Positive Yarn

January 7, 2009

Kids, yarn and kindness

Filed under: Outreach — heathergooch @ 4:13 am
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In a Jan. 6 Detroit Free Press article, one of the The National NeedleArts Association’s (TNNA’s) Needle Arts Mentoring Program (NAMP) projects was highlighted. About 30 students at Berkshire Middle School have knit nearly 300 scarves, one for each Special Olympics athlete participating in the events next month in Idaho. Needles were donated by NAMP Director Penny Stitler, and Coats and Clark’s Kathleeen Sams made sure there was enough yarn to go around.

It’s stories like these that make me hopeful about our future. Kudos to the students and their teachers. About a year ago, I had the good fortune to interview one of the program leaders, Judy Simony, and she and her team are doing wonderful things at the school!

Please let me know if you or one of your colleagues or customers are doing similar good deeds in the name of both generosity and handiwork. I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out to a national program that was recently profiled locally here, the Warm Up America Foundation.

And on that note, I should really close my laptop and pick up my crochet hook…


January 5, 2009

10 tips to smooth IT implementation

Filed under: Technology — heathergooch @ 5:00 am

While it’s a safe bet that most of us don’t think government when we think “shining beacons of efficiency,” the U.S. Department of Justice has published a very useful fact sheet for ensuring success when installing or upgrading an information technology (IT) system. If 2009 is ringing in new software and/or hardware for your business, here are some of the DOJ’s suggestions. They’re based on research the department did in conjunction with SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, and in my humble opinion can apply to businesses in any industry, large or small:

  1. Create a chain of command for the project. Recommended structure would include a project sponsor, who is responsible for the “big picture” aspect of the project; a small steering committee of executive stakeholders: a project manager, who is the point person for all the project details; and as needed, experts on specific technologies for training.
  2. Incorporate staff that will encounter the technology in their day-to-day work. Rather than learn from trial and error, the DOJ suggests, provide training guidance from the start. After all, employees who are comfortable with new technology early on tend to have better buy-in than those who suddenly find their workday disrupted by a new system that no longer recognizes their passwords, etc.
  3. Avoid “Scope Creep.” This fairly common phenomenon is defined by the DOJ as “an uncontrolled shift in defined project objectives, causing the boundaries of a project’s vision to expand beyond the project’s budget and resources.” This should be headed off early on by the project sponsor, who must consistently make decisions with budget and return on investment (both short- and long-term) in mind.
  4. Forecast realistic timelines. To try to rush implementation is a recipe for disaster, but at the other end of the spectrum, so is spinning your wheels with partial implementation. Make sure your budget and labor forecasts are on target so that you can stay on schedule.
  5. Develop accurate project budgets. As mentioned above, staying within budget is crucial to success. The DOJ advises that the project should incorporate a budget based upon both one-time and recurring costs.
  6. Conduct a comprehensive procurement. When putting the project out to bid, the DOJ suggests having vendors to compete not only on price, but also functionality and willingness to negotiate a favorable contract.
  7. Employ quality control measures. Don’t rely on your vendor’s response to how the implementation is going. Get feedback from employees who are using the technology day to day.
  8. Develop a communications plan. The DOJ offers as an effective method “the development and maintenance of a dedicated project website that includes discussion forums, related project documents, schedules and resources.”
  9. Manage risk. Chances are good that something in the project implementation process will not go according to plan. The more prepared you can be with a “Plan B” when things go off-track, whether it’s cost overruns, delays, system failures, etc., the sooner you can get past the hurdle and back on task.
  10. Monitor integration with existing systems. Your new software program might be capable of running every task you can think of, but if it throws another one of your systems off-kilter or can’t be accessed properly without a major hardware upgrade, what good does it really do you? The DOJ suggests working with your vendor at the onset with an eye on how any new components will interface with the systems you have already in place.

December 30, 2008

Procrastination Doesn’t Pay

Filed under: Personal — heathergooch @ 8:24 pm
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While professionally, I try to meet — and exceed — my project deadlines, my personal life is filled with the potholes of procrastination. Why didn’t my Christmas cards go out this year? Part of the reason, I must admit, is because of the time lost playing Solitaire on my husband’s iPhone this holiday season. Why is my wedding dress, circa 1996, still hanging in my closet on a wire hanger instead of being preserved in a box? My excuse has morphed over the years from not having the money to now not having the time.

