There are Retailers and then there are Creative Retailers. And in my book there is a huge difference. Even in the boutique business. Some boutiques are only boutiques because they are just small, not cute or creative, but just small. Other boutiques have earned the title - they are creative. If I sound a little harsh, I am. In this business, the antique/home decor/boutique/craft/custom-made/accessory/retail business...one can't afford to just "make do" and play it safe. One must really work hard at creating a world in which a customer is transformed.
It is great to have the fab inventory and to be able to buy all the latest stuff at market, but I have to tell you, I have been in plenty of little stores that have the "great stuff" but the feel of the store was not very exciting. Sure, the stuff was good and I might have gotten excited over the stuff, but there was nothing about the space or environment that made me feel as though I really wanted to stay in the store or admire it or want a piece of it. And then I have been in little stores that the inventory itself was not the best, but the vibe in the place was so fantastic that I stayed and dug around because I was just so sure that there was something in there was great because I could just feel it and I wanted to take it home with me. And you can be sure that I would be back again to dig some more and most likely take a buddy with me. Now that is a Creative Retailer!
I made up the term "Creative Retailer" because I found that there were so many hard working, very creative business women out there that were doing way more than just being a "store owner." What is my definition of a Creative Retailer? This is how I define
Creative Retailer: An innovative retailer who creates and designs a world that inspires her customers to become dreamers that desire to be a part of her world or at least acquire a little piece of it.
I want to break that definition down a bit because it really says more than it appears. I know in past Shop Talk posts I have talked about store displays, customer services, web sites, public relations, and how to make a store welcoming and different during the recession. So, how is this post different from all those other posts? Well, I will tell you by breaking down the definition of Creative Retailer and going into some non-tangible details that separate the "stores with some great stuff" from the "Great store with THE stuff." What's the difference? There are a lot of stores out there that people would describe as having "great stuff" but at the same time could not really tell you in detail exactly what that "stuff" is. Or, if they could, it is likely that the "stuff" could be found in many other stores as well. I am referring to inventory here.
However, if you have a "great store with THE stuff" it is likely that people think of your store as "great" for a specific reason - a reason they can recall and tell others about. "THE stuff" in this case is not necessarily inventory, but rather the world you created. Let's talk about the definition of Creative Retailer and I will get back to this a bit later.
"An innovative retailer who creates and designs...."
Let's start with that first part. Innovative, creates, designs...these are all terms that are commonly used to describe artists and yes, even engineers. But retailers? This beautiful business that we are in is way more than going out and buying items or even making items and placing them on a shelf or displaying them beautifully. People want to see how you, the retailer sees the world. They walk into your store and basically, they are peeking inside your mind for a bit when they are looking around.
"...designs a world that inspires her customer to become dreamers..."
When your customers enter your world, your world just doesn't begin at your front door and end at the cash register. Your world (depending on how large or how public your want to make it) is how you live it, not how you sell it. People can order on line, out of catalogs, off TV, even on their phones now. Making purchases is very impersonal. Think about it. We can get cruise tickets, airline tickets, reserve dinner, buy movie tickets, do online banking, order flowers to get delivered, order pizza to get delivered, review large appliance choices before ever leaving our homes and even pick out exactly which car on the dealer's lot we want before we go and test drive it all on line and never even speak to a human being. We consumers are doing this every day all the time. This is not an overstatement.
So, when a real human being walks into your store, it really isn't a store for them, it is a world that you have created. I mean, really, really think about it. That person who just walked in has done about 75% of all her daily functions on line or on some automated equipment. (Online banking, teller machine, gas pumps, self check out, ordered dinner through fast food lane, called in to renew her car insurance, paid with a credit card, bought flowers on line, even punched in a code to get her car washed....) She has had no time to dream; she has been punching codes and dialing numbers and typing all day to get her purchases and payments completed. So, then she walks into your world....
Your world inspires her to become a dreamer again...but like I said, your world is not just your store. It is how you live. I will get to that part in a moment. Let's move on the rest of the definition.
"....that desire to be a part of her world or at least acquire a little piece of it."
If you have done the work and really created a world like none other, your customer will want to be a part of it or at least want a piece of it (buy something). That is where the great inventory comes in handy. But do you see how the "great inventory" came in late in the game? Anyone (who has the resources) can have great inventory. But a creative world keeps the customer interested and wanting more.
