I’ve heard about what people can do with old schools… there’s been some buzz about abandoned elementary schools in Kansas and other parts of the country. I’ve read of people completely restoring them into totally different sorts of living spaces. I thought… how cool, but I’m not moving to Kansas.
I didn’t know there was one in my backyard. (It’s only 3.8 miles from Scott and Alicia… hey guys, want to spend the next 7 years cleaning chalkboard erasers and grading science projects?? hehe)
Behold… for $325,000 you can buy a 46,000 square foot school…
Look at what Mike and Brian McMenamin did in Portland to this old school from 1912…
The Kennedy School has been a center of lively activity for the Northeast Portland neighborhood since opening in 1915. Over the years, thousands of kids have congregated here to decipher the three Rs, eat macaroni and cheese on Mondays, and climb hand over hand up the gym rope to ring the bell.
It was a sad day indeed when at the end of the 1974-75 school year, school officials, faced with declining enrollment throughout the district, closed Kennedy, declaring it too old and crumbling to repair.
Mike and Brian McMenamin presented just one of several proposals for reviving the condemned property. Other ideas ranged from a retirement home to an indoor soccer facility. After receiving the approval of the city and the support of the neighborhood, McMenamins launched its renovation in the spring of 1997, infusing the 80 -year-old structure with new life. In particular, a river of artwork was created from the stories of generations of Kennedy’s students and teachers.
On October 22, 1997, the original principal’s bell was rung on the front steps at 7 a.m. sharp to herald the old school’s new beginning as McMenamins Kennedy School. Offering a unique and fun lodging, dining and meeting experience, Kennedy remains a lively gathering spot for neighbors and newcomers alike.
The front of the school
One of the bedrooms (note the chalkboard headboard!)
One of their courtyards
The Detention Bar
The Gym… for events and square dancing
The Honor’s Bar (hehe)
One of their restaurants
Check out their website
…you can totally get lost in its awesomeness. I guess the “school” even has its own microbrew beer
that’s famous in the area! Oh, and they are green! I’ve never been to Portland, but here’s another reason to go visit! How cool and totally charming is that?!? :)
I’ve currently been passively looking at real estate that could fit my needs for a little shop. Still have some research to gather, but I’ll share that all with you soon. Obviously, 46,000 square feet is a lot of floorspace to fill… and I don’t have that many jars of bath salts, but wow… how fun is it to dream? That’s what makes like fun, anyway… dreaming (or plotting, in my case) about what you could do!!
Have you seen this show, “Peter Perfect“?
They find struggling businesses and Peter does a makeover on the business and gives all the workers/owners makeovers, too. They even dress them in outfits or uniforms that match their new store. It can get a little over the top and repetitive… but I love to see the before and after for each shop they transform. All of the locations are in Southern California and it’s truly amazing what they can do for each business.
Peter talks about branding, making your front window pop and the overall feel of your store. He’s big on getting rid of the clutter, a cohesive color palette and the changes he does are all really quite simple… although he does have the advantage of thousands of dollars and a crew of people helping! He uses an expensive graphic design company to overhaul logos… then someone comes up with a theme and style of the business… his big thing is “branding” by really creating an image with your business. Your customer has to know who you are when they walk through the door. Many of the businesses had HUGE logos painted on their back wall or counter as you walk in, it’s simple but it’s really a great idea. They come in and throw all the old fixtures out, slap on a new coat of paint and clean the place up.
I think what is so great about this show is that the “afters” are so dramatic. When you are a business owner, you really get emotionally wrapped up into the store and it’s almost impossible to stand back and see what your flaws are, where you should make changes or where you should invest your money. You need a business coach or neutral third party to step in and help guide you when you have these emotional blinders on. Peter is a tad heavy on the obnoxious dial (He says, “I’m not gay, I’m British!” whatever that means), but he and his team get the job done and inject a much-needed spark of energy into each business and he gives these business owners a new direction and some hope. I would love to do what he does :)
If you get a chance to watch this show, I would recommend it! I think you can even download episodes on i-tunes if you don’t get the style network (I’m not 100% sure that’s the channel).