The problem (or perhaps my saving grace) is that I always have remorse after the fact. For example, as I got ready for bed a couple nights ago after spending three hours on the Internet surfing really random, but somewhat interesting things, I lamented that I could have been stitching/folding laundry/paying bills/spending quality time with my family. Why those thoughts weren’t occurring to me as I clicked hither and yon hours before, I don’t know. I realize that everyone needs some down time now and then — but on the other hand, I firmly believe we only have one go-around in this world, and it’s up to each of us to make the most of our time.

So I admit that I had a chuckle this morning when my husband emailed me a link to a CNN health feature, “Putting a price on procrastination.” I encourage you to check it out in its entirety (don’t put it off!), but the gist is that this Web site will light a fire under you to accomplish a goal you’ve been slow to move on, be it losing weight, finally calling an old friend, cleaning out old inventory or whatever else is on your mind but not off your list yet.

What’s the catch? Well, if you don’t make your set deadline, you have to pay up. The site itself is free — they just make a donation to your charity of choice. And while your money could go to a charity you like, it really ups the ante if you put it toward one you don’t!

If the site is not your cup of tea (or maybe you just won’t get around to joining it), consider another point the CNN article makes: Procrastination could be costing you in and of itself. If you are not religiously setting aside money for retirement, for example, the interest you could be making today is not going to be there when you start to get serious about deposits five years from now.

Similarly, if you’re not ordering inventory in an appropriate volume because it’s “too much hassle” to change the invoice order, you’re paying that price every time — be it more frequent drops because you’re selling more or less profit margin because you’re selling less.

New Year’s resolutions rarely stick, I realize, though they have a better chance if there’s a support system or incentive in place. Have both, and you’re that much closer to scratching something major from your “to-do” list.

Who knows — you may even see me at the dry cleaner’s in 2009.

December 25, 2008

Very Merry

Filed under: Uncategorized — heathergooch @ 2:54 pm

I just wanted to wish my readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Kwanzaa — or Happy Thursday if none of the preceding fits!

While the weather outside here in Northeast Ohio looks more like drizzly April than late December, I’m not complaining. We’re driving to my aunt’s house later today (I’ll have my newly started second cross-stitch stocking in tow so I can finish it by December ’09), and I’d rather not drive an hour in snow, no matter how pretty it is.

I’m closing my laptop now so I can enjoy watching my daughters play with their new treasures and enjoy this lovely day. I wish you and yours a blessed, relaxing day too!

December 17, 2008

Top 10 colors for spring

Filed under: Business marketing — heathergooch @ 4:03 pm
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Forget Christmas red and green for a minute — do you know what colorways you’ll be stocking inventory in after the holidays?

The Pantone Color Institute, which provides color standards to design industries, offers its Top 10 shades for Spring 2009. Some of it builds upon already-popular colors: Where Fall 2008 had a lot of dark blue and purple, for example, this spring gives way to sky (oh all right, Palace)
blue and lavender.

Here are Pantone’s Top 10. Please note that I’ve just approximated the colors in HTML. In addition, your browser may display the colors slightly differently — that’s why the Pantone Number is included!

Fuchsia Red: PANTONE 18-2328

Salmon Rose: PANTONE 15-1626

Palace Blue: PANTONE 18-4043

Lucite Green: PANTONE 14-5714

Super Lemon: PANTONE 14-0754

Dark Citron: PANTONE 16-0435

Lavender: PANTONE 15-3817

Vibrant Green: PANTONE 16-6339

Slate Gray: PANTONE 16-5804

Rose Dust: PANTONE 14-1307

December 11, 2008

‘Non-disposable’ income

Filed under: Business marketing — heathergooch @ 4:58 pm
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While I stood in line at the library checkout last night, my daughter asked whether she could have the books she picked out to carry in her own bag. Our library system has been providing heavy-duty plastic bags for years, and while I try to reuse them as much as possible, I had only brought one with me.

