Welcome to my blog dedicated to my Elizabeth House Shop Talk Series. I have worn many hats in my life and continue to do so. One hat I wore for several years was as a shop owner. I had zero experience, zero dollars, and zero connections. The Internet and blogging were practically non-existent back then and shop owners back then were not willing to share. Books were too complicated because my questions were so basic (and almost too embarrassing to ask!). I had no clue what I was getting into and to be honest, I had some resentment that I had learned so much the hard way because I truly had no one to turn to. I swore to myself that if I ever learned a darn thing, I would pass it on to others because there is no such thing as a stupid question. I am willing to share my experiences as a store owner, consultant, buyer, vendor, stylist, and designer. Basically, we all want the same thing - to create, to learn, and be happy doing it. I hope this blog brings you a little joy in knowing that you are not alone and that there is at least one person out there that has "been there done that" who didn't have a clue and has lived to write about it. I love to talk shop and the biz of business continues to intrigue me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Aren't Children Precious?

Hello again so soon!

Yes, I know! I just posted and normally I don't post so quickly, but I experienced something today that hit home with me that just compelled me to write and share my thoughts and hopefully offer a little support to you shop owners, because believe me, you were all on my mind.

As the holiday season shopping is starting to really hit into high gear, more and more shoppers are trying to cram more into their day and that usually means bringing along their little ones while they shop for gifts. And as we all have experienced at one time or another, especially as shop owners, is that precious little ones aren't so precious when they are climbing all over your linen bedding or playing with your glass ornaments that are dangling from your display tree and the mother is completely oblivious to the entire scene.

I and my best friend Bob, who popped in from NYC to surprise me for my birthday this weekend, went shopping the antique malls today. He and I go way back and shopping antique malls is something we do very well together. Anyway, our little shopping excursion was disrupted by some squeals, but they didn't belong to us (not yet at least) but rather they were the very high-pitch squeals of little ones running amok from the next row over. As we both studied my new-found treasure (a fabulous little leather purse that he bought me for my birthday), we waited to hear a stern adult voice from the next row to quiet the little "darlings," but the awaited stern voice never occurred. We then heard more loud laughter, and little feet stomping, and then yes, finally, something fell and crashed to the floor, then the expected crying, and then finally, an adult voice calmly saying, "Emily...Joshua...come over here... please...stop running...okay?" And so Emily and Joshua just ignored "the voice" and kept running, while one sniffled and then laughed and then knocked something else over again and then finally, I heard the voice, somewhat closer this time, ask them (not tell them) to please stay with her.

By the time we went around the corner, the family was on a different row but we saw the aftermath left behind. The booth the kids were playing in had some antique toy furniture and vintage baseball gloves, a bowl of old baseballs as well as other items that were probably too irresistible for little sticky fingers to remain off of. My storekeeper instinct took over and Bob, having been a dealer himself, we put the booth back together (grumbling about out of control kids) and I couldn't help but think of the the many times I had to deal with the exact same situation in my own store with oblivious parents and unruly children. I did learn how to handle the situation a little better over time, but in the beginning it was rough.

I thought I would share with you some of my experiences and hopefully this may help you in a rough spot, especially right now when you most likely have a lot of breakables out during the season. Like I said, I was not good at handling those situations in the beginning of my store-owning days. I have no doubt I was probably a little too blunt in the beginning, but as I look back, I will admit had I not been blunt in a few situations a child could have been seriously hurt or I may have seriously loss some inventory, or both.

I will never forget the one day a woman came in with three very unruly kids, all under the age of seven. Unfortunately, she took a great liking to me and became a regular customer for a period of time. Her kids would just terrorize Monty, my store dog (a cute pug), and just ran amok literally around the entire store as the woman seemed completely blind to it all. To make it worse, the woman would occupy all my attention with non-stop questions about the merchandise so I had to entertain her every thought while trying to keep an eye on the brats. I'm sorry, I know kids get tired, and cranky and have their limits, but trust me when I say that these kids were just plain out of control and demanding. Every time they came to my store, they were always slightly messy and looked like they always just had eaten lunch with their hands, and they looked like they never seen a comb. But I found it odd they always had on very expensive clothes. It was strange.

