16 January 2007

Back From Market

After a three and a half hour flight delay on Monday afternoon, Debbie and I have returned from our weekend trip to Market in Atlanta. The good news is--we're still standing!
For those of you who might be curious about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the retail world, I'll gladly share the ins and outs of our two and a half day whirlwind January Market experience with you.

First of all, I want to say a big thank you to my beautiful and talented friend Kelly, who held down the fort for us on Saturday. Kelly happens to be the designer behind one of our favorite lines of jewelry: These Flowers, This Moon. I have mentioned her jewelry in a previous blog, but I want to take a moment for another shameless plug. Remember how I said I would never offer an item in my shop that I didn't believe in? Case in point: These Flowers, This Moon is jewelry I have added to my own small personal repertoire. I enjoy accessories but I really don't have very many pieces I truly love. I think it's better to have fewer things you actually can't wait to find an excuse to wear than to have a plethora of pieces you don't even know you own. Anyhow, when Kelly launched her line and I was able to see the craftsmanship and the artistry she brings to each hand-crafted piece, her designs quickly became some of my favorites. Each piece is 80% vintage, which means that almost every bead, every charm, and every precious stone she uses are actual antique and vintage findings culled from far and wide. For instance, some of the beads on the Petite Ornament earrings from her Winter Collection are mercury glass collected from Christmas tree garlands from the late 1800s. (The ear wires and all parts touching your skin are, of course, new.) We just received most of her new Sea Collection, inspired by marine hues and nautical stories (more pieces to come soon). I am (once again) in love. My favorite pieces are the X Marks the Spot earrings (ABOVE, top) and the At the Helm earrings (ABOVE, bottom). Kelly also sells online at www.theseflowersthismoon.com for those of you who would like a closer look or who would like to share her collection with friends from out of town.
Before I go any further, allow me to be the first to admit that I am a relatively inexperienced retailer. I've only been doing this for a little over a year. I have a lot to learn and am thirsty for it. I learn something about how I can improve my business on a daily basis. Mostly, you teach me. Debbie and I learn how to make our shop better from watching you shop it. We notice what you look at and what you don't; what you buy passes through our hands at the cash wrap. We're also conscious of what items rarely or never pass through our hands. We love having conversations with you, mostly to get to know you, but also because you teach us things about our shop that only you, someone with an objective point of view, could notice. We hear what words you use to describe our shop, and that tells us if we're translating our vision effectively through our merchandise and our displays. I say all of the above to let you know that what follows is by no means an expert insider's guide to What It's Really Like to Be a Boutique Owner. It's more like, What It's Really Like to Be the Owner of a Fledgling Boutique Attending Her Second Major Market With a Delicious Vision But Never Enough Cash. Still with me? Here we go.
One of the biggest learning curves my mom and I had as new retailers just one year ago was answering the question, how do stores get their product? Where does it all come from, and how do we locate the type of stuff that's right for our shop? The answer is manifold, but it involves a little sleuthing, a lot of searching, and knowing how to find the right source. Debbie and I do all of our own buying. I look forward to the day when I can hire some good part-time help for the shop, but to tell the truth, it would be a hard thing for me to share the buying with anyone else. I am so married to my vision of what and who we are ("we" being The Blissful) that it would be difficult for me to entertain input from anyone else. I'm thinking that the way I feel about my shop is probably similar to how most of you would feel if friends or acquaintances proffered input on how you should raise your children.
In any case, most retailers, from big box department stores to small, independently owned boutiques like ours, travel to one or a few Markets each year in several major cities across the U.S. The truly blessed may even get to some international shows! So far, our favorite is the Atlanta Mart, though I may also get to Chicago this summer and aspire to go to the New York one, too. These "Markets" can be as small as one large, industrial-size facility, take up an entire city block, or comprise multiple locations across a large metropolitan area, where you have to take transportation to get from one building to another. The Atlanta Mart has three interconnected buildings of nothing but permanent showrooms, from the grand and elaborate, to small temporary booths, which range in quality from the sublime to the, ahem, ridiculous. There are thousands of exhibitors (manufacturers, importers, vendors, artisans, craftspeople) showing their wares at Market, and thousands upon thousands of buyers (shop owners and staff) descend on the Marts twice a year to sell, sell, sell, and buy, buy, buy. The first show you attend is inevitably an overwhelming experience. There's just so much product, so many people, so many vendors vying for attention. Sometimes finding even one item that speaks to you on an entire floor--let alone in a single showroom--can feel like a needle in a haystack. After one Market, though, you've got your sea legs and you're learning how to swim.
