02 October 2009

Frequently Asked Questions


We thought it might be fun to round up a bunch of the questions my staff and I are most frequently asked into one blog post and answer them. {Thanks to all of you who weighed in with your own questions after reading this post.} So here they are, Frequently Asked Questions {FAQs} about THE BLISSFUL {and its Proprietor, its Shopgirls, its music...}...

FAQ: What kind of shop is this? [okay, we get this over the phone a lot, either from people who've heard something about our shop but aren't sure quite what we carry, or from people who were looking up Gift Shops in the Yellow Pages and saw our listing there]
Answer: THE BLISSFUL is a French-inspired lifestyle boutique. We interpret French style in a young, modern, often quirky way. We carry everything from furniture, bedding, home accents, and art, to candles, jewelry, stationery, gifts, and women's apparel.

FAQ: Why the French thing?
Answer: I grew up dancing at The School of the Canton Ballet, and later performed with Canton Ballet's pre-professional training company. From a young age, I was learning bits and pieces of the French language {pas de deux = dance of two, plié = to bend}. Around about age 10, I asked my mom to buy me a French-English dictionary so that I could further explore the language. The first thing I did was memorize the French phonics and pronunication key in the front of the book. Heady stuff for a ten year old, but it was important to me to be able to understand the intention behind each movement, and for that, I wanted to get inside the language. {I guess you could say I've always been a thinker.}

Me as Clara in The Nutcracker, 1992, age 14.

Then I started taking French language classes in high school and continued on into college. When I decided to open a shop and began the hunt for merchandise to fill my first store, I noticed that I gravitated toward items that had that French influence. Thus the style of the shop emerged by coincidence, not by intention.

FAQ: So you speak French fluently.
Answer: Non. I'm no longer even conversational! To the disappointment of native French speakers who visit the store {and some French teachers}, I have lost a great deal of the language and probably won't get it back without some concentrated study! Plus, I'm rather shy about speaking it aloud. Like many French students, I can read it much better than I can speak it.


FAQ: So how often do you go to France?
Answer: You mean outside of my dreams? Never! I have never been to France. That is the single biggest irony of the store. For me, I truly take the word "inspired" in our tagline {French-Inspired Finds & Furnishings} seriously. We are not striving to give people an authentic French experience. We reinterpret the spirit of French style, but we don't aim to stock every product one might find in a real French boutique. And lots and lots of our merchandise has no French predilection whatsoever. I often tell people, "The shop reflects an imagined French life." Oftentimes, fantasies are better than the real thing anyway!


The shop is such a personal creation for me, that to me, this connection makes total sense. One of the most astonishing--and highly complimentary--things that happens is when very well-traveled people, or Francophiles who've traveled there extensively, come into the shop and say, "You've done it. This is it. This is just like being there, except better in some ways." To that, my staff and I say wow.

FAQ: So what about this staff? Are you hiring? How can I get a job here?
Answer: Currently, we have three amazing Shopgirls, plus a tight troupe of friends who float in and out as needed. I've always got my eye out for new talent, though if you ask us directly, most likely we'll tell you that we have our staff in place for the foreseeable future. This is always true! I love every member of our staff and don't want to imagine this place without a single one of them!


So "for the foreseeable future," we are always all hired up. Every single person on my staff--except for my mom, Debbie--I knew for at least a year before hiring. I like to hire customers who are passionate about the store. I have approached every single hire I've ever made, not the other way around.

FAQ: What did you do in your previous life, before opening THE BLISSFUL?
Answer: Before all this, I taught high school English. I've written about that time long ago, here and here. A big hi!!! to any of my former students who are reading this.

Toni Morrison--one of my literary heroines--on the cover of Beloved, my favorite of her books.

FAQ: What's your favorite season at the store?
Answer: Hands down, the Holidays. We debut our Holiday story each year with an event held the first full weekend in November. So SAVE THE DATE!!! This year it's Thursday, November 5th from 4 PM-8 PM, Friday, November 6th from 10 AM-7 PM, and Saturday, November 7th from 10 AM-7 PM. Please plan to bring friends as this is truly the event of the year.

