Going Back Is Not an Option

“Retailers Temper Recovery Hopes with Caution” read the headline on a recent newspaper article about business and the economy, and I think that pretty much says it all. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of peaks and valleys, but after more than two years of uncertainty, everybody—retailers, shoppers, suppliers, makers—just wants it all to go back to the way it was before the bottom dropped out of the stock market in 2008.

Which isn’t going to happen. Moving forward is the only way to proceed. For small retailers, that means taking a long, hard look at the way they’re doing business.

Think that just because you open the doors every morning, shoppers will come in? Wrong. Think that putting all your efforts into social media to the exclusion of human contact with your clientele will automatically get you more of them? Wrong. Think that putting everything on sale to undercut the big-box retailers will make a difference? Maybe in the short run, but then what will you do?

I’ve had conversations with numerous craft retailers since the beginning of the year, and what I’ve come away with is worth sharing. First, no two galleries are alike, and what works for one might not work so well for another. Location has a lot to do with foot traffic, as does exclusivity of merchandise. Yet the common thread running through every successful gallery I’ve seen, no matter where it’s located, is a strong sense of community outreach.

For Anne and Barry Bradley, of Artisans at Rocky Hill in Fredericksburg, Texas, that means fostering a sense of family with the Texas Hill Country artists they represent and a sense of community with other local retailers. For Mike Stutland, of Artique Gallery in Lexington, Ky., it means collaborating with complementary local businesses to mount special events.

For Diana Mathews, of Quirk Gallery in Richmond, Va., it meant devising an ingeniously configured deck of playing cards that engaged other retailers, with mutually profitable results. And for one group of specialty retailers in Alexandria, Va., it meant banding together to launch a “Handcrafted Alexandria” marketing campaign.

This issue of NICHE focuses on proven ways to tackle the recalcitrant economy—and win. We asked writer Marilyn Millstone to research how smart retailers are using community outreach to grow sales and mount attention-grabbing events. Her report, “Guerrilla Marketing for Holiday Dollars,” starts on page 50. And for more on the Bradleys and their “keep it local” strategies for success, turn to page 44.

It all comes down to people, and not just the virtual kind. Interestingly enough, Anne Bradley doesn’t have a Facebook page. She doesn’t do Twitter, although she says she’ll probably get around to using both some day. But she has developed solid ongoing relationships with her staff, her artists and the local business community. And she is a master networker.

There’s a strong message there, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

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