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Recession Chic: The New Paradigm

Monday, August 31, 2009

Recession Chic: The New Paradigm(GIFTBEAT)

Want to get your store revved up and ready to go for fourth quarter? Here, Lynni Megginson, author of The Absolutely Essential Guide to Planning Fabulous Retail Events: Recession Chic Edition (released in June 2009) and owner and principal of Maryland-based L&M Designs, discusses techniques for achieving success in today's economy.

Q. How do you define Recession Chic?

A. It's about taking steps to be more economically viable and watching your cash flow, but doing it with a lot of style. So many people feel ashamed that they can't run their businesses at the levels they once did. There is nothing wrong with cutting corners. This is "Recession Chic," and I look at it as a status symbol.

There are so many great retailers using this kind of ingenuity. I think it's really being applauded these days. Recession Chic is really getting back to our retailing roots, finding the creativity that helped us start our businesses. We can create something with a can of paint and some fabric that looks like a million dollars. That [low-cost creativity] can help us feel joyful about retail again.

Q. Your book's Recession Chic Edition was revised for current economic and retailing mind-sets. How have you adapted to those mind-sets?

A. Even when people are on a budget, our customers are still looking for a shopping experience that they can't get anywhere but with independent retailers. We have to give them a reason to want to shop with us. We have to know who our customers are and focus on what they want. What car do they drive? Where do they shop? How do they dress? Do they have children? What do their social lives revolve around?

I review product with my staff, asking, "Do you think we can sell this?" They're honest, and I really listen to their input. We review [our buying decisions] later. We don't always bat it out of the park, but we function as a team. For a long time in retail everyone based their buying on trends, following what the industry told them to buy and sell. I'm not being romanced by product anymore. I look at product as a commodity. I don't have a stream of people in my store on a daily basis. I want to use product when I have captured my customers for a targeted event that I've planned just for them.

Q. How important are store events, in light of today's economy?

A. Special events make customers feel they're on the "A" list. These events have become almost like the new cocktail party. Women need things to look forward to, whether the economy is good or bad. They want to be with like-minded people. Promote an event as being fun, and people won't want to miss it. People need an excuse to get out, and sales are tremendous when there's a jovial atmosphere.

Even with a lack of advertising funds, you still have to keep people talking about your store and creating that buzz factor. The idea of keeping your store in customers' minds can be even more important than the sales you make on the night of an event. [I've found that] when I limit a VIP event to 20 people, hundreds will find out about it because those 20 will tell their friends. It's the power of promotion at its finest.

I've started keeping a lot of product in the $18 to $20 range for store events and in the store. Even though women have tighter household budgets there is still money to spend. If an item is special or speaks to a woman, she will reward herself with something special. When women are not spending as much, you have to have items across the board in every price range. You don't want to make them feel guilty for splurging.

Q. How does the power of cross-promotions relate to Recession Chic?

A. Cross-promoting is a real hot button in retailing today. Find other businesses that complement what you do and use cross-promotions to gain a bigger following and help other businesses. More than ever, we can't feel that we're in this for ourselves. We really have to be aware that every industry is going through tough times.

In July, I'm closing my store for a couple of weeks to renovate/rejuvenate its look. As I thought of a way to make the "Re-Juvenation Event" I'm planning even better, I decided to make the whole [store reopening] night about rejuvenating oneself. My customers are typically in their mid-30s to late 50s and interested in personal maintenance. So we'll have Botox services available at the event, along with a trunk show featuring Shelley Kyle's line of celeb-endorsed personal care products.

Every single customer I've told about the Botox services has perked up her ears. They will be affordable because the specialist is offering discounted prices during the event. So, I'm targeting what my customers want and offering a good value for something they desire anyway.

I love the Shelley Kyle line of beautifully packaged personal care lotions, ostrich powder puffs, candles and more but don't have the real estate in my store or the money to carry the entire line. I called the vendor directly, told them about the party and asked if they would do a trunk show. You know what they said? "Yes, absolutely!" Shelley Kyle will send me product, I'll give them my credit card number as a show of good faith, I'll promote their items that night and send back what doesn't sell. It's a great coup for me, and very low risk for both parties. With all events, you need to promote minimal inventory that you can sell through and make your turns. …[Recession Chic] is about looking at every single product or vendor with fresh eyes.

Q. Can you suggest specific store events for fall and Christmas?

A. A great October event is "Ultimate Gift Night," where you offer personalized gifts with guaranteed Christmas delivery. These are unique gifts that can't be duplicated! Mud Pie (800-998-1633;, Coton Colors (877-801-1292, and Danielson Designs (800-746-4149; are three of many lines that offer personalized product that you don't have to buy in bulk. You can special order items for display at a one-day trunk show like monogrammed glasses and decanters or ornaments with letters on them. Have just a few sample pieces and vendor catalogs available. Items are prepaid in full, so there's no risk. Plus, customers have to come back to your store to pick up items. Be sure to promote your store by wrapping items in your signature gift wrap.

In October, host a "Spice Up Your Sofa" event/seminar. Get a basic sofa and two end tables. Demonstrate by changing out pillows, throws, lamps and tabletop items how you can convey a modern, classic, French Country and island retreat look. For the next two weeks, give a discount to anyone who buys an item from one of the lines you promoted.

Last year for Thanksgiving, we held a "Fill Your Purple Bags for Those Who Can't" food drive for a local food bank. We challenged our clients—who have tons of our signature purple bags—to fill them with non-perishable food products and bring them to our store during one evening. A small bag garnered a $10 gift certificate; a medium bag, $20; and a super large bag, $50. It was one of the most emotional events we've ever had. People brought not just purple bags, but boxes of food, toys and diapers. Our tiny store collected over 3,000 pounds of food! I highly recommend an event like this right before Thanksgiving. It helps the community and it helps your heart. And I was also able to write off the [gift certificates] as a contribution.

One thing I have added to the Recession Chic Edition' of the book, in my chapter "A Year's Worth of Events," is a listing of special "days" throughout the year that may be fun to build an event around. For example, October 10th is "National Cake Decorating Day." Why not make it a party and have your own event in honor of this fun day? Contact a local independent bakery that specializes in fancy cakes, and invite then to be on hand for a seminar on cake decorating. This is a great cross-promotion because you are promoting the bakery's cakes to YOUR customers who may want to order for upcoming holiday events!

Have the baker show some tips and tricks to your clients, as well as have cakes on display throughout your store. Serve mini cupcakes as refreshments, along with some decorations such as nonpareils and sprinkles they can add to "bling" up their cupcakes. Have on hand some lovely entertaining pieces like gorgeous cake stands from America Retold [(866) 862-0100;], cake servers, even pretty party napkins, invitations and more.

With Halloween right around the corner, make sure your special guest does a Halloween Cake amidst a display of fun Halloween items that can be incorporated onto the cake such as candy spiders, gummy worms, etc. People are always excited about any type of one-on-one demonstration, and your customers will go to you for all their entertaining needs once they see the beautiful product you have on hand.

Regardless of what types of events you host, I really believe that in today's economy events are no-fail ways to keep traffic coming in your door and keep your business viable.

Note: Megginson can be reached at To purchase her book, visit

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