I’m learning that building a business is just like a roller-coaster.  Daily ups and downs.  When talking to other shop owners in my area I have found that seems to be the norm for small retail.  One shop owner was so tired of the roller-coaster she closed her doors.  That was an eye-opener for me.  Would my experience be the same? Would I ever have “stability” in a retail business?  I still don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is that our first year in the store had some pretty amazing highs and a mind-blowing low.

Grand Opening 3/31/2012
Grand Opening April 2012

Our grand opening was a peak in this journey.  It took 3 long years to get to this point and the day we opened was one of the best days I’ve ever had.  6 months earlier I would have laughed if someone told me I would have a shop of my own.  It was a goal, but not in my wildest dreams did I think it would happen so soon.  I was on a high.

Wild Fire Day 1
June 26, 2012, Wild Fire Day 1

Just over 2 months after our Grand Opening I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the summer tourist season and all the sales that were expected to follow.  Instead, on a Saturday in June I started the perfect Summer day at the pool with my son.  As we were leaving the pool around 12 p.m. I noticed a thin white puff of smoke rising in the canyon near our store…. and I knew.  I just knew.

I called my parents who were vacationing in Missouri and told them that I thought there was a wild fire.  Then, I called the store where my friend was taking care of the shop and asked her if she heard of anything going on.  Nothing yet.  Within 20 minutes I was at the store and the little puff of smoke I had seen was now a huge billowing cloud.  The picture above shows what I saw from my store, just an hour after I first spotted the white cloud.  So much for my “high”.  There was now a terrible knot in my stomach.

We could actually see flames from our store.
We could actually see flames from our store.
Waldo Canyon Fire
Waldo Canyon Fire (photo not my own)

The loss of sales we would have did not even compare to the greater loss so many in our community experienced.  I still had so much to be thankful for.

A scorched page from a book.
A scorched page from a book.

Ash from homes that burned landed in front of our store and on our patio at our nearby apartment.  These people lost everything.  We still had our store and our home, but we soon realized that the fire would lead to a significant loss of revenue for us and the surrounding businesses.  My roller-coaster ride just took a huge nose dive.

This is new territory for me.  I didn’t have any answers for what happened to us last year and I certainly did not find any books or advice out there for what to do with a wild fire.  In fact, I haven’t found much out there at all about building a successful small retail business.  If someone is talking about it I haven’t found it.  There is a TON out there on service-related small business but where are the shop owners?  I know there are lots of small, mom-and-pop retail establishments out there….so what are they doing to succeed?  Are they just barely getting by.  Do they spend 20-30 years just riding the roller-coaster and barely paying the bills?

I sure hope not because that is NOT what I signed up for.  I’m not looking to make millions.  I don’t really want that much money.  But I do want to make enough to not live day-to-day.  I want to run a consistently profitable business.

In retail you just don’t know what to expect.  You have to guess how many people are going to walk by your store front.  Then you have to figure out how to draw a percentage of those folks in your door.  Once inside, what percentage of them are going to actually going to purchase, then can you up-sell, and will they become a regular customer or just a one-time fling?

My store is dependent not just on marketing, but on the weather, politics, or significant events… like the Waldo Canyon Fire.  A snowstorm can cancel a major shopping event – and then that is LOST revenue.  You don’t get a second chance in retail most of the time.

On the upside, you can have someone come in unexpectedly and they spend as much as you would normally get in a week.  Then you start thinking that everything is looking up and you can pay your bills on time then…bam!  Another cold spell and people don’t come out of their homes for a week.  Sunshine can also impact our business.  Most people think a beautiful weekend is perfect for retail.  Well, in Colorado, that means most people are hitting the trails with their dogs and families.  You just never know and if you think you are starting to figure it out, it changes.

Retail is so inconsistent and terribly difficult to plan for and track.  It can be crazy-making trying to figure out the ebb and flow of small town retail.  One thing is for sure, it keep me on my toes.  I have to constantly be changing, think outside of the box, change marketing strategies, and invent new ways to bring in new traffic.

What works one week will be a disaster the next.  I can see how owners get burned out on retail easily.  You never know what to expect.  My goal is to take some of those hills and valleys on the roller-coaster and even them out a bit.  I know to expect them.  They will be frequent and unpredictable.

This ride has been so exhilarating and stressful at the same time. I wondered for a moment if maybe nothing was going to change I should just close my doors, like the other shop-owner I knew, and save myself several years of heartache.  On the other hand, I have a dream, I signed up for this, I’m not willing to give up because it is hard.  So instead of getting discouraged I told myself, “You might as well enjoy the ride”.

Whoo Hoo!!
Whoo Hoo!!