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.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Rebirth of ZÖE: 365 Day Reflection

365 days ago today I walked into the doors of Zoe's Boutique in the Old City Hall Mall in downtown Regina.  I remember I was wearing a blue dress and black Michael Kors boots.  I was handed the keys and that was that. I had a plan, but as we all know in business, a plan is only a plan until it can be proven.

The business plan was built on two core assumptions regarding the lease and revenue targets based on the previous owner's business

During the planning process, I hired an accountant with a specialization in retail. We looked at the numbers and could see a trend and a risk that these two assumptions may not hold to be true given external environmental factors and demographics.  This was not a surprise to me. But I also knew that the business name, Zoe, held positive memories.  The key was to turn the positive memories back into loyalty.

So the business plan became about the reinvention of this business as a shoe store, building on the memory of its then 29 year old name in the market place, and inspiring the imagination of those who had either never heard of it, or had forgotten about it.

Within two weeks, we began to implement the plan, beginning with a face lift of the original location in the Old City Hall Mall.  We moved the contents of the store into the space next door (created a pop up) while we ripped out 20 year old carpet, scraped the glue off the 106 year old stone floors, freshened up the paint and created a new layout and racking design for the store.

At the same time, we hired Arcas Advertising to help with the rejuvination of the former logo, with a younger, more modern look that would reinspire our customers, and tell the story of this new life that was being rebirthed.  We dropped the 's on the former name (Zoe's) and added an umlaut to the o. The new name, ZÖE, was chosen, which translates to the word, "Life."

We moved back into the space by the end of February (after a two week renovation of working days and nights) and launched the new brand at the same time.

There were limited orders for spring in the books, and the time for ordering would have been the previous fall, so we went to the market place to buy shoes. At the same time we were buying for the fall season.

The new look and the new brand started to attract attention. As people walked into the store, they would stop and say things like, "this is different," "this is a beautiful", "this reminds me of a shoppe that belongs in a bigger city", and "what happened here?"

The original footprint had a 250 square feet of actual retail space, because a large shoe storage room occupied the majority of the store.  Our plan was to take it down and install an open shoe shelf system.  When I went to talk to the landlord about it, she said that there would be no point, because we wouldn't be there long term.  The Globe Theatre Society owns the building and have plans to renovate the building, so the lease was expected to end.  Other tenants in the building moved as well, and it seemed that the empty spaces were going to stay that way.  In addition, the downtown decisions regarding parking enforcement and traffic flow, and the fact that there were fewer and fewer neighboring retail businesses, meant that traffic flow to the store was desperate.  So the targets as projected in the business plan could not be proven.

These two factors led to the search for a new location a year sooner than we thought would be necessary.  We looked at several spaces downtown but the conditions were not optimum for our business. We needed street access, parking and to be part of a neighbourhood of businesses.

In August, we made the decision to move the store to the newest retail / business / living development, Canterbury Commons, on the southern fringe of downtown, just one block south of College Avenue and Broad Street - close to where the original Zoe's Boutique began 30 years ago.

During August, September, October, the space was designed and built to spec by Fiorante Homes and Commercial.  In October, our own contractor Kirk Williamson came in to build the shoe library, stairways and furniture.

On October 30 we began to move and by November 3, we opened the new location at 1732 Badham.  Early indications (November, December, January) indicate that the business plan is achievable.

On February 1, we are celebrating the rebirth / first birthday of our new ZÖE, and the grand opening of the new shop at 1732 Badham Blvd.  2017 is also the 30th year since the original Zoe's Boutique came into being.

The new ZÖE is a premium personalized shopping experience.  The new space features stairway displays for shoes as designed in our previous location, a custom designed and built shoe library and racking systems and movable dressing room custom built from construction materials.  The floor in our new space is concrete with a touch of sparkle, which is perfect for a store where most people look down at their feet, and the lighting - 54 track heads and eight runway lights in daylight bulbs that show off our products and create a positive environment for our customers and staff.

To my family who worked with me throughout the year to create the vision of the new ZÖE, and my customers and peers in the business community who supporting us this year, thank you.

