Monday, November 1, 2010

How to Stay Positive While Running a Retail Business

As we approach the second anniversary in our new location and four years of being in a new state, it was a good time to look at what we’ve accomplished.  Mind you, I did not just come up with the idea of doing this; quite the opposite. 
I am a therapist by profession.  I have spent many years working in direct client contact, managing programs, managing people and training others on how to deal with problem employees, how to assess clients, how to deal with crises, how to prevent suicide, and many more topics.  I delved into the retail world about five years ago when I met my husband and he had a retail store in Tracy, CA. 
Things evolved and we decided to add e-commerce to his business in preparation of moving the business to my home state of Oklahoma, which we did, about four years ago.  I had never run a business before.  He had the knowledge of our products:  Vacuum Cleaners, Floor Cleaning Machines and Cleaning Supplies (although we took a turn toward Natural & Sustainable after I came on board), so we decided my contribution would be managing the business side of it.  OK, less decided and more just evolved. 
All this is to say I was immersed in a world I was really not prepared for.  Running a retail business is hard.  Expanding into e-commerce is harder.  Moving to a new state and having the economy take a big downward spiral just a few months after we opened in OK was nearly more than we could tolerate.  I could go through many scenarios of things that went wrong, including once when our website quit working for several weeks, but the specifics are not as important and it is to say, many things can happen when you are running a business and many of those things happened to us. 
At this point in our business we were struggling to have enthusiasm, even though we were planning to have an anniversary celebration at our store.  Then, I came across Liz Strauss’s
Wow!  Did I need to hear that!  I immediately sent a copy of the blog post with a note, to the other staff members at our company and said, “Wednesday will review.  What has, Inc. accomplished in the last 24 months?”

It was a very productive meeting and all staff members were able to list some accomplishments, including:

o    Moved to a better location
o    Added Kitchen Product Lines
o    Added two new Vacuum Cleaner Product Lines
o    Up-graded our Point of Sale Software
o    Started a second website, highlighting our local store
o    Up-graded our e-commerce website-to-shipping software
o    Began a television ad campaign

After we went through the exercise of looking where we had been, we decided to bring back a technique we had used when we first opened in OK.  We keep a whiteboard “Wish List” for the company.  This includes short-term and long-term goals for equipment, benefits, directions that we would like to see for the company.  We would periodically review it; see what we accomplished, what we want to keep and what we want to add.  It helps to have a visual aid, to let employees know their voices are being heard and for them to think they have a part in deciding in which direction the business is going.

Having a retail business is a struggle every day, especially for the small business owner.  We feel fortunate every month that we are able to pay our bills and keep our doors open.  It is hard to remember that and hard to remember to see what we have accomplished and celebrate our success.  I believe people are put in my life for a reason and I believe being pointed to Liz Strauss’s blog was no accident, but something I needed to read and put into practice.  Thank you Liz and thank you Twitter!

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