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Toot Your Own Horn!

2009 was a challenging year. Below are ways that some of our retailers met those challenges and came out stronger. And maybe you'll get a few ideas to help jump start 2010!


I received your congrats letter and I wanted to respond. Last year's holiday sales were terrible and I had quite a bit of inventory left over and couldn't pay my invoices. For the first six months of this year I literally lived off inventory in the store and only ordered counter cards and gift wrap and tried to pay what I could. I was in survival mode and tried to work out payment plans on all my invoices. March turned into June and still I couldn't get out of debt. Finally, I decided to put the invoice balances on 3 major credit cards and for the holidays, I wasn't sure what to do. So I decided to see what I had and determine if it would be sufficient. I knew I needed some new inventory and I was very careful not to spend too much and hoped the old/new inventory would be enough. Well, sure enough it worked out this year. I do have old inventory left over again this year as well as some new inventory but nothing like I had last year. I can say that my buying strategy worked out. I also moved my store to a better retail section in town and that has made an incredible difference in foot traffic. I don't think everyone can move to a better location, but, if you are loosing sufficient foot traffic, it might be exactly the right decision. All my customers have been so supportive with my move and I see them alot more. Also, I am changing my store hours from open Monday - Saturday to Tuesday to Saturday to save some money. I am feeling very optimistic that I won't have the same debt going into 2010. I certainly hope we will see an improvement for retail.

Jan White
Papier, Novato, CA

One of the things I did this past year is "Terrific Tuesdays". I made flyers and placed them in every customer's bag announcing Terrific Tuesdays, which allows my customers to purchase one item, of their choice, at a 20% discount on any Tuesday. No expiration date. My ladies night in early December was also a hit. Customers could pick an ornament out of a box, and would get whatever percentage was on the ornament, off their total sales for the evening. They also got to pick from a travel candle, Tea Forte sample, or an ornament as a free gift with their purchase. Throughout the month of December, I had a table set up with hot tea and cookies for my customers. It was a nice way for them to try the Tea Forte that I sell. . Probably the most beneficial help I've had this past year has come from my reps. You all have given me wonderful tips on merchandising my inventory, and I know I can trust your judgment on what is selling, and what isn't. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

Judy Cady
Newbury Gifts, Frazer, PA

I'll tell you how we survived 2009. We did it by following up on every single awesome special offer our vendors made to us, like this one! No kidding -- I'll do just about anything for free freight, especially in a tough year. Thanks for thinking up creative ways to make it happen.

Christie Olson
Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle's Children's Books
Mendocino, CA

Hicklebee's has survived 30+ years because of our focus on customer service and terrific staff support. We have connected with the community and offer many free events. We also carry a great selection of cards, including Notes & Queries, as well as our fine selection of books and toys for children. This season our "Tweezies" were a huge success. Thank you!

Monica Holmes
Hicklebee's, San Jose, CA

We got a letter asking us to say how we survived the past year in exchange for free freight for a Jan. order. Having great stuff (such as yours) and making people laugh as well as think.

Kate Randall
Antigone Books, Tucson, AZ

Yes, I survived 2009, but I can only guess why. After all, I have had my card shop for 25 years, but the past year was by far the most challenging. Most likely it is because I was even more careful than ever with inventory control. I kept the card walls filled but not excessive. I eliminated 3 card spinners and 1 postcard spinner by consolidating related categories (i.e., Anniversary with Love), thereby allowing me to reduce the number of faces in most categories. I discontinued Birth Announcements, Change of Address and Invitations, putting all inventory at half-price. I was careful to quickly reorder fast-moving cards and other items. I also discontinued frames and photo albums, realizing how slow they move, probably because of big-box discounts and selection. I even made the brave decision to NOT order boxed Christmas cards, having so many leftover from the previous year.

Interestingly, I sold most of them at full-price, to my delight! That enabled me to reduce my current financial obligations and finally get a return on last year's painful investments! I took a higher deductible on our health insurance policy in order to keep my premium from rising drastically. It still went up, but only slightly. I questioned my insurance broker when my business insurance rose, and she found a new policy that saves me hundreds of dollars with no loss of coverage! I dropped all printed advertising. I did not order fancy bags or tissue. My husband and I worked the shop as much as we could stand, paying just 1 employee for only 6 days a month. I put more "dead" items on sale. Interestingly, my "frequent buyer's club" program of BUY 10 CARDS GET ONE FREE", now 5 years old, is more popular than ever. Even my seemingly wealthy customers just LOVE that FREE CARD!

Yes, I survived 2009. Unfortunately, several smaller vendors have put me on prepay only or threaten to do so, and 1 took away my net 60 and free freight for being a "slow pay". I have always maintained that there is a hugh difference between a "slow pay" and a "no pay". I have built great credit relationships with so many vendors that work with me, and they are the ones that will get my loyalty in 2010. The few vendors who have "scolded" me for late payments will be filed away under "maybe, but only maintenance".

Best Wishes to all fellow independent Card Shops in 2010! Notes & Queries is a vital part of what has always seemed to work for me...keep things fresh and exciting!

Kat Ranalli
Pages, West Chester, PA

American Pie survival motto: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

Pat Michael
American Pie, Chatham, NY

We answered the phone "Hello Play! We have no Zhu-Zhu pets!"
We carried nothing that's in Wal Mart.
We smile a lot.
We gift wrap with no fee.
We carried cool cards :-)

Play, New Milford, CT

My toot your own horn advice is:

1. Maintain (and raise) your level of service. This is what sets you apart from the rest. Don't compete with the big box--be far above them in the amenities that you provide.
2. Be a bean counter. All expenses, even the little ones, add up quickly and can take you down.
3. Dump the "Sitters" and replace them with Movers & Shakers.
4. Work with great lines (like N&Q) that continue to bring freshness to your store.
5. Keep a positive outlook-share your vision with staff and thank them everyday for doing a great job.

I loved receiving the horn in the mail. Very clever...

If Only, Fairbanks, AK


We have always worked at providing good customer service. We are in a neighborhood of very loyal customers and try to let them know how much they are appreciated. We also contribute to the neighborhood by donating to schools and organizations for their fund raising efforts. And, we have tried to be careful in our buying.

Kathy Zegar
The Arrangement, Portland, OR