In 365 we created a new life for ZÖE.  On February 1, we celebrate the first of many birthdays, and the grand opening of our new space at 1732 Badham Blvd.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Why Blocking Competition is a Bad Business Strategy

I own a magazine that is focused on promoting independent business and entrepreneurship, a shoe store bearing the name of 29 year old brand that is undergoing reinvention, and a consulting business that helps businesses plan and develop strategies to be successful. I am also a yoga teacher, so what I am about to say comes from my general world view that it's better to be collaborative.

I seek out the people who are making things happen. I am interested in who they are, their outlook on life and business, and what they focus on.  Through each of these lenses, I have learned what it takes to be successful in the market place, more often than not.

  1. Successful people focus on their own ball. They have a vision, and everything they do is about bringing that vision to life.  
  2. They live and work with good intention.  Not bad.  Good intentions lead to good things, while bad intentions do too.
  3. Successful people stay competitively strong by understanding their customer and responding quickly and eloquently.  
  4. Successful people are not afraid, but they are not ill informed either. They take measured risks - which means they risk only what they can afford to lose. 
  5. Successful people engage with other successful people. They make friends and build a community of like minded people around them, because they know that word travels fast, and you need to know who you can trust and who you shouldn't.  

All of this flies in the face of something that I am seeing in the market place. Blocking.

Yesterday, I was told that a health and wellness business had the right to exclude anyone else from teaching yoga in the area.  To that I replied, "they can't own yoga. Yoga is older than life." And what if the yoga sucks in this place? So that means no one gets to teach or practice yoga because it will eventually die.  This attempt to eliminate competition or potential product competition through real estate lease transactions is counter to free enterprise thinking.

Blocking other business will not assure your success. Here's why.
  1. There is a good chance that you can't be all things to all people.  As in the case of yoga, finding the right yoga teacher is a very personal endeavour, just as it is finding a pair of jeans or a buying a car or finding a hair stylist.  If there is no other option, people will vote with their feet and likely never return to the area, or your business, if there isn't another option in the vicinity. 
  2.  Blocking other businesses is not goal of business. Gaining new customers, serving them well and making it easier for them to buy your product or service is.  And it takes traffic to bring customers. You want to be where others are going.  Why are their multiple car lots clustered together?  Because they know that when someone is shopping for a car, the chance of closing a sale is higher if the customer stays in the area.
  3. Blocking is not differentiating.  Blocking is a defensive move. Not an offensive one.  Have a vision.  A story of who you are. Understand your customer and who he or she is, how they want to be treated, and then develop the people, systems, environment and processes to wow them. 
  4. Blocking will alienate you from others.  And that's a lonely and dangerous place to be in a free enterprise market.  My personal feeling is that is will lead to failure.  On some level. Definitely. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

It depends.

Having led both strategic planning and enterprise risk management for large companies, my perspective is this:it depends. Let's break it down. 

1. Culture

Yes. ERM is a part of making the culture. But in my experience, for ERM to be effective, there must be a culture of honesty, proactive leadership, open communication, and planning.  Without these pillars, ERM will be nothing short of painful. Here's why this matters.  What if there is a governance risk that needs to be addressed, but the governing leaders see it as a threat?  I rest my case. 

ERM does contribute to culture, because the process stimulates discussion and analytics about the environment and its impact on the business.  But like all planning - related processes, there is some guess work involved and ERM is not a fail safe method of subverting disaster. It is a way to seeing it coming. 

ERM is strictly about possiblity and probably.  There could be a storm tonight. The probabilty of it occuring is X. The impact is Y.  If the probability is high  and the evidence suggests the impact will be high also (e.g. the clouds are circling and the sky is green) then the response will be (hopefully) to batten down the hatches and stay in, etc. Regardless of the response, though ERM is about taking chances with your eyes wide open.  The key is to have intelligence and facts to paint the picture. 

