Ho Ho Holiday Returns

What to do when returns come back to your store.
The holiday season can bring a lot of joy for shoppers and a slew of sales for retailers. But in the season of giving, there are inevitable returns.

We asked retailer and trend expert Steve McKenzie of steve mckenzie’s and Joni Vanderslice, interior designer and owner of J. Banks Design, and retailer of J. Banks Retail, for their advice on how to best handle holiday returns so they don’t become holiday hassles.

Joni Vanderslice

Joni Vanderslice


Turn a Design Return Into a Retail Offering
“We are in a unique business as we have both interior design clients as well as retail clients so we have to face both angles when it comes to returns. Returns from design clients, although not encouraged, are sometimes advantageous to our retail store. We know that the item was selected by one of our designers, so generally, it’s great looking.” – Joni Vanderslice

Steve McKenzie

Steve McKenzie


Be Upfront About Your Policy
“First make sure your return policy is clear and available; we have it on our receipts. We only do in-store credit and that at least makes sure that they leave with something from the store and you are not out the cash.” – Steve McKenzie


Re-merchandise With a Story
“Returns have sometimes actually served us well by filling a spot on the retail floor that was vacant after an unexpected merchandise turn. We market these pieces as curated selections from our design team and retail shoppers love the story.” – Joni Vanderslice

Get Creative & Think Beyond Holiday
“A lot of the Christmas we buy will also cycle through as red items for Valentine’s Day or when merchandised together looks holiday, but can be merchandised with everyday following the holidays. For example, the R. Wood Studios pottery can be merchandised with all the colors and fit an everyday theme.” – Steve McKenzie

steve mckenzie's

steve mckenzie’s


Provide Flexibility to Keep Customers
“We believe accommodating returns with a service driven approach creates long-term shoppers. People are coming to us for the experience. Providing client flexibility makes them more apt to shop our store, take more things to try in their home, which ultimately leads to more sales that stick.” – Joni Vanderslice


J. Banks Retail

Make the Experience Positive
“I think a merchant’s attitude toward customer service sets the tone on how you move forward with a customer. If someone brings in a return following the holiday, this is a chance to sell them more! Usually we give the in-store credit and they end up buying something that is more expensive. Making sure to create a positive, fun experience keeps them coming back and telling their friends.” – Steve McKenzie

Upsell the Return
“Retail returns are never met with enthusiasm; however, it gives our enthusiastic sales staff the opportunity to upsell with something that would suit the client’s need better. With the new selection, there’s an opportunity to talk and connect with the person, finding out more about them, which in turn allows us to better tailor suggestions at that moment and for the future.”  – Joni Vanderslice

About Steve, steve mckenzie’s


steve mckenzie’s

Steve and Jill McKenzie opened steve mckenzie’s interiors and lifestyle store in September 2012. The brand offers a design sensibility that converges two fundamental influences—the graciousness that they have grown to appreciate while living in the South and their personal love for the mid-century modern aesthetic. The store combines products designed by Steve and Jill McKenzie with handmade pieces from Southern artisans. The cornerstone of the store’s offerings is steve mckenzie’s textile designs that are derived from the canvases of Steve’s artwork. Learn more at stevemckenzies.com.

Hear from Steve in person this January at the Home for the Holidays: Setting the Trends in Tabletop & Seasonal Décor event during Market.

About Joni Vanderslice, J. Banks Design


J. Banks Retail

ASID, president and owner of J. Banks Design, Joni Vanderslice founded her multi-discipline design firm thirty years ago. Since then, she has nurtured the Hilton Head Island-based operation into an internationally recognized force in residential and resort design. The firm’s residential, resort, and clubhouse interiors have been widely published in a multitude of shelter and trade publicationsAt her store, J. Banks Retail, Joni and her buying team bring together specialty pieces and small treasures that are not widely accessible. Learn more at jbanksdesign.com.

Don’t forget to see Joni’s design picks in her vignette at the Diamonds of Design Vignette Exhibition, in Building 1, Floor 14, Vignette Gallery, 14-D-9.

