Friday, January 23, 2009

To Market, To Market....The Winter Gift Show Report

January is the month of the winter Home Furnishing and Gift shows all across the country, and the Los Angeles show just ended this past Monday. According to the reports, attendance was down a bit due to the economic climate, but those who were there (and there were plenty of us) were buying, albeit a bit more cautiously. And that's fine, said many showroom reps. They'd rather the buyers buy less and reorder when needed. Michelle and I found a few new things to bring you this season and we're very excited about them.

When the economy slows, producers of new products go into what I call "safe mode". Nothing really innovative, just repetition of proven winners, maybe revamped a bit for a new look, so we had to look hard to find things that wowed us. But find them we did, all across the board from kids stuff to more sophisticated adult items. Here's a highlight of what we found that made our hearts flutter and what you can expect to see in store soon:

  • Really cool lenticular design rulers, bookmarks and small journals - looks like the (cute) animals on face of the items are running, walking or trotting toward you. We predict this will be a hit with our school-age customers!
  • Fabulously cute and soft stuffed monkeys that have little magnets in their hands and feet....they're adorable and are such a great price, you'll want to get two (just so they can "hold hands")! Also arriving are cuddly soft little animals that can be carried in backpacks made of the same soft materials. Very affordable, and the kids will love them!
  • New inspirational pocket note pads from Punch Studio for Valentines Day. Also from Punch, gorgeous nesting book boxes that will add high impact design and function to your home office (or anywhere else). Beautiful file folders with coordinating notes will be arriving, too, along with their prettily designed boxed candles.....perfect for gift giving!
  • Very high end looking (but not too costly) recycled glass terrariums from Roost. They're big....and sure to make a statement.
  • A refresher for the Pacifica solid addition of a couple new scents plus candles to go with. All natural, all good....look for these to arrive soon. Waikiki Pikkaki is one of the sublime new scents you'll be excited to try!
  • New books for the kids are on the way, with some great new titles that should keep them enthralled throughout winter, with an emphasis on Black History Month selections. Little Golden Books will entertain the younger crowd with their favorite characters - these will arrive in a month or so.
  • For Valentines Day we've ordered the most luscious massage candles! Made by a local artisan in Venice, CA, they're made predominately of shea butter with just enough soy wax in them to allow them to burn. WOW, these are so fabulous....light the wick, let the solids liquify and pour on your lucky massagee. It doesn't get too hot so there's no danger of burns....this is all natural, pure hedonism at its best and it smells sublime. What a great gift for your significant other....make Valentines an evening to remember!
  • New designs in paper ware are on their way....cocktail napkins, dinner napkins and paper plates for your next party or function. Wonderful new recipe journals and take out menu organizers....we all need things like this for our kitchens....just wait 'till you see them!
  • More funny, funny office stuff from Knock Knock will be arriving soon. What a fabulous line - it had you in stitches at Christmas, just wait 'till you see what they've got on tap for Spring!
  • We're excited as heck about the new greeting cards (sold individually at a reasonable price!) from Crane & Company....just gorgeous!

This is just a sampling of what's coming sure to stop in soon to see the new arrivals!

I wanted to let you know, also, what other things we'll be doing in the coming months. We've got decorating on the schedule for Spring....I'd love to do a little seminar on how to freshen up your home without spending an arm and leg. Speaking of decorating, I'm proud to announce that WFS won 3rd place in the Gift and Home Channel's nation-wide Holiday decor contest! This makes two wins this past year....perhaps this year we'll take first place. Stay tuned and look for my next post about some exciting new plans we've got in store for our customers (that's you, right?).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Year, New Opportunities....g'bye 2008!

Here's to 2009! Happy New Year to all and we at WFS hope you had a great time ushering it in!

2008 was a challenging year for most of us, wasn't it? I'm not sorry to see it go but at least I can say it went fast and I'm grateful for the learning experiences. 2008 wasn't the ideal time to have just taken over an independent retail store, especially one that primarily sells office supplies....make that lots of office supplies. Since Scott has been involved in some capacity with the Stationery department of Webster's Pharmacy for years, I've been watching it develop (or not, as the case may be) for as long as I've known him. I always asked myself why they bought so heavily and carried so many items, a lot of which didn't move much. There were tons of geegaws for your desk. Many of these are still on the shelves. In conjunction with our supplier, Webster's put out a full line office product catalog and sent it all over Pasadena and surrounding areas but never made any effort to follow up on any leads generated by those catalogs (if there were any). We have exactly two commercial accounts that we inherited from the main store, both of which we're extremely grateful for. However, we've learned something about office supplies in the past year or so and it's not good. We're fighting against the mentality that Staples, Office Max and the like are less expensive than we are. We're faced with dwindling sales due to the stores being split up....a lot of traffic flowed through those entryways to get to the post office, the pharmacy or Hallmark and the pass-through traffic boosted that traffic is gone and the sales have suffered. Add to that, no cosmetic work had done on the Stationery department since 1959 and it wasn't memorable in any way, other than being the home of the Post Office and customer service. To this date, at least 10 people a day come in and ask where the Post Office is or where Hallmark is....or they just ask, "What happened?".

