Sunday, July 31, 2011

Alumni Connections

When I opened Zoe, one of my early efforts to spread the word was to contact my two universities with the news that I had changed jobs and was a new business owner.  UVA's McIntire School of Commerce was immediately supportive!  I got a nice note from the Dean (who I met when I did the Executive Program in Denmark) and a beautiful business card holder that I use at Zoe today.  I also had members of the Development Office contact me and meet with me to start planning an Ivy Society event.

The information on Zoe was just published in the William & Mary Alumni News this past week (I had just missed the timing of the previous magazine).  Just from that little blurb I've had two different people come in from W&M and introduce themselves!  The first was on Thursday morning when a woman who had been a classmate and a friend came in right after I opened.  The second was a man and his wife (he was class of 85, she class of 90) visiting from Cary, NC stopped in the store on Saturday afternoon!  They were in Alexandria for his high school reunion (he was a graduate of the no longer in existence Ft. Hunt HS but their reunions are held through West Potomac HS) and stopped by Zoe to meet me!  I was so delighted with both visits!

Also on Saturday afternoon, a couple was having their engagement photos taken against the stone outside Zoe's windows.  The photographer told me that the windows were so pretty with the stone she thought it was a perfect setting.  The happy couple looked so nice - it is fun to think that Zoe gets to be a small part of people's lives like that.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Advertising and Other Odds and Ends

I've written before about the difficult decisions about where to spend my advertising dollars.   A couple months ago, I made a decision to spend my Fall advertising dollars with DC Magazine.   When I met with Sales Exec Kristin, I was impressed with the product and their proposal for my advertisements.

Recently, their Creative Director was in touch with me to prepare the elements of my first ad.  She asked me to provide a copy of my logo as well as a picture of something that would be sold in the store in the Fall.  Yesterday, I got the proof for the ad and I was blown away.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  Just as I felt when I saw Zoe's final logo from Cori and saw Zoe Girl from Lisa, I knew that this was "it".  I can't wait to share it with you.  (And for you to see the gorgeous piece that is in the ad!)

In the Odds and Ends classification, I added two new toys to the toy basket - a See and Say and one of the Write/Draw boards that erases.  The toy basket seems to be a hit thus far!  Moms, I am still looking for more suggestions!

Last Saturday, a wasp flew into the store and got tangled in my hair.  Let me be the first to say that I do not like stinging insects.  I've been stung once (playing football with my brother many years ago) and I am really hoping it never happens again.  A couple on the sidewalk got quite a show when I ran out of the store trying to shake the wasp out of my hair (the humiliation was worth it - I didn't get stung).

I will confess that I sometimes dance to the music in the store when no one is here.  Is that wrong?

Although the weather is definitely not cooperating, I am really enjoying opening all of the boxes containing the Fall items.  In one that arrived yesterday, I had such a beautiful bulky sweater that I just had to put it in the back - I don't think anyone is going to look at it any time soon!  Although I don't like cold weather, it made me long for cooler days when sweaters are appropriate!

I'm off to NY for Market on Monday!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hot Enough For You?

Uh, yes.  And then some.  And I normally like hot weather.

The heat wave that pummeled the Washington DC area over the past week is not necessarily a good thing for the clothing business (the ice cream business and the bottled water business, definitely good for them!)  Especially if you aren't in an air conditioned walking space (like a mall).

Since I had started keeping a count of visitors to the store over the Christmas in July weekend, I decided to continue doing so during the heat wave week.  My data driven friends will be appalled because the methodology is me remembering to make a tick mark in my little notebook each time someone comes into the store.  Scientific, it is not.  Interestingly, pretty consistent numbers during the weekdays.  (Consistent in that there weren't many people).

Fortunately, I only experienced one day with no sales.  Which is pretty amazing considering that it was so hot that the streets were fairly deserted and when people did come in, they were too hot to try anything on.  On Thursday, I had two sets of people come in who had either been sent home from work (internet service was down due to heat) or told not to come in (business was so light they weren't needed).

I do keep the store cool (no AC issues this time around) but there isn't much one can do when it is too hot outside for people to venture out.  Many of my customers over the past week were previous customers who were looking for something new or wanted me to place a special order.  (Thank you, previous customers!)  But I also had the opportunity to meet some very nice new customers from the area, too.  When traffic is really light, you get to know people much better!

Of course, in the midst of the heat wave, my first major shipments of Fall clothes began to arrive.  As lovely as the fabrics, colors, and styles are, I felt confident that most would not be tried on last week.  I was actually surprised to sell two of the items that I had just unpacked!  And I also sold some denim during the week as well - another surprise.  I've learned so far that things are NEVER predictable!

