Archive for June, 2008

Tips From the Grocery Store

In this weekend’s Sunday business section of the NYTimes there was an interesting article on Heinen’s Fine Foods, a 17-store grocery chain in the Cleveland area. While Tom Heinen, who runs the business with his twin brother Jeff was certainly hearing complaints from customers on rising prices, so far most of his clients are sticking with him. The article goes on to note:

“Their loyalty suggests a couple of things about the kind of middle-and upper-class shoppers Heinen’s tends to attract. While they are concerned about price, they’re increasingly thinking about their foods’ origins and quality. So they would just as soon not trade down from a store like Heinen’s that offers handsome local radishes and an excellent stir-fry station.

And they almost certainly don’t want to drive around to six different stores cherry-picking deals. “With two adults working and the kids going to soccer, I defy you to show me how they can do it,” Mr. Heinen said.”

Heinen’s is facing competition for those customers, Whole Foods entered the Cleveland market last year, and of course, there’s price competition from other regional grocery chains. Even at the best of times, running a grocery store sounds like a tough way to make a living. Margins are incredibly low, the stores are both labor- and logistic-intensive and just think about how gets tossed out from every store, every day. 

Heinen offered a couple of suggestion for savings, some of the same ideas he’s been mentioning to his customers. Not all of them are applicable to the design business, (but they’re certainly good for your grocery bill, so check them out here) however a couple can immediately be put to use. 

  1. Offer Artisan-Quality Deals
    Heinen’s had won Cleveland Magazine’s “best cheese selection” award
    for several years running as was determined to keep the honor. But
    with diary prices up 14% and the drop of the dollar against the Euro,
    they knew they needed to make bigger changes. So they went to their
    vendors and asked for help in finding artisan-quality products at
    reasonable prices. The result has been a new in-store focus on
    “Heinen’s Great Value Cheeses”. 
    Lesson: Ask your vendors for assistance in finding unique resources
    that fit the needs of your clientele. And then make sure to package,
    brand and promote those unique resources.
  2.  Is It Local
    Deb and I have spoken for several years on the need to develop a
    network of local resources that can provide unique products and
    services to the design trade. It started out as a way to move yourself
    out of the head-to-head price comparisons with big-box stores and
    direct competition. But with increased fuel costs, which means increased
    shipping fees, plus the spillover of the “locavore” movement, people are
    more than interested in this kind of shopping experience.
    Lesson: Become the “resident expert” for all types of artists and crafts-
    people in your area. Remember 10-years ago when every designer needed
    to have a least one faux-finisher in the rolodex? Well it’s time to expand
    your resource list once again!

The article wraps up with a series of questions that are great to have in your arsenal for your next price shopper

“So this is what you have to ask yourself: If you are patronizing a grocer
that doubles your coupons, discounts your gasoline or runs other expensive
promotions, how exactly are they staying in business? Are they gouging you
on the second most popular brand when the most popular one goes on sale?
Do prices bounce around so frequently that it’s impossible to keep the baseline
in your head?

Shoppers can play the discount game and win by shopping six different stores,
buying only the sale items and products they have coupons for, buying in bulk
and then cooking from the pantry and freezer. But is that really the live most
of them want to live?”

Switch a few words and you’ve got a great defense for why you’re not the cheapest, why you don’t need to discount and what the real value of working with a design professional is.

As always, let us know what happens when you put any of these ideas into practice in your business.

30 June 2008 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment

Unbridaled–The Marriage of Tradition & Avant Garde

In January during Paris Fashion Week, Swarovski showed a line of one-off bridal designs including dresses and veils, cake toppers and floral displays, linens, stationery and a wide range of other accessories…everything the new bride might need to start her married life in glittering, glamorous high style.

I saw digital prints of some of the products at the January M&O shows, but have been waiting and waiting and waiting since then for the limited edition book to arrive. And when it did….oooh la la!

Of course, I’m a little marriage focused right now anyway, in the process of design invitations and announcements for several friends and family members who all happen to be getting married this fall, but even so, so of the pieces in this book are absolutely amazing. 

For more background take a look at this page. Otherwise, let me know what you think of the photos below.