2.  Strategic Planning

Integrating the ERM in the discussion supported by an environmental scan can be a great way inform strategy. Understanding the environment and both the opportunities and threats (upside and downside risk) is how strategy is formed.  ERM does not mean not taking chances. But part of the framework needs to be an organizational understanding of how much of a risk taker the organization is. That's the hard part. It comes down to gut feel sometimes. The way I see it, planning to be prepared can't be a bad thing.  Part of the discipline of ERM is being able to manage risk effectively as it occurs. An organization will never be risk free. The only question is, do you feel lucky?

An Integrated ERM and Strategy Planning Process 

Think of two roads:  Road 1 is strategy. Road 2 is risk.  On Road 1, we look at the possiblity of the future and plan the steps that need to be taken to achieve that future.  On Road 2, we look at the possible events that could occur that might impact the strategy, both positively and negatively.  One informs the other. Therefore, these two processes need to be integrated at the strategy level.  

Here's a quick overview of how it fits together and what the process might look like.  

1. Board sets the vision and strategic direction.  
2. Management establishes goals, measures and targets. 
3. Management prepares a fact-based environmental scan. 
4. Two teams are esstablished to review the environmental scan. Areas such as political, technological, people, clients / users, society, economic and other factors are taken into consideration.

Team A. Risk Event Identification (downside)
The team explores the possible events that could negatively impact the acheivement of the goals. Each of the risk events that are identified are supported with facts as to what, when, why and how the event may affect the organzation. The ERM team conducts analysis of the risks with the risk owners. The report includes ratings for Impact, Probability and over all ratings via voting. The risks are heat mapped. A report is prepared and presented to the executive. 

Team B. Opportunity Identification (upside)
Team B is thinking about the future as it could unfold, and the possible opportunities that could emerge that the organization can capitalize upon.  Each of these opportunities are supported with facts as to what, when, why, and how the opportunity could affect the organization's goals positively. For example, an opportunity to address employee morale could result in an increase of y% for employee engagement.  

5. The teams come together to consider both views to consider if all the possiblities have been considered, and if there is agreement. Both Risks and Opportunities are categorized and assigned. 
  • Strategic level (the responsiblity of the executive / board) become part of the organization's strategic plan as initiatives.  
  • Operational level (the responsiblity of the management / operational teams) are assigned to department leads as initiatives. 

6. Action Planning  
  •  Opportunties (soon to be initiatives) are assigned for planning. The format is as follows:what will be done, when, by whom, resources impact (financial, people, systems, processes).  Each plan is reviewed by management team, and specifically those who support the plan (initiative owners, mangers and contributing supporters) and signed off in agreement. Executive sponsors sign off. The document is rolled up (forming a draft plan) 
  • Risk are assigned for action plans to be developed. The format is as follows: what will be done, when, by whom, resources impact (financial, people, systems, processes).  Each plan is reviewed by the management team, and particularly those parties that support the plan (risk owners, maangers and contributing supporters) and signed off in agreement.  Executive sponsors sign off. The document is rolled up (forming a draft risk registry.)
8. Resource requirements are submitted into the budget model and rolled up for impact.  The executive / senior management reviews the budget and determines actions that are needed.  Plans are adjusted accordingly. 

9. The strategic plan is rolled up to include goals, measures, targets, initiatives, a risk registry and budget.

10. Communication and Accountablity:  hold a launch meeting and roll out the plan to all stakeholders as appropriate.  Design a communication strategy that meets the needs of the various audiences. This will help to determine method, format, content for each stakeholder.

11. Reporting and Feedback
Report against the plan to ensure progress. Check in with changes to the environment, both internal and external,,

Implementation Challenges 

Sd is  its vision and strategic direction, goals, measures, targts and initiatives

I believe that Strategy and ERM should be a combined / integrated effort to be led at the corporate level. 

It should stand alone as a business unit with an objective purpose to facilitate and guide the discussion, document the accountablities and plans, and lead the reporting process. The key principle of ERM is that risk is owned where risk occurs. Therefore, it must be cascaded through the organization as appropriate, where it must be managed and reported upon.

Goal clarity is a must but goals are in a continuous state of refinement. That is why they must be visited and reviewed quarterly in the reporting process, and annually in the planning process. ERM and Planning once again are inextricably linked when you consider the power of cascading plans.