For a full list of Market events happening during The Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market®, January 10 – 17, 2017, visit AmericasMart.com/Events.

Helpful Holiday Tips for a Successful Selling Season

Are you ready for the holiday selling season? Mercedes Gonzales of Global Purchasing Group has some tips to help set you apart from the competition.KO-Ice-Princess-Christmas

The U.S. public isn’t necessarily money poor, they are time poor!  They need a real reason to shop in your store that isn’t a guilt trip. We have come up with a few customer service friendly tips that are cost effective and will help you stand out from the price wars and the crowds.

  1. Carry unique products that are limited and well-crafted

This means buying from emerging designers. Look for them on the Premiere area of Floor 2 during market. And ask your market rep who is new and answer those emails from an unheard of designer.

  1. Offer free gift wrapping

This is a small investment in the purchasing of the wrapping paper and supplies. You can have your favorite local charity volunteers (I like animal shelters) do the wrapping for a donation to their cause. You are building good will in the spirit of the season and offering a service with a low cost.

  1. Accept phone orders and offer local same day delivery

Really make this known by having signage in the store and posting it daily on your social media. It is totally fine to charge for this service. You will find this to be most popular during the last few days. If you get to watch the movie, “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” there is a great part where on Christmas Eve, right before the store was to close, John Lennon (I know) calls and wants some fur coat bought over to the house. The poor sales guys waited for HOURS while John and Yoko went in to another room to look at the coats. Turns out they bought 400k worth of fur coats. It’s just an example of going the extra mile.

  1. Offer free Wi-Fi so the significant other can watch the game

I still don’t understand why so few stores offer this. It’s at no cost to have an addition password for the public. If the significant and/or the kids are occupied, the customer will feel more at ease to shop.

  1. Set up a children’s area with videos playing

This doesn’t have to be a fancy set up – it can even be a small sitting area with IPads. Most kids will use “mom’s” phone so they really just need a place to sit. Bean bag chairs are great and can be easily stored during off season.

  1. Extend and have flexible return policies

Oh the bitter pill of independent retail. You should take back returns. A fair and competitive policy is unworn with tags can be returned for a full refund within 14 days. It’s a math game, which you will win by having a competitive policy. OK, ready? For the month of December, I would extend it to 30 days to make a return for a full refund.

  1. Turn your staff into trained wardrobe and gift experts

You should have quick training every week during the holiday season. Come up with gift ideas for the most challenging person. Make it a contest to see what “forgotten” person gets a gift this year. I bought super warm gloves for the man at the transfer station at the suggestion of a sales person at my local boutique. Interesting it’s a women’s boutique that only offers men’s gifts during the season. Oh and I don’t even like the guy.

  1. Offer extended shopping hours

Again it’s a math game. You MUST have extended hours at least two nights a week during the season. You should be able to cover the extra payroll with the additional sales. Make sure you promote your extended hours.

  1. Keep a stash of universal cell phone chargers

You will be the place to go for this service the investment can be as small as buying a few different types of chargers to buying one of those locker types.

  1. Offer homemade holiday cookies (make them festive)

Have the team make their own family cookie and have a “bake off” with the winner getting a ribbon and photo to be displayed in the store. Or make a donation to a local group (church ladies make the best cookies) and have them make a batch for the store.

  1. Surprise them with a small gift with purchase

There are many accessories available on the 7th Floor that can be bought for $1. Place them in a nice organza bag for a great “wow” factor after a purchase.

  1. Host fun events like having a Santa or photo booth

Make a small investment in renting the costume or you might be able to hire a “Santa” to come to the store. Take photos on your smart phone and offer to email them to the customer…thus also collecting emails.

  1. Offer coat and bag checks

I don’t understand why more stores don’t offer this service. If I am sweating under my layers of clothing, I am not going to stay very long in the store. Use a simple deck of cards and clothing pins system and the stock room for this.

It might go without saying, but make sure you are fully staffed during peak hours and that everyone is properly trained to check out a customer.

