Monday, May 30, 2011

Surveying The Landscape In Altadena

As I've hinted about for the past couple of weeks, the results from the Chamber of Commerce's Shopping Survey have been compiled and released to the public.  We released a condensed version of the data at the Chamber's last mixer on Thursday, 5/26 at the Community Center.  The mixer was open to the public at no charge, but even so, there were only about 20 attendees.  You could say that the Chamber didn't announce the date of the mixer loudly enough, but it was on both Altadenablog and, and I know I gave ample notice of it on the store's Facebook page.

Why so few attendees?  We'll look at that in just a minute - first I'd like to talk about why we decided to put this, admittedly rudimentary, survey together in the first place.  We knew going in that most people up in our neck of the woods want more choices in 1) grocery shopping, 2) dining out and 3) retail shopping.  What we needed was verification of this, so we can continue our dialog with Los Angeles County in an informed manner.  They need to not just hear us, but hear you as well.  We want to give them not just anecdotal evidence, but hard numbers that encompass a good portion of the town,,,,and this survey of just under 400 people gave us that.

Verification of what we thought going in appeared in the survey.  The number one requested shopping venue was for a healthier choice in groceries, a la Trader Joe's or the Arroyo Food Co-op.  And yes, the Arroyo Food Co-op was mentioned over and over again in the written section, where we asked the survey takers to elaborate on what type of business they'd like to see in Altadena.  Same went for restaurants - the requests for healthy/organic/vegetarian dining options were many.  As for retail, I was surprised that only 15 respondents out of 370 answered the question "Why Do You Not Shop Locally", with 7 people giving the answer of "lack of choices".  However, continuing on with the survey, I was completely blown away that when asked to elaborate where the respondents did shop in town,...there were 360 answers! 

Sooo....our residents do shop in town!  I did a little counting of my own, and out of those 360 responses, 201 mentioned they shop Webster's.  And out of those 201, a good third of those named Webster's Fine Stationers by name.  That made me feel good!  Altadena Hardware, under new management this year, put in a great showing, too, with just over a hundred mentions.  Our restaurants received mention, too, with Foxes, Amy's Patio Cafe and El Patron being the frontrunners of that category. 

But back to the question, why so little attendance at the mixer?  Are there really that few people on-line in Altadena?  Or are we faced with a situation where people just don't care anymore?  In a retail group I'm a member of, the question of how to get people to care about your shop is asked in different forms repeatedly.  As shop owners, we not only have to be good businesspeople, we also have to have the ability to read the future as well.  We have to forecast the climate for certain products and services, which tend to wax and wane like the moon, and we have to pick up on the tendrils of a trend.  The trend of indifference has long been in place, I think, longer than I've been in retail.  With the advent of the big box corporate stores, the glut of advertisement you receive in your face every single day wears me out....and I'm a retailer!  No wonder there's such apathy - too many choices and we get locked into our same old, same old routine of habit.  You have to be truly different to stand apart, a trendsetter.

My tip to other retailers and business people is this:  there is a trend out there, one that will leave the big boxes and the internet retailers in possible shambles in the not-too-distant future.  The trend towards localization is huge and growing.  People, as in the people who took our survey, WANT to shop in their neighborhoods.  They don't want to travel 20 minutes or a half an hour to get to some mega mall, they want a place close by where they can come in, get what they need, maybe spend a few moments talking to acquaintances and go home.  Or they want a place nearby they can depend on to delight them, whenever they stop in.  Our challenge is to serve that up to our residents....with a smile.  Can we offer that to you, Altadena?  You bet.....just watch us!

On this Memorial Day, we hope you've had a pleasant long weekend!  Best wishes to you in the coming week,

Lori & Scott

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trust Issues

"I've learned to listen to myself, to listen to truth, to not be afraid of it and to not try and hide it"
                              ----Sarah McLachlan

In our talk about sustainability last week, I mentioned a survey about businesses in Altadena that was conducted by the Altadena Chamber of Commerce .  News of the survey and links to it appeared in and Altadenablog several months ago. The survey results have been compiled and will be presented to the public at the Chamber's next mixer, at the Community Center, 5:30 pm on Thursday, May 26th.  This is great news, for we finally have some information to use to build our case for some County attention our our neck of the woods, not to mention our own internal need for forward motion.  After the mixer and the release of the survey, you'll get a guided tour of the results, a la Lori.

