Tag Archive: retail

Small Business Using Virtual Assistant

Small Business Using Virtual Assistant
Many different businesses already employ virtual assistants or other online support for everyday tasks. What about those who are not quite as likely to dive into the virtual workforce? Small retail businesses, often know as Mom and Pop shops, are an ideal candidate for virtual employees.

Many owners of these smaller shops may not even realize that virtual employees are a possibility much less, know of the benefits of outsourcing their administrative, marketing or accounting needs. To many smaller retail stores, the thought of hiring on additional staff for any of these tasks can seem much too expensive. In reality, using virtual assistants, marketers or accountants is really a way to cut costs.

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

1.    Virtual assistants on a project to project basis. Many small business owners often wish they could have someone on hand when they need them to help with projects of all sizes. Perhaps they need a new brochure or sales flyer designed. Maybe they have a large mailing that is making them pull their hair out! Virtual assistants can step in at a moment’s notice, at any time and support them to whatever degree is necessary.

2.    Virtual assistants as marketing consultants. A lot of smaller mom and pop organizations think that marketing is not an affordable option. Yes, marketing can be an expensive venture, but it is vital and can be done on a budget. Many virtual assistants are very experienced in marketing their own companies, as well as assisting other businesses with their marketing campaigns. Their involvement with marketing can be anything from brainstorming and consulting all the way to running or managing the entire campaign.

3.    Virtual assistants as webmasters or the online department of a mom and pop shop. Sometimes retailers, like most business people, tend to get in a bit of a rut. If your shop is doing well, you may not see the need for any additions or changes. However, in this increasingly online world, having your foot in the door of the online marketplace is key. This is where a virtual assistant can step in and save the day. Having a website is necessary these days. You may not want or be able to actually do business online, but you must have a site that gives information on your store, hours, address, etc. You can decide how deep in the online pool to swim, but don’t be so scared of drowning that you never test the waters! You can hire a virtual assistant to consult with you to figure out exactly what type of site you need, what you want to say, the most affordable way to get up and running, etc. Virtual assistants can also design, maintain and update your website on an ongoing basis.

So, whether you own the general store, a local restaurant, your town’s bowling alley or any other mom and pop venture, don’t be afraid to reach out to unconventional resources for help to ensure that mom and pop’s business stays strong long after the grandkids take over!

Flea Market Q&A: Entrepreneurial Lessons from the World of Secondhand Retail

Flea Market Q&A: Entrepreneurial Lessons from the World of Secondhand Retail
by Erin McDermott.

Flea markets rang up $30 billion in sales last year, according to the National Flea Market Association. Ki Nassauer (pictured) is executive editor of Flea Market Style magazine and founder of Junk Revolution a popular online forum for devotees of tag sales, vintage markets, and “junkers.” She recently spoke with writer Erin McDermott about what small businesses can learn from the tables and stands of these surprisingly big businesses.

EM: We know the old saying: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” But that could also be called a niche market. What surprises you about what sells?

KN: The most difficult part is finding the place to sell it. So what sells in the West is different from what sells in the East; what sells in an antique shop is different from what sells in a flea market. That, to me, is the most interesting part of it all. There’s a buyer out there for pretty much anything, depending on your location.

EM: The Internet, with Ebay and Amazon, has added so much competition for many of the goods you might see at a flea market. And now there’s Etsy.com, which is so much more visual and appealing. How has this affected flea markets?

KN: It’s a different style of shopping. Etsy came at the right time: Everyone’s used to shopping online and they made it very easy. And in the last year, they’ve really improved their search, which personally has helped me dramatically with shopping online. You can search and go right to the vintage category and call up ‘crocheted potholders’ or ‘comic books’ or specifically search for the item for which you’re looking. And that’s actually easier than shopping at flea markets because you can narrow the search if you’re looking for something in particular. It’s more difficult to browse, certainly. I do it all of the time for magazine articles.

PQ_QAkinassauer.jpgEM: Flea markets are at the forefront of recycling, reusing, and repurposing materials. That’s also often true for entrepreneurs and small businesses when they’re starting out. What are you seeing in terms of a new focus on being green?

KN: It’s definitely a younger demographic than we’ve ever had before that appreciates flea markets. They appreciate recycling. They’ve grown up with it and it’s a cool thing to recycle, whereas, say, 50 years ago or even 25 years ago you didn’t see as many young people at antique shows or flea markets.

EM: What have you learned from flea and antique markets over the years? Are there lessons for entrepreneurs and small businesses?

KN: Flea markets themselves are an opportunity for people to start new businesses. There are people who would have never considered opening a small business, because of financial or time commitments. But here they can stick their toes in the water and try something. I get frequent calls and emails from people who say ‘I want to open a business’—maybe it’s decor or antiques or a vintage shop. I always recommend that they buy a few things, load up a truck, and go to a flea market. It’s the first step if you’re going into the antique or vintage industry.

Flea markets can teach so much to potential business owners. They won’t be isolated. There is competition among sellers and they will be right there with them. They can watch other vendors who’ve been doing it over the years. Be it business practices or their style, there’s so much to learn from the people who’ve been doing it. And it’s all around them.

EM: Have you seen some great success stories?