Day One. We checked into our hotel on Saturday morning after an uneventful flight out of Akron-Canton. I knew the shop was in great hands with Kelly, so I could breathe easily and keep my cell phone in my shoulder bag rather than have it attached to my palm at all times. Debbie and I went in with a plan. Our strategy was to first hit our "big boys," as I think of them, those vendors we already order from and whose product you seem to really respond to. We began in Building 1, the Merchandise Mart, planning to hit about a dozen of our big boys, see their new stuff, jot down item numbers, and perhaps return later in the weekend to actually place the orders. The Merchandise Mart is where you will find your "High Design," things like fine linens, tabletop, and general home decor, as well as all my favorite temporary booths, many of whose wares are some of our bestselling lines. One thing we've found about our Market experience is that it's hard for us to get started actually placing the orders. Knowing that you're about to part with a cool thousand here, several thousand over there, with the tap of the sales rep's pointer on her handheld computer, isn't always the merriest of feelings. But eventually you have to bite the bullet and place that first order.
So here's a sampling of what we found in Building 1: a new line of jewelry, featuring some gorgeous and moderately-priced brushed gold initial charm bracelets; printed glass art; mismatched sets of antique coffee spoons and butter knives, and a line of French perfume and bubble bath I've had my eye on for about six months. The man and woman working this booth couldn't have been nicer and I thoroughly enjoyed their thick French accents. Along with ordering the perfume, we also were fortunate enough to acquire a collection of 92 antique French postcards, circa 1900. Most of these are in like-new condition, some are written on and some aren't, and we are offering them at $3.99 each.
Our best finds of the day were off our beaten path. I generally don't like to leave my beaten path (ask my mom), but sometimes you just have a hunch. We stumbled upon a showroom neither of us had heard of before and were drawn in by their beautiful display of hobnail glassware in Spring-y colors. Once inside, we discovered a whole range of gorgeous and homey finds (a hard-to-pull-off combination, kind of like cute AND cool), many of which will be appearing soon at The Blissful Home. From the abovementioned short and tall hobnail tumblers in clear, light blue, light green, and strawberry, to a very authentic-looking Bistrot de Paris menu blackboard and some great wine label kitchen towels, I think you'll love what we found. In an adjoining showroom, we found THE tiniest, cutest, crystal-ly, sparkly chandelier I have ever laid eyes on. We're bringing that to The Blissful, too.
To give you an idea of the scope of this Market, I should mention that it took us our entire first day, from 9:30ish in the morning 'til 8 PM when the Mart closed, to make it almost the whole way through Building 1. And we didn't look at half of what was there. (I am all about glancing in the windows as we walk past and discerning in about 2.2 seconds if it's a place I want to bother spending time in. Yes, I know there can be diamonds hidden in the rough, but my philosophy is if they can't grab me with their front displays and the general oeuvre of the place, what else should motivate me to give them my business?) By the end of the first day, we were pooped and dying to get off our feet. We enjoyed a great dinner at the buffet in our hotel restaurant (that Create Your Own Pasta special did me well) and went to bed at a reasonable hour.
Day Two, Sunday, we rose early and hit the Mart before most of the showrooms were even open. We managed to sneak into one in Building 1 who opened early and found some great monogrammed lavender sachets, handmade in France. This is something I've been wanting for the shop but couldn't find in a style that wasn't too generic or too cutesy. These would make the perfect Valentine's or Mother's Day gift. They should be here soon. After finishing up in Building One, we made our way to Building 2, the Gift Mart.
