Business 101

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: When I bring a new product line into the store, its success seems to depend on whether or not my employees like it. If they do, the sales are brisk; if not, it just sits there. How can I get them to sell all our products, not just the ones they like?

Showmanship

Showmanship

January and February are alive with trade and gift shows for every persuasion. This year try something new—pick a show you’ve never been to and find products your customers don’t yet know they will love.

Trade Show Tax Tips

Trade Show Tax Tips

Trade shows are great for finding new products and making profitable contacts, but with the rising cost of travel, going to a show can get mighty expensive. Plane fares, car rentals, hotel bills, and meals—they add up to big money.

Annual Review

Annual Review

Now that the holiday season is coming to a close, it’s time to reflect, refresh, and refocus your efforts. So take a deep breath, grab a cup of tea, and find a comfortable place to relax—a brand new year is about to begin. Here is an annual checklist to get you started.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I have questions about how to price our merchandise. I am talking about the actual numbers we use rather than the cost analysis behind the pricing. When my husband and I traveled around this summer and took the time to visit and enjoy other retail stores, I was puzzled. Some stores used prices ending in .99 or .98, while others had prices ending in .50 or .00.

Trending Now

Trending Now

What if you had a crystal ball for your business? You’d never have to wonder about your next decision—every time you gazed into it, you’d clearly see the direction that would bring your business prosperity and growth.

The problem is, many retailers do have just such a crystal ball at hand … but are often too busy to use it.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: I have run a successful retail store for more than 10 years. I used to love helping customers, listening to their stories and assisting them in finding just the right gift. Over the past few months, I’ve found myself getting impatient and often bored when on the sales floor. People seem needy and, after a few minutes, I just want to retreat. Have you ever felt this way?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: I’m writing a business plan to request financing from my bank. Do I need to create a cover letter for my banker?

ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I’m looking into starting a New Age store in the mid-south. Due to lack of funding, I am considering starting out with an online store to generate some money to begin the store front. Can you give me any advice on how to begin an online store, or how to generate some capital to start my own brick-and-mortar store?

ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We’ve had some inventory items go missing over the past few months. I did some detective work to try to find a plausible explanation and couldn’t come up with one. About two months ago, we got in a few beautiful watches with semi-precious stones from a new vendor. Within a week, one watch was missing from the case.

ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: How can I be sure what a prospective employee has to offer? We recently hired a young man who worked at a store similar to ours in another state, and they gave him a good reference. But I think he overstated his knowledge of the books we carry, as I have overheard him making statements to customers that are incorrect and restocking books in the weirdest places on the shelves.

ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Do you have problems with customers shoplifting small items? I just did an inventory of our rings (kept at the counter) and essential oils (a short distance away near bath salts and lotions), and I am really concerned about the number that are missing. Am I supposed to just accept this as a cost of doing business? Do you have any suggestions?

Make the Holidays Merry

Make the Holidays Merry

Angry customers. Long hours. Missed deadlines. Sound familiar? It’s the usual litany of woes that hitch a ride on Santa’s sleigh. Little wonder that for most retailers the year’s busiest sales season is also the most stressful.

Look for more of the same this Christmas. “Uncertainty about the economy is bound to increase stress levels for both managers and employees at retail stores,” says Jon Schallert, president of The Schallert Group, Longmont, Colo. (www.destinationublog.com).

Lessons Learned

It has often been said “experience is the best teacher,” but when it comes to running a business, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the experiences of others. In this industry, people are very willing to extend a helping hand to others, so recently I asked a number of store owners to share some of the biggest lessons they had learned that could help other retailers. The response was strong, and many said it had been a helpful exercise for them to review the things—both good and bad—that made their businesses stronger.

Good Business

Good Business

Imagine if every month dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, more people found out about your store and products. What would that mean for your sales? Increasing the amount of people who know about you can happen without you ever leaving your computer. It’s all due to the prevalence of social media, a communication phenomenon that is here to stay and growing by leaps and bounds.

Boost 4th Quarter Sales by Responding to Trends in Your Customers’ Lives

Recent reports by the National Retail Federation suggest sales are finally trending up, and fall/holiday looks promising. That’s great news—but what the data doesn’t show is how much customers have shifted energetically over the last few years. Most have experienced tremendous change and growth; they’re simply not the same folks they were before. Your challenge? Meet them where they are now.

How May I Help You?

How May I Help You?

This simple, courteous phrase opens the door to long-term customer relationships and sales when offered with true sincerity. Shoppers welcome assistance, especially during the harried days of holiday preparation when inspiration may wane in the wake of overwhelming choices. The personal interactions in your shop can help ease this holiday stress and ensure positive shopping experiences, while contributing to community and global harmony.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: Often people come into our store, look at things we carry, and start writing down information about the company or the artist so they can order it online, obviously hoping to get it cheaper. I’ve tried taking off as much information as possible from the item so they can’t accomplish this discreetly, but some of them actually ask for the information!