Well, this one day, they came in. I could hear them before I could see them and I tensed up immediately. They came running in, screaming and wanting to see Monty and the mother completely ignores them and shops. She starts to talk to me but the phone rings and I go behind the counter to answer it. I am on the phone for a while and I look up and I see some sort of shadow moving on the ceiling but didn't pay attention. When I finally manage to get off the phone and move towards the front of the store, I see that the little girl has climbed UP into my store window (it was staged area) and she was TWIRLING the heavy wooden shutter door that I had suspended from the ceiling on wire!! In order to even get into the window area, she had to have gone around the two chairs and climb onto the stage area. As she laughed and twirled and twirled the shutter door, the wire was about to snap and the shutter door, which was about 9' tall, and weighed at least 50 lbs or more and would have either fallen on the girl, or through my window, or on my very expensive French upholstered chairs. The shadow I had seen flickering on the ceiling while I was on the phone was coming from the reflection of the twirling door! The mother was busy reading from a book, standing about only two feet away, oblivious to the entire scene while her two little boys were climbing on my custom bedding. I could see the wire was ready to snap and I was no where near the display window and out of instinct I just yelled out loudly, "HEY!! STOP THAT!!" And I raced up to the front of the store. And my fear just took over and I yelled again as I reached for the shutter and I yelled again, "GET OUT OF THE WINDOW!!!!" The little girl scrambled down and started to cry. I still remember my heart racing as I looked up at the wire and hooks and realizing I needed to take it down, it was no longer safe as I watched the hooks jiggled from the ceiling. As I held the shutter, my heart still racing, and looked over at the boys on my custom bedding and I yelled, "GET OFF THAT BED!!!!" And the boys were in shock and they jumped off and they started to cry as well. The then mother looked at me like I was crazy....I know I must have sounded like a crazy woman, but she had know idea how heavy that shutter was, and at that moment I remember I didn't really care how crazy I sounded or looked because I promise you my heart was beating and I could actually hear my pulse in my head.

I calmed down and tried to sound normal (fat chance) and told the mother that I would hate it if anything happened to her children and then I sort of lost all diplomacy and sternly told her if she can't keep her children from touching my things, and off the furniture, and out of the windows, and keep their voices low, and away from my dog, and stop them from running in the store, then perhaps they all need to come back when they are older and better behaved. I said this from the store window while I was still holding the shutter door. I then told her I would now have to get out my ladder and rehang this shutter because it is no longer safe and the wire is weakened and the hooks are ready to come out of the ceiling.

I don't think I have to tell you the mother was very huffy, not apologetic, and left and I never saw them again and I was very glad. I have no idea what rumors she spread about me, I just hoped she spread them to other parents who also had unruly children. But I remember that day like it was yesterday, and now today, hearing "Emily and Joshua" in the antique mall today brought back those memories. But, this story isn't the example I want to pass on to you on how to handle such situations, I was just sharing with you that I had my moments - not very good ones - that I could have handled a lot better had I had more experience and a little more preparation.

Now I would like to add that I was very fortunate to have had many wonderful little kids in my store that I watched grow up over the years. I loved having them in the store and I felt very special when they would run up to me and hug me. That's the problem when you get so many wonderful little ones in the store with attentive parents...you get caught off-guard when one of the "others" cross your threshold. :-)

Here are a few ideas I learned over time that helped during those rough spots when the child is man-handling your goods and find your good mood going sour quickly. Preventive measures is always the best. Below are some of the things I tried to do to help prevent any issues from developing in the first place.

Signage: I put little cute signs in certain areas that would kindly asking not to sit on bedding, chairs, or whatever. Yes, of course, kids can't read, but hopefully parents will take notice. I also put a couple of simple little signs in little areas stating reminders such as:

Thank you for not sitting on the bedding.

This vintage chair is very comfortable! After
you buy it your children can it enjoy it then too.

Free puppies, a bag of sugar, and a toy drum set to all children
who run, jump, or play with items as if this is their personal
playground. (I would put a smiley face and write it in a cute font.)

Well-behaved and well-mannered children are always
welcomed and encouraged to stay as long as they wish.

We are grateful for your business and we are blessed
that your next generation will continue the tradition of
shopping with us as well. Please watch them carefully.

Then there is the verbal preventative mesures as well such as when a customer with children enters the store, I would welcome them and if the mother looks tired, I would offer to take her packages to the counter to free her arms. (Which helps her to keep an eye on her kids.) Also when a family enters, I would ask the kids their names. Calling a child by their name makes it much more personal when you say gently, "I know that is pretty, Jennifer, but let's not touch the glass. But let's look at the baby clothes...." If a mother has an infant, and if cooperative, I would ask to hold the baby (if possible) which gives the mother some rest and allows her more freedom to shop. If she has a little toddler or younger child, I would introduce Monty (my pug) to the children after asking the mother if her children likes dogs. Having a very friendly and loving store dog is a great source to occupy children. Most of the time, children knew exactly where Monty slept (behind the counter) and would come up the counter and politely ask, "Can Monty come out and play?" and I would let the children come around the counter and they would stay there the whole time and pet Monty. Or, if Monty was awake, he would trot to the door and greet the customers and 99% of the time, the children were so excited to see him, the rest was taken care of. The mothers loved Monty and how the children instantly were occupied and happy while they shopped (and I was instantly happy as well).

