Nominate us, please!

Posted in business-a-go-go, NC, Raleigh at 1:43 pm by carrie

Indy Week Best of the Triangle 2018 nominations are open, would you please vote for Inspirations Home Decor and More in the following categories:

Best Furniture Store in the Triangle

Best Gift Shop in Wake County

Best Home Accessory Store in the Triangle

Best Home Furnishing Store in the Triangle

Best Women’s Boutique in Wake County

You may have to add our name to the nomination name under “Don’t see your favorite?”. Please enter “Inspirations Home Decor and More” in that field. Thank you SO much!!!


Summertime Venting… a post from July 2007 that I never published

Posted in business-a-go-go, Main at 9:39 pm by carrie

okay, so it’s hot. I’m grumpy. It’s summertime now. Which in the retail world translates into slower sales and the store being a browsing destination for “getting ideas” and not quite the shopping destination. (I understand why though… we have lower inventory than usual because there isn’t a big holiday around the corner). I think Moms are starting to get overwhelmed with the kids home from school and they come here to get some much needed adult “me” time, and have an adult conversation. I have never considered myself an adult so I apologize that I may not have been that grown-up conversation you were looking for ;) But I am a good listener!

When it rains it pours and I’ve been getting bombarded by all angles and I’m slowly going insane. Poor Nathan has been so patient with me the past few days as I ditch dinner to come work on paperwork at the shop. He’s also been awesome on our nightly post office runs. I’m starting to hate being at the store. Every time that phone rings I think to myself… “What do they want… now”. That’s not a good thing.

When I feel this way, I pick up my copy of Be Our Guest, Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, by the Disney Institute. Disneyland is my retreat when I’m a big grouch, and I instantly turn that frown upside down (groan) when we get there. Disney has customer service down. I want to be like that and make people smile and leave here happy (or at least, happier)! So, please bear with me, I’m learning ;)

I guess part of my problem is that there is too much to do and I’m already dedicating my days off on top of running the store, to run the behind the scenes of the store. It’s like I work my 11-7 or 8 each day, work on things at home on Sunday, run around doing errands most of Monday and I still don’t get everything done. It’s enough to make you want to run, screaming. I thought the “startup” days of not being organized would go away, but alas, I’m still learning how to juggle this… and I’ve lost friends in the process (Which is SO hard)

*side note/tangent* Small tip… learn how to separate business from friendship/favors… otherwise, it WILL bite you, and it’s usually super petty. Another tip… get everything in writing, even if it takes you weeks longer to put together. Have it all on a form in triplicate and go over it with the person you are going to work with more than you feel is necessary. You may think something is obvious, but sometimes, scratch that, most of the times… it’s NOT obvious to both parties involved. That’s one sure fire way to lose a friend or colleague. And I have to admit, I can be hyper sensitive and when a not-so-friendly comment is made regarding how I’m running my business, I get defensive. That’s my fault, the store is an extension of me and I need to start a mantra… “I am not the store, the store is not me” until it sticks.

Sometimes, I’m scattered. Sometimes, I don’t get things done right away. Sometimes, I’m not the best communicator. I’m an artist struggling to be a bookkeeper, class scheduler, publicist, janitor, shipping and receiving manager, supplies manager, buyer, merchandiser, accountant, blogger, plumber, repairman, window cleaner, landscaper, etc and so on (whine whine whine). When someone calls and says… “May I speak with the person in charge of….”, I just cut them off and say, “That’s me!”. Now throw Christmas into the equation and I may be passed out on the floor… just ring the bell on the counter when you need me :)

I share this because some of you enjoy hearing such things. To know that running a store has its ups and downs and that you can’t be an android with a wonderful demeanor every moment. This job takes acting sometimes… even if the laundry ate your favorite sweater, you have to be here… smiling (I guess that goes with every job you would have, but here… if you are unhappy, the customer will go to another store where that person behind the counter IS happy… in all honesty, I would go somewhere else, too!). And for goodness sake, numero uno, most importantly, don’t do what I did… Have money (or a loan) set aside to hire people! I’m not quite there yet and I really wish I was. I could be out there promoting the heck out of the store, instead I’m standing behind the counter. And I do enjoy the oohs and ahhhs and pats on the back from some of the customers, and I do like to have the confidence in knowing that 90% of the time I’m the smiling face of Violets are Blue… BUT… being here… all the time… is a tad much. My wholesale line is calling me! I wish I could answer that call ;) All in due time.

