Those of us who’ve been involved in the retail biz for a while can sometimes forget what it’s like for those just launching into it. After talking with Annika Huston of Dotter in Los Angeles, I was struck by what we can learn from them and also by how much they value the stories and lessons of more seasoned shop owners. There’s something special in the bond that shop owners have not just with their immediate community of neighbors, customers, and staff, but also with other shop owners. Some have even likened it to a sense of family. Sometimes though, it does take a new person to remind us of what it takes to join/build that community. It’s what makes this series so exciting to produce and I think it should be celebrated.
Speaking of family, let’s start at the beginning with Dotter. Although founded four years ago by mother and daughter team Annika and Susanne, Dotter is actually envisioned by, curated by, and run by Annika. In fact, Susanne has her own store to run – in Washington, D.C.! Susanne has been a lifelong entrepreneur, always with a mail order business or store to run. Annika grew up watching her run these businesses, but didn’t think she would follow in her footsteps. Obviously, she did. And she did so—as many do— with a baby in tow.
I have many memories of working with Annika in my showroom with one or both kids in tow but a recent one stands out above the rest. She was in my showroom during a market with her recently hired nanny who wanted to see what buying was like. She was on the phone handling a child-related issue while selecting items for her store at the same time and I couldn’t help thinking “How many parts of her brain must be firing right now?” It turns out, Annika wouldn’t have it any other way. Like other mompreneurs (it’s a real term!), she loves her kids, but she found that she missed talking to people when she was home full time. Having your own business does offer flexibility, but even still, it’s no easy task to juggle a business and raising a family.
“I love interacting with customers and that’s what makes it feel totally worth the chaotic [sic],” explained Annika. “Sometimes life feels so crazy… and then I’ll have a great day where just one person will say ‘I love your store. I try and buy all my gifts there.’”
You know that feeling? It’s what comes after you make your dream a reality (even if you have an infant or toddler with you as it happens!). Annika says she is still learning and adjusting, but the family and community there makes it worth it.
“I can’t imagine doing this business without her,” said Annika of her mother Susanne. “I modeled the business after her. It makes it feel like a family business.”
Annika does display some of her mother’s influence in her store – literally and figuratively. She handwrites receipts just as her mom does it. Old clothing fixtures with sculptures at the top that Annika’s uncle welded for her mom when her DC store opened 27 years ago now hang in Dotter. The big selling items in the two stores may not be the same, but customers who have the chance to shop at both stores have commented on their similar sensibilities.
While her mom used to have to send out promotional postcards, however, Annika now utilizes email and social media and she started building her email list from Day 1. A little notebook on the counter helps to continually add to the list and she sends out an email to announce their sales every 2-3 weeks. This sales strategy has been successful for her mother so Annika implemented it in her own store. In the beginning, it was a monthly sale, but after observing their customers and their patterns, they found that optimum interest was best cultivated and reaped every two weeks as well. She rotates her sales each time to highlight a category or brand and it works. It helps bring customers in and also turns out to create her biggest days of web sales, which happens in the days after the email goes out. Not that she always sold items online.
It wasn’t until two years after Dotter opened that she started selling online. Although the web sales figures don’t compare to in-store sales, Annika finds it worth the effort because it helps them move inventory and reach people who aren’t local. It gives regulars a preview of what they’ll see before they come in, and gives them the opportunity to do in-store pick-ups, which is a service tool being utilized more often these days. When it came to social media, Dotter was on it immediately. Since Annika was uncomfortable using Facebook, she set up her Instagram account to automatically share posts with her Facebook page. Instagram is her true social media love.
“I can’t imagine doing it [having a business] without it. It’s interesting for me. I don’t have a big following by any means, but the people who follow us really do follow us to see what the new arrivals are like and what the sales are. It’s our demographic.”
When you’re a new business or new to social media, it’s ok to go all-in on one platform before developing another—especially when you know which platform you target customer is on. Having an engaged following is the goal. Not just the number of Likes and Follows. Dotter’s dedicated followers see what they like online and come into the store for it. It’s hard not to! Dotter’s Instagram feed is full of great photos of things you want to have right now. Annika’s insight into IG sales was very interesting. While IG redirects customers to the website to make actual purchases, it does display each item’s price. She pointed out that social media isn’t only useful to get the word out about your store (which is, of course, very important), but it’s also useful for customers to get to know the store’s style, vibe, and price points. It’s a way to start a connection with prospective customers that you can build on once they’re in store.
Annika admits that it does take work to set things up to look the way she wants it to look, but with her modest goal of one IG post a day, it’s still manageable and it pays off! She invests time with IG Stories because it feels like a more casual way to post and there’s less pressure to put together a stylized shot while still keeping in front of your customers and prospects. If you think you might burnout on creative images to post, Annika has an idea to help remedy it: Travel. Not necessarily to far off, exotic destinations (although I wouldn’t complain about going!), but to other shops! We all know burnout is real, if not the stress of managing a store plus a family (remember my article last year?), so we can all do our best to seek out points of inspiration to keep things fresh. Annika hopes to get out to travel more and see how other stores merchandise and display similar items. In fact, she had a friend and fellow shop owner fly in from Boulder to do just that. I think it’s a fabulous idea to keep the creative juices flowing and to get a fresh perspective. On top of it, I’d add that you should also visit the social media accounts of shops you love or are similar to yours. You can see some of Annika’s inspirations on her Instagram account… awesomely tagged with her custom curated hashtag: #dottermuse.
Have you implemented a great idea on how to keep your social media feed fresh? Share them here and let us know who/what store has served as inspiration for you in some way at one point or another.
How to find Dotter:
5027 York Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Instagram: @dotterstore https://www.instagram.com/dotterstore/
Facebook: @dotterstore https://www.facebook.com/dotterstore
Pinterest: @dotterstore https://www.pinterest.com/dotterstore/