Why This Indie Can’t (and Won’t) Touch Black Friday – pt. 2

In my last blog post, I began discussing insider Black Friday retail tips that give huge retailers that all-important edge in the market.  Here are the rest of the tips:

6. BI (Business Insider):  “(Retailers) will even sometimes increase the ‘normal” price of an item before the holidays to make the discount seem bigger.”  They will hike prices from 8% to as much as 23% on toys and tools.

CCS:  No.  That absolutely will never happen here.  If I offer discounts, it will be to benefit you, my customers, not to further augment my bank account.

7.  BI:  “Some items are made specifically for Black Friday and are lower quality.”

CCS:  We offer one quality:  High.  Holidays or not, we’re still going to make our products in small batches to ensure the highest possible quality.

8.  BI:  “If you’re not nice, you may pay the price.”

CCS:  No one likes an impatient jerk, especially not retail workers during the holidays.  That being said, I have an entire array of fabulous customers, so I don’t have to worry about anyone not being nice.  Besides, I have two children, so you can’t scare me.

9.  BI:  “When associates say they’re out of something, they usually mean it.”

CCS:  I do my level best to keep stock quantities up-to-date on my website.  Some items I can restock quickly, but others take weeks to turn around.  So, if I say I’m out, unfortunately, such is the case.

10:  BI:  “If you want Thanksgiving back, stop shopping on Thanksgiving.”  Hint:  Employees don’t want to be there.  Some have to hire sitters for their kids, they have to leave early from dinner, and they miss family time.  You can bet the CEOs are enjoying dining with their families around the table while their employees are losing their own family time.

CCS:  Thanksgiving is family time.  We start with a special breakfast and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Then we go to my parents’ house for dinner and spend the night, waking up refreshed and recharged before coming home.  We’re not going to work this day.  I won’t take calls, reply to emails, or deal with customers in any way.  How will you spend the holiday?

Whether you’re spending Black Friday at the stores or at home, you can now go in to your shopping a bit more savvy.  I invite you to spend part of your day with us, cruising our website and tagging us on social media.

 

Why This Indie Business Can’t (And Won’t) Touch Black Friday – pt. 1

I read an article Sunday morning at Business Insider entitled “Things Most Black Friday Shoppers Don’t Know.”  You can read it here.  Even for a seasoned retail employee who’s seen her share of Black Fridays, the wife of a retail worker who had to get up early after Thanksgiving at the beach so her husband could get to work on Black Friday, and an indie manufacturer and business owner, there was some new and interesting – but common sense – facts here.

In this two-part series, we’re going to look at the realities of retail and how my indie business is different – and better.

  1. BI:  “The mall doesn’t open before the anchor stores do.”  Those big stores – Macy’s, Belk’s, and Dillard’s – determine what time the mall opens, and there are huge fines for not being open when they open.  (Some stores bite that fine, and some malls allow retailers to choose for themselves.)

CCS: On Black Friday, all that weekend, and Cyber Monday, we’re here for you.  We may have limitations on our availability (e.g., Sunday morning during church and most times when we’re driving), but for the most part, we’ll be free to answer questions for you.  You don’t have to fight screamin’ hordes of shoppers to get to us.

2.  BI: “Black Friday sales are usually on older models and are often the same deal as last year.”

CCS:  Our prices are our prices all year and our merchandise is made in small batches to ensure freshness.  Small, indie retailers can’t compete with discounted stuff made in overseas sweatshops, so we aren’t going to try.  Our products are worth the price, and when’s the last time you saw a sweat shop slave do a happy dance because you bought that TV?

3.  BI: “These products would probably have gone on sale, anyway.”

CCS:  We save our clearance sale prices for our annual clearance sale.

4.  BI:  “You rarely ever need to be there when the stores open – the sales last all day.”  The reason for getting there uber-early is to ensure you get your preferred sizes.

CCS:  One soap fits all sizes, and our sales also will last throughout the weekend.  We’re not so big into early bird promos.

5.  BI:  “In fact, most (sales) start before Black Friday.”

CCS:  We will be running a special free shipping promotion, but it won’t begin until Black Friday.  It will last all weekend, though, and on into Cyber Monday.

