Sunday, January 29, 2012

The 3/50 Project

As a small, independently owned business, I often find myself competing against chain stores (and being indirectly influenced by them as far as pricing and rents).  The small boutique merchants here in Alexandria have done a fantastic job in selling Alexandria as a shopping destination through organizations such as the Old Town Boutique District and their Shop Local program.

My friend, Leslie, introduced me to a nationwide effort called The 3/50 Project.  The general goal of this organization is to make people aware of small businesses in their community and to encourage them to patronize those small businesses on a regular basis.  Their studies have shown that for every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures.

Their name of 3/50 states their mission - to have people pick 3 small, independently owned businesses that they would hate to see disappear.  They then encourage individuals to try to spend $50 a month in those businesses.  Their numbers on how it would impact the local economies and small businesses are truly staggering.

They even have an iPhone app that allows you to find businesses that are part of the 3/50 Project.  While Zoe already shows up on The 3/50 Project website, we haven't made it to the listing on the App yet!  I need to check into this!

This is a timely topic, especially with the opening of the new Anthropologie store in Old Town.

Next up:  Visiting the Anthropologie Grand Opening event

Thursday, January 26, 2012


On Monday, we performed inventory at Zoe for the first time.  While the Point of Sale system that we use  has physical inventory functionality, it was not a feature we had used so I arranged for our software consultant to help with the inventory.

As a plus, when the consultant arrived, I had him perform the update to the point of sale system (remember my delay in doing so a couple months ago).  So far, so good.  Glad I let someone else work out the bugs in the system!

He brought two types of handheld scanners to assist with the inventory.  He tried both types on Zoe's tags and we determined that the older model scanners actually worked better.  As he finalized the scanner testing, he asked me to draw a map of the store and label it appropriately.

Anyone who has EVER seen me draw ANYTHING knows that it is not high on my list of talents.  In fact, the joke has been that I can't even draw a straight line with a ruler.  But I made a go of it, drawing both the front of the store and the back storage area.  Good enough sufficed in this case.

The reason for the drawing was to divide the store into segments for inventory.  When I had been in other stores, I had seen pieces of paper indicating what areas had already been inventoried.  But since Anna (the intern) and I were splitting the work, it made sense to just take an area and be done with it!  After we had completed an area, we would bring the scanner back to the point of sale computer, link it up with the software and then clear the file of inventoried items.

We quickly learned how to best scan the tags, how close we needed to be, the kind of light they needed for the scanner to work most optimally, even tricks like turning them upside down to get them to scan!  We did have problems with some tags, mostly for those that I had printed out when I first opened the store.  When that happened, we would print a new tag and scan it instead.

The consultant also told us about some best practices for keeping track of where we were in the scanning process.  If we got interrupted, we were to place the scanner just after the last item we had successfully scanned.  We were also to work from top to bottom, left to right.  Also, once he had transferred the scanner data to the point of sale computer, he placed the scanner upside down to indicate it was ready to accept new scans.

Every once in a while, a tag would indicate it had scanned but when connected with the Point of Sale system, would give back gibberish.  In those cases, we were able to type the correct SKU into the text editor.  As we continued to load inventory into the system, it kept a running count of how many items were still missing as well as showed the unidentified items (like those with the incorrect SKUs).

The toughest part was the jewelry.  And this was my mistake for not understanding the requirements (or as I would call it, the limitations!) of the point of sale system.  I do not print and attach tags to the jewelry but instead write the SKU and price on a small tag that can be easily attached to each piece.  But the inventory can only be done through scanning - there was no option to manually enter the jewelry pieces.  Our solution?  We printed tags for all of the jewelry in the system (whether it was still on hand or not) and I went through and identified the quantities we had of each item.  Once I did that, Anna scanned the tags for the items.

When EVERYTHING had been scanned, we ran a final report.  Much to my chagrin, it showed a variance and some missing items!  The consultant printed two reports - A Missing Items Report and a Count/Variance Report.  Imagine my shock when he then started clicking buttons and "fixed" the items that had shown up on both reports!  Can you imagine my "But...but...I don't we want the system to do that....wait!!!"  Although he explained that our physical count was the most accurate representation of what the "truth" was, it unnerved me to just correct it without knowing exactly what had happened!  I needed to work on that one for a while.

After the consultant left, Anna and I grabbed lunch.  The total process had taken us 3-1/2 hours.  Had I known about the jewelry tag issue, I would guess we may have been done in about 2 hours and 45 minutes.  Over lunch, I was already in the mode of "what went wrong...what would I do differently next time."  I appreciated Anna's perspective though - she felt it had gone really well!  She has experienced inventory at a large chain women's clothing store and said that Zoe's was very smooth.  We all need people to encourage us to look at the positive.

