Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Retail advice from a master

Recently, I read an article in CNNMoney about Maxine Clark – the founder of Build-a-Bear.  After a successful career at Payless Maxine went out on her own and created a widly successful retail concept, Build-a-Bear.  Check out the article here if you have a chance but I loved the advice she gave at the end of the article – Enjoy!

Maxine Clark’s advice on running a retail store:

Take your employees seriously. Every six weeks we do Chief Chat at headquarters. Employees can ask any questions they want. We get good feedback and understand what matters to our associates. We also do remote conferences with people in the stores by Skype, and I go to the stores all the time.
Write the biggest business plan you can. You can always cut it back. The first purpose of the business plan is to convince yourself that it's an idea you really want to do. If you're not convinced, you'll never be able to convince anyone else.
Understand the value of partnerships. In the beginning, our vendors were willing to make a couple hundred pieces of everything. Normally they wouldn't do such a small amount. But then they benefited from our success. Always ask, What can we do together to get more than our money's worth?

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Stock Flock is LIVE!

So excited to announce that today, The Stock Flock is live!  Check it out and sign up to be a partner.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What do your customers really think anyway?

We all know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know.  Simple, right?  The internet, however, has really changed the “what we don’t know” and transformed it instead into the “what we can know but don’t want to”.  I recently came across this great article on the American Express website that has some good tips on how exactly to understand where your shortcomings might be with your customers by using short and simple surveys.  Knowing after all, is the first step, right?

An excerpt from: 4 Simple Waysto Find Out What Your Customers Really Think  by Rieva Lesonsky

Get online. Consumers overwhelmingly prefer tech when it comes to surveys; 91 percent cite “smartphone,” “Web” or “SMS” as their preferred methods. Just 4 percent like mail in surveys, and a mere 1 percent want to be surveyed by phone. There are many low- or no-cost online survey tools out there. Zoomerang  is one I like that lets you do surveys online, on Facebook, or by mobile device and offers both free and premium plans.

Keep it short. How many times have you started to take an online survey only to get bogged down in a seemingly endless series of screens? The Cint survey found shorter is better. Forty percent of consumers will spend one to five minutes taking a survey; 30 percent will devote up to 10 minutes; and just 13 percent are happy to spend over 20 minutes. (I’m surprised that number is so high.) Remember, people are busy, so keep it short and simple.

Offer incentives. If your survey is short and focused on a topic (like customer satisfaction) that customers believe will ultimately benefit them, you may not need to offer a reward. But if you’re conducting a lengthier survey or doing market research to assess a product or service launch, some type of “carrot” might be necessary. Money (no surprise) is the best motivator for 55 percent of the respondents in the Cint survey, while 34 percent want free products and 6 percent are okay with vouchers. (If you offer a chance to win a prize, make sure you are following contest/sweepstakes rules in your state.)

Act on what you learn. There’s no point to doing a survey if you ignore the results, and keep doing what you’ve always done. Plus, in today’s socially-connected world, people who’ve taken the survey are likely to talk about it. Assess your survey results and use your customers’ feedback  to make changes where they’re needed. Even if the results show that your customers are happy, you’re not home free. You need to regularly poll your customers to keep them satisfied.

In addition to surveys, make sure you have a google alerts set up for your name as well as your store.  It also is a good idea to set these up for your top selling lines.  A great blog post or email to your customers can be simply letting them know about the great things your highly curated lines are up to these days (followed by some sort of incentive to get them in your store of course doesn’t hurt either!).

Feel free to leave any other ideas below in the comments section!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The hard part – making those goals stick!

In light of Wednesday’s blog post, there was recently an article posted on Amercian Express’s Open Forum listing apps that help people stick to goals.  I thought some of these were excellent and some not so much but a good Friday read for sure!

Happy weekened!

1. Stickk was developed by Yale University economists to test "Commitment Contracts" and you can enter your goal or new habit within seconds of landing on the homepage. Then you register and start committing. They have exercise, quit smoking, race and custom goals. Price: Free.
2. 21 Habit is named after the standard (or not so standard) wisdom that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. This is the neat part: You can create your own 21 day challenge and deposit $21. For every day you are successful, you earn your dollar back. If you don't succeed, 21 Habit donates your dollar to charity.
3. 43 Things is one of the more popular goal-setting and new habit sites with over three million users. Their tagline says it all: "Changing your life is hard. Doing it by yourself is harder." You set three goals, share your progress and people cheer you on. Simple, right?
4. Joe’s Goals works like a log book. You list out what you're doing, positive or negative, and keep track of your progress on this super simple checklist. There are lots of positive reviews about it.
5. Beeminder calls itself the "Stickk" for "data nerds." It is also similar to 21 Habit in that you can pledge real cash to keep you on target. It then displays a cool, colorful chart to show your progress.
6. Lifetick looks like a project manager's way to new habits and goals. You chart out all the tasks that you need to complete to reach the goal or establish the new habit. Free, but has a $20/year version. It uses the S.M.A.R.T. approach which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Specific.
7. Habit Forge lets you go solo or join a group. It is a 21-day challenge and they send you an e-mail every day to keep you devoted to your task. You have to respond to the question: "Were you successful; yes or no." Free version is ad-sponsored. $9.95/year to go without ads and unlimited new habits.
8. Commitie (pronounced committee) lets you set your new  habits, commit, get e-mail reminders and earn points. It wasn't quite clear what these points do, but who cares—you get points. Everyone loves points. Make sure you check the boxes to keep commitments private; default is public. I liked the dashboard, site setup and that it shows how many other people are working on that same or similar goal.
9. Goals on Track starts with "A systematic approach to achieving more by doing less." It uses the S.M.A.R.T. approach and has a lot of tips and ideas on it's blog. $68/year with 60-day guarantee.
10. Don’t Break the Chain catches your attention because it allegedly comes from comedian Jerry Seinfeld who would use a big red X on a calendar to show his progress. Because he, and you, wouldn't want to break the chain of success, you keep at your new goal. It appears to only work with Google Chrome or iGoogle.
Not to miss out on the mobile apps, here are several iPhone and iPad versions as well as Android ones that can keep you on track. There’s even a Kindle Fire app for those folks on the Amazon Android platform.
In the iTunes store, you can find The Habit Factor for $6.99 and Habit Maker Habit Breaker for free. If you want to peruse a bigger list, AppAdvice offers its list of habit building apps. You can also get The Habit Factor on the Kindle (Android version) for $4.99. Plus, there's Habits Free by Doboko for $2.00 in the Android Market.
I was mostly looking for apps and tools, but I couldn't resist adding this time management technique called Pomodoro. I mean, after all, it's a cool name and you can mystify co-workers with "I can't talk now I'm doing my Pomodoro." The premise is you use one of those tomato looking timers to stay on task for a set amount of time. So, if you're goal is to read email for only 15 minutes you might use this method. There's an app for it, too.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Employees – your first brand ambassadors

Recently I read an article about the 5 fastest ways to turn offyour customer and they were all related to the experience (or lack there of) provided by the employees.  This is an interesting concept since having physical sales people is one way to differentiate a brick and mortar retailer from its online counterparts (see Tuesday's post). Just for fun, how many of the 5 ways apply to your store?

  1. Employee Chatter 
We’ve all been privy to the date that so and so had last weekend or current drama in someone’s life but when serving a customer, this is clearly not what they want.  They have their own drama and are coming to you to forget about it.  Let them and make sure your staff is on board.
  1. Phone etiquette
Although answering the phone is not a huge priority for a small retailer.  Make sure a few things happen.  1. Train your staff about answering the phone.  Tell them everything from exactly what to say:  Thank you for calling (insert store name here).  This is (insert name here) how may I help you? 2.  Make sure the message on the machine addresses a. why you can’t answer the phone and b. basic details they might be calling about such as hours, location, and basic directions.
  1. Mobile ADD
100% of the time – no phones allowed on the sales floor – period!  No exceptions!
  1. Inconsistencies
There is nothing worse then inconsistent service.  Make sure that your employees know the right ways to handle both everyday situations as well as the sticky ones.  Roll play during weekly staff meetings is a great way to address any issues that have come up as well as a practical way to inform the staff about how they should handle certain things.
  1. Greeter
Somebody must say hello when a customer walks in the door.  If Walmart can do it, anybody can.

How did your store fare?  Do you know for sure?  Try calling the store and see what happens – just for fun!

Its one thing to know what rules to make but the more difficult side is how to train your employee to go from just that to a brand ambassador.

Achieve Results.  Empowerment, training, and goals go a far way.  If an employee owns a project or at the very least feels as though their work and ideas lead to the ultimate success of a project, they are more likely to jump in and foster the results that you as a business owner wants.  While there is a lot written about goal setting and how to actually achieve results, I like the SMARTE goal setting method:
            S= Specific.  Goals need to be clearly stated 1-2 sentences
M= Measureable.  A goal is measureable if a specific outcome is to be achieved.  The more quantified a goal, the more measurable the outcome will be.
A= Acceptable.  Goals must meet the criteria of what your store or brand values.  If the goal is not inline with these things, it’s not worth having.
            R= Realistic.  A goal must be attainable even if it’s a stretch.
E= Extending.  It should be realistic but difficult to achieve.  A goal should be stretching a person’s capabilities.
            *=Within an appropriate timeframe.  There always needs to be a deadline.

Maximize Performance.  Make sure the reward is worthy of the effort you desire your employees to put forth.

Recognition.  Make sure that the effort an employee is displaying is being rewarded and noted along the way.  This goes a long way and is extremely powerful.

Enliven Energy.  If a customer wishes to spend time in your store, that is a good thing.  If your employee wants to spend time there, it is a great thing.

Leverage Strengths.  Sometimes what you the boss wants someone to be good at and what they are actually good at don’t mix.

Make meaning.  People are employees and as people we all want to be part of something special.  Be open and honest with your team about sales goals and certain accomplishments that you are striving for and include them on the brainstorm.  If they feel part of a whole, they will put forth their best effort.

Enhance well-being.  Make sure that all aspects of a toxic work place are dealt with.  Sometimes this may be an employee, a customer, or a vendor but whatever it is, don’t be afraid to take action and let your employee’s know that you have their back.

It’s important to take some time and have some goals.  That’s the only way to improve on last year’s sales and to figure out exactly how that will happen.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bricks AND clicks?

In 1744, Benjamin Franklin sent out the very first catalogue in the United States selling scientific and academic books.  Next came Hammacher Schlemmer  In 1848, and then the true pioneer of modern day direct to consumer cataloging, Montgomery Ward in 1872.  Why is this important?  Multi-channel retailing has been in existence for a very long time however, the advent of the internet has made the scope and reach of “omni” retailing more prevalent.  So the question is, why has the internet got everybody so scared?