I’ll be speaking on Saturday, October 17 at Atlanta Apparel about more ideas and sales training during Market.

How to Run a Successful Retail Shop
Presented by Mercedes Gonzalez of Global Purchasing Group
11 a.m.  |  
Floor 11, 11-W357
9 out of 10 retailers don’t make it past their first year. This crash course was designed from an 8-hour workshop to highlight the most important key factors you didn’t know you needed to know.

Creating the Ultimate Sales Team
Presented by Mercedes Gonzalez of Global Purchasing Group
3:30 p.m.  |  
Floor 11, 11-W357
Your sales team is the backbone of your store. Learn the five key training points every successful retailer should know for closing and increasing your sales, and hear how to avoid Internet showrooming.

Signs of the Times: The signals you send and the impact to your bottom line

At approximately the same time each week, usually during one of my favorite shows, the sound on the television mutes and gives way to one of MelissaHaberstrohthe most annoying sounds on Earth…the Emergency Alert System. Yes, in an emergency it’s critical and yes, it’s important to test the system to be sure it works when we really need it. But THAT sound does nothing but make me sprint to the remote like OJ in the airport terminal in hopes of hitting the mute button in time to avoid it.

In retail, store signage could be considered our message-alert system. Think about it… day or night, open or closed, our store signage is our first “hello” to customers. Does your signage “alert” the potential customer that they need to pay attention, come inside and take a closer look or does it make them hit the mute button in their mind?

I was walking up to the door of a boutique home furnishings store at the same time that a couple was arriving. As the gentleman reached his arm around my left to open the door for me and his companion, he read aloud the sign on the door. “No Strollers. No food or drink in the store. No public restrooms. No soliciting.” He followed with “No sales!” so quickly one would have thought that it, too, was on the sign. The store owner followed all of the right rules of crafting a sign but still sent an inadvertent and potentially costly message to a potential customer. It didn’t matter that the paper was of high quality, that the text was in a nice font or that the sign was framed in a beautiful wood frame. The sign made that person feel unwelcomed to make a purchase in that store before he ever crossed the threshold. No matter how nice the product or staff or layout of the store inside, he had hit the mute button of his mind.

Seventy-four percent of all purchase decisions are made at the point of purchase. Seventy-four percent. What does that tell you about how critical point of purchase signage is? Point of purchase signage is the silent sales associate. The one who speaks to your customer about the benefits of the product, the story of its creators and why they need the item. If your store’s exterior signage is the message-alert system, then the point of purchase signage is the “message”. It’s what that tells your customer what action to take (purchase this product).

Messages are not only words and signs, though. Messages are the way that we communicate our brand promise to our customers. It’s the care that we put into packaging a purchase – making sure that the tissue is just so – before we tote the bag to the customer’s car. It’s the fingerprint-free (okay, handprint-free) door that says that we care that our product is of quality. Everything that we do in our stores tells our customer (both potential andloyal) about who we are as a store and in turn, these messages impact our bottom line.

The new economy has left today’s consumer feeling a bit famished for the shopping experience. With the closure of a number of retail outlets, the consumers are more attentive than ever. Bottom line? Consumers notice messaging missteps. In the past, a stumble meant that she told her immediate friends and family. Today, with her heightened media options, she’s instantly reporting her poor experiences at a record pace to throngs of social friends. It’s simply too risky.

We have to realize that our new consumer wants to shop but she won’t just spend her money anywhere. Those days are long gone. She wants to spend her money in a store that provides her an experience, where she feels like she belongs, with people that understand her needs and products that fit her lifestyle. At the end of the day, our goal is to create a group of loyal customers by creating a shopping experience. A customer who understand your brand conversation so well that they can (and do) repeat it to everyone that they know. The good news is that we Indie retailers have the unique ability to make swift changes in our business models and adapt to this new economy and the consumer it has created.

Melissa Haberstroh owns the Burlap Horse and Melissa Jeffrey Home in Boerne, Texas, with her husband Jeff. She also is a member of the AmericasMart Advisory Board.

Try Something New this Season: Vegan Leather Handbags

abeje-sneed-1659Alternative leather Handbags in vegan leather, industrial felt, waxed cotton and faux fur have walked the Atlanta runway. Howver, finding non-leather US-manufactured handbags is difficult. Many designers claim to use “GREEN” materials but leather tanning involves multiple toxins and is NOT an eco-friendly material. Previously, alternative materials were even worse. New handbag materials include: Industrial felt, waxed cotton, vegan leather (Non-PVC bio-degradable urethane) and organic fabrics. When seeking the real deal, ask to see material certifications when you talk with exhibitors – true Eco-Fashion designers certify materials for all of their products. All organics should be GOTS certified to insure they meet Global standards. 

There are additional ways in which designers and manufacturers can approach the eco-fashion trend including: designing with eco-friendly materials, creating zero-waste manufacturing methods (or patterns), analyzing alternative power sources for manufacturing process and identifying local distribution options for lowering the carbon footprint of fashion products. A few accessory companies, such as Fibre Arts Design,  Palo Alto, CA have adopted many of these eco-friendly practices for their handbag line. For instance, they design and cut zero or low wasted patterns for manufacturing to lower or eliminate the waste in the manufacturing process. Many items are actually constructed using fabrics rewoven from cutting room waste. In addition, all the power for Fibre Arts Design is purchased from Wind and Solar power sources. Many communities have begun to offer these “green” or alternative power options to businesses. It may cost more to purchase green power, but the result is a lower carbon footprint product. In addition, Fibre Arts is in discussion with some Atlanta folks to explore setting up an eco-friendly manufacturing plant on the east coast to offer even lower carbon footprint shipping options to retail partners in the Eastern US.

Find out more about Wo and Fibre Arts Design studio here: http://www.fibreartsdesign.com/

Plus, be sure to visit Fibre Arts Designs at their booth in Premier on the 2nd Floor, booth #2-114.

Atlanta Apparel Sets the Stage for 2011 Retail

Feb11_LogoWith the finishing details in place, Atlanta Apparel gears up for the New Year’s first Apparel Market, kicking off tomorrow, Feb. 3. Poised to welcome thousands of retailers, Atlanta Apparel is featuring the hottest trends of the upcoming seasons in women’s, men’s and children’s apparel with a special focus on Accessories.

As this year’s hottest category, accessories have gained the spotlight at Atlanta Apparel. These products that sell—and fast—will dominate Market. Supporting this trend is an educational seminar with forward-thinking speakers tapped to address how and when to add accessories and shoes to your business.  Accessories are crucial for a successful product mix, and this Market, Atlanta Apparel raises the stakes in variety of product offerings with hundreds of lines in jewelry, handbags, watches, belts and more–in styles fit for every buyer. IMG_9419

Plus, don’t miss the Daily Strut Fashion Shows, taking place every day at noon and 3 p.m. These mini-runway events highlight the premier trends of Market and support Friday night’s Style Runway Fashion Show, taking place at 6:30 p.m. on Floor 2.

Atlanta Apparel is your destination for trends, events, education and fun for the upcoming retail season. Prepare to be immersed in the fashion forward excitement tomorrow, Feb. 3 beginning at 11 a.m. with a Light-Up Lip Gloss Giveaway!

To read the entire Market release, click here.

Find Market details here.

5 ways to use Social Media to find success in 2011

Crystal Vilkaitis high res[1]It’s that time a year again: new products, new deals, new themes, new marketing and of course, New Year’s resolutions!

In 2010, if you didn’t use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to market your store, network with your community and find ways to grow your business, then that’s ok. It’s ok because in 2011 you’re going to do things differently. You’re going to embrace social media and use it as a daily tool to help you grow, learn and succeed! (If you did use social media in 2010, leave a comment on how it helped your business; also assess what worked and what didn’t, then make a 2011 Plan of Social Media Action.)

To get started, here are 5 ways to use social media to ensure a successful show this January.

