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A Handful of Retail Tips
We now have two retail stores on Kauai, and this past year has been one of challenges and triumphs. The opening of our second store in July went very smoothly at first, but has since run into a perpetual staffing shortfall. We also had issues with training and employee attitude that have been a reminder that our employees are the face of the company.

With this in mind, here are some things that we are doing to ensure success going forward.

Differentiation. We do this with our products, our pricing and our staff. The products we carry in our stores are, for the most part, the items we sell on our wholesale site. In the neighborhood where our original store is located, there are three import stores and a bead shop, plus several gift stores. Although the products we carry, beads, jewelry, accessories and home decor, are available in one form or another from several of our competitors, no one has a product that is exactly similar. We also tend to have a wider selection, especially in terms of beads and jewelry.

Our niche is products that are rich, exotic, funky and hip. We also purposely hold our prices down. Other stores in our neighborhood typically have prices that are 25% higher than ours (this is part of their differentiation strategy). Customers comment almost every day that our products are priced well. We may miss out on some revenue here or there, but the lasting impression is that we offer great value.

Lastly, our staff is friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. The friendly part comes by hiring people with an outgoing personality. The helpful and knowledgeable parts come with experience and good training. We also teach them to handle customer complaints, and empower them to make decisions on their own regarding returns or discounts on damaged goods in the event no manager is available. About 90% of the time they make the right decision, and the other 10% of the time we chalk it up to a learning experience.

Incentives. We have had great success with in-store promotions and with frequent buyer cards. I plan a promotion each month that lasts from three to ten days. Having a promotion for an extended period allows customers to come back for more and to spread the word.

In 2005 we started the Holiday season off with a 20% off sale over Thanksgiving weekend. ItÕs not a huge discount, but it made our customers happy and give them a reason to visit the store.

Our second store is in a mall, and many of the other retailers like MacyÕs and Sears also have sales that weekend.

Gift Certificates. If you donÕt offer gift certificates, you are not participating in an important category of gift giving. They donÕt cost much to set up (several companies offer inexpensive, imprinted gift cards or certificates) and they will keep customers coming to your store well into the new year.

Advertise. Customers have lots of choices. I want to keep our stores near the front of people's minds. There is no way to compete with the ad blitz of heavies like Macy's or Nordstrom, but well placed ads don't cost much and they go a long way.

We do display ads in our local newspaper, some radio, and refer customers to our website. I always look for deals, and our local media outlets always seem to have specials on package deals. In November we had two full page color ads in special inserts of our local paper. I also bought some radio that was priced right as a monthly package.

Staff Effectively. If you are like me, you hate to wait in line. There is a coffee place near my shop that always has a queue. About half the time I am unwilling to wait in the line while the lone employee does her best to keep up.

During busy periods we ramp up our staff so that two people are always on the floor. During the year we run with a single employee during off-peak hours, but I don't want customers to leave because they feel neglected or are unable to get help with their decisions.

Increasing my staffing will cost a little more, but overall it pays off with satisfied customers, increased sales and a store that looks nice and is well-stocked.

(This article written by Mike McGinnis and published originally on indiasilver.com. We encourage republication but stipulate the piece be copied in its entirety with links and attribution.)

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Updated 2/17/06
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