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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.

Trending Now

Yes, your customers still want you to have inspiring products, great value, and extraordinary customer service. But they also want something that might make you feel squeamish. They want you to be human. They want you to be real. And if you mess up, they want you to acknowledge it—just like anyone else.

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?

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.

Fast Forward

Five years ago, Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs stood before a convention audience in San Francisco and revealed the very first iPhone. Fast forward to today: Jobs is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on in the fifth generation of his company’s ground-breaking invention, the iPhone 4S. And rumor has it, the iPhone 5 isn’t too far away.

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?

Trending Now

Trending Now

Standing at the counter while her transaction rings through, your customer works her smartphone like a video poker game.

“Flash sale two blocks down!” she squeals to her friend, and instantly, they’re both huddled over the palm-sized screen, oblivious to everything else around them. Even though they’re in the midst of your store, nothing matters except this tiny box of light held between them, emitting a new kind of information.

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: I want to impress upon my employees how important it is for them to be aware of operating costs and try to keep them at a minimum. I also want them to understand how much money it takes to operate my store, but I don’t really want to hand them my financial statements. How can I accomplish this?

Crazy Wisdom

Crazy Wisdom

Fancy a cup of tea and a book? How about a big-ideas discussion in a traditional salon? Need a place for your fairy child to get together with other sprites over refreshments? Looking for some jewelry, yoga supplies, bath and body products? All of that—and more—is in one place: Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Analyze This

Analyze This

Do you count the customers who come into your store? Do you watch how they walk the aisles and pick their merchandise? Do you know what days of the week are most popular and what people purchase on those days?

If you answer “yes” to those questions, you have an important clue to the puzzle of making your website as profitable as your brick-and-mortar operation.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We’ve been open a little over a year, and our small town has welcomed us into the fold. Customers talk about us favorably and we’ve had some good local press. We have added almost 800 new customers to our database and we offer a customer loyalty program. You would think we were doing great, but our sales are not increasing.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Our store will open in two months, and my husband and I have run into a disagreement. He thinks we should spend $4,000 on signage right now, and I think we should start with a less expensive sign and then get the one we want later. What would you suggest?

Want to Instantly Feel More Confident in Business? Try These Empowering Tips.

When you constantly question your business decisions, you run the risk of stalling your store’s momentum and sending the wrong message to employees and customers. The following five tips can help you gain more confidence when making decisions that determine the success of your retail business.

Starring: Your Store

Starring: Your Store

Picture this: Your favorite author agrees to come to your store for a special appearance. You have read the book, developed a spiritual crush, and now want to shout from the rooftops, “The author is coming! The author is coming!”

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: 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: 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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.”

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.”

Creating a Better World

If the body-mind-spirit industry relies on consumers being awake and aware, how can we reach more people and expand our market? One way is through organizations such as the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment (GATE, www.gatecommunity.org).

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: I have an employee who wants to work more hours, and I need more help, but I can’t afford to pay overtime. Can I put her on salary and let her work extra hours each week?

The Art of Success

The noise outside Wolfbait & B-Girls in Chicago, Ill., is loud—cars whizzing by, bicyclists trying to avoid getting run over, diners enjoying a meal in the nearby restaurant. Come on a Sunday during the summer and you have the Farmer’s Market shoppers to contend with. But walk inside this small shop and the noise evaporates. In fact, you may hear another type of noise—the steady sound of a sewing machine, since it’s not unusual to find either of the co-owners working on one of their designs.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: I have an employee who wants to work more hours, and I need more help, but I can’t afford to pay overtime. Can I put her on salary and let her work extra hours each week?

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.

5 Cost-Effective Ways to Reward Your Valuable Employees

Rewarding employees with something other than cash is a cost-effective way to motivate them while letting them know how much you value their efforts. Sometimes simple things, such as handwritten notes, sincere praise, and quality communication with the boss, can be enough. But for non-cash rewards beyond these, dare to be inventive and use your imagination.

Purple Heart

On any given day, a person might park at the corner of Ann Street and North Curry Street close to downtown Carson City, Nev., rush into a small shop in a quaint, historic 1863 house, take a deep breath, and say, “I just needed a Purple Avocado moment.”

This happens so often that Sue Jones, co-owner with her husband, Stan, of the shop with the unusual name, knows exactly what the customer means. In response she’ll offer a friendly welcome, a chat, and of course, a unique shopping experience.

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.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I have just started to blog on our website and have linked it to Facebook. Do I need to write something every day? If not, how often should I update the blog? I’m having trouble coming up with things to say. Any suggestions?

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.”

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