Thursday, June 12, 2008

Retail Therapy: Exit9

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20% off your entire online order at exit9
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>> Thinking about opening a shop? Read on and find out what really goes on behind the register...

magical buying formula by exit91. Did you write a business plan?

I did for the first store, but never looked at the plan after we opened. At that point I felt it was important to stay flexible and make business decisions based on real data... not projected data.

2. Name one thing that completely took you by surprise when you first started Exit9 - something that neither biz how-to books or any "SCORE" workshop prepared you for.

Surprisingly, a dreary overcast day will be substantially more busy than a sunny day....

Keep in mind that when I started Exit9, I was as green as the early spring grass, so there were a lot of things that took me by surprise. In looking back, however, one of the biggest things I neglected to prepare for was the buying cycles that we humans tend to obey. The holiday season is a given that we consume more, but there are lots of other factors that effect buying cycles as well like, the NYC school calendar, holidays, spring, fall... and of course weather. Surprisingly, a dreary overcast day will be substantially more busy than a sunny day.... I guess people like the beaches on those sunny days, I know I do. It's taken me years to learn the cycle and even to this day I still get surprised by shifts in the buying cycle.

Do not underestimate the fact that you will be needed in two places at once....

>> click here to expand & read full interview

3. You recently opened a second Exit 9 Gift Emporium location. Other than buying power, what other factors should first-time store owners look at when weighing the option of opening a second location?

Oh, that's simple. Do not underestimate the fact that you will be needed in two places at once.... oh... and it's not JUST twice the work, its more than twice the work. With just one store, you're already there, you're in one place. If there's a fire, then you're there to put it out. With two stores its vitally important to have a good staff in place. I find myself leaning on them more than ever now.

4. You've been in business since 1995 - was there a year where you felt some kind of sigh of relief and felt confident that you weren't going to be part of a statistic? They say that in the restaurant business, you shouldn't expect to see any profit until your second year - is it the same for retail in your experience? What should aspiring store owners be prepared to expect?

I didn't quite have that experience. Exit9 '95 was operating at a positive cash flow within weeks of our opening, although it did take me about 2 1/2 years to pay down the credit card debt. So I suppose you could say my big "sigh of relief" came around 1998. Keep in mind too that I opened our first store on an incredibly thin budget, so my initial debt wasn't that big to begin with.

It's a slightly different story for our second store, though. It was a much bigger renovation budget and we are operating a little more on the "up and up" from the very beginning, so our start up costs were much higher. We are operating our 2nd location at a positive cash flow as well, but I won't really breath a sigh of relief until debt is gone... about 2 years probably.

5. Owning a shop means constantly wearing different hats. Here's how Charles ends up spending his time:

For me personally...
35% Buying
25% Marketing & Promo
10% Production & Operations (photos for site, hang-tags, display) - the staff mostly does this job.
5% Customer Service - The staff is constantly helping customers.
0% Fulfillment/Shipping - again, the staff... gotta love 'em
20% Accounting/Billing/Finances
5% Other: Staff management

6. Some say that the best business partners complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. How do you guys balance each other out?

a) My buying partner, Melinda (a female), and I (a male) are able to find a great balance with our product selection while at the same time checking each others gut reactions to a product.
b) She is also someone who is well informed about fashion and trends and conversely, I am not.
c) Also my wife is incredibly in tune (practically psychic) with customers while I tend to remain on the administrative side of things. Works out well.

>> So you think your goods are perfect for exit9?...

7. Do most of the other designers you carry approach you, or do you actively seek out new designers/crafters? If so, where?

I do most of my buying at the New York Gift Show (among others), but I also might comb through neighborhood craft fairs. I particularly look forward to the Renegade Craft Fair in McCarren Park and also the Bust Craftacular - both in Brooklyn. Not surprisingly, most of these crafter/designers never make it to the big trade shows because it's so absurdly expensive to exhibit. But I also get product submission from folks I've never met.

Most of the items I choose must fill a useful purpose... and dual purposes are even better. For example.... not just an environmental sack, but one that folds up to almost nothing... not just a flask, but one that also has a cigarette compartment.... not just a ring, but one that can also open a bottle... not just a keychain, but one that has a light on it.... not just a cell phone attachment, but one that looks like an old fashioned handset. etc I could go on...

1. Make sure you can produce. In the event that buyers need more, make sure you have the ability to supply them.

2. Quality. I can't stand it when customers return items because the item was poorly made.

3. Products shouldn't look to "crafty". If a product looks too "crafty" then customers look at it and think..."Hey, I can make that myself" and they won't buy it. The truth is, customers don't actually go home and make this stuff, but it's enough to make the customer not buy it.

8. You own two shops, are parents and Christy is a drummer and plays with numerous bands - how do you guys do it all? Can you please give us 5 life-balancing tips?

Wow, you've really done your homework about us. This is a good question... and I'm still figuring it out. But here goes....
5 life-balancing tips
9. If Oprah decided to give you $10,000 tax free for your business, but you had to spend it in one week, what would you do with it?

Easy.. I'd renovate our first location. For gods sake, she's 13 years old and she needs a face lift.

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20% off your entire online order at exit9
promocode: HEART (1 time use only, valid until 7/12)

1. The Softies Kit
2. Sharan Pinhole Camera
3. Lucky Beggar Coin Purse
4. Duct Tape Wallet
5. 3D Drawing Pad
6. Message Tape
7. Make your own photoblocks
8. Resist Plastic Tote

>> VISIT exit9
New York City: 64 Avenue A. New York, NY 10009
Brooklyn: 127 Smith Street Brooklyn, NY 11201

Not in NYC? No problem!

Thanks Charles & Christy!!

Image credit: hayeon k.


Melissa de la Fuente said...

So great! So much interesting info! I will have to visit next time I am in town!

heather smith jones said...

Oh I may have to shop online, that pinhole camera has my attention.
Thank you!

Robyn said...

This is a nice insight to what it takes to own a shop. Thank you for this article. It's little pieces like this that work as inspiration for us with big dreams (me!).

Sew Bettie said...

Great interview. Thanks for all of the info and advice. Seems like a fab shop!