Thursday, August 30, 2007

Purge Your Dusty Widgets

A friend of mine owns several e-commerce stores and has some of the infamous “dusty widgets” lying around his warehouse.

Most of the widgets are discontinued products from manufacturers he represents. Because his companies have a strong reputation for their direct connection with the manufacturers, his web stores prominently feature newly released merchandise lines, or highlight what’s coming up before it’s even available. New products and regular updates keep customers returning to his sites, knowing they’ll find the latest items.

It’s not in keeping with his company’s brand promise, then, to put up discounted old merchandise. But to reclaim the inventory cost and clear out the warehouse shelves to make way for new product, he needs to ditch those dusty widgets.

We talked about listing some of those discontinued products on eBay under an unrelated user name, but he and his staff are too busy to make all of those posts. He prefers to outsource it. Being the friend I am, I didn't offer to help.

Fortunately, he found someone who is. Kathy owns Purge, a small business that helps individuals and businesses clear out the old to make way for the new.
The down side is that merch has to be worth at least $50 and Purge takes commission of up to 30% of the sale price. But the up side is that Kathy will pick up your dusty widgets, dust them off for you, present them quite nicely online and hand you the cash when they sell. Could it be any easier?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss EPK

Following up to my post about "strange pairings," here's Robert Plant and Alison Krauss talking about their new album "Raising Sand" available on rounder records:

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Don't Get Scared, Get Organized

I have a big deadline approaching. A really big deadline.

And all of the tasks in front of me that I have to accomplish to meet that deadline seem overwhelming at times.

A colleague offered this advice to me this morning as I notified her of my time crunch:

It may sound silly but the best business advice I ever received was from McGruff the was:

"Don't get scared...get organized."

As this woman is an event organizer for some of the biggest West Coast retail trade shows and previously started and ran her own retail store, well, I’m inclined to consider her a credible source.

So it’s back to my to-do list. Back to filing and sorting. Back to the tasks at hand.

Thanks, McGruff.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Strange Pairings Stand Out

Listening to Kink 102 this morning, I heard a surprising combination of voices. It was Alison Krauss and Robert Plant singing the Everly Brothers' song "Going Going Gone" from their cover album due Oct. 23 called "Raising Sand."

I was so struck by how well their voices blended together and immediately I started thinking about how businesses could take a lesson from these two.

Two pop artists together wouldn't have caught my attention in the same way. Artists from the same genre with the same sound wouldn't be so distinguishable. But two artists branching out of their comfort zones to make something unique together is both innovative and distinctive.

Marketplace distinction can be the reward for small businesses that use the power of incongruity.

It won't work for every type of business, but you can find success by putting odd couples together and marketing the offspring. One small Portland business that has emerged and grown using this strategy is Voodoo Doughnuts, where you can find bacon-glazed, Cap'n Crunch, and Pepto-Bismol flavored donuts ~ and where you can also get married. Odd combinations pair together to provide an unforgettable and notable destination.

Unusual couplings can also help companies tell stories. In the recently redesigned bridgeport brewpub + bakery, thirsty would-be quaffers enter the pub only to be greeted with a baked goods case, begging the question: What's a bakery doing in a brewpub?

The answer is that the origins of beer are in baking. It was in the use of yeast in baking that brewing came to be discovered. Getting consumers to ask the question enables the company to tell its story and reinforce its brand position as Oregon's Oldest Craft Brewery. Good marketing arises from a seemingly incongruous launching point.

Sometimes, a jarring juxtaposition can be used to gain attention for a business's ad campaign. Immediately I think of Les Schwab Tire Center's "Free Beef" promotion. Giving away red meat with the purchase of tires works. Why? Because it's attention-getting. And digging deeper, the red meat is a symbol of the ranch community of Eastern Oregon that is the company's headquarters. While at first glance it seems a random combination, in fact, the meat giveaway is good marketing that also reinforces the company's brand.

Not sure what strange combinations you can concoct to promote your businesses? Find inspiration at a beer and chocolate tasting at Pix Patisserie. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What is a Dusty Widget? Part II

A reader ( dad) just asked me today to explain more about the origins of "Ditch the Dusty Widget." (View Part I). So here goes:

In a previous small business in which I worked as the sales manager, I noticed piles of dusty merchandise in the warehouse. When I'd ask the owner what it was doing out there, she dismissed the inquiry and said the items weren't good sellers.

The merchandise appeared to be of high quality and from strong brands, so I was surprised at her reply. My Internet searches revealed that, in fact, the items seemed to be popular with online shoppers.

Day after day, I'd walk by that merchandise. Finally, I dusted off those items and put them on our web site store as limited stock. I found great photos of the products, wrote some sales copy and sold them all at almost full retail price.

In small business after small business, I see a similar scenario: dusty merchandise sits high up on the shelves or tucked away in a corner. I came to realize that most business owners face the same business development and marketing problems and need the same information at times. Hence...the blog.

The dusty widgets you have on hand are a visual barometer for your small business's vitality. The more piles of dusty widgets you have, the more likely your business is in danger of stagnation or decline.

Sometimes widgets get dusty because owners are overworked and the business is understaffed. Sometimes owners lose interest in moving those widgets because they're burned out on the business. Or perhaps it's time to realize that you just don't know the best presentation, market, and sales message for those widgets after all.

Use your widgets and think about what they say about your business. Whatever the cause, it *is* possible to ditch those dusty widgets!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Do the Right Thing

Driving down SE Stark this morning near Laurelhurst Park, I stopped to let a little old lady cross the street.

