Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pack it up, honey...time to move

It’s official. The Always Upward blog has moved to new digs.

I’ve wanted to do this for a while now, but needed to get a couple of other projects wrapped up first. Well...that, and to try teaching myself enough php code to make it function without having to ask for help.

Yeah. Like that’s a good idea.

Bottom line, the blog is now located at:

Still have some squeaky floorboards and a couple of loose screws (hey now...I heard that), but all in all, we’re good to go. My previous posts are repeated there, along with some new material, so you won’t be losing anything in the translation.

Pack it up. Wave goodbye. It’s time to head to Always Upward.

2009: The Year of Quality without Complication

This past year’s been interesting.

For me, 2008 was pretty terrific, albeit filled with too many third party political agendas (and I don’t mean election-related). For my friends who own retail stores, however, it was an uphill battle filled with enormous challenge--in most cases becoming critical as early as June.

Regardless of whether your year fell into the “terrific” or “challenging” category, it’s safe to say 2008 was complicated. Reeeeally complicated. The past twelve months generally gave a lot of pretty smart folks some pretty serious headaches.

Which is why I’m declaring 2009 The Year of Quality without Complication.

Think: Quality without overthinking. Quality of life plus quality of business. Quality that spills over to those around you in a sincere, productive way.

So what do you say we all unite under the following declarations?

In 2009, I, the undersigned, promise to:

1. Focus on what my customers need from me more than what I need from them.

2. Better understand the 80/20 rule, then buy according to that principle (and if I don’t understand that principle, I need to contact Cinda).

3. Take five minutes each month to send a hand written thank you note to someone who’s made a positive difference in my business. If I’m feeling particularly cheerful, I will write two.

4. Create a braintrust of me and four other local business owners, then meet for brainstorming breakfasts once per quarter where we’ll drink too much coffee, eat calorie-laden sticky buns, kick around wild ideas, listen to each other’s concerns, and find ways to grow each other’s businesses.

5. Try at least one new internet-based marketing method...even if it scares the hell out of me. If that requires relying on my 13 year old nephew for explanation, I will. If it requires hiring the 13 year nephew, I will.

6. Stop dead in my tracks when things begin to spin too quickly...take a breath...and regain control. Life can only race as fast as I allow it to.

I have read the above, agree to it with all my retail-lovin’ heart, and sign here in black ink (because red ink is no fun):



Now, print...sign...and tape to your office wall. Or your forehead. Your call.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Color me a Pandora junkie

I’m strapped to the desk today, which means it’s going to be a Pandora afternoon.

If you haven’t heard of Pandora, you’re really missing something. Simply put, it’s a free online service that plays music based on the songs you like. Today, I’m listening to Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong and the like singing Christmas songs, simply because I typed in “Santa Baby,” then selected the Eartha Kit version from the menu that automatically appeared.

This is crazy easy to use (and free):

1. Go to
2. Create an account (no, they don’t spam you)
3. Type in a song name to create a new station (aka: playlist)
4. Sit back and enjoy the music, baby

I’ve created about a half dozen “stations” in my Pandora account, running the gamut from the Rolling Stones to Ella Fitzgerald. The system remembers these stations so that all I have to do upon returning to the site is click on the one that sounds good that day.

Don’t ask me how, but they nail the mix 99.99% of the time. On the rare occasion that a tune pops up you don’t like, just click on the little thumbs down symbol and it goes away forever.

(Mac users have two additional options: You can download Pandora Jam--a free standing player that connects from your desktop--by visiting, or hit the App Store to pick up an iPod/iPod Touch version.)

Pandora’s great for those times you’re stuck at your desk, tired of store music, or in the mood for a fresh mix. A music playlist--custom built for the listener--is a pretty sweet treat and very hard to beat (see what a great mood it has me in?).

Now-—go try it out. I’m off to sing along with Bing and his buddies. Oh yeah. And get some work done.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

When Mom goes mum

This morning, Lee Scott (CEO and President of WalMart) appeared on Meet the Press as part of a 5-person brain trust discussing the economy and where it’s headed. A comment he made really resonated with me; to paraphrase, when WalMart moms stop shopping for themselves--choosing instead to defer spending in lieu of their kids’ and spouse’s--it’s a sign of serious pull-back in the consumer market. As much as it pains me to say this, the leader of WalMart is dead-on-right.

Each Christmas, we marveled in the store over the “one for them, one for me” pattern our female customers exhibited this time of year-—more than during other seasons, although not exclusive to fourth quarter. The better the economy, the higher the likelihood “one for me” cost more than the original gift. Even last year, as the economy was slowing down, we still saw self-gifting continue, albeit at slightly reduced price points.