Believe it or not, brick and mortar retailers have co-existed with these other types of retailers for longer then we typically consider.  In an era dominated by online shopping, mobile technology, tv shopping, catalogues, and other types of media shopping events, it’s easy to feel as though the brick and mortar retailer is being targeted for extinction.  I however, don’t think that will ever happen simply for the reason that people like to shop, immediate gratification is king, and nothing replaces the sense of touch.  Here are some tips for playing to the strengths of your brick and mortar store.

  1. Diversify.
Diversity can be in the form of products, store fixtures and layout, or the way you create a customer experience.  Change things up every once in a while as far as product lines go but also in way of promotions, events, and store partners.  Events drive a lot of business for most retailers and help create the certain “experience” that your customer craves when visiting a boutique (afterall, that is one of the main reasons they shop with you and not at Macy’s, right?).  Partner with local charities, have a new season kick off tea with your top 10% customers, how about a wardrobe consultation from an expert, give a seminar on the best trends you found from fashion week.  Do things a little differently the way only a brick and mortar store can.

  1. Customer loyalty
Customer loyalty and experience go hand in hand.  If you don’t have a loyalty program, try outsourcing.  There are some great technology companies starting to blaze this trail for you.  Belly is a great Chicago startup doing some amazing things with customer loyalty programs.  Additionally, spend some time researching some innovative retailers and their customer loyalty programs such as Lululemon’s ambassador program They seek out their “influencer” customers and empower and incentivize to influence their friends, customers, and family about the Lululemon lifestyle.

  1. Inventory management and vendor relationships
“Whatever priorities retailers set, their physical stores are likely to shrink as the share of sales made online keeps rising. Retailers in America have a surfeit of space. Between 1999 and 2009 the amount of shopping space per person boomed from 18 square feet to 23 square feet. The productivity of that commercial acreage slumped after the financial crisis and shows no sign of recovering.” Taken from TheEconomist

As offered in the quote above, an increase of 5 square feet per person in 10 years is astronomical.  This increase in spending has been self regulated and accelerated through the economic downturn.  The shrink in spending really leads one to think that every inch of space in a boutique counts and how that space is utilized will determine the outcome of the retailer.  Is square foot analysis a metric you look at monthly?  Maybe it should be if it isn’t.

Supply and demand is an economic law that is not easily understood and most likely, this is the most challenging part of your business.  Keeping the right amount of inventory in stock as it relates to your customers is extremely hard to predict especially as projections must be made up to a year in advance.  In order for the relationship to work for both the retailer and their supplier, both parties must try to understand the difficulties of the other party.  Working with your vendors is a must in this economy as having the right inventory in stock at all times is key in this very digital age.  Mobile technology companies are starting to spring up and go after unsatisfied brick and mortar customers who would like to make a purchase but either a. the item is missing from the store’s shelf in the size or color they need or b. they will help the customer find the lowest price either online or around the corner.  At The Stock Flock, we attempt to give the power back to the retailer while helping them to use the internet to their advantage.  By placing available inventory online from existing vendors, The Stock Flock allows the store to complete a purchase regardless of whether or not the item is hanging on the floor. 

Here at The Stock Flock, we encourage all retailers to embrace technology and use the benefits that come with a brick and mortar store to your advantage.  Check us out and if you like what we do, feel free to send us your contacts at your vendors and we’ll do the talking for you!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Adding structure to your day

Happy Friday!

I'm not sure about you, but some weeks I find focusing on tasks at hand more difficult then it should be.  I recently came across this list of ways to improve productivity in the  March 2012  print edition of  Entrepreneur  and I thought I'd share it with you as good tips for your next week.

Zero-tolerance list
Make a list of things you need to stop doing so you can devote more time and focus to your business instead. My list includes: Refrain from checking Twitter and Google+ in between tasks, stop saying yes to writing book forewords when my own book's foreword isn't complete and put a halt to my Pavlovian response to e-mail alerts.

The rule of thirds
Start tracking your time. The goal: Dedicate one-third of your day to prospecting for new buyers, one-third to executing business tasks and the remainder to supporting existing customers. Most people tend to focus on one or two of these areas and forget the other. I prospect and execute, but I don't devote enough time to nurturing my community. Which one is your weak spot?

5 people to thank
Who are your top five customers right now? Start sending each one a regular personal note to check in and find out how you can help them. It's just five people; it won't zap too much of your time. If you keep them top of mind, they'll return the favor. (However, if you feel one beginning to shy away, back off. You don't want to hound your customers, either.)

30 minutes of media
Take 30 minutes twice a week to shoot and post a personal video message to your community (or your prospects or employees). It can help drive customer perception of your company and potentially create new leads. The video should be shorter than five minutes. Write a brief dialogue before you start to clarify your thoughts, then look into a camera--even the webcam built into your laptop--and speak your mind. Also, consider interviewing staff members or customers about your company; ask them about their success, not about your products.

10 replies a day
President Obama responds to 10 written letters every workday. It's one of his rituals--and it's just plain smart. Put the practice to work and commit to replying to at least that many e-mails, blog comments or tweets each day. This simple gesture improves loyalty.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Vanity Sizing

While I think the discussion is a good one and important to make a decision about, the premise in the below article is flipped in my experience. Typically, designer brands tend to have smaller sizes and mass merchants more vanity sizing.  What do you think?

