When I started this blog two years ago I had no idea how it would evolve. It’s been fun, challenging, inspiring, and incredibly educational to hear what these shop owners and consultants are doing to create success. And also to get to know them on a personal level. Whoever said business isn’t personal is dead wrong. It’s 100% personal from the desire to create and grow a business that will support your family to the people who work with you and the customers you serve. It’s all relationship with business thrown in. I’m humbled by the wisdom and inner strength of these folks. I thought we could end the year with a Shop Talk 2019 retrospective of what we learned.
I loved Brad Leydon’s analogy of the business of retail as an engine. “I look at retail as a big engine and there are all these different parts to the engine. And each part has to run efficiently and to the best of its ability. Every-time you can do that in a different aspect of that engine, it just kind of contributes to the overall performance and the horsepower of that engine. Whether it‘s promotion and marketing, or your buying, or your staffing, or your inventory management… there’s all these different parts of that engine and we really break it down and dissect it and treat each part like a science and really try to get the most out of it.”
I think our interviews this year have touched on each part of the “engine.” Granted, each store has a different make and model, but that’s what makes each shop special and what gives us rich fuel to keep running. Reedy Consulting might have put a science to the art we call retail, but even they see themes. I think the ones that stood out the most in our Shop Talk articles this year are inventory and cash flow, creative social media/email marketing, and the power of high touch customer service.
The idea of retail consultants struck a chord with me since it was first mentioned in April by Cathy at Sibling Revelry and then later again with Brad at Revolution Boutique. That makes this topic worthy of inclusion in the Shop Talk 2019 retrospective. So much so that I just had to set up a time to talk with Robert and Allison from Reedy Consulting. Even though they aren’t shop owners I knew they’d have valuable advice for my Shop Talk audience.
It’s a difficult thing—and often scary—to give a stranger access into the inner sanctum of your business and then to listen to them when they advise you to change what sometimes doesn’t seem broken. The thing is, they give a very objective eye to your business and help you see it from a new, and, at times, more accurate perspective. Cash and inventory flow are inextricable and are critical components to the success of your retail engine.
When I asked Cathy at Sibling Revelry what advice she’d give to a new shop owner she said, “Get a retail advisor. Even if they only did it for a year. Just to see that process. You learn so much from that process. It gives you more confidence. It gives you direction and you’re not scared all the time that you bought the wrong thing.”
As their clients and my Shop Talk interviewees will attest, understanding inventory and cash flow will keep you moving forward and allow you to innovate with confidence. And what is fashion if not a constantly moving and changing thing?
Jenny at Sound Styles said it best: “We’re not here to give you old ideas. We’re here to give you new ideas.”
Try new things
We all know that the root of the hesitation to learn something new is fear of the unknown or the new/different, but, heck, if we let that stop us none of us would’ve started our businesses, right?
I know you’re fearless in some way because, as each interview confirmed, you took a leap of faith to start your business. Each store had its own unique birth and growth story but the process was the same; total immersion in learning the business of retail. As entrepreneurs, the process of learning and growing is constant. Times change, customers’ tastes change, technology changes. If we don’t change with it, our businesses atrophy and possibly die. As we learned in each of these interviews, these shop owners evolved their business tactics and product offerings even when it was scary or seemed like an insurmountable task.
They gave us such great best practice tips from using customers as models (Haven A Boutique) to curating unique shopping experiences (The Mustard Seed and Sound Styles) to working with local charities (Blue Moon Boutique). All these tips not only create customer loyalty, but also a path of referrals! I don’t know if I even have enough space to write about how fantastic the event ideas were—all of which were promoted through social media and email marketing.
Technology drives traffic
This year we learned that technology drives business to your store. It doesn’t detract. This was hard for some to believe, but the numbers don’t lie. From POS systems to help track referrals and manage rewards programs. They also aid in getting online reviews and help collect valuable information. It gives you the ability to inform thousands of people of new arrivals and events with the click of the send button. All this helps you to delight your customers and build loyalty and trust. Technology even plays a part before someone gets to the POS system or on your email list. You know what I’m going to say: social media.
“Investing in Social Media was the best thing I ever did.” according to Rosemarie at Haven a Boutique.
And Annika from Dotter pointed out that social media isn’t only useful to get the word out about your store. 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 the store.
Whether you’re a seasoned hand or still wary of how well you can use it, there is an absolute consensus. Social media and having an online presence is important and it must be utilized! There’s no question about it. Each shop owner approached it differently from DIY to hiring outside professionals. But once invested, they all started to do it consistently and with intention. Robbie from Gaia was right in advising to treat your social media like a 24-hour news channel. Get those viewers—or in our case, customers—and make sure they know that the future of their fashion lies with you. You can use it to showcase your taste, your understanding of their lifestyle, your rotating inventory, and the loveliness they’ll experience when they come into the store.
High level customer service
Then you have to carry that sentiment and make sure it’s realized in your store. But from what I’ve heard during these interviews and in fielding comments, this is the part where you all shine. You know how to make someone feel welcome and heard. And how to train staff to give the same high level of service and product knowledge that leads to sales.
“When the sales process is done properly in a savvy, finessed way, it doesn’t come across as pushy/aggressive. It comes across as helpful.” according to Brad at Revolution Boutique.
It’s what makes THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE between shopping in-store and online. In your shop, your customer gets to feel special… more than just a random customer number they would be online. It turns out that your physical store—so often mistakenly doomed to extinction—is your most powerful tool. Statistics show that people spend more in store than online per transaction. Why not use it to its maximum advantage?
I hope that over this year, these articles have helped and inspired you in some way. That they prepared you to go into 2020 with a renewed vision of what is possible. And what you are capable of.
I think Jenny from Sound Styles best sums up the true essence of what being a shop owner is: “The honesty, the loyalty, the friendship, the service part of it… all of those things [are] what I want in my life. I do what I love, where I love, with who I love. What more can I want?”
Let me know what topics you want to delve into next year. Are there shop owners you’d like to hear about? I’ll be happy to oblige. Looking forward to talkin’ shop with more of you next year!