So… if you own or have owned a store… what do you do to keep your sanity through the summer? I’m trying to be creative, make jewelry while I’m here, occupy my time selling on ebay… but… all I want to be doing is sipping iced tea while floating in the pool (anyone have a pool I can borrow?)

If you have any other questions about running a store, please ask! I haven’t seen much out there besides the “you go girl!” inspirational books on how to open a store… or very form-y formal books on business. There is SO much more to it, I could go on and on and on…

On the other hand, if I’m being a downer, tell me… I’ll leave this to my private blog ;) I vent a small fraction of the time (I would like to think that, please correct me if I’m wrong) and all the other posts are (hopefully) love letters to the store… because in all honesty, I do… LOVE it :)

A New Facebook Page

Posted in business-a-go-go, Main at 9:10 pm by carrie

I spent some time with a brick and mortar boutique owner the other day. She was frustrated with some things going on in the store and wasn’t sure how to address them, other than going to a therapist. I listened to her articulate her problems and feelings and oh boy, did it all sound familiar. A flood of memories came back to me as I attempted to give her advice. And I honestly thought it was good advice, too. It all sounded so easy 6 years after closing my own store. That buffer of time had also allowed me to remove so much of that emotion that used to overwhelm and paralyze me, too.

I read my old blog posts and cringe with embarrassment. I’ve never been the best at writing, but those passages made it wildly obvious that I didn’t know what I was doing with writing or running a store.

I started this blog in 2006 to talk about owning a store, to share my merchandising pictures and for general marketing purposes. It quickly turned into a venue to vent and clearly convey to the world that I was lost, but trying to have sense of humor about it (and to show them that I liked using winky faces liberally). If you’d like to read those passages, click on the business-a-go-go category on the right.

Opening, managing and running a store is an art. An exhausting, rewarding, ever-changing art. I’ve worked retail for years and put my wares into craft fairs and swap meets, but never owned a physical store. There’s the paperwork, the initial setup, the buying, the merchandising, the self evaluations, the unpacking, the bill paying, the form filling, the law abiding, the shoplifting, the overwhelming amounts of cardboard, the surprises, more surprises, the cleaning… but the emotional. Nobody tells you about the emotional. Only the owners know about this. And in 2006, I finally got to know what it was like to be a brick and mortar owner, with those dreaded huge emotions.

I’m not sure if the emotions come from realizing that your work is never done, or you could always do more or do better or work harder… or is it the ruminating on how you interacted with a customer that day or a vendor that was flip. Or maybe it’s only the sensitive store owners that go through this. I’m really not sure… but I’d like to explore it.

All I know now is that I have a story to tell, advice to give and if you or someone you know is going through “Brick and Mortar Emotions”, I invite you to join my brand new Facebook Page, “Retail Therapy” and share your story, ask questions or give advice to anyone else who needs it.

Hope to see you there!


Happy 4th Blogiversary :)

Posted in business-a-go-go, Main, Mind Wanderings at 8:58 am by carrie

Four years of blogging. Almost 300 posts and over 2100 comments. Wow.

I really wish I could make this a more regular occurrence, this blogging thing. I just need to go out and do exciting things and be creative so I can share more often ;) Having the store made it easy to share. There was so much to talk about all the time.