Now, however, self-gifting deferral seems to be the rule. Even I, who typically splurges for a $300-ish technological gadget of some sort this time of year, succumbed, opting instead to pop for a $25 calculator.

(Yes, that’s just as pitiful as it sounds, but hey...the old one was losing some of its digits on display screen, which made it a necessity item.)

Was I disappointed? Nope. Didn’t occur to me to be. Which is exactly my point.

The fact that a calculator made me (almost) as happy as an Apple Time Capsule proves that I, too, am deferring self gratification in favor of splurging on my nieces and nephew. Doesn’t mean I don’t still want nice things...but does mean that whatever I buy myself will be a more affordable splurge than in days past. At least for now.

Revlon knows this, and provides a good model to follow. Whenever the economy goes south, they begin cranking out more dramatic colors in both lipstick and nail polish...then watch their sales spike. As money becomes tight, women tend not to spend on spa trips and new clothes, but still want to feel pampered, vibrant, confident, and attractive. Thus, the appearance of affordable fashion items...and dramatic nail polish and lipstick that make a statement.

Think I’m nuts? How many women have you seen sporting near-black nail polish on t.v. and in the halls lately? Point proven.

How’s this translate to gift retailers? Think like the WalMart mom or the 30-something woman sporting OPI’s “Black Cherry Chutney” nails. If it looks like a perk and it feels like a perk, then it is a perk that will be under $20. Once the winter gift show circuit kicks in, items that replace more costly options in ways that improve the consumer’s lifestyle at a painless price point will be the hit that brings cash flow.

Given how late most retailers are pushing purchases right now, odds are good you’ll be buying for Valentine’s Day as well as Mother’s Day, graduation, and Father’s Day. Think: bold color, comfort, fashion, and experience-replacement purchases. Look for microwavable lavender neck wraps that will replace spa visits...for dramatic colors in scarves that will replace larger clothing purchases...and for high impact gifts that don’t need to be replaced (ie, refillable and reusable), then pair them with loyalty refill programs.

Don’t think this applies to higher priced boutiques? Guess again. Even luxury stores are choking as their previously cash-heavy customers pull back.

So how do you do this in an upscale environment? Here’s an example: Let’s say you currently sell $75-$100 cashmere scarves in a wide selection of colors. To tweak things a bit, consider paring down the color selection to black, white, red, and the top two or three colors seen in the current fashion magazines (so you don’t lose that particular customer), then add in a line of $35 or $40 silk scarves in twice as many colors. You’re still appealing to upscale customers while giving them high quality, fashion forward options that can be more easily justified.

If you can provide products that allow consumers to defer the more expensive alternatives by purchasing your current offerings instead, you’ll be ahead of the game. Give them options that are bold, confident, and affordable. If you don’t, well...they’ll look elsewhere. Remember, sacrifice eventually wears thin for most consumers. to freshen up my “Eiffel for This Color” nails. They’re all the rage, you know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I can name that tune many notes?

Sure, this video has been around for a couple of years, but it never ceases to amaze and delight. Consider this my stocking stuffer for all you stressed out retailers in the world....


Friday, December 12, 2008

Green Paper Company

It might seem there’s no safe haven in retail right now, but those of you selling paper know that green is gold these days. If you’ve got great recycled options, you’re ahead of stores who don’t.

Enter Green Paper Company.

Joan Schnee, owner of GPC in Chicago, got a big thumbs up today as the only line mentioned by name on the Good Morning America segment “Just One Thing,” featuring quality recycled stocks and holiday cards. Not a bad endorsement to have on the resumé...even when the resumé is already crowded with lots of great endorsements and placement requests.

Green Paper Company is about more than just holidays, though. Their line of blank and printed stock is expansive, and truly green. Offering both consumer packaged stationery and blank bulk stock, there’s plenty to choose from, regardless of whether you sell only boxed goods, blank stock to DIYers, or provide in-house design and production services.

Joan’s done a lot of homework about what is--and is not--good for the environment, and knows more than just about anyone I’ve ever met. As a retailer (her store, On Paper, has been a Columbus, OH destination for more than a decade), she “gets” what stores want, need, and rely on from vendors. If there’s a better combination out there, I haven’t found it.

Don’t wait until the winter shows to look for GPC; check out their site, give ‘em a call, and get your hands on

Where in the world is...?

It’s been a little quiet on the AU blog this past week, in part because my schedule’s been upside down, and in part because I’m working on a move from Blogger to the Always Upward website. This is no small undertaking-—especially for someone who doesn’t live, eat, and breathe code.

Until the new digs are ready, I’ll continue posting here. As soon as I think the floor is solid and the roof won’t leak, you’ll be the first to know it’s time to move over to the new address.

Think good thoughts. This is turning out to be a much more complex experience than building my own websites has been. Much more complex.