Bustier with Flowers

Bustier by Rossella Tarabini for Anna Molinari; flowers by
Double Pensée; photography Metz & Racine, from Unbridaled
by Swarovski 

Crystal VeilHeadpiece by Alberto Rodriguez; hairpieces by Barney Cheng;
tiaras by Bijous Neumann & Wenzel; photography by Metz
& Racine; from Unbridaled by Swarovski.

Crystal shoes & sofaSofa by Squint; shoes by Jonathan Kelsey; photography by
Emilie Erbin; from Unbridaled by Swarovski.

28 June 2008 at 4:54 am Leave a comment

Breaking Free of Self-Limitations

For most small business owners and solo practitioners business growth and expansion is often self-limiting. What I mean by that is the business is often only “you” and there’s only so much one person can handle and still have time for, you know, a life. This is especially true when revenue is based on billable hours; after all you can’t add more hours to the day!

One way around this self-limitation is to expand the capacity of your businesses most important asset–you!

Here’s a couple of ways to approach this:

  1. Learn More to Earn More
    Adding a new skill or ability to your offerings will not only make your business more appealing to new set of prospects, it will also give you a legitimate reason to get back in touch with past clients. Take the next couple of months to add one new talent to your roster and then make sure to get the word out.
  2. Increase Your Flexibility
    You’re smart, you’re talented and you’ve got a ton of great information in your head. Figure out some ways to make your knowledge earn for you without you having to be there. Think about how you can make your services and abilities more flexible in order to meet the needs of different clientele. Can you create a newsletter that shares your business expertise? Can you teach some of your skills to a new generation? How can you take your skills and f-l-e-x them to reach new markets.
  3. Transform Yourself From a Doer to a Leader
    Many business owners are the ‘doers’ in their business… they have built the business from scratch on their own and continue to do much of the work themselves, either out of habit or the need for control. And this, of course, can only take a business so far. As a leader your role is going to change, but it doesn’t need to be all heavy self-help books and stuff. Leaders have the ability to be passionate and hold true to a vision, and to inspire others to act based on that vision. And as mostly solo-preneurs, we’re pretty passionate!

When people grow, their business grows. So think about some of the options above and how you might implement them into your new business direction.

26 June 2008 at 3:38 pm Leave a comment

Learning to Fail

By now you’ve surely seen the ads for The Incredible Hulk movie starring Edward Norton. And, if any of you have young children or grandchildren, you might remember that there was another Incredible Hulk movie released not so long ago.

And you’d be right. In 2003 Marvel Comics revived the Hulk with a “major motion picture” with the intent to cash in on the successes of Spiderman (another Marvel comic), and Batman (a competitor). The eagerly awaited movie turned out to a major disappointment however, serving up more Bruce Banner than Hulk, and focusing on the despair and psychological trauma Banner creates and feels every time he lets his emotions get the best of him. Fanboys panned the movie, reviewers were lukewarm at best and the box office was terrible. 

The 2008 version starts off by rewriting the history established in the 2003 movie; it’s basically one big do-over. The 2008 Hulk is angry, aggressive and does a lot of smashing…which is what people who go to Hulk movie want to see. 

Marvel Comics had a very expensive and very public failure delivering on a brand promise to a target market. And, to the tune of another $150 million or so, they decided to demonstrate to that disappointed target market that the company heard, understood and was willing to do something to make it up. 

Now not everyone (ha!) had $150 million available to rethink, rework, repackage and revise a product to better fit the market, but the question for you is: What do you have (product, service, image, etc.) that isn’t quite fitting with your target market…and what are you willing to invest to fix it? 

25 June 2008 at 4:07 pm 2 comments

Irrational, Unexplainable Happiness

Completely off-topic but trust me, take four minutes and make yourself much, much happier.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”
Guilaume Apollinaire

24 June 2008 at 12:38 pm Leave a comment

Six Semi-Lazy Office-Keeping Tasks

How difficult is it sometimes to step into your office or studio on a lovely summer day? Even if you’re working on fantastic projects with wonderful clients, there’s just something about wanting to linger over that cup of morning coffee on the terrace, porch or in the garden; or taking a long, leisurely outdoor lunch…and not coming back for the rest of the day! Don’t feel guilty about this, after all one of the best benefits of being your own boss is the ability to set your own schedule. Use some of these lazy summer days to do a little light office keeping and get yourself prepped for the typically busy September-December crunch time.