“Sure,” I said, figuring that was about five less High School Musical junior novels I had to carry.

As Hannah went to grab one from the counter, the librarian looked over and said “Go ahead and take one, but these are the last that we’re carrying — once these run out, we’re not getting any more.” She turned and pointed to a canvas bag on a wall display behind her. “We’ll start pushing these more.”

While paying $3 for a library-logoed canvas bag isn’t exactly the bargain that the free plastic bags were, it certainly makes a lot of sense from both the library’s budget and carbon footprint points of view. Plus, who says bags are required when you can just carry the books out the door like we did in the “old days”?

It got me to thinking about the needlework shops that I frequent. When I make a purchase, I usually take it out in a nice floral (sometimes striped) paper bag. I’ve only been to one shop that printed its logo on the bag — and I think that’s a missed opportunity for the rest of us.

I’m not saying that your paper bags should go away entirely, but why not test the market for canvas bags with your logo? Diehard customers might like to have a dedicated “ABC Yarns” bag that they use for purchases in your shop, and will also likely find them useful to hold their latest project. Said project might go with them to stitch-ins, airports, doctor offices and other places where your logo (and Web address and phone number, of course!) is exposed.

Plus, by this time next year, the bags might be just the thing a holiday shopper is looking for to round out their gift purchase, either empty or filled. Set aside a table that displays a gift bag special: Your bag holding a couple of slow sellers plus a couple small hot items, all for a set price like $25, could be the magnet that draws in folks who simply aren’t sure what to buy the “stitcher who has everything.”

The bags are also easy value-adds throughout the year:

  1. Take a cue from the cosmetic companies: “Free bag with $50 purchase” during your anniversary sale, for example.
  2. If you’re asked to participate in a fund-raiser auction, the bag filled with some goodies and coupons for your shop delivers a consistent brand message to every bidder who passes by.
  3. Use the bags to hold kits you create for classes (if there are enough materials in each kit so it’s at least semi-full). You can charge a bit of a premium to make up the cost, but the practice separates you from the zipped-top crowd.
  4. Fill a bag with slow sellers and invite people to sign up for a giveaway during an open house sale. On the form, make sure you include a box to check if they want to be added on your mailing list.
  5. Reward employees for a contest, or on an anniversary day, birthday, etc., with a bag containing a surprise. It could be a scarf you made for them, a gift card (I recommend placing such a tiny thing into a big box in the bag, for a quick laugh and to ensure they don’t think you just tossed them a $3 bag), a set of hand lotion, box of their favorite tea, or whatever you’d give them wrapped up anyway.

It’s a simple investment that can pay off in marketing — and feeling good about the environment.

December 5, 2008

NFIB IDs top customer traits

Filed under: Uncategorized — heathergooch @ 8:49 pm

With the holiday season in full swing, you might see some new faces in your shop — be they friends of friends dragged in “just for a minute” while they’re out and about, or gift-buyers looking to you for expertise about what to get their spouse/friend/relative who is a frequent sight in your aisles. Regardless of why they walk through your door, take every opportunity you can to convert the casual browser into a bona fide buyer.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) offers 12 commonly encountered customer types. Keep in mind that every customer is unique, and is a mixture of more than a few of the categories on any given day. But picking up on what their dominant personality traits are by asking some questions — and listening carefully to their answers — can help you respond positively to their needs. Here is my tailored adaptation of the NFIB’s 12 categories. I’m using “her” throughout, but don’t forget many men stitch (or at least buy), too!

• The boss. This customer wants to be in charge, with things done her way. Conversation starter: Imagine she is a respected supervisor. Speak deferentially. Ask questions to be sure you understand what she’s looking for. Make notes if necessary.

• The competitor. She’s checking around to see what she can get from the competition. She’ll spare no effort to identify the “best deal.” Conversation starter: Refrain from kicking her in the shin when she mentions the big box store down the street! Seriously, stay composed and reiterate why your store’s inventory, sales support and knowledge is what sets you apart. Remind her to “please sign up for our mailing list, because we offer our readers discounts all the time,” which may be all she needs to become convinced she’s getting the most out of her money.

