Nov 22, 2006

Christmas Open House set for December 1st!

Can you believe that it is that time of year again? It is time for Maplewood's annual Christmas Tree walk! For those of you unfamiliar with my location, my shop is actually located in Maplewood, just two blocks outside the St. Louis city limits.

What is the Christmas tree walk? All the little boutiques in the area will stay open until 9 or 10PM on Friday, December 1st. We all decorate our windows and stores and stock them with gift items. There will be a trolley, a Santa, lighting ceremony and so on. There are hundereds of people who attend this event and St. Louis Magazine voted it last year as one of the top 10 things to do in St. Louis during the holiday season.

There is a window decorating contest and most shops serve food and drink. Last year, I did the store all up for New Years' - all chocolate and gold. I served champaign punch and everything chocolate. I even had a bubble machine on my balconey over the store. The entire ceiling was covered with gold and chocolate balloons. I also had about 400 glass balls hanging from lights and chandeliers to represent champaign bubbles. It was a lot of fun.

What am I going to do this year? Well, it will be much more simpler than last year. Last year was the first Christmas as a very newly divorced woman, and I decided I just wanted to skip Christmas all together and go right into the new year...remember what I said about having a personal theme when doing your displays? Doing a New Year's theme was very personal to me last year.

Well, this year, I have another personal theme that I will explain to you after the 1st. It will be different from year's past, but it will have real meaning to me, although not clear at all to anyone else. But that is okay.

I am excited to announce that I am starting my own line of Elizabeth House Products. This first batch is for the body: Bath Infusion, Soaps, Diffusers, and Body Butter. I designed these with an artisian who uses only pure and essential oils. I will have a new posting about my products in the near future. But I am very pleased with them.

I will also have many items on sale - especially my floor sample items such as my queen bed, dining set, and mantel. I am ready to restock the store with fresh inventory, but have no room! So, on the 1st, there will be some very good deals on the bigger pieces.

I will also have some gift baskets, lavender, French Soaps, candles, sachets, hand-crafted journals, hand-crafted charms on ribbon, locally made chocolate bark in many flavors, and gift books. I will have some seasonal items, though not a lot. And all seasonal items will be on sale as well. I usually stock gift items that are different, great price point, and special.

I will be closed the Tues -Thursday prior to the Friday the 1st in order to get everything ready. I will open on Friday, December 1st at 4PM and remain open until 9 or 10PM. The elves will be busy!

I am looking forward to spending the evening visiting with my friends and clients. I use this evening to catch up on what is going on and how everyone is doing. If you are able to stop by, I would love to visit with you. I will be the one holding the champaign glass, laughing and hugging everyone!

I want to wish you all a very special Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those who know me know that it is no secret that I give my greatest thanks to my Lord for blessing me with my friends, family, health, my talents, and my ability to help others. I am eternally grateful for these gifts.

I hope you feel blessed this season as well.

From my house to your house,

Nov 14, 2006

Welcome my new Gem!

I would like you to meet my new gem - who is not a diamond in the rough, but all shiny and polished and ready for a setting. I am just lucky that the setting is Elizabeth House. Please welcome Ara. She and I met about four years ago when I first opened my store. She walked in, and we immediately bonded. We chatted for a long while - and then, we never saw each other again. She had just moved from San Francisco, and I from Texas. She was married and so was I. She worked in the creative field, has traveled to numerous places, and so have I. But after that first, and only meeting, we never saw each other again.

I placed a blind ad for the position at EH, and she answered it. After reading her email and resume, I sent her my website and told her about the store. She emailed back and said, "we already met!" I didn't recognize her name, but I recognized her beautiful hair the moment I met her for her interview.

A lot has happened since we first met. I divorced and she is now divorced. She has a fiance who has a knack for antiques, and my love for antiques keeps growing. She has just moved into a beautiful home in Soulard, and I have, since first meeting her, moved into the apartment above the store, which was featured in Mary Englebreit's Home Companion magazine. The list goes on and on.

Needless to say, I feel very blessed to have her be a part of the EH family and feel that Ara will make our customers feel at home at EH. So, please welcome Ara when you visit the store. She is the one that is all "shiny and polished."

