Wednesday, December 30, 2015

For the retailer in you.


Do you remember the blogs before the "blogs"?
The posts of writing with very few photos.
When they were a web log?

Today may feel like a throw back to that as this is a long post with little photo fun.
If you are only here for the photos, today isn't your day. Sorry about that.
If you aren't here for the real life of running a business, it's still not looking good for you.
Today is a thought day!
It's an answer to your curiosity day.
It's a post that might hit on the things people don't want to hear if they too are considering opening their own business.
It's also a long post full of words. 

So, here's the thing. I get asked more and more frequently by people in the shop but mostly by email from my far and wide readers about my thoughts on running a small business. 

How did I do it?
Do I regret it?
Any advice?
How much does it cost? (more than you can imagine)
Will I still be able to have a life?



It's something I have been meaning to write here for awhile as I type out the answer a few times a month to followers.

In case you are really new here, this blog has been in operation now with me as the sole author for 6 years. The business you now know me for only grew out of it in the last few.

I am a Registered Dental Hygienist by trade and still manage my time running a business in that as well.

I am also a woman, wife, daughter, friend, and shopper. There are obviously other things that I am good and bad but lets just leave that there for a moment and focus on the shopper, retail owner aspect of this conversation.

When I go to work in Hamilton to clean teeth, I often spend my pre patient mornings, lunch and after work hours running around picking things up, delivering items for the shop. In between if I have a few moments I loved sneaking down the mountain to check out some cute shops, one of which was "The Edit".

It was a small fabulously curated vintage shop with clothing, some home accessories but my favourite was the vintage jewellery. Many pieces made their way home with me and I wear them frequently .

This shop is closing.

Yen, the owner has made the courageous decision to focus on the increasingly growing online presence she holds on instagram and on etsy and focus on that without the overhead of a brick and mortar store. This lovely woman also has another business which she also focuses time on if I remember correctly in landscaping.

I read her blog post on closing the shop and thought, I need to share this post.
I wrote to her on insta and asked if she would mind and she said yes so I am posting her words on what it is like running a vintage business in today's online and walmart world.

I shortened a bit of it but for those of you that want the perfect answer, there unfortunately isn't one but this is close. I nodded my way through a lot of her words. A vintage business is a different animal and I have curbed some of her post as it really applies to the city of Hamilton but,

~from the edit blog

And there it is...
I'm closing the shop on Ottawa Street and moving to a studio space to focus my vintage business in a more online direction.
Matt, the perpeptually positive, says that I am just redirecting my business to follow consumer demand and lowering my overhead. He is not wrong, for a while now I have noticed that a high percentage of my sales are either online or are directly originated from online; where people come into the shop not to browse but to purchase 'that thing' they saw on the shop's Etsy or Instagram.
And I'm half business savvy enough to know that this is 100% the way I am supposed to spin it. I just need to say that The Edit is just taking the next step in being able to efficiently provide quality vintage to its loyal clientele by opening a studio space. And that is the truth and I am super excited about how cool my studio space is but it does kinda feel like I am leaving out part of the story...
I didn't excitedly sign a new lease on a bigger space last January and rope my friends into painting every single fixture in the shop with layers and layers of primer and white paint in order for me to leave it all behind one short year later. And as much as I know, for my sanity and for the bottom line, that moving into a studio is the right choice for me, closing down the shop is still something that makes me really sad.
Some might even say that having a bricks and mortar shop turned out to be a failure. 
I said it. The 'f' word. I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to say that word and I'm going to get lots of texts from my friends (and my mom,thanks boo) telling me I am not a failure. And it's not totally a failure per se, I think The Edit vintage has a bright future but the street front location part of the equation did not really work out quite as planned...

So what happened?
I'm sure I don't need to write a post breaking it all down but I honestly think these are things in small business that we don't talk about. Small business owners start with a dream and stars in their eyes and probably a couple Pinterest quotes about how if you follow your passion, you will never work a day in your life. And there is nothing wrong with some stars and some Pinterest quotes but it's also nice when the grind happens to know you are not the only one feeling the pain or that sometimes all the passion and heart and good intention is not enough. We don't share enough about the journey (well, maybe that is because as a small business owner you maybe don't have the time or energy to share...) so when something happens, a small business just disappears and we all kinda draw our own educated or uneducated conclusions.

