by Jean Haller, Seasons Koll, Royce Amy Morales, Sloane and Casey Simmons
Q: I OWN A MID-SIZE BOOK AND GIFT STORE, AND although we always tried to be as green as possible, in the last year we decided to go earth friendly in every way. From compact fluorescents to a recycling system and even solar panels, it’s been an investment of substantial amounts of time and money. Do you have any suggestions for promoting our new eco-commitment? My conscience feels great about our transformation, but I sure could use some ideas for free ways to market it ... and so could my pocketbook!
A: Kudos for taking that green leap! In the long run, every eco-change will benefit your store in some way. Take advantage of the changes you made by tooting your eco-coolness horn any way you can. Here are some free and low-budget suggestions with a big pay-off:
Print your shop logo on tote bags (made of organic cotton canvas, bamboo, or recycled soda-bottle fabric) to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags. Most packaging supply companies offer these totes and purchasing in bulk makes them very affordable. Offer them for sale, as a gift with the purchase of a specific dollar amount, or free to your best customers. Not only do they become walking billboards, they prod customers to think of you every time they use them. After all, who throws away fabric totes?
Brag about your carbon footprint reduction by sending press releases to your local papers. Develop a catchy headline and a human-interest angle for a “cause marketing” story. A green accomplishment you perceive as no big deal might trigger a free feature story.
Hold a “Celebrate Our Green Reinvention” event. Small papers are community-event motivated, so send press releases to let them know what you’re up to and announcements for their calendar listings. Include photos of your newly “greened” store and follow up with a phone call to rattle busy reporters’ cages. Entice customers with discounts or special purchases. Hold a creative eco-contest or scavenger hunt!
People want to support shops holding high principles and to feel good about making healthy-for-the-planet purchases. Wallets often talk louder than consciences, though, so successfully selling green products may take some exposure and education to show they are an affordable choice. Tell customers why an item costs what it does and how it ultimately may cost less than its harmful counterpart. For example, the richer ingredients in organic body products allow them to go further and last longer—and are much kinder to their priceless skin!
Use point-of-purchase signage to promote how eco-savvy you are. A simple sign by your register stating your green commitment is a great way to get the message across.
Spotlight your eco-dedication in all promotional materials, as well as your website, blog, email marketing, and social networking. Add blurbs to your mission statement, tagline, and even to your cash register receipts—unless with your green commitment you’ve nixed paper receipts altogether!
— Royce Amy Morales
Q: I READ THAT IF YOU WANT TO ATTRACT YOUNGER customers, it’s important to hire younger employees, too. But, every time I have hired teens and 20-somethings, it has taken a lot more time to train them up to the level of my older, more experienced staff—if they’re able to get to that level at all. I do want to appeal to a younger demographic, but do I really need to hire younger employees to make that happen?
A: I don’t subscribe to the notion that younger employees are the best way to reach young customers. Young people want to shop at a place that’s “cool,” regardless of the age of the average staff member. There are plenty of cool non-20-somethings young people look up to who also are qualified for the position. The products, displays, and general brand of your store are more what young people are likely to respond to.
Young people also are more active on social media sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter than Facebook. You have to stay current on trends and brands young people are responding to and share photos they will think are cool. If this is completely out of your wheelhouse or just doesn’t fit your brand, that’s okay, too. Young people are a great demographic, but so are 30-somethings and older. It is more important to have a solid, consistent brand your current customers already respond well to than to attract another demographic and risk losing the one you have.
— Seasons Koll
Q: I’M AT A POINT WITH MY STORE THAT I WOULD LIKE to step back from some of the day-to-day duties and work on growing the business. I have an employee I think has the potential to be a great store manager, but I’ve never groomed someone to take on management-level responsibilities, and I’m not sure where to start. I don’t even have a job description for the position. Should I send her to a management training seminar (I’ve heard they exist!) or could you recommend resources to help me prepare her for the role of store manager?
A: Handing over your daily operations to someone else is quite an undertaking, and it often takes more training for you than the new manager.
You cannot empower a person with the success of your business until you have fully outlined your expectations and are able to articulate those expectations both verbally and in writing. This is definitely not the time to “just wing it.”
You’ll need three important documents: first, a written job description that outlines the responsibilities for the position and also speaks to the culture of your business and the attitude and disposition you expect from your store manager; next, a list of job duties (list them all—the longer the list the better); and, last, a document that details the pay, benefits, and process for employee reviews.
Let’s begin ...
We find researching job descriptions online to be very valuable. We search all types of similar jobs for text that resonates with us, which we then copy and paste into a Word document. We don’t organize anything at this point. We keep doing this for a couple of days until our eyes swim and our Word document is outrageously long. Then we move to the edit phase, which involves printing our rough document, highlighting what we think is important, and crossing out what is not appropriate or too repetitive. We then start a new document with the material that made the cut and place it all in logical order. Next, we edit, edit, edit.
This is the point where you’ll want to add specifics about your business and find your voice for the wording. Take your time with this phase. Your goal is a one-page job description—one-and-a-half pages at most. Remember to include information about the culture of your business and your expectations for customer interactions. You’ll want to be specific about the attitude, demeanor, and customer service skills you expect, because these characteristics are not easy to teach.
After you have a one-page document that describes the job and your expectations, you are ready to offer it up for review by outsiders. Find three people to critique it. We like to trade favors with other business owners and try for three different perspectives. We always ask, “Does this document make sense without any further explanation?”