From my house to your house,
Elizabeth Posted by Picasa

Nov 12, 2006

Why is it when a group of women gather together for fun, we all of sudden become "girls"? I had the pleasure of being a part of my friend, Karen's birthday gathering. When we gather together with our friends, it is such a good reminder that we are not alone in this world. That no matter how many work hours we put in a week, or how many phone calls we cram in a day, none of those hours are ever more important than the hours spent your friends.

Girlfriends especially are there for you in just about any situation. Going to move? Call your girlfriends. Just got a promotion? Call your girlfriends. Got stood up on a date - definitely call your girlfriends and then go out for cocktails. Mother in the hospital, call your girlfriends, Boyfriend dumping you, husband leaving you, or blind date gone from bad to worse....girlfriends are there for you.

But not just in the sad times, but in the joyous times as well. A new baby, a first home, getting back into our "skinny jeans," getting that raise, a negative test result, or even something as simple as painting a room a new color - girlfriends are the first to call.

What a joy and a blessing to be surrounded by such good friends. The older I get, the more I understand the importance of friends, and how they may share in my tears with my burdens, my sadness, my disappointments, as well may share in my laughter with my hopes, my dreams, my successes, and my antics. I hope those of you who are reading this, will send this page to a girlfriend that you haven't seen or talked to in a while. She will love you for it.

Thank you for letting me share my joy.
From my house to your house,

Nov 7, 2006

Shop Talk Volume 6...vendors - we love them and sometimes not so much. Welcome to another posting of my "Business of Boutiques" series in which I offer advice, or at least tell you of my experiences as a shop owner so that you shop owners-wanna-be's can avoid some of the headaches I learned all on my own. I would have much rathered learned from someone else's headaches though!

Today, this posting is directed towards those of you who want to sell your merchandise to boutiques. In other words, you sell wholesale. Shop owners call you "vendors" or "dealers." Why am I addressing vendors? Because as a shop owner, my time is precious and I don't want to waste it. If you are a new shop owner, this posting may be useful as well.

Okay, so you designed and produced some fabulous soaps, or lotions, or candles, or aprons, or greeting cards, or beaded earrings....the list is endless. You want to sell your wares to the little shops...but no one seems too interested...or they haven't put in an order yet...or haven't returned your call. Is your product not good? Maybe - but probably not. There are many reasons why you may not be selling and many reasons why a shop owner will not buy and below are some of them:


Know your market! And know your customer. I can't tell you how many times I get samples or a catalog filled with product that I would never put in my store. All because I sell journals, does not mean I would buy hot pink journals with French Poodles on does not fit my very tight color palette and style. However, they would be great in a little shop just three doors down. Also, I can't tell you how many times I get a phone call from a vendor who wants to send me catalog or sample and I ask them, "have you been in my store?" "Have you been to my website?" If they answer "no" then I direct them to it and tell them if they feel they have something that would work in my store, please send it. But even then, they will send products that look nothing like my website! Sometimes, I do get a good vendor with a good eye and knows how to sell. So, don't waste your catalogs or time selling to the wrong market! Your time and money should be spent on your market.

Do not drop in unannounced! I can't tell you how often this happens! I do not have a sign that says "no soliciting" simply because as an antique dealer, I want people to feel free to show me their antiques. But as a result, I get all sorts of people in my store. Nothing, and I mean nothing annoys me more than to have a vendor call on me, without an appointment. And worse, they stay and stay and take up my time because I am "not busy" simply because there are no customers in the store! When the store is empty is when I am at my busiest - making calls, typing bids, checking email...and you, the vendor, is keeping me from my work. I have little sympathy for them because I used to do cold calling too and hard I know the drill because I have been in their shoes. If you must stop in without an appointment you will get way ahead of the pack if you would just simply do the following:

Come in and admire the store briefly

Don't interrupt my phone call or business with a client

Don't hover near me while I am with a customer, that makes everyone uncomfortable

Briefly introduce yourself and immediately tell the shop owner: "I know you are very busy, so I would like to leave this with you and if you don't mind, may I call you next week to follow up if you have any questions?"

Then hand the catalog to the owner, with a sample of the product, if you have one, and politely leave while complimenting her store - a store owner never tires of hearing compliments. We work very hard and it is nice when someone takes notice. If we aren't too busy and you have something fantastic, we will stop you from don't be afraid to leave too soon.