Ask yourself…are you an entrepreneur? Do you think you can run a retail shop? Are you willing to take risks, give up vacations and weekends? How do you handle stress? Can you multitask?
Are you creative, good with numbers, sensitive, good with people, outgoing or shy? Can you work 7 days a week, afford to hire a few people, can you tolerate bad news?
I’m a bit all over the place here… but I can tell you, if you are like me… you are creative, sensitive, stubborn, have some ADD and not-so-good at doing paperwork. I love the decorating, buying, arranging and displaying of items. I obsess on it for hours and hours. I like making art when I’m good and ready… when I feel inspired…. have the right light, the right supplies… I’m in the right mood. When I get into that mood or that groove… wild horses can’t pull me away from what I’m doing (I’ve seen many a sunrise). I have an animation and art background… I’m a true (nutty) artist. When it comes to doing paperwork, filing, data entry, figuring out how to use the cash register… bah… I loathe it.
Personality wise, being sensitive and a habitual people pleaser since birth, I was able to empathize with people and really listen to their problems. I wanted nothing but to make each person that came into my store feel at home, relaxed and cared about. The bad thing with taking on each person as a friend, I really internalized every negative story or comment. I took it home with me and it really brought me down. Imagine having 200 close friends… many of them are going through a hard time in their life and naturally, they want to share. Now, imagine going home with dozens of sad stories… and worrying about each of those people. It wasn’t something I was equipped to handle. I felt a bit immature when it came to dealing with these interpersonal relationships, but on the flip side, I did feel blessed to have so many new friends. I just did not know how to shake off those bad emotions. In all my years of retail, I had never felt this way… I guess being the owner of the shop, and being there every day, you build relationships you just wouldn’t if you were working part time or working in the sportswear department of a sporting goods store. Also… I would “pull strings” for every one of my new friends. Discounts, special gift wrap… freebies. I thought I could wind it down as the store got more established, but my new friends came to expect the special service and treatment (I would, too, if I was on the other side of that counter!) Once that was put out there, I couldn’t take it back. I gave too much emotionally and financially. Gift wrap was costing me a small fortune and when I cut back on the frequent discounts and free gifts, my customers got annoyed. It was totally my fault. I wasn’t thinking when I opened myself up for that.
Another thing to mention, I talked about my life with some of these customers, too. I think I told them too much about my personal life. Looking back, I should have never shared as much as I did. Again, not equipped to handle all of that. You may want to make a conscious decision that you will or will not share yourself with your customers. There is a happy medium ground between being too cold to your customers, or being their best friend and therapist.
Click image… an example of being too warm or too cold when dealing with a customer
Commentary on the comic… it’s not necessarily bad to be empathetic, caring and listen to your customers… or even hug them after knowing them for 15 minutes… BUT just be aware that this could create a pattern and be expected every time this customer comes into the store. Now… imagine doing this with 200 customers and 200 customers expect the bar to be that high on every visit. Also imagine 5 of these customers in the store at the same time, all wanting attention at the same high level. Unless you can clone yourself, it is virtually impossible to do. Believe me, I’ve tried it… it doesn’t work. Someone leaves feeling like you’ve ignored them or that you like someone else better (totally not true!). On the other hand, a happy customer will buy more… but how happy do you need to make them? Customer service is very important these days. Lets face it, unless your prices are rock bottom the only way you are going to keep customers is by having awesome customer service, a niche item they can’t get anywhere else or create an experience they won’t forget. The lesson here… don’t be completely cold and be very careful how much time you give away, make a very conscious decision how you will handle any given situation… it’s very important that you set your boundaries, one way or another, immediately.
