Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's In a Name?

Shakespeare pondered it.  New parents labor (no pun intended) over it.  Retailers know it's crucial to establishing their shop's persona.  A name is not something to be taken lightly.  While any name, in theory, will get the job done, one aspires to finding the best name.  In the case of a baby, they'll carry that name their whole life.  A business or retail shop probably won't have a run nearly that long, but one can always hope.

When we decided to open a shop in Maine, I knew I didn't want to use the name of my previous shop in Pennsylvania.  Although Grandiflora was similar in feel to LUCKY HILL, the shop was rooted in a flowers....literally.  The hallmark of the store was a cut flower offering complete with French market pails.  When I sold the shop in 2004, in my mind, the name conveyed with the sale.

So where did the name LUCKY HILL come from?  Most people assume it is because we're located on a hill and hope the business venture is lucky.  No and no.  Not even close.  It goes all the way back to when I was growing up in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  I had fallen in love with a little town called Marshallton and I always said that was where I wanted to live when I grew up.  But as time progressed, it was no longer just Marshallton, I had narrowed it down to one road in Marshallton.  Lucky Hill Road.

When you mention wanting to live on Lucky Hill Road to people who know the area, they assume the property you most covet is Lucky Hill Farm.  Lucky Hill Farm was comprised of a beautiful farmhouse and utterly magnificent barn set back from the road and nestled in a valley between rolling Chester County hills.  That was not the property I longed for.  I was smitten with a sweet stone house, surrounded by green, and enclosed by a simple wooden fence.  To this day, it pulls at my heart when I see it.  It speaks to me and always will.

But back to reality and the name game....we played with all sort of names when we were concepting the Maine shop.  We had lists and lists of words; cottage, rose, lilac, white, shore, beach, hill, names of places, family names, etc.  I knew I wanted something happy, upbeat, and not linked to anything specific.  I wanted it to be wide ranging enough so it didn't pigeonhole us.  After many combin- ations of words, written, spoken, recited as one would answer the phone, we decided on a name.  Done deal.  And then a few days later I told Dan that wasn't the right name.  The name would be LUCKY HILL.  It spoke to me the way that stone house spoke to me and it made me smile when I said it.  So in the end, it simply came down to a young girl's dream and a smile.  That was how LUCKY HILL came to be LUCKY HILL.  And it was the right name.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Onward and Upward

Dan might say I have a tendency to obsess....and obsess....and obsess.  In the weeks leading up to the NY Now show, I "obsessed" over what lines we should look at when we were at the show.  When we got to the show I "obsessed" if we were seeing everything we needed to see.  In the weeks after returning home, I "obsessed" over writing orders.  Perhaps "obsess" isn't the correct word.  I prefer to think of myself as being judicious.

So, after all the research, number crunching, and reviewing (aka obsessing) I'm happy to say everything has been put to bed.  All said and done, LUCKY HILL will have 20 new lines and re-orders on 26 lines.  While I'm not going to spill the beans about new categories and lines, I am willing to say we have "great expectations" for all the impending arrivals.  How would I sum up the new additions in a few words?  Uplifting, laid back, and brimming with la dolce vita.

Work continues on the back room.  I've gotten to spend time doing one of the things I love most, that being to figure out the puzzle of where in the shop display fixtures and product lines will reside.  Dan has finished the painting of the ceiling, walls, woodwork, and floor and has now moved on to refinishing, retrofitting, and reworking furniture for displays.  I hate taking him out of his studio, but we're a team of two and always pull together in the best interest of the business.  Needless to say, it's exciting to see the back room come to life.

Oh, and on a side note....of those 26 returning lines, you can be sure the GurglePots will be back in residence in their cheerful rainbow line-up.  It's been pointed out to me that most residents of Castine are already in possession of one or more GurglePots, but it's a big world out there beyond the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and it looks like a lot of people still need one....or two....or three burping fish pitchers.  Viva la gurgle!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

All Things Great and Small

When you're more Amazonian than Lilliputian, have grown up hearing advertising taglines like "Super Size It" and viewing monstrosities known as McMansions, you've probably lapsed into believing bigger is always better.  Retail is all about location, foot traffic, critical mass.....and square footage.  But does that mean it has to be an abundance of square footage?

More than a decade ago, we opened a shop in West Chester, Pennsylvania called Grandiflora.  It was located on a main street, across from an award-winning French restaurant, had free on- street parking in front, one lovely storefront window, and was a glorious 1,200 square feet of brick walls and reclaimed barn wood floors.  It ticked off all the boxes.  There were smaller shops on the same street that were quite adorable, but immediately dismissed simply because they were too small.  We never found ourselves pining away for a smaller venue, but did often contemplate moving to a larger one.