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We have had good luck over many years with customers paying for their layaway items in full, but right now we have several items on layaway on which no payment has been made for months. Customers are supposed to make a payment every 30 days. If we’ve left messages and heard nothing in return, what do we do with the merchandise and with their deposit and payment money?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We’ve been offering plastic gift cards for three years (so much easier than paper gift certificates!) and love the response from our customers, but we are unhappy with our gift card company. They charge us a lot per card compared to quotes from other companies, and they often get our colors wrong when they print the cards, causing delays or times when we are totally out.

10 Ways to Save

10 Ways to Save

Being an innovative small business today means sharpening your creative cost-cutting skills and finding a well of resourcefulness you never knew you had. The computer and internet are particularly useful for this, offering tools to streamline your operations, find new sources for common business needs, and expanding your options to improve and increase the scope of your business. If you want to start saving money right now, try the following 10 tips. Remember, each small savings adds up to larger savings, and that can mean the difference between business failure and success.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: A new space in our plaza opened up, and the landlord has offered it to us. It is much smaller—we are now in 2,500 sq. ft. and the new space is 1,250 sq. ft. We currently pay $5,000 a month in rent, which became difficult during the recession, and have fallen behind, so a smaller space will be a win-win.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We have an employee who has been with us about six months. She is reliable and a good salesperson. However, it has come to our attention she is scheduling private appointments with clients (she is knowledgeable in essential oils and homeopathic remedies and is also a massage therapist) while she is at work. I’m uncomfortable with this, but not sure how to proceed.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Although sales are inching upward (hooray!), we still have a lot of debt, and I don’t know how to climb out from under the mountain. We are still open, our customers are returning, and our average sale is rebounding. If we didn’t owe so much on credit cards, we would be profitable or at least break even every month. As it is, we are struggling and juggling. Any suggestions?

Develop Your Road Map to Business Success in 5 Easy Steps

Creating a business plan doesn’t have to be hard or overwhelming. And it can be a fabulous tool to guide you through the ups and downs of store ownership, especially in the early years. It does take some time and thought, but in the end, going through this process will strengthen your business and help ensure success.

Below are the five main business plan components and a brief overview of each. Once you understand the key elements, you can create a plan that will serve you well, both in business guidance and obtaining financing, for years to come.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We are in the retail clothing business and receive garments packed in plastic, often sticky sealed bags. I have discussed this with almost all my vendors, and at least they have stopped mailing me plastic hangers, yet the bags keep coming.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Can you tell me what is meant by the term “consumables”? I read in a retail trade magazine article that every gift store needs them, and I’m embarrassed I don’t know what they are.

Start-up Pitfalls

Start-up Pitfalls

What is the worst mistake a retailer can make when opening a store?

When I am asked this question, I have to admit no one answer tops the list. Businesses thrive and fail for many reasons, and it is often a combination of choices and circumstances that ensures success or creates failure. However, I have had the privilege of talking with and mentoring store owners for over a decade, and some common denominators come to mind when new stores don’t make it.

Partners In Success

Partners In Success

The question was simple: What makes a relationship between a vendor and a retailer work best? The premise was even simpler: When a vendor-retailer relationship is good, it helps both parties do better in their businesses. But how do you get to that solid, mutually beneficial place where you support one another and create a rewarding, long-term relationship? And what are some of the obstacles along the way?

Price It Right

Price It Right

In one classic I Love Lucy episode, Lucy has a “Million-Dollar Idea,” and with the help of Ethel, begins marketing “Aunt Martha’s Old Fashioned Salad Dressing.” After the ladies promote it on television, the product sells like crazy. But, as with most of Lucy’s schemes, the idea falls short because she prices the bottles too low, meaning it costs her money every time she makes a sale. Don’t make Lucy’s mistake.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Our business is growing and sales are increasing, and I’m very happy about both of those things. But, as we grow (six employees now, plus my husband and me), I am seeing problems with everyone being on the same page and having all the information they need each day.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: My wife and I opened our store in 2007, right before the economy took a dive. We have done OK—the doors are still open and the landlord is paid—but so far, my wife is the only one who has been able to take a small salary, even though I’m working 20-plus hours a week and at home nights doing the bookkeeping.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I’m thinking it’s time for our store to get swipeable gift cards. I know I’m behind the curve, but we are small and it seemed like an expense we didn’t need. But so many customers ask for gift cards, and when I pull out the paper certificates, they think it is quaint and old-fashioned. Do you sell more gift cards than you did gift certificates?

The Growth of Green

These days, considering yourself “green” includes so much more than just flinging your empty plastic bottle into a recycling bin, driving a hybrid, or flaunting your organic cotton grocery bags. Relating to the eco-movement is no longer just for tree huggers or those living an off-the-grid lifestyle. It’s become so mainstream that, it could be said, green has gone viral.

Trending Now

A new retail reality is here—and it looks a whole lot different than most of us imagined. The new reality started gathering momentum back in 2008, when, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the economy slid off the rails and global markets went haywire. Four years later, we still haven’t recovered, and one thing is becoming increasingly clear: We’re not going back to the way we were.