1. Pictures! If you don’t have a phone with a built in camera, make sure you bring your digital camera to the show because you’re going to want to make your customers so excited for your new products they can’t stand it! Take pictures of some new items or lines you bought at market. Post to your Facebook page and let your networks know that in a matter of days they could get their hands on those items. Posting pictures of the showrooms and people shopping at market is also a great way to let your customers in on your business, taking your relationship with them deeper.

2. Follow Vendors and Sales Agencies. The best way to stay up-to-date at market is to be monitoring your favorite vendors and sales agencies on Twitter and Facebook. You might even find show specials posted on their social media outlets. To find their accounts (if you don’t know them already) visit their websites, go to search.twitter.com and enter the company name or try Googling their name +Twitter.

3. Hashtags! You might not know what a hashtag is, so let me first explain.  Hashtags were developed as a means to create “groupings” on Twitter. Through these you can tag a post with a keyword so it can be found or referred to later. You create a hashtag simply by prefixing a word with a hash symbol:  #hashtag. Here are a few examples:

via @AmericasMartATL: AmericasMart launches HD Home juried home furnishings/lifestyle collection: http://bit.ly/hFp0ty #atlmart

Via @AlexasAngles: “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.” #quote

Via @snapretail: Cute Displays for the #Holiday Season http://ht.ly/3ipaP #retail#marketing

4. Connect with other retailers. Running a successful retailer store can be hard. One way to learn what works is by talking to a retailer that has proven success. You can find these retailers online and set up a time to share a coffee, walk showrooms together or grab dinner after market. Continuing that conversation throughout the year will help you stay on track and feel the support of someone who knows exactly what you’re going through. A great way to find these retailers is by following the #atlmart hashtag. Another way is by sending out Facebook posts and Tweets that you’ll be attending the market and you’re looking at connecting with other retailers. Finally, go to AmericasMart Facebook page and see who they are talking to/who is posting on their page and reach out to them.

5. Attend a social media seminar at market. As you return to your store after the shows, you should be asking yourself: how will I market the products I just bought? It’s important to create a 2011 marketing plan and make sure social media is a part of that plan.

There are lots of good seminars at Market. I will be speaking on Thursday, Jan 13th in the Social Media Track. Please consider spending an hour with me on: Top 10 Facebook and Twitter Strategies to Drive Sales.

For a complete list of seminars visit AmericasMart seminar page and SnapRetail’s seminar series page.

If you can embrace social media in 2011, you will find how beneficial it is for your store. Just make sure you know what you’re doing, how to use the sites, and create a plan of action first that way you can track your efforts. Wishing you a happy new year and a successful 2011!

IN LIVING COLOR…Expert Thoughts From Designer Rebecca Ewing

REwingIs Rebecca Ewing a creative genius, design guru or a little like Doctor Phil? Perhaps she’s combination of all three? In a recent seminar she hosted at the Fall Atlanta Gift & Home Furnishings Market last weekend, Rebecca showed retailers the value of creating an environment with design and color that is aesthetically pleasing as well as calming to the senses. Rebecca believes that physiology and interior design go hand-in-hand. The industry leader showed her expertise and knowledge of the world of interior design with intricate details on how she can match a room to one’s personality. After listening to her, you are convinced that colors and their hues can change behavior and alter moods.

During her seminar, Rebecca went beyond interior design and talked fashion–and how to  leverage certain clothing and colors to accomplish specific goals. She explained how wearing the right color palette can make one more approachable. She was a perfect example of this theory as the crowd was extremely attentive and responsive to her thoughts and insight. Many were there for to learn more for their store and personal insight, but the course was also offered to those seeking .2 CEU credits.

The event was a hit with comments such as:

“Rebecca’s knowledge and experience is incomparable.”

“Absolutely fabulous! She was fantastic!”

“Rebecca is always informative and showing new views and perspectives of color and the impacts.”

“Wonderful seminar. I loved the presentation, and I hope to learn more.”  “Very interesting and informative. Thought provoking.”

Want to know more about Rebecca and discover additional ideas? Visit Rebecca’s website: www.handsonhues.com