Fast forward eight years.  When we discovered 15 Main Street for rent on craigslist, we knew the square footage was significantly less than that of Grandiflora.  Interestingly, it never gave us pause.  Over the course of the decade I spent away from retail,  I had developed a great appreciation for petite spaces, be it residential or retail.  In the days between the first conversation with our soon-to-be landlords and the actual signing of the lease,  I pulled out my old Grandiflora notebook containing all my sales numbers, lines, and square footage per line.  After studying those numbers, I knew it was possible to make a small space work....we just had to be smart in the execution.

Lines had to be selected carefully with attention paid to ensure each line filled a specific niche.  There could be no extraneous lines and testing new categories had to be explored with baby steps as opposed to giant leaps.  Many lines were dismissed if opening order minimums came with a high price tag and price points always had to be considered.  The sweet spot, in my mind, was to create a cohesive line presentation in 3 square feet or less.  At Grandiflora, one of my best selling lines was a candle line (that shall remain nameless).  A small dresser set the stage and held 2 candles and a tester in each of six fragrances.  It was a clear, concise presentation with sales that always amazed me.  At LUCKY HILL, I simply had to recreate that model..... about twenty times over.... and then some.

This is an exciting and nerve-wracking time of year.  Tomorrow we'll head to NY Now at Javits and, over the course of four days, select product lines that will largely determine the outcome of our summer.  Not everything this summer will be new.  Some lines we've carried are slam dunks, some are on the fence, and some will not be returning.  The bottom line, however, is whatever stays or makes a debut must hold the promise of that candle line on the small dresser at Grandiflora.  Retail for us is no longer measured in "bigger is better", but rather good things come in small packages.  While LUCKY HILL is going to get a little bigger as we expand into the back room, it will continue to be a little jewel box filled with glorious light, creative visual displays, and beautiful treasures selected with great care and love.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Big Thaw

The holiday season has come and gone.  I finally managed to take the decorations and lights off the exterior "Light Up Castine" tree yesterday.  There was a week or two when the tree itself wasn't visible under the snow.... it read more like a massive snow bank amid other actual snow banks.  While the winds howled outside and temperatures plummeted, the interior garlands came down and were put away for another year.

Main Street at the height of the storm
We were quite fortun- ate this holiday season compared to some of the retail accounts I've heard.  The weather Gods were not on the side of the they big box, boutique, or Mom and Pop.  There was a storm every weekend and then the ill-fated ice storm.  The Sunday before Christmas was dismal due to snow.  Monday things got worse when the power went out during the storm.  By Tuesday, Christmas Eve, the shop was cold, dark, and silent..... and not in the Silent Night kind of way.  The one bright spot was the fact we actually did business on Christmas Eve.  I thank the brave souls who came by and, not only made purchases, but were understanding in that we couldn't take credit cards.

Happy Christmas Eve
The storm is now water under the bridge....literally!  We're now dealing with flooding as the snows have melted with the welcome rise in temperature.  Sunday morning we awoke to sun, blue skies, and green grass.  For a minute I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle and hoped I had slept through the winter and found myself with a calendar header that read "May".  Not quite, but we'll take this little reprieve as long as it lasts.

Icicles begin to form on the sign
Tomorrow marks the middle of January and I've spent the first half of the month dealing with numbers and new product research in anticipation of our upcoming buying trip to the NY Now show.  While the shop looks dormant from the outside, it's a flurry of activity inside.  We've mentioned our plan to expand to many people over the past few months, but now comes the time to make it happen.  Dan's studio was moved upstairs in October and, come May, we will open a door at what is currently the back of the shop and increase LUCKY HILL.  Also on the agenda is an e-commerce site to make purchasing easier for our loyal customers who are out of the area.  It's an exciting time for us.  We'll keep you posted on new developments and give you an occasional peek of the expansion.
Icicles on the house

Thank you to our customers (who we now consider dear friends) who have been so supportive and loyal.  You made our second season very bright!  Here's to a winter of minor snows, temperatures above the freezing point, uninterrupted power, and exciting new things on the horizon for LUCKY HILL!

P.S.-  Thank you again to all the line workers who sacrificed the holiday with their families to get the power and heat back on for everyone who was without.  It was appreciated more than you'll ever know!

Our Heroes!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Anatomy of a Window

It all starts with the window.  Literally.  Your window is the first opportunity you have to make an impression on passersby.  I'm always amazed at retailers who don't give one thought to their window display or don't even have a window display.  If done well, it should make people stop, look, (hopefully) smile, and then head for the door.