This is noteworthy because I tend to be somewhat oblivious to pedestrians who aren't standing in a crosswalk.
But this morning I wasn't in any particular hurry and I happened to notice the white-haired woman clutching a bag and gazing expectantly at the other side of the road.

As she smiled at me and inched across, I felt good ~ that unmistakable warm, fuzzy feeling that you can only get when you do the right thing for the right reason.

It made me think of business dealings and how important it is to do the right thing with people when you're starting or running your own business. Your store or company policies are a reflection of you are. They communicate your character to others, leaving your mark on the world.

There are corporations, and then there are corporate citizens. To be a corporate citizen, you have to stop to let little old ladies cross the street ~ or more specifically, your business dealings must be characterized by integrity and concern for people, for your community.

It's tempting to speed by and cut corners when the pressures build. It's easy to get distracted and let the little things slip through the cracks. But I believe that doing the right thing for people is part of doing the right thing for business, too.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Oregon Small Business Fair

If you're considering starting a small business or are ready to take your endeavor to the next level, set aside Saturday, September 8 to attend the Oregon Small Business Fair.

The annual fair features information booths and seminars to assist entrepreneurs--both experienced and aspiring. On hand to provide information about funding sources, small business taxes, licenses, workplace safety, business development and more are exhibitors such as: Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon; Oregon Department of Revenue; and U.S. Small Business Administration.

Beginning at 8:30 are numerous workshops that cover topics including: cash flow; sales; bookkeeping; networking; and regulations.
Whether you're ready to grow or ready to start something new, this event is a must-see.

Mark your calendar:

When: Saturday, September 8

Time: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Oregon Convention Center, Hall B

Cost: Free

More: Schedule of events and list of exhibitors

Sunday, August 12, 2007

So You Want to be an Entrepreneur?

As I start up my business, I often find myself asking, "How do I...?"

Sometimes, friends and colleagues have the answers I need. Sometimes, I know another entrepreneur I can ask because it's a universal question. But sometimes my question is specific to my industry and or it's something I don't feel comfortable asking an associate in my field.

Enter, the online portal for Entrepreneur magazine. Chock full of resources, articles, advice, tools, and start-up guides for the first-time entrepreneur, it's a web site I find myself bookmarking often.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I once received a fortune cookie message that read: "Success is a journey not a destination. Stop running."

Michael E. Gerber begins E-Myth Mastery: The Seven Essential Disciplines for Building a World Class Company with a similar perspective.

To build a world class company, he says, you must turn yourself into a world class entrepreneur. And to be a world class entrepreneur, you must practice being an entrepreneur.
See yourself as a work in progress and make a commitment to practicing excellence. Extraordinary business growth won't happen without extraordinary personal growth, he insists.

Like reading his 1995 title The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, this book sets me on fire.

I began reading Gerber's book yesterday. As often happens when I speak with other small business owners, I found myself relax a little with his message.

Well, maybe "relax" isn't the right word. I gave myself permission to slow down.

Success isn't a destination, and the path toward it is not a race. It's my journey to make, one step ~ and one lesson ~ at a time.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Small Business & Computers: Can I Hear an “Ugh?”

One of the most unpleasant parts of being a sole proprietor, at least for me, has to be gaining competence at managing computers, software, servers, etc.

Unless you’re already a skilled specialist in tech support, software or database programming, networking solutions, web developing, computer hardware maintenance, or online marketing, you probably spend a significant amount of time trying to figure out what all of the above mean and which solutions will work best for your small business.

If you have little or no fluency in computer language (Don’t understand how to attach a file to an outgoing email? Can’t change your preferences on your desktop?), or you can’t afford the time to manage your tech needs on your own, find an offsite IT solution.

On-call service technicians, think Geek Squad or Rent-A-Geek, exist in most communities. They are often available 24 hours, travel to your location, and, while not inexpensive, they do solve your computer headaches.

Call to inquire about regular rates, emergency rates, average response time, and platform specialties (Mac? Windows? OS?) to find the team that will best meet your business needs and budget.

Then schedule a service call ~ before it’s urgent. By arranging for the technician in advance, you’ll get a chance to witness the company’s response time, professionalism, and skill before your business depends on it.

If you’re a do-it-yourselfer or want to keep yourself versed in technology vocabulary, subscribe to RSS feeds or newsletters related to computer issues. For a resource geared to small business owners, check out the Small Business Computing Channel.

Happy computing!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Don't Do It Alone When You Go It Alone

Starting up a business as a sole proprietor or sole owner can be, well, lonely.

Sure, there are vendors to talk to, clients to work with, and all sorts of people to interact with during the day. But from the daily mundane minutiae to the gargantuan "what-ifs?" all the responsibility, the decisions, the risks, and the questions are yours and yours alone.

How-to books and business counselors are a help, but they can't take the edge off our human need for real support.

I had lunch this week with my mentor, a successful CEO of a leading women's health care products brand. I can't begin to express how grateful I am for the time she gives me. Her advice is invaluable, for one. But more than her answers, I rely on her validation.

In our lunch visits, I find space to put down the business burdens I'm carrying. I speak with her about my fears and ideas, the things I don't know and the things I'm finding out. When she relates to me the similarities on her own journey, it boosts my confidence. When I confess my worry that I don't have what it takes to be on my own, and she responds with empathy because she's felt the same way, it neutralizes my fear.

After I've had an hour with my mentor, I feel recharged and ready to take everything back on again.

Reach out and connect with other entrepreneurs. Join a networking group or club. Think about a person you admire and ask him or her to be a mentor. Take other entrepreneurs out to coffee and vent a little, share your fears, ask questions.

Going it alone doesn't mean doing it alone.