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.