Feb 7, 2007

Shop Talk Volume 7: What is your "thing"?


Welcome to my series of Shop Talk - a series of postings for those of you who wish to open a boutique some day, or perhaps are newly opened. While I don't profess to be a "professional" on the business of running a shop, but I am more than happy to pass along lessons learned and my observations.

One thing I learned is that every unique boutique has a "thing." What is a "thing"? Well, we all have a personal thing....some we are aware of and some are just placed upon us without our permission.

A few examples: Have you ever been asked to an event (a Star Trek convention, a monster car show, hunting wild boar) and you politely refuse saying, "sorry, but that is just not my thing"? We all have a thing. Eating raw oysters is just not my "thing." But everyone who knows me well knows that staying up late into the wee hours (usually working) is my "thing." But sometimes, we are given a "thing" by others. A few weeks ago I told a friend that I was thinking about growing out my hair. She exclaimed: "You can't! Short, blonde hair is your thing." I didn't know my short hair was my thing. But apparently she, along with some others, have decided it so. And so, my hair remains short (for now) because it is now my "thing."

So what about your store? Do you have a thing? While we store owners usually have a theme, or a concept, or "look," do we have a "thing"? Sometimes our thing is designed, but most of the time it is defined by our customers. I remember my store's first "thing." Several years ago, a customer walked in and told me she went to a flea-market and she excitedly described a piece of furniture that she just knew I would love - because, you know, it was my "thing."

Now my store has a tight color palette. That is on purpose. It has only distressed furniture. That is also on purpose. It has a European feel. Again, on purpose. But, over time, using old books and old paper in odd ways became my "thing." And mixing several fabrics in my bedding and furniture designs became my "thing." I didn't do those things on purpose, but my customers decided for me that old paper and mixed fabrics were my "thing."

And that is a good thing! Why?

Because that means your customer is paying attention. Your customer notices your habits, talents, your attention to detail (or not). And if your customer pays that much attention, then you must be doing something right. So listen to your customers and you will get a wealth of insight. So all the more reason to really think about what your store is really about. Of course, selling your goods is why you are open in the first place. But what else is your store about? What message do you want to send out into your community? What do you want your customer to feel, think, or say about your store when he/she leaves it? If your customer could use only one sentence to describe your store to her friend who has never been in it, how would she describe it?

How would you like your customers to describe your store is even more important.

So to all you store owner wannabe's....take some time and really think about your store and its message. Think about some of the stores you have visited and how you felt when you left that store. Think of the ones in which you were so excited about you had to call up a friend and tell her about it! What did you say? What did you feel? Why? Most likely, the store had a "thing" but you, being a new customer, haven't discovered it yet, but you definitely felt it.

Now that is something to think about!


from my house to your house,

Elizabeth
www.elizabethhouse.us


12 comments:

Cindy said...

Hi Elizabeth, I just discovered your blog. My 16 year old is just starting to figure out what her "thing" is. She definitely loves your bedroom. We've just torn off the wall paper and were wondering what colors you used on your walls. Did you use the sponge technique? Any info. would be useful. My "thing?" I have one room shabby chic (dining room) and one room 1940's feel. I think I may have an identity crisis "thingy" going on. Loved the blog!!!

nelda said...

You are SO right. I had a small shop in a past life that developed a delightful "thing". I would accidently discover couples sharing a romantic kiss in my shop! My goal was to make the shop like stepping into a picture of Victoria magazine. I guess it worked better than I'd anticipated.

Anonymous said...

Great advice, nopt only for owning a store but for life!
Terrific writing and presentation. You are so helpful Elizabeth.

Kelly said...

Thank you for taking the time to share your expiriences with your readers. I am goint to be attemptng to get a smal business started. Online at first, as I am in between 3 states right now, really. Love your blog!!
Til next time...
Kelly

Chris Brown said...

E~
I also think one of your THINGS is your hair. Sets you apart. And you know what my "thing" is...

Chris

Gypsy Purple said...

Great to hear from you again!!

Loved this post..was a great inspiration on a day that I needed it!!

Want to feature your boutique ...please visit and see if you would agree..www.gypsypurple.blogspot.com

Chamara

lilcottageshoppe said...

Elizabeth, what a wonderful post! Yes, we all need our thing! Your shop is just to die for! Do you still have your shop in Chicago? Oh, I hope so, I would so love to shop there!

cityfarmer said...

I did have a store for eight years and have worked in other people's stores before that...now I sell my things to sotre...I could write a book...so pour up the wine in that beautiful goblet and let's chat....
Did someone say Chicago????? If there is a store there then perhaps we could meet?

Scotchic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scotchic said...

Finally a 'design' blog that I find REALLY interesting to read. Not just pretty pictures - real information - what a relief.
We used to have a cafe. People would come in regularly and say "I dont know what it is about this place - but it just oozes authentic-French-cafe." That was our THING and we refused to be persuaded in any other direction. Stay true to your concept/vision. Its all about consistency. Brilliant stuff Elizabeth - cant wait to read more.

Mary said...

Elizabeth,
Thank you for taking the time to write this blog. I am so glad I discovered it. I have been trying to get the nerve to open a small business. Your blog is helping me a great deal. I am currently in an antique mall, and am praying about whether or not I should go it alone. Right now I will keep reading,researching, and praying... with hopes of an answer soon. You are amazing.

Ashtyn said...

Well written article.

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