Sunday, April 17, 2011

Survivial In The "Post-WalMart" Era?

The retail pundits have coined a new phrase.  We are now living in what they're referring to as the "post-WalMart era".  Why are they calling it that, you might wonder, as  I did. After conducting a bit of research about the subject, I discovered that WalMart just reported its seventh straight quarter of declining sales in their U.S. stores.  Same store sales for 2010 were down .8%.  Although .8% isn't a terrible number, it's the cumulative effects of seven consecutive reported losses that gives us clear signal that's all is not well with the retail giant.

Their decline has cleared the field for many other retailers, such as TJ Maxx, Target, Kohl's and Dollar Tree.  If you notice, all those names don't include any independent retailers, only corporate-owned big box stores.    How will the "decline" of WalMart affect us independents in the immediate and near future?  In my humble (or not) opinion, it won't have much of an effect on us at all.  Each one of the stores mentioned specializes in discounted merchandise.  Independent retailers don't.  As I just explained to a customer not 3 minutes ago, when she questioned our $8.99 per ream price for printer paper, we don't get the same buying price as Staples does.  We don't get corporate kickbacks or any cooperative benefits for buying products or advertising.  We don't have the benefit of large tax loopholes we can rely on to defray our costs.  What we do have going for us is the very real and tangible benefits to your community's fiscal health.  We do have the ability to help answer your questions when you have one and we have the ability to make the decision to help our local non-profits, should we be asked to.  No one at any of those corporate stores mentioned above has that ability at store level.  But does that make us a more popular destination than they are?  I'm afraid not.

The huge amount of money behind their advertisements practically guarantees them a large market share.  Independents generally don't have any way to match that budget, and most can't get anywhere near it.  The best that some of us can do in the way of marketing is on the Internet, via vehicles such as Facebook, where very often the only cost is the time & effort put into it.  If you work it right, have engaging content and make it a destination by offering something your followers deem valuable, you can gather people that may hear what you have to say.  Then, there's always the chance that they won't hear you and there's always the fact that a good percentage of  people don't use the internet.

That's what we're faced with here in Altadena.  There are many people who either don't have access to a computer or just plain refuse to have anything to do with them.  That's when word-of-mouth advertising comes in.  We try to rely on positive word-of-mouth to fill the gaps in what our internet-based marketing does, but what do you do when that can't be trusted?  Isn't that a scary situation? 

Yesterday, I had a phone call from an elderly customer, asking if we were closing.  "No", I replied, "we don't close until 6:30 p.m., ma'am". "No, no, I mean are you know, going out of business?"  Oh.  That question again.  I hadn't heard it for over a year now, so it really threw me.  "I'm sorry, ma'am, but where did you hear that?" I asked.  "Oh, just around", she replies.  "We're not going out of business, ma'am, and I'd really like to know where you heard that bit of information".  "Just through the grapevine", was the elusive answer.  Sigh.  The grapevine has been quiet, like I said, for over a year now.....I thought.  Apparently I was wrong.

People don't really think when they repeat information they're not absolutely sure of.  I know I've done it in the past, but now I stop and think who I could be hurting by passing along erroneous information.  If we all just stopped a minute and thought about it, I'm sure the majority of us would stop as well.  Or better yet, if the information you're not sure about is about a place, or person, go see them.  Go there and see if it's true before passing it along and spreading rumors that might actually harm them.  People might not feel as strongly about my businesses as I do, but we all need to realize, especially in these tough economic times, that there are employees here who depend on their salaries.  Bad word-of-mouth and rumors only discourages patronage, and if we don't have enough customers buying things from us, we can't pay them.  We're not privately funded.  So please, faceless woman on the phone, or anyone else reading this, don't feed the rumor mill.  We're open, we're in business.....come in and see us!

Have a wonderful week ahead, my friends.....Passover and Easter blessings to you, and we'll be taking Easter Sunday off.  We'll talk again the week following!

Lori & Scott

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Letting Go

Back in October of 2007, when Scott and I bought the former Stationery department of Webster's Pharmacy as a stand alone store, we were excited at the prospect of shaping the store to our vision.  We wanted to make a difference in our community and beyond by becoming a true community shop - a place where people know you by name, where you could feel comfortable.  But more than that, we wanted to highlight the diversity and the creativity of the Altadena community.  To do that, we began carrying books written by area authors.  We've now got so many that I've had to cut back on my buying until we find a better way to display them.