I try to change my window every month.  As for the design, sometimes it's inspired by a color, new products, or the season/holiday.  Often, it's a combination of two or more of the above.  This year we seem to have an abundance of polka dots.....on scarves, bowls, mugs, and socks.....and I knew at some point they would find their way to the window. 
This window had to have an Autumn theme and I decided to play off our branch and make it look as though dots....rather than leaves....were falling.  How can you have a Fall window without pumpkins?  So the natural way to incorporate them was to dot them too. 
A 1" hole punch created all the dots.  The dot garland that hangs from the branch was created using taupe string and a combination of card stock dots and dots made with sticky back paper (Avery full sheet label paper).  The sticky back dots were applied to the pumpkins and smoothed down with a fingernail.  From there, it was just a matter of determining what color scarves and socks would take center stage.
I never want the window to be empty or in a state of flux very long, so all the logistics are worked out before the previous window is dismantled.  Having staged everything upfront, windows usually go up in less than thirty minutes.  This one garnered a "thumbs up" while it was in progress and another compliment about the polka dot pumpkins shortly after it was finished.  So, for the month of October, you may see leaves falling out your window, but we have dots falling inside ours.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

And Suddenly It Was Autumn

A couple weeks ago as I was writing up a purchase, the customer mentioned I hadn't written a new blog post since February.  Really?  Never! Could that actually be true?  Sadly it was.  Somewhere between ordering, inventorying, and working seven days a week the summer came and went.  And boy did it ever!  It was a great summer for us in the shop and we thank everyone for their incredible kindness and generosity!

It was lovely to hear so many summer residents and tourists exclaim "You're still here!  Thank you for not leaving!  You made it through the winter!"  Yes, we are.  No, we didn't.  And yes, we did.  It wasn't without a few bumps in the road, but all was forgotten when "hug and hello" season returned.  The sad thing about the summer here in Maine is that it's all too short.  Too quickly we go from "hug and hello" to "hug....get teary...and goodbye."

So here we the end of a wonderful summer.  We celebrated our first anniversary.  We've modified our business plan from being a year-round business to being one that only operates eight months out of the year.  And we've come up with a pretty exciting plan for handling the winter.  But before winter sets in, we still have what will hopefully be a wonderful Autumn filled with crisp days, stunning displays of magnificently colored foliage, and a few more "hugs and hellos" from last year's leaf peepers.

I can't believe it's taken me this long to post and I promise (in my best Scarlett O'Hara impression), as God is my witness, it won't happen again!  Enjoy the last remnants of summer and get the cider ready for Fall!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

NYIGF in the Rearview Mirror

It's hard to believe it's been two weeks since we returned from New York.  At this point, all the orders have been written, re-written, amended, perused, and submitted.  As a buyer, I'm not a "spur-of-the-moment" kind of gal.  I've found whenever I arrive at a booth without a game plan and start ordering willy-nilly I always regret it....and often change the order or cancel it all together.  I would much rather sit with the catalogues and price lists and work through things in my hotel room at night or after I get home.

So how did the show go?  Exciting.  Exhausting.  Bittersweet.  I've always loved trade shows.  Even when I was a designer and went to trade shows representing the companies I was designing for, I loved the energy and promise of a new collection.  Attending the Gift Show and buying for LUCKY HILL is just as exciting.  I always go with a plan, but similarly understand those ideas are fluid.  The conversation Dan and I had the first night at the Russian Vodka Room was quite different than the banter on the way back to Maine.  Things change.  When you start pairing up lines and seeing how they pan out some concepts just don't fit.  In a small shop, you have to make sure every line has a purpose and addresses a specific niche.

When I was a designer, I had a very clear image of my customer.  It wasn't just an age, figure type, or income bracket.  It was the whole package.  A lot of companies and retailers create a "customer" who acts as a constant reminder of who their target market is.  I have my LUCKY HILL customer in my head.  Is she a real customer.  Yes.  This is the first time I don't have a fictitious customer in my head when I go on a buying trip.  Will I ever say who she is?  Not a chance.  Will she buy everything I bring in?  Probably not,  but she is my buying barometer.

So why did I say the show was bittersweet?  I'm so incredibly excited about some of the lines and new product categories we're bringing in it drives me crazy that they won't show up for a few months.  When I had my store in Pennsylvania, I would have started bringing the new products in pronto....Valentine's Day was always right around the corner from the January show and the August show was the lead-in for the Fall and Holiday shopping season.  I have accepted the fact I have a shop in a seasonal community, but it will never sit well with me.  I'm never happier than I am when the shop is a buzz and people are happily finding beautiful products they love and can't live without.  So for now I'll gaze out the window looking at piles of snow and longing for the day when the Fed Ex man will start delivering packages containing treasures from all around of the globe.

P.S-- New York was FABULOUS!!!!!