Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New arrivals at Pomegranate

We're getting in new products daily at both Pomegranates. Our downtown shop is still open and going strong (looking for a new tenant, so we're there until it all gets figured out), and we have lots of wonderful goodies rolling in. Hate to say it, but it's not too early to start thinking about the holidays, and we're ready with some great gifts at great prices. Here's a little sample of what's new or coming soon...

Filles des Iles perfumes from Paris: a new line for us -- absolutely adore it. Tiramani is back in stock (lotions, perfumes and talc) -- it's a can't go wrong scent that's so fresh and citrusy. Fall scarves from Zazou (really great prices -- an instant way to dress up an outfit or coat, and a great gift idea). Maruca's fall collection of textile handbags is in stock, and going quickly. Did you know that these are handmade in Boulder, CO? I love that they design their own fabrics, have them milled in the US, then retire them after each season. When it's done, it's done. They have a charming You Tube video about their process; just log onto Marucadesign.com and take the virtual tour. But if you see something you like, come shop with us first. You know, make local habit!

We have some fun mod pieces, like the silicone coasters and wine tags from Modern Twist. You can write on these with a ball point pen, then wash them off. The package of wine glass tags are designed to fit over the neck of a wine bottle, for a très cool hostess gift.

Ghost candelabra is back: one of my favorites that connects classic with modern, anywhere. Ditto the Fantome clock -- I want one on my own mantel. Hey hubby: are you reading this?

Check out the new organic cotton placemats, napkins and tablecloths (yummy). Halloween treats are in (love the sparkly hanging bats). Dog prints and new artwork. And, we have lots of candles and diffusers on order. Your favorites by Archipelago, Aquiesse, Voluspa and Votivo. Yes, Votivo is back (here in a few days) and here's the good news: they have totally reinvented their waxes and wicks and have made a great, clean burning candle, while keeping all those wonderful scents like red currant.

Stop by soon and see what's new!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Listen up: product idea for techies

I wrote a post about hard-to-deal-with vendors (aka Bad Kitties); I also have a list of Bad Phone Kitties. Remember how we all put our home phones on the national Do Not Call list? And don't you think the number of junky phone calls has lessened? Ahh, but there's no such protection for business phones. At our downtown store, I get about 8-10 junk calls every day, most of them recorded messages. That's one every hour. Or three in one hour, and then a bit of peace. They're as delightful as a fly that won't go away. Some are downright obnoxious (the guy who yells "Listen UP" scares me every time). Some are crafty, e.g., the woman who says, "Hello? Oh hi!" likes she's your old friend. And some are just stupid (yeah, I know you're not calling from Qwest headquarters if caller ID says "private number"). I don't get how this spam dialing could possibly be profitable: I mean, who actually listens to the dumb message and then signs up for a vacation getaway??

All I know is it's turning me into a screaming mimi. I'm busy at the other end of the store, the phone rings, and I run to get it, only to find it's one of the Bad Kitties. Or I'm on the phone and call waiting interrupts with the "Listen Up" dude. It's usually when I'm writing down someone's phone number and the 'boop boop' of the call waiting knocks out some of the info. Or customers are standing there, and they say, oh go ahead and get your phone, because it bothers all of us to hear a phone ringing and ringing. You hate to miss a customer calling, so I get suckered in every time. Except that I've started to consult my bad kitty phone list before I answer. If it's one of "them," I hit the answer key and then the off key to disconnect.

But here's my grand idea for a money-making invention, free for the taking: how about a little device that would call those numbers back and jam their phone lines? Or something that would send a shrieking whistle sound to their phone number? An automated voice that would say, yes, I'm interested in your stupid offer... and then transfers them to phone hell somewhere. Or maybe just a call blocker that would circumvent the calls in the first place. I'd pay for it!

I don't know. Email spam I can handle: the delete button is swift. Phone spam is intrusive, a time waster, and utterly obnoxious. I wonder if big companies are having the same problems, or if they already have magic blockers on their phone lines...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mean queen of props

How attached am I to our display pieces? Very. How often do people get irritated with me because I won't sell them? Daily.

But here's the thing. Some stores go out and buy shelving units, tables, racks, etc. from retail specialty supply companies. They're surprisingly expensive and often ugly. At best, they're utilitarian, but nothing else. Some shop owners have the budget to invest in custom cabinetry and tables. It's hugely expensive, as you might imagine. Think remodeling a kitchen, then double it, or more. If you don't go broke in the process, the end result gives you continuity and elegant display surfaces that enhance but don't compete with the products. It's all about getting things up at eye level and making it all look luscious and easy to figure out.

We're more "seat of the pants" people, so building custom shelving was never an option (oh, except for the wonderful pieces Robert built for our River Mall Avenue location, but that was all before some workshop disasters...). Besides, if there's ever extra money, we'd rather buy more inventory rather than better shelves to put it on.

So, as Robert will attest, I am always on the hunt for more unusual display pieces, to the point of being a first-class pest. Funny, though, now when we walk into an antiques store and he spies some funky table, he's the first one to say, "Ohhh, that would be great for display."

I think he mocks me.

Anyway, a good display piece can turn lots and lots of inventory. It helps pull things up closer to eye level; makes everything more noticeable; and provides a home with the right background to make items "pop." It sets the tone and the mood of the shop, and tells you you're not in some generic chain store.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kitty poo happens

One of the frustrating parts of our business are the vendors I call Bad Kitties. Usually they're small companies whose products we love enough to order, but stuff gets screwed up so badly somewhere along the way that we have to stop ordering from them. Or we bite the bullet and keep buying, but keep an eagle eye on every transaction.

This is not the glamorous part of being a retailer. During the busiest parts of the year, when we're ordering a lot and selling a lot, I can easily spend an entire day of each week tracing shipments, tracking down mysterious charges, unraveling things like why we got 6 gigantic boxes of bath salts when we only ordered six small bags, or lotion testers but no product. Or 40 pound marble table tops sent with the wrong bases. On and on and on... But I digress.

Yesterday's meltdown involved our flatware vendor. I placed an order three weeks ago. They charged our card the following day, which usually means the product shipped. Ah, but they charged hundreds more than it should have been: a regular occurrence. There are two prices: one if you buy one little piece at a time (very high), and one if you buy in bulk (very reasonable). Someone always keys in the wrong number. And I always have to call back and straighten it out. [After tracking the charge and comparing it to the order that's in a stack of paperwork and adding it all up and...] HelLO! Not again! That got fixed, but where's our shipment? Should have been here two weeks ago, and now two customers got mad at me because I thought for sure it would arrive last week. I hate that. So it's another 20+ minutes on the phone, another 20+ minutes finding all the paperwork and writing a fax with a recap of the situation (because we're just about starting from scratch here), and I'm about to go curl up on our bed in the store and put our scented pillow on my face because I need to relax and breathe and not have a heart attack over this. Maybe asphyxiation by lavender isn't so bad.

So this is what happened: our order went to another Pomegranate. In Texas. This happens all the time, too. When we picked the name "Pomegranate" we never imagined that ten other unrelated Pomegranates would later spring up all over the U.S., and that they would someday be receiving our shipments, and we, theirs. Grrr. Just another afternoon in the litter box with the Bad Kitties.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Credit card crazies

Guess who is still making a lot (I mean a LOT) of money? Credit card companies. And anyone connected to them: suppliers, processors, etc. etc. Whooo boy, don't get me started. That whole part of it is fodder for another post. Maybe an exposé. Maybe a book.

What got me steamed last week is the flatlining and death of our "new" credit card processing machine at our downtown store. Years ago, we purchased our first credit card processor for about $500, a major investment for us. It blew up about a year and a half later, past any warranty period, and we were faced with either purchasing or leasing a new one. We went for the lease. More expensive in the end, but if something happens, you don't have to start over and buy another. And because the technology is changing all the time, you can upgrade and get rid of the one that runs on hamster power.

At our farmhouse store, we have this workhorse credit card machine that keeps chugging along. A different story downtown. Our first machine there lasted about two years, and decided to stop working just a few days before last Christmas, our busiest, craziest three days of the year. It was a nightmare, and replacement didn't come until after the new year, thank you very much. And by the way, manually keying in all the hand-swiped card purchases from earlier gets charged at a much higher percentage rate. Oh well. This time our 'new' machine pooped out Tuesday morning (just eight months later), and I didn't get a replacement until Friday. I was on the phone for what seemed like hours.

I think what really frosted me was the greasy salesmanship at the other end of the line. They know you're desperate to get a replacement machine, and use all kinds of tactics to get you to spend more (nevermind that it should be on warranty with a seamless replacement policy). Oh, you want a quick replacement? That will be $40 extra for overnight (actually two-day shipping) plus regular shipping costs. Then I got that "you get what you pay for" line, which really made me mad (don't try to sell me anything through guilt or fear). It's not like we were being cheapskates eight months ago. We relied on them to send whatever they sent. Did I want them to send another of the same? Of course not. So that required a new lease – a way more expensive lease – and signing of new papers, and further delays.

That was last week. Got my new machine, which just looks like a bloated version of the old one. Got it set up (only another hour on the line with the tech people), and I've calmed down since then. The nice thing was how understanding and patient customers were. That first day, I didn't even have a manual swiper thing to use, and had to write down all the cc info to run them through later. Everyone had to stand there and wait... You know those commercials where the guy runs into a donut shop and swipes his card for a donut and doesn't have to sign? And the donut shop owner is smiling from ear to ear? That's just a MasterCard fantasy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dog Café Society

Last night after hours we started work on our downtown Halloween windows (I know many stores have already put out Halloween stuff, but after all these years, I still cannot start on the seasons or holidays too early). It's kind of a time-consuming process, so we got the basics done on it, and managed to turned the entire store upside down. It's chaos in there, but I love playing around with new windows.

Anyhow, about halfway through, I started whining about how nice it would be to have a glass of wine while we worked. We considered the options: try to get a glass to go from one of the restaurants nearby. Nope. Illegal and they probably won't do it. Buy a bottle and open it in the store while we work. With no dinner, we might end up passing out in the window and becoming sleeping mannequins. Third option: close up shop, leave the mess for the next day, and hop down to Merenda to that nice little table outside, with Mollie the shop dog in tow. It took us about two seconds to drop our hammers, fashion a leash out of ribbon, and close up shop.

What a grand idea it was, too. Robert ordered a glass of very nice white wine from the Piemonte region of Italy; I got a lovely, pearish sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. Mollie got her very own bowl of fresh water from Oregon, and lots of attention. It was her first outing to a restaurant, and she loved it. Until last night, I had forgotten that you can bring your dog with you to some of the restaurants in town, as long as you're outside. The weather was absolutely perfect, and we were soooo happy and relaxed. After the requisite risotto fritters and sharing a salad, Roberto ordered a smoked bacon pizza (I have one word for it: OMG!) and I had a fabulous pasta (can't remember the name) that was like a tiny ravioli, stuffed with ground pork – very tender, in this wonderful sauce and covered with farmer's market mushrooms (I love all the chanterelles, maitakes, shitakes available now). I was in heaven. Didn't even have room for dessert. Mollie put on her best begging face (wish I had had the camera with me) and had a great time watching everybody walk by. She was almost as good as those quintessential French dogs who sit at cafés with their owners every day. By the way, kudos to the wait staff at Merenda; the two that were assigned to our little outside area really knew the menu and really knew their wines (the guy serving the couple behind us was like a total wine geek; fun to listen to him).

Earlier in the day, I met a woman in the shop who was in Bend for a job interview, visiting from a central California town. "You are SO lucky to live in this beautiful place!" she said, and indeed we are.

It's going to be lovely and warm for the next week or so, so treat yourself to some outside dining, bring Fifi if you're headed for a sidewalk table, and forget all your cares for an evening. It's one of the rewards of living here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Art of le dog

Just received some fun new art at our shops yesterday: all about the dog. I ordered these so long ago I had almost forgotten what they were like, so it was a bit like christmas yesterday opening up all the boxes. They're really, really adorable, and I love the simple frames.

It doesn't matter what breed you have (because y'all do have a dog or two, right?); any of these would look great on the wall. The kind of sepia/black & white ones above have a modern feel to them; interesting angles (love the dachshund staring at you from around the corner!) and bold, simple frames.

The others are collage style pieces with some great little hits of color. If we didn't already have lots of art, I would totally put the chihuahua on a wall at home. Just to irritate Robert. No, he thinks it's cute, too.

By the way, these are all we have (not all of them shown, however). Not every breed is represented or even available. I just picked the ones I thought were most charming, and when they're gone, they're gone. We probably won't reorder, given the amount of time it took to get them, and given how much other stuff we need, too.

And then there's my girl, Mollie, who got to visit the downtown store for a little bit yesterday. She was the perfect shop dog, as always, but prefers to be at our River Mall Ave. store, where she can loll on the grass and wade in the canal. She looooves babies and is so gentle and sweet around them. And she loves kids. But as she advances into older age, she isn't so fond of other dogs. That makes it a little tough downtown, because she likes to bark at the passing dogs. Yesterday a couple of kids with a pitbull passed by our open door while she was there. It could have gotten loud, but she didn't see the dog, thankfully.

We're so lucky to have her; we couldn't wish for a better dog in the world. So give her a little kiss and a pet for me if you see her at our other store. And please don't laugh at her furry little mukluk paws.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A good gift story

Yesterday one of our customers told me her idea for giving a Bella Notte throw (and how much it was appreciated)...a great thought to pass along.

A friend was practically living at the hospital while taking care of her husband, who was there for some long-term treatments (from which he has benefited and recovered). The perfect gift for the care-giver? A cozy and generously sized Bella Notte throw. If you're a fixture in a family member's hospital room, you end up sleeping, reading, knitting, etc. in whatever chair you can find, and it gets chilly. Having a wonderful throw to pull over yourself would be a very welcome gift, I think.

Of course, I have to put a plug in for Bella Notte bedding, which we carry at our downtown store. I wouldn't have it in the store if I didn't just love it, and these are the best throws out there. They come in several different fabric combinations, from the Tennyson (shown above), which is a very soft, cozy, velvety fabric, to a totally luxurious silk velvet backed in satin. And they all come in 22 colors. 22! You can go from a deep, rich chocolate or graphite to neutral champagne or white. They're oversized, so you can really cover yourself up with one if you're lounging on the sofa reading (oh! that sounds like a vacation!). They're trimmed in satin or velvet edging, which I far prefer over messy, tangly fringe. It's all made in the US, and perhaps best of all, everything is machine washable. We have two Tennyson throws at home (one at the foot of the bed and one for the sofa), and I adore them. Throws in any of the 22 Tennyson colors run about $150.

Here's the catch. It's all made to order and takes about eight weeks to ship, so I've tried to anticipate what will sell and have already placed several orders to have some in stock. I'm afraid our in-stock items might go fast. If you think you might want to special order for the holidays (coming up soon, believe it or not!), come see us soon to get your order in. The throws are a great gift idea for parents, grandparents, housewarming, wedding, new moms, anyone... The throws are just part of the Bella Notte line of bedding and linens -- for instance, the same Tennyson fabric (just one of many) also makes a fabulous coverlet or duvet cover. Yummy.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Back in stock

Ah yes, it's the long-awaited arrival of some of our favorite products. Caldrea arrived yesterday, and we're busy getting the shelves full again. At our River Mall Ave. location we have both the classic Lavender Pine and newest Ginger Pomelo scents in all the Caldrea natural cleaning products, as well as liquid soap and lotions. Downtown, we're carrying only the Ginger Pomelo and will have it all ready for you by Friday. Cleaning your house with this good stuff is like an aromatherapy session... and you can feel good that you haven't used some mysterious caustic chemical compounds.