It’s been just over two years since we closed Violets are Blue. I miss climbing the steps to the store, iced nonfat caramel macchiato in hand, opening the door to the familiar Violets are Blue collective scent, hearing the beep of the alarm… opening the little squeaking shutter door that we fixed dozens of times and setting my purse down and turning on the CD player. Keys onto the bulletin board that I wish I would have kept. Using that strange little metal key to turn on the hose, hearing the traffic whiz by me on foothill blvd, cordless phone clipped to my back pocket as I watered the plants. Lavender and roses. Go back inside, wash my hands and start tidying up a bit. The first little bell jingle of the day at the front door… is it UPS Brian, Joe, Michele or a customer? I really didn’t realize how wonderful all of that was until now. (But dang it, I complained about the holidays every year, didn’t I? lol)

I’ve had dreams lately that I’m in my old space but the landlord doesn’t know I’m there. I sneak inventory in and out at night and refrain from advertising or posting a sign. I think it vaguely resembles a speakeasy. Towards the end of the dream, I’m driving my Volvo up to the store in the night, in a panic, thinking that the store is gone, empty or the locks have been changed… that I’ve been found out. Then I wake up in an overly-emotional panic and ask myself… “what was THAT all about?”

I know that Maylene has several photos of me scraping the hand-painted logo off the window… with a smile on my face. I turned to her after the flash to say “Gee, I’m not emotional or sad at all… I’m really surprised by that”. Bits of paint flaking off to the ground, in a little blue, purple and white dusty puddle. I sweep it up and throw it out with little more than a “goodbye”. Looking back, I should have saved those paint shavings in a little box and put it on the mantel.

That’s morbid, isn’t it?

Switching gears now…

So… today… what am I doing?

I’ve started several projects. Scratch that, my husband and I started a few projects and I have started multiple projects.

First off… starting businesses with friends? Not so much a good idea. Makes me really sad to say… but it’s the truth. Unless you have a bullet proof business plan. Just. Don’t.

Moving along… we joined a film making group and made one little film. We’re always coming up with other ideas for new films and animated pieces, which is a lot of fun.

I started selling digital art sheets on etsy and have done pretty well with it. I’ve also thought about doing interior decorating, party planning, photography, production art for websites, animation, graphic design… just to name a few. I guess I’ve been reinventing myself a bit, and working on a portfolio is part of it.

And there’s also violetcottage.com, amazon.com and the reopening of my ebay store. Mostly my favorites from Midwest, but I’m branching out into other areas, too, including more handmade things, which I’d like to start creating daily. I like pretty little things, what can I say?

I think I’m a gypsy or… what’s the term… I’m a renaissance woman? That’s a good thing, right? :)

Several of you that used to come to Violets are Blue have emailed me to say hello. I have a folder called “Love Letters” for these emails. I reach into that folder when I’m “Blue for the Violets” and it really brightens my day. So to each and every one of you who have reached out… a HUGE thank you. I miss you all more than you know!!

I think “Violets” is a part of me… and it will continue to exist in one form or another for as long as I can imagine, even if it’s only in cyberspace. But wouldn’t it be nice to be back on that busy Boulevard with the familiar schedule… which included that daily caramel macchiato ;)


Epiphany in the Bathtub…

Posted in business-a-go-go, Main at 12:03 am by carrie

Do you ever soak in a bath and then *bam* you get an idea that you think is brilliant… although, I’m not sure HOW brilliant this is, I’m just thinking out loud.

So, I need some input…

I miss my store & I miss my customers. Duh.

Why not have an open house/trunk sale/tea party one weekend in October, November or December in La Crescenta, CA? Or sooner? :)

I need a venue. I’ll need tons of help. I need more vendors and I need a pack mule to help me move merchandise from this coast to the other.

Just a thought.

Is it any good? :)


Peter Perfect

Posted in business-a-go-go, Main at 12:37 pm by carrie

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).


Step Two… Your Personality

Posted in business-a-go-go, Main at 12:33 pm by carrie

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 example:
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!

Happy Tuesday!


Step one…

Posted in business-a-go-go, Main at 8:11 pm by carrie

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! :)

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