I spoke about my having picked up some inspirational reading material last week, as well.  Scott and I both listened to Seth Godin's newest book, Poke The Box, on audio tape and we're so inspired.  I love that we can listen to someone who advocates standing up and making a difference - and I love even more that we both agree that's something we can do together!  We are also reading Jeanne Bliss' newest book, "I Love You More Than My Dog".  While I haven't yet finished Jeanne's book, I can say that these books, in combination, are proving to be invaluable to me.  I see clearly that we've been depressed these past several months, letting the pressures of owning this store affect our relationship with not just each other, but the relationship we have with our a not-so-positive way.

At our crew meeting tonight, we talked about these things.  We talked about trust - the trust between the public and our store and also the trust between our crew and us.  We want our store to shine on every level, most importantly customer service.  We've decided that we can't have excellent customer service if we don't trust our crew members to instantly respond to customers' needs.  Returns or problems of any kind can be handled by any one of our able crew members at any time and we absolutely trust their judgement. 

Our no-cell-phone policy was brought up as we discussed trusting our customers.  I think that in our zeal to provide a restful, calm shopping experience, we ticked a few people off when we asked them not to use their phone in the store.  We've rethought the message we were sending when we enforced that policy and would like to issue a sincere apology to anyone upset by it.  We believe that our customers can be quiet while on the phone in the store and we'll leave it at that.

Our monthly Fancy Food Truck Fridays event on the 13th went very well - 6 food trucks, including the Border Grill Truck, and a record attendance!  Beautiful weather helped along with the complimentary Tarot card readings by our lovely gypsy fortune tellers.....everyone wanted their fortune told on Friday the 13th!  Yesterday was this month's wine tasting event with the publishers of the blog and we paired several Syrah's with picnic foods (deviled eggs, fried chicken & potato salad) provided by DD's Chick & Cat Shack.  This was a fabulous pairing - those attending were very impressed with the lovely wines and the accompanying food!  The next wine tasting will be on Saturday, June 19th, and our theme will be "Cabs For Dads and Grads".  Make sure to look for our event announcements in your email or on our Facebook Page!  We're also working on a follow up to our Social Media 101 event last October - we'll let you know when we will be scheduling that.

Until next week, my friends.....have a wonderful week ahead!

Lori & Scott

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It's A Question Of Sustainability

Sustain: verb  1.  to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure
                       2.  to bear (a burden, charge, etc.)
                       3.  to undergo, experience or suffer (injury, loss, etc.), endure without giving way or
From the Middle English suste, derived from the Anglo-French sustenir, Old French < Latin sustinere -
to uphold
Synonyms: carry, support, bear, maintain
Legal Definition:  1.  to support as true; legal or just    2. to allow or uphold as valid

Sustainability is a term that has become fashionable to use recently.  So many different entities use it blindly, though, telling us their _____(insert name)_____ is sustainable this or sustainable that and I'm a bit tired of hearing it.  I don't think a lot of people truly understand the term, however, so I'm starting this post with the dictionary definition of it.  We can now see that the true meaning of the word sustain is to "bear" or "endure".

With that definition in mind, I'm happy to report to you that the shopping survey being conducted by the Altadena Chamber of Commerce has been closed and the results have been compiled.  While I'm not at liberty to disclose any particular information, I can say I'm glad we did this survey. We received just under 400 responses and it gives me, a business owner here in Altadena, a chance to see and hear what our residents want.  It gives me a chance to see how much our residents actually know about what's available where they live, and most of all, it gives us a chance to improve.  By us, I mean our store, of course, but I also mean the Chamber of Commerce.  As a Director on the board of the Chamber, it's vitally important that we know where we're headed as a town.  This survey gives us leverage when we meet with the County, but we'll talk about that later, after the survey results have been made public.

I do want to take a moment, though, and discuss the word sustainability in conjunction with Webster's Fine Stationers.  Sustainability is important to us, obviously because we would like our 85-year old family business to still be around when we reach 100 years of age.  To reach that venerable age, though, we have to be very careful.  Because we took over part of this family business at the beginning of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we experienced an immediate loss of business.   However, it wasn't just the recession that affected us,  it was the lack of communication from Webster's Pharmacy Corporation about why they decided to break up the stores.  But all that is water under the bridge now, and to make a go of this business, we made a pledge to move forward, with or without Webster's.  It turns out it's without Webster's, as my father-in-law sold the pharmacy to Michael and Meredith Miller at the beginning of the year.

To allow our store to be more sustainable, we've had to give up a few things.  The economic situation as it relates to other businesses also had a hand in shaping how our store will be continuing.  Many customers don't realize that the poor economy has forced quite a few wholesalers to go out of business, which reduces what's available for us to order.  We've had to reevaluate what we're carrying in the store - those things that moved slowly aren't on our shelves anymore.  Changing what our store offers has some confused, as well, but we saw a gap to fill in our community, and we're filling it.  Especially now, as the Hallmark store next door to us has gone out of business, we have an opportunity to work with the new owners of Webster's Community Pharmacy to fill that void.

