Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mystery shopping

About two years ago, when I was tech writing full-time (as opposed to tech writing full-time and running a wool shop!), I pitched to a mystery shopping company. The pitch went something like: sometimes your mystery shopping team find businesses that don't provide such great service. At present, you tell the company what they are doing badly, but you don't tell them how to fix it. How would you like to give them the option to hire me to write a fantastic sales manual to ensure that the problems you've identified never come up again?

I thought it was a pretty good pitch, but it never really took off. Possibly it wasn't a bright idea to target clients who were already sinking most of their disposable income into retaining a mystery shopping service. Anyway, for whatever reason, not much came of it, and I never thought of mystery shopping again - until I discovered yesterday that mystery shopping is completely unnecessary!!

Let me explain what happened. The other day, I received a customer complaint. I was really happy, and I put 250 loyalty points on the customer's card straight away.

Now hang on a moment (I hear you say)!! You received a complaint and you were happy? And you rewarded the customer?

To which the answer is, you bet I did!! Big companies who have no relationship with their customers have to spend a fortune hiring mystery shoppers to find out whether or not their staff are up to scratch. I hope that CCCK customers always trust us enough to tell us when things don't work out quite how they expect. I know it sounds cheesy, but I genuinely believe that we need to know when things aren't working so that we can fix them.

After all, I've never solved a problem that I didn't know existed. And besides, I can't afford to retain a mystery shopping service...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

High Vibes/Planet of the 8th...

Yesterday, for the very first time in my life, I worked in a shop during a street festival. The Northcote High St Festival happens every September, the weekend before the Grand Final. Not being a big fan of large, alcohol-driven crowds, I've usually stayed away. But this year, the festival took on a whole new dimension - each slightly woozy punter was a potential convert to the Dark Side, an aspiring knitter or crocheter who could be wooed into an extravagant luxury yarn purchase, rather than someone who might accidentally vomit on me if I got too close.

To celebrate the festival, we ran free knitting and crochet classes all day. As a promotion, it worked reasonably well - we had a steady flow of people through the shop pretty much all day. It might have worked better if our offer had appeared on the festival program, the festival website or our own website (still under construction!), but the response was still pretty good. One thing that helped immensely was having one of the free classes outside - I think we have Ewelina to thank for that idea! We hauled a couch and two chairs out the front of the shop, sat our instructors down and got them knitting. One of our raving fans also showed up and joined them - like magic, people started coming into the shop to find out more. Note for next year: get a marquee and set up a proper outdoor lesson area. It should go off like a frog in a sock.

The festival was also a great opportunity to showcase new stuff - like Inge's amazing scarves (she does classes - see our website! - and she's on Etsy) and Chiara's gorgeous handspun yarns (she also does classes and has an Etsy site - check 'em out!). I'm not sure what new stuff we'll have next year, but I'm surely going to make sure that we have plenty of it prominently displayed on festival day!

The main point of the festival is music. Note for next year: find a band or buskers and set them up inside or under the marquee. The gallery across the road had, throughout the day, drummers - a band - at least one DJ - and massive, massive crowds. About 10pm, I looked out the front window, the place was still packed. Fantastic PR, although they may be feeling a little weary this morning!

The other main points of the festival are food and alcohol. Late in the afternoon, a person wandered in and asked us if we had a courtyard. I replied cautiously that we did sort of, but it was more like a car space. All became clear when the person then asked "Is this the Peacock Hotel?" I explained that it wasn't and carefully guided them to the street. You can see the Peacock Hotel from my front door, but I'd say the odds are only 50/50 that the person made it. Note for next year: develop a procedure for managing people who are not operating at their usual level of competence.

My final festival note to myself for next year is - get some of my friends over and make sure I arrange some time out! It sounded like there was some great stuff going on, and I was a bit sorry that I didn't make some time to explore and see what else was going on. That said, by the end of the day, I was pretty happy to curl up on the couch with my knitting and listen to the gentle sounds of techno pumping out of the gallery across the way - much easier and more comfortable than trying to actually squeeze into one of the venues!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Happy one-month birthday!

On Monday 8th September, CCCK was officially one month old. On Monday 8th September, we also had our new lightbox installed, some locks mended and all our skanky eBay furniture steamcleaned to stop our customers from having allergic reactions whenever they sat down. Amidst all the chaos of locks, electrical installations and steam, I sat and thought about what I've learned in the last month. I came out with two lists.

Things I have learned about business:

  • Everything you try to do that involves technology will take at least twice as long as you expect. No matter how many websites you have created, there will always be something special about this one that will prevent it going up on time.
  • The power of word-of-mouth advertising is truly phenomenal. Even though I still haven't finished the website or bought any advertising, I have still managed to build up a mailing list of almost 400 people. Thank you, thank you, thank you to 'Merlot' from Ravelry, who put up a note on our first day of trading telling people that we were open for business.
  • No matter how much stock I buy, there will always be someone who wants something that I don't have. Developing an ordering system has probably been the smartest thing I have done so far. Now if I could only work out some way to shorten the lead time for Rowan orders...
  • Create a compelling vision of where your business is headed, share it with your staff, then let them run with it. They will come up with ideas that you would never think of in a million years, and they will back them 110%. Let them grow and watch your business grow with them.

Things I have learned about my customers!

  • There are people out there whose creativity absolutely brings me to my knees in awe! Since I started this shop, I have seen more amazing pieces of textile art and craftwork that I could ever imagine. I look forward to seeing many more in future!
  • There are other people in this world who squeal with excitement when Rowan releases a new fibre and who can admire a finished project in a new yarn for hours.
  • There are other people in this world who, after admiring a finished project in a new yarn, go out and buy enough of it to knit a jumper, even though they already have five or six projects on the go.
By Tuesday, my locks were fixed, the furniture was dry, and I proudly turned on my new sign, before heading off to a well-earned one-month-birthday dinner with my friends. Being a wool shop owner has been a wonderful journey so far - hanging out to see what the next month brings!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Project creep

Once upon a time, when I first started working in IT&T, I discovered a wonderful phenomenon called 'scope creep'. To explain this using everyday terms, let's pretend that scope creep happens in a hardware shop.

A customer comes in to a hardware shop and asks the shop assistant for a packet of nails. The shop assistant talks to the customer about what they want, shows them a few different packets of nails and helps the customer to make a decision. The shop assistant takes the nails to the till - just as they are about to put the purchase through the till, the customer shouts "Wait!! I'd like to get bigger nails and I also want a hammer please".

No worries! The shop assistant gets the new bag of nails and the hammer... "Wait! I don't actually want any of that - do you have a three piece bathroom setting?".

Scope creep is probably the reason for the myki blowout and for every other IT&T-related disaster in the history of disasters. One of the highlights of my new role as Retail Manager (I thought) was the end of scope creep. Never again, I told myself, would I sign a contract to write a procedures manual and end up being asked to produce three manuals, training materials and a website for the same price. Never again would I start documenting a simple planning spreadsheet that would evolve (as I worked) into a full-featured monster complete with project plans, budgeting tools and a coffee futures calculator.

That was when I discovered project creep. As a humble hobby knitter, I already knew about projects. After all, I had enough yarn for at least 12 projects in my stash at any one time. I carried a list of yarns on my Palm Pilot, just in case I came across a yarn sale and could pick up the materials for yet another project at a discount. If I'd dared to add up the value of the yarn stashed in my wardrobe, it would probably have been worth more than all my clothing combined.

As a wool shop owner, though, project creep took on a whole new dimension. Now I had access to a wool stash (also known as my stock!) that was not only worth more than my limited wardrobe, it was probably worth more than my car. I also had customers who wanted to know what this yarn and that wool knitted up like - how did it look crocheted - how would this pattern work, there's no photo of the back! On top of that, customers were enquiring about classes - what will we end up with at the end of the class? Do you have a sample? What would it look like in green?

From having 12 projects, all in my colours and my size, I was suddenly confronted with the possibility of an infinite number of projects in every colour and size that my customers might ever conceivably ask about. I was also under a lot more pressure to actually complete some of my projects, so that I could wear my very own hand-knitted creations in the shop. After all, how much cred does a wool shop owner have when she's wearing a cheap acrylic top that she picked up on sale at Best and Less?

I think I rose to the challenge well. On my first day of trading, I brought four bags of wool into the shop. Each bag contained wool for half a dozen projects mixed up together but not enough of anything to do more than about 20cm of knitting. This was fine, because I'd left the patterns and needles in my flat so I couldn't knit anyway. On the second day of trading, I started one of the class projects, a spiderweb wool scarf, and also a vest for myself. On the seventh day of trading, my family came to visit. I finished the scarf, started to crochet a scarf as an example for the beginner crochet class and also promised to knit my father a hat for Father's Day. In my third week of trading, I made an arrangement with a local artist to sell her lovely hand-dyed, hand-spun wools. Of course, the obvious way to promote this new addition to our product range was to buy the two loveliest skeins to knit myself some sort of amazing garment that would bring yarn aficionados into the shop in droves. I thought about entering my projects in Ravelry so that I could keep track of them, but the enormity of the task overwhelmed me before I even began - besides, time spent on Ravelry would be time taken away from knitting up my projects!

For the last month, I've juggled the crochet project (finished this week, now proudly hanging from Dixie the mannequin's left arm), the vest (done the back and part of the left front) and the hat (two rows long so far - happy Father's Day, Dad!!). I've hidden Dad's partly completed birthday jumper (which became the Father's Day jumper, which will now be the Christmas jumper) in my wardrobe so that I don't have to worry about it. I've gone through my stash working out what to knit for summer, and shown The Skeins around at a local knitting group, seeking inspiration for amazing garments.

In fact the only thing that I haven't done is add up the value of my stash: if my stash is worth more than my stock, I really don't want to know!