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The Gifted Retailer: Lula Mae

Marci Toombs, owner of Lula Mae in Pasadena, CA, believes in treating your store like a friend.Lula Mae

Gifts and Decorative Accessories: What do you like best about being a retailer?
Marci Toombs: I love being a retailer! Mostly, I love the customers. We have weekly visitors to Lula Mae. They are like family to us and we would not still be here if it were not for them. Some of our best store improvements have come from customer recommendations.

GDA: What was the most valuable piece of business advice that you ever received?
MT: When the economy decided to get silly, a local business owner asked me how sales were over last year. I replied with some not so positive news and she said, "Quit looking back, just move forward." Yes, this goes against everything we know as retailers! Not comparing to the previous year was difficult at first. It started a drive in me to begin doing more. Staying open longer, running coupons for customers, doing more with social marketing. Eventually, our sales started picking up just from the concept of moving forward!

Lula MaeGDA: What is/was your most successful promotion?
MT: Our monthly coupons. We email them at the beginning of each month. Customers count on them. So many small business owners know they are struggling, but don't realize it is quite simply because the customer is struggling as well. Acknowledging that we are all in this together, develops customer loyalty and makes a stronger connection between small business owners and clients.

GDA: What three products/lines are your best sellers?
MT: Voluspa Candles, BunniesInLA Jewelry and Two's Company.

GDA: What are you doing to attract new customers?
MT: Word of mouth! If you give your customers the absolute best in customer service and experience they spread the word fast. We put a treat in every bag. Whether you are purchasing a card or a candle, we always give a special Thank You in every bag. This is one of the things I hear most when new customers shop with us - "I hear you put a treat in every bag!"

GDA: What was your most effective display?Lual Mae
MT: An entire experience or theme. If it is Paris, don't limit it by department. Do an entire display based on the client who loves anything Paris. A French candle, notebook, or Eiffel Tower bottle stopper can all be found in one beautifully contained department/display. This creates a need to buy more items and make a complete gift.

GDA: How do you find your best employees?
MT: Again word of mouth. All of my employees have either been long standing customers, or recommendations from friends, family or customers.

GDA: What was your biggest retail problem and how did you solve it?
MT: My biggest retail challenge has been developing a successful website. We are currently designing a new site that will launch May 1, 2012. The site we have now is for our local customers. I wanted to tie the experience of walking into the shop with a shopping cart ready site. If you can't do this, you get lost among other large retail sites. We solved this through photos. Instead of classic white back drop product shots, we are taking them in store as they are displayed. The feedback so far has been amazing. A small boutique setting, whether you walk through our door or visit us online.

Lula MaeGDA: How is the current economy affecting your business?
MT: We are doing amazing. Thanks to hard work, customer loyalty and just believing that there is no room for failure. Our numbers are not quite what they were in 2008. Yes, I do compare again. But I know that they will be soon.

GDA: What advice would you give to a struggling retailer?
MT: Stay open seven days a week! Work just a little bit harder. Never stop pushing yourself to come up with new ways to be a better retailer, a better experience and a better option. Every time you complete one improvement, begin another. Don't believe there is a chance at losing what you love and you will naturally do everything in your power to make sure that never happens. Oh, and treat your store like a friend. Say good morning to it, say goodnight and love it to pieces.

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