1.  More expensive brands run larger - agree or disagree

2.  Having a standard size guide would make my business better - agree or disagree

3.  Vanity sizing is helpful - agree or disagree. 

Clothing designers appeal to women’s ego with vanity sizing

BY SARA BAUKNECHT February 29, 2012 11:33AM
Story Image

The retail world is flooded by a sea of clothing sizes. To find the right one, women must tread through “misses,” “petites,” “pluses,” “juniors” and more, depending upon the store. And even after discovering a favored fit in one brand, the same woman may balloon to a larger size or slip effortlessly into a skinny-minnie one by another designer.

In many cases, this seesaw in sizes is the culprit is vanity sizing, or the fact that the U.S. government doesn’t enforce a standard of measurements for women’s clothing sizes .

A standard measurement chart does exist, but it may be next to impossible for the government to require designers to stick to it, says Paula Minydzak, an adjunct instructor in fashion for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, who also is a tailor at a Men’s Wearhouse.

Standardizing sizes can complicate transactions between domestic and foreign designers whose countries sometimes have different measurement charts, she says. It also may turn some women off from shopping at first if they wear a larger size under the government-regulated measurement chart.

“It’s the equivalent of sticker shock,” Minydzak says.

So for now, the size guessing continues, which has its pros and cons.
 For designers, the flexibility to come up with their own sizes helps them create and market clothes for their target consumers — and their egos.

“It’s easier for someone to sell clothes when they make people feel good,” Minydzak says. 

“One of the best ways to do it is make a woman feel like she wears a smaller size.”

But toying with people’s perceptions of their body image can have consequences. In 2005, Kinley conducted a study in which 75 women between the ages of 19 and 58 were instructed to try on different sizes.

“What I found was a strong age relationship,” she says, adding that women in their 20s seemed to care more about fitting into a smaller size than those in their 40s or older.

In another study, from 2003, Kinley and some students measured about 1,000 pairs of pants by different designers of similar styles and cuts and found “statistically significant differences within some size numbers,” she says. She also observed that clothes by designers with higher price points tended to be more generously cut, with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein among the most forgiving.

Minydzak has noticed that clothes by more affordable brands tend to run more narrow in the sleeve and leg.

Many brands view their sizes not as mind games but as ways to better relate to shoppers’ needs, wants and body types.

For clothier Anthropologie, the goal is to sell quality clothes with consistent sizes that appeal to the body shapes and lifestyles of its target customer base of 28- to 45-year-olds, says Wendy Wurtzburger, chief merchandising and design officer.

“Our intention is to have a size grade for her that is flattering but is honest and isn’t trying to make her feel like something she isn’t,” Wurtzburger says.

Other stores have disregarded the typical double-digit numerical-size chart altogether. Sizes used by the clothing chain Chico’s range from 000 to 4.5, with the former being for women who usually wear a zero and the latter for a size 22.

Studies have found that the public wants clothing labels with more sizing information on them, Kinley says. Stores such as Macy’s and Lane Bryant recently have launched Web components with tips on what sizes, brands and styles may be best suited for their customers.

But whatever designers come up with next, comfort and satisfaction — not size — should be the motivation behind a purchase.

“We have to use sizes as a guide but respect the fact that that brand does not mean you are that size,” Minydzak says. “You are your size. Your body is your body, and there is no brand or no standard set of measurements that is going to be made exactly for you as a woman.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

The role of a business owner

For most of us, it’s been a while since we sat down and asked ourselves big questions about our business.   I’m not talking about the kind of questions like, am I going to make payroll, I’m talking about strategy, your customer, and last but now least, are you happy doing this?  I recently read a blog post on paraschopra.com about the three simple questions to ask yourself to validate your start up idea, but I really think some of these thoughts also apply to existing businesses and are important to think about at least once a year.


I hate the saying: you need to work on your business not in it.  Probably because this was one of my biggest downfalls at my first company, Kate Boggiano.  Owning my own clothing line was great, but because of lack of funds, I wasn’t able to staff it like I should of which meant I was the designer, lead sales person, technical designer, production manager, and would even ship packages.  Looking back on it now, these things were totally necessary for me to do in order to get things done, the traditional way.  Sometimes in an industry, the traditional route isn’t the one that is most profitable or accessible to you and your situation, and THAT’S OK!  There is no “right” way to go about making a profitable business – but there might be a “right” way for you.  Case in point, when I started Kate Boggiano, I was determined to produce a tight 2 season line that had some of the best blouses in the business.  Many years, stores, and sales reps later, I ended up designing a HUGE line that I didn’t really believe in anymore because I listened to what everyone else was saying and I thought I needed to have 40 SKU’s/season in order to sell into enough stores.  With a staff of 3, this made life unbearable and I burned out as did my staff.  I think we would have been more successful, believed in the brand more, and done an all around better job if I would have had the courage to do things differently, kept the line small but kick ass, and believed in the power of supply and demand.  In an industry as old as fashion, things will change eventually.  We are seeing it now with the new mobile technology especially with the era of the internet upon us.  Soon, customers will be able to walk into a store, take a photo of a clothing item, and be able to compare prices against everyone else on the internet.  Scary but it’s coming!  The Stock Flock is addressing this problem from an inventory point of view.  By giving stores the most up to date inventory availability, we are allowing the store and the brand to take advantage of the internet before the end customer is able to.  My advice is to take some time and really think about ways in which you think you could make a change and add an efficiency or decrease the amount of steps needed to complete a task.  You’ll be amazed how much taking time to strategize will save in time and money which will equate to a bigger contribution to the bottom line.