I think we can sum up exactly my experience with running a bricks and mortar by saying it is really hard...
Retail is hard. I've said it before and I will say it again. Retail is so hard. Despite that, having your own retail space is probably one of the top 'dreams' that people romanticize about. Setting up a shop and putting it all together is so so fun. And standing behind your counter for the first time and making a sale to a stranger who loves your stuff is this incredible high... But the day to day is tough. The needle that flicks from making a sale to not making the sale is set so delicately... A cold day, a hot day, a too nice day, a lazy day, a bloated day, a cranky infant day; there are so many factors involved in getting store traffic and making a sale. And retail is not just hard for me. It's a struggle for everyone. So if you have a favourite shop in the city that you have not been to in a while, go and visit and make a little purchase and give them a hug (if they are into it). I suspect it's been a generally tough year for retail across the board.
Shopping at small independent shops is not always the easiest. The hours are not like Walmart and it takes a little bit more effort but it is the small stores that give a city or community their shape. I know the city of Hamilton is on a bit of a high right now; after years of being 'the armpit of Ontario', we're apparently cool... And that's cool. But let's be real, it's still a struggle. If you love this city, don't just pay lip service to it. If you want your neighbourhood to be interesting and walkable and varied, remember the little and the medium guys. Your dollars have the power to shape your city.

Also, as it turns out, selling vintage is really hard. Besides the amount of work it takes to source abd clean it, it's also a lot of work to sell each individual piece. The best thing about vintage is that it is so unique but the worse thing is also that it is so unique. I know it sometimes looks like things sell out so quick at the shop because the shop generally gets a really good response on Instagram (and I am so grateful for that online support, thank you, thank you...) but the problem is that I can only sell one of each item. Even if 5 people are dying to own that one piece, I can only sell it once and then I have to get to work and hustle to sell my next item. Every single item in the store is unique and has to speak for itself in order to sell. So if I sell the three things I posted on Instagram that day, it's great, but they are still likely only a drop in the bucket of the amount of overhead it takes to run a bricks and mortar. 
I also think The Edit departs a little from what a traditional vintage shop is and that may have hurt me because I almost needed to explain the concept to the consumer... The way I see vintage is that it can be worn in a very modern way; mixed and matched with what you already have in your closet. To me vintage is just better quality and more unique than what you can get at the mall and I just love getting someone into their first vintage piece and opening their eyes to the fact that vintage does not have to be costumey or scary... It translates well online because that's how I have always dressed for the blog and because people can see the outfits put together. But people who don't follow me online and see a  vintage shop, they imagine it being more costumey. So no, I don't have a wacky 60's polyester suit for you to wear to Aunt Betty's costume birthday party but I do have a 60's blouse you could wear with jeans. If I could turn back time (sorry, if I get that song in your head now...), I would not go back and start by being more 'vintagey'; it's all part of the process and it's just a lesson I learned over the last two years...


So there it is.
To answer the questions I posted above, there really is no answer.

I love my job and am becoming incredibly fortunate to have an amazing customer base that is growing rapidly, but that isn't always the case and sometimes no matter how much you love your idea of business it isn't something others love or maybe people can't find you.

My business growth and reach is based heavily on social media and word of mouth referrals.
We are in a building that is before all the "action" in Fonthill and one that is at the end of a lane merge so everyone's head is turned the opposite direction when they drive by.
We have a large amount of new customers coming in on a daily basis still because of our heavy social media presence (yippee) but many of these people like to tell us/me that they didn't know we were here to different ranges of condescending lecturing about my poor advertising skills or unreliable signage that I spent a lot of time designing, editing and paying for. Sometimes it gets "tough" to hear these things and frustrating but it is all a part of retail.



The day to day to quote above is "tough"
Everyone has an opinion and loves to offer it.
I work and then come home and work some more. In order to run any kind of retail based business you better love and, almost more than love what you are selling because you are going to be living and breathing it non-stop for at least the first year.
I am also a self realized micro-manager.
To some this makes me a bitch.
My wonderful employee manager is helping me let some of this go but also completely understands that this is my baby and I need/want it to grow in my vision and sometimes micro managing is what it takes.

