Article by Mary Jurek & Piera Klein
Photo: Courtesy Home Grown, PA
We wrapped up year’s end by celebrating its glorious winter holidays. Gift-giving, greeting cards, parties and family meals are all part of the tradition of holding our special people close to us and telling them how they made the past year another successful experience. In a way, it closes the chapter, prepares us for the opening of the new year and swings us into mid winter. In best of worlds, the next 12 months will carry us forward, along with the many key associations that fortified us with their loyalty and support. Admit it, we cannot do anything without our support network and every brick in the foundation of our personal life as well as business is important.
Speaking of business, it is a well researched truth among the business talking heads that maintaining existing customers proves to be a far better business strategy than establishing new ones and more cost-effective in the long run. The new ones, of course, are integral to growth but it takes time to win their trust and repeat business. During the build up phase of winning new business, it is more than reassuring to know a loyal customer base can bolster the foundation of an enterprise that has been built during many years of hard work and patience.
Not to say the support network cannot fade. Excellent customer service and priority care should always be given to longstanding customers. It takes time and effort to merit the trust that builds a strong relationship. Good judgment dictates that gratitude and recognition must be given. Your business is your brand and the brand reputation is everything.
We thought to turn this discussion over to Piera Klein who will interview one of our favorite retail partners, Home Grown of Haverford PA. We are interested to ask owner, Liz Bloom how good strategic business relationships have created a successful retail store with an extraordinary shopping experience for their customers.
Piera Klein: Can you tell us how long Home Grown has been in business and describe a few of the early challenges you faced in developing a successful retail operation?
Liz Bloom: Home Grown began in a 1400 square ft space in 1996. We moved into our current 2800 square ft space just after 9/11 in 2001. We just celebrated our 15 year anniversary.
The biggest challenge we faced early on was creating a point of view and sticking to it. We wanted to stay true to our vision as a new retail store with a handmade bias, but we had to balance what we wanted with what our clients wanted; and actually bought. That is a difficult tightrope to cross.
From an operations standpoint, the biggest challenge was just figuring it all out. My accountant gave us a very important piece of advice early on. He explained that we need to view the business as a small business and not to get too “top heavy.” That the money we had should go to what we can resell. We have lived by that motto - even though we’re no longer so small — and it has proved us well, especially through tough economic times.
Piera Klein: Many new business owners have some experience in the industry and possess a core competency level. What advice would you offer to someone who wants to start a high-end tabletop and giftware store?
Liz Bloom: Get real experience! Go work for another store. A lot of people think owning a store sounds sexy. You get to shop the gift shows, pay wholesale prices, see what’s new, etc. In reality, it is a lot of weekend and evening hours, employees to manage, and a difficult business in which to earn financial success. In addition, shop owners have to wear a lot of hats. I cannot stress the importance of getting experience. Sales, buying, accounting, visual merchandising, advertising — these are all very important elements in retail.
Piera Klein: Over the course of several years you have been able to establish good strategic partnerships with vendors, manufacturers, customers and sales representatives. Can you briefly describe the intrinsic value those relationships offer to the success of your business?
Liz Bloom: Partnerships can make or break your business. Although there are a lot of critical elements to owning a successful store, one of the most important is your merchandise mix. Vendors and sales reps can help to create the mix you envision to create the point of view you’re trying to obtain. They are also crucial in keeping you abreast of what direction your neighbors are headed. In a tight knit retail environment (such as our neighborhood), we work diligently to differentiate ourselves from one another.
Relationships with customers are important for a number of reasons. We make a concerted effort to fill any request a customer may have. In the economic environment in which we are working, it is important to differentiate ourselves from a large, discount or on-line retailer. Customer service is the way to do that over and over.
Piera Klein: Running a retail store requires you to be a buyer, an editor and merchandiser. You need to be tuned into trends, the economy and the needs of the customers. How do you strategize those factors and stay competitive in the market?
Liz Bloom: Well, much of it is an artistic gift. I really believe that there is an inner talent (or large payroll) required to achieve the success which we have over the years. My passion is visual merchandising. We rely on our vendors and manufacturers to create fabulous products. I have the talent to make them look incredibly appealing and we farm out the marketing and pr of those products. We strive to have four distinct looks in our store annually, with two mini turns in between. It is critical that the store continues to look fresh and inspiring 12 months a year. A retailer in this economy cannot survive just selling the same mix all the time. Regulars will stop coming in. In addition, we are careful to have a wide variety of price points year round, very attached to the season. For example, in Spring we carry inexpensive teachers gifts; Summer— beach/pool hostess gifts; Fall— dinner party hostess gifts; Winter— Christmas. Although our primary mix is high end, we always offer the smaller, less expensive while never sacrificing quality.
Piera Klein: Customer experience is the difference between what a customer wants and what is delivered. How do you compliment the everyday operation and business planning into an extraordinary customer experience at Home Grown?
Liz Bloom: We accommodate the customer at every turn. We work with them to create a home or table with an assortment of old and new. We make them feel good about what they already own, from their wedding, their mother, their grandmother, their travels , and we teach them to supplement their collection with the new that ties in and creates a current look they can be excited about— the look they admire in all of the ‘shelter mags’ but own too much from the past to abandon. Sometimes we can accomplish this with photos, sometimes home visits, sometimes loans. We are involved and they are excited.
Piera Klein: Over the years in business, would you agree the best way to gain new customers is still through strong relationships, service and word of mouth?
Liz Bloom: Word of mouth is key. Period. Good news travels fast and enables us to create relationships with new customers everyday. From a friend admiring a dinner table at another friend’s home to the great reception of a gift a customer really struggled with. There are many examples of how the experience in the store carries over again and again. This kind of interaction fuels lots of good words which creates more customers. We value this kind of marketing more than every other - combined.
Home Grown in Haverford, PA, carries a perfect blend of luxury home goods, and everyday keepsakes. There is something for everyone — the new mother, a hostess gift, or yourself. The owners care about their customer’s tastes and understand their need for quality and good old fashioned customer service, the owners have developed a successful formula that keeps shoppers coming back for more. Home Grown values a shopper’s wish list and listens. They decidedly have carved out their niche — through artistic vision, experience and hard work — carrying beautiful unique items, and all the while maintaining a sense of warmth and accessibility for the inquisitive shopper.
For more information on Home Grown, please visit:
393 West Lancaster Avenue
Haverford, PA 19041
Interview by Piera Klein - Los Angeles, CA