Your Customer

In fashion, we are really good about painting a picture of who our “girl” is.  I can’t tell you how many design meetings I’ve been in where we’ve painted an elaborate picture of what our downtown, 20 something, brunch loving, gallery opening, friend influencer is doing at the exact moment when she finds our must have blouse hanging in the coolest boutique on her vacation to Sonoma, CA.  Sound familiar?  The funny thing about these moments is that who much time do we spend thinking about how many of these “girls” there actually are and exactly how are you going to interrupt their life to reach them in a way that will make them buy your awesome blouse instead of your competitors.  On the flip side, having generic looking clothes that anyone can find anywhere is targeting a market that is too big and hard to reach because you have created very little differentiation between your brand and the others hanging on the rack.  As a small or medium size company, knowing who your customer is, how many there are, and how to approach market penetration of this customer will be some of the best thought out strategy sessions there are.  After all, if you’re looking for the girl in the example, do you really want to spend a lot of money at a Midwest tradeshow?  Probably not.

Do you wake up on fire about your business, everyday?

This is tricky but important to think about.  Owning a business is one of the bigger commitments in life and liking your business and the industry in general is very important.  Most likely there will come a time when you find yourself really disliking something you are doing.  For me, collecting money from my late paying stores was the absolute worst.  I found that for me, it strained my relationship with my stores, made me feel poorly about the state of the business, and I found myself wasting a lot of time in preparation to make those tough phone calls.  After a lot of thinking and researching outsourcing, factoring, and ACH, I decided to train someone else to do it within our company and it made all the difference.    If there is something you know you don’t look forward to and it’s disrupting your work flow, figure out a way to get it off your plate.  Sometimes the anxiety it causes is not worth the money you save by doing it yourself especially if the anxiety can stack up in such a big way that it changes your overall feeling about your business.  Additionally, your strengths as a business owner are most likely well developed and your time will be better spent performing these strengths as they will be the differentiation between you and your competition.

While owning a startup, small, or even medium size business is fast paced and exciting, it’s very important to take yourself out of the day to day and strategize.  Afterall, you are the leader of the organization and not only do you need to figure out how to get things done, it’s also important to see things coming before everyone else.

Happy Leading!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Quick tips to increase your stores revenues

Retail is hard and sometimes very unreliable.  Here are some quick tips to make sure you maximize all of your opportunities and boost your store revenue.

  1. The cash wrap.
It’s the oldest trick in the book and one followed by almost all stores selling all kinds of merchandise.  How often do you change up your product assortment at the cash wrap?  Try some low price but high value/need items such as fashion tape, or your best selling shape wear line.  Special and unique jewelry also does well such as fun cocktail rings displayed in a way that encourages the customer to try them on and get attached while they are waiting to pay.  Cards such as birthday, thank you and any other occasion that your customers might be purchasing a gift for is a no-brainer.  Just make sure you offer free gift wrapping as well.

  1. Customer notes.
Everybody loves to be recognized.  Train your staff to do this as well as keep notes on their size, their likes and dislikes, special upcoming events, and their favorite brands.  When to new arrivals come in, search your customer database for customers who might like that item.  An excel spreadsheet is a fast and easy way to organize these preferences if your POS doesn’t have this capability.

  1. Team training and rewards.
From time to time, customers may be reacting to how your staff is treating or neglecting certain product.  If you have merchandise that is not selling and you can’t understand why, tell your staff more info about it.  Run a contest with the sales team and reward the highest selling staff member with a special treat.  You’ll be amazed what a little motivation does to that slow moving item on the floor.

  1. Mark down slow moving items.
We all make mistakes from time to time and every once in a while, your customers may not love an item as much as you did.  After you exhaust the avenues of extra training, incentives, and possibly even a swap with the manufacturer depending on time, terms, and relationships, markdowns are needed and important.  Sometimes inventory turn is more profitable and important then just looking at straight margin for the long term health of the store.  Additionally, markdowns are the fastest way to freshen up the store and make everything look new again once the items are gone.

  1. Mind your best sellers, always!
It is so important to understand what customers are reacting to and making sure you have enough of it to fill their demand.  Keep an eye on all your best selling items and make sure to stock them accordingly.  Best sellers are your clearest way to high profits and a good business as they become almost certain cash.  Why wouldn’t you keep them in stock – it’s a no brainer! 

  1. Automate your reorders.
Being able to react quickly to customer needs and wants is really important.  With new mobile technology and extensive internet availability, it is more important now then ever to be able to transact with a customer at the exact moment he or she wishes to purchase.  If you allow them to walk out of the store without an item they want, competition is so fierce that most likely, you’ll loose them forever.  Check out www.thestockflock.com and sign up to find out when our automatic reorder system will be available.  It will change the way you manage your inventory and increase sales in the process. Plus it’s FREE!

To higher revenues!

Friday, February 24, 2012

The 1871 Hard Hat Tour

The Chicago tech community has gained a lot of noteriety over the last few years.  From Groupon to GrubHub,  Chicago is flexing it's tech muscles most recently with the announcement of 1871 to launch this spring on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart.

From 1871's website:

The story of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 isn’t really about the fire.
It’s about what happened next:

A remarkable moment when the most brilliant engineers,
architects and inventors came together to build a new city.
Their innovations – born of passion and practical
ingenuity – shaped not just Chicago, but the modern world.

What started 130 years ago continues to this day.

Chicago’s brightest digital designers, engineers and entrepreneurs
are shaping new technologies, disrupting old business models,
and resetting the boundaries of what’s possible.

If that sounds like you, join us.

Come to a place where you can share ideas, make mistakes,
work hard, build your business and, with a little luck,
change the world.