Lastly… vendors would come in constantly. Some of them were super aggressive. You have to be able to say “no” and walk them to the door. Or have a policy regarding when you will look at new merchandise or how to submit inquiries, pictures or samples. One time, I graciously declined carrying one vendor’s work and told her good luck with selling her items. She left, but not without aggressively yelling “Good luck to YOU! You are going to need it if you don’t want to buy MY product!” Thanks lady. Ugh. I even took that personally. I need therapy ;)
So, that’s my story with dealing with people. Now, on top of that… bad things DID happen. My window broke (possible bb gun shot) merchandise was stolen, I received bad checks, counterfeit cash and phony traveler’s checks… I felt violated. I went home and cried… a lot. I thought I was carefully building a loving, creative and caring environment… then something bad would happen and I would just want to close the doors and hide. Run-ins with customers, neighbors or the landlord when they are having a bad day… you quickly get this “victim” mentality that everyone is out to get you. This may not be you… but I’ve found that a lot of creative people can be hyper-sensitive. If you can relate to this… I’ve got some books for you to read :) And, if you are the sensitive/creative type… you might want to find someone who is good at doing the books… hiring and firing people… someone who can deal with customers until you find a way to handle them professionally. I call this person the “bulldog”. If anything… grab a bulldog and have then help you set up rules and regulations… then stick to them. You’ll have to be strong to survive in your own store :)
If you are more a 1’s and 0’s sort of person… you can crunch numbers, budget and file paperwork like nobody’s business… you may also be ready to open your own store. But, if you want a unique, creative boutique, you’ll need to find someone creative to partner up with… even if just at the beginning. I’m a firm believer that if you are passionate and work hard, you will succeed… but you will need to have a creative edge if you are trying to open something from scratch. I think a franchise is perfect for this type of person. You get the guidelines and expectations up front… then you hit the ground running. It’s an excellent option for someone who is very business minded.
If you are tough, good at filing paperwork and creative… then KUDOS to you!!! (I’m sort of jealous!) We should clone you!
In summary, what I found to be very important, as far as qualities of an entrepreneur who wants to open a boutique are…(and these by no means, represent myself… it’s qualities I wish I had!)
- Thick-skinned… let the problems roll off your back. You don’t take things personally and you can put any issues, problems or complaints behind you and move on.
- Set up rules & feel perfectly fine sticking to them (gift wrapping, returns, other misc. regulations). Do not bend. Post them and refer to them when needed.
- Have strong self control. If you intend on spending X number of dollars at the gift show, only spend that much. Set up a budget and stick with it… no matter how cute that item is.
- Have boundaries with your customers. Don’t tell them too much about your personal life and don’t let them tell you too much about theirs… unless you want it that way. Once you open that flood gate, you can’t go back without hurting someone.
- Set schedule. This sort of goes with self control… but… set up a schedule and stick to it. I clean this day, pay bills this day etc.
- Passion for your business. When walking into your store people know immediately that you love what you do. Find ways to let the joy shine through and renew that love as often as you can, much like putting the “spark” back into a marriage.
- Keep a list of your goals. Daily Goals, Weekly, Monthly etc. Check back to them regularly. Always keep yourself motivated with things you can change and celebrate the things you did change. Refer back to your successes and remind yourself of how rewarding it was.
So, assuming you are still with me, and assuming you want a cute little store…
Get out a piece of paper…
1. Your store will reflect YOUR personality. What is your personality? Are you sensitive, practical, whimsical or opulent? If you were a customer walking into the environment you created how would you feel? Overwhelmed, comfortable, happy, relaxed? Would you have a lot of clutter in every corner to overwhelm the senses… or would you keep everything neat, clean and orderly (For example… Hot Topic or some other teen-centric store, which is cluttered, fun and loud, versus the Gap or J-crew, which is neat, orderly and clean.) Think of your home as it is now… what do people say about your living space? How would you change it or take it to the next level? Name at least 3 adjective for each of your senses.
For Violets are Blue I would say…
Sight: Cluttered, overwhelmed with items, lots of color and texture, constantly changing so the customer sees something different every time, dollhouse, whimsical, shabby chic. Items in jars lined up… abundant and inviting. Things hanging from the ceiling which aren’t always noticed, but makes the space cozy… more of a “cave” and safe feeling (High ceilings make you feel uncomfortable and a bit unwelcome.)
