For most people, work slows down this time of year. But for anyone who owns a small retail business, this is crunch time. Business owners prepare for and capitalize on the season in different ways, but the key for all seems to be the personal touch.
Deborah Kalkstein owns Contemporaria, a large showroom in Georgetown that displays the best in contemporary furniture and offers interior-design services as well as cool accessories to kit out a home (or stuff a stocking). Her biggest tip is to ''trust your team.'' She believes that's the main ingredient to make the holidays successful instead of crazy.
Beverly Jones of Pulp, a 14th Street NW shop dedicated to cards, gifts, and stationery, agrees: ''Assemble a really great team and respect and love them and they'll pass that on to the customer.'' Customer service is always key, but especially this time of year when shoppers are hoping for holiday spirit. The Grinch is the last character they want to bump into.
The other major tip veteran owners have is to start early. David Wilson owns Bang and Olufsen, another 14th Street store that offers whole-home solutions in audio, visual, television and lighting and also carries single-user items for iPods, pads, phones and such. ''It can be the most wonderful time of the year if you prepare early enough and hit the ground running,'' he says. Jones echoes that; she starts buying inventory in January and plans her winter window display in September.
Pixie Windsor of Miss Pixie's is known most of the year for her vintage furniture and ''whatnots,'' but decks her 40-foot window display with trees covered in vintage ornaments for the holiday season. She also spends all year buying and says that her life got a lot easier when she finally broke her rule of not starting Christmas until Black Friday. It was just too stressful to try to do everything in less than a month because people start their shopping before Thanksgiving, as much as they protest otherwise.
Beyond the two cardinal rules of starting early and assembling a great team to help out, the only other rule seems to be to keep experimenting and keep good notes on what works. Jones says that every year something doesn't go as planned at Pulp. For instance, a product she was sure would be a blockbuster didn't sell at all. It's unavoidable, but her goal is always to ''make different mistakes'' next time around.
For marketing, local is better. At Bang and Olufsen, this year they sent out a direct mailer for a discount at the store and made sure it didn't expire until New Year's because many folks come in for presents and find something they want themselves. Wilson often sees traffic after Christmas when people have gift money to spend on what they really want. Kalkstein at Contemporaria has had success with a customer-appreciation night and makes sure the store is open longer so people can take advantage of their time off to come in for her more extensive services. She also has charity drives at her shop, collecting scarves and mittens to help the homeless.
A small-business owner for more than 15 years, Kalkstein had one final tip: ''Try to enjoy it!''
The holidays for a small-business owner can be the best time of year or the most stressful time of year. Stay jolly by planning ahead, assembling an awesome team, and being sure to stop working at least in time for dessert. Happy Holidays from the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce!
CAGLCC, recipient of the NGLCC Chamber of the Year Award, means business. For more information, visit caglcc.org.
Jessica Vaughan is a local freelance writer and a member of CAGLCC.
Photo: Deborah Kalkstein of Contemporaria | By Robert Dodge Photography