So, how does one go about creating this world of her's? Let me put it this way. Think of someone you admire who is living in a creative way you admire. Now study why you admire her world. Also think of this way: if you didn't worry about how ANYONE thought about you or what you did, what would you be doing differently with your business right now? And one more thing to think about. Are you doing anything right now with your store/business that really doesn't represent who you are or who you wish to show to the world? What would you really like the world to see?
You see, the biggest advantage you have over all of your competitors is that they aren't YOU. Only you can be you and there is NO WAY anyone else can. You can't worry if the world you create and live in is a world that others will like or not because (now pay attention because this is very important) if you are true to yourself and truly create a world and live in a world that expresses what you love to surround yourself with and offer (sell) that world to others, then others will see it as wonderful as you do. They can't help but see it as wonderful as you do because it is just human nature to WANT to be happy. It's that simple. You have to be smart about it, passionate about it, creative, open, and generous. You can't be stingy or worried about what others are doing. Just do your thing, show what you do, live it and then go out and promote it in various ways (if that is your thing). Blog, write, share, offer classes, start groups in your town, going the Chamber, write to your paper and offer your services, give inventory away as gifts to charity...whatever you do, do it with your true heart.
What makes a Creative Retailer? Here are some examples that I can think of. She may not have all these traits, but will have some of them:
She is a creator and artist
She is a smart business woman, but not cut throat
She thinks outside the box
She is not worried about what others think
She is constantly inventing and creating and making something
She doesn't worry about trends
She is very in tune with her customers
She is out of her store at times doing other creative community projects
She knows her customers
She is a giver
She loves to learn and loves to teach
Her own store is her biggest competitor - she tries to out do her own creations
People naturally gravitate to her world
She lives in her creative world naturally and with little effort
She easily crosses from one project to the next
She will stand up for herself and others
She has a hard time saying "no" not because she is afraid to hurt feelings, but because she really wants to do the project and she has so much passion for the arts
She never loses sight of the bottom line - it is a business
How do you know if you have created a world or just a store? Do you have customers regularly coming in telling you that they needed a break and just had to stop by get refreshed? Do you have customers telling you that they were thinking of you the other day when they saw something that looked like "you"? Does your home look anything like your store? What you wear to your store is anything like what you wear in your off time? Do people stop by to just visit? Are people asking to see your home because they are curious by the way your store looks? Do you get asked a lot of personal questions? Do you get a lot of comments how some would just love to live in your store? Do people ask you when do you get to sleep? Do people always want to know where do your ideas come from?
These may sound like silly questions, but if you said, "Yes" to most of them, then you are on your way to creating a world in which others are inspired and want to be a part of. People are watching you. And your store is a respite for them. You are a Creative Retailer. Like I said earlier, I have little patience for those small store owners who really don't seem to have a passion or drive. And that is okay if all they want to do is sell stuff and maybe that is all they ever set out to do. But to me, being a Creative Retailer is a whole different ball game. We don't just flip through a catalog or go to market and put in orders and then open up boxes and set out inventory. We create and inspire others to dream. We invent a world of our own and invite others in if they wish and share what we create to encourage others to create as well. We sell parts of our world and are happy to because we all think our own world is the best there is. And in a way, it is, because it is our own.
And speaking of our own world, and the stuff we sell, I want to touch upon another subject for a quick moment. There were times as a store owner that I found myself wondering about all this stuff I was selling and what did it all mean in the big picture of things. I mean, how important in life was it for me to sell a lamp or that doll head anyway? I found myself at times pondering those things and here is what I discovered: As an interior designer, whether I am choosing a paint color, designing drapes, or selling a sofa, what it boils down to is that I am creating a home for a family. If my paint color choice or selection of furniture is what makes a house a home and makes it feel cozy to the family, then the family is happy and feels joy and secure. And a joyful and secure family grows closer in intimacy. What is better than that? I am very happy to be a part of that. And if my "stuff" in my store brings joy and happiness into someone's home, which in turns makes a family closer, then again, I am happy to do that. It is all good. It is a part of my world that I am happy to create and design.
I know this post has a lot of intangibles, but frankly, there are a lot of intangibles that make a business a business. Yes, it is the numbers and figures that really matter too. But it is also "the stuff" and I am not talking about inventory. It "the stuff" that makes a store "a great place" to go to when you want to get away for a while and then probably want to take a piece of it back with you too.
From my house to your house,