6.  BI: “Stores will use all sorts of tricks to get you to spend more.”  I saw this the last time I worked mall retail.

CCS:  No tricks, though we will suggest add-ons to your purchases, especially for gifts.  The reason is simple:  When I’m selling in person, my wares are spread out before you, and you can see what goes with what (like Orange Blossom soap and Orange Blossom & Amber Creme, or Christmas Candy Soaps with our Christmas Candies Lip Balms).  You don’t have that online, so we will help point you to those complementary items.

Come back tomorrow as we look at the other half of this list.  Do any of these retail tricks surprise you?  Are there others you’d add from your own experiences?

The Death Throes of Black Friday

Black Friday as we know it is beginning to die.  With retailers pushing sales and specials earlier in November, it is looking like the event of Black Friday is losing its significance as a holiday shopping day.  When Cyber Monday came on the scene several years ago, buyers discovered they could wait a few days, avoid the crowds, and still get great specials, all ordered from their desk at work.

Black Friday is so named because it is the official start of the holiday shopping season.  As crowds surged, retailers’ profits for the year went from the red to the black, ensuring that they would end the year on a high note.  To entice shoppers to go to their store over other stores, the retailers then began to offer insane specials and deals – a percentage off.  Then a larger percentage off.  Then a large percentage off and doorbuster deals.  People would literally end up hospitalized or dead trying to beat someone else to this amazing deals.

That money you saved on the 64″ flat-screen TV will go towards your hospital bills.

And when all this simply wasn’t enough for the corporate greed, retailers then began opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday, eventually going so far as to opening doors on Thanksgiving afternoon, desperate for shoppers and little caring that their employees just might want to spend that day with their families before the craziness that is working retail during the holidays begins.

We have seen major retailers shuttering their doors this year.  Sears and Toys R Us both come to mind, and these stores closed for specific reasons.  I know a couple of ladies from church who have a tradition of staying up late and shopping early, and one of the stores they’d hit in their dark-of-night mania was Toys R Us.  Their kids are tweens and teens now, but shopping will take on a very different look for those shoppers for whom TRU was a staple.

Over the course of the past week, I have seen Black Friday deals advertised on Amazon, Facebook, and Google.  I’ve seen such retailers as The Disney Store promoting the opportunity to take advantage of Black Friday specials this week.  You don’t even have to wait for the actual day of Black Friday anymore.  A few clicks and you’re done.  No crowds, no battling for parking at a bustling mall, no getting dressed in three layers of clothes to endure the chilling cold that typically is Black Friday morning while you wait for stores to open.

When stores discount their prices for Black Friday, something happens the week before:  They raise their prices.  A recent article at Business Insider states that retailers will increases prices from 8-23% in the days and weeks prior to Black Friday so they still will get their same profit margins.  I’ll be spending time in an upcoming blog post discussing that some more.

As this Friday comes up, what’s your plan of attack?  Will you be hitting the shops or clicking “buy now”?  Have you finished shopping?  Or do you shop artisans throughout the year?

Keeping The Healthy Coastal Lifestyle a Life Style

As a way to promote my business and practice my writing, particularly with constraints, I have been responding to HARO (Help a Reporter Out) queries.  Three times every weekday, I receive lists of topics from reporters who are looking for source feedback for their articles.  Categories include business/finance, health & medicine, lifestyle, entertainment, travel, and so forth.  Interested persons reply to the queries and, if accepted, their responses are included in the article, either digital or print, with mentions of their business.  I got my first mention in a blog post that came out yesterday.  You can read that article here.

This morning I responded to a query from a reporter looking for success tips from people who have lost 20+ pounds and kept it off.  I thought I’d share with you what I shared with that reporter.  I’m not including the “common sense” stuff about cutting sugary drinks for water and exercising every day.

My tips for healthy lifestyle success:

(1) Just do it, anyway.  When I don’t want to go out for that walk, I grab the sneakers and walk anyway.  When I don’t really feel like going to aerobics, I grit my teeth and do it, anyway.  I find a “commitment” activity.  Though it was humid out this summer, once I grabbed a pair of socks, I mentally committed to walking.  (I keep a pile of clean, paired socks beside my bed, so I can just reach down and grab a pair.  Boom!  Commitment before I get out of bed.)

