Art and Donna Milstein, co-owners
How do this year’s sales compare to recent years’? Are you seeing a consistent decline or a slow improvement?
This year’s sales are down a single digit. We’ve experienced a slow, but consistent, decline over the last several years. We definitely believe that sending a monthly e-newsletter for the last two-and-a-half years has kept this decline to a minimum.
Are you projecting more positive numbers for 2010? What are you doing now to keep customers shopping?
We are hoping for a modest increase in sales for 2010. We keep the customers shopping with appealing e-newsletter content, and it has also forced us to keep our website up-to-date almost daily.
We also use hotlinks to emphasize an artist or group of work and, when possible, do follow up with the customers who opened those links. This leads to some additional sales and good customer service.
Have you tried any new promotions in the last two quarters?
We have tried several in-store merchandising themes by sharpening our timing on buying certain merchandise. For example, when a new ikebana artist drove through Houston and left us several new ceramic ikebanas, we contacted another three artists we had on order for a later delivery and had them ship immediately.
It had an instant impact. In an otherwise sluggish month, this created excitement with a small investment. This pointed out how important it is to have some on-hand funds to be able to move on surprise opportunities.
How has the economy affected your marketing budget? Are you adding, subtracting or keeping an even keel?
Our marketing budget has remained steady for several years. We do the biggest percentage in electronic advertising and only two mailings a year. It’s working for us.
We have been touting more “gift with purchase” specials in the e-newsletter. These promotions, as well as the birthday coupon in each of our newsletters, allow us to measure their success.
What changes did you make to your inventory mix during the economic downturn? What types of items are selling best right now?
Just as last year, we have made a concerted effort to go for value within everything we buy. Our mix now includes lower price points.
In last year’s November e-newsletter, we did a story on 40 gifts under $40. I had several younger customers come in after receiving it to say that that story got them back in the store and that they did all their holiday shopping with us.
Our best-selling items right now are jewelry. In order to keep this lead, I ran a survey in a summer newsletter asking specific questions about what our customers wanted. I got several good ideas from their answers. They wanted to see more artist-designed work and a wider range of price points in well-designed sterling jewelry.