Aug 28, 2006

Shop Talk Volume 1

Welcome to my first of many to come, postings on what it is like to own a little store. For you boutique-owners-wannabe's, these series of posts over the next several weeks, are being written for you. I will cover basic business, bacis "how to's" and very basic shop owners hints. I just need to put in a disclaimer: I am not a "professional." I learn by doing, which includes, yes, mistakes. I try my best to learn from others, books, researching, and so on. But basically, the things I will write about just simply come first-hand experience - rewards and mistakes both.

This first volume is not meant to be discouraging - but rather to help those of you who are, right at this very moment, trying to open or start your business. It is meant to let you know that you are not alone in your fears, doubts, lonliness, stress, and just simply "what in the hell am I doing?" moods.

Recently, I witnessed two instances that directly relates to this topic. I have two good friends that are trying to start their businesses. Although their businesses are very different, they both had the same doubts and fears. My good friend #1 called me on the phone, near to tears, and told me, "this it just too hard." He is very close to opening up his store. He vented to me how tired he was, how broke, how the permits were taking too long, how he doesn't have enough space for his stock inventory, how the inventory isn't enough, right, or what he imagined. He vented that he is behind on so many things and can't seem to catch up and that his "to do" list keeps growing with no end in sight. He vented that this is taking so long to do and then he yelled at me: "Why didn't you tell me how hard this is????!!!! Why didn't you tell me about the long hours???!!!! You make it look so easy....how do you DO IT???!!"

Then not too long after that conversation, friend #2 is also very close to starting her business. She was very, very stressed, discombobulated, overwhelmed, behind on orders, can't seem to get ahead, works morning, noon, and night and still not close to getting done what she needs to get done, and still isn't sure how wholesale buying works, the permits, the taxes, the sales tax, and because she is going to ship items, she has to figure out shipping costs, how much time it takes to get something ready to ship, advertising, PR, website issues, little start-up capital, and how to make a dollar stretch until is screams like the jeans worn by Anna Nichole Smith's, pre-diet days. She cried on my shoulder that she is so tired. So very tired. And she did laugh a little at herself, knowing full well that she didn't say a single thing that she hasn't heard me say many, many times before.

Now I want to be clear about something: Both good friends #1, and #2 are smart, capable, and did their research. They didn't just "jump into it" and they both have vast experience in the industry of their choice. But, they just simply have not ran their own businesses before. And even though they are in two different industires, they both have the same concerns and fears.

But they also have something in common: they have passion for what they do and they believe in what they are doing.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more important than having passion and believing in what you are doing. All the capital in the world, all the advertising you can possibly get, all the great employees you could ever hire, all the great contacts you make to help you through those permits....all of that...will amount to nothing in the end if you don't truly, truly have a passion for you are doing and if you don't truly believe in it.

Why so important? More important than money?

Yes. Because think about it. How many shops have you been in that were just filled with crud? No flare, no taste, no originality? But it was filled with inventory. Inventory you could find just around the corner, and also down the block, and even across the street. Would you go back and shop there? No, because you can get their stuff anywhere, and probably cheaper too. That is a shop owner who has the capital, not the passion. And it shows. It shows badly.

Now, how many of you walked into a little shop that just took your breath away? That you wanted to stay longer, but had an appointment, but told yourself on the way out, "I am coming back here my friends, when I can take my time"? How many times have you entered a little shop that inspired you, that excited you? And if you really, really looked around, you would see that the little shop really didn't have a whole lot of inventory, but it did have some really cool things. And the little shop didn't have exactly what you needed, but darn it, you were determined to find something to buy, even it is only a little candle. Why? Because you wanted a little piece of that experience, of that feeling you first had the moment you entered that store, to go home with you. Now that is a store built with passion! And I can guarantee you without an ounce of doubt, that the little shop owner wants so badly to have more inventory, to "really do it right" and do it they way she really wants to, but she has little capital. My bet would be that she will be in business longer than the first store.

