Independence Day is just around the corner—a day on which we celebrate the tremendous freedom we have as Americans, look toward a future full of unlimited possibilities, and remember the cost at which our freedom came. And then we eat too much, drink too much, and light things on fire. It’s fabulous!
I've been thinking about the freedom we have as independent small business owners. Being independent means you have the right and the freedom to say "yes" and to say "no." You can do what you want, sell what you want, and cater your business so very pointedly to meet the needs of your immediate community. This is a huge—HUGE—advantage! As independents, we sculpt our offerings so they’re just right; we wiggle.
You hear me talk about my dear friends Seema and Fahim a lot. And that’s because we have a whole lot in common: we own our own independent shipping stores, serve together on the AMBC Board of Directors, collaborate on coaching for our mutual clients, and have studied each other’s businesses in depth. I’m here to tell you that, while I have a serious case of the wiggles, Seema and Fahim have full-on wigglemania! And it’s a beautiful dance to behold!
When I first opened, I had a large section of gifts. At other stores I’ve run in the past, small gifts, plush, souvenirs, and trinkets did fairly well. But I found quickly at my store that my mainly student demographic wasn’t into it. I sold some, but the majority just sat on the shelves collecting dust (though my Swiffer and I didn’t let that dust settle). Eventually, I clearanced all of that out and wiggled things around to make more room for products that do sell in my area: office supplies, gift wrap, greeting cards, etc.
Seema and Fahim also had a large section of gifts in their store when they opened. But their customer base is entirely different from mine and their gift section and unique one-of-a-kind leather goods quickly became very popular. In little time, their store evolved into a well-known gift destination and its savvy willing-to-wiggle owners shifted their floor plan accordingly. When they remodeled a couple of years ago, a main goal was to set aside a large chunk of their retail area to create a boutique. It’s gorgeous! It’s successful! And it perfectly complements their “Spa of Shipping” mission.
One of my largest profit centers now is student storage, even though this offering isn’t very common among shipping centers in traditional markets. When I opened, I heard that storage in my community was in high demand, but I didn’t realize fully its scope. I offered it, but it was a lot of hard work and I really didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it. As a result, I didn’t push it as much as I should have during my first few years. But then I looked hard at the numbers and the margin on storage is fantastic! So, I wiggled my mindset. I pushed storage and this past year my storage business was up exponentially. It’s now one of my most popular SKUs and storage customers often turn into shipping customers—many moving internationally when their storage term is up, shipping those heavy boxes to far and away places through my DHL and FedEx services because I do it the best, make it easy, and solve their problems in my one-stop shop.
Seema and Fahim have studied my storage process, but it doesn’t make sense in their market right now. However, they’ve wiggled their way into other services that have done very, very well! While my younger demographic tends be very tech friendly, doing most of their own design work, many of Seema and Fahim’s customers are of a generation that often needs more assistance. So Seema, already inherently gifted in design, has studied technique and sourced the right tools to assist their clients with amazing graphic design.
I have so many more examples of our chronic wiggling that I could share, including how I was able to shift floor space in my very tight store to make room for a few freestanding banks of new private mailboxes, but Seema and Fahim took expanding mailbox offerings to a whole new level by building the most impressive business center I’ve ever seen alongside a huge new backroom (more like a warehouse) expansion they recently completed. Or how I’ve wiggled into a great niche in printing and binding master’s theses and doctoral dissertations and Seema and Fahim have found uncanny results by producing and selling their own line of delectable homemade soaps, lotions, and lip balm.
So, as we celebrate our American freedom this weekend, think about your freedom as a business owner. What could you do in your area that just might turn out to be huge? How can you wiggle your way into a new profit center? Where are you stuck and how can you change your mindset to break into a new market?
Celebrate your independence with a wiggle. It’s the American thing to do.
Also published on the AMBC blog on June 29, 2017.