  1. Organize your reference and swipe materials
    If you’re like me you probably have dozens of past issues with pages flagged for reference, or perhaps you’ve even gone so far as to tear out the pages and tossed the magazine, but the loose pages are still waiting to be labeled, filed or otherwise organized. Just turn on some of your favorite tunes, let the phone go to voice mail for an hour or two and set your computer to sleep, then start tearing, sorting, filing and tossing. It’ll take far less time than you think and you’ll feel so virtuously organized at the end!
  2. Do the same for your computer files
    Do you have lots of random .jpgs and other visuals you’ve collected? First, make sure you name them all in a manner that means something to you, not just image544.jpg, because then you’ll just have to open them up again later to know what it is. Once you’ve named them appropriately, sort them into client files, reference files or delete if they’re no longer useful.
  3. Take this chance to clean up your digital inbox
    Delete old e-mails, making sure to save the address to your address book if you need to, download the necessary attachments from e-mails and just keep the attachments. Sort your e-mail inbox into appropriate folders and consider taking an e-mail “holiday” on Fridays throughout the summer…It’s a sure-fire e-mail inbox clutter reducer.
  4. Clean up the rest of your computer also
    Organize your client and/or project files, archive to a CD or backup drive finished projects, run a defragmentation program on your hardware to organize all those background operating files you don’t even know about (this is good thing to do while working on item #1) and make sure to do a little old-fashioned cleaning. Keyboards get gunky, screens get smeared and, if you’re not working off a laptop, the box can get dusty. 

    One of my tricks for cleaning between the keys on my keyboard is to take a plastic knife and tape a section of nonwoven insti-wipe to the tip, changing it out frequently as it really gross what can build up between your keys without realizing it! Gently though and don’t let the wipe start off too moist.

    And, why not give your desktop a holiday…download a new wallpaper for your desktop. Currently I’m loving this great series from Real Simple.  Or just try changing your fonts and color schemes around in your preference manager. 

  5. Refresh your office or studio
    Is there a color scheme or fabric that your currently fascinated by? A designer or project you’ve come across that particularly inspires you? Create a mini-moodboard and place it somewhere in your office for a fun, fresh dose of eyecandy. And summer’s all about light, easy and breezy, right? Clean out your files, clear away the clutter, even if just means sweeping some of it into a box…then give yourself a half-hour a day (say you’re on hold with a vendor) and then work through a layer of the box at a time. There are only three categories: Act On, Toss or File.  

    And if you have a sulky printer, fax or other piece of equipment that isn’t working at 100%, make the decision to either have it repaired or replace it. We all work hard enough…we shouldn’t have to struggle with our own stuff!

  6. Congratulate yourself
    By most standards 2008 has been a rocky year for the design industry. Take some time to acknowledge your successes, maybe over that lazy lunch…Write them down and map out what you’d like to accomplish for the rest of year. And then hey, go ahead and take the rest of the afternoon off!

23 June 2008 at 3:44 pm Leave a comment

Design Focus Friday: French Chic

I recently received some preview images of a new book by French interior designer and decorative arts historian Florence de Dampierre, titled French Chic: The Art of Decorating Houses, scheduled for publication October 2008 by Rizzoli.

It’s as nice a piece of eye candy as you could want on a sultry summer Friday in the city, but it also includes a fair amount of French decorative history, quick lessons on core design principles and makes a case that stylish, comfortable contemporary living has in roots in the court of Louis XIV.

A couple of added bonuses include a series of delicious-sounding menus accompanied by mouth-watering photographs, and a fairly extensive resource guide at the back.

Take a sneak peek at some of the spreads and let me know what you think.

Note: all images© Photography by Tim Street-Porter, Florence de Dampierre French Chic by Florence de Dampierre, Rizzoli New York, 2008.

