By Devlin Smith
Margarita Olivares doesn't operate typical retail stores. In her shops, the walls are pink, floors are covered in animal-print carpet, employees wear fluorescently colored wigs, and merchandise is often furry, feathered or glittery. This combination makes Olivares' two Glamdora--It's a Girl Thingstores a bit of girl heaven. Operating stores in Corpus Christi and San Antonio, Texas, keeps the 30-year-old mother of four on her toes. It also makes Olivares, who's currently featured in the AOL/Entrepreneur.com series "The Startup" (AOL keyword: The Startup), a great person to talk about what it takes to run a hip retail concept. We asked her to share her secrets for keeping a business running smoothly and successfully, and here are her tips:
Where you at? Choosing your location is the most important step in making your dream of owning a retail store come true. What good is it if you have a great staff and awesome merchandise but no customers? You should choose a location that has a high traffic count. A new retail store isn't going to have a following unless it's a franchise with a well-known name, [so if you're independent,] you'll need all the help you can get. Ideally, you'll want to be next to non-competitive retail businesses that have steady clients; the overflow from these businesses will drive your walk-in traffic and bring in new business for you immediately. If you're looking into a new shopping plaza, you'll need to ask for the demographics of the area. This will ensure that you're not opening a high-end store in a low-end part of town. Be aware of your surroundings, and take your time choosing the perfect location. Don't choose a location just because it' close to your house.
Big brother. Mall management has a job to do, and it's to make sure stores coming into the mall or those already in the mall are following all the guidelines and policies that pertain to each individual lease. But management should help new tenants become more familiar with the mall because malls are run by a strict set of rules, and breaking one of the rules can break your pocketbook. Opening late, for example, is prohibited and requires a monetary fine to be paid to the mall. Mall management teams are very professional, and it's best to have done your research before attempting a meeting or negotiating with leasing managers.
Stocking your shelves. Selecting merchandise for your store can be the most time-consuming and expensive part of opening a business. This duty shouldn't be taken lightly! Before opening your store, you should visit wholesale marts to get an idea of the merchandise you'd like to carry. Decide what your mark-up will be and what's appropriate for your area. Choosing the merchandise can be fun, but remember to maintain a general theme and purpose for your products. Discuss ideas with other retailers at the mart, and ask the sales reps for their ideas and suggestions. You'll find most people are willing to help and discuss their experiences with certain products. This will help you decide and narrow down [your choices to] products that will do well in your store.
Keeping a theme. I maintain a theme in my store by staying true to our name: Glamdora--It's a Girl Thing. Customers know what to expect when they come into our store: They expect to see merchandise for girls--not many stop in to see what we have for boys. Keeping with our tagline, we include merchandise for girls of all ages: nail files, gifts, room decor, shoes, accessories. They're all chosen for their colors and merchandised by theme. Our stores are hot pink and lime green with zebra and leopard accents. With that theme, I choose merchandise that appropriately fits my store. I choose the nail files in hot pink, gifts in bright colors, room decor in zebra or leopard, and so on. [Sticking] to your theme will help you build loyal customers and create a unique store in the process.
Stay current and stay true. Don't think you know it all when it comes to trends. Keep up with local as well as national trends. You might see a particular look plastered all over the TV or in fashion magazines, but know your market. Will it sell in your store? Does it fit your theme? And don't attempt to sell anything that's way out of your normal buying budget just because it's trendy. The best thing to do is listen to your customers. Customers will always let you know what they're looking for, but only if you ask. Visit your nearest wholesale mart to preview upcoming trends and new products.
Hiring and Management
Good kids. It's inevitable--you're going to have young people work for you. Hire a young person who has a desire to know more about your type of business. A person who's really interested in cars but wants to work in your clothing store might not be as suitable as someone who's attending classes in fashion design. When interviewing a young person, ask them about their interests and hobbies, and what they feel they can offer you as an employee. I like to ask what they feel is their best attribute.
Second in command. Check all management applicants' references, and require a resume. Advertise for a manager if your budget allows and only if you're prepared to offer competitive pay. A management candidate should have at least one year of management experience and two years of retail experience. Ask them numerous questions about software, cash handling and, most important, management skills pertaining to customer service and employees.
Loss prevention. You can always expect theft--count on it and set your prices because of it. The only way to find out how much you're losing is to do inventory. I have a POS [point-of-service] system that's run from my PC and has real-time inventory. It doesn't have to be refreshed and can tell me right then what I have on hand. Keep your employees honest with cameras. If you're selling any small items that people are going to walk off with, keep them in secure cases. Make sure employees bring clear purses to work--or no purses at all. You always have to take precautions.
Drawing In--and Keeping--Customers
Everything must go! Have a specific place for your sale items. Customers should be able to easily distinguish sale items from regular merchandise in the store. Placing your sales items towards the back of the store will force customers to walk by the regularly priced merchandise before coming across the sale items, thus increasing the probability for sales of regular merchandise. Clearly mark your sales prices on all your merchandise and on signs that will grab your customers' attention. Storefront signs will also increase traffic flow and let customers know there's a reason to stop in your store, and you might grab new customers who [want to] give you a try and see what you have on sale.
Good as gold. Customer service is key to any successful business. Any smart business owner will tell you that customers are gold and should be treated as such. I always remind my employees that customers pay their checks and deserve their undivided attention at all times. Customer service isn't just telling a customer "hello"; it's also about helping them to their car with their packages and making sure they had a great experience while shopping in your store. Each customer should be treated the same and given equal attention whether they buy something or not. Treat your customers with respect, and always go the extra mile for them. Word of mouth is priceless--your best advertising can come from a happy customer. All it costs is your time.