Now don't misunderstand me, capital is important, but it will do you no good if you just don't have the passion. I get lots of ladies in my store that want to know how I "do it" and that they always wanted a little shop of their own. I always try to encourage and inspire others - but with just a tad of reality sprinkled in.

What I ask those ladies who tell me they want to open a shop is this: "Would you do what you want to do for free?"


Think about that. Really think about that question. Now, there is no shame in answering "no" to that answer. If you are ever going to be honest with yourself, this is the time. You can still have a passion in addition to your life. Your passion doesn't have to be your life, it can simply be a part of your life. But if you truly know you would do it for free, then you found your calling. Many, many years ago as a teenager and young adult, my friend's parents owned a bookstore that also sold little gift items. My friend would work the store for her parents, and many times I would meet her there near closing time so we could go out and have fun. However, I found myself going there earlier and earlier because I just loved to arrange, display and move around the merchandise. Luckily, her parents didn't mind when they came in the next morning and saw that "Elizabeth was here again." But, I did it for free, because I loved to do it. And way back then, I had no idea that I would ever own a shop.

Now, back to my friend #1 and #2. They both wanted to know how in the world do I do it? The honest answer is simple: Many times I just don't. I don't make the deadline. I don't remember to return that call. I don't have time to get to that fabric store. I don't have enough money to order the really neat line of soaps that I 've always wanted to carry. I don't get to make changes to the web as often as I would like. I don't get to advertise in color in the local magazines. I don't get to do a lot of the things a lot of the time.

But....

I do what I do with passion. I do what I manage to do with true love. I would also do what I do for free (and sometimes, depending on the sales that month, I do). I just do. And I do it with my soul.

There is not a day that goes by that I don't experience at least one of the fears that my friends #1 and #2 are experiencing right now. You just learn to live with it, learn from it, and move on. In fact, I have been told by several people that I am "fearless." So, so, so untrue. To be fearless means to have no fear. I do have fear. I would like to think I am couragous. To have courage means to continue inspite of your fear.

And I wish you all the courage to either live your passion or live with a passion. And the courage to know the difference.


from my house to your house,

Elizabeth
www.elizabethhouse.us

5 comments:

Becky said...

so thoughtful of you to give out such great info! I will be checking back for more. I am a wannabe-boutique-owner. Actually going to check into our local Antique Mall.

Vintage Collage & Quilts said...

Wonderful comment! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to share. I can tell by looking at the items in your shop that it is the kind of place that I'd want a little piece of if I visited. You have excellent taste.

www.flaviasoapsandmore.typepad.com said...

I am speechless!!!!!
I own a store here in NJ and many times I feel the same way, I feel like I have no inventory, the reason is money and because I don't like to fill the store with "crud", so half of the time I end up making my stuff. But as I was reading your post I realized that another problem I have is that people are afraid to come in to my store because they feel I only sell expensive things. The moment they dare to come in, they realize that they can afford many things, Few people have told me they felt intimidated so they were afraid to come in. But I felt good reading your post because I do have a passion for what I do, I think about it 24/7 and I am trully Happy and blessed. You can visit my website (which is not finish yet, because of lack of time) www.flaviasoapsandmore.com
PS Elizabeth you are a wonderful person full of amazing wisdom.

Elizabeth said...

Hello NJ Store Owner,

I totally understand your issue with customers thinking you are a pricey store. I had that problem in the beginning as well. Several things changed that a little. Something as simple as flowers in pots, outside your door with a little whimsical sign stuck in it will do wonders. I have a dog, Monty, who is the store dog, and likes to sit by the door, which the customers love. And believe it or not, something as simple as sweeping the front outside area, several times a day, can look inviting as the "shop owner" works. It is easy to talk to someone with a broom. Are there a lot of dog walkers in your area? A bowl with fresh water, outside your door, for your "four-legged" friends is also inviting. Your site is great and thank you for the nice comments.

Best wishes,
Elizabeth

Paula said...

I have all my plans written out on paper for my own little shop, now it's a matter of doing my research and making it happen. I ran across your blog at the perfect time. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and time.

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