Behold...the first {and only!} sneak peak of our Holiday '09 story until the invitations go out later this month!

I love this season because the store just feels electric for two whole months. It smells great--of true woodsy pine, peppermint, gingersnaps, and currant, I get to rock the Christmas tunes, and most customers are happy to be shopping. We like to think of our store as our customers' little getaway from the Holiday blitz. We're just far enough away from the mall that people can avoid a bit of that crazy Christmas traffic.

FAQ: If tomorrow you woke up and weren't a shop owner, what would you be?
Answer: A writer who works mostly from home {and from cafés} and sometimes teaches a writing workshop or a college course, sometimes consults, sometimes takes on a special assignment here and there, like helping an aspiring store owner develop her brand identity.


FAQ: What's your favorite part of being a shop owner?
Answer: Having my life's work be a complete reflection of my vision.

FAQ: What's your least favorite part?
Answer: The pressure. The thinking and planning six to nine months ahead of time. The neverending carousel ride that it is. But I wouldn't be doing it if all that didn't bring me a great measure of satisfaction.


FAQ: In your opinion, what are the top three qualities one must possess to be a successful boutique owner?
Answer: The key word here is "successful." For that, I believe you must be money savvy and willing to watch and work with the numbers ALL. THE. TIME. {As unromantic as that sounds.} You must have a strong vision for your store that you differentiate from everyone else's out there. You must be someone who can switch between big picture thinking and small picture thinking, every day, all day long.

FAQ: What am I listening to?/Who's singing?/What music are you playing?
Answer: Believe it or not, this is quite possibly the most frequently asked question of all from shoppers in my store! I have an appreciation for good music, though it's something I enjoy the most in private settings--in my car, at small gatherings of friends, while working alone in the darkened store on a Sunday morning. I like music that feels like mine. I'm not really a concert goer or one who'd head out to a bar to hear someone play. I do a lot of research into artists and albums and invest my own money into custom masterminding a mix for the store that just fits and creates the right vibe. It's sort of like being a DJ at a club. Somedays I feel like the store is a free jukebox for shoppers, so I can sometimes get a little cagey about sharing this info unless it's a CD we happen to sell. After all, the music is part of our "proprietary mix" at the store. It's the very voice of the store.

FAQ: How did you discover Sid Dickens? His work is so unique and perfect for the store.
Answer: Ah, Sid. Sid was one line, believe it or not, that I resisted carrying for several months. A wonderful sales rep that we work with {who also worked with Sid} suggested the line for my store. I held off because it was such an investment and the kind of collection I thought you'd really have to put time into educating customers about and I wasn't sure it would pay off. My rep finally convinced me, though, and it's been one of the best decisions we've ever made. I am so fortunate that our territory was open {the Sid camp is very particular about where this line is placed, and no two accounts can be too close together in proximity}.


I see Sid's work as a very important part of THE BLISSFUL's mix. From day one, we've never looked back.

FAQ: What's your favorite thing you've ever carried at the store?
Answer: Whoa! What a question. Just like a mother can't choose a favorite child, I could never choose just one item. No way! Each item we select for the mix is chosen for certain reasons and I find every little thing awesome in its own way. I can usually spot, though, in any season, what's going to be the hot seller.

FAQ: Are you married? do you have kids?
Answer: Not married yet. My guy and I have been together for three years...

Matt and I engaging in one of our favorite Summertime hobbies--boating. He prefers to stay off the blog, so this is us "incognito."

He also owns his own business, but in an industry totally unrelated to mine. I love this guy. We'll definitely get hitched one of these days. No kids. Always dreamed of having a huge brood, so we'll see...

FAQ: How do you find inspiration for your fantastic window displays?
Answer: Our window displays are born out of the need for a solution. Our windows appear dark from the street, and cars whiz past us at 35-45 miles an hour. Whatever's in our windows needs to show up, create an impresion, and make some sense from a distance and at a decent speed. We keep it simple, graphic, abstract and artful, and cheap.