Touch: Again, textures… stuffed animals, feathers, wallpaper… put soft things next to ceramic things… break it up a bit.
Sound: The floor creaks giving the feel of an old house, the music reflects the personality of the store with bits from Esquivel, Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra etc.
Smell: Candles, soaps and bath salts. Make sure each area has something that smells pleasing to smell… having the candles all in one place is overwhelming and gives some people headaches. Mix it up and move it around. Even the baby section had a Beatrix Potter perfumed spray… light, but nice and worked well in that section. During the holidays, I would try to have coffee… the smell was warm and comforting. Have pumpkin pie for fall, pine for the holidays etc.
Taste: Well, I didn’t have much for taste… we sold candy and sodas… but they weren’t huge money makers. They look really good in the store, though. At least it rounded off the list to cover all the senses bases. We sometimes had samples out for people to taste… I would recommend that!
Have fun with this list… get out every adjective you can think of that would reflect you and your store!
2. What are your boundaries in friendships and relationships? Do you attract needy friends? Are you able to say “no” to people? Look deep into yourself and write it all down here. Think of specific times you have had confrontations or tense conversations. How did you resolve those situations? Were you tactful and did you keep the peace? Think of at least 3 situations that could happen in your store where you could lose your cool (someone breaking something, stealing something, making an unusual request, making a sexual advance, a small marching band enters the building etc… I’ve had all those happen, by the way). How would you handle each situation, in detail? Knowing that if you make this customer angry, they will tell 10 of their friends. Having a game plan for many possible situations is not only smart, it will help you tremendously and it will help you set up fair policies for the store. It’s SO much easier to point to a posted policy/rule than to have to come up with something based on someone’s level of anger. (Been there, it’s scary!) You want to stay calm, keep everyone safe and resolve a disagreement quickly and you have to think ahead all the time!
I know I’m forgetting things, but hopefully, the above is helpful to someone!
Over the next few weeks I’ll also be talking about finding a location, how to buy inventory and more. I’ll also be out looking at locations and post what I find. Again, I’m not an expert… but I hope you enjoy the journey with me!
Purchase a business book for inspiration…
This is one book that wasn’t in my vast collection… it’s Country Living Magazine’s Crafting a Business.
Just skimming the pages I see 4 artists I’m familiar with… Amy Butler and her fabric company, The French General, Found Cat Studio and Lori Mitchell. Companies I found at the gift store… one found me (Thank you Linda!)… I received the French General book from Susan and Amy Butler… her stuff is everywhere and awesome!
This book seems a little more “You go, girl!” than straight up business information… but it’s inspiration, none-the-less :) Any nudge is a good thing.
So, my homework tonight… read this and take notes :) Also, if you would like to follow along and get your business plan started… get a few books and start reading! :)
For the past few months, I’ve been sort of sulking around… missing the store and Southern California. I’ve been busy doing odd jobs, some art and unpacking… but I really miss the old routine. I suppose that’s totally normal… but I feel like I should pursue having another store.
So, over the next several months… I have some goals…(posting it here makes me accountable!!!)
- Learn HTML, XHTML and CSS… so I can make a killer website, and make websites for others. I already know a fair amount of basic HTML, but bringing it into this decade would be great :)
- More graphic design and art. More painting, more vector art… more using this smarter-than-I-am tablet.
- Put together a resume website with art, web and animation stuff.
- Get the website back up by mid-August… I have no idea what to sell… any ideas or suggestions?
- Amazon shop? Ebay or other auction site? (Ebay, why have you forsaken me??)
- Research on the area as far as opening a store. I’m finding that the farmhouse, darker wood and rich-colored accent pieces are more popular here than the kitschy-whimsical shabby chic styled items. So, I need to figure out what the area likes before I even venture into the idea of having a store. Also, do I want to rent a tiny retail space or get a small cottage? Lots to think about.
If anything… I find that doing the research super exciting. I light up just thinking about having a store… the possibilities, the decor, the items I’d sell… I love the idea very much. But, I need to be realistic with the economy the way it is… gas, housing prices etc etc. So, I think I’ll just give myself homework to do a little research and post it here… I know there are many of you out there who read this because you want a store or have a store. I’d like to shed some light on the process :) I am, by no means, an expert on how a business works. I just kind of learned the hard way as I went along, and I’m very very thankful for the people who helped me along the way.
Just looking at the pictures below… what the store looked like the day it opened… to the last Christmas we were open. SO different. It grew organically… on its own… I almost feel like I had nothing to do with it. It’s really curious how it became it’s own living, breathing entity. It sounds crazy, but it’s sort of true… and it sometimes got out of hand. If I do this all over again… I want to take my time and be extremely methodical and realistic about it.
So, for me… what are the seeds that started the idea for the store? I did the following:
- I stockpiled tons of inventory. I was already doing street fairs and boutiques… having those 20-something boxes of inventory ready to go and already paid for was key for me. And, when we first opened, 80% of the items were handmade by myself, my Mom or my friends… we grew very slowly from there and added vendors, consignment (not sure if I’d do that again) and vintage items.
- I read every book I could find on having a store or business. I think I had over 20 books. I had been reading them for a few years at least. I think I got 50% of my information from the books and then the other half from just having the experience and being thrown into it.
- Work in retail. I have over 7 years of retail experience under my belt before I even thought of opening a store. It wasn’t until I started hosting my own small boutiques that I felt I wanted a store (for some reason).
- Look at locations. Crunch the numbers. The first space I looked at was huge… in Sunland. I wanted it to be a coffee house/gift store/venue for bands. I’m SO glad I didn’t pursue that space. It would have been a commitment that I wouldn’t have been able to handle (Confirmed later by Tyn and her sister’s attempt at a coffee house… egad!!!). The nearby Starbucks and restaurants would have killed my coffee business… and there is no way I could have worked 6 am – 2 am every day or every day we had a concert. Phew. So, at least I was able to find out how much the rent was, how much the new plumbing would have been… all the equipment and supplies. The loan would have been outrageous. But, now I know. You have to do your research :)
- I would suggest asking other businesses how they do it, but alas… most of the businesses in your area probably won’t share their knowledge. I have to say, I completely understand why. Hours and hours of research… years of getting to know your customers’ wants and needs… it’s a science and an art. Juggling what to buy with what to spend… each business owner has their own secret style. You learn the hard way… and fast. And if you put in years of sweat and tears into something, it would be hard to give away your trade secrets :) Just as if you had a successful restaurant for years and years, you wouldn’t give out your secret recipes. I have gotten bits of information from other business owners… and I’m so glad they were kind enough to share. Some of them were too late… “don’t order those candles! They’ll collect dust!” So, I guess I learned that the “hard” way? :)
- Put together a business plan. Find out how much the rent is… try to find out how much the utilities are. In my experience (don’t quote me on this!)… if rent is X, overhead (phone, internet, electricity, water, alarm, credit card processing etc) is just about half of X. So, if you pay $1000 rent, expect to pay $500 minimum in overhead. This isn’t counting usage tax, inventory, startup costs or anything like that. And I had the bare minimum…. so, if you like fancier lighting, flawless air conditioning, 14 phone lines etc, you’ll pay more :)
I’ll go over things like this more in detail as I get into the nitty gritty of it all…. and if you have a question, please let me know! There are so many things I didn’t know I needed until I got deep into it… my 20 business books mentioned this… unexpected costs… there are SO many of them!!!
I’m laughing at myself as I type this… do I really want to do this again??? Ugh…
So, join me as I dare to start up another retail gift store… or talk myself out of it? hehe! At the very least, you’ll learn something, I’ll learn something… and I’ll get to know my city better :)