• The explorer. This customer may not even be certain she wants to buy, but perhaps her kit requires a thread color her usual sources don’t supply, and she doesn’t want to order online because she wants to see what it looks like first — or wants it immediately. Conversation starter: Find out what other questions your customer may have, and offer guidance as best you can. If you don’t stock what she has in mind, see if there’s at least something comparable on the shelf, or how soon you could get it in for her. Try to make “Sorry, we don’t have it. Have a nice day!” your course of last resort, not first.

• The miser. She’s out to save every possible nickel. Conversation starter: Just like with the competitor, bring the conversation around to the value of your store and its offerings. Make sure that she is aware of your discount programs. In this economic climate, it’s better to keep smaller customers than lose them completely, so think about your next clearance display: Is it shouting “Hey cheapskate, you could at least get this” with items tossed carelessly in a basket or on a shelf? Or are you treating the items with as much respect as you would a brand-new line, maybe even showcasing a made-up sample you did with some orphan yarns, for example? (Then again, there’s something to be said about the bargain hunters who enjoy rummaging through your clearance shelf for their perceived “diamond in the rough”!)

• The negotiator. She believes hard negotiation is the key to just about every successful business transaction. Conversation starter: This is encountered more when there is a problem — “What are you going to do about this?”— than a mere purchase of some needles and yarn, but this customer wants to negotiate, so negotiate. Keep your employees attuned to how much they really can give a customer without giving away the store: a credit voucher, a free kit of her choice, a free class. It’s a win-win if she feels better about the situation — and you get to keep her on the mailing list.

• The novice. This first-timer is on your doorstep with a seeming willingness to buy or seek assistance. Conversation starter: Ask a few questions to determine the extent of her knowledge about needlework, so that you neither insult her intelligence or overload her with so much detail she’ll run out the door. She’ll appreciate a customized “introduction” to the needlearts that will help her find the right fit.

• The preacher. Almost evangelical in her tone, this customer has firm — and quickly expressed — opinions. She’ll want to spend time expounding on her views. Conversation starter: This customer requires extra-careful listening. As long as she isn’t knocking the competition (it won’t take long to realize that if she says something bad about them, there’s little keeping her from equally badmouthing you to someone else), your most important role is to empathize with your customer. Once you get beyond the opinion and the emotion, you can address the issues at hand.

The researcher. She wants to gather information about her prospective purchase or her post-purchase problem in a studious, almost academic fashion. She may even have a notebook in hand. Conversation starter: Listen carefully to her questions. Ponder your answers. If you’re not certain about a point — or want the opportunity to continue the conversation later — indicate that you’ll research the answer and get back to her.

• The sampler. This is the classic kick-the-tires customer. She wants to try and test. Conversation starter: Let her browse, offer assistance where needed and underscore your superior class lineup. If she’s in the market for something new, show her the latest and greatest. If she wants to get back to basics, you can show her that aisle too — it just takes a bit of listening to what she’s truly looking for.

The skeptic. This customer doesn’t take advertising or product claims at face value. The result is often a stream of pointed, sometimes trivial questions. Conversation starter: Depending on what she’s skeptical about — a product, an activity, your store’s reputation — try to emphasize the strengths of whatever is being brought under scrutiny. Be as honest as possible, of course, but what this customer is often looking for is reassurance: “It’s true the book says you can finish the project in under six hours. It took me about that long, and I have other customers who say they finished it in about eight. So it’s definitely doable in a weekend.”

• The socializer. This customer likes to buy, and even looks forward to seeking customer service. Yes, this probably defines most of your core customers! Conversation starter: This customer wants a personal relationship. Engage in chitchat. You’re not wasting time talking about the weather, your children or your customer’s weekend plans.

• The speed demon. Whether she’s got many things on her mind, children in tow or just on her lunch break, this customer is in a hurry. You might notice her anxiously tapping her foot at the register or appearing slightly agitated. Conversation starter: Use a brisk, authoritative but friendly tone of voice. Give fast answers to first questions. If asked, she wants genuine assurance that you’ll address her need of assistance quickly. And while your shop would never be mistaken for a fast food joint, a reputation of addressing customer needs as fast and as accurately as possible is a good one to shoot for.

