Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Crying Months...

Here we are, January 2015, two weeks into what my retailer friends often refer to as "The Crying Months".  Historically, January and February are slow months in the retail industry, consumers are recovering from Holiday spending, a lull in sales is common.  This year, however, the 'lull' is more like a sharp, sudden drop off, which has me wishing I wore my brown pants to work  every. single. day. 

I feel a little better knowing that every retailer I know (both within the niche market we cater to, and outside of it) seems to be experiencing the same sudden drop in sales.  It's easy to look at the numbers and believe that somehow, everyone has collectively decided to stop shopping only with us, as if a secret note was passed around behind our backs.  It's irrational to think this, yet every time I see a drop in sales, I have to convince myself it's not personal.  While it's somewhat comforting to know that seemingly everyone is experiencing a sharp decline in sales, it's a little worrisome to consider this could be part of a larger trend.

The past couple of weeks have brought with it horrible weather.  Canada is cold in January and February, that's to be expected, but the recent bone-chilling deep freeze seems to be a barrier to anyone leaving the house.  We are starting to notice the same in the summer, on hot,  humid days, our sales will drop sharply.  And if it's raining.  Or snowing.  Basically, if the weather isn't 'juuuust right', ppl seem less and less inclined to venture outside of the comfort of their cozy homes.  

When other retailers discuss sales trends privately, there's always debate around whether or not it's worth addressing it publicly, mostly because no one wants to run the risk of offending customers.  However, given the recent closures of two Ottawa retail businesses (Elm Hill Kids in Kanata, and Brittons magazine stand in the Glebe), and the expressions of sadness and surprise that always follow these announcements, I think it's worthwhile to remind folks how valuable shopping within your community is, even when it's cold outside (or hot, or snowing, or raining). 

When you spend money with local, independent businesses, more of your money community stays within your community.  Those independent businesses peppering your main street make your community an interesting place to live.  I live within 2 blocks of our Ottawa store.  Convenience aside (I walk to work!), one of the things I admire about our community is the wealth of independent business -- a number of businesses have closed within the past year, and their spaces remain empty (assuming a fancy new coffee shop or dessert place doesn't pop up in it's place).  A main street peppered with vacant storefronts?  Not so interesting anymore...

Aside from the immediate impact on a business owner when they close their doors, there is a trickle down effect.  We purchase our retail supplies locally from another independent business, we rely on a mat service and a window cleaning service to keep our store spic & span.  

In reaction to a lull in sales, we tighten our belts in the winter months.  We scale back our ordering to essentials, and we let our stock thin out a little more than usual.   Often finding ourselves at the mercy of consumer whim, this particular strategy can harm us as more and more customers seem to be less inclined to choose from the stock on our shelf, preferring to hunt for a particular color or pattern rather than buy what's right there, on the shelf (hint: they all work the same).  

Ironically, we still had a healthy amount of showroomers out last week, despite the deep freeze requiring (free!) help with inherited diapers, carriers, and brands of products we don't sell.  I have never refused help to these requests, but I will admit, I can see the appeal of one business owner's approach to dealing with such requests -- when it's time to pay rent or staff, I can't really extend everyone a pat on the back and a 'Way to go team, we helped a lot of people for free this month!"

So.  On behalf of all the independent retailers who are currently waiting out the winter months until the weather is juuuust right, please make the effort to patronize your favorite local stores, every sale counts.  

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