Resources

Self-Guided Staff Training

Self-Guided Staff Training

It’s 6:00 on a thursday evening. You and your spouse are having date night for the first time since opening your store when you get a call from a new staff member. “Sorry to bother you,” she says, “but I have a customer here who wants to buy a $100 gift certificate, and I was never trained on that. What do I do?”

Your night isn’t ruined, but it is derailed. You feel frustrated and tethered to your store. “Can I never leave!?” you growl in exasperation as you return to dinner, questioning if hiring her was the right decision.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I spend a lot of time answering sales calls—sometimes up to 10 a day! We get calls about office supplies, advertising, phones, credit card processing, insurance, and more. I don’t want to be rude, but I just don’t have the time to talk to all of these people. How do you handle this?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Do you have rules about employees surfing the Internet and/or using cell phones? It seems to me my sales people are always “just quickly checking email” or “sending a fast text” if I question what they are doing on the computer or their phone when I walk onto the sales floor.

Self-Guided Staff Training

Self-Guided Staff Training

It’s 6:00 on a thursday evening. You and your spouse are having date night for the first time since opening your store when you get a call from a new staff member. “Sorry to bother you,” she says, “but I have a customer here who wants to buy a $100 gift certificate, and I was never trained on that. What do I do?”

Your night isn’t ruined, but it is derailed. You feel frustrated and tethered to your store. “Can I never leave!?” you growl in exasperation as you return to dinner, questioning if hiring her was the right decision.

Seasonal Traditions Light Up The World

Seasonal Traditions Light Up The World

Midwinter is a time to make merry. We come together and share feasts of food, song, and dance. We visit neighbors and friends and spread our wishes for peace and prosperity. To dispel winter darkness, we practice ancient rituals of lighting candles, remembering virtues, cherishing our communities, and enjoying the magic of the solstice time as the earth turns once again toward the sun.

Turning Dreams Into Gold

Turning Dreams Into Gold

Nestled in a quiet corner of Richmond, Va., lies Stony Point Fashion Park, an upscale, open-air mall featuring a host of high-end shops. As I strolled the elegant brick pathway past luxury store after luxury store—Coach, Tiffany & Co., and Louis Vuitton, to name a few—I wondered just what I would find when I arrived at my destination: Alchemists. What I discovered was a boutique designed by store owner Jane Hayden to help seekers fulfill their dreams and delight their loved ones with beautiful gifts for body, mind, and spirit.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: This may be an odd question, but there is an area of my store customers just seem to ignore. We stock some home goods, such as vases, candles and candleholders, lamps, wall clocks, and fountains. Beautiful tapestries are hung on the walls too. I just can’t figure out why customers ignore the area. Any ideas?

Seasonal Traditions Light Up The World

Seasonal Traditions Light Up The World

Midwinter is a time to make merry. We come together and share feasts of food, song, and dance. We visit neighbors and friends and spread our wishes for peace and prosperity. To dispel winter darkness, we practice ancient rituals of lighting candles, remembering virtues, cherishing our communities, and enjoying the magic of the solstice time as the earth turns once again toward the sun.

Share-Worthy

Share-Worthy

Step aside facebook and Twitter. YouTube has become the new social media darling, and for good reason. The statistics swirling around YouTube are pretty impressive. More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube every month, and according to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults ages 18 to 34 than any cable TV network. People watch YouTube on the go, too: Views from mobile devices account for 25 percent of YouTube traffic.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: After two years of looking for a location, we finally found it and are now finalizing our financial plan to open this fall. One thing I am confused about is what inventory-turn target we should shoot for. Is there an industry average? How do I figure this out?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: Should I take advantage of vendor specials such as free shipping with a $500 order? That seems like a lot to me, but shipping is really expensive, especially on things like candles and personal care products. I have a small store (900 sq. ft.) and most of my orders are $200 or less. Am I missing a savings opportunity by being scared to order more?