I encourage all small-business owners to take a look at the “Small Business Toolbox” Library that NFIB offers. There’s a treasure trove of ideas that work, just waiting to be implemented at your shop.

December 1, 2008

What Cyber Monday means to me

Filed under: Business marketing — heathergooch @ 8:27 pm
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Every year, once the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers are stuffed into the fridge, it’s my personal signal to switch into high holiday gear. Sure, I may have picked up a Christmas gift or two back in October, but now it’s time to get serious — put up the tree, make the list of who should get what this year and print umpteen photos of my girls to send in Christmas cards to all the relatives.

I let Black Friday pass me by this year, mostly because I have no desire to get up early on a day off or to fight large crowds. But this relatively new day of “Cyber Monday” is much more my speed. I can browse online, click, shop and wait for my presents to be delivered to my door — even already wrapped if I so choose.

Time magazine has already called Cyber Monday a bust, but I think they’re missing the point. The endless cornucopia of merchandise for sale online (and that includes needlework kits, accessories and necessities, folks) will be at my beck and call for the next three weeks. Sure, I have to build in some time for shipping, but I’m able to get so much more into the spirit of the holiday when I’m curled up in an easy chair with my laptop, cocoa and credit card number at hand, as opposed to when I try to push my cart up and down the hectic, disheveled aisles of my local big box store.

And when I do venture out, I hope to walk into a retail environment that is filled with the sights and sounds of the season, a place that is showing off all the creativity that comes with holiday decorating and making gifts instead of buying them. Does that sound like what you’re offering your customers today? Are you offering classes to harried moms like me who’d love to spend an hour in your shop some weeknight, especially if it means I can have a completed bracelet/scarf/insert beginner project here to give as a special gift?

On a similar note, are you taking advantage of technology to let customers (and potential customers) know what you’ve got going on this season via email and your Web site? Anita Byrd, owner of my local yarn shop, Studio Knit, sent out an email to everyone on her list last Tuesday to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving and a quick, oh by the way, stop by for a “sit, knit and chat” on Fridays and Tuesdays to get cracking on those holiday presents.

Are you allowing people to order online? Online gift cards, in particular, might be a particularly smart move — take Candamar Designs in California as an example of how easy it is for my — er, someone’s husband to get his stitcher wife what she wants.

No matter how you do it, happy shopping and selling this holiday season. Maybe I’ll even see you on Etsy!

November 20, 2008

Just like child’s play

Filed under: Business marketing — heathergooch @ 3:26 pm
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Hey, wanna have kids?

Professionally speaking, of course. In this tight economy, it makes sense to appeal to all demographics — and where there are children, there are bound to be parents following close behind, opening their wallets to their darlings’ whim.

I know, because I am one of the wallet openers. And while my husband and I take great pains to ensure we keep our daughters from being spoiled rotten, we have certainly done our fair share of shopping for them.

We also shop — a LOT — for children’s birthday presents for the parties to which we are invited. This weekend alone, I need to buy a gift for my best friend’s daughter and another for the neighbor’s little girl who’s having a roller skating party. In fact, I’ve been to a myriad of interactive birthdays. The celebrations where a couple friends from school come over and help blow out your candles in the dining room is sooo passe. We’ve been skating, golfing, go-karting and bowling, jumped on inflatables, painted ready-to-decorate ceramics, baked cupcakes in a professional kitchen, and the list goes on.

So, why not grab a big piece of that birthday cake? Joanns does it, and so does Michaels. Host a party on otherwise-quiet Sunday afternoons, where a group of 8 to 10 kids can crochet a little purse, bead a keychain or stitch a bookmark. Even boys can get enthusiastic about it in a group setting — peer pressure can be used for good, not evil when it comes to overcoming their reservations about trying out something that seems so “girly” at face value. In fact, Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts troops would appreciate a chance to spend an afternoon at your shop. Make sure birthday guests know you’re available for troop events, and make troops aware of your penchant for parties.