We came back to the store after lunch to straighten everything up (you aren't taking great care in how well things are folded when you are scanning the tags).  Although the two reports bothered me, I decided to review them the next day.

Fortunately, the explanations were clear as to what had happened with each item.  So, for the most part, the "fix" completed following the inventory was the correct thing to do.  I had one item from the Missing Items Report that I just couldn't figure out where it was in the store.  Had it been shoplifted?  As I was typing this dilemma to my mother in an email that evening at home, it all of a sudden dawned on me where it was.  It was layered on a mannequin and we just had neglected to count it.  Problem resolved!

Overall, a good process and lots of great lessons learned for next year!

Next:  The 3/50 Project.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Should I Care?

The answer is Yes.  And I do.

For those who do not live or work in the City of Alexandria, the discussions about the Waterfront Plan probably do not resonate very loudly.  But it has evoked passions here that are reminiscent of those of a small town (not a bad thing).

This past Saturday, an 11 hour hearing and council session took place.  This hearing incorporated over 100 speakers - some in support of the plan and others in support of an alternate plan.  The two groups, Waterfront4All and Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, spent significant time and effort to express their viewpoints, including rallies, press conferences, numerous letters to the editor, signs, and even Facebook pages devoted to their viewpoints.

My biggest concern from the moment I started to study the plan was just how much confusion was out there.  I stood at a reception in June with a local commercial real estate broker (from a family that goes back generations in Alexandria) and the then-head of the Chamber of Commerce.  It was as if the two of them were talking about two completely different plans.  I wondered, if two people who I would expect to understand and know as much as possible about the plan were interpreting it completely differently, what did it mean for people who hadn't studied it at all?

The Alexandria Waterfront has a colorful, interesting history.  Just down the street from Zoe (at the Torpedo Factory) is the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.   I spent some time on their site throughout the process to learn more about all of the changes the waterfront has seen since the City's founding.  This was one of my favorite pages.

As I studied all of the viewpoints and history, the one thing that kept coming up for me was just how much potential the waterfront has that isn't being utilized today.  Alexandria's waterfront, when compared to others I've had the opportunity to visit, just doesn't measure up.  I thought about how special it was when we had tall ships docked here this summer and how much it matched up with the heritage of the town.

My personal temperament is such that I feel you can talk an issue to death (yes, I know that some of you are laughing).  Make a decision and move forward with it.  And, no offense to the P&Z folks, but with as many rules and regulations and gyrations that you put both residents and businesses through, it will take quite some time for anything to happen anyway!

I could not attend the hearing on Saturday so I turned to Twitter to keep up with the discussions and outcome  Reporters from several local media outlets tweeted the activities of the hearing throughout the day.  The end result was a 5 - 2 vote for the Waterfront Plan with a zoning modification to allow the potential for 2 hotels rather than 3.  The CAAWP group had filed a petition to push for a super-majority vote (which would have been 6 - 1) but the status of the petition is still being discussed and might wind up in court.

What will happen now?  I can't wait to find out!

Next up:  Inventory

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Just Call Me Publicity Girl

I've been called a lot of things in my lifetime.  Some endearing, some complimentary, and some quite rude (and not for a family blog).  If I add "publicity girl" to the list, I guess that is definitely one of the better ones.

Lots of interesting things happen at Zoe in any given week.  And one of my continuing main areas of focus in 2012 is to make sure people know Zoe is here and what we have to offer.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I follow my designers through social media and it is always exciting to have them mentioned in a positive way in a well-read publication.

Through one of one these posts, I discovered that Chan Luu's Breast Cancer Wrap Bracelets had been mentioned in the Washington Flyer (the free magazine available at National and Dulles airports).  This article led to discussions between me and author and ended up with Zoe (and my sartorial resolutions for the coming year) being featured on the website version of the Flyer for January/February.  You can read the article here (and I'm open to anyone who wants to buy me that gorgeous hat!)

And an update on the Photo Shoot!  The Assistant Editor of the magazine did pick up the clothing on Saturday morning.  The stylist returned the items on Monday and said that the shoot went well and we should know soon which pictures will make the magazine.  I'm continuing to hope that Zoe made the cut!  At least two of the items she selected appeared to have been worn.

Despite the fun of my publicity girl days, sometimes you still wonder about the purpose of it all.  A long time ago boss of mine once walked in my office and said "Have you added value today, Gerock?"  Although I got a good laugh at the time, I've thought about that statement a lot over the years.  And sometimes I do ask myself "Did I do anything of value today?"  A recent blog post by an highly regarded legislative/political consultant helped me realize that we sometimes "add value" without even realizing it.  Imagine my delight at finding two of my loves merged in one blog post - Zoe and the current political landscape!  You can read his post here.

Next:  Should I have an opinion?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Counseling Session at George Mason

It didn't feel like it had been a month since I had been to the Mason Enterprise Center for Orientation.  With all of the activity before and after the holidays, the time had flown by!

My first counseling appointment was scheduled for 2 pm on Thursday.  Janice and Karen kindly came to the store to take care of Zoe in my absence.  Fortunately, the traffic gods smiled on me and I was in Fairfax in plenty of time.

Prior to the session, I sat down to update the list of initiatives that I had originally provided to the students at the Art Institute when they first came to review Zoe in August.  It was pretty amazing to review the list and note all of the things that I had planned to do (that were now done) and all of the upcoming events that I hadn't even known about/planned for!  Regardless of whether I have someone reviewing this information or not, I can see where it will be good for me to keep this list updated on a very regular basis.

When I met with the counselor, I provided her with the list and we talked about what things had worked and what had not.  She had (prior to the session) reviewed my website and had some suggestions/feedback.  We also talked about some modifications I might make to improve on initiatives that I already have underway and having the ability to say "No" when asked to do something that I know hasn't worked in the past.

She also gave me a fantastic handout from a presentation that had been originally developed by the Maryland SBDC (Small Business Development Center).  It is titled "Staying Relevant to a Changed Customer."  The handout alone was worth the time spent away from the store.  I could probably share numerous blog posts just outlining what the presentation has determined as far as definitions of customers, how to differentiate the business, the customer experience, and marketing strategies for small business.

We will determine whether or not I receive additional counseling sessions and at what intervals.  At the end, she asked me what homework that I thought that I had and I outlined the items we had discussed.  Me being me, of course, I told her that I thought that she had homework too!  Some things don't change.

Next up:  Just call me Publicity Girl

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Photo Shoot

On Tuesday afternoon, I received an email from a member of the editorial staff of a DC based magazine.  She had been given Zoe's information by a representative from the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association.

The email told me that they were planning a photo shoot for the magazine this upcoming weekend and they were working with a local stylist to select the clothing for the shoot.  The editor asked if Zoe could provide clothing.  Well, of course!

I emailed with the editor and the stylist to confirm my interest.  The stylist came by on Wednesday afternoon and selected some pieces from the early spring/resort wear offerings at Zoe.  She confirmed that an associate editor would be by on Saturday to pick them up.

I enjoyed talking with and working with the stylist.  She had a strong retail background and it was clear that she was a pro.  She told me a little bit about the model who would be wearing the clothing so we could make sure we had the right sizing.  Just getting her feedback was great validation for me.  She selected items from Issa London, Rebecca Taylor, Alice & Trixie, and Mother Denim.  It was definitely a bright spot in a yucky, rainy day.  I'm not "naming names" in this post as I want to make sure it does come to fruition (meaning that Zoe does have clothing featured in the photo shoot).  So I'll definitely follow-up in the future to let you know the end result.

Next up:  My First George Mason Counseling Session

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Zoe Gets An Intern

Following the public relations project that Zoe did with students at the Art Institute of Washington, the professor asked me if I would ever be interested in hosting an intern.  I told her that I would and to feel free to contact me if there seemed to be a good fit.

In mid-December, the professor contacted me to say that one of the students who had participated in the public relations project was interested in an internship with Zoe.  The internship is part of the student's requirement for graduation and Anna was on track to graduate in the Winter Quarter of 2012.

After reviewing her resume, conducting a phone interview, and holding an in-person interview, Anna and I agreed that it would be a good fit.  Honestly, I was more concerned that I could provide a good and appropriate experience for her than I was about her fit for the internship.  She shared the documentation with me and I filled out all of the required fields, including all of the items I hoped to allow her to experience during her three months.

My next challenge was determining what hours I'd like to have her in the store as well as any special projects I might ask her to participate in.  We would be working around her remaining class schedule as well as as the two days a week she works at Ann Taylor.  We agreed on Tuesday afternoons (beginning at 1 pm) and Friday mornings (beginning at 10 am).  She will need to log 100 hours in her internship and she will update a school-provided blog on her experience.  The school will also contact me at different intervals to get an update on her progress.

I've also identified some special projects that she will work on, including participation in inventory, assisting me at the Alexandria Boutique Warehouse Sale on February 4th, and a trip to the NY Showrooms in late February to complete the Fall buying process.  The goal is to expose her to all aspects of owning and managing a boutique.

Anna's first day was yesterday and she went right to work.  I asked her to assist me in filing all of the orders I had written at market the previous day and told her to take her time to review the linesheets and note the variations in what the different designers provide to buyers.  As she was working on that project, UPS Deliveryman Freddie brought in a shipment from Rebecca Taylor.  I asked Anna to unpack the box and tie it against the packing list and invoice.  She then entered the items into the Item Card program in the point of sale system, completed receipt of the purchase order and printed the price tags.

I also asked her to review the current set up of the store and ask me any questions as well as provide feedback on things we might change.  The time truly flew by!  I'm already making Friday's list of new tasks!

Not long before Anna arrived, Janice and Karen stopped in to retrieve the snowflakes from the windows in preparation for the transformation for Valentine's Day!  I can't wait to see what they come up with!  The poor windows look naked right now (with the exception of the mannequins).  Don't worry - you will NOT be asked to vote on the Valentine's window display!

Next up:  The photo shoot

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Summer Market

Wait a minute!  Are you sure you aren't confused?  Didn't you mean to title this post "Winter Market"?  Or at least "Spring Market"?

Yesterday, I went to New York to market to shop for Summer.  Yep.  And winter just officially started about 20 days ago.  And it was a nice, crisp 32 degrees in New York (at least it wasn't snowing like it was here - not at all sorry that I missed THAT fun.)

The day started out like most do with my early morning departure from Union Station.  Easy trip to Penn Station while I caught up on my reading (and enjoying taking advantage of the new wi-fi on the NE Regional with my new Kindle Fire).  I had to take a cab this time because the smaller shows (Summer, Winter, Holiday) are held at Piers 92/94 rather than at the Javits Center (which is in walking distance).

I was pleasantly surprised to see how busy things were at the show.  I had three specific appointments and had been told to drop by the other booths for my lines.  It is always fun to see my reps in person and see what new and lovely things they have to offer.

One of the highlights of my day was meeting designer Yoana Baraschi.  While I do not have any of her line in the store yet, it will be arriving for Spring.  When I stopped by the booth, my rep James was there to show me the Summer collection.  Yoana was in the booth as well and he introduced me to her.  She was so lovely and elegant - what an honor!  I wish I had asked someone to take a picture of us together (but that might be a little too star-struck!)

In total, I visited 12 designers yesterday.  A very hectic day but doable since the summer collections are smaller.  I had a 4:42 train returning to DC so I made up my mind that I had to be in the taxi line by 3:30.  I made in back to Penn Station in time to snag a delicious black and white cookie before getting on the train!

My friend Renee always likes to know what I wore when I went to market.  I wore this gorgeous Velvet Breezy cashmere dress, grey tights and black ankle boots.  Warm and stylish - a great combination!

Next up:  Zoe gets an Intern

Friday, January 6, 2012

Winter Holiday

I had already planned to take a few days off at the start of the new year when my brother asked me if I would like to come to Florida to see his team play in the Outback Bowl.  I absolutely jumped at the chance to meet my new nephew and see my little niece again.

When I opened the store on New Year's Eve, I immediately started making a list of the things I would need to do when I closed!  Everything from "Remember to water plant" to "Change Store Voice Message" was there.  After a pleasantly busy day, it took me about an hour to check off all of my tasks and finally be prepared to walk away for 4 days.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the Washington Post Sunday Style section that evening and saw a blurb on Zoe's canned food drive partnership with ALIVE!  And here I was going to be closed for the next 4 days.  My initial thought was "oh no".  But then I realized that there wasn't anything I could do about it at this point so there wasn't any point in stressing over it.  I extended the food drive a couple of days and acknowledged to myself that the publicity was good.

I don't often have time to sit, think, and do nothing.  I definitely took advantage of those times during my Winter Holiday.  Not to mention the gorgeous mid-70s weather when I arrived in Florida on Sunday afternoon!  And my spirits were definitely lifted by having the opportunity to spend lots of time with my niece and nephew!

From a physical standpoint, I do think the time off was good from a recovery standpoint.  My body did not feel nearly as tired as it had felt.  I can't say that I got the mental relief that I hoped for but quite a bit of that is probably self-induced in thinking about all that was upcoming in the next few months!  It is proof that when you own a business, you never really stop thinking about it!

From feedback from a few others down here, it does sound like the week was fairly quiet from a business standpoint, especially with the colder temperatures that set in at the beginning of the week.

As I helped my brother pack up their cars in preparation to depart on Tuesday morning, I did get to show off some Zoe-wear:  LiaMolly Sparrow Sweater, RedEngine Cayenne Skinny Jeans, Chan Luu Camisole and Chan Luu Wrap Bracelet!