Sunday, October 30, 2011

Modus Operandi

Yesterday morning, as I was sitting in our office at home sipping coffee and going through my email, I ran across this blog post written by the indomitable Seth Godin.  In it he asks several questions to a fictional entrepreneur and then expounds on those questions.  He asks if they are aware of their cash flow; if they're building profit or equity; he asks if they would rather be a freelancer, an entrepreneur or a business owner (because there is a difference); if they're trying to build a team; he asks what type of risks are they willing to take; and finally, the most important question - why they're making the effort at all.

I put Scott and I in the role of the fictional entrepreneur, and asked these very hard questions.  They may not seem like hard questions at first.  But, as Seth points out, these questions often go unasked.  They certainly weren't asked when we were given the opportunity to buy the stationery department at Webster's.  After four years of operating this store, we've had plenty of time to refine what we're doing, and I'm very proud of that.  In one of the most harrowing, tumultuous financial eras in history, we've been forced to confront the unthinkable and still power forward, because we know that what we have to offer is valuable.

In his post, Seth points out that an entrepreneur is "an artist of sorts, throwing herself into impossible situations and seeking out problems that require heart and guts to solve."  Well, yeah....there's that.  We've certainly had to be entrepreneurs in these strange times.  We've had to plan, then re-plan, and then re-plan the re-plan, since things change so quickly here.  We're not complaining, though.  Rethinking your position is a good thing, no matter what type of economic climate you're experiencing.  Like he says - it requires heart and guts to solve the equation that is your business.

He asks about team building.  Are we worried about the bottom line so much that we forget that the most important aspect of local business is "trying to forge a culture, to train and connect and lead."  Train.  Connect.  Lead.  Those are the fundamentals, in our opinion, and ones we had long before this post of Seth Godin's came about.  You can read our Mission Statement right here on our blog (or on our Facebook page - see the info page), where it's been for four years now.  We believe that our entire business community can benefit from adopting a similar mission.

Seth goes on to ask the two most important questions....what type of risk are you willing to take and why.  Why are we doing this at all?  This is complicated to answer.  It's an answer found deep down inside both of us, one that comes from deep convictions born of familial values.  There is no "easy button", no fast way to rebuild trust in an institution that has been compromised, but we believe it's worth rebuilding.  We wouldn't be here otherwise.

This week, I felt compelled to answer a query on NBC's Facebook page about how small businesses are faring in this economy and if we were hiring.  I posted that we were struggling through the recession and simply trying to hold onto what's left of our crew.  I received a direct message from a reporter at NBC, asking if I'd be willing to do a phone interview for possible inclusion in an article she was writing.  Of course I was willing, and this is the article that came of it.

I answer Seth's last and most important question of why - why are you doing this at all - with this answer:  because we love this community.  We love what Webster's has stood for all these years (85 of them, actually), and we believe that we have an opportunity to do good things here in Altadena.  We knew there would be sacrifices to make when we took over the ownership of this store.  We've made them and we continue to make them because we know that in the end, this will be worth it.  Are we trying to build a team?  No, we're building a tribe - a tribe that has the interests of their community at heart.  Join us, won't you?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An Open Letter To Our Crew Members

This was originally written by Cinda Baxter, the founder of The 3/50 Project, but she took the words right out of my mouth.  I wished I had written this, but nevertheless, it's a beautiful letter and one that I distributed this evening to our crew members during our quarterly meeting.  I think it says so much - and since I'm a store owner that believes in transparency, I'm sharing it with you.  Perhaps, if you're an employer, you can use it or parts of it to give to your own employees.  Perhaps you don't have any employees.  In that case, give it a read anyway - I think you'll find that the underlying notes of thankfulness and praise uplifting:

                           AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR CREW MEMBERS
Dear Crew Members,

Let’s face it – the past three years have been rough (more accurately, they’ve been like a blind-folded ride on an out-of-control roller coaster with questionable brakes and really screechy music).  You’ve probably seen my moods careen up and down a bit too, between customers, vendors, reps and inventory concerns (not to mention the nasty in-laws).  Sorry about that.  Some days, as the owner of a retail store, it’s hard not to blur a few lines.

This stuff is personal to me....which is why I want to share a few thoughts with you here.  When the store first opened, things were more predictable.  Sales had a natural ebb and flow at precise times of year, certain lines were practically bulletproof for us and customers enjoyed shopping.  I slept six hours each night, and paid invoices without holding my breath (most of the time, anyway).

