Great customer experience is key to growth
Ask Terri Schuver, owner of Sticks and Steel www.sticksandsteel.com, a retail gift shop in Sioux Falls, SD what connects all of the products she has for sale in her store, and you’ll get a quick, concise answer.
“Made in American, baby! We carry home décor, clothing, jewelry, and a range of gifts – all if it made in North America, and none of it can be found in another store near us,” she explained. “I would say that 95% of our products are made in the US and 5% are made in Canada. We are all about supporting North American businesses and artisans.”
Schuver left a career in corporate retail and commercial interior design more than 18 years go to start Prairie Dance www.prairiedance.com where she designs and sells contemporary, patinaed home goods and garden accessories to gift shop retailers across North America.
A few years later, as the manufacturing/design business began to grow (she started in her garage), she decided to enter the retail side of the business as well.
“We needed a small showroom for my metal art business (Prairie Dance),” she explained. “Having been to a few markets selling our metal artwork we’d fallen in love with some other artist’s work. A retail store was a good excuse to buy some ‘inventory’”
Gift items from hundreds of artists specializing in glass, pottery, ceramics, jewelry, and clothing and accessories are featured at the store at price points ranging from $2 to $2,000.
Schuver utilizes social media to promote the store, and her artists. “We want to “hangout” wherever our customers “hangout”, and that’s primarily Facebook and Instagram,” she said. “They’re both great visual platforms for sharing the beauty, fun, and uniqueness of Sticks and Steel. After they’re in the store, it’s important for us to maintain the fun, unique experience that showcase on our social channels.”
Gift certificates have been a powerful tool and great for lead list growth, she added. “Keep your regulars happy. They are worth thousands.”
“The customer experience is key, and we firmly believe it starts with a fun, positive staff culture and ranges from solid customer service, thoughtful visual merchandising to special events,” Schuver added.
When it comes to finding new products for the store, Schuver attends national trade shows (working both the wholesale side of the business for Prairie Dance, and then as a buyer for Sticks and Steel) including ACRE Philly, ACRE Vegas, AmericasMart Atlanta, and Total Home and Gift in Dallas.
In terms of products that get her attention, Schuver explained, “It has to look like “us”. Contemporary, whimsical, a little earthy….and practical. We are located in South Dakota after all.”
E-commerce is another area of expansion for the store, she said. “We do what we can. Our inventory changes often and turns quickly. Right now, we have two strategies for our website. 1. Provide a sense of our in-store experience: We keep two of our best-selling departments, jewelry and home décor, stocked with popular inventory that we always have on hand. 2. Keep customers interested in our site: We periodically feature artists, tutorials, sneak peeks, etc. on our blog. Products that are featured in the posts are linked back to our website. It’s a fine line though. We make sure that the content is more about entertaining or educating that obvious selling or we’ve wasted our time and lost readership.”
And the future, she said, looks bright indeed.
“Craft galleries are really in a sweet position right now,” Schuver said. “There’s a great deal of pride and magic that comes from buying something that’s American made. Pair that with our current era; mass culture celebrates self-expression and individuality (which, interestingly, has fueled the growth of subcultures) and retailers like us offer home décor, jewelry, clothing, and gift options that satisfy this need for uniqueness.
“Plus, most folk’s day-to-day is filled with flat, digital-heavy visuals. Our handcrafted, American made products offer a desirable sensory retreat to our guests. I could keep going. There are sooo many reasons to invest in American and handmade right now,” she concluded.