Cher came in on Friday to take advantage of the air conditioning for a while.  I gave her one of my cold ginger ales to take with her.  And I invited my landlord's cleaner in on Friday afternoon - he had arrived early, hoping to get into their space to clean (his card doesn't work until after 5 pm) but didn't realize that they leave early on Fridays during the summer.  No sense in him standing out in the heat waiting for 5 pm to come!

On Saturday morning, I started to rearrange the store to move the remaining Spring and Summer Sale items to be grouped by size.  I hated how it looked (I like to keep things color-blocked together) so I moved it back.  On Sunday afternoon, I did move most of the XS/S/M/L items onto one of the temporary racks and grouped them by size so that I could start to put some of the Fall items out on the floor.  I can't say that I really like it but it is better.  Hoping that everyone will soon be in the mood for some "Back to School" shopping!

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Was Christmas in July?

Although last weekend was the 2nd Annual Christmas in July celebration on Union Street, it was Zoe's first experience with the event!  It was a fun process with lots of new lessons learned!

Friday, July 15 was the start of the event with most of the scheduled activities starting that evening.  Friday was a fairly typical Friday for Zoe and we had about the same amount of traffic as we normally do on a Friday with decent weather.  Since so much of the activity started at around 5 or after, I would probably plan to keep the store open a little later on that first night to take advantage of the increased number of people on Union Street.  One of the cool highlights of Friday evening was having the Marines set up at different points on Union Street to collect for Toys for Tots!

Saturday contained the bulk of the action!  Zoe had more people come into the store (and fill out cards to join the mailing list) than we had had any Saturday with the exception of the Grand Opening Saturday.  At one point, the store was a little overwhelmed with people!  The bands performed on the terrace outside Zoe and were so loud on Saturday that I had to close the door in order to converse with my customers!  The Christmas Attic had lots of great activities going on throughout the day including the Summer Santa and Mrs. Clause, a Balloon Artist, a Paint Your Own Nutcracker station and Pooch Pictures with Santa!  We also were serenaded with at strolling Santa playing bagpipes and one of the local bike co-ops providing free Pedicab rides (complete with Christmas wreaths on the back of the cab).

We had a number of members of different media outlets in the area.  One news photographer took this picture of me with Zoe's tree and then printed it out for me.

Sunday was actually a little quieter than most Sundays.  The bands on the terrace were not as loud so I was able to keep Zoe's door open.  Many friends came by on Sunday including Mike and Maggie, Claire, Janice, and Karen!  Janice commented that it felt like Christmas in Miami!  (She would know, having lived there for a number of years)

Although some people were able to take advantage of Zoe's promotion (20% off all regularly priced items), I don't think it did anything to drive people to the business.  I've already got some ideas for a promotion for next year and some events in the store as well!  I thought that the event was very well organized and managed and any glitches could be easily resolved in the future.  Maurissa invited us to provide our feedback on the event.  When I told Jim that I needed to do a Post-Mortem on the event, he just shook his head.  I guess you can take the girl out of IT but you can't completely take the IT out of the girl.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why Am I Here?

In my morning prayer, I always ask God to help me fulfill His purpose for having me open Zoe.  I also ask Him to allow Zoe to be successful but for it to be His definition of success and not mine.  (And to help me sign on to His definition of success!)

I truly believe that God puts every single person in our lives for a specific purpose.  I've had at least 2 incidents at Zoe that have caused me to wonder if I'm here to impact someone's life.

One quiet afternoon in early May, a woman walked into my store.  I've heard of people looking "dead inside" but I had never seen anyone who looked that way until I saw this woman.  She told me that she had moved here to live with her boyfriend and he had hit her the previous night.  She wanted to go back home to Lynchburg but didn't have enough money of her own to get there.

It is possible that she was high or it was all an act.  But I've just never seen anyone who looked quite like that.  I hugged her, told her that I was sorry, and gave her a small amount of money.  She left and I've never seen her again.  When I told my mother the story, she got a little annoyed with me.  She commented "You can't even take a salary for yourself and you are giving money to someone else?"  I will never know if I was scammed or not but God knows and that's what counts.

The second incident is currently on-going.  About a month ago, a young African American woman came into Zoe.  She was carrying a very large blue duffle bag.  She asked if she could set it down next to the counter and look around.  I told her "of course" and told her I'd never seen such a big bag!  She said it could hold everything but the kitchen sink!  She told me I had a nice store and then departed.

The next morning, I saw her at Starbucks.  She saw me come in and said "There's the lady from Zoe!"  I said Good morning and asked her if she'd gotten the kitchen sink in her bag yet!  We laughed and I went on about my business.  From that point on, I frequently saw her walking on the street or ducking into one of the other stores close by.  She always had reading materials (newspapers, magazines) and sometimes a Tall Starbucks drink.  She has braces and is always clean and neat in her appearance.  And she always has the blue bag.