I would also help "guide" the slightly oblivious parent when their child just seems to be getting into things. I would say things to the parent such as, "I would hate for Jennifer to get hurt if she pulls that shelf over....it isn't as steady as it looks..." Or I would say something to the parent like, "You might want to keep Jennifer close to you, I just quickly put out a lot of glass gift items that came in today and I haven't had time to move them to high shelves." Then there was my fallback line when the parent just seemed deaf and blind to everything and I was just fed up: "Your child must be getting really tired and a boutique like this just couldn't be any fun for a really tired or bored child. " I didn't use the last line often, but when I did, I said it with a smile, but firmly.

And finally, there are some common sense things I would do as store owner as well. Such as, I would try my best to design my displays with very fragile or expensive things put out of reach of little, sticky fingers. I would make sure my aisles were wide enough for strollers. I would keep sharp corners (antique metal cabinets, vintage wooden shelves with metal corners) that are the height of little eyes out of the way of pathways, and all white linens and vintage gowns, I tried to keep on tables, shelves, or folded on a taller bed. I know it is impossible to keep everything out of the hands of children, but there are measures that can be taken to lessen the damage, stress, or possible injury.

There is so much joy in running a store. Besides the business of it, which we all know is so stressful, there is also so much joy. The joy of seeing your customers, which then become your friends. Joy of knowing that you just found the perfect item for your store that "so and so" is going to love because you have grown to know your customers so well. The joy of hearing the praise from new customers who step into your store for the first time and the greater joy of hearing praise from your regular customers who have been a 100 times and they are yet thrilled again with your new window display. But all this joy is too good to go to waste over some out of control kids that are screaming and running around in your store. You don't want to find yourself running in your store screaming like a maniac and finding yourself standing your store window holding a heavy shutter window while glaring at crying kids who are clinging to their mother's leg. You would then have to wonder who is the real menace?

Back to my shopping trip today. I did hear the screaming kids row after row and the mother either didn't care, didn't notice, or gave up and was too pooped to deal with it. Either way, the dealers of the booths were sure to find their spaces in need of cleaning next time they came in to stock up. I had to smile though at my memory of my own screaming as I ran up to my own store window to grab the twirling shutter door and the thought of how I must have looked. I would like to believe I advanced in my customer relations skills since that moment.

But such moments remind us we are only human with our limits which also apply to tired moms and tired and bored children as well...which only connects us humans all the more together...sticky hands and all.

From my house to your house,


Tami SouthStreetShabby.blogspot.com said...

We were just talking about this over the weekend. I work in an antique shop PT and the owner, who is a friend of mine started telling the story. A customer came in with her 3-4 yr old son. After a few minutes he said he didn't feel good. Mom said ok...we'll leave in a second, I just want to take a quick look upstairs. Well, about 5 minutes later Chris said the woman was saying Ma'am...Ma'am...my son just got sick. Chris felt bad for the Mom...but she (Mom) should have listened to the poor kid...She was embarrased and apologized all over the place, but Chris told her (with a smile) to just go take her son home and she'd clean it up. We have pretty expensive upholstered furniture...thank God it only got the floor...We've had the kid on the furniture thing happen too...I usually just tell the child to get down before they get hurt. Why is it that parents never seem to see what their kids are doing...:-)

Grace said...

Your posts are waaaaay too long.
People don't have time to read a novel on a blog.

Please consider editing yourself in order to make what you have to say more interesting.

(I hope this doesn't come across as being harsh. I'm just being realistic here).

terri smith said...

Hi Elizabeth,
I have just started reading your blogs and would ask that you don't change a thing!! I appreciate your insight and your candor and would suggest to Grace her very "valuable time" should "realistically" be spent doing something else at 2 a.m. Maybe a nap or something? I, too, hope that this did not come across as "harsh"...........

Elizabeth Maxson said...

Hi Terri,

You are a riot! I will admit that I did find it a bit ironic that someone found the time to read a very long post at 2AM only to tell me to cut it short, but oh well, I am glad she found time to read it anyway! :-) Thanks for writing me and thanks for finding me - I love when people find me...so glad to have a new reader.
Big hug,

Denise said...

I'm a retired teacher. I swear I had that oblivious mother's children in my classes!!! I can't tell you how many times during my 30 years of teaching a parent would come in with out of control kiddos in tow and DO NOTHING while they wreaked havoc. I totally identified with your story about your reaction to the shutter-twirling brat. The kids are not to blame. The mother is. The whole family needed a wake up call. Looking back you may think that you could have handled it better with polite hints and such, but chances are, it would have gone down the same way.

Elizabeth Maxson said...

Hi Denise,

Thanks for sharing! I am soooo glad to know that I am not the only one experiences this - I just don't get it. But like I said, it is the little ones that are so darn cute and good that make up for it.

Thanks for writing me!

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