And more advice from Julie Gaines, Founder of Fishs Eddy
Fishs Eddy is a 4,000-square-foot home goods emporium named for a quaint town in the Catskills at 19th and Broadway in New York City. They have been in business since 1985 and are known for their edgy, unique and fun dishes and glasses.
1. Staying true to the brand can be costly.
Our business is rooted in American restaurant ware, all under-glazed double-fired. All the manufacturers went out of business about ten years ago. We had to start sourcing, and we would have automatically gotten a cheaper quality. We were so hell-bent on keeping the quality of goods, but it ended up costing us a lot of money. So, when people say you got to China to get it cheaper, we don't go to China and get it cheaper, we go to China to get the same quality only because China is making it and Americans aren't. The only difference is now instead of getting 24 dozen, I have to get 2400. I am one mouth to feed. I am one store. So, that caught up with us — the quantities. We looked back and thought should we have compromised the quality? Do people even care? I don't know. We have stayed true to our brand, but it has caught up to us.
2. Challenges of brick and mortar, especially in New York City.
And then there are the expenses. Our health insurance just went up a huge amount this year. I can't pass it on to my employees, so I absorb the difference. The minimum wage is going up which I do support. It is hurting. We had to let people go. The expenses are high, and we are in a very difficult situation right now. I walked around the other day because I was so depressed, and all the other stores are all for rent. I do defend the landlord a little bit because I heard stories that landlords do lower the price, but there are no takers. If people are starting up retail businesses, they are online. They are not starting brick and mortar. I brought my son in who kind of saved the day. He came in and was painting people's cats and dogs, and they went crazy for this all over the country. People are obsessed with it. That is bringing traffic in the store. We are going to do more of that in this space. I know people have to think outside the box, you can't just do business as usual.
Whatever you think your business is going to cost, times it by two especially with New York City. It is not a small business-friendly city. There are fees; there are taxes. I got in trouble for selling antiques which we have been selling forever. All of the sudden the city came in and said that they were going to close us down because the antiques did not say "used." It is an antique, of course, it has been used! We had to pay a $1500 fine. The city loves fining small businesses. We had a truck that said Fishs Eddy, and it was great advertising for us. But at some point, the parking became an issue. You can't even stop for a second to unload your goods. There is no loading and unloading on our corner.
3. The Pros and Cons of hiring a consultant.
We hired a consultant and that was a disaster. He talks all kinds of "fancy talk." He is getting us all excited about how he can help us save the business, but it is like asking someone to raise your kid. Like even if you are not doing the best job, nobody is going to love your kid like you do. They don't understand the nuances of your business. So, there was a disconnect. In retrospect, I wished we worked with him but kept it a little bit more at a distance. We embraced him like he was going to save the day. And, only we can save the day. The guidance was good, but we went too deep. We were too trusting. He did a lot of things that were good because we were a little reckless, and he installed budgets and structure. He did a lot of things that were retailing 101, and that was helpful.
We have an attitude in our business; we are very pro-employee. We support our employees. They are family. He tried to bring in a more corporate attitude here. It didn't feel comfortable with us, it didn't feel comfortable for our employees. It traumatized the business. The fundamentals that he instilled here were very necessary and very helpful and still exist today, but we didn't have to go and change our attitude. For a couple of years, everything he did turned sales around. He made some very good decisions. But, my lesson was that once the decisions were made, we had to get out of bed and be a big girl and big boy ourselves. Keep what he did but continue the family business we really built.
4. Don't use expansion as a way to build your brand.
We expanded and contracted; we have been all over the place. That is another mistake. It is not a way to build a brand. It is a very costly way to create a brand. Everybody knows us because we have been in Soho, the Hamptons, the Upper East Side, and the Upper West Side. I have a little problem of walking by a "For Rent" sign and walking in. I don't do that anymore now. I do own that we overexpanded. My head got big, and I love the excitement of seeing new customers and decorating new stores. That doesn't mean that it is a good business model. At our biggest, we were five stores. It was a mistake. The consultant came in and said, "the first thing we are going to do is go back to square one." And, he was right.