Marketing to Millennials

Marketing to Millennials

My 21-year-old son is part of the Millennial generation, those born between 1981 and 2000. As a Baby Boomer, I don’t always understand the likes and dislikes of my son’s generation. But, with his birthday coming up soon and hoping to find a gift he would like, I did a little research (writers like research!) and discovered a lot about how Millennials think and why they make the purchases they do. You might not have Millennials in your family, but they do visit your store, and what I learned could help you market to this influential segment of young consumers.

Where Nature Meets Nurture

Where Nature Meets Nurture

Like the city it calls home, The Treehouse Green Gifts in Berkeley, Calif., may be small, but it has a big reputation. Nestled between a low-key coffee shop and an upscale clothing boutique, The Treehouse has made a name for itself as one of the Bay Area’s top shops for organic, handmade, recycled, and eco-friendly gifts for all ages—no small feat in a city where green is, and always will be, “in.” This is the kind of gift store one could shop in every day and still discover something new and unique!

Strike Back Against Cyber Attacks

Strike Back Against Cyber Attacks

Few of us leave our homes unlocked while we sleep or our cars unlocked while we shop. The reason? While most people are trustworthy, criminals are opportunists, and an unlocked door gives them access to our valuable investments. So, why should the Internet be different?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We recently switched to a new worker’s compensation insurance provider because they offer an annual rebate if we don’t have any claims. Now they want us to have every employee fill out a health survey and undergo a drug test. This seems invasive to me. Is this normal? Do you drug test your employees?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Dear Readers,
In last issue’s Shop Talk column, I answered a question from a reader expressing concern about the high cost of accepting American Express cards. The following are responses I received that I think will be of interest to all.

Business by the Dashboard Light

Business by the Dashboard Light

I’ve never met anyone in business who’s only in it to make a buck. Every store owner I know has a grand plan that takes them beyond the initial opening of their store and a positive end-of-year profit-and-loss statement. They have a calling to be a community leader, they want to keep indie bookstores alive, they want to teach every willing child how to knit, they want to work half the year and vacation the other half. More than the bottom line gets them up in the morning and gives them the fortitude to get through each day.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: A few months ago, we felt we had no other option than to close our store. My partner and I sent out an email and a Facebook message to our customers that we were closing and that all merchandise would be deeply discounted for quick sale. The response was overwhelming, and customers spent like crazy.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: One of our most loyal customers, who loved our merchandise and especially loved buying books regularly, just passed away and left $5,000 in her will to our store. I was thrilled and a bit surprised, but now I feel overwhelmed because I have no idea what to do with the money. I would like to honor her in some way but don’t know how. Do you have any ideas?

Happy Holi-DIYs!

Happy Holi-DIY's!

What was once relegated to arts and craft retail chain stores has become big business for independent retailers: Do-It-Yourself (DIY) in-store events.

“DIY events are a great way to reach out to customers, current and new, especially those in their 30s and 40s who might have more time and interest in learning something new,” says Cinnamon Cooper, co-founder of the popular DIY Trunk Show in Chicago.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: This past year i decided to expand our inventory and incorporate merchandise we haven’t carried before but have had an occasional request for. It was my attempt to be open-minded and allow customers to have more choices. What I find, though, is that what I (and my employees) love sells well, and the rest just sits. Now what do I do?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: One of our most loyal customers, who loved our merchandise and especially loved buying books regularly, just passed away and left $5,000 in her will to our store. I was thrilled and a bit surprised, but now I feel overwhelmed because I have no idea what to do with the money. I would like to honor her in some way but don’t know how. Do you have any ideas?

Sailing the 5 Cs of Marketing

The four Ps—Product, Price, Place, Promotion—have steered the world of marketing since the 1960s. But times, they are a-changing, and consumers—not products—are in the driver’s seat. Social media lets today's shoppers express their opinions, wants, and needs—and what they want are products tailor-made for them. They’re socially and environmentally conscious, too, so purchases aren’t based on price alone. And, though they’re dialed in to their mobile devices, they still shop brick-and-mortar stores for the experience and personal connection.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I want to hire an assistant/bookkeeper to help me make sense of the papers that just keep stacking up on my desk. Can I hire a contract laborer so I don’t have to carry worker’s compensation insurance and pay payroll taxes?