But things changed when the market crashed.  Sale figures now ricochet like ping pong balls, vendors compete against us online and customers split hairs over 15 cents price differences.  Sleep is a far away dream; I practically turn blue when balancing the checkbook.

So yes, I've also changed with the times, examining every decision like it's the biggest one on earth, watching every penny like it's the last one on earth and relying on you like you're the last employees on earth.

Because to me, you are. You're the people I entrust my customers to, who are so near and dear to me.  And you're the reason we continue to paddle forward in these strange, unpredictable waters.  Which is why I appreciate you so much, even though sometimes, my focus on the bottom line masks that.
  •  I appreciate that you don't ask for an extra week of vacation afte rhaving taken two weeks this summer, aware that our customers need you.
  • I appreciate that you're honest and trustworthy, not putting friends' purchases on your employee discount.
  • I appreciate that when I occasionally flip out, you step back and give me space, confident that with a little time, the steam will stop billowing from my ears.
  • And I appreciate the fact that through all the insanity known as "life in retail", you remain upbeat and positive, making our customers feel at home.   
Sometimes, the necessary nuts and bolts feel a bit cold - signing off on the employee handbook, remembering to write down your hours - but that's what keeps the train on the tracks.  Each time you fulfill one of those boring handbook guidelines, it prevents stress on the business and everyone associated with it.

I know that on occasion, I harp about keeping things tidy, displays dusted, and holes filled....which might not be reflected by the catastrophe on my desk at any given time.

Housekeeping isn't exciting or fun, but customers notice.  If they pick up an item dulled by dust, they assume it's bad merchandise that nobody wants.  If there's a gaping hole on the shelf, it looks like we don't care, don't notice, or worse - can't afford to fill it.  If things get cluttered, we look like a bargain bin, which definitely isn't our goal.

And yes, sometimes, my methods might seem perplexing.  Why, for instance, does the list of four bodies scheduled for the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend have to include yours?  Why not someone else?  Simple.  Each of you lovely souls has a unique personality and skill set.  When I piece together schedules, those gifts are taken into consideration so the store has the balance it needs.  Given all the big box and Internet competition around the holidays, it's more important than ever that we provide the perfect combination of people so customers get the best experience possible.

In the end, my quirks and requests point in the same direction:  Keeping us upright, pleasant and profitable.  If one of those elements wobbles, everything does....and customers find somewhere else to shop.  Heaven knows, we don't want that, since it hurts everyone whose paycheck has our store name at the top.

Thanks for being the wonderful people I recognized during your interviews.  Thanks for remembering that I, too, am only human.  And thanks for your heartfelt desire to see the store thrive. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Your Employer

Have a great week ahead, friends, we'll talk next week!

Lori and Scott

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Affinity for Fall

Living in Southern California, some think, deprives you of the change of seasons so obvious in other, colder, states.  Not so, I think.  There's always signs of the passing of the months, subtle as they may be.  Autumn has always been crowned with colorful leaves falling from our liquid amber tree in the front yard and signals the start of the holiday season for me.

When I was a child, I used to check on the leaves of this tree as I would check a hour glass, waiting for that first yellow leaf to appear on the lawn.  Maybe it would happen in late August or early September.  Most always, though, it would seem to take forever for the leaves to change.  All the other trees up and down the block had pretty red and gold leaves hanging or floating down to their respective lawns - why didn't ours have any yet?

My mom would always say that because it was the biggest tree, and maybe one of the oldest, it took longer to turn.  I didn't understand, some of those other trees looked pretty darn close in size to ours, and I was impatient.  The sooner the leaves turned, the sooner Halloween would arrive - and I loved Halloween.

Halloween kicks off the beginning of the party season for most, but we started a little early here at WFS.  Somehow, our Fancy Food Truck Fridays, which is held every 2nd Friday of the month, just happened to fall the very day before the 3rd Saturday of the month and that's when we have our wine pairing events.  Even better, this month we planned to include a poetry reading with the wine tastings.  It turned out to be one fantastically busy, fantabulously fun weekend and we enjoyed every minute of it!