After Taxes

Ugh—taxes. Is there a less enjoyable part of being a business owner? Enjoyable or not, however, taxes are an unavoidable part of retail life, and the tax deadlines set by the government seem equally inevitable and final. But did you know it’s not too late to benefit from last year’s transactions on this year’s tax returns? In fact, how last year’s transactions are treated on your 2011 tax returns could have a significant impact on 2012’s budget figures and next year’s tax bill.

Cultivating Customers

Walk through the door of many independent stores in the U.S., and you might hear a bell jingling, indicating a customer has arrived. That’s the sound of opportunity, the sound of increased sales. And, if you’re a store owner, your fondest wish is to hear that bell ringing more often, to see more smiling faces arriving in your shop to browse and buy.

Website Makeover

Coming soon to your website: Video. Why? Moving pictures turn browsers into shoppers. That’s the message from technology consultants who study the buying habits of the public.

“We are seeing a lot more video on websites,” says Chip Pattison, sales manager for Sitespring Web Design, Sarasota, Fla. (www.site-spring.com). “Motion really catches the attention of viewers, especially those of the younger generation who are more into movement and photography than reading.”

5 Key Traits of Successful Store Owners

As owners of a small business, we are asked to wear many hats and perform a variety of functions. And we need to be good at all of them, or hire/partner with someone who is. Certain traits (sometimes inherent, sometimes learned) help make those tasks easier and pave the way to success. How many of the following attributes do you identify with, and how many could you improve on?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Our store has been open two years next month. When we first started, all our merchandise was purchased on credit cards, and that has basically continued. We’ve had very few net-30 accounts offered to us. Now I see that to grow our inventory and keep shelves stocked, ordering inventory on net-30 terms would be very helpful.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I want to sell my business, and recently I had a meeting with a local business broker who valued my store at $46,000 plus inventory (approximately $127,000 at retail). Some of our inventory is not yet paid for ($28,000 in payables). My store is 1,140 sq. ft., with annual sales of $131,100, and I make a salary of $20,800 a year or $400 a week. The space costs $11 per sq. ft.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We are having a problem with shoplifting, and there is no way we can afford a security system. Are there any other tips you can give to alleviate this problem?

Trending Now

Sure, the Mayans predicted big changes for 2012—but their hieroglyphs didn’t forecast much about upcoming retail trends. All joking aside, whether you’re expecting an apocalypse, an awakening, or more of the same for 2012, you’ll want to take note of these signs of the times. We had a glimmer of them a few years back, but they’ve become the new business reality now. The most important thing to keep in mind? Technology is your friend.

The Sell-More Plan

A customer walks into your shop and says, “I’m looking for a particular book/necklace/candle. Do you have it?”

You look at an order sheet—for an order you still haven’t placed—with that very item on it, then at your pile of bills. You think of your dwindling account balance and reply, “I don’t have it in stock at the moment, but I can get it for you.”

Dream Team

You have a successful retail store. You know your stuff, your customers love you, you run a tight ship. But when it’s time to stretch beyond your comfort zone, such as into highly technical matters of law, taxes, accounting, or other specialized fields, don’t go it alone. Some matters are best handled by outside experts—and if you find the right ones, they can become invaluable partners, helping you make sound decisions for your business.

Weathering the Worst

Many of the thousands of businesses destroyed by the catastrophic effects of recent hurricanes, floods, winds, and other natural disasters will never reopen their doors. However, many others are already back in operation and on their way to a healthy recovery.

The difference? In most cases, say the experts, the fortunate ones are those who had a disaster preparation and recovery plan to guide them through that traumatic time.

Stocking for Success

Inventory management may seem like a dry subject, but for retailers, it can have a dramatic effect on profitability. A system that ensures you are carrying the right merchandise in the right quantity is an essential ingredient in a healthy bottom line. Too much inventory will tie up badly needed money while taking up valuable space on your shelves; too little inventory will eat away at your cash flow and disappoint customers you can’t afford to lose.

Bright Ideas

Providing customers with a highly attractive shopping environment is one of the key factors in supporting retail sales. And, at the most basic level, a store cannot begin to optimize profits without a proper lighting system. Not only will lighting enhance the presentation of your merchandise, it also affects the mood of shoppers in your store.

Good Business

Marketing campaigns and the budgets that, theoretically, go with them can cause serious angst. Small business owners are notorious for laughing maniacally when asked about their advertising budget. Whether because they’re operating on tattered shoestrings and fervent prayers and have no budget, or do have a budget but are terrified to spend it only to see no returns, proprietors of all kinds avoid making any decisions about marketing at all (which is still a decision made).

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I just opened two months ago, and customers are asking for psychic readings already! I thought I might wait a few months, but I now see this as a good source of revenue that would be welcome. Do I need insurance to cover psychics? Or do they need their own insurance? Should I have customers sign a waiver so no one is liable? What do you do at your store?

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