Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why I’d rather die on principle than on sale.

So I have been immersed in the retail game for a year now, as the owner of ZÖE Shoes.  People come in and say, this is your dream come true.  I always smile, because, yes, I love parts of the business.  I love that every person who comes to my shoppe has a story and a reason for being there.  I love helping them find the perfect shoe or outfit for their life, and I love the shoes, and I love fashion. And I love that my shoppe evokes a dream reaction for my customers.  Because my shoppe exists solely for their enjoyment and pleasure.

On February 1, Lynear Thinking acquired the brand “Zoe’s Boutique”, which at that time had been in operation for 29 years under two previous owners. In my first year of business (365 days) I rebranded from Zoe’s to ZÖE, which is the Greek word for life, renovated and updated the retail space in line with the new brand, and then moved the store due to long term leasing, parking and accessibility concerns from downtown to 1732 Badham Blvd. to a new shopping, living and business development.  The new ZÖE is designed and intended to carry the brand and the legacy into the future.

ZÖE is the continuation of a legacy brand, now in its 30th year.  So yes, it’s got dream aspects, but also it is a great responsibility, because it has a legacy to live up to and to build at the same time. And it is a financial risk, like any small business is to the business owner. But it’s not a a small financial risk.

I came into this business knowing a bit more than some, and a lot less than others. I have had a seat in the boardrooms in large corporations, non-profits and cooperatives for over 20 years, working with them to build their companies, realize their visions, tell their stories.  So I did not walk into this venture cold not knowing how to build a business and engage its community in the process.

As for retail, I have worked at the strategy level, but I have never owned a retail business before.  But I have studied independent retail and covered it almost exclusively as the owner and publisher of SKY Magazine, which is dedicated to boutique businesses. So I spent a lot of time in boutiques, so that I could understand how to help them grow their business.

I would see and hear things that I found to be disturbing, and yes, even disrespectful to the boutique business owners.  And now as a boutique owner,  I too have seen it happen in my own business.

I have seen and heard people asking to try on a product to see what size they should order online, with no intention of buying it.  I have seen and heard people asking for the wholesale price, and in some cases, implying the boutique owner was taking too much profit for themselves. I have heard people recite an online price and ask for it.  I have personally been asked for more of a discount, when an item is already 40% off - which is already at the point of free in my world.

In particular, I am talking about the impact that online shopping has had on independent boutique businesses, and the consumer’s apparent misunderstanding of the difference between an invisible economy (the online economy) and the local economy (the store in which they are standing at the time).

On line shopping has changed shopping.  That’s just a reality.  As a boutique owner, we need to find ways to be competitive in this market.  But the virtual experience is not real, and never will be.   When you are standing inside someone’s shoppe, you can pick up the product, feel it, smell it and try it on.  It’s personal. To the Boutique owner, it’s personal too. But it’s also business.

Independent businesses compete with the world, as well as each other, for the sale.  We each try to bring something special to the market place, but we are each measured, in the end, by the one outcome - profit.   In the end, if we can’t be profitable, we cannot be in business.

And our businesses are competing with multi national companies with resources well beyond ours.  We are responsible for every single aspect of the business, from buying, to accounting, to inventory control and management, to marketing, human resources, community relations and client service.  We do it all, and every penny has a place in our businesses.

Seeing Red
The “S” word, as I like it (Sale) is something that is unique to the retail industry.  You will never see a a sale sign on the window of another type of business.  Never.  You might see marketing and promotions but not the S word.  I am opposed to the use of the S word as a principle of business.

Yesterday a business owner of an art gallery shared that they never put things on sale because it would devalue the work of the artist.

In retail, putting things on sale does devalue the product by definition, and its creators, and it devalues the business that exists to sell those products.

So it’s the same thing.  Sales devalue the work. And that makes the work unsustainable.  And when it becomes unsustainable, it will eventually cease to exist.

 I don’t have sale signs on my windows.  I can barely utter the word, but yes, I do have items that need to leave.  And once my primary customers have purchased what they would like, the rest is there for others to be discovered.

In the world of business, whether its a shoe store or an accounting firm, it is important to replenish the client base - to attract new people to the business. It’s a numbers game, as my dad, the original sales man, would say.  Some people become loyal customers and others drift on by.

The online world is the place where drifters shop, I think.  And that’s a reality.  Shopping does fulfill the basic human instinct to hunt, so the online shopping model does feed that need.  I get that. I have a Pinterest board too, and yes, I do “review” websites and online stores, but quite honestly, I can count the number of things I have purchased over my lifetime on one hand.

That being said, the online game does have value. It’s just a different customer who is looking for a different experience, and quite likely a lower price, but not always. It’s also not a personal experience.  Sometimes the online shopper is just looking for the chance to shop any time, day or night, to hunt for that elusive thing. But as a business owner, the relationship extends to the transaction of the purchase itself. There is no relationship invested. Just cash.

So almost one year past my first renovation of ZÖE, I am about to launch an online store, that will house my “sale” items, as well as new items, because there is a market and a customer waiting for it.

Have a lovely Sunday.