The “Trick” To Staying In Business For 11 Christmases

What REALLY worked?

Can I share a story with you?

As you know, I teach makers how to sell their work to shops. I can do that because Anthony and I own a gifts, clothing and homeware boutique called Merry + Bright. This Christmas just gone was our eleventh.

A few weeks ago, we were wrapping some exploding chocolate frogs for a customer and chatting about how long we’d been open.

The lady asked us a question, which was:

“So how have you stayed in business? What’s actually worked?”

Hmmm. That’s an interesting one.

The last decade has been brutal for bricks-and-mortar retailers. Thousands of shops, from tiny indies to huge household names, have vanished.

So how is our shop still here?

And why did we just have our best ever Christmas?

When you’re following someone online, you often have no idea how they got to where they are now.

We’re reading their emails, buying their classes, maybe even working with them one-to-one, but we don’t actually know their story.

I mean, we kind of do – that’s what About pages are for. But how exactly did their current situation come to be?

What REALLY happened?

And more importantly, what can we learn from their experience?

Especially when we’re thinking of buying workshops or templates, we want to know what bits of their story apply to us. We want details.

Well, I can’t tell you how anyone else did it, but I can tell you what works for me.

And I can give you some ideas about how to apply it to yourself.

So this article is for anyone who wants more repeat business. Because, in a nutshell, that’s why my shop is still here.

We’ve created “customers for life” – and over the years they’ve happily sent more “customers for life” in our direction.

So, jewellery-designers, stationery-makers, leather-workers, potters, apothecaries, furniture-makers, glass-blowers, narrative photographers – whatever kind of lovely thing you make, if you want your buyers to keep coming back, this is for you.

(If you don’t want repeat business and you never will, feel free to follow along any way. I might say something funny.)

Let me begin by telling you why we filled a bath with marshmallows and stuck it in the middle of our shop.

It was 2009 and the global financial crisis was in full swing.

We’d written our first ever business plan (tearfully, while sitting in a wardrobe.)

We’d collected the keys to Merry + Bright (at midnight, because it took our landlady that long to hoist a bronze cow into the back of her van.)

We were 6 days from opening our doors for the first time and we were panicking.

First, the space turned out to be a lot trickier to organise than we’d expected. Our shop started life as two much smaller shops, and at some point they’d been knocked together.

That means we’ve got two big windows…but also two front doors (which confuses delivery drivers every day.)

As soon as our shelving went up, we realised that the remaining wall space was very limited and all the other furniture we’d planned was only going to create choke points.

Our meticulous floor-plans went in the bin.

Also, there was absolutely no magic.

Despite all the money we spent on paint and carpenters, we knew it wasn’t enough for the shop just to look “smart.”

Smart doesn’t touch your heart or give you a gut feeling. Smart doesn’t inspire action.

We wanted to create an emotional connection between ourselves, our customers and our newly fledged business. We wanted them to FEEL SOMETHING the moment they stepped through our door.

In other words, we needed a solid brand.

How did we turn things around with a cast-iron bath and 20 bags of marshmallows?

(And how can you apply the same thinking to make buyers keep coming back for more?)

I’ll tell you next time.

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