictured below.  The colors will vary, but each kit will be beautiful and will contain:

Hand dyed superfine merino wool,
Swarovski Crystal Suede Yarn, 27 mm Rivoli Stone, 20mm Square Frame Stones, Assorted Hot Fix Crystals, Assorted Sew On Crystals, Bits and pieces of chain, High Quality Craft Sequins and Brass Bracelet Blank

You must use at least one of every item in the kit and you must make a cuff bracelet.  The rest is up to you.  No felting experience?  Don't be a 'fraidy cat!  It is fun and easy and you can see my felted cuff tutorials here and here.  I will upload a tutorial on embedding crystal into felt within the next few days for those who prefer that sort of demonstration.    Shoot me an email if you want to participate.

Next week's post will have pictures from the last Crafty Retailer Challenge.  There are some special stories and incredible pieces---don't miss the opportunity to vote on your favorite! 


Thank you to all of you who "liked" the Aussie Fibers Facebook page last week.  The winner of our random "We Appreciate Your Support" drawing was Linda Disosway-Jones of Texas.   It is not too late to get some goodies!  Head on over to our page and LIKE IT to qualify for this week's drawing.  Check in often as we will be using the page to announce spur of the moment sales and discounts.

 Rest in Peace, Rosie (December 2006- December 2010)

The last week of 2010 damn near did me in---my little Rosie dog finally lost her wag.  She died on December 24 and it has been a real bitch.   I know that it will get better.  It always has in the past, but I am not sure it will be as easy this time.

Rosie was my best pal...making me laugh every day with her silly, goofball antics.  She was a funny looking thing---beautiful face, too stout body, and long skinny legs.  Her parts never really seemed to go together but that was part of her charm.  She had an expressive face and paws that she used just like hands.  I loved her like crazy ---even immortalizing her on canvas.  My family teased me about my Rosie obsession so I painted the "Rosa Lisa" to play along.   There will never be another one like her and I do not say it lightly.  I have had animals  my entire adult life and have loved every single one of them----even the wretched cat who insisted upon peeing on my stove top---not the flat top stove where one would simply swear at the cat and wipe it up.  No, I am talking about the old fashioned stove with the coils. The kind where you would be blissfully unaware of the danger that lurked beneath.   That is, until you endeavored to scramble eggs for hungry children and were assaulted by the smell of burning cat pee.  You haven't lived until you have smelled sizzling cat pee.  Yet, I even managed to love that cat.

But back to Rosie......  I know that it will get easier. I know that the sun will shine again.  I just don't know if I will ever find a dog who will own my heart in the same way and that sucks.  

I am the sort of person who needs laughter in my life, so even in the midst of my sadness, I am determined to get my giggles.  I just need to do it in a way that doesn't force a "Rosie was way better" comparison.  There is no new puppy on the horizon.  Rather, I just put a deposit on two Nubian dairy goats. I don't have a barn or suitable shed on the property yet, but the goats won't be born for a few more months, so it is all good.   Who knows, maybe there will be another pet portrait in my future! 

I am going to pick myself up, dust myself off, and throw my energies into this next adventure.  I am sure that it will be tons of fun and provide the requisite laughter for me.  I think that Rosie would approve.