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?

Why I LOVE #FreeShippingDay

It’s almost here!  Soooo exciting!  What’s the big deal?  WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL!?!?!  Free shipping day!  That’s the big deal!

I’m not just talking this up for promotional purposes (though we are participating again).  This truly is my favorite online shopping day of the year from a retailer’s standpoint.

So what makes Free Shipping Day such a highlight for me?  Because I get to ship smiles.  I’ve been participating in this one-day-a-year event for the past few years, and of all the orders I receive, most are going to other people, which means we’re shipping Christmas presents.  The recipients open their packages, bust open the package, read the name on the tag, and they know someone was thinking of them.  Then they open the wrapped goodies inside and get to experience our amazing products (if I do say so myself).

A little personal story…  I was in graduate school the first time around back in the days when the internet was infantile and online shopping wasn’t really a thing.  I certainly didn’t have internet or email myself.  I’d get mail order catalogs and thumb through them at night while I was unwinding, choosing gifts for people that I thought they’d love, mailing my check and order form, and waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting some more.  Finally I’d get the little salmon slip in my mailbox announcing a package had arrived for me, and I’d schlep it back to my apartment, barely heeding the envious looks of other students (“Package!  I like packages!”  I felt the same way when someone else got one.).  Once back in my apartment, I ripped into the box, rifled through all the packing material, and pulled out my order, oohing and ahhing over the items, imagining how much this person or that person would (hopefully) love this gift.  Then, I’d wrap the gift and place it under the tree, delightedly expectant of the joy of giving it and watching the recipient unwrap it.

I feel that same sense of expectant joy when I’m wrapping these packages to ship on Free Shipping Day.  While I don’t get to see the recipients’ faces, it still excites me knowing that I have some small part in the love they might feel in this holiday season.


Sunny Days Ahead


Let me introduce you to Sun on the Go sets.  We are trying small sets in a convenient vinyl spa bag so they are more travel sized.  They can be taken on a plane,  yet are able to take just a little bit of space.  We aren’t doing shampoo;  instead,  we’re doing detangling spray, so after a day in the sun,  you can brush your hair with ease.  The lotion helps after sunburns or tender areas, while, at the same time, you can use it for simply moisturizing your skin.  SOTG_Small2The soap will be good for cleaning sweat, germs and even shells off your skin.  You can use it on your face, though we can’t predict how your skin will react, since people are sensitive to different things.  The lip balm will not work as a sun screen lip balm, so don’t use it that way.  However it will work if your lips are dried out. You can pick these up at the Blueberry Festival this Saturday, 21 June 2014 or order them from our online store if you’re not going to be in the area this weekend.

Starry Night

I love this soap.  This is another one of those fragrances which I first encountered due to a swap and getting a free bottle of it.  It’s technically a seasonal fragrance, but I call it Starry Night.  You see, I find myself humming Josh Groban‘s Vincent at random times, and that song was going through my head when I was first designing this soap a few years ago.

Nine glorious bars of Starry Night still in the mould
Nine glorious bars of Starry Night still in the mould

This soap was one of the first beer soaps I ever made, maybe about second or third ever, and its properties, scent, and design keep it a top seller.  The scent is a lovely, exotic blend of frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood and patchouli, earthy and sweet.  It contains a blend of premium oils and beer, which gives the soaps great conditioning properties.  This soap is a total treat!  You can pick up this treat for yourself in 3 1/2 weeks.

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Balms Away!

It is three yummy flavors in one sweet little tube! It’s Balms Away! lip balm, a fabulous triple layered treat for your lips. I was looking at the product picture on the listing for these balms, and I was remembering when I had made all these tubes of balm. Two years ago, fellow alumni and I from my high school graduating class got together to put together care packages for troops serving in Afghanistan, and I’d made these for those boxes.

Boxes lined up getting bath & body goodies, popcorn, protein bars and other stuff
Boxes lined up getting bath & body goodies, popcorn, protein bars and other stuff

These were a lot of work, but so much fun to make! It’s thrilling watching layer harden upon layer, then seeing the finished product emerge.

Filling the lip balm tubes
Filling the lip balm tubes

You should grab one of these treats for yourself.  First, enjoy a blast of sweet cherry flavor, followed by toasted coconut (delish!), then finish the tube with blueberry, pumped up with blueberry butter.  The tubes of these lip balms just look happy with their patriotic flair.

Balms Away! lip balm
Balms Away! lip balm, layered with cherry, toasted coconut, and blueberry in one sweet tube

What’s your favorite lip balm flavor, maybe a flavor that takes you back?