Welcome to 1871.

Last Saturday, I was fortunate to go on a Hard Hat tour with some of the other Chicago Tech startups and the community.

There were a TON of interested folks there to find out more about 1871!

Apparently tall guys go into technology...

The space is HUGE and the map was almost overwhelming!

We were able to hear about cool building details that reminded me of my old office.  Steve is telling us about the old fire door they uncovered during renovation (finally migrated to the front).

So some cool details about 1871 to share:

1.  Announcement came January 18th, 2012
2.  The CEC (Chicagoland Entreprenuerial Center) will be "running" the space when it's up and going
3.  You can apply to be a part of the space here.  Shared desk space is $250/mo and a reserved desk is $400/mo (all mo to mo leasing).  There will also be night and weekend passes for $125 as well as some sort of punch card for interns and part-time staffers.
4.  A big part of the space will focus on education.  First dibs go to residents and if space is available, they will open it up to the community at large.
5.  Here are the fun facts from the tour I caught:
 - 1871 is over 50,000 square feet
 - There will be a coffee shop right in the entry way - sweet!
 - 1871 will have an event space that will house about 250 people
 - 30+ conference and phone rooms
 - 100 reserved desks and about 220 shared desks
 - 3 classrooms
 - Accellerator space that will fit up to 40 people
 - 6 offices for investors and schools
6.  The state of IL and Governor Quinn just came out in support of 1871 pledging a $2.3 million investment to help 1871 foster and launch digital start-ups.
7.  The open date for 1871 is sometime this spring and they are announcing the inaugural companies sometime in the next few weeks.

Pretty cool!  I applied for The Stock Flock, so fingers crossed, this spring, we might get out of my basement and into the Merchandise Mart - how ironic!

Have a great weekend!

PS if you're interested in learning more about 1871, follow them @1871Chicago "like" their FB page and check out their website

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The evolution of the POS (point of sale).

Back in January, I decided to fly to NYC for a day and walk the expo floor of the National Retail Federation's Big Show.  First off, that was the biggest show I have ever attended in any industry and second, if you are in the business of selling anything, I suggest subscribing to their newsletter if you don't already (and while you're there, check out shop.org).

 I attended the show so I could attain some information about points of sale and more specifically, if the current POS is moving to a more "open" format.  My idea about The Stock Flock is to one day partner with a progressive POS provider and have our database pre-loaded with that POS partner's package.  The exciting point is that yes, all new POS systems are open and many of the old have API's!  Great news, but what does this mean for you?

1.  Shift in the market is towards open, cloud based POS systems.  This is great because the days of having a server run your business is close to being over.  Cloud technology is faster, cheaper, more efficient, and has the ability to be accessed from anywhere (think checking sales on your iPhone while lying on a beach without the headache of calling in).  
2.  Shift towards handheld devices.  These have been around a long time especially in electronic stores such as Best Buy, but did you ever think of arming your staff with a iPhone, iPad or some other handheld credit card swiping machine?  I think these are great for retail events out of the store as well as big sales or special occasions.
3. Integration with cross-channel partners.  Gone are the days of the excuse that I don't want a website because my inventory online won't match what's going on in the store.  The more open POS systems will be able to integrate your inventory into the backend of your website.  

What is the current POS systemt you use in your store?  What are the good things and the items that you wish you could change if given the opportunity?  Let us know!  

For all inventory availability issues, check out our solution and let us know if we could help make your store more profitable!


Friday, February 17, 2012

7 of my favorite FREE business tools (and why to use them)

Having a business is time intensive and expensive and believe me when I say that IT needs are the furthest thing from my mind when I wake up in the morning.  There are however, some really neat and very FREE tools that have been around for a while that are worth looking into if you haven't already.
1.  The Social Media guru - Hootsuite 
Why:  Social media can turn into social gossip hour if you're not careful.  Run an efficient and meaningful social media campaign with the help of Hootsuite.  Pre-plan and schedule all tweets, facebook posts, and facebook page updates when you have time then set your preferences to text messages when someone responds so you don't miss out on anything.

2.  Your own personal internal server - Dropbox
Why:  Access and share files in one easy to locate place - the cloud!  This is great if you are traveling and need to update something or pull something off the server to use on the road.  The really great part is that if you make a tiny edit to a small part of the file, it will sync in seconds and in multiple places at all times.  Check out the iPhone and iPad apps for Apple lovers.

3.  Your better brain - Evernote
Why: Evernote is a Free app that can help you store and organize notes and keep them in sync with a multitude of devices.  The app lets you tag and store your notes into "notebooks" that mean something to you and you can revisit later. Here are some uses for Evernote (both for business and personal use!):
Recipes - really great to have on your phone when shopping at the grocery store!
Going Paperless - Evernote allows you to scan every important document (receipts, bills, statements, etc) in your account and then arrange them in tags and notebooks so they are always easy to find.  Evernote has a good text recognition feature which makes any sort of writing in your pictures searchable and easy to store.
Inspiration - Come across new ideas, write them down and then forget where you put them?  Evernote is a great way to capture these ideas then access them from any device you have installed Evernote on.
Recording anything even notes to yourself via sound - Record classes, conferences, music, or just notes to yourself while you're driving.  Evernote can record sound!
Lists - If you are like me, you have lists of lists and then you loose one and the rest don't mean as much.  If you put them in Evernote, they are all there for you anywhere you need them!
Web reads and content - I hate bookmarking.  My list is a mile long and I never search because it's a pain to scroll through the tiny text.  With Evernote, you can clip any web page or content directly to Evernote while surfing then categorize as needed.
Email - Evernote allows you to send an email with content and files attached directly to your account to save and tag.
4.  Free email or even better email from your company's name - Gmail and Google apps
Why: The difference between gmail and google apps is pretty basic:  1. gmail is free and google apps are not, 2. gmail is generic @gmail.com and google apps are @yourcompany.com.  For both gmail and google apps, you get the same great benefits which are:
1.  50 times more storage then industry average
2.  Mobile email, calendar and IM access
3.  99.9% uptime reliability guaranteed and it synchs with mobile devices
4.  Information security and compliance

5. Create content for your blog on the fly - delicious!
Why:  Bookmark and automatically publish content to the web via RSS.  If you have a blog, you need delicious!