When part of your business is vintage you need to remember that once you sell your items, are you going to have time to find more? Do you have a good handle on areas to look? Do you know the price points your area can handle? Because if you don't rest assured, they will find it elsewhere in places like Etsy which is open 24/7 or buy a replica in places like Homesense.

When you make items (like my pillow collections), are you making them the best way possible and efficiently enough to make a profit? Are you able to carry through with requests from customers in the time frame you promise?
We have had only 1 run in with a customer in the shop that didn't realize there aren't an army of people sewing for us in the back and didn't listen to the time frame given. The situation was rectified but are you prepared to handle those people and not lose them as customers?

Your customers are going to expect you to deliver, and deliver frequently.
 Are you ready for that pressure?

Do you know how to handle the paperwork end of the business? If you've never done it before, you might want to pack some reading hours into some bookkeeping books for your area and find someone you can ask questions of.

I suppose to wrap up this long conversation, I don't have all the answers and am learning a new answer daily but there things I know for sure

1) love what you do, i know i do more than i can tell you or convey here
2) surround yourself with the best help you can afford, this includes making sure your family support system understand and i mean really understand what you/they may be giving up/gaining
3) find people also in retail and ask questions
4) do what you do as best as possible, give it 110% all the time
5) learn to use social media properly 
6) have fun because otherwise what's the point
7) love what you do
8) set boundaries. when we first opened the doors we were desperate to get people in the door and love us. love me. love my idea.
as a business owner you always want to continue to grow but that gets out of control so quickly. i no longer answer emails/ Facebook shopping ( the do you still have? whats the price of?) questions after 8-ish pm. in our social media world that i just told you to get good at, you can also lose yourself and your handle on life by giving too much of yourself to people who expect a 24/7 service. they don't mean it but for the love of your business and the success of your life you need to set boundaries before you explode into an anxiety driven nightmare


Did you make it this far?

I suppose any conversation that goes like this one should end in thanks.
Thanks for reading.
Thanks for shopping and 
thanks for remembering that you matter more than you know in the cycle of your life, home, business, and city.


Have a good one everyone,


Meg


7 comments :

  1. as a fellow shop owner i LOOOOVED reading this and have so many thoughts- too many to write in a comment and too many deep thoughts to write publicly so i will just say thank you.

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  2. Great post! Very informative and exactly what I thought...thank you. Best of luck!
    -Alison

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  3. this was an eye opener for me-thanks for sharing!

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  4. Meg, you know how I feel about your shop! Reading this brought it home for me...again! Most people will never get it...it is an ongoing love affair, never simple and always challenging! You are doing a great , great job! It shows! From someone who has walked the walk...N.xo

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  5. I have worked for many small business and seen it all. It is so tough. Behind the fabulous displays is so much work to get it to that point. One weekend can wipe it all out and then you're scrambling to fill it back up. Most people have no idea how hard running a shop can be. Great post!

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  6. Thank you! Loved this post! I have always dreamed of owning a retail business but also have always figured it would never happen. I still dream of it but for now that's just what it is a DREAM! Your post was sooo informative, I am involved with a small retail business ( just not mine) and everything in this post is so true and really helped me to understand "the boss" so much better! Thank you!

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  7. I'm just getting around to catching up here so excuse the late response.
    I for one know first hand how great your shop is, how helpful and enthusiastic you are and most of all a visionary.
    Some people just don't get it and they seem locked in a space of perpetual consumerism never appreciating the vintage, the handmade or the time it takes for you to bring your vision with all its labour to an enjoyable conclusion...
    As we set forward in this new year I know you are aware of the challenges you'll face, the anguish you'll share but remember you have that vision girl and you stick to it.
    I've been in the business I'm in for a long time now and it can be a roller coaster ride for sure but hang on to that man you share your life with, that supports you no matter how wacky your ideas and enjoy the ride!
    Now what are you going to do with those alarm clocks you got the other day? Ha!
    Susan x

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