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It’s that great earthy scent that is a flashback to the 60s, the Summer of Love and the Peace Movement.  It conjures up images of painted VW vans with shag carpeting in the back and very mellow hippie people with long hair with flowers in it.  This is a love-it-or-hate-it scent; I’ve yet to hear anyone say, “I kinda like it.”  It’s Patchouli, and if you can’t tell, I’m completely in the “LOVE IT!!!” camp.

One of the most awesome swirls I've ever done in Patchouli.  Totally wow!
One of the most awesome swirls I’ve ever done in Patchouli. Totally wow!
A close-up of that wicked cool swirl
A close-up of that wicked cool swirl

This was such a fun soap to make!  The business rule is, no one under the age of 12 gets to help make cold process soap, which, of course, means that both my girls are salivating for the opportunity to help me make it.  My four-year-old mixed all my colorants for me (there are 12 total), and my ten-year-old mixed the raw soap into the colorants.  Mom was here when we mixed and poured it, which was her first experience watching me make soap.  When I swept the coat hanger into the soap and we saw the swirl emerge, we gasped at how cool it was.  Click either pic to purchase a bar of Patchouli soap, or wait about 3 1/2 weeks for these jewels to be ready for purchase.

 In which camp are you?  Do you love it or hate it?


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Luxurious Solutions for Winter Dry Skin

It is not at all unusual for me to get special orders for products or for people to tell me about their skin conditions and ask me to pair them up with products that will meet their needs.  Usually, for complaints of psoriasis, eczema or sensitivities to fragrances, I recommend Soap of Milk & Honey (and Oatmeal!).  I received a call, though, from a long-time customer who was looking for products similar to what she had been getting from another company.  That’s not something I usually like to do, but she gave me the name of the company and the products, so I started investigating.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered these products which were earth-inspired and “natural” were made of premade bases with a few things added!  They even made claims about the healing properties about an ingredient that was in a product’s name, and the only hint of that ingredient was the scent!

No, I could not duplicate these products for my friend; I could make them from scratch even better.  I relayed to her my findings and warned her that I couldn’t make these products cheaper than she was getting them.  In fact, they would be more expensive.  She said, “I don’t care.  Yours will be better, and I’d rather buy from you, anyway.”  Here are her skin treats…

Handmade Lotion & Soap with an all natural lavender and pink grapefruit fragrance
Handmade Lotion & Soap with an all natural lavender and pink grapefruit fragrance

For bathing, I’m hooking her up with gloriously luscious body wash.  This mild soap made of a blend of premium, skin-loving oils builds lots of fluffy lather and leaves skin scrumptiously silky and richly supple.  The fragrance is an intriguing blend of herbaceous lavender and juicy pink grapefruit.  To hit those troubled dry spots, the lotion is a creamy blend features coconut milk and contains avocado oil, a great addition for her slightly more mature skin.  This also has that same incredible scent as the soap, so she’ll get to enjoy the light scent without inflicting it on everyone around her.

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It’s All About Customer Service

Today is my birthday, and the sweet treats of the day started this morning when one of my Divinity School professors guest preached at church, and my parents came down to join us for worship and to take us out to lunch.  My parents love fried seafood, and since miserable winter weather had prevented their trip to the beach last month, they wanted to go to this great local seafood restaurant, which was fine with us.  The restaurant serves delicious food, and we’ve always had enjoyable dining experiences there.

We arrived at the restaurant, and wow!  Was it crowded!  We put our name on the list, and the hostess told us it’d be a 20-minute wait.  We could hold out that long.  That twenty minutes ended up being much longer than imagined.

We waited more than 20 minutes, and still no table. My husband checked THREE times to see how much longer, and he was told, “You’re the next big party on the list. It shouldn’t be much longer now.” FINALLY, OVER an HOUR later, we hear the hostess call our name (barely) from inside the restaurant (She had been poking her head out to call customers who were waiting outside). We go inside, and she’s seating a party of 6 who had just come in. I pointed out how long we’d been waiting, and she simply said, “Sorry.” I informed her that we had two very hungry children in our party, and she said lamely, “Oh, I didn’t know you had children with you.” What should that matter? She didn’t even offer to make arrangements for us to sit down until after I asked to speak to the manager.

She sat us at a very cramped table for five and said she’d get a chair for our youngest (age 4). Ten minutes later, and still no chair. Another five minutes pass before the manager comes over. I explained how the actions of the hostess were far from the standards of even halfway good customer care, and he apologized, told me he’d inform the owner (cynical me doubts that will happen), and assured me it’ll never happen again. I was unpleasantly surprised that he didn’t offer to comp us anything for the extraordinarily long wait or the hostess’s lackadaisical attitude. I would have expected him to offer to comp us drinks or an appetizer at the minimum.

Our server, Ashley, did redeem the bad service experience with her own warm, energetic, courteous, attentive service. The hostess and the manager both had opportunities to practice what I call Super-Amazing Customer Care, and here’s where I think their learning opportunities lie:

(1)  When you have made a mistake, admit it.  The hostess first gave a flippant “sorry,” followed by a bit of sarcasm, topped off with an I-don’t-care shrug.  In reality, however it happened, she skipped our names.  No one likes being wrong, and being caught messing up at work is pretty embarrassing.  Been there, done that.  This happened to me in December.  I had missed a whole product subcategory when I was updating my inventory numbers on my website; as a result, a customer ordered soaps I didn’t have in stock.  I contacted her about the problem and offered her a solution to make it right.

(2)  A little sacrifice now will prevent a bigger loss later.  To be honest, I would have liked for the hostess to unseat the group she pushed in front of us and explained her mistake.  That doesn’t seem just to me.  At the absolute very least, the manager should have offered to comp us something – drinks (tea, Coke, chocolate milk, water) or an appetizer.  The actions of the hostess and the manager make me rethink returning to that restaurant, and I posted a less-than-favorable review which could possibly cost this restaurant business.  In the mistake I referenced from a sale in December, I shipped her the one soap I did have in stock, two other nice ones, a small lotion, and I promised to ship at no cost the soaps she ordered that I didn’t have as soon as they became available.  Sure I will lose a little money off this, but at the same time, it’s worth it to me to make a customer happy.

(3)  One person can turn around a bad customer service experience.  In our case, our server redeemed our lunch time, providing warm, prompt, enthusiastic, energetic customer service. We did almost, however, leave the restaurant, not wanting to expose ourselves to more poor service and giving another restaurant the opportunity to give us the service we deserved as paying customers.  That reality is there, regardless of the business you’re in.  Whether you’re a mechanic, restaurant owner, doctor or soapmaker, if you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.

What are some customer service lessons you would add, either as a business owner or as a consumer?

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So I have to write a blog post…

Woman's one-piece bathing suit, c.1920
Woman’s one-piece bathing suit, c.1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The creative well seems to be a little dry today.  So, what’s new?  Well, my birthday is this weekend, and this weekend is my last weekend of freedom until sometime in May.  Soccer season starts next Saturday with draft day, and I’ll be coaching my younger daughter for her first season.  I think this will be fun.  And chaotic.  Very very chaotic.

I really want to go shopping.  It’s warm and pretty(ish) here, and it’s putting me in the frame of mind to go bathing suit shopping and shopping for my Spring/Summer wardrobe update.  However, I do NOT want to take my children shopping with me.  I wonder if I can escape tomorrow, maybe treat myself to some fun self-spoiling?  At the same time, I need to take my older daughter shopping for her bathing suit.  Soccer season will eat up our Saturdays.

There’s something else I’ll be buying, something I’m very excited about using for my business.  You know that blog post I wrote about the Traveling Soaps?  I really, really wanted to make that a vlog post, and I even tricked out the camcorder so it’d fit on a tabletop tripod.  I recorded it, and in all modestly, I have to say it was good.  I trotted back to the office to edit and upload the video, and… Oh no.  Why isn’t my faithful camcorder communicating with my computer?  Hmmm…  The 4yo has been playing with my ziplink cable; maybe it’s the cable.  Just to see, I tested this out with the digital camera, and suddenly the pics on my camera started uploading perfectly.  So, sigh…  It wasn’t the cable, an easy, inexpensive fix.  No, it was the camcorder.

I spent hours yesterday combing cnet.com for reviews and Best Buy to compare.  I love the idea of the waterproof action cams, but they don’t have a zoom feature, and I’m not going to be around water with it all that much.  I’m still comparing and contrasting, indulging my not-very-inner technogeek.  (My technogeek is completely out of the closet!)  I’m excited about this new camcorder, not just for home movies and vacation videos, but also for my business.  I’m hoping to be able to get interviews with two area small business owners to share with y’all.

Hopefully with bad weather behind us (for now), germs behind us and day trips behind us, Mary and I will get back on track with our posts.  Look for new product pictures and business updates.  The next month will be full of exciting news.

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