The first leg of our journey gets us through Milwaukee, Wisconsin and around Chicago, Illinois (listening to the Germany Vs US World Cup match on the radio). We traveled onto our first stop in Chesterton, Indiana. Only 255 miles door-to-door, this community was once a small town, miles away from the big city but now definitely lies in the shadow of the industrial area of Chicago. It is still charming as can be, with a rail line cutting through the center of town and a bustling with a freight train every 20 minutes or so.
This first stop on our journey is the home to Framing Concepts Gallery operated by Ken & Pat Baur. Ken might be better known for his industry consulting work as KB Consulting but their business demonstrates many examples of his business professionalism and acumen that he teaches.
The former movie theater creates a wonderful and enticing entrance to their frame shop and gallery. Perhaps it is the attention to detail that is present in all that is offered in their shop that is most impressive and aides in a grand appearance and good business traffic passing through their doors.
Takeaways – Dealing with the current economy, this business does an excellent job in areas of marketing, signage and creating an environment that is welcoming to all potential clients. To offset the down economy, the Bauer’s have successfully offered competitive commercial framing that also compliments their day-to-day retail business. This business couple also demonstrate another key ingredient to business success that is often missed – both of them are willing to work hard to achieve their goals.
Our journey continued onward into Michigan heading towards the Detroit metro area, where we plan to visit the communities of Plymouth and Ann Arbor…
After driving along the I-94 corridor with trucks heading to a million destinations, we ended up our next morning driving quieter two lane roads into the beautiful community of Plymouth to visit a fellow Retail Speaks member and gift boutique owner Tanja Von Kulajta. Tanja has owned RSVP for a number of years in three different locations in Plymouth, but her most recent home for the past 8 years shares a building with a frame shop, FrameWorks. A beautiful brick wall separates the two businesses but a common entrance and open door allows customers to flow freely between these two different businesses.
One reason we selected RSVP for a visit was the fact that her businesses and that of her neighbor are exactly the mix that we have evolved to become. Diversification is one survival technique for a business, and Tanja has done this in a complimentary fashion. She also has diversified in her own right. Primarily her core business of wedding stationery has taken a lessor role to her gifts business but the two obviously compliment each other.
Takeaways – The diversification and complimentary nature of custom framing and home decor gifts may not be obvious to all at first glance. But it often happens that when one decreases in demand and attention, the other will increase – both helping to sustain the business and provide alternative traffic into the shop.
One of the strengths of staying in business is having key staff members. Tanya’s displays in her shop were stunning, as shown in the picture below…
She gives credit to this creative merchandising to a key manager – the value of a great employee. Al Larson also testified to the value of having a manager of 20+ years who still approached all customers with the same enthusiasm as if it were her first week on the job. Having that kind of enthusiasm for helping customers with their framing designs is not only priceless, but keeps customers returning!