When we first opened our store back in 2013, we had no real plan other than making the business work and, as expected we faced many challenges, many of which seemed insurmountable at the time.
The idea of selling high-end home decor products came from a hobby — we always had an aesthetic appreciation for nice objects and I truly believed that we had a good eye for nice things.
Using our life savings, we set out to start our business. We leased a very tucked away store on the second floor of a beat-up mall in Downtown Vancouver. A big chunk of that money was spent renovating the store and the rest was used to purchase inventory. The process of finding a place, renovating it and having inventory in hand took about 6 months beginning to end.
During the renovation period, we were desperate to work. We had already discussed some deals with a few suppliers in United States and the lack of income was really bothering us — our savings would last for a very long time living in Vancouver!
So, we approached the mall administration and asked if we could temporarily rent a small space with high foot traffic and set up a kiosk. The idea was to have a few of our specialty mugs and vases catch the attention of patrons on their way to the movie theatre. We eventually got a deal with them and were given a 10 x10 square feet space for $200 a month.
Funny thing is that we had zero retail experience and quickly learned that even a small kiosk would require furniture, internet, telephone, POS system and something to secure our inventory when the kiosk was closed.
IKEA was our salvation — we got the cheapest shelves available at the “as is” section and mounted them with wheels. Googled and bought the cheapest POS system which we installed in an old laptop that was placed on a used table we found somewhere. This scrambled and humbling start was how we kicked off our entrepreneurial journey in Canada.
We were so naïve.
No revenue expected, after all, we were running the kiosk temporarily, only until the store was up and running. That was our opportunity to gather experience and have a “feel” for the market. And what a ride it was. We learned some very nasty truths about ourselves:
Nasty Truth 1 — We were horrible in operations
I remember that our first sale took place in an afternoon and the clients (a family) wanted to buy a mug for their daughter. When they tried to swipe the card, the card reader wasn’t working. We couldn’t figure the machine out … and so they just left it for another day. Obviously, they never came back. After they left, I cracked my head trying to figure out what was wrong with the machine and realized hadn’t plugged the internet on it so no transactions would ever go through!
Nasty Truth 2 — We knew nothing about location
We thought the spot we rented for the kiosk was going to be perfect because rent was cheap, and it had good foot traffic. Everyone loves movies and to go to the theater, they had to pass by our kiosk. The frustrating lesson was that lots of people were going to the movies alright, but the public was not our target clientele and we were often ignored. This realization was even more troublesome because not only did we understand the kiosk location inside the mall was terrible, the mall location itself was very bad. We were in the processes of renovating the store we had leased on that same mall and got the feeling that the big store coming up would turn out to be a problem.
Nasty Truth 3 — We didn’t have retail discipline
Have your heard that those who work in retail work hard? And they don’t get paid well? That’s a nasty truth. And we didn’t have this notion coming from jobs related to projects, retail was a different world to us. Being punctual during opening & closing, accurate on inventory, dealing with banks … all these activities were new to us. Not doing them properly or on time, many times we ended up with a massive snowball of problems that caused even further problems in the future.
Summing everything up, this is the outcome from that experience:
The kiosk wasn’t successful — obviously. Sales were always flat and a prediction of what we would see when we finally opened our store. But fast forward from those days of hardship to our current times — we are seeing double digits growth every single year. We work with brands that are distributed nationally in Canada and internationally in the United States. We now have enough family time that offsets the long weeks we had to stay at the store from Sunday to Sunday for the first few years.
How did we do it? How did we overcome our nasty truths? Well, there is a reason we call them TRUTHS — and it’s because they are facts and they hurt. But like any business, we learned to work based on facts and numbers. And if we have them, we are able to make better decisions.
With those nasty truths, we learned to learn!
Now we know how to test before going live. We learned that we must be resilient and disciplined. We learned how to have a pragmatic “problem-solving” mentality. Most of all, we learned that if we are bad at something that’s important to our strategy, we should invest our time and brains to get good at them, especially when they have a direct impact on our business.
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