Innovate or perish is the way of small retail businesses.
After over 4 years of running Knit Spin Weave I’m learning this is what will keep small retail businesses going in tough economic times.
Small local retail is dying. I don’t think anyone can argue not anymore. Walk down any shopping strip, small town main street or mall and you will see the empty shops. It’s a tough gig running a bricks and mortar in the modern era.
Bricks and mortar have many expenses that online businesses do not.
Yet we are expected to match online stores in pricing and range of products. Take a lease on a small shop, even in country towns this can be say $1000 a month, many are more and some are less than this. The government wants it’s 10% so that is $1100, to cover the lease alone a small business needs to generate roughly three times that amount in sales. In the hypothetical case that is $3300 of sales. Just to cover the lease. Now a bricks and mortar needs insurance, we can’t get away without it, as the landlords won’t lease to us and the council will be after us. An average insurance is about $60 a month, mine a little higher because I have classes. That’s another $180 of sales needed to cover that. Then there is the electricity about $150 a month so another $450 of sales needed to cover that. So I’m now up to needing sales of $3930 just to cover those essentials. There are more costs too, phone internet, marketing and don’t forget all the donations to the community groups.
Now we also need to buy the stock to sell to our customers. Often I get requests for one ball of one colour of yarn, that ball of yarn I sell to the customer may have cost me $500 to bring in as my wholesalers have minimum orders. If I don’t order in I’m at risk of loosing a customer, a negative review on social media and some less than positive word of mouth. In the days of social media it may be easier to market to people but it also has a down side of forcing small businesses into the position of trying to please everyone or risk the negative review.
Then we also have the time involved in running a business. For some the shear boredom of standing around a shop waiting for customers. Especially on those days where no one comes in. If running online, you can be home, catching up on the domestic duties and spending time with the family while things are slow.
In Clare we are about to loose yet another business from the Mall. And it makes me sad. The excitement and energy we start our little businesses with can quickly wane as the day to day hard reality kicks in. The less than kind browsers who tell us where they can buy cheaper online and ask us to price match. The rude comments said loudly, “Oh don’t go in there, she’s so expensive” The ones who come in with products bought else where wanting service for products you’ve not supplied to them.
It all sounds really negative!
So why keep operating a bricks and mortar? It financially does not make sense. The answer I think is that many of us do it for the passion of it. For our community involvement and sense of belonging within a community. For the shear love of what we do.
In my case I do it for my mental health, for the community that has gathered around the shop and for the YARN! I do love my product my craft and it is my passion. There is no boredom for me. There are needles, hooks, looms and string galore to play with. the love of sharing what I do and teaching other too. The joy of friendly faces. And the satisfaction of helping people and bringing more meaning to their lives. My customers over time become friends who get me with all my faults and inadequates. I do it for the relationships.
To continue to do what I do I need to pay the bills and that is reward enough for me. As long as it’s not costing us money, Peter is happy to continue to support me to do what I do. Happy wife, happy life. He’s also seen the many other benefits. Employment for our children in neighbouring businesses. Businesses supporting businesses! Thank you to Greg and Jacqui who employ three of our children.
Innovation, change and trying new things
In an effort to pay the bills, I try my best to be innovative. Try new things. Sometimes it’s been a mistake but those mistakes have taught me what not to do , also a vital lesson in business! I tried an online store, finding it too hard with such a huge range to manage the inventory. Adding stress even though it added revenue. So for now that has gone while I come up with a better plan that will be less stressful for me to manage.
My current strategy is to blog and monetise the blog with advertising and soon affiliate links. I’ve also signed up to Ko-Fi. It’s a total joy when someone clicks and buys me a coffee. I know they ‘get it’ they get me.
I am working on designing and writing up patterns for the yarns I sell. Eventually to come back to a webstore but changing the focus to kits of the patterns I’m writing and reducing to a smaller selection of goods.
I have a studio again and the strategy I’m working on there is to run workshops on a pay as you can afford strategy. I love teaching and I want to ensure all can afford to attend my workshops. When I open the envelops I feel so blessed. People pay money for my workshops without it being expected of them. Some pop very little in while others pop more than I would of asked for. I feel valued for what I do. Those free will payments mean more to me than the set prices I used to do. Even when they are small, they are a validation of what I do.
If we want to keep our little businesses going in a retail world where even the big boys are failing we need to look at different ways of seeing small business and judging success in more than financial ways.
I feel my little shop is a success. I get what I want and need from it. I’m still here four years in.
Thank you for the support! I wouldn’t be doing what I do without you.