Shopping the Shops – Part 1: How Retail Has Helped A YEAR IN THE CITY

When I was ten years old, my mother urged me to approach the manager of a restaurant where we were having dinner. “Go show him your artwork,” she said.

What Mom wanted me to show him was a poster I’d been working on – in between bites of food – so that he could gauge the feasibility of having me sell my, um… work in his restaurant. While she was always supportive of my art, my mother wasn’t the type to hawk my wares. She was just opening a door for me, and then sitting back to watch the drama unfold.

As I recall, the restaurant manager admired my poster and encouraged me, but politely declined my offer. He also laid the groundwork for my eventual experience with retailers. Decades later, I would walk into a gift shop with A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, no less scared than I’d been at the age of ten.

Now I have a better understanding of what I’m doing when I approach stores to sell my products. Retail just makes sense. Here’s why:

Retail Benefits My Company.

Online sales are great if you’re a household name. But if no one knows who you are, it really helps to have a presence in area stores. In this, my second “YEAR IN THE CITY,” I’ve tried to place my calendar in shops that are different from one another in terms of product offering and/or clientele. I’ve also been very intentional about creating a clear zone around each, so they’re not competing with one another.

Retail Benefits the Consumer.

Again, online sales are great, but the package that gets delivered to the customer’s door isn’t exactly the “whole package.” Even though my husband and I are guilty of summoning Amazon a dozen times during the month of December, it’s much more meaningful when we shop for gifts “in person.”

The retail experience rounds out the giving experience, because you’re more likely to channel your loved ones’ interests when you can see and feel the gifts you’re thinking of buying them. When I shop in retail stores, I read whole chapters of books before I take them to the register, just to make sure they fit the person I’m buying for. I try on clothes for the same reason. I envision the kitchens, living rooms, and patios of friends to make sure the cooking gadget/coffee table book/serving tray I’m buying is just the right thing for them.

I think this has to do with the fact that retail is a sensory experience, much like being at someone’s house is a sensory experience. Shopping in person taps many, if not all, of the senses and helps you understand the real value of a product. This is particularly important in the case of my YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, because they’re larger and weigh more than similar products. And the quality of the packaging is something that’s hard to communicate in an online listing.

But one of the most important benefits of shopping in stores is peripheral vision. How often have you made a beeline for the coffee tables at Crate and Barrel only to discover a table setting or throw pillow out of the corner of your eye? For every little thing we think we want or need, there are thousands more that have never crossed our minds. Retail brings that home for us. It’s all right there.

Retail Benefits the Community.

As a small business owner, retail exposure comes at a cost. Store owners do take a significant cut of my earnings. But, to be honest, it is completely worth it.

Retail stores are giving my brand exposure with an established target. They are also helping to build the St. Louis community. And that just happens to be the point of my calendar. In this way, I feel a sense of partnership with store owners and managers. “C’mon in,” we’re both saying. “Take a look around.” “Discover something new.” “Remember us next time you’re in the neighborhood.”

Sometimes it helps to imagine Mom back at the table of that little diner, watching me as I approach a boutique or book store with a fresh stack of calendars. I’m not sure if she’s proud of me, but I do think she’s swept up by the notion of building the community. For all I know, that’s what she was trying to do when she sent me on my very first sales call so many years ago.

Thanks, Mom.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars are available online at ayearinthecity.com/shop or in any of the stores listed below. Watch for my follow-up blog tomorrow on what makes each of these stores so special.

Abigail’s Gift Boutique (South Hampton)
Artmart (Brentwood)
Boheme (Cherokee Street)
The Book House (Maplewood)
Bowood Farms (Central West End)  SOLD OUT
City Museum (Washington Avenue)
Cocoon (Chesterfield Valley)
Dogtown Gallery (Dogtown)
Dot dot dash (DeMun area)
Down by Station (Kirkwood)
Dunaway Books (South Grand)
F.O.B. Cottage Florals (Town & Country)
Gallery Furniture & Gifts (Downtown)
The Great Frame Up (Webster Groves)
The Initial Design (Wildwood)
Korte’s Framing & Antiques (Florissant)
La Gallerie (St. Charles)
Lemp Mansion (Benton Park)
Looking Glass Designs (Lafayette Square)
Main Street Books (St. Charles)
Missouri History Museum Shop (Forest Park)
The Novel Neighbor (Webster Groves)
Sign of the Arrow (Ladue)
Stone Soup Gallery (Chesterfield Mall)
Subterranean Books (University City)
Union Studio (Botanical Heights)
Urban Matter (Dutchtown)
Washington U. bookstore (Washington University)
World News (Clayton)

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