(2) Ignore weight.  The scale just tells us about our relationship with gravity.  When you’re improving your health through changing food choices and adding exercises, it’s common not just to lose fat but also to build muscle.  A pound of muscle weighs as much as a pound of fat (so no weight change between losing that fat and building that muscle), but a pound of muscle is denser and has significantly less volume than a pound of fat.  Your weight may stay the same while your body shape is noticeably changing.

(3) Record everything you eat.  With the holidays coming up, this is tedious – heavy family dinners, parties, socials, etc.  This helps you see patterns in your eating and helps you make adjustments to make sure you’re getting enough carbohydrates, fats, and proteins without consistently overdoing any one of these.  I use an app in my phone to keep up with this.

(4) Move.  Grab extra steps whenever and however you can.  Some days require long periods of sitting, but break them up by walking and stretching.

(5) Be gracious with yourself.  You’re not going to exercise when you’re sick.  That’s OK.  There’s no walking outside when it’s 30 degrees.  Ate 2400 calories on that day of the office Christmas party followed by your spouse surprising you with dinner out?  It’s one day. You haven’t failed as long as you get right back to it as soon as you reasonably can.

(6) Eat the dessert.  In other words, don’t do a deprivation diet.  Eating a little bit of that “bad food” will stave off cravings for it and the potential for bingeing on it.  Denying yourself carbs or fats or whatever to lose weight just makes you want those foods that much more after you meet your weight-loss goal.  I have seen, time after time, people regaining unhealthy amounts of weight after following low-carb diets or diets where the foods/meals are provided for them.  Just be sure to record the food in your food journal and possibly add some extra exercise to the week.

I had already cut out sugary drinks (tea and sodas) in favor of water, so that isn’t something new to me.  I also don’t drink many alcoholic drinks (max 2-3 a year) or fancy coffee drinks, all of which pack on a lot of empty calories.  I am still losing weight, but this lifestyle change has become a part of me.  Simply put, the side benefits make me feel good, so I’m more inclined to keep with it.

Once you make a healthy lifestyle yours, it goes beyond such mundane things as dieting for weight loss and trying to bulk up.  With a slow and steady progress, the healthy lifestyle becomes just that – a life style.  Or, a better way to look at it is, a style of living for the rest of your life.  It’s a style of living that includes healthy, balanced eating; regular exercise; and overall choices that lead to a longer, happier, healthier, more active life.

There Is No Shortcut to Success

Want to know the secret to my success as a businesswoman?

I’ve been in business for almost sixteen years.  I’ve read scores of books on business and soapmaking, watched hours of webinars, sat in seminars, and spent time with my mentors, both in soapmaking and business.  Business isn’t a one-and-done proposition; it must be a continuing journey towards growth and improvement.

Being a home educator, I obviously love teaching.  Being a business owner, soapmaker, and cosmetic manufacturer, I love sharing that passion with others, teaching what I’ve learned through the years.  Whenever someone comes to me with a true desire to invest themselves in learning, I’m happy to take time to teach them.  I’ve even thought about offering classes in beginning soapmaking and setting up a small business.

One of the things that I’ve experienced many times is requests from newbies wanting my success.  If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Can I have your best selling soap recipe?  I want to sell them at the flea market this weekend,” I’d have my dream beach house and be comfortable for life.  I thought those days were behind me.  Then Sunday happened.

A local lady I know messaged me on Facebook:  “Can you give me a crash course on making soap?”  I explained to her that there is no “crash course” to soapmaking.  I further shared that I spent six months learning how to make cold processed soap, and that’s the average.  I have books on techniques, formulation, oil analysis, soapmaking chemistry, and labeling.  This isn’t a quick and easy knowledge set; it takes time, dedication, and work.  I quickly got the feeling that the lady wasn’t interested in spending time learning the craft; she wanted my best soap formulation so she could make soaps to sell in our local area.  She wanted my 10+ years of knowledge and experience fast and free!  I gave her what she needed, though not what she wanted.  The lady wasn’t happy with this.  She wanted the shortcut.

