Memorial Day is past, summer has unofficially begun, and schools are in the process of letting out for the summer. Kids have had to go through finals and regurgitate everything they learned during the past year, so it seems fitting that I too should review some of what I've learned as a shop owner, new business lady, and entrepreneur over the course of the last few years.
1. I'm an entrepreneur.
That's a weird statement to me, but I guess it's right. I still feel like I'm a little blind to all that's around me from a business sense, and that there's still so much to learn. How can I be an entrepreneur?! But I once heard a speaker at a conference say that an entrepreneur is someone who looks for business opportunities wherever he or she goes. And I can't shop, or look at marketing materials, or drive around without thinking how can I use this in my store, what do I like about their marketing and how can I incorporate that into my stuff, and would that empty storefront be a good location for a 2nd Naturally Curious Kids. So, I guess I'm an entrepreneur. And I've had to get used to it.
2. Credit cards are complicated.
Ok. So I kind of already knew this, but I had no idea the extent to which they could be complicated. I learned what a merchant account is. I've learned about payment processors and online payment gateways. And I had no idea that there were so many separate fees to a credit card swipe - a swipe fee, a batch fee, and a percentage of the total sale. I knew about the percentage of the total sale, but the others were all new to me. And did you know that some (if not most) credit card processors will charge a higher percentage to the retailer (or service provider) if the swiped card is a business card or has a rewards program attached to the card. I had no idea on that one.
Then there are all the different terminals to swipe the card on; and do you rent one of those or buy it. I've figured out how the credit card payments integrate with the inventory software and the accounting software. And then there is the whole issue of debit cards....
3. Ordering good stuff takes a ton of time.
As a small business owner it is imperative to me that we offer our customers quality items. It is especially important since right now we only have 700 sq. ft. to offer those items in, so we have to be really picky. I spend a lot of my time researching - looking online and through catalogs, talking to sales reps, and fielding calls and emails from companies. I try to know about as many companies as I can and I try to know as much as I can about those companies - what their reputations are, where they make their toys, what goes into the manufacturing process, where the company is headed in the future, what is their driving force, etc. This way even if I don't get to see/play with a product in person before I buy it I can still be confident that it will be a good toy. It also means that I know what companies have what toys. So if I need to find, say, a shape sorter, I know what my options are and I can find what I think is the best shape sorter available.
Customers have used the word "curated" before, and I really like that word for what we do. It implies quality, thought, and intentionality and that is exactly what I strive for. But like I said, that takes a lot of time. It's worth it though, because honestly it's a total bummer when a toy isn't a good toy.
4. There are about 6,000,000,000,000 (six trillion) different games in the world.
That might be a slight exaggeration, but it can't be far off. I had no idea when we jumped into this that there were so many possible games we could carry in our store. I have stacks of catalogs just for game companies. And it seems even if a company isn't a "game company" they still have games. So. Many. Games. And we can only pick games if we at least have a general sense of how to play them, what they might teach, and who can play them. That's a lot of reading and understanding for each game.
Buying games is so hard. I find it the hardest section of the store to buy for. Don't get me wrong, I love games! They are some of the most teachiest-without-being-teachy toys around. They are fun! But knowing that you will have to understand how every game you come across is played, and then the majority of them you can't even fit into your store, is honestly overwhelming.
The quantity of possible games in the world is also why we probably don't have the game you are looking for. But I'm always taking recommendations for good games. If you've played one you love let me know. It might take me awhile to get it in the store (because of space constraints more than anything), but it will make it. And I will appreciate it.
5. I can say no.
I don't know about you, but for me this one was a big one to learn. I'm a people pleaser. Which I guess makes me fairly good at customer service. I hate seeing people disappointed. It's the worst. But to run a good business I've had to learn to say no. And it's never personal. Usually we are just stretched too thin with time, money, or space. We just can't afford to donate to every cause that comes along. We can't afford every advertising scheme. I need to at least occasionally see my husband and kids and make dinner, so I can't come to that meeting. We don't have room for that awesome new toy you just invented.
And the hardest situation I've learned to say no to - that toy didn't meet my quality standards so although people liked buying it it will have to wait until the manufacturer has the same standards I have. Even if it means I lose some sales and money. Again, I hate disappointing people, so this was both easy and hard. I don't like to see people disappointed that we no longer carry the item, but even more I hate to see a child come back disappointed with a toy that didn't work. It makes my heart hurt when I see that. The store's reputation is on the line every day, and I need to keep it one of quality and integrity.
6. I've made some good friends.
I'm not sure why I didn't expect this to happen, but I really didn't. We've met some wonderful people through the store, and I will cherish those connections always. There are customers, sales reps, delivery people, etc. that I truly enjoy seeing and talking to. People are genuinely interested in us and our business, and it is more encouraging than I can even describe. I guess I thought maybe all our connections would be transactional in nature, but they aren't. And I think that's the beauty of a small business. We know people and their lives; it's not just a sale. I know when families are moving, expecting a new baby, or transitioning from a co-sleeping situation. I know when people are sick and in and out of the hospital. I've seen kids go from crawling to running through our store. I've met extended family members. I've seen kids start pre-school and move into 1st grade. I know when someone is struggling with reading or if they've had a recent special needs diagnosis. It's amazing to watch people's lives evolve. And it goes two ways - they know about my boys, my move, and I most definitely overshare things like my birth stories. And I know I'm biased, but you can't get that from an online sale from a distant company. The customer service rep will probably never commiserate with you about an under active thyroid. Ha!
So, there you have it. Some things I've learned. I'm sure there are more than this, and I will probably submit this for posting and then think of about 15 more things I should have included. But if you made it this far you know that the blog is already more than long enough. And you've learned just how wordy I can be.