6.  Create beauty (and interest) with Instagram and Pinterest
Why Instagram:  Instagram is a photo-sharing site that adds photos and text.  Other instagramers can "like' and commnet on images and follow users to view their images in their own feed.  Users can also easily post the images they upload to Instagram on Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr if they choose.  I love this for store buying trips to push out pieces or ideas for future seasons to customers!

Why Pinterest:  Pinterest is a social bookmarking site that focuses on images - sort of a mashup bebetween Delicious and Flickr.  It's really visual and would be great for designers trying to get a feel of what people are thinking is in or out when designing a collection.

7.  Email is still king - MailChimp
Why:  MailChimp makes it easy to design exceptional email campaigns, share them on social networks, integrate with web services you already use, manage subscribers, and track your results.  With easy to use templates and great reporting, you'll never wonder what your customers are thinking, because you will know what they are thinking.  Email is still one of the biggest drivers of conversion rates - what are you waiting for (it's free!).

Hope those help to declutter your life!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

A downward trend - manufacturing apparel in China

My first experience with manufacturing apparel in China came in 2004 when I was a technical designer for Ralph Lauren in NYC.  I was a fresh slate and had no opinion of China when I started other then I knew it was less expensive to manufacture there than it was in the USA.  Over the course of my employment as a technical designer, I developed a very strong anti-China opinion.  From horrible rashes on my arms I received from opening boxes full of our product that came from the factory floor (all production items are "cleaned" unlike the samples we received - I wonder what kind of chemicals that entails) to contracting pink eye multiple times from  working with our samples getting them ready for line opening to having over 500 new messages in my inbox from 10 different people working at the same factory asking me the same question 15 different ways, China's positives for me wore off very quickly.  It now seems that for many, their opinion of China is starting to change as well, although I'm sure that the reason is far from human rights and patriotism.

In 2010, China's estimated per capita income was $7,600 - not a lot by our standards, however this is a huge increase over previous years and is higher then other countries where there is talk of the apparel manufacturing industry migrating to in order for manufacturers to pay lower wages. Recently, Bangladesh (annual income of $1,700) was identified as the potential new apparel sourcing hotspot.  Some estimates are as high as export value around $36-42 billion by 2020 meaning the current market in Bangladesh with double by 2015 and nearly triple in 10 years.  To put it in perspecitve, China exported $111 billion worth of textiles and apparel to the world last year alone.  It's going to take a while for the shift to occur.

I came across the blog simply-american.net when looking into the state of China and the author had some very funny ideas about where to go from China next:

Positives:  Very motivated workers since Somalia’s estimated annual per capita income is around $600 a year.  Lots of port facilities.  Good cell phone and Internet services.
Negatives:  Complete lack of a central government.  Your manufacturing site managers will have to learn to get along with the Islamist Al-Shabaab group.  Lots of Pirates.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Positives:  Very very motivated workers since the Democratic Republic of Congo’s estimated annual per capita income is around $300 a year.  Big labor pool as the Democratic Republic of Congo has a population of over 71 million people.  Ability to order your workers around in French if you want since lots of people there speak French.
Negatives:  Well established history of corruption.  Daily production meetings can take a long time since 242 languages are spoken in the country.  Lots of diseases and snakes.
Positives:  Very motivated workers since Afghanistan’s estimated annual per capita income is around $900 a year.  Everyone has heard of Afghanistan, especially us, the former Soviet Union and the English.  Given long history of exporting opium, exporting clothing should be a snap.
Negatives:  Managing Pashtuns can be tricky.  Very hot climate but no nice beaches.  Finding female workers will not be that easy within the next few years I would guess.
Positives:  Motivated workers since Comoros’ estimated annual per capita income is around $1000 a year.  Since the whole country is an island, you might be able to trick your managers into believing that they are actually working in Hawaii.  Good scuba diving for you and your family during your annual production visit.
Negatives:  More than 20 coups in the last 35 years.  Lots of volcanos.  The whole country is an island.

I really liked this tongue and cheek analysis of possible hopeful future production facilities and also agree with the final point of the article.  Instead of dealing with foreign countries, oceans, and corruption, why not just make your apparel in this country?  It might end up being more cost effective, produce less headaches, and even sell more clothing at the end of the day!  People are very aware of where that label states the item is made and the closing argument in many folks minds now a days is Made in the USA!

Happy Sourcing!

PS - if the cost of holding USA made inventory is what's scaring you, we can help!  Sign up for our newsletter at thestockflock.com!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Founder Institute Graduation

I’ve been lucky in my career so far that I’ve been in the right place at the right time.  When I made my decision to leave my old company Kate Boggiano and start a new one in the technology space, I happened to do so in time to be able to enroll in a tech incubator from silcon valley opening it’s first Chicago chapter.