However, the BEST way to see an owner is not to just drop in, but rather call ahead and say that you would like to stop by on such and such day to drop off a catalog if that is okay. Briefly explain your product, and how you went to her website and you feel the product would go nicely in the store. Then go to the store on said day, and if the owner is busy, briefly introduce yourself, leave the catalog, and ask to call again to follow up.

Know your product lines. It is very frustrating when I do finally get to glance at a catalog - and I do mean glance - and I can't immediately find the minimum order amount. What is the reorder amount? Do I have to buy in sets, or can I just get one of each? The catalog needs to be organized clearly, with good, quality photos of the products, a detailed description, and how it is priced (in sets, in cases, per unit...). If your catalog isn't that clear, then be ready for a rapid-fire list of questions from me, and have the answers ready.

Packaging. I can't stress this enough. Some products (not many though) are so good, that I ignore the horrible packaging and repackage it myself. But if your labels, containers, or tags aren't up to par, it won't make it in my store no matter how wonderful it is. The American culture is trained to expect creative, wonderful packaging. For example a vendor of mine, has my style down to the "T." They "get it" and their products are perfect for my store. Also I just ordered kraft pillow boxes that cost me $85/case to house my bath infusion salts that are a part of my new Elizabeth House line (more on that in another posting.) These salts are not expensive, and they are wonderful, but I have no doubt they would not sell as well unless I packaged them in a thoughtful way. So spending money on packaging, in the long run, will pay off.

Consider grouping your products. If you have a very large line of products. Let's say you a dog care line. You have three sizes of shampoo, 4 types of powder, 2 types of cute water bowls, 2 types of treat jars, 3 types of soaps, and several types of dog treats. Consider creating a "starter set" for your new client. I actually appreciate this because I usually get a price break and I get a good variety of a line that shows well in the store. And I don't have to take a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what I need - you did it for me!

Pay attention to whom you sell! I can't stress this enough! Do not walk into my store and sell me a great line and then go right next door and sell the same line to neighbor! I actually had this happen and I dropped the line immediately and discounted the product to get it out of my store. The store owner next door had no idea I had just ordered it - we are good friends, and we just found out by accident. She dropped the line as well. So now that vendor lost not one, but two clients. Be smart about where you sell - trust me, most store owners are very smart with regards to this issue.

Get to know your client. I have several vendors that I cherish. They come through for me on short notice, they have dug out inventory from a warehouse when a spur of the moment trunk show happened, they have waived shipping fees when a product came in way after its due short, they go out their way to help me, a very small business owner, and I go out of my way to order only from them. We developed a great business relationship and in some cases a friendship that is wonderful. They understand my limitations, needs, and understand my concerns...and they do their best to accomodate. A simple phone call of thanks can go a long way - for example, a bedroom I designed, I used several clocks on a wall, all from one vendor. This bedroom appeared in a national magazine and the president of this very large and reputable company called me personally to thank me for showcasing so many of his clocks! Very nice.

And a short note to new shop owners:

Know what you will sell and what you won't sell and be up front about it. The vendors understand and will try hard to find products that you like. But you need to give them guidance.

If a vendor has products that just do not work in your store, but you know of a store that would love it - pass it along to the vendor! I do this all the time. Vendors are trying to make a living just as you and I.

Let the vendor know when a product does not meet your expectations - this will help them, especially if they are new and trying to break into the market. Also let them know what you just love about a product - this will help them as well and give the new vendor some confidence. I am a big supporter of the small, local artists, craftsperson and so on...

And finally, if interested in a product, ASK the vendor who else has bought from them in the local area. And then decide if that store is too close to yours. And if not, then ask the vendor if she will refrain from selling in a certain area. Sometimes they will and sometimes they won't But ask!

Finally, get to know a vendor with products you like. Take time to get to know them personally. They will make sure you are "the first" to know about a new product, or send you sample. I appreciate that.

And speaking of vendors, I invite anyone who is reading this blog to send me a catalog or product sample if you feel it would do well in my type of store. Or, feel free to direct me to a vendor's website. I always love "discovering" something new for the store. Then, pass this blog along to someone you know who would find it useful.

I hope I didn't sound too harsh with my tips, but selling is hard - whether it is retail or wholesale. But really, the main thing to keep in mind is this: we all are in it together. And actually, being a part of the boutique babes "family" is really a great feeling.

Even if it is dysfunctional at times.

From my house to your house,

Nov 5, 2006

"Courage" is a word with power. Even if we don't feel it, or think we have it, just saying the word "courage" is empowering. I discussed courage in an earlier post (June 13th) and I recently received an email from a reader who felt she "chickened out" and didn't lease a store in her town. She wants to own a little store, but she didn't sign the lease and now she is beating herself up. She writes, "I just don't have what it takes, I guess..." Never mind that her husband just started a business and she has two small children right now, but still, she is feels like she "chickened out."

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sometimes it takes great courage to say "no." I will give two examples from my life in which I said, "no" and it was years later did I even recognize what courage it took to do that. Once upon a time, I wanted to own a bed and breakfast - prior to my Elizabeth House days. I was a great cook back then, I loved to entertain, antiques, old houses, and decorating. I took seminars, read books and was even getting ready to work at a B&B to get experience. We found a Civil War plantation home about an hour outside of Savannah, GA. We spoke with the owner, and she really wanted us to have it. She lowered the price severely just so we could get - she felt we would treat "her home very well."

We flew out there to take a look. It was everything, and I mean everything I wanted: 10 bedrooms, huge circular driveway with a huge fountain in the center, pool, 5 acres, pool house, 3 car garage, 7 fireplaces, and it came completely furnished! I couldn't believe it! This home had it all and then some...except....the location was not that desirable. It was more than an hour from Savannah, the surrounding area had nothing to offer except shacks for homes, cars on blocks down the dirt road...none of which could be seen from the home, but just as you turn on to the road, there it was: yuky homes, beat up cars and not even a decent place to eat nearby. It would have taken a lot of money to make the place a "destination" place. A lot time, marketing, and did I mention money? My heart was screaming "yes!!!!" My ex was ready as well and he was sure that I could make it work. I took several days to think it over. My heart still screamed "yes!!!" while I made the phone call to the owner, with tears in my eyes and said "no." My head ruled this time. With all the seminars and books I read on this industry, every single thing I read put "location" at the top of the list when buying a B&B. For years I wondered if I had made the right decision. I now know that I did. Did I feel couragous when I said, "no"? Nope. I felt defeated. I felt like I didn't have the guts to take the plunge. Now I realize that it took courage to say "no."

Another time I said "no" and didn't do something was only three years ago. I was approached by a newly built shopping mall to open a Elizabeth House in their mall. The owners wanted to give me a grant of $20,000 to buy inventory! I wouldn't have to pay it back! They took me on a tour of the construction site and it was near completion. I had been open barely a year and so much has already happened and now this. I really crunched numbers, looked at the lease, called a very good friend who has a good head for business, and I studied the offer carefully.

They were willing to build it out my specifications, help me move in and get me started. But, to do this, I would need more employees, be open 80 hours a week, have POS (point of sale) electronic system, which could easily cost $7000 to $10,000 to get one up and ready. I needed more bags, paper, another stereo for music, another office in the back which meant another computer, desk, microwave, file cabinets, sounds easy, but when I did the numbers, it would have cost me at least $15K to move in and get up and running and that is not including the inventory!

But still, to get $20K free??? To be in a brand new mall in a GREAT location?? But I studied carefully how my life would change with two locations, many more hours, but then there could a lot more money coming in too. My heart, which takes all sorts of risks, wanted to go for it. But my head won out. My head was telling me "no." I had tears in my eyes when I made that call as well. In fact, I cried for a couple of days and for about a year or so, I always wondered if I did the right thing, or did I just pass up a good opportunity? I know now I made the right decision. In fact, that mall isn't doing well at all and it has fallen way below the revenues it predicted. But it isn't for that reason I know I made the right decision, I know I made the right decision because now, my heart agrees with my head. It took great courage to say "no" to that offer.

So courage is something that is needed when we want to do something risky, or when the odds are low, or when everyone else says "don't do it" and you do it anyway. But, courage is also something that is needed when we must turn down an "opportunity" when everyone else is saying "go for it!!" So back to my reader who emailed me about not leasing a have courage. You have the courage to wait. You have the courage to keep looking. Don't give up and please, don't beat yourself up. That's what city hall is for (inside joke).

Courage. A wonderful word with wonderful powers. Know that everyone has access to it. So use it. And use it well.

From my house to your house,
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