Spamalot

“Spam-spam-spam-spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam! Spam, spa-a-a-a-a-am!”
—Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Ubiquitous spam. It’s become an expected cost of online communication. No, I’m not talking about canned meat but, rather, the unwanted junk email which, thanks to sophisticated spam filtering, we seldom pay attention to nowadays. And, athough the term “spam” wasn’t used to describe junk email until the early 90s, spam has been around since the Internet’s formative years—the first spam email was reportedly sent in 1978!

Be Our Guest

Be Our Guest

We all have heard business gurus say great customer service is the key to success. This is true in any type of business, especially our niche of small, specialty retail stores. We know we can’t compete with the “big guys” on price. Our edge is in offering the best possible shopping experience, in which customers are valued and assisted by intelligent, knowledgeable staff. Studies have shown customers will drive twice as far and pay more to visit a store where they feel respected and important.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We recently switched to a new worker’s compensation insurance provider because they offer an annual rebate if we don’t have any claims. Now they want us to have every employee fill out a health survey and undergo a drug test. This seems invasive to me. Is this normal? Do you drug test your employees?

Spamalot

“Spam-spam-spam-spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam! Spam, spa-a-a-a-a-am!”
—Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Ubiquitous spam. It’s become an expected cost of online communication. No, I’m not talking about canned meat but, rather, the unwanted junk email which, thanks to sophisticated spam filtering, we seldom pay attention to nowadays. And, athough the term “spam” wasn’t used to describe junk email until the early 90s, spam has been around since the Internet’s formative years—the first spam email was reportedly sent in 1978!

Navigating the New Lending Maze

If you’re like most small business owners, you’re finding it tougher than ever to negotiate with your bank. Loans are harder to come by. Fees are popping up more and more.

The reluctance of banks to lend money can make it tough to fund operations. Even so, bank experts say the financing picture is not all gloom and doom.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: I currently accept mastercard, visa, discover, and American Express cards. Many of my customers who make higher dollar purchases use American Express almost exclusively. However, it’s becoming increasingly expensive to accept American Express, and I’m considering not accepting it any longer.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: My store has been open three years. it has been a long road, but I feel we are finally out of the woods and making some money so I can take a paycheck. One area where I am still behind the eight ball is paperwork. My inbox overflows with paper, including invoices that need to be paid. Sometimes we have plenty of money, but the bills are late because I just can’t get to it.

Website DIY

Clap your hands and jump for joy! No longer do you have to pay a web-design firm thousands of dollars to get a professional-looking website. If you can browse the Internet and upload photos from your computer, you have all the skills needed to build your website. And, with the multitude of easy-to-use website-building services now available, you can build an attractive, mobile-friendly website for your store in less than an hour.

Introvert/Extrovert

Whatever road led you to owning or managing a store, by now you know a successful store needs a successful leader, whether you were prepared to be one when you first set out or not. The way you lead—your leadership style—influences your vision for your store, your store's culture, and your community's perception of your store. How well you embrace and execute this leadership role depends on how well you understand and play to the strengths of your leadership style.

5 Ways to Rock Pinterest!

Pinterest isn’t just for foodies and DIY crafters anymore. With 25 million “pinners” and growing, it’s the third most popular social network, and more and more businesses are tapping into its marketing potential. According to a 2012 Shopify study, Pinterest-referred shoppers spend 70 percent more money than visitors referred from non-social channels! Even if you don’t have an e-commerce site, a Pinterest presence can still help you connect with potential—and existing—customers. Below are a few tips to pique your “Pinterest” in this popular site.

Working with Intuition

The spiritual journey I've been on most of my adult life deeply influences everything I do, including my business. Especially my business. The choices I make come from intuition far more frequently than how much profit margin something has, what trends dictate, or what appears to be the most reasonable direction to take.

