Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I'm Bad at Marketing

Civil War-era Secret Code Quilt
I had the pleasure of chatting at length with a new-ish family friend a few weeks ago.  She co-owns the local fabric/quilting shop where we live and my wife teaches a bobbin lace making class there on Tuesdays.  She and her business partner bought it just over a year ago and have worked hard at making it a going concern. 

Never one to miss the opportunity to learn about a new business and how other folks do marketing, I started asking her about buyers, merchandizing and the like.  She told me about some recent experiences with a sliding discount sale where you got a deeper discount the later in the day.  One frequent customer (who only bought things on sale) came in when the discount hit 35% saying she couldn't stay away any longer.  She was also surprised to find that they had the most traffic and sales when the discount was at 25% and sales all but died after 35%.  They decided to skip the sliding discount scheme and stick with a flat 25% discount for future sales and not worry about their cheap - but vocal - one-off customers.

She also told me about how the people who don't want a thing to do with sewing, needles and fabric but still need to fix something won't buy or look at anything else no matter where the 'easy seam & hem repair' kits are located.  She tried having this display in the depths of the store to encourage them to look around but it didn't make any difference so they moved it near the door and cash stand for convenience.  They are also planning a series of how to do emergency clothing repair classes for those people who need to fix something but lack the skills, desire or equipment for serious sewing or quilting.

Another thing they've done is to have local artists display their fabric creations in a gallery area of the store.  They've sold one high-end quilt to a passerby and are developing a clientele who look forward to each new opening.

They also have a theme fabric each month where customers make a lap quilt, placemat, etc. incorporating that fabric, display the results in the store and have customers vote on them.  They now regularly have more than 20 people making items for the contest.

When I asked her about other marketing she had done all she could talk about were the ads and emails they run and how poor or untrackable the results were.  She shrugged and said, "I'm bad at marketing." Hmm.  She's spot on in analyzing buying patterns, is tuned into buyer personas and has adjusted her inventory, discounting and display strategies accordingly, she's targeted non-quilting people with the artist gallery and trying new things to attract and retain different personas.  Sounds pretty marketing-attuned to me.  I then asked what she thought marketing was.  Her answer surprised me.
"Marketing is all the things you say and do to get someone to buy."
In a way she is right but not by only thinking of marketing in the Kottler, interrupt, shouting billboards and obnoxious emails way of doing things.  She was completely unaware that the personas she described, analyzing the data, testing and adjusting new things is all marketing - and that she's very good at it. 

I suggested she and her business partner write down everything they know about different types of customers to see if there are any they aren't serving well, what types of things they respond to, where they go for information to solve problems, etc.  She now keeps a small notebook near each cash register where they jot down notes on how new customers heard about them, what other things customers may be looking for, what projects or events they have coming up, etc. so they can keep refining their marketing spend.  It's too early to see any results yet but she is a lot more confident in herself and their marketing acumen.

Key Take-Aways:
  • Marketing is more than the things you say and do to get someone to buy - it's all the stuff you know about what to say, who to say it to, when to say it and where to say it.
  • You may be developing personas and don't know it.  Step back and write down what you know about your customers or their buying patterns. Continually ask them questions.


  1. Looking at how other industries do marketing is great for inspiration.

    I have a lot of respect for retailers. They have so much tied up in inventory and a fixed location.

    They must get customers in the door and buying.

    They have a couple of advantages over tech / online marketing.
    1) they can talk to real customers - engage with them much deeper at the point of purchase - and more importantly when they don't find what they're looking for
    2) they can see the results of marketing experiments with their own eyes in real-time

  2. Giles,

    Thanks for the comment. I cut my teeth in retail, 4 years in a women's shoe store, 3 in computer/consumer electronics so I share your respect. We were so far removed from our merchandisers, though, that it made it hard to have any influence on stock, timing, promotions, etc. I suspect things are vastly different now.