French Chic Salon


French Chic Kitchen


French Chic Library

20 June 2008 at 2:43 pm Leave a comment

Prospecting Tips From “The Queen”

A few months ago I received a promotional e-mail from Wendy Weiss, the self-titled “Queen of Cold Calling.” I glanced at it quickly and then filed it away as a possible product I might be interested in. Sorting through my older e-mail folders today, I came across this again and discovered I hadn’t scrolled down far enough the first time and missed some really good ideas I want to pass on to all of you. 

The following phone prospecting tips are courtesy of Wendy Weiss…you’ve got to pay attention to the Queen!

(1)  Call your voice mail and practice your script yourself. It’s good practice and you will have a chance to hear how you sound to others.

(2)  When you listen to yourself on your voicemail check to make sure you’ve got energy in your voice, that you sound confident and assured.

(3)  Think about the impression you want to make and how you want your prospect to feel about what you are saying. You can draw your prospect in by the way you present your message. Think of it as “telephone theater.”

(4)  Eliminate the word “just” and all other minimizing words from your vocabulary. “I’m just calling because…” “I’m only calling because…” These types of approaches read as apology and dilute the power of your message.

(5)  Eliminate the phrases “I believe that…” And “I think that…” from your vocabulary. Who would you rather listen to? Someone who believes or thinks she knows something–or someone who simply knows it? The phrases “I believe” and “I think” detract from your message and from your power and authority.

(6)  Eliminate the phrase “Once we have completed… we will hopefully achieve…” No one pays you to “hopefully” do something. They pay you to do actually do it. Tell your prospects what they will achieve or should expect to achieve.

(7)  Don’t ever tell a prospect that you will “try” to do something for them. Tell them that you “will.” Who would you rather buy from: Some one who “tries” or someone who comes through?

(8)  If a prospect asks you a question and you are unclear as to the answer, it is perfectly acceptable to say, “I’ll find out.” It’s bad form to say, “I really am not sure.”

(9)  And speaking of “easy:” Always use “easy.” Never, ever say that your product or service is “difficult,” even if it is. In that case you can say, “We’ll make it easy for you.”

Try incorporating some of these ideas into your client pitches or prospecting calls and let us know if they work for you!

19 June 2008 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

Design & Our Marketing Assumptions

Sorry for the long break between posts. Things got busy with ICFF and NeoCon and several tight deadlines and then some family issues…but I am going to sincerely try to drop the ball for that long again! 

During my time away from posting I’ve been having some very interesting conversations about the design business. Talking with designers, manufacturers, product developers, etc. I’ve been told over and over again that at “the high end” the market is doing fine. But when it comes to custom design, what is “the high end”? Is it based on your hourly rates? The materials you use? The type of work that you do? And this is where we start to get into the murky and often uncomfortable muddle of emotions and justifications that often passes as analysis among many designers. Take a look at the statements below and see if you recognize yourself in any:

1. My designs are more valuable because… Fill in the blank: I use couture methods, my work is better designed and better constructed, I only use the best fabrics, linings, etc. 

2. Unique, custom designs should command a higher price in the marketplace. (Command? Who are you talking to? Or trying to convince?)

3. My work is valuable because of how much care, effort, concern, detail, etc. I put into it.

4. I should be fairly compensated for doing what(ever) I love to do.

The main theme: It’s all about you. You want to get paid because you’re proud of what you do, you believe you do it well and you work hard doing it. But how much value does that have to your customers?

I know design is important. I know it can change lives. I know that good design improves our lives and that poor design can be harmful. But design does not, can not, exist in a vacuum. It has to be put out there in the world and experienced; because if design is just put on display and not used, it’s merely style.  

Follow this train of thought and you begin to see that a designer’s job is not just about creating; but about making work that is functional, practical, usable and real. It’s about stating the case not just for your designs but for DESIGN, good design, as a worthwhile, valuable practice. 

Designers face many real challenges when it comes to setting a price on their work and finding the language with which to promote it, but don’t add your own emotions about why you do what you do to the mix. Instead become an advocate for the design values that matter to you and brought you to this work. It’s often a tricky balance––we get into the design business because of our passion to create, but you can’t let that passion overwhelm the dollars & cents of being in business.

17 June 2008 at 4:39 pm Leave a comment


June 2008

Flickr Photos