The food truck event Friday evening went off with nary a hitch, after having received the needed permit from L.A, County on Monday.  They cut it pretty close, but we still had a good sized crowd enjoying the offerings of the different trucks.  I ordered from Baby's Badass Burgers this time around and I must say that their food is mighty delicious!  It was wonderful to have our new event sponsor, Danny's Farm, back in Altadena, if only for one night a month.  The animals were a hit with the younger crowd, but of course the goats have a big following in our town!  Next month's Fancy Food Truck Friday will be on November 11th.

On Saturday, Linda Dove and Judith Terzi, local poets both, joined's Anne Bannon and Michael Holland for an evening devoted to wine and poetry.....oh, and food!  Wonderfully tasty treats were provided to us by Lauren of Amy's Patio Cafe and I'm kicking myself in the pants for not getting pictures of them!  Lovely prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears, the asparagus perfectly al dente and prosciutto lean and flavorful.  Mushroom caps filled with cream cheese and sun-dried tomatoes made savory bites and the fresh mozzarella, grape tomato and basil kebabs were unbelievably good, but it was the decadent brownies and the filo cups filled with a sweet blueberry compote that completely stole the show!

This evening Scott and I are taking it easy.  Well, better make that he's taking it easy, I'm writing a blog post.  Dinner's waiting, so enjoy your week ahead and we'll talk again next week....

Lori & Scott

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Scaring Up Some October Fun!

Just the other day, when it turned cold and rainy, we were worried we wouldn't have our expected  Indian Summer here in Altadena.  Loosen those scarves and remove your blazers, friends, because it's supposed to be in the upper 90s this week!

While we enjoy summer in fall, The Shops At Webster's will be (hopefully) hosting our 9th Fancy Food Truck Friday.  I say hopefully, because as of this date, we haven't yet received our new permit from L.A. about it coming down to the wire!  We're all proceeding as if we'll have it in hand prior to the event and are all very excited to bring you this fun evening of community fellowship and good eating!  Join us to welcome our new event sponsor, Danny's Farm and don't forget to bring the kids - Danny's Farm is bringing their fabulous new truck and mobile petting zoo!  Do check our Facebook page here for up-to-date information first, though, or give us a call at 626-797-1135.

The very next day, WFS is hosting our monthly wine tasting with Anne Bannon and Mike Holland of, this time with a wonderful, new twist.  We're combining this tasting with a poetry reading by two of our area's beloved poets, Linda Dove and Judith Terzi!  We'd be honored if you'd join us for all this fabulousness - please do make reservations on our event page on Facebook Event Page so we'll know how much wine and food to bring in.  Don't have a Facebook account?  No worries, simply give us a call or email and let us know you're coming!

These two events are scheduled back-to-back to commemorate two very occasions very special to us here at WFS.  Scott's birthday is on October 13th (c'mon, join with me....happy birthday, Scott!) and October is also our store's anniversary!  We've been open for four years now - amazing how time flies, isn't it?  We decided awhile back to schedule these two community-building events together so we can celebrate with you all, and we certainly hope to see you at one (or both) of them! Fancy Food Truck Friday starts at 5:00 pm - we'll be in a Halloween mood, so come prepared to enjoy some spooky fun and some of Scott's delicious birthday cake.  Wines For A Passionate Evening Of Poetry starts at 4:00 pm, and we'll be serving finger foods from Amy's Patio Cafe!

Coinciding with our 4th anniversary, WFS was profiled in Independent We Stand's Merchant Success Stories.  The article is here and we'd love you to take a moment and give it a read.  

Have a great week ahead, my friends, and we look forward to seeing you this weekend!

Lori & Scott

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hello, 4th Quarter!

The year certainly has flown by, hasn't it?  I can't believe it's already October, but that said, we're looking forward to the hustle and bustle of the next three months! (In the retail world, the 12 months are divided up into 4 quarters, the last three of which are the 4th quarter.)

This month holds the promise of much excitement, with our Fancy Food Truck Friday slated for Oct. 14th and our wine tasting/poetry reading on the 15th!  In collaboration with local artist Patrick Gothard, we've hung his Day Of The Dead series of oil paintings in the store.  An exuberant explosion of graphic color, these skeleton-inspired paintings are something to see - and we hope you'll come by and do just that!  We have plans to be working with several more area artists over the coming months, adding to the number of local artists we already represent.

Remember to "like" our Facebook page, where you can keep up with what's happening with us, join in some interesting conversations and learn about events and specials!  As always, have a great week ahead and we hope to see you soon!

Lori & Scott