The “shortcut” to success

Just as there are no shortcuts in soapmaking, there are no shortcuts in life.  If you want to be successful in any endeavor, you absolutely must invest the time to do it and do it well.

Business:  Those of us with successful businesses are enviable, I’m sure.  We have wholesale accounts, websites, active social media accounts, and a customer following.  We make it look easy, because no one sees the work we put in after hours (like right now it’s after 10:30 p.m. as I type this).  My friend and I put it, “It takes a lot of time and hard work to become an ‘overnight success.'”  Some people seem to have that one magical idea that nets them a small fortune seemingly overnight, but those people are few and far between.  The rest of us put in a lot of work, sweat, and tears into making our dreams profitable.

Fitness:  You’ve probably seen the great, awesome boiled egg diet that kept popping up all over social media a few weeks ago.  Lose 24 pounds in 2 weeks with the boiled egg diet!  This diet has nothing to do with eggs, though they’re great sources of low-fat protein.  The diet is very close to keto and extremely low calorie.  A quick estimate of calories indicates maybe 1000 calories a day and very few carbohydrates with this diet, so losing weight will be quick – and temporary.  Those pounds won’t stay off once the diet is over.  If you want lasting weight loss, deprivation isn’t the way to go.  You’ve got to make lasting life changes, not temporary weight changes, if health is your goal.

Peace of Mind:  Who doesn’t love a trip to the beach or the mountains?  We breathe in the fresh air and the change of scenery helps us unwind.  When we get home, though, it’s like all the stress and pressures quickly envelop us again.  That’s why I developed my beach-inspired soaps, so you can bring the beach home.  If you want to de-stress and stay calm, relaxing needs to be a daily goal.  Yoga, meditation, or just getting off by yourself to chill for a bit will help lower the stress, which will, in turn, improve other areas of your life.

So what’s the secret to my success?  Hard work.  Studying.  Learning from others.  Making material investments in my improvement.  Years of experience.  And years of mistakes.  Part of the joy of rebranding was starting fresh with all my years of experience as well as the lessons learned from my mistakes – lessons I happily pass along to others.  And underscoring it all,  I work with integrity.  A business owner can have vast amounts of knowledge and experience, but if they lack in basic integrity, then their business lacks in other ways, too.

What are some of the secrets of your success?  Please share them below.

From Small to Colossal to Small

Do you remember KB Toys?  KB Toys was a chain of inline stores found in malls nationwide in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, with a few tenacious remnants making it into the early aughts.  I loved this store!  They had the best selection of Barbie clothes anywhere – of course, with matching shoes.

Then the 80s brought the likes of Toys ‘R Us to markets nationwide.  While KB Toys was a large chain of small stores, TRU was a large chain of huge stores.  Now, TRU is closing its doors, demolished by billions in corporate debt, as well as its big box store competitors.  According to CNN, Amazon and other online retailers did not mark the beginning of the end of TRU as previously suspected.

The vast entities known as the major online retailers – walmart(dot)com and Amazon, to name the two biggest – certainly didn’t help matters any.  In the past ten years or so, while many people dragged themselves out into chilly late November weather to battle the after Thanksgiving toy store mobs, many others stayed home and shopped in their pajamas, enjoying free shipping and avoiding the crowds.  As Cyber Monday became more of a thing, businesses everywhere encouraged customers to buy online instead of from brick and mortar businesses.

Toys ‘R Us’s problems were at the corporate level.  Too much debt, too poorly managed assets.  Sure, I shopped at TRU several times, and I’ll never forget the excitement of completing our baby registry at Babies ‘R Us when Hubby and I were expecting our first child.  However, I never got that feeling shopping at TRU that I remembered from KB Toys.  While the warehouse-feeling space was vast, it felt impersonal, and there was seldom a great selection of what I wanted.  Two aisles of console games?  No, thank you.  An entire creepy doll aisle?  Get me outta here!  And by the time my older daughter was into Barbies…  Where the heck are all the Barbie ensembles???  Plus, I thought the prices were ridiculously high compared to KB Toys (when I was at a toy-buying age during the companies’ overlap).