Living the American Dream

Living the American Dream

For former fashion designer and professional actor Deborah Leydig, opening a 2,200-square-foot retail store carrying strictly American-made goods wasn’t just smart business; it was a leap of faith for a cause she believes in. Now celebrating its sixth year in Barrington, Ill., Norton’s U.S.A. is doing better than ever. The secret to her success? Building community the old-fashioned way. And that can happen anywhere.

Jenny Rose Lara: How would you describe Norton’s U.S.A.? Is it a general store, a gift shop, or something completely different?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: After two years in business, i have decided to sell my store at an asking price that covers just inventory and fixtures. Do you have any suggestions on the best place to advertise it? I listed it on Craigslist, but it has not received much action. A few people in our store’s circle are interested, but no one has made a concrete offer yet.

Shopping Reconstructed

As a retailer, you want customers' visits to your store to be pleasant and rewarding—for them and for you. You want your customers to easily find what they're looking for, to linger long enough to discover a few things they weren't looking for, and to enjoy their experience in your store so much they return regularly with friends and family. A satisfied customer who appreciates your store, has pleasant interactions with your staff, and leaves with a smile and a purchase is a fitting reward for you and your staff doing your very best each day. Everybody is happy.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: My husband is in sales (office machines) and is very successful. He talks to me often about training my employees (and me) to be better “closers,” as he thinks too many people browse rather than buy in my store. He has even offered to come in and teach sales techniques. I know he means well and wants me to succeed, but his methods sound pushy and rude to me.

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: I recently hired a nice young woman with retail sales experience in a local boutique. Much to my dismay, I overheard her exchange with a customer, in which the customer asked for a specific journal as a graduation gift, and my employee, very politely, said we were all out of that item and then let the conversation drop!

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: Have you ever had an employee who just can’t get to work on time? When she was first hired this didn’t seem to be a problem, but gradually there were more and more excuses and drama and now it’s just kind of “normal” for her to be late a few times a week. Occasionally she is late an hour or more but usually it is 10 to 15 minutes.

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: I know you have been in business a long time, but I am curious about your early years. Can you tell me what your annual sales and your sales per square foot were your first year or two? Did you see a gradual or sudden increase in sales over those first few years?

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: I recently hired a nice young woman with retail sales experience in a local boutique. Much to my dismay, I overheard her exchange with a customer, in which the customer asked for a specific journal as a graduation gift, and my employee, very politely, said we were all out of that item and then let the conversation drop!

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: What do you think of lay-away plans? I haven’t offered layaway before, but I’m wondering if it would make it easier for customers to afford higher-end items in this soft economy.

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: What kinds of perks do you offer your employees? I’m looking for new ways to reward them that won’t cost a lot.

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: How can i attract more tourists to my store? With the current economy in our area, it sure would help to have more business from visitors!

Spot the Latest Trends

Spot the Latest Trends

Once upon a time, yoga was a purely spiritual practice. Although this remains true for traditional practitioners, it stands to reason that today’s breed of yogis is decidedly different—with decidedly different gear to match. “They’re not necessarily deeply spiritual, but looking more to do yoga as another form of exercise,” says Jennifer McKinley, co-founder and general manager of Plank, a Charlestown, Mass., maker of chic, high-end yoga mats, totes, and other accessories.

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: Can you give me some advice on working with reps? I am glad they come to see me, but I spend a great deal of time looking at product lines that don’t seem to fit my store. And when I do take a rep’s recommendation and bring in a new line at their urging, it usually doesn’t sell well. Do you have any suggestions to make buying easier and less time-consuming?

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: I know you have been in business a long time, but I am curious about your early years. Can you tell me what your annual sales and your sales per square foot were your first year or two? Did you see a gradual or sudden increase in sales over those first few years?

Geekonomics

The age of the geek has arrived! And it includes everyone with a smart phone in their pockets—and everyone trying to connect with them! Today you can't walk a block without passing people checking their email, updating their status, sending and receiving photos and videos, and browsing the web. With so many of us carrying around a personal computer in the palm of our hands, now is the time to maximize mobile marketing for your store.

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