In this episode, Cris Willis and I discuss:
- When it’s time to move on from retail
- How to successfully close your store and make more money.
- Marketing your store closing.
- Making your store closing a community event.
- And enjoying what comes next in life.
It’s Macala, and I’m back for another episode of Let’s Talk Little Shop on behalf of ASD Market Week. This episode is close to my heart because it involves someone our community knows. She is moving on to the next phase of her life: closing her stores, closing her retail coaching business, and embracing what’s next. Because of what she’s doing, I invited her to talk to you firsthand.
I am Cris Willis, and I married into a fourth-generation family in the retail business. Our store was Parsons, and we had been in the retail business for 142 years. I would go to the ASD show, I was prominent in the Southwest buying group, and I loved being in retail.
My husband and I had a new vision for our life, so we transitioned into coaching stores by taking all the data analytics with everything we learned into the stores. We did that for years. Now, we’re transitioning again because we want to be even more mobile. We’re still coaching in some niche markets and traveling in our motor home as we keep going from phase to phase of our retail life and career.
Let’s talk about closing the stores. How did you come to that decision after 142 years in business? How did you first decide that it was time to retire from retail?
We were the fourth generation, and realized no fifth generation was coming in, so we knew the business would end with us. Then, we had to decide when it would end with us. We started thinking about it and creating that vision of what we want to do for the next five or ten years.
We just realized it was time; we knew we were done and ready to move on to not being as tied down. We wanted to be more mobile, so we said, “let’s buy that motor home, travel, and see the beautiful USA”.
Once you decided to close the stores, what was the actual process of closing the store? What did you have to do to make that a reality?
Making the decision to close was one of the hardest and most stressful times I’ve ever been through; the community was shocked. It was a tough decision, but once you make the decision, you make it wonderful; you make it a celebration.
We hired somebody at first to help us. Once you learn what to do, closing a store is the biggest event you’ll ever have in that business. You only get one shot at it, and you don’t know what you don’t know when you get started.
Hire someone to help walk you through it so that you can make the most of it to make it a wonderful event. But also, we want to make it a money-making event and make the most money possible. I highly recommend having someone help you through it. Because afterward, when you realize everything you should have done, it’s too late.
For someone starting that journey, what are some steps specifically regarding liquidating merchandise?
The big part of closing your store and making it successful is in the marketing. You have to make a big buzz about it and make it the biggest event you’ve ever had.
Inventory management; everyone’s always so concerned about getting rid of all their merchandise. They are always shocked when I’m the first to tell them that we need to buy more merchandise.
There’s a whole inventory management plan that we go through to make it the most successful. If you get the marketing right, the people will come out. The community loves their local stores, and when the store is going out of business, they feel a sense of loss. They want to all come together and support the store. You’ve got to let everybody know, and then they come and buy.
The big tip is that you need to make your sale during your busiest time of the year when people are already shopping for your product. You might have different timing, but that’s when people are shopping, that’s when people are buying. Most people think I’m going to get through my busy time and then do it, and that’s different from what I recommend.
Having someone who can lead and guide you in inventory management is essential, as it ensures you have the right product and the right amount of product at the right time that your customers want. It’s still some of those same concepts, but you will do so much more business during that period, so you have to get more.
This is also where you need to get some great closeout deals, so hopefully, you’ve worked with a bunch of great ASD vendors that have some great deals they can get you.
Let’s dig a bit more into that because I’ve never heard that before. First, you’re saying to bring in more merchandise and look for closeouts to fill. So look at it not as I’m going out of business, I’m closing, but this is my last hurrah to make even more cash. Take me into that a little bit more, Chris, because that is mind-blowing.
We used to do this years ago in our store; we called it the extravaganza sale. We would close the store for a day; paper up the windows. We would buy closeouts galore from places and have everything on sale for that weekend only.
We made so much money because we would buy all these closeouts, bring them in, and mark them up to mark them down. People were like this, a great extravaganza sale. We did that for years back in the eighties and nineties; it was a gimmick and worked great. It’s the same thing when we’re closing a store; it’s the biggest event you’re ever going to have.
You want to make money, so you buy low and sell it high; that’s how we make money. If you can get the people in the door because you do all the marketing, it’s a perfect storm. You can create a lot of cash by closing your store. It’s not just putting your entire store on sale and liquidating it as you think. People do that and are just leaving money on the table.
What marketing messages do you use for your shoppers to get them to come out in that mass since it is your last hurrah?
One of my big proponents is mailing a letter. Some clients will tell me they don’t have a mailing list. When I’m coaching a store, one of the things you have to have is a mailing list. You can’t just rely on email; you can’t just rely on Facebook and Instagram. Those things are wonderful; you must have that, but you need their mailing and physical addresses.
I’ve had clients get shut down on Instagram for some reason, and they lost everything; what they’ve built is gone. All that technology is great until it’s not, so having their mailing address is so important.
As a retailer, I use direct mail. One of the first questions I ask any new clients closing a store is, “do you have a mailing list?” Sending that letter is the best way to let everybody know.
We all know that not everybody sees every Facebook post or Instagram post, and not everybody opens and reads every email you send. Still, people only get junk mail in the election ads in the mail these days, so they get excited if they get a letter from their local store that they love.
Letting people know with a heavy heart, telling them you’re closing, that everything must go; mailing out a letter helps. This is one of those times when you have got to create the buzz and get everyone there; the people will come.
That’s a very different viewpoint. In making this your going-out-in style type of thing, is there any way to partner with local businesses that might have shared customers to make it even more successful?
As a retailer, I was a big supporter of working with charities and other businesses in the area. We always had a thing called Parsons on Mission, and every month we highlighted some charity or mission in the area. So when it came time to close the store, I wanted to work with other people and do that.
We would give away door prizes. For example, a promotion could be: come in this weekend, and you can register to get this one hundred dollar gift certificate to this wonderful steakhouse. I would go to the steakhouse and say, “I’m going to promote you in this letter I’m mailing out, and I’m going to promote you on my Instagram, and my emails; you’re going to get all this. If you give me a free $100 gift certificate, we will promote that.
I would also tell them that you could tell everybody, “you should go to the store this weekend, and you could win a gift certificate to our steakhouse. Come to the store and donate, and you’ll get an additional 5% or 10% off an item. What happens so often is people say, “where am I going to shop now? You are where I bought all my clothes.”
This is a great time to highlight those other businesses, so I invited all the other businesses that sold anything similar to us into the store. Each week when I did my emails, I would have a video I made with them and say, “Hey, everyone always wants to know where they’re gonna buy their jewelry now.” then I would have them tell about their store.
And so then they would always want to share that video with all of their friends to see them, and then their customers would come in and buy stuff. Getting as many people involved as possible is the best way to do it. You want to go out with a bang and everyone loving you.
When someone has decided to close their store and gone through some of these steps to liquidate merchandise, what do you advise them to do after that? Can they sit with themselves and figure out the next thing for them? What does that look like? What happened there with you?
There are many different reasons why a business may be closing but here’s the thing, everybody’s going to close. You’re going to leave your business at some point. You’re going to hand it down, you’re going to sell it, you’re going to close it, or you’re going to die, but everyone’s going to leave their business at some point, and you want to leave it on your terms. Having an exit strategy in mind and creating your vision for yourself is something you need to do every three to five years.
Sit down and write your vision for your life. Choose when that time period will be. If it’s going to be five or three years from now, sit down and write it like it is three years from now. If your dream is to go to the mountains, to own a mountain house, a lakehouse or to be able to spend a month on the beach; that’s your dream. I’m sitting here right now looking out over the ocean, and I reflect back on the last three years and everything that I’ve been able to do. I’m so excited that I was able to run that marathon or help my daughter, or buy a motorhome, and we’ve been to 10 states.
There’s no right or wrong. You have to sit with yourself, your spouse or your family and ask, “what is it? What is my passion? What do I wanna be?” It has to be realistic but don’t worry about how you will get it. Just be real and come up with that dream, that vision, and then write it with many adjectives. Post that on your mirror so you can look at that every day and say, “this is where I’m going.”
Whether you want to have three stores or own 15 stores, you might decide that five stores is much easier. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s whatever feels right for you.
If somebody is closing and they haven’t done that, that’s where we start. It’s time to envision what brings you joy, what brings you peace, and what fills your passions.
A lot of psychology goes into that, and there’s a lot of coaching on helping people through what can be a tough time for them or a super exciting time.
Where are you headed next on your adventures in your motor home?
We’re heading to Florida in February because it will be much warmer down there, but then I have to stick close to home because I have my first grandbaby coming in early March.
We will do much of the north Georgia Mountains or North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida staying a little closer to home. We’ll have a big trip out west in the fall, so we’ll be gone for several months then.
Thank you for coming on the show today to give those last-minute tips. You’ve always been such a huge supporter of our community and our retailers that I am just grateful to you for letting us be the last conversation you had. You’ve been such a huge influence on ASD. I am going to miss you as well as our entire team, but we are so happy that you guys are moving on to the next in a way that supports your goals and health and everything else.
We’re still doing some inventory management for people and coaching people through successful store closings through our business. Retailclarity.com, is where you can reach me.
I love sharing the knowledge I have on certain topics and then learning lots about topics I know nothing about.
Thank you, Chris.
Thank you so much.