What’s news

Lots going on at Pufferbellies these days … along with taking entries for our Easter Basket giveaway, we are starting work this week with a designer who’s going to help us put together a real, honest-to-goodness website. Not an e-commerce site (that means no buying from us online) yet, but at least a place for customers to find out the basics about our store. I am hoping that I can roll this blog into the new site, too … I really like being able to update the world on new products and stuff that’s going on.

Speaking of new products, we’ve got some really cool new items from a company called Enchantmints. Beautiful foldaway mirrors with fairy-tale themes, some tiny music boxes, itty-bitty treasure boxes with horse themes, and a couple of jewