Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Review By A Retail Specialist

At the risk of creating a Yogi Berra-esque quote, I will say that "There are some things I know and some things I don't know."  It's the things I don't know that keep me pushing to try to solve them and to find people who can give me answers or guidance.

A couple of weeks ago, two organizations that I am part of in Alexandria announced a visit from a state-wide retail specialist.  He would be speaking/answering questions at two morning meetings that week and would be available in the afternoon to visit your business and provide you with feedback on things that you may wish to improve and on the things you are doing well.  I had planned to attend one of the morning meetings anyway but jumped at the chance to have him visit the store and to also learn more about the services that the Alexandria Small Business Development Center could offer to me.

I arranged for them to come one afternoon when I had help in the store so that I could give them my full attention.  The advisor, Marc Willson, has a wealth of experience.  You can read more about his background here.

Marc asked me a lot of questions about the history of the store, my focus, and who made certain decisions.  He liked the openness of the store and said that my cash wrap was perfectly positioned.  Two areas that he suggested might be improvements were in temporary signage that I put in my windows and in lighting.

With regard to the temporary signage, he thought that putting my sale announcements and new arrivals in some pretty "shabby chic" type frames would be more eye catching and "fashion focused".  Of course, I contacted the lovely ladies from Semper Stylish right away to see what they might come up with for the store!

Then on to lighting.  You might remember a long ago blog post about my decision to use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs in the store (everywhere except the window lighting).  I like the energy saving features they provide, the softness (and calmness) they give the store and, frankly, I didn't want to spend a fortune on lighting as part of the buildout.  Marc suggested that I put in track lighting in certain places to highlight pieces and areas that might get hidden in the store.  There are a couple of areas that may be well-served with this type of highlight and I plan to look into how it blends with the aesthetics as well as the price to do so.

One area that I asked him about was advertising.  It is still a struggle to understand where advertising is working and where it is not working.  He suggested that social media is the big thing in advertising now as well as local newspapers.  He said that just about anything else wasn't worth the money.  That is helpful to me and is pretty consistent with what I've found with regard to feedback on my advertising.    He and the ASBDC rep were both excited to learn about this blog and some follow-up discussions have resulted in me being asked to contribute to their blog on a regular basis.  (I haven't decided on that one yet - it is quite daunting just keeping this one going!)

But a very good experience and a great resource!  I look forward to implementing these suggestions and reviewing the results.  And finding out what else I don't know.

Next up:  The lead-up to Fashion's Night Out

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Some Days, I Get To Try on Lip Gloss

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been knee deep in planning for Zoe's involvement in Fashion's Night Out Alexandria.   One of the things I've been working on is figuring out exactly what to include in Zoe's SWAG bags for the night.

I love supporting other women-owned local small businesses so my mind jumped immediately to Michelle Coyle's Haughty Cosmetics line of lip glosses.  Michelle is such a lovely person!  I met her when she came into my store shopping one day and selected an Issa London dress for her friend to wear as part of her wedding weekend attire!  As she was checking out and we were chatting, she told me about her business and gave me her card.

I was immediately smitten with both her product and her mission.  She donates 50% of the net profits from the sale of her lip gloss to domestic violence prevention education.  I would love to carry her product in the store but she already sells to a fabulous cosmetics store in Old Town.  But I've been thinking for a long time "how can incorporate/promote her product?"

When the idea of SWAG bags came up in my meeting with Jenn of The Medestrian, the Haughty Cosmetics lip gloss came to mind.  I contacted Michelle and asked if she'd be open to allowing me to provide her product to my customers as a gift.  She said Yes!  So the next step was to schedule a meeting to determine what shade(s) I would select for the SWAG bags.

Sarabeth was coming in that morning and when she arrived I told her "Today, we are trying on Lip Gloss."  We both agreed that we had never before had a boss say that to us in any of our corporate jobs.  (Note - if any of my former bosses are reading, I'm glad you never said this to me.  It would have been a very uncomfortable thing.)  It was a great day to do the testing because I am fair skinned with dark hair and Sarabeth is blonde with a more tan skin - we were able to gauge which colors would look good on the largest number of people.

Michelle brought her collection and we talked about best-sellers, hot colors, and what was flattering.  She had testing wands available so that we could try on as many colors as we wished.  After several evaluations, we settled on her color named "Give", which is a gorgeous Cranberry Red.  I know that people are going to LOVE it!

Next up:  A Review By a Retail Specialist

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sidewalk Sale - Year Two

It is very exciting to be sharing "Year Two" happenings with you, the second of which was this year's Old Town Alexandria Sidewalk Sale.   This was the Third Annual Sidewalk Sale and was organized by the fabulous Cindy McCartney, who owns Diva Designer Consignment in Old Town.

You will be glad to know that no blood was shed this year (you may remember my crash to the ground incident in trying to save the clothing from rain during last year's event!) but there was some hair pulled out (more to come on that!)  We were SO fortunate to have beautiful weather the entire day, coupled with greater advertising for the event as a whole.

So what was different for Zoe this year?

  1. We were asked to start at 9 am rather than our normal opening times (some stores open at 10, others at 11).  
  2. I had a lot more pieces to offer for sale - there is a great difference in being open 4 months (last year) and a year and 4 months (this year)!  Karen brought her folding table so that I could have a better way of displaying the folded items (I don't think I had any folded items on the sale last year).
  3. I did some of my own advertising for the sale by coming up with a "Top 10 Reasons to Love Alexandria's Sidewalk Sale" and posting two items a day (one in the morning and one in the evening) on Zoe's Facebook page.  By the time I go to #1, a number of people were following to see what I'd say next!
  4. I had a large enough number of Zoe customers on my email list to offer them a private sale the day before the Sidewalk Sale opened.  I was delighted with the people who came to take advantage of this opportunity.
  5. Last year, I managed to run the store and the sale alone - this year, I had help (thank goodness!)
On the morning of the sale, Jim and I walked in to Zoe.  The store felt "warm" but I quickly adjusted the thermostat to the daytime setting.  Within a short period of time, I realized it wasn't cooling off.  Uh oh.  (hence the hair pulling)  I contacted my landlord and asked if I could contact the company he had given me earlier in the year to get someone in to look at it.  He gave me the go ahead.  Turns out, that company was the one who installed the unit last year but doesn't have the contract to service the unit.  They did send a guy out to look it who told me "the problem is in your landlord's space".

In the meantime, I had a sale to get staged!  Jim helped me set up the table and the H-rack and get all of the clothing situated in the right places.  Even as we were setting up, people were coming up to take a look at what we had to offer.  Within a few minutes after 9, we already had our first sale on the books.

I am so thankful that Alexandra and Sarabeth were there to help me.  We took turns with one person outside (to greet people and monitor the table and the racks) and two people on the inside (to manage the dressing rooms and the cash wrap).  There is no way I could have done it myself this year.  Especially as I was on the phone with my landlord and the air conditioning people during part of the day!  Fortunately, the second A/C team (the ones with the contract) put a temporary fix in place to get me through the weekend.

Zoe has two dressing rooms and we repeatedly found ourselves in the position of having to ask people to wait until a dressing room freed up.  At one point, we asked someone if they minded using our restroom (which is not open to the public) as a dressing room!  It was a lot of fun to meet new people and see many of our previous customers.

Even as we were packing up at the end of the day, people kept coming in.  Two women with a baby came in at 6 and shopped with us until almost 7.  It was a long day but a successful one.  I did manage to get a sunburn on my shoulders since I'm never out in the sun!

Jim and I were eating dinner at around 7:45 when the rains came that evening.  We high-fived each other with joy that it had held off until after the sale was over!

Next up:  Some Days, I Get to Try On Lip Gloss

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Market Trip

I've now figured out that I travel to NY 7 times a year for buying trips.  I always end up going twice for Spring and Fall buying since the collections are so large and I like to intersperse Showroom trips into those buying seasons.  About a week and a half ago, I headed to NY to look at Early Spring and Resort collections.

Because the collections are much smaller and I do not bring in a lot for this particular season, I had a very focused schedule for the morning at the market and then had two showroom appointments in the afternoon.

Some highlights:

  • I visited two new "Made in USA" designers and loved their collections.  I continue to hear this request from my customers and I want to honor their desires (and part of the mission of my store) as much as possible.  Both are small enough that I got to meet the designers as well and had favorable impressions of both of them.
  • So many great primary colors were showing up in the collections - think Blue, Red, Yellow, White.
  • One of the showrooms I visited was actually in the midst of moving showrooms so they had me look at their collections in the meeting room of the condo building where one of the owners lived!  I got out of mid-town and the Fashion District and up into the residential areas of the Upper West Side.  I loved her building and wanted to just move in right then and there!
  • The other showroom I visited was back down in the Fashion District.  I love the light, airy environment of this particular showroom and the fact that it is so small that I can see the collection in detail and in an unhurried fashion.  Plus, I like that they sample the items in my size!  I tried on one skirt (that I have ordered for the store) that I honestly did NOT want to give back.  I half-jokingly asked "Can I take this with me?"  
  • As I walked back to Penn Station (no taxi trauma this time around - both taxis I took were without unnecessary angst), I saw a store owner trying to hold a shoplifter inside the store!  It takes a lot to get New Yorkers to stop and look and this ruckus did the trick.  The possible shoplifter had one shoulder and arm outside the store and the store owner was pulling the door to prevent him from exiting.  A whole lot of yelling and swearing going on.  The potential shoplifter managed to get some muscle behind his push and came bursting out of the store just as I had passed by.  Let's just say I got out of the way as quickly as I could!
  • For my friend Renee, I wore my Yoana Baraschi Faux Wrap Dress, a Chan Luu Asymmetrical Cardigan (to keep warm on the train), and Delman Black Patent Leather Sandals.  

Next up:  Sidewalk Sale, Year Two

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Continuing to Get the Word Out

I was never one of the kids in school who had the desire to raise my hand to answer questions.  I was always a quiet learner and participant.  You can imagine how hard it was for me when I had to deal with the fact that there was a class participation component to my grades when I was in graduate school.  I sometimes had to force myself to speak up in class!  I'm much more comfortable talking one on one or in small groups.

So contacting people who may not already have a relationship with Zoe can be challenging for me.  I feel like the little girl who is trying to will herself to raise her hand in class!  But since I function outside my comfort zone just about every day, what's one more thing to add to the mix??

One of the things I try to do is to always keep abreast of what is going on in Old Town.  Whether it be larger events, new businesses, or promotions, I like to know what is going on so I can share the information with my customers, consider the business impacts (positive and negative), and consider new ways that I can work with my fellow business owners.

A couple weeks ago, I was looking at the website for Virtue Feed & Grain, a restaurant that opened a couple of months after Zoe last year.  It is part of a family of restaurants located in Alexandria that are owned and managed by a well-known husband and wife team.  I noticed that they were having a Little Black Dress night on Wednesday nights!  Immediately I thought "Hey, I have a nice collection of Little Black Dresses coming in this Fall!  And since they are just down the street, I'd love to partner with them on this!"

They had a General Manager email address on the website and I sent an email introducing myself and sharing my idea for a) offering their customers showing me a receipt from LBD night a discount and b) coordinating some informal modeling this Fall when I have my full complement of black dresses in store.  They were very positive about the idea and immediately asked for my logo so that they could provide the offer as part of the information given to patrons when they hand them the check!  I was so delighted!

Sometimes, all you have to do is raise your hand...

Next up:  Market Trip

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I Get Some Exercise

Getting some exercise was not really the point of my excursions during the Monday of last week.  But it did end up being an added benefit (especially since I'm always despairing of time/energy to exercise). Plus I got some sun (although I must admit I'd have rather been at some nice beach than pounding the streets of DC!)

I had a lunchtime meeting with the Retail Marketing Manager of the Golden Triangle BID in DC.  I met her at her office on Connecticut Avenue and off we went on a tour of retail space in the district.  She provided me with a pre-printed map of available space as we walked the area and talked about square footage and availability dates.  Obviously, even for a venture as temporary as a pop-up shop, I have anxieties about finding my way through doing business in the District.  But having someone like Andi in the Retail Marketing Manager role is a BIG plus.  She has prior experience in the office of economic development in DC and knows the ins and outs of what it takes to do business in the city.

I've learned quite a bit in my two years as a tenant (both from a looking for space standpoint and occupying the space standpoint) so I had lots of questions!  Especially as they related to legal requirements and space modifications.  She expertly handled them and confirmed she would get answers to my remaining questions.  Having worked in that area previously on two separate occasions, I knew how busy it could be at any time of day!    Lots to think about but it was a great educational experience for me.

That afternoon, I met a different rep to walk developing space in Northern Virginia.  The plans that they have for this space - oh my!  I think if Zoe were just a bit more mature this would be a great fit for expansion.  The tenant mix, the focus on quality, the dedication to success is outstanding.  And I did get contact information for two great brokers (female) that specialize in retail that I can work with for future lease negotiations, either at this site or other locations.  It is really exciting to consider the possibilities.  My little girl IS growing up! :)

Next up:  Continuing to Get The Word Out