The Gift Mart has a different feel altogether than the Merchandise Mart. Gayer (and I'm not talking orientation here), more frenetic, livelier. I think it's because there's a higher proportion of female buyers in this building than in others (and the Market as a whole is dominated by women anyway, as you might have guessed) buying for their boutiques and gift shops, who probably have mostly female customers. These women get really excited about filling up their credit cards! This would be a good time to mention the preponderance of great Southern accents you hear throughout the halls and in every showroom. While Atlanta is an international Market, it seems that the "locals" are out in full effect for every show. While Debbie and I wear our best jeans and prettiest sweaters and most comfortable shoes when we shop, some of these Southern ladies are dressed to the nines--silk suits and coiffed hairdos, sparkly jewels and heels to boot! I don't know how they do it when the typical Mart shopper seems to be on her feet an average of 10 hours a day, but I have to hand it to them. They do look beautiful!
In Building 2, among other things, we found some neat door mats in pretty colors and a new line of antiqued flatware that takes on a nice patina in the dishwasher. These will be available for you soon.
Now, for my best story of the show. We stumbled into a showroom I'll call X, another off-the-beaten-path venue for us. We were hooked at a glance by window displays of their spare but comfortable and decidedly androgynous, "vintage modern" offerings. I fell in love in under sixty seconds. I began writing an order with a nice rep named Joe. I became interested in some drawer pulls that really attracted me. As Joe wrote them up for me, he mentioned that they were a Show Special because "a major national retailer used to carry them, but discontinued carrying them, so now our price can be reduced." I hesitated but a moment before asking him with strong conviction: "That wouldn't happen to be My Favorite Shop, would it?" "Yes, it would be Your Favorite Shop," Joe said. "We ARE your favorite shop. We're a group of designers who left there to start our own company." Did I say I was in love before? This vendor has entered my Top 5 favorites for The Blissful Home now. The aesthetic is right on for us, balancing out our tending-toward-rather-feminine look with lots of wire, pressed tin, galvanized metal, and canvas. LOVE these people. One thing we snatched up from them were a set of canvas shopping baskets--really cool ones--that you can carry around the shop and fill with all your little goodies. You usually put your stuff on our counter so you can free up your hands while you shop, which you're totally welcome to do, but very soon you'll be able to tote your stuff along with you. How fun is that? When I shop, I often like to gaze adoringly at my intended purchases before they're actually rung up for me. :)
On Monday, Day Three and our final day, we hit some of our "big boys" one final time to verify that yes, we would be purchasing certain things, and no, not others, and we finally made our way to Building 3, the Apparel Mart. Here you find your cash and carry jewelry, your women's clothing, and other small accessories. I have to confess that Building 3 is my least favorite building. The Apparel Mart is about 16 circular floors stacked up one on top of the other like the Tower of Pisa or a gaudy wedding cake, connected by escalators and a glass elevator in the center of it all. The energy in this always crowded, often (dare I say it) terribly tacky and chintzy-looking Mart exemplifies everything I hate about shopping. I wanted to leave from the moment I stepped in, but we were women on a mission and so I had to drag myself through. Unfortunately, we didn't find what we were looking for, which were some small personal items, such as handbags, wallets, cell phone cases, etc., that would be our apparel answer to our Eclectic Farmhouse Chic style of decor. Don't worry--I'm not giving up. The search continues, but maybe nevermore in Building 3.
We jumped on the MARTA (Atlanta's public transporation system) and headed back to the airport on Monday before lunch. Satisfied with our ordering and starting to visualize a tweaked floorplan to accomodate some of our bigger pieces and new displays, we were ready to jump on that plane, get in the door by 4:30 PM, and enjoy a nice, quiet evening at home. No could do. You know that really bad weather system that moved across the country over the weekend? Yeah. Our flight was delayed by three and a half hours. Not so bad when I overhead one woman telling someone that she had been in the airport since 4:30 AM--and it was past 5 o'clock in the evening. But the good news is we're back safe and sound, we did some minor tweaking of a few orders today, and we are open and smiling and ready to receive some new merchandise!
By the by, all of the items I described above will be available over the next several weeks. If you're on my mailing list (meaning you have received a post mailing from me before or you have signed up in the shop since we opened in December), watch your mailbox next week. If you would like to join my mailing list, send an e-mail to theblissfulhome@yahoo.com and pass on your name and complete address. If you'd like to join my e-mail list (an even more efficient method), send an e-mail to theblissfulhome@yahoo.com and type LIST in the subject heading. I'll gladly add you on.
The shop is looking lighter and Springier every day, so stop in and see us. New finds are arriving daily!

No comments: