Dear Quilt Shop Owner,
I am well aware that the fabric business has not been easy lately and is definitely getting more challenging and competitive each and every year. So for the first time, I wanted to give you a pep talk to try motivate you to put the past behind you and put your best foot forward in 2017. What do you have to lose?
You might be asking, what the heck does this guy know about running a quilt shop while he is sitting at his desk in New York City? This is definitely a valid question and the answer is that I am an observer looking in from the outside who deals with quilt shop owners on a daily basis, I am a business person who understands retail, I have my ear to the ground listening to what people are saying and I visit many shops on an annual basis. So, I see enough from the outside to be able to observe and comment, but not too much where my judgment is clouded. I have given this much thought and suggest you take 5 minutes to listen to a fresh perspective. You never know, this could go a long way for you in 2017. Don’t forget that I am on your side and want you to be as successful as possible because if you are successful, I too am successful.
Before I get in to the crux of the discussion, I wanted to say that only you, the quilt shop owner or manager, can make things happen. In order to make things happen, there has to be a desire and a plan. If you don’t have the desire, you might as well stop reading. I want to take a moment to explain the desire and the plan through an example. I have one blog reader that probably comments on every blog that I have written…which I really appreciate. So I randomly emailed her and suggested that we meet in person. Why not, right? She was definitely a little shocked to hear that I wanted to meet her. She lives in Ohio and I live in New York. We spoke several times by email and had no luck setting up an appointment. But, lo and behold, the opportunity arose where I happened to be taking a trip to Ohio. I contacted her and we made it happen and had a great time. We both gave a little, we had the desire, we were patient and eventually we had a plan. We made it happen and you need to do the same. Yes YOU!
Sticking with the make it happen mantra, you need to be motivated to make changes. Change is hard to embrace sometimes, but change is good. It is hard for people to get out of their routine and this is coming from a guy who is a creature of habit, so I know first hand. It is especially important to engage in change now when the world is changing so fast that it is hard to even keep up. What once worked year after year may now be an outdated concept. Many a business has perished for not changing with the times. Jaftex, for example, might not even be in business today if my dad and grandfather didn’t have the foresight to get out of the manufacturing business at the right time. That manufacturing business has almost entirely disappeared from the US. Moreover, nowadays with major disruptors like Uber or Amazon, there is no resting on your laurels because one day you could wake up and it is game over. No one wants that to happen to them.
Without further ado, here are my motivational bullet points, so take them or leave them. Hopefully some will actually help you in 2017. Sorry that this blog is a little longer than normal.
- Reflect on the past. You should try to take some time to reflect on the prior years’ wins and losses. This should be an annual ritual since self reflection is so important. Analyze what went wrong and what went right. Don’t forget that the numbers don’t lie. How can you make it even better the next time? How can you cut your losses on your losers faster?
- Do more of what is working and less of what is not working. This goes hand in hand with reflecting on the past. So here is a good example of this. Go through your vendors and see who you are having the most success and the least success with as far as sales of their fabrics. Then, you should buy more of Studioe (I couldn’t resist) and less of the other guy’s fabrics. See what happens. Maybe you will learn that for some unknown reason that you have a huge Studioe customer contingency that you weren’t aware of. Another example would be if you had particular success with a certain licensed designer like Elizabeth Isles who designed Natural Wonders, By The Sea & Mariposa Meadow. In this case, maybe you buy 2 full collections of the newest line and promote it out in a big way. Perhaps you will even reorder the line several more times thereafter. Maximize it! Capitalize! At least that way you are taking a calculated risk, rather than making a not very well thought out business decision. If it works the second time around, great. If not, maybe there is no trend, but at least you tried to make a smart business decision with some data to support it.
- Maximize the use of your computer systems. If you have a pos system or some other computerized inventory system, you need to maximize the functionality of your system. Sales data is valuable data if analyzed correctly and carefully. Make sure to look at the owners manual for your system and take advantage of all the functions that it offers. Determine which metrics are useful to help you achieve your goals.
- Think outside the box. I know that this is so cliche, but there really is validity to thinking this way. Don’t think like everybody else. Challenge yourself to come up with novel and inventive ideas that will generate sales. This also means that you shouldn’t be doing what everyone else is doing because you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else.
- Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Back to the motivation again and yet another cliche. If you want it bad enough, you will make it happen and you will make it happen today. If it means making sacrifices, you need to realize it and make sure that you are ready to make those sacrifices. Nothing is very easy anymore, so if you aren’t ready to step up your game, maybe it is time to get out of the game. Work is work, it is not play and sometimes it isn’t fun, but if you make calculated sacrifices, they should pay off in spades. Get yourself pumped up and excited about what you are going to do and just do it. It is just like what the Nike people keep saying…just do it.
- Try new things. Don’t keep having the same boring display that you have had for as long as you could remember. Mix it up. Redecorate the place. Move things around. Try a new contest or event. Don’t be boring. Make people want to come in to see all the exciting changes and all the excitement that everyone is talking about. Create the positive vibe and the positive buzz. Only you can make this happen.
- Make a plan and stick to it unless forces tell you otherwise. It should be crystal clear what everyone’s role is with respect to the plan. Don’t make a sloppy plan, make sure to cover all the important details carefully.
- Get rid of the weakest link. I hate to say this and find out that people are getting fired, but in every company there is one person that is just coasting by or bringing the rest of the team down. Every year you say that you should be firing them, but you never pull the trigger. Stop this bad habit and pull the cord. Did you know that each year Goldman Sachs fires a percentage of their weakest employees? This is an admirable Fortune 500 company. Don’t you think that you too can learn from them?
- Talk. Talk to other shop owners, sales reps, customers, business owners, pattern makers, magazine people, etc. Listen to what they are saying about what is working for them and for others in the industry. This is certainly a good reason to attend quilt market where there are so many of your contemporaries to chat and socialize with and most importantly, learn from. If you get one valuable take away from talking and listening to others, that was well worth it.
- Read. Surf. You should be reading as many relevant quilt magazines as possible and you should be surfing the internet often. If you are not embracing the internet by now and all that it has to offer, you are not changing with the times and you are shooting yourself in the foot. I hate to keep eluding to this, but if you don’t know what’s going on on the internet by now, maybe it is time to realize that your time has past and you can’t keep up with the new “new.” Some magazines publicize their rankings of say the top 10 shops each year. Take a moment to look at the social media that these top shops are executing. It is free and you can learn tons from others. This isn’t stealing. Take someone else’s ideas and tweak them to make them your own for your own circumstances. So much out there on the internet is free, so if you don’t think that you can be innovative, be creative and resourceful instead. We all have our strengths and weaknesses so just deal with what god gave you and use it well.
- Look to companies for ideas. You should be speaking with sales reps and the in house staffs of companies. Ask them about inspiration that they might have to offer. For example, many companies have free projects for consumers and shops to use. If you are not using them, you should. Ask if the company has a trunk show. These are just a few examples, but if you just ask, maybe you will be surprised to find out what is available and how companies are willing to help you.
- Wait for deals and ask for deals. Many companies offer different specials at different times of the year. For example, the Blank Quilting Corp. (a Jaftex Company) has a Blank Blog Bonanza. This is a monthly special for shop owners. This is great for the shop owners and great for our company too. Ask your rep how many bolts do you need to buy to achieve a discount, free freight or what have you. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. So it never hurts to ask.
- Remove the roadblocks and the negativity. If someone or something at work or at home is distracting you with negativity and is holding you back from giving 110%, you need to deal with that. I need you at full capacity to make the best out of 2017.
- Break bad habits. Many of us keep saying to ourselves something like this, “I have to stop smoking, or I have to stop playing candy crush, or I have to stop going to sleep so late.” The problem is that we don’t stop doing it. Figure out what your bad habit is and create a plan to put that bad habit behind you. Take a moment to see how much time this bad habit is cutting in to what could be a very productive day. When the bad habit is gone, you will be proud of yourself and amazed at how much it was keeping you from achieving.
- Get inspired. Get out of the store and get to a mall or shopping center. Go window shopping and look for creative ideas that you can use to make your shop window or display stand out. Consider bringing some of your team members as everyone sees things differently and lots of fresh ideas could be generated this way. This will be time well spent. You just can’t live in a bubble or a vacuum.
- Be healthy and take care of yourself. Make sure to get enough sleep, sun, water and exercise. Eat well, watch your alcohol intake, smoking and caffeine. It helps your daily performance so much if you are on the top of your game and feeling good. Personally, I get my butt up at 6 am several days a week and hit the gym. It helps so much to get me through my day with a good mindset. Do what works for you, but make sure to be smart and not over do it because you can’t afford to hurt yourself.
- Have fun! Life is short, so when it is all said and done, you should make sure that you are having fun. If you hate your job, you need to figure out how to move on to something that you enjoy. When I joined my family business about 12 years ago, it was because my body could no longer handle the stress of trading stocks. The day that I stepped away from the trading desk, all my stress ailments went away and it was like a rebirth. That was not fun, but I made a change and am having lots of fun now.
Thanks so much for listening to my advice and pointers to a successful 2017. I hope that I hear from many of you late in 2017 saying how you took any bits or all of my advice and it changed your life. I wish you all much success. GOOD LUCK & GET GOING!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy New Year!
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