So we bought a store that wasn't memorable, had tons of stuff that really wasn't moving very well now that the walls were up.....what to do? We came in with clear ideas about how we wanted the store to look and knew we had to streamline the office products down to a manageable level. What to add to the mix to differentiate us when there's a Hallmark store right next door? Enter the addition of some home decor items and my decorating ability....and enter the media's blasting the bad news of recession. Add that to the swan song of our office products supplier. Yes, we lost our vendor with whom Webster's had dealt with for well over 25 years. They couldn't make it through the recession and sold out to another larger, commercial vendor - S.P. Richards. SP said they'd carry everything that our other vendor did but that's not happening. We're now having to "go fishing" between 3 different suppliers and poor Michelle spends most of her time doing just this. What we're going to have to do is whittle down the office supplies yet again so we carry a good selection of what actually sells. I realize that visually, entire isles of pens and pencils, file folders and expandable files, ink cartridges and copy papers, dividers and binders and hundreds of different note pads are very cool to look at, but it's just not realistic anymore. You can go to Staples and see the same thing at a lower cost. It's true and I know it....we don't have the big box's buying power.

There's the conundrum, my friends. We hope to solve this by becoming a lifestyle that can outfit your home or your home office, help you with entertaining, making invitations or having them custom made by us. A store nearby your home that stocks quality children's toys, educational material, books and games. A neighborhood store that you can turn to when your child has a project due at school and you need supplies. A retail outfit that has people who know what they're talking about and who really do care about you. Does Staples offer to put your ink refill into your pen after you purchase the refill? Will Staples or Office Max help you try to fix your broken pen? Does Kinkos offer a volume discount for faxing more than 5 pages? Will The UPS Store or FedEx/Kinkos offer fresh coffee and snacks to their customers? I think not and they probably never will. Their volume insures that they be impersonal.....their bottom line is their focus, not you. And their aesthetic is certainly not as nice as ours is. In addition, none of the above stores will let you buy one single envelope or pen anymore because everything is packaged in multiples. This is a great way to increase your sales, I agree. But sometimes you don't need but one new pen....or an envelope to mail something in....and we know that. Even if it doesn't help increase our bottom line, we'll continue to offer single items for sale because you asked for them.

That brings us to something else we've learned this past year....listen to your customers. Throughout the year, we've taken quite a few of you to lunch to find out what you think about the store. Like I mentioned above, many of you wondered about the changes at Webster's and this gave us the opportunity to explain things. A few were afraid we'd do away with the office supplies altogether and we were able to reassure that we're not. All of you seemed to be solidly behind us and the direction we're headed....thank you for that. We listen to the customers in the store, too and most, after hearing the reason for the changes are supportive. A lot of people seem excited to know there'll be a familiar place to shop for quality stationery (we now carry Crane & Co.!), gifts and toys, in addition to home office supplies. Of course, we can't please everyone, and there have been some who just don't like change. I mentioned this way back in my first posts and unfortunately we're still dealing with the few who don't get what we're doing. We've dealt with people who come in and state very loudly how much they hate it. We deal with people who argue about prices and tell me that (insert name of big box or chain store) is cheaper. It's a part of the job, and we try to be very courteous in reply to these remarks, but sometimes it gets out of hand. The remarks made are so rude that we have to ask these people not to come back in. Scott and I have spent so much time at the store and have put so much of our heart and soul into it that it feels like our home. I'm sorry, but I don't come into your home and tell you how awful it is and how much I hate it - please don't come into our store and tell us that.

Now for what's on tap for the coming months. The LA gift shows are coming up, starting tomorrow, so we'll go and see what's new. They tell us that because of the economic downturn there won't be many new designs out there, but we'll be on the hunt for something exciting so do check in with us in the coming weeks to see what has arrived! We're striving to add recycled paper to our Paper By The Pound selection and will most likely bring some in this season. We're also looking for more unusual papers, like handmade papers with botanicals and decorative designs, that will be lovely additions for your choice in card and invitation making. New books and toys will be ordered, too, as well as some new Altadena-centric signs. All in all, it's shaping up to be a great year....stay in touch with us through this blog, on Facebook, MySpace, check our ads on and listen for news of further plans to benefit The Quality of Life Center!

We wish you the best of everything in the new year!