Monday, January 31, 2011

What Makes a Shop Memorable?

Hand embroidered on vintage Western fabric, vintage lace & paper, hand stamped Chinese coin. made for Phat Quarter embroidery swap on Flickr
WB version of Lobo

ComedyXTragedy=Love shellseye Etsy
Hand embroidered on vintage fabric, wool felt, paper, found frames

Recently I was recognized by someone who used to shop at a little comic book store I once worked in. This probably doesn't seem too unusual until I tell you that its been about 15 or 16 years since I worked in this store, the store itself has been closed for probably 14 years & this isn't the first time someone has remembered me or that store, years later.
So, what was so special about this particular store, that people remember it & its employees so many years later? It was a family owned business that catered to niche markets, comic readers & rare book enthusiasts. In the decades that the store was around it became not only a source of used & rare books but grew into one of the largest used comic stores in the nation & was known worldwide. On the book side, the owner would not only search out books that his customers were looking for, catering to their needs, but also had a partial trade system for used paperbacks (rarely valuable) where the customer could bring in used paperbacks & trade them either for store credit or cash, receiving more in credit than in cash. On the comic book side, he created a system of “comic files” where the customer could reserve a list of specific, ongoing titles & pick them up all at once. Customers remember the unique inventory, the innovative systems & the individualized customer service that the employees could provide.
The business ultimately closed, due to other issues, but there are still many things we can learn from its unique business model: lessons about finding & catering to your market, lessons about customer service & lessons in problem solving through innovation.
There are many used book stores out there, most unique in some way, but all cater to the same customers. Innovative systems, personalized customer service & an unusual inventory, not easily found are what made this store memorable.
The used paperback system encouraged a continuous flow of inventory, with little or no cash output. Customers had a continuous source of books to read, with potentially little or no cash output for them. They would often end up browsing the stacks, to end up with more books than they brought in. These could be purchased for cash. For avid readers, this was a great system that kept them coming back for more. They could have purchased their books elsewhere, ending up with less, but they chose our store.
For comic readers & collectors, comic files gave them a reason to come in on a regular basis, browsing both new & used shelves for more to purchase. Not only did he take great care to offer his customers personalized service, but he hired knowledgeable employees, who could take care of the in store customers.
The inventory was diverse & unique, with not only new & used books & comics, but other collectibles, like art, vinyl & games, many of were rare, some generated curiosity, even a very valuable item or two. The owner would personally search out specific items for regular customers. Often, in his searches he would find & acquire things of general interest to his customer base. Often these things would come in the door, unsolicited, sellers knowing that this was a market for their wares. The owner sold what he loved & his customer base was filled with people who loved those same things, so he knew the market well.
This is what made the business & its employees memorable. These are the tools we can use in making our own businesses memorable, stand out in the crowd. First, offer personalized customer service, make your customers feel like you are there for them. Know your customer base & cater to them. Find or make what they are looking for, but make it in your own, unique style. Sell what you love & you will know your market. Second, create a unique inventory, give your customers a reason to purchase from you & not someone else. This is another expression of knowing your customer & catering to them. Make something unique or make something in a unique way, offer a unique service, find a niche. What would you buy & who would you buy it from? Why them & not someone else? Offer exemplary customer service, go out of your way for your customer. One last thing & maybe the most difficult, innovate, think outside the box. Find ways to keep your customer coming back, maybe a coupon with purchase, mix & match items, maybe suggest items that would go with the one that was purchased, offer a subscription or mailing list, find a special vintage piece for a regular customer...
This is what made our store memorable, why customers remember it & us. Find what works for you & your shop & your customers will remember you for it :) SAM

Here There Be Dragons shellseye Etsy
Hand embroidered on felt, hand stamped


Red Nomad OZ said...

Words to live by! Just stopped by (albeit late!) from the Friday blog hop to say G'day from down under in Australia!

Have a great day!!

Julia & Cori said...

Just stopping by to say Thanks for linking up with Handmade Wednesday last week and congrats on being a co-host this week!

Oh, and we're following your blog, loving it!

samsstuff said...

Thank you both for stopping by!