FAQ: Did you ever have an inkling that your online store and your blog would be such a huge part of your business?
Answer: Never. I didn't know what a blog was when I opened my store. I love to write, it's my number one passion in life, and what better outlet for this passion in my current enterprise than a blog? And I never had any notion of selling online. It just came together pretty naturally at the right time. Always, always, one of my goals is to grow our Online Boutique. With the addition of two new Shopgirls this season, customers will start to see much more product flow onto the Online Boutique.

FAQ: What are some of THE BLISSFUL's highlights so far?
Answer: First of all, our first-ever store event! The theme was Paris in the Springtime and it was also a Ribbon Cutting hosted by our local Chamber of Commerce. It was so exhilarating.


Afterward, Matt took me out for dinner and I couldn't stop shaking. I told him, "This has been one of the best days of my life." Then, rebranding and launching our new logo and website in late 2007. It was one of the most fun and creatively satisfying projects I ever worked on and truly ushered this business into a whole new era. Also, the story Romantic Homes did on us back in August 2008.


That was incredibly exciting, to see photos of our shop in an internationally distributed magazine!

FAQ: Other than reading Blogging for Bliss, what other advice would you give someone who wants to start a blog and build it into a brand?
Answer: Just dive in. Find your voice {it's probably the one you think and talk in}. Be yourself. The people who dig what you dig will find you. Comment on blogs that resonate with you. Those are your people. Don't worry about launching with a fancy, custom-designed template. Over time, you can learn the skills and techniques to customize your blog, or you will find your way to a graphic designer who can help you with that. As your blogging life evolves, embrace change and accept that you may head off in an entirely different direction than you thought you would. This is a good thing--blogging is a process and there are different seasons to it, just like life offline.

FAQ: Where do you get all your stuff? Do you travel to find it?


Answer: It comes to us from all over the world--from France, other European countries, South America, Canada, Asia and the East, Australia, and much of it is made here in the U.S.A, too. We travel several times a year to domestic Markets to search for the right items for our mix. Plus, I'm constantly on the search for new artists and vendors that are a good fit for our mix. Our vendors--they travel the world to design, source, and manufacture this stuff for us and for you. Lucky them.

FAQ: I'm an artist and I wonder if you might want to carry my handmade jewelry/handbags/journals/artwork, etc. How do I become one of your vendors?
Answer: We start out evaluating new work for the store by e-mail and with photos. If after visiting my store or website, you believe that what you make could be a fit for my store's mix, please e-mail me at info@theblissful.com. Send me a few lines about what you do and how you do it, along with 2-3 awesome, close up photos of your work. Also send a wholesale linesheet or catalog if you have one. Please e-mail rather than call. Please do NOT stop into the store and bring your items with you. That is awkward for both you and for me.

FAQ: I have a design project at home I'd love to have you help with. Do you offer design consultation or expertise?
Answer: We're happy to chat with you in-store about styling your home with our finds as you're considering a purchase, but due to the fact that we have a relatively small staff and much to do at the store, we do not currently offer in-home design help. Maybe someday. For now, we try to keep our life simple and our focus in the store.

FAQ: What is your biggest hope or dream for your store?
Answer: The best outcome for me would be that the store continues to touch people on an emotional and psychological level. That to me, is really powerful. Only in my wildest dreams did I begin to imagine that a store could do that. Another dream I have for the store, which is always unfolding before me, is that it would teach me more about myself and my place in this world. It may sound like navel gazing to some, but I see myself as a writer first, then an entrepreneur, then a retailer. I honestly never dreamed I'd have a store, and that fact still cracks me up sometimes! Having this store has birthed so many new goals and dreams for me. Let's hope they all play out!

Some photos courtesy of Flickr.

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4 comments:

Jill Elaine said...

Fun reading Abby! Put my name on one of those Christmas Star ornaments, I want one as soon as they are for sale!!
Jill

Mary Frances said...

I loved this post! I see others have curiosity about the store and your staff...it is where I drop in when I can't leave home and shop at one of my local specialty stores...so happy you are loving the life you live and living the life you love!
Mary Frances

Kasey said...

great read!
and i am planning on france in April...wanna tag along?
xo

Kasey said...

p.s. i think you should come up here for my dec 5th "soiree" at my house....