According to their website (fi.co)

The Founder Institute is a global network of startups and mentors that helps entrepreneurs launch meaningful and enduring technology companies. Through our four month idea-stage incubator program, you can launch your dream company with expert training, feedback, and support from experienced startup CEOs, while not being required to quit your day job. Our unique Bonus Pool also shares equity upside with all participants, creating local, teamwork-based ecosystems where great startups can flourish.
The Founder Institute's goal is to globalize Silicon Valley by launching 1,000 meaningful and enduring technology companies per year in 30 cities worldwide. It was founded in 2009 by serial entrepreneur, Adeo Ressi, and is operated out of a small warehouse in the heart of Silicon Valley.
I particularly like their infographic!

I found FI to be a very good experience.  Full disclosure, I’ve already been incubated once in my career so going into FI, I had a pretty good idea of expectations and how to manage them.   Coming from a fashion industry background, what I was searching for first and foremost was an introduction into the technology scene and I’d say I definitely managed to achieve that.  To really understand what FI was, I had to sit down and make my list (because that’s what I do!) and I’d like to share it with you.

FI Pros:
  1. Structure, homework, and task management.  When you start a business, your to do list can be extremely overwhelming.  For me, I was winding down one business and it was tricky to shut the door on the one (especially as it continued to generate cash flow) and focus on a second that was in idea phase (i.e. expenses without revenue).  FI forced me to sit down and plan out my second business even if only for 15 hours a week – it was a start that I was having a hard time finding on my own.
  2. Peer mentoring.  Thru FI, I met some really great people.  A few of these were the other Founders in the program and we developed a relationship that one can only develop in a setting like FI.  We are close, there is no b.s., and we genuinely care for each other and what happens to the respective businesses.  That is something very difficult to find in most realms of the universe!
  3. Access to mentors from the technology field in my city.  This was HUGE for me.  Having been entrenched in the fashion industry for the last 5 years, the tech scene seemed a little daunting.  It was great hearing from 3 different mentors in the tech industry every week and being able to talk to them one on one or in the big group – no questions were really off the table.
  4. Leave some founders behind mentality.  Another big draw for me was the idea that if you don’t pull your weight you are out.  After doing this before and seeing the different types of people that entrepreneurship attracts, it has always been clear to me that it isn’t for everybody.  FI understands that too and doesn’t want to waste the time of the serious entrepreneur with that of less serious or conflicted individuals.  Tough love for sure but well worth it when you are gearing up for one of the most difficult battles of your life.
  5. Inaugural year.  So not only is this the 2nd incubator I have participated in, but it is also the 2nd one that I have participated in that I have been a part of the very 1st class.  I love this!  Being part of the inaugural year means a few things: 1. great press cause it’s new, 2. flexibility of the organizers and willingness to listen for suggestions, 3. desire of the program to attach themselves to a successful enterprise and therefore sending press your way as well as help even after the program concludes.
  6. Talking points with competition.   Chicago is small and when there is a new guy in town, everybody wants to know what’s up.  I was able to have conversations with some of the most influential people in town (many that ran the “competitor” accelerators) because they wanted to know what was up with FI. It’s amazing how quickly you can turn their questions into a 1 minute pitch of your company and FI will teach you how!
  7. Learning Powerpoint. Ok, so this one might be a little personal, but prior to joining FI, I had never created anything in PPT.  Slightly embarrassing, maybe? But I did it and because I didn’t know it so well, my presentations were less about my graphic abilities and more about content which is important when presenting your entire plan in just 3 mintues!

FI Cons (and how I overcame them):
  1. 3.5% of my company gone. Right, so in my 1st company, I had a line of credit at the bank.  For this new company, I decided I wasn’t going to go that route again if possible for a few reasons: 1. I didn’t know tech and felt I needed some advisors and a bank doesn’t advertise the biggest wealth of mentors I’d ever found, 2. I wanted more of a partnership this time even if it didn’t involve a cofounder.  The bigger problem was I didn’t know what my options were or how to go about finding these options.  FI really helped me noodle this out from the cofounder question to how to structure a deal.  Had I paid a consultant or gone about it on my own, I don’t think I could have afforded the time or mistakes that would have most likely ensued.
  2. Homework and working groups.  Homework stinks – no matter what stage of your life you are in and working groups oftentimes are just a place for one person to vent or do all the work of the group while other people are goofing off.  At FI, both the homework and working groups were structured to help you and you alone.  The nice thing about that 3.5% is that not only do you give up 3.5% of your company, but the other founders also give up 3.5% of theirs.  If one or multiple companies succeed, then guess what, the founders in your class split 30% of the 3.5% of each other’s companies.  This shared knowledge helps to incentivize the good founders to help you when you need it and it reinforces my pro points #1, 2, and 4.
  3. Public speaking.  No matter how much practice, training, or instruction I get, this will never be a strong point of mine.  At FI, we spent a ton of time on our pitches and presentations.  I was never the best in the class, but I would definitely say I improved and throughout the semester, I’d estimate my heart rate was cut by at least 25% when presenting so that is an improvement. After my first experience at “hotseat” on the very first day, I can honestly say that any negative feedback I receive from investors or anyone for that matter, will be easy to shrug off.  Definitely a tough love perspective.

If you are considering signing up for FI go for it as long as you are:  1. ready to start a business, 2. ready to defend your idea while remaining open to changing your perspective, and 3. have enough time to invest in something you believe in.

Good luck!