Shopkeeping

We are by no means experts on shopkeeping.  Both Steve and I spent the first years of our work life in Retail management, caring for the overall operations of retail establishments.  There were a lot of lessons learned in those early days, but the first thing we learned is that consistency matters much.

As someone who shops I want to know that the store i go to will be opened consistently the same hours as posted.  Sounds odd, but in recent days i have encountered a few shops that decided to close early, or open later than posted.  To be efficient with my time and my resources I plan my errands carefully, setting up a plan of where i will go and a list of what i want to purchase or accomplish at each stop.  It makes great sense, keeping the shop hours in mind.  Consistency in those shops helps me greatly.

Now, as a vendor with merchandise in several shops I must tell you that I look at shop hour consistency as critical to the success of that business, and of my products reaching the audience drawn to those shops.

Why am i writing about this?  I am noticing upon occassion that some shopkeepers don’t realize the value of sticking to their hours.  Several weeks ago we fielded a phone call from a woman that runs a small shop in Lorain County… a tea room and art/craft gallery.  She gave us a specific order for soap.  We filled the order, and in the midst of a major snow storm we drove out to her shop… It was 1:30 on a saturday afternoon, her hours were posted as 10a-4p… but the lights were off, and the “closed” sign was up.  We had driven 35 miles to make this delivery, and when we spoke with her there was no mention of her closing early.  We obviously turned around and went home, but that was 70 miles of gas and our time for nothing.

When we caught up to her a few days later she told us “Oh, it was snowing, and slow, so I decided I would just close up early and go home.”

Saturday I called her to check back and was not surprised when she said “Oh, I am closing the shop.  It really has not done so well and I can’t afford to keep it going.”    Were we surprised?  No!  I wanted her to succeed but knew almost intuitively that when consistency falters so goes the business.  How many other people stumbled across that shop, only to see a “closed” sign in the door? And how many people never came back again because of that?  In this challenging economic time businesses are succeeding, but it takes work, it takes a willingness to forgo impulses to break plans like hours of operations, and it takes a willingness to market well.

It is a cautionary tale for all of us who make our living through a retail outlet.  As a vendor am i screening the shop as carefully as they are screening me?  Do i know their reputation?  Their habits?  Their style of doing business?

I have thought out what I am looking for in a shopkeeper and this is the short list i came up with.  You may have other thoughts too:

  • Consistent shop hours
  • Clearity in the contract with vendors to define what the relationship will include, what the shopkeeper will do, or will not do.
  • Solid knowledge of the clientele, and what will sell.  – This is always an amazing sign of someone who knows how to succeed, understands the audience they attract, and knows how to market to them.
  • Great merchandising – Always making the shop look fresh, re-positioning products to get better exposure.
  • Honesty – willingness to be brutally honest with the vendor.  This may be regarding the product, or the arrangement with receiving merchandise
  • Honesty with my products – selling for the price I set.
  • Great Communications between us
  • Payment in a routine, monthly, consistent manner.

What should you do before you sign an agreement with a shop?

  • Visit the store as a customer.   On that visit pay attention to what other artists are there, and how the merchandise is displayed.  Also consider how you are treated.  Do they suggestively sell merchandise?
  • Call other artists and ask how the shop is working out for their merchandise.  Artists are willing to share the truth about various shops.  Ask questions about payment for sales and how often the shopkeeper is in touch with you.

Always read the agreement carefully, and ask all questions before signing.  Know what you are agreeing to.  Be informed, wise.


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