KN: Oh, absolutely! There have been a lot of small businesses that have started with people opening a booth with a friend. I think a lot of it has happened with women hitting mid-life or couples who are retired, or considering retirement, or, particularly, people who have had corporate jobs with crazy schedules who finally say ‘Enough is enough: I love vintage and go to flea markets as a hobby. How can I turn this into a business?’

And they start by just buying and selling stuff at a flea market, and that turns into maybe a shop, or something larger if they’re traveling cross-country to a show. And you know—people are earning a good living from buying and reselling. There are even people who get a TV career out of it!

Branching Out: Staffing Issues to Consider When Opening a Second Location

Branching Out: Staffing Issues to Consider When Opening a Second Location By Iris Dorbian.

Imagine this scenario: After some early struggles, your small business is starting to make money. Your customers are loyal and steady and you are at a point where you can easily pay your overhead and vendors (while taking a healthy salary for yourself). More so than ever, you are ready to open a second location.

Such a proposition presents exciting opportunities for a growing business but it also offers considerable challenges. The biggest hurdle—aside from finding a convenient and affordable location in relatively good condition—is personnel. How are you going to find reliable employees that you’ll be able to trust when you’re not around?

Transfer responsible employees to the second location

If you know straight off that you will not be present much at your company’s second branch, consider transferring key employees who are already well-versed in how your business runs. Such a move will not only save you a lot of sleepless nights, but it will also give your second location a running start by staffing it with trained personnel who can prioritize and act responsibly on your behalf.

Keep in mind some potential pitfalls, however. Moving original staff to a second branch could cause disruption to the workflow at the flagship location. Further, original staffers might not be adept at training a new team to handle company protocol while also dealing with the work volume. That’s why it’s important to fully explain expectations to your flagship staff before you begin shifting workers around.

Hire only when necessary

This may sound counterintuitive when you’re looking to expand, but if your business is a small mom and pop-owned operation with limited funds, it’s an important point to consider.

“Don’t take on the added expense of extra employees until you really need to,” advises Lucille Skroce, co-owner of Matisse Chocolatier, an Englewood, New Jersey-based gourmet chocolate shop that recently opened a second branch in Orangeburg, New York. “You work with what you have until you can’t do it anymore.”

Skroce, who purchased the business in 1995 with her husband Vlado, cites a familiar scourge as the reason for the expansion. “My husband has been unemployed in the construction industry the last three years,” she admits. “[Matisse Chocolatier] is the one business [in our family] that’s doing OK so we thought maybe we can do it again and have another revenue stream coming in.”

Since the second location opened last December, Skroce and her husband have been its full-time staff. However, she recently hired a part-time employee who is not a transplant from the flagship store, which has two full-timers and several part-timers. This addition allows Skroce time to pursue other things and “have a life,” she says.

Don’t sacrifice customer service

Replicating the success of your flagship at a second or even third location means offering the same level of customer service. Don’t sabotage those efforts by skimping on your employee training.

“Our clients love the ability to talk to a real person every time they call in,” says Craig Rollins, CEO of LJCooper Wealth Advisors, a small wealth management firm that launched in Utah in 2000 and has since branched out to offices in Colorado, California, and Florida. “I will never have an automatic or phone tree installed because our customers go out of their way to tell us how much they appreciate being able to speak to a live person.”

“Servicing your clientele needs to be about providing a quality experience that is repeatable and reliable from the receptionist to the CEO,” says Rollins. “Management should staff according to how good they want their customers’ experience to be.”

Even though Lucille and Vlado Skroce are the full-time team at their new location, they are slowly integrating their part-time employee into the new store. The goal of this take-it-slow approach is to give them the time to sufficiently train the new hire so that eventually she will be able to run the second location with little to no supervision.

PQ_StaffingIssues.jpgHire via word of mouth

For small business owners, hiring a new worker through referrals, rather than placing an ad on an industry job board or a site like Craigslist, may be their best bet. Filling a position via word of mouth fosters a greater climate of reliability.

“When you have a small family-run business, your whole family and life revolves around it,” says Skroce. “That’s why it’s so important that the people you bring in are people you can trust.”

Find future employees among customers

“Learn from your prototype what you want out of your staff, then start building buzz to attract that type of individual long before your new store opens,” advises Edward Liesenfelt, general manager of Gelato Paradiso, an Italian dessert shop that opened in Newport Beach, California in 1999 and expanded to a second location in Laguna Beach in 2006. “The reason you are expanding is likely because your flagship location is popular enough to warrant a new venture. Use that to leverage interest in your new location not only from consumers but for potential employees as well.”

Using a strategy similar to that employed by the Skroces, Liesenfelt says Gelato Paradiso, which typically hires employees on a part-time hourly basis, does not advertise vacant positions—even on its website. Rather, Liesenfelt says he looks for applicants drawn from customers that have expressed an interest in working at the shop.

“This way, when we require new help, we start with an applicant base that has already come in, tasted our product, and taken the initiative to get a foot in the door,” he explains .“By the time new prospects fill out their applications, they have already envisioned themselves as a part of our company, which shows during the interview process and beyond.”

Never forget that employees are your best brand ambassadors. Hire smartly and you will foster a work dynamic that will not only make workers want to be part of that environment but attract enthusiastic customers to your next store as well.