One must consider the culture and that is where the stumbling blocks often reside. A culture of fear, for example, will be highly risk adverse and frozen at times to have the discussions that need to be had. If the culture lacks honesty and courage, then it will be difficult to tackle the real risks that could bring an organization down, such as leadership risk and governance. Assessing culture is therefore a first step in the process, which includes establishing the governance and accountablity framework (which may includea revision to the Board Terms of Reference) policy, process, framework, terms of reference, and language. From there, the next step is to begin to apply the process - try it on and find the difficulties, and determine if the process needs to be adjusted, or the education levels increased for the decision makers. This is where CEO leadership comes to play. When the going gets tough, someone at the top needs to keep the process on task and hold the team accountable.

In terms of deciding the scope of ERM, I would suggest the question of how far, how fast, and what culture is required needs to be addressed. ERM can focus at the corporate level first, where I would suggest the culture and appetite for ERM would be established. In my experience, ERM is as much a commuication exercise as it is part of strategic direction and planning. It takes time to understand how to have the conversation, especially if they don't understand the words and the implications of those words. Goal clarity is a must also.
When we think of risk, we think of things going awry.  Risk is a term that scares the beegeebees out of us. We are conditioned to believe risk is a bad thing.  But risk is neither good, nor bad. Risk is just risk. Risk is inherent in absolutely everythiing we do, every step we take, every breath we make, every action we undertake, every reaction.  Risk is part of life. It is essentially the unknown, or what is unknowable. Risk is real. 

In the planning world where i spend the the majority of my mind, risk is there too. It is in the decison making, the process, the people, and the environment.  

I recently attended a meeting of local strategic planners where the topic of risk was under discussion.  The question was, should it be integrated into the planning process, and how.

The answer is yes. Strategic and operational planning are essentially change processes that explore where to go, how to get there, and what resources are needed. Since risk is real, there are real risks that need to be considered.

I like to think of risk as upside and downside.

  • Investing in the market, for example, can create positive returns (upside) or not (downside.)
  • Getting in your car and driving can result in getting to your destination (upside) or not (downside). 
  • Going on a vacation can result in fun and relaxation (upside) or it can result in illness, bad weather, etc. (downside)
You get the idea.  So risk identification needs to be proven. I would suggest that this work be completed by the risk owners and managers who have the most knowledge. 

However, the not so easy part is proving and quantifying risk.

Getting back to what is risk, it is an event that can be described in tangible terms. The event must be described and fully  is must be tangible and supported by facts.  When there are no facts or evidence to support the  is essential The discussion of risk identification and action planning should be integrated into the planning process, since the purpose of planning is to determine what level of risk the organization willt ake t It should be integrated into strategic planning. The "how" question requires a little more explanation.  But I will explain what I believe works the best based on my experiences with organizations. 

1. Practice Foresight.  

Risk is essentially the unknown. So try to become visionary. Look for what could happen in the external envirionment and the internal environment and ask yourself, how could this effect us. Play the "what if" game. What if interest rates soared to 19%.  What would happen. How would we react? 

2. Get the facts. 

Now get the facts on these possiblities.  What are the indicators that something is coming down the pipe.  

3. Bring the facts together with foresight. 

Share the facts with the fore-seers and visionaries, then go deep on the discussion.  Think about the upside and the down side.  Think about the possiblities. What would happen if . . . 
For probability, set a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being unlikely and 10 being likely.  

4. Give it a number.  

Risk Severity = Probability of Occurrance X Impact of Occurance.

5. Heat Map it.  

Look at how many trends are in the "red" - or the  not zone.  

  • We believe 

What is the probability it could happen? What is the impact if it did?  Now do the math. Establish a scale of 1 to 10 (for example) from unlikely to likely. interest rate spike is 

Executive leadership, and especia

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Entrepreneur and Relative Risk

The spring issue of SKY Magazine features an interview with Nadia Williamson, Chair of the Regina District Chamber of Commerce and Yaya Wang, President of Saskatchewan Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs.  They make the point that entrepreneurship is not easy - that it needs to be approached from a business planning perspective, with considering given to the financial risks that are inherent in business.