However, we all want our businesses to be sustainable.  That means not putting all our bets on one horse, such as office products, greeting cards or tchotchkes.  We can't have an almost 5,000 sq. foot store full of Hallmark cards and gifts, because it's proven that the community can't support it.  We won't rely on office products to make our store profitable, because we're not attracting the thousands of people necessary to make it so.  What I believe we can rely on is a carefully curated selection of cards, gifts, office essentials, books, children's toys & games, and of course stationery to make our store sustainable and profitable now and in years to come.  I believe that our local businesses can work together with our Chamber of Commerce and Town Council to help our community become more vibrant and that will also make our businesses more sustainable. 

Next week I'll be talking about more specific numbers from this survey and I hope you'll join me.  It's  fascinating reading and I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity to help shape Altadena into the best it can be!  If you're reading this and you don't live in Altadena, keep in mind that we could be Anywhere, USA.  I don't think we're that unique across the nation, so just insert the name of your town for my town.  I believe we all have many common values, problems and hopefully, solutions!

Until then, my friends.....have an enjoyable week ahead!

Lori & Scott

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Adoption Song - A Post For Mother's Day

I was an adopted child.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was a source of fascination to my friends who had “real” moms. My friends would even quiz me on walks home from school.  “Doesn’t it feel weird?” they’d ask me, expecting a different answer from the simple “no” that I gave them.  “You don’t look much like your mother” was a phrase I heard many times when I was young, or “you and your sister look so different”.   We did look different as night and day, with my mom and dad being dark haired and my being blonde.   My mom’s olive skin tones didn’t relate to my fairness, and my sister’s obviously Irish heritage confused people next to my Scandinavian features. 

I always knew I was adopted, because my mom started telling me as soon as she figured I’d understand.  There wasn’t a big family talk about it, there weren’t any feelings of my being abandoned, or angst about missing the birth mother I’d never known, it was just a fact of life, not a big deal to me.  Of course, both my parents acted together in this, but I’d like to credit my mom with making sure that I knew, down deep where it counts, that I was wanted.  That she and my father waited 10 long years on a list until I, and then my sister, came along, and that they, in fact, prepared for us.   

She kept this poem, cut out of a newspaper article, on the old cork message board next to the wall phone in our kitchen, a thumb-tack stuck through the top:

“Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone,
But still miraculously
My own.
Never forget
For a single minute:
You didn't grow under my heart
But in it.”

On this Mother’s Day, I give this to other moms, perhaps not birth mothers, but mothers just the same.  May you give your child what my mother gave me – unequivocal love and a strong sense of belonging that molded me into the person I am today.  On this Mother’s Day, I’ll say a prayer of thanks for my mom, Helen Elliott, who loved another woman’s child as her own.     

Back next week with another post....enjoy your week, my friends!


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Opportunity Knocking


As many of you know, I'm a big fan of Seth Godin.  His marketing advice is spot-on, but I enjoy him for so much more, especially his pithy takes on what's happening in the world today and how it relates to having an impact.  He's written two such blog posts recently, here and here, that exemplify this, and I highly recommend your reading them before we continue.

In the body of the second blog post, Seth says "the opportunity (to make a difference), though, is the biggest of our generation (or the last one, for that matter).  The opportunity is there for anyone (with our without a job) smart enough to take it - to develop a best in class skill, to tell a story, to spread the word, to be in demand, to satisfy 'real needs', to run from the mediocre middle and to change everything".  He also says "the old economy offered a guarantee - time plus education plus obedience equals stability.  The new one, not so much.  The new one offers a chance for you to take a chance and make an impact".

This, my friends, is essentially what we're doing at WFS.  Running from the mediocre, not relying on the way things were done "before", we are mapping out a new territory in retail land - one that espouses cooperation over competition.  One that demands we take a stand for the things we believe in, such as buying locally to reduce our carbon footprint.  One that demands we buy U.S. made products to invest in our own economy and one that demands we buy ethically produced products if they're made overseas.  Most of all it demands the utmost integrity; our name denotes longevity but it will now be synonymous with fairness and a willingness to go the extra mile to ensure you a comfortable shopping experience.  Trust is not given easily, that we know.  Time will prove our mettle, and we ask that you give us a chance.....a chance to show you exactly how we can make an impact on our corner of the world, and maybe change everything.

Thanks for listening and we hope you have a lovely week ahead!  Remember, Mother's Day will be quickly upon us and WFS can help you with that.  We have American-made cards that are perfect for giving moms of all sorts and we have some wonderful items for gifting - come on in and let us show you!

Lori and Scott