Small retailers do struggle with this to some degree.  When will a corporate giant sink us?  Yet, a lot of us indie retailers were born, grew, and thrived over against our big box store counterparts.  We can offer what customers want.  Products I make and sell are not available from Bath & Body Works, for example.  Customers get to meet us personally and often get a sneak peek behind the scenes at what’s going on with our brands.  Many times, they also get the opportunity to give us quick feedback on products we carry that impact the business directly.  Small indie business becomes a relationship between seller and guest, and we love nurturing that relationship.

And now, what do I see but that KB Toys is coming back!  A company that revitalizes old brands has bought the KB Toys name and plans to open 1000 stores for Black Friday and the holiday selling season.  I suspect that a lot of GenXers who share my nostalgia around the brand and the experience of shopping there will line up to bring some of that remembered joy to their own children.  I hope the owners will not go big but will instead focus on smaller size with outstanding customer care.

KB Toys logo
KB Toys is coming back! So exciting!

The likes of Amazon and Walmart will be with us for the foreseeable future.  They’re both retail giants who have managed to maximize profits.  Additionally, Amazon treats its employees well and pays them far above the minimum wage favored by some retailers.  I enjoy my Prime membership and the perks it brings me as I happily click my way to new stuff.  Yet, the small indie retailers will also be around for the foreseeable future, because we can offer what no dot com can; a personal and personalized shopping experience.  Amazon is not going to message me to let me know that they have a new assortment of workout tanks or that those shorts I ordered are on sale if I want to get more of them.  However, a small business owner will take the time to contact a customer, making that person feel important.  Plus, we humans are tactile shoppers.  We like to feel, smell, and experience the things we’re thinking about buying.  No online experience can duplicate that.

How do you like to shop?  Will online retailers wipe out your brick & mortar shopping trips?

 

The Brilliant Buyer’s Guide to Leaving Product Reviews

You are not an idiot.  I know this.  You know this.  But sometimes, trying to find your way around the finer areas of a website sure can make you feel like one, can’t it?  Even with my own site, I try to make it do certain things, often accompanied by the thought, This is my blasted website! Why does it have to be so hard?  I’ve had a couple of inquiries from customers asking how they can leave reviews on products.  When I tested out my site, that’s the one thing I never thought about doing.  (After all, I think all of my products are the most amazing thing ever!)  So, I went through the steps of leaving a review so I could share them with you.

  1. Sign in to your account.  This is in the upper right corner of your screen.  Once you login, you’ll be redirected to your personal account page.
    Sign in to your account. This is in the upper right corner.

    2.  Find the product(s) on the site you wish to review.  Unfortunately, the “my account” section doesn’t list individual items purchased, just quantity spent, order date, etc.  I chose Christmas Spice Body Creme.  The listing goes Product Name -> Quantity in Stock -> Price -> Add to cart, followed by the Paypal button and social share buttons.  Under that is the “Write a Review” box.

“Write a Review” box is right under the Paypal button and the social share icons.

3.  Submit your review.  A notification will pop up on my end to let me know I have a review I need to moderate, and once I do that, your review will show up on the website.

This is what it looks like on my end.

I absolutely promise you…  I will not delete negative product reviews.  (If you’re blasting my company or me, I will not approve those and strongly encourage you to contact me via my website, email, phone, Facebook messenger, snail mail, or carrier pigeon so we can discuss any problems you may have.)  Fragrance love is highly subjective, and how soaps treat different customers’ skin has a great deal of variance.  What doesn’t work for one person might be exactly what another customer is looking for.  Real life example here…  I had a supplier who never approved negative reviews.  Let’s say, for example, I’d bought a duplicated scent from that company.  It smelled marvelous, dead-on dupe for the original, but it was awful in cold-processed soap.  The scent itself morphed in ugly ways (means it stank), it turned my soap the color of spinach after it comes out of a baby, and it was just a disappointment for what I wanted to use it for.  If I left that as a review, the site’s owner would never have approved it.  However, that’s a warning to others who might want to use it in soap, while those who are shopping for it to use in other applications need to know how true it smells and that they’ll likely be pleased with it.

With my own site, I’ll take the same “it may help someone else” approach.  After all, that’s the reason I ask customers to leave reviews, right?  So your 2-star, “Dried out my skin” soap may be just what that customer with excessively oily skin is looking for.