Our friends at the Altadena Library on Mariposa St. knows all about local authors, too.  They have some of the best readings by our local writers and one of those readings was yesterday.  Called Poetry & Cookies, the event had a line up of many local poets, each given approximately 2 minutes to recite a poem or part of one.  Our friend Barbara Ackermann brought me the book complied by the Library of the poems by the writers who participated.  She had been there, reciting some of the haiku she's written.  I've been having an online conversation with another author, Dr. Thelma T. Reyna, about the event and my desire to get back into writing poetry.  I've long known that writing can be cathartic, but have been so busy that the urge to write is pretty much fulfilled by this blog and Facebook.  However, with reading the book of complied poetry from the Library event, I was inspired to devote some time to writing.

Know that I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer, as witnessed by this blog.  I have no time to spend in prolonged planning of what to write each week  Somehow, an issue or inspiration usually appears and I use it and knock out my ramblings pretty quickly.  Same with poetry, which I've been writing since...well, forever.  I remember in 5th grade, I wrote a poem for Halloween and was never more chagrined when my teacher, Mrs. Maurer, made me get up in front of the class and read it.  I thought I was going to die then and there, but I survived and so did the poem.  In fact, I used most of it in the store's October 2009 Halloween event invitation, here, but in truth, I haven't written much of anything very creative in a long while. Why?  Because the past three and a half years have not been good to us.  As much as we've wanted to change the store to follow our vision, we've met very strong headwinds, most astonishingly from family members. With so much rage and pain simmering in me, how could I write anything worth merit?  I'll let you decide for yourself.....

                                                         LETTING GO

Hello, old friend, she says,
Addressing pen to paper,
it’s been too long, she thinks,
Trepidatiously touching tip to surface.

Let it go to move forward
they say, without knowledge of
how closely held the hurt,
oblivious of the pain endured.

She’s afraid to proceed
scared to open the dam
of feelings, afraid of the purge
afraid to lose her battle honed armor.

How to let go, she wonders,
to jettison the betrayals
and move past false promises
into the realm of possibility?

Thoughts swirl like ribbons
Around a bowl of water, swirling
down into courage –  the courage she
forgot she had - hello, old friend.

----Lori Webster

Have a great week ahead, my friends!

Lori & Scott

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring-ing Forward

This past week was chock-full of things happening (as usual around here).  Boxes of new products to check in and put out; people to see and places to go!  It's amazing I remember my name when Scott and I finally get home at night.  But when we do get home, after I've made dinner and I'm reflecting on the day, I always count my blessings.  My blessings include our wonderful customers and readers of this blog (that's you), and they also include heartfelt hopes that all of you are faring well.

We've got a full week ahead of us, as well.  Fancy Food Truck Fridays will be at the end of the week on April 8th and it usually takes all week to get this event together.  Of course, the Spring holidays are approaching, and we'll be celebrating them a little later in the month.  We'll have our yearly Spring Coloring Contest starting on April 11th, so drop by the store to pick up coloring pages for the kids to color.  Return the completed drawings to the store and we'll display them for all to admire, then we'll pick 3 winners.  Winners will be announced at our annual Spring Celebration Event, and they will each be rewarded with a fabulous prize Easter basket.  The Easter Bunny will make an appearance, along with plenty of goodies to munch's a party you won't want to miss!

We've been talking a lot about how an independent small business, such as our retail store, can contribute to the fiscal health of their communities.  There are many ways this can be accomplished, but one very popular way is through donations to our local non-profits and schools. We can also help by not just donating directly (which we do) but by facilitating donations from the public (that would be you).  This week, there will be a box to collect your "gently used" items of clothing, purses, hats, belts, dishware, audio and visual equipment, small appliances, holiday decorations, giftware, etc.  You see, Central Altadena Little Leaguers have partnered with Goodwill of Southern California and are collecting for them.  They asked if we could help, and we said sure!  So, in turn, we ask that you take a look around your home and see if there's anything you need to get rid of, that your kids have outgrown or that you're no longer using.  Drop it off here so we can give it to CALL and they can give it to the Goodwill.  Your gifts will help raise funds for their children's sports program, as well as help Goodwill continue their many programs that enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities or other disadvantages by providing education, training and job opportunities.  You can make space in your home in addition to helping your community....I'd call that a win/win!

Have a great week, my friends!

Lori & Scott