And arriving downtown today (most likely) are our favorite Archipelago collections. The Pomegranate body care line is absolutely lovely, very hydrating and smells wonderful. We just got lucky that they choose our favorite edible object to base their line on.

Also arriving: Archipelago's fabulous soy candles and diffusers in "Luna" and "Positano" – both citrusy and fresh. The small diffusers are great for a bathroom, laundry room or mudroom; larger sizes will cover a greater area.

Diffuser tips: good ones have the right blend of essential oils and alcohol. If there's too much alcohol, it will dissipate too quickly; if not enough, the mix will be too heavy to wick up. Also important are the type of reeds used. They can't just be sticks; they need to be porous and a bit 'holey' so the product can diffuse properly. And, there are a lot of cheapo products out there that are not using good essential oils. If you're getting that chemical whiff from one, throw it out before you give everyone a headache.

Don't expect just one to scent your whole house or even a large greatroom – they work better set up in zones. Suggest one in the entry; one in the kitchen and small ones in bathrooms. Wind and too much sunlight can decrease their effectiveness, so keep them away from open windows or super sunny spots. Flip the sticks every once in a while to get the wicking action going, but do be careful when you do that: the oils can do some damage to painted or unfinished wood surfaces if you let it drip down. Lastly, it's really not a good idea to fill a diffuser container with another scent. If you do that, make sure the container is super clean, and start with fresh sticks. Mixing it all up like that is just asking for some weird science concoction.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Parking and pigs flying

Our little downtown parking scuffles are nothing new: every small, historic downtown corridor has the same issues with employee parking vs. customer parking. The maximum time allowed is always on the short side, simply to prevent owners and employees from taking up all the parking meant for customers. The guy in my last post (from the 8/30 article in The Bulletin about downtown parking) who spends so much time moving and reparking his car every two hours is a perfect example of staff parking abuse. Instead of spending $20-$48 on a parking pass, he prefers to spend 15% of his work day driving around looking for a new parking space meant for customers. On the other side of the coin, I understand completely how customers feel when they get a parking ticket. As a friend said recently, why should I be punished for parking a little too long when I just spent $200 downtown, shopping and having lunch? As a business owner, I do not want my customers to feel that way. If you're having fun downtown, you shouldn't have to watch the clock.

So, as I've said ad nauseum, there's always the garage with free parking for three hours, or $5 for all day. That works for now, but we need to make some changes, too. I totally agree with the idea of slapping on bigger fines for frequent offenders. That may be the only cure for them. How about also selling reduced fee parking passes for the top floor of the garage, where no one ever parks anyway? Cut the price in half or so for those willing to drive a bit more.

Or this, my favorite little idea: Diamond Parking could sell rolls of single day garage passes for parking. Businesses could buy them for say, $2 per ticket (on a roll of 50 or so). If you had one of these tickets, you then park in the garage and put your ticket in one of the little envelope kiosks with your license number, just like you do now with the $5 cash all-day parking option. It would be up to each business to deal with them however they wish. If you have part-time or independent contractor employees, you could either give the tickets away or charge for them, however you see fit. Or, you could give them to good customers for their next trip downtown.

How about this idea? Not going to happen, even when pigs do learn to fly. We turn one of those ghost town motels or empty lots surrounding the downtown area and turn it into a parking lot (I'm thinking specifically of the east end of Wall Street, where the old Bulletin lot is). We close off Wall Street to vehicles and make it a lovely pedestrian street (deliveries can be made from Brooks Alley), and then (ha ha, this is the never-ever-gonna-happen part), we run a little trolley line from the new parking lot right down Wall Street (and maybe further) and back again. You put in sweet little covered waiting areas (with trees and big pots of flowers) and transport shoppers and employees back and forth. For free.