As they say, “The times they are a changing.” This is true for wholesalers, retailers and even trade organizations. For me, as a wholesaler and proud TNNA member, they seem to be changing almost as fast as I can think. At times, it can seem overwhelming.
For many years, our planning process revolved around two big events: the summer and winter trade shows. We thought about what new yarns to bring in, what new colors to produce, and what models would pique a shop owner's interest. We circled the dates on the calendar in big red letters and worked feverishly to make sure everything was done by then.
I'll bet many of you worked the much same way. You'd find out what was new at market and then build your plan around that. It used to be that consumers looked to shops for the latest and greatest. They trusted their local shop and went to them for answers. Your customers would buy what you bought, they'd learn what you'd learned. And all was right with the world.
Well, that idea almost seems quaint today. Shops aren't the sole source for ideas, inspiration, and supplies. Consumers are looking to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Newsletters and emails come from you, newsletters and emails come from me. Ads are pushed at us every time we turn on our computers. Today’s consumer is bombarded, inspired and informed more than ever before.
Who do they think of when they see all these messages? Is it you? Can they see a post and know that their local shop can help them sort through the clutter and even bring these items to them? If not, how do we make that happen? How do we make ourselves the first thing they think of when they think of stitching? How can we get them to think globally and act locally?
Certainly trade shows are a big part of TNNA’s plan. They are where the rubber has always met the road in terms of keeping wholesalers and retailers connected, but we need to think in terms of an ongoing conversation with our members and continue that conversation downstream to the knitter, weaver, needlepointer and cross stitcher. We need to come together to engage all of them 365 days a year.
I have my thoughts and will share some here, but I am no expert. To paraphrase Julia Roberts, “I’m just a girl, selling some yarn and asking consumers to love her.”
Here are a few of my ideas, but I would love to hear some of yours. I can use help sorting through these crazy days too.
The first place I encourage everyone to start is the image they project both online and off.
When was the last time you updated your website? You may not want to get into the ecommerce game, but your website should look up-to-date, fresh and be easy to navigate. For many people, it is how you make your first impression. You probably spend lots of time planning your shop window; your online window is just as important. Have you made it easy for them to find you? I can't tell you how often I've had to drill down on a site to find a street address or phone number. People will move on if we don’t make it easy. When I think about our website I put myself in the position of someone coming to the site. I think about what they want to find, not necessarily what I want to sell.
Have you thought about getting products exclusive to you and your customers? It’s a great way to distinguish yourself from the competition. A definitive yarn color. A special put up of yarn. A limited edition canvas. Many vendors will create custom goods exclusive to you for your clients, all you have to do is ask.
How about creating events around those custom products? Maybe a club? Clubs are a great way to bring a captive audience into your shop over and over. Starting a club with exclusive items can keep customers coming in repeatedly. Likely as not, once they are there, they will buy more than just the club offering.
How about Stitch-A-Longs? They bring people into the shop many times over the course of a project, too. People like to work together. We talk about community all of the time and this is a wonderful way to build yours.
Are you playing nice with your neighbors? Shop crawls create excitement for everyone in the area and have been all the rage lately. You should get involved with one if you can. However, I recognize they don’t work for everyone. Are you too far away from other stitching shops to make a traditional crawl make sense? What about partnering with other kinds of shops? Our neighborhood in Chicago hosted a Soup Walk (http://www.lakevieweast.com/soup-walk/) in February. Nine restaurants gave away soup tastings in nine local shops. We walked from shop to shop, tasting soup on a cold February afternoon. Even though I’ve lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade, I discovered a couple of gems that I patronize regularly now. The Mushroom Barley Soup from The Bagel has become a staple of our weekend menu.
You'll be introduced to lots of new customers who otherwise might not have found you.
These are just a few ideas that I have and am playing with, but no conversation should be one sided. I would love to hear what you are doing or thinking of doing. If we share ideas maybe we can find a new path together.