Are you ready to be a shopkeep?

By Cheryl Kees Clendenon

I have been a small business boutique retailer along with my design firm since 2009 and owned another retail shop several years before that. It takes a determined, passionate person to really embrace small business retailing especially in light of the crazy economic rollercoaster we have been on in the past couple of years.

Being a shopkeep is not for the weak of spirit or for those who lack a sense of humor either, but the upside of working for yourself and the astonishing highs make the aggravations worth it. For those readers considering adding retail to their resume, consider the following statements before you hang out the open sign. If you can laugh your way through these 20 ride-or-die truths, you are ready to open!

  1. You need a well-trained gatekeeper. Someone with strong intuitive senses. Salespeople trying to get to you are very clever and will spin tales that even the most cynical member on your team will believe. Give your mom a code word.
  2. Everyone you ever knew from first grade on will hit you up for donations to their favorite charities. I donate a lot but only if someone comes into my shop to ask. Manners still matter. Try donating a basket of slow moving but nice items. Presentation is everything.
  3. After the sale, follow-up is key. Get email addresses and keep in touch but always provide value when you do an email blast. No one likes spam.
  4. Make sure your team knows the trick where someone calls and asks for you by name and says you are waiting for a call from them, your old friend in from out of town, your great uncle. It is usually someone wanting to sell you merchant services.
  5. No matter how patient you consider yourself, when an adult allows their kids to climb all over your merchandise, you will discover that your inside voice can be just as scary as your outside voice.
  6. You will never again want to pay full price for anything.
  7. If you worked a regular job before and had one boss, now you answer to many bosses — the general public.
  8. Expect to transform your spouse into the primary cook in the family if he or she is not already.
  9. Did you know your kids can work for you? Yep. My youngest daughter was doing purchase orders at 13.
  10. You cannot count on your friends to prop up your business. Their support is not enough so do not get upset if they do not shop with you — you have to make it on your own.
  11. Inventory is not a deduction on your taxes until you sell it. Know this: that initial inventory investment is an asset. Shocking how many do not realize this.
  12. The concept of shopping will become a dreaded activity even if is the grocery store. It is not an exaggeration when I say I would rather spend time at the dentist.
  13. Enthusiasm is contagious. In a small boutique home accents setting, buy what you love. This is contradictory in other retail situations but if you love it, you can sell it and your customers want to be shown cool things you love.
  14. Even with the best-ever person running the show, you still will need to put in more hours than you probably have to give. It is still your baby.
  15. Be prepared to take a couple of steps back with your own pay. Diversifying and in this case amplifying your profit centers takes some fluid movement in cash and investing in your own future is worth packing a sack lunch and forgoing the cute clothes. Besides, see #6.
  16. Pay a lot of attention to your ambiance. How you make someone feel when they walk in is directly proportional to how long they will stay in your store. Don’t be cheap. Burn the good candles. Buy the good coffee and serve it.
  17. Market is fun. And exciting. And one heck of a lot of work. I giggle when designer friends want to go to this party and that event — my only question is can I still be shopping while drinking? If not, then no thanks. I am on a tight schedule and every second of the day is planned.
  18. Reps always are wanting to “pop by” to check price books or fabrics or something or another and this seems like great service — if you can plan accordingly. The good reps let you know they are coming. The best reps bring a sweet treat.
  19. Tidy warehouses/stock rooms/back offices are an urban legend. Don’t sweat it.
  20. Learn the art of merchandising. Everyone who has ever walked into a store thinks they know how to do it. They do not. And you might not either. It is an important skill.

Retail has taken a beating in the past few months and the market may continue to be unpredictable. We may not be able to count on robust gains each month or know how much inventory to stock or if we can pay bonuses to our hard-working team, but we can count on small business retailers showing up and reflecting the strength and fortitude in our communities to keep on keeping on.

Cheryl Kees Clendenon is the owner of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla., and is Home Accent Today’s monthly columnist.

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