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Summer 2012
Diary of a Startup

The right products; the right shopping center; the best lease: you have all your bases covered. Embarking on a new specialty retail business can be a heady and nerve-racking experience. Two new entrants into specialty retail share their experiences.

Kendal Netmaker of Neechie Gear was one of two specialty retailers who recently set up shop at the Centre Mall in Saskatoon, Canada. His specialty retail business, Neechie Gear, sells apparel based on a riff of the word “Neechie” which is a term for native American.

Leane King set up Spell It Photo Art after winning the Mompreneur contest this year. She won a cart rent-free for three months and shares her experiences.

Retailer: Kendal Netmaker
Specialty Retail Business: Neechie Gear

How are you feeling right before opening?

Feeling a little nervous and anxious because this is a great opportunity! I am unsure of how the kiosk will do in terms of volume and I hope I have enough inventory on hand.

What products will you sell?

We will be selling men’s and ladies T-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants; youth, toddler and baby tees. And we also will be selling Snapback caps and Neechie Gear decals by week 2 or 3.

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What are your expectations for the  first day? First week?

To sell loads of Neechie Gear and hope that people respond well to the brand. With all the advertising The Centre Mall has put up for us, there should be many people stopping by to shop or hear more about what we do.

How have you prepared for this? Do you have a business plan in place?

I have prepared the best way I can for this. We received a small loan from Canadian Youth Business Foundation which gives us an advantage to be ready for inventory orders. They also provided me with a phenomenal mentor who will be helping me to succeed.

 How did the first week go?

The first week went very well. There were so many positive remarks about my brand and The Centre Mall is doing a phenomenal job with advertising our business for us. People are telling me that they have read or heard about us, which is giving us great business.

What was the most challenging aspect of it all?

Keeping up with inventory and managing employees are what are most challenging right now. I am not used to the sales volumes and that means I have to keep ordering inventory and my [screen] printer has to keep up with us. I am sure he is really happy with the constant business we provide.

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 What was the most rewarding?

When we put the Neechie definition decals on, we noticed a great increase [of] customers coming from all backgrounds, which was huge for us!

What lessons did you learn from the first week?

Bring snacks and lots of water because I usually forget to eat on time. I am learning how to deal with customers.

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Specialty Retailer: Leane King
Specialty Retail Business: Spell It Photo Art

How are you feeling right before opening?

I have experienced a roller coaster of emotions. One day I feel confident that all things are lining up and moving ahead smoothly and the next day, I am overwhelmed with what still remains to be done. Finalizing product packaging and getting the kiosk set up definitely helped ease the nerves. Then I wondered do I have enough stock, do I have the right kind of stock; will anyone actually buy this stuff?

What products will you sell?

Matted and framed photo art and greeting cards.

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 Did the first week meet your expectations?

As far as shoppers’ interest in the kiosk and the photo art pieces, I was very pleased. The display and signage definitely attract shoppers. I couldn’t ask for better advertising within the mall.  Without previous mall experience, I didn’t have any specific expectations as to amount of sales, dollars or number of pieces.  I had created a sampling of products for immediate purchase, but it seems the custom creations are of more interest. I was slightly surprised—and if I was entirely honest a bit disappointed—to have to remove my pre-made products for storage at the end of my first live week.

What was the most challenging aspect of it all?

It is a delicate balance in how to approach an individual viewing the Photo Art display. Some folks shift away as soon as you make any move toward them, which I found interesting. You don’t want to appear that you are ignoring them, and you want to provide information, but not scare them away. I had thought the long hours would be difficult—especially Thursdays and Fridays, but was surprised that they actually passed rather quickly.

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What lessons did you learn from the first week?

The price point of the photo art is not likely an impulse purchase for most people; therefore I need to have additional products that are at a lower price point and more likely a quick point of sale item. I have greeting cards, but need to introduce additional products.

How are you going to implement these lessons?

In addition to the greeting cards, I am going to design note pads with Photo Art sayings across the top. As well as being able to purchase these individually, I will package these smaller products together in assorted sizes and prices of gift baskets. I did have plans to bring in these additional products in the future—likely packaging them for occasions like Mother’s Day, but I now plan on incorporating as soon as possible as an everyday purchase item.

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