When you are happy with your final job description, you are ready to create an outline of the nitty-gritty details of the work. This will be a list of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly duties specific to the job. It is a bullet-point list of responsibilities that are important for them to fully grasp. This list will give them a feel for the authority given in the position and also lets you know what to keep your nose out of once they are fully trained. (Reread that last sentence!)
Third and finally, prepare a written outline of the pay, benefits, vacation, and other such details, plus the employee- review process for the position.
Once you have done all that, you need to call your attorney. Employment laws are different in every state and can rapidly change. You need to protect yourself from any potential lawsuits. Show your attorney the documents you prepared and have them lead you through any final edits needed to meet state and local laws.
You now are ready to begin the hiring process. The documents you have created are very helpful tools: as the application information you share before and during the interview process; as the employment agreement for your new employee (signed by them and filed); and when it’s time for review, as your review checklist. When it comes time for an employee review, we simply print out the documents again, date them, and make notes right on the pages. We also use the documents to create employee surveys and self-assessments.
Even if you have an employee who appears to be the perfect person to promote into this role, you still need to do your homework. Conduct an interview. Have them review the job expectations. Have them sign an employment agreement.
Everything may look great right now, but your vision of what they will be doing and their vision of what the new position will entail may be very different—it often is. It is very important to your business’s future success to take the time to create professional documents and practices. And, if your shiny new manager tarnishes, you will be ready to put up the “now hiring” sign without missing a beat.
Happy promoting (or hiring)! Be bold about stepping back and letting your hard work return new, creative energy to you and your business.
P.S.: If you are interested in pursuing seminars or online trainings for your employees, we recommend you attend them yourself first. When you find programs you feel are valuable, you then can send your manager or team members to the same programs later. That way you will be on the same page with your employees and can discuss what you’ve learned together, adding extra value to your investment.
— Sloane and Casey Simmons
Q: MY VENDOR SHIPPING CHARGES SEEM TO RUN THE gamut. What’s a reasonable amount to be charged, and do you have any tips for negotiating down the shipping charges?
A: I totally get your request for clarification on shipping charges—it is a constant source of angst in my store. Here are a few thoughts on how to monitor and negotiate shipping fees from vendors.
When ordering at a trade show, bringing in a new line, or working with a sales rep, always ask if there is a show special or new-customer shipping special. Some companies will offer free shipping for orders over a certain amount or give a discount off the wholesale pricing, which helps offset shipping fees. However, this is not as common as it once was.
Vendors who sell heavy or oversized product will often offer a freight cap. I am finding 10 to 12 percent to be the norm. I always ask if there is a freight cap when I order anything with substantial weight, such as garden statuary, fountains, salt lamps, crystals, and large candle orders.
Be aware of small orders, too. Vendors who use USPS flat-rate boxes charge you the cost of shipping the box whether it is full or not. This works in your favor if a vendor will ship you two boxes of very heavy merchandise using flat-rate boxes versus using a commercial shipper.
I pay close attention to vendors who say shipping, handling, and/or insurance is a set amount. Most commercial carriers insure up to $100 for a lost or damaged package at no extra cost. I also will ask what the handling fees involve. Nothing makes me reconsider an order faster than when a vendor, especially a new vendor, tells me the handling fee consists of preparing your order to ship. That’s like telling our customers we will charge them to prepare their purchases for safe transport home from our store—this is simply part of doing business and should be figured into the wholesale cost.
I will ask vendors if they can charge my shipping account for the freight using my UPS or FedEx numbers. Because of a trade-association membership, I get a discount on FedEx, which really helps. Using my own FedEx and UPS accounts also avoids those handling fees and suspicious overcharges, because they only can charge the actual weight to your account.
I had a recent situation where I ordered two handmade fountains that really were not that heavy. Each was sent in its own large carton, well packed. I usually figure a minimum of 10 percent for shipping across the board in determining whether I will order, and I was flabbergasted when the invoice arrived, and I was charge nearly $25 a box for a $35 item. I called the vendor and he sent me a copy of his payment for the shipping. He used a third-party shipper (mailing company), and they charged him a hefty fee for their service that he, of course, passed on to me. I told him I never would have ordered the fountains had I known how much the shipping would be. I let him know I wanted to send the fountains back. To keep the sale he agreed to split the shipping costs with me.
In all situations, remember, it never hurts to ask. Sometimes vendors want your business enough to meet your requests.
Q: I WANT TO PROMOTE IMPULSE PURCHASES, BUT I don’t want to clutter the cash wrap with random items in a jumble of different displays. Do you have any suggestions for how to merchandise small point-of-purchase items in a way that attracts attention without looking messy?
A: The key to fitting a large variety of small items into a small space all comes down to the display. You need a clean, consistent display that can hold a variety of items throughout the year.
My suggestion is to go on the hunt for a group of vessels that feel like they match. They don’t have to be the same size (in fact, it’s better if the sizes are varied) or even the same color, they just need to feel like they go together. Think of how you would arrange a group of treasured keepsakes. Tall with short, grouped in twos and threes, offset from each other. That is how you want to arrange your vessels.
Once you like your arrangement you can fill them up with products. You can change around the items as often as you want or need, while maintaining a clean well curated look. Just mixing up the colors of items in the various vessels will make the space feel new. I also like the look of a large tray—you can arrange various items on it and change them as needed while maintaining the look of the space.
— Seasons Koll
Published in Vol31/Issue 3/2017