It’s true that business comes with risk, and at the beginning the risks are just as big as when a business is established because risk is relative to what’s at stake.

Starting a business requires capital.  The Regina District Chamber of Commerce has a loan program for new businesses but it has to be used for tangible items, they told me. So if a person is opening a product based business for a new store, for example, the money can be used to buy the things associated with a store.

But what if your business is not a tangible items kind of business. What if you are in the service industry?  In the service industry, the overhead and start up costs are in marketing, training ad ongoing development, employee benefits (even if you are the only employee), administrative support and accounting services.

Nadia and Yaya make the point that often times money is at stake in a business - your banker’s money, your investor’s money and quite likely your family’s money.  While an entrepreneur is building a business, chances are any money earned is used to finance the business and pay for overhead such as lease / office space, telephone, marketing, salaries, benefits, legal bills, gas, car expenses, etc. There is the lost opportunity capital that has to be considered - by that I mean while the entrepreneur is building a business, and quite likely not supporting himself or herself - how much money could he or she have made in that time as an employee?

The question of age entered the discussion, and the conclusion was that age is not a factor in entrepreneurship, but the risks are different.

A few issues back, Barbara March-Burwell, Certified Financial Planner for RBC Dominion Security spoke of the changing work environment, and the fact that some people are not retiring, instead they are starting businesses, which delays retirement and infact might put their long term financial stability at risk.

In this issue, Yaya says that younger people today are more likely to want to pursue their own business rather than work for someone else - but the question is whose money is at risk, especially if that young entrepreneur has no financial track record yet? That’s when it comes back to family, and even affecting his or her parents’ retirement.

Entrepreneur’s give up their financial security to open these businesses.  Many entrepreneurs have multiple jobs and interests in order to maintain cash flow.  The short and long term issue of financial security is a big one.  In this issue of SKY,  Barbara March-Burwell has some interesting things to say about this in her column, and she offers a guide of for entrepreneurs, which I would recommend.

Today I had a discussion with a business owner who said that our city is not very entrepreneurial, citing too many restrictions on the part of the city’s administration.  He said, if you want the city to grow, it’s not - we don’t want that kind of business in that kind of neighbourhood or area of the city - we want your business, how can we help.

I hope you enjoy the spring issue of SKY Magazine - and if you know an entrepreneur, I hope you will support their business. If you are a decision or policy maker, I hope you will support all of our businesses.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A One Woman Publishing Show: The Entrepreneur’s Experience

Lynn Armstrong is an entrepreneur running a niche magazine about entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs.  She produces SKY Magazine under her company SKY Publishers Ltd. 

A professional writer with 20 years of experience in the corporate realm as a corporate planner and strategist, Lynn ventured into the entrepreneurial world first with the creation of Lynear Thinking Strategy and Communications Ltd., a practice that helps private sector companies, cooperatives and non-profits with planning, strategy and communications.

"In 2012, I was looking for a way to tell the stories of entrepreneurs in a way that would help them achieve their business goals.  I was researching various magazine models and SKY happen to literally fall from the sky. One of my clients called me one day and said he had seen SKY Magazine for sale on Kijiji. I called the number and the rest is history. I bought SKY Magazine in October 2012 and put out my first issue December 2012.”

"I am a one woman show.  I am the publisher, editor, writer, advertising executive, book keeper, distribution manager, digital editor and online manager."

"Each quarter, I produce the magazine with the help of two other entrepreneurs, Greg Huszar, photographer, and Amber Moon, designer.  I am very proud of what we have accomplished.  My competitors, by comparison, have multiple sales staff, writers, at least one editor and a quite likely financial backers.  Did I mention I am my own financial backer? The revenue from each issue is used to pay for the production, printing and distribution of the magazine."

"Being an entrepreneur is really about running a right sized business and knowing what you are willing to put at risk.  An entrepreneur needs to know how to use his or her resources in the best way possible. When I bring business owners into SKY, I am working with them to ensure their budget is best utilized on the page."