If you have purchased something from me and have not yet reviewed it, I invite you again to cruise over to the website and do that.  It won’t take but a few minutes.  If you submit your review in the form of a poem – it can be freestyle, rhyming, haiku, sonnet, or whatever – I will find some way to reward both your creativity and your bravery.  It’ll either be as free shipping, something off your total purchase, or SOMETHING.  (This idea just came to me as I was typing this, so stay tuned for what I decide to do.)

 

Preparing for my Favorite Event

How’s your last week been?  We solemnly and with a good deal of relief enjoyed our first week post-soccer season.  In one respect, I was a little lost.  The time came when I would normally have prepared my practice plan, and there was no practice for which to play.  However, my younger daughter and I got to take a great – if not also occasionally creepy – walk while the older one was at dance.  Halloween came and went with a late night, tons of fun with friends, and almost as much candy.  In short, it was a good last week of fall break.

One of the major things I accomplished this past week was submitting the reservation for my spot for my absolute favorite show of the year.  Caveat:  I only do two events a year.  One I call my favorite local show, the other is my absolute favorite event of all.  My fave event is one I call, in short, the EPA Show.  Its long name is the Annual EPA Holiday Bake and Craft Show, so you can see why I’d shorten it.

There are four things that make this event my favorite.

  1. The people.  Each year that I work this show gives me the opportunity to reconnect with people who have known me since I was five – the few who are left, anyway – and those who I’ve met in the years of doing this show.  Some are fellow vendors, others are customers, and then there’s Romeo, the kick-butt line cook in the cafeteria who can bring a smile to my uncaffeinated lips as he slides an omelet to me. 
  2. The set-up.  Tables already in place.  A simple display.  Reduced product line.  All these go into making the schematics of setting up for this show quick and relatively easy.  Granted, I have to get through the security necessary in a government building and schlep everything from the underground loading dock to my spot – all without coffee! – but it’s easier than most other events.  Tear-down is even easier.
  3. My selling team.  This is the one event that my mom helps me vend.  One of the girls usually comes along, too.  Having help is always valuable, but having moments to sit back and watch them in action is delightful.  My younger daughter (then 7) had her first turn behind the table last year, and she totally rocked it!
  4. The booth fee.  Free is always good, right?  Well, it’s not entirely “free.”  I have to account for my time and gas, but I don’t have to pay to be there.

This year’s show is just a hair over a month away, and I started the grinding prep work last week as I wrapped and labeled soaps that have been happily curing for months.  I’ve got a few new products I’ll be bringing out for it, which I’ll be telling you about in the days and weeks ahead.  It’s gonna be great!  We can’t wait!

Charming Beachsides + Delightful Mermaids

Travel along with us to some gorgeous beaches with sparkling blue water and powdery sand.  Relax in a hammock under gracefully bowing palm trees.  Watch a summer storm rolling over the beach, clouds building and seagrasses swaying.  Hunt for seashells and build sandcastles.

Love mermaids?  You’ll find those here, too.  Maybe looking at mermaids isn’t your thing.  You’re awesome and fabulous!  YOU are a mermaid!  Find mermaid seashell bras and tricks for the latest in mermaid-inspired makeup.  Create your gorgeous tail and top off your whole ensemble with a fanciful seashell tiara.

There is but one place to find such amazing treasures, and that’s on my Pinterest boards.  That’s not all you’ll find!  I feature our incredible soaps with some on-location product pictures.  (Those are soooo much fun to take!)  You’ll also be able to grab some inspiration for living our healthy coastal lifestyle with yummy recipes and workout tips.

Coming soon, I’ll be adding recipes that are quick, easy, healthy, and family-friendly.  We’re busy people, and no way do we want healthy, delicious meals to rob us of precious family time.  (Hint:  The first one is for an absolutely delicious slow cooker tomato soup that’s welcome after a late soccer practice or a long day at work.)

Cruise on over to my Pinterest boards and follow us to get the latest updates on all sorts of fun, creative, yummy, and inspirational ideas.  Got a board you’re proud of?  Share your link below in the comments so we can check it out!