I became more curious about her so I asked a couple of the other shopkeepers if they knew her or knew her background (not knowing her name, I referred to her as the young woman with the big blue bag).  Surprisingly, no one else seemed to have even noticed her!  I continued to observe her comings and goings.

Then, one hot Saturday morning, I was at my cash desk preparing the computer prior to opening the store.  She slipped up the steps to the terrace and dipped water out of the fountain with what appeared to be the top to a can of shaving cream (I'm sure you know what the round plastic tops look like).  That really bothered me.  The water in that fountain is treated with chemicals (to prevent algae growth), people get into the fountain, throw coins in it and who knows what else.  I was very worried that she did not have healthy drinking water.

I lost sleep over it that night.  On Sunday, I took a plastic cup from home with me with the thought of giving it to her the next time I saw her and also offering her to use the Water Fountain in Zoe anytime I was open.  Each time she would pass over the next few days, I was always busy with a customer.

On Wednesday morning, I hadn't felt well and had not had my morning coffee.  After I arrived at Zoe, I started to walk to Starbucks and saw her on the street.  I asked her if she had a few minutes to chat and invited her into the store.  I told her my name and asked hers (it is Cher).  I told her that with the hot weather upon us now, I wanted to offer her the opportunity to use the water fountain any time I was open and I gave her the cup with the offer that she could fill it up if she needed water to take with her.  I never mentioned seeing her get the water from the landlord's fountain on the terrace.

Cher always waves when she walks by and does occasionally come in for water.  I still don't know much more about her but we have nice conversations when we are together.  I don't know where the story will go (maybe she is here to help me be a better person) but she makes me even more happy that I'm here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What About Children?

Not long after Zoe opened, I made sure that all of my customer's four legged friends were taken care of at the store.  And in my last post, I talked about ways that I am trying to make men more comfortable at Zoe.  But what about children?

Zoe's one disadvantage for Moms with strollers is that we are 7 steps up from the street.  I am always happy to come out of the store and help a Mom bring a stroller up or down Zoe's stairs but most people probably don't realize that (I've done it with a couple friends).  Also, depending on the age of the child, Mothers can also be reluctant to come in with the child because it makes it difficult to shop if they are trying to look/try on and keep an eye on the child at the same time.  If the store is quiet, I'll talk to/play with the child but that isn't always the case.

On my day off last Monday, I was performing my weekly shopping at Target and decided to start a toy basket for the children who visit my store.  I bought an inexpensive round laundry basket and a few starter toys and books.  Each week, I'll try to add a few more items to the basket until I have it full of fun things to play with and good books for all ages.  It has already paid dividends with a couple of shoppers whose children enjoyed the books and toys I had there!  Moms, I'm always open to more ideas!

Speaking of children, I left my "child" for the first time last week.  My mother was arriving from Atlanta at National Airport in the mid-afternoon on Wednesday.  Friends Janice and Karen were so kind to come to the store to "watch" Zoe while I went to pick up my Mom.  Honestly, as I walked down the stairs, I felt a pang of guilt.  I had no concerns about Janice and Karen's ability to take care of Zoe but I felt so odd being away from her in the middle of the day!

My mom's flight had just landed before an intense thunderstorm started and the skies opened up.  There was a ground stop so the baggage handlers were unable to unload the baggage from the plane.  We probably waited for about an hour before the bags finally came off.  The whole time I thought "I know they would call if there was a problem...I know they would call if there was a problem."

It was still raining a bit when we got back to Zoe so I let my Mother out in front of the store prior to parking the car.  Not only had Janice and Karen done a wonderful job taking care of my "baby" but they had also put up the Christmas Tree in preparation for the weekend's Christmas in July on Union Street!  What a beautiful sight!  Zoe was in perfect condition and all was well!

Next up:  Why am I here?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Caution - Men Shopping!

Now that I've had 3 months of observing all different types of shoppers at Zoe, I feel I can devote a blog post to the experiences with men in the store.

If I had to classify the experiences of men at Zoe, I'd say that about 80% of them look miserable to be in the store.  The next 10% aren't thrilled but are happy once they find the "man chair" and can flip through a magazine or browse their smart phones.  And the final 10% are active participants in their female companion's shopping, whether it be picking out items for her to try on or providing his opinion as she comes out of the dressing room to model different options.  I have also had male shoppers come into the store alone and shop for a gift for their significant other.  Rarely do they seem completely confident in their abilities to choose something she will like but the fact that they are making the attempt earns them major "good guy" points with me!

Last Sunday, I had my first private shopping appointment with a man shopping for his wife.  In the interest of full disclosure, the shopper was my brother.  He had come to see me from Georgia and wanted to shop prior to the store being open.  I will freely admit that I had a much greater confidence in working with this "client" since I know my sister-in-law but it was really quite a lot of fun.  We went through the store and selected some things that we thought she would like.  I will say that, as his sister, I never imagined he would ever put this much care and consideration into shopping for a woman.  He was picky about fabric weights (nothing too heavy - it is too hot in Georgia) and colors (rejecting one item because he had never seen her wear that color).   All reports have been that he hit a home run with both the sizes and the items selected.

I have been in a situation where I had to talk the man out of purchasing something.  In one case, a man had something picked out and I asked about his wife's size.  His choice would have been too small and I advised him against buying it.  No sense in having her mad at him (and me!)

Then there were the two men who came into the store shopping for one man's wife.  As he looked through the items, he began complaining that I did not have a size 12 in one particular jacket/pants combination.  I apologized and told him that my larger sizes seemed to be selling faster and it was a lesson learned for me to purchase more of the larger sizes in the future.  I made the comment that the average clothing size for women in the US was a 14.  His comment back to me "You women are getting fat."  This coming from a man who definitely had NOT missed any meals.  Sometimes, the only answer is to smile and say nothing....

Back to the "man chair" - my brother suggested that I get some pro and college football magazines to put on the table there so that any man sitting there will have something interesting to read.  I plan to pick up some tomorrow just for that purpose.  While the female spouse/significant other tries on clothing, I will frequently chat with the man if he appears interested in talking and have covered topics such as football, literature, garment manufacturing, architecture, computer software, movies, and travel.  I never know who might walk through my door and what their interest might be!

There are also funny moments.  I greet everyone who comes into the store.  Frequently, the female half will come in first followed by the male.  In one instance, I had spoken to the female and then greeted the man with her.  He said "No one ever speaks to me!  I'm usually invisible in these places!"  I assured him that I considered him a person too!  In another instance, I spoke to a man and he said nothing in return.  His significant other chided him and said "Don't be rude!  She just spoke to you!"  (He was definitely one of those who appeared in the 80% category above).

The one plus for Zoe is that in addition to the "man chair", the men like the water fountain (in the store) and the decorative fountain (on the terrace outside Zoe's store).  If I could somehow have a free beverage refrigerator next to the man chair, they may start insisting their wives/significant others shop longer!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Christmas in July

I know that I've mentioned the Christmas in July Celebration on Union Street in several previous blog posts but it is hard to believe it is almost here!

The event is co-presented by The Christmas Attic (across from Zoe) and the Businesses of Union Street.  It takes place from Friday, July 15th through Sunday, July 17th.  Thankfully, The Christmas Attic works with a fantastic PR person, Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP.  She and her team have handled all of the logistics for the participants, including the creation of posters, postcards, and press releases!  She has even set up a Facebook page for the event.  And, Maurisa's firm took care of all of the permitting with the City (you KNOW what a big relief that is!)

The main things Zoe had to do were contribute to the fund for marketing the event and determine "how" we would participate.  In addition to decorating for Christmas, I decided to offer 20% off all regularly priced items during the 3 day event.  Things like jewelry, scarves, belts, and denim (that never go on sale) as well as new fall items coming in.  With the music portion of the event taking place on Zoe's terrace, I hope it will draw a number of people to the store!

There really will be something for everyone at the event.  With participants as varied as Ben & Jerry's, The Art League, The Virginia Shop, and Union Street Public House you know that every taste will be covered!


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Sale

Ever since I opened in early April, I've felt I was about 2 - 4 weeks behind!  I had items in the store that had arrived in February that ideally I would have been displaying in late February/early March (when I originally hoped the store would open).

The timing of Zoe's Summer Sale felt the same tardiness in many ways.  Other stores in the area had started their Summer sales two weeks prior.  Yet, at the same time, I also feel odd starting a Summer Sale when the true start of the calendar Summer was just the week before!

Knowing that I needed to start making room for my Fall shipments, I prepared for Zoe's Summer Sale to start on July 1st.  Thanks to the Point of Sale system that I use at the store, I was able to start prepping several days in advance by setting up the sale categories, the dates, and the items that would be discounted. When a discount percentage is assigned to an item, it automatically calculates the discount for me so I was prepared to mark down the prices on the price tags.  I also used the opportunity to apply new discounts to the remaining Spring merchandise I had in stock.

The next step was to prepare the Constant Contact email communication for those people who are on my mailing list.  Constant Contact makes it easy to design the email and also to post it to Zoe's Twitter account.  I also updated the events section of The Patch site for Old Town Alexandria as well as the Owner's Message on Zoe's Patch entry.  Another task was to update the Events section for Zoe on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association website as well as update Zoe's website and Facebook pages!

On Friday morning, I came in early to mark all of the appropriate tags with the sale prices and do some remerchandising of the store.  I placed the sale signs in Zoe's window and was then ready to open the doors!

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of previous customers and visitors who received the email and then came in to shop the sale!