Kids’ creativity never ceases to amaze me, and to introduce children to the needlearts is definitely rewarding. My fourth grader has crocheted leashes for every single stuffed animal she and her sister own, and has made bracelets and necklaces for all of her friends. (I hope to eventually interest her in progressing beyond the chain stitch, but for now, she’s happy.) Both girls also took full advantage this fall of the Stan Hywet Needlework Guild’s children’s booth at the annual Ohio Mart festival, where they learned how to stitch on plastic canvas for free and took home two very cool ornaments:

OhioMart1 OhioMart2

The best part about children’s parties is if you hold them in the back room, the parents will tend to wander out front. And when they see their child really enjoying the project, it gets the wheels turning about what they can buy to sustain the interest. Try making an endcap all about kids — the Disney patterns, the brightly colored threads and yarns, the plastic needles. Show they can not only make and take, but if the next party happens to be held at home, you can supply the parents with enough activites to keep the kids occupied until the pizza arrives. In fact, just last weekend my fourth grader went to a slumber party and came home triumphantly with a new elastic necklace and a silk poinsettia wreath she made by herself (with the help of the birthday girl’s mom and her glue gun). They beat the heck out of a goody bag, because she wears the necklace nearly every day, and the wreath is pretty enough we can display Christmas after Christmas.

Similarly, the look of pride and accomplishment on my first grader’s face when she finished her Dora the Explorer “Begin to Sew” finger puppets a couple weeks ago is one I’ll never forget. These are memories I want to make again and again.

If your store has reached out to the under-10 set, be it birthday parties or otherwise, please share your experiences by commenting below.

November 12, 2008

Take advantage of the economy this holiday season

Filed under: Business marketing — heathergooch @ 8:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

If anything good comes out of our nation’s current credit crunch, it’s that many craft enthusiasts are making it a homemade holiday this year.

This can be verified by outlets as diverse as MarketWatch and Canadian women’s magazine divine.ca, but I can also personally vouch for it after sitting through a fantastic day-long seminar yesterday hosted by the Stan Hywet Needlework Guild. Designer Joan Thomasson came up to Akron, OH, from Miromar Lakes, FL, this week to instruct dozens of eager students on three of her most popular angel designs, Liz, Beth and Elizabeth. The experience led me to consider two super-easy, but not-so-obvious ways for shop owners to make their cash registers jingle this holiday season:

1. Lessons are the gifts that keep on giving: While I’m going to be selfish and keep Elizabeth for my own Christmas tree (even though, at the rate I get to stitch, it may be Christmas 2009), I overheard many stitchers discuss how they want to give the finished ornament to a friend or relative. A trunk show of Joan’s beautiful patterns — and kits for sale on the spot — also emboldened stitchers who got their confidence levels up with the class to try making additional pieces for gifts. Kudos to Joan for being savvy enough to bring extra inventory; plus, she gave a percentage of the sales to the guild, thus building goodwill and almost guaranteeing a return performance in the future!

Another key to making kits go the distance is to add in materials for future inspiration. A friend of mine who was taken with the bracelet-making class I blogged about last week figures there’s at least enough beads in her kit to make her sister a matching bracelet. Plus, she went back to the shop recently and purchased even more beads to make for additional Christmas presents. Studio Bead probably hoped for some return sales based on the class they gave, but their late-October timing was particularly ideal: They’ll have at least a couple students popping back in with holiday present-making on their minds.

2. Give old inventory new life. This time of year we also start thinking about “out with the old, in with the new.” Take a cue from a shop owner from Middlefield who knew two of her customers were taking the Stan Hywet seminar: She gave them about six books to bring in and donate for a random drawing among the guests. So six people (myself included!) went home with an unexpected, but wonderful present.

Choosing from among the prizes, I picked Holidays in Cross Stitch, 1989: The Vanessa-Ann Collection. Would that 19-year-old edition have sold in her shop this year otherwise? Probably not, unless she showcased it alongside a finished piece that got customers to thinking about what else was inside its pages. Will I use it, and feel good about the way I received it? Absolutely. (Note to the shop owner, though: It would have been great to have seen your business card tucked inside the cover so I knew whom to thank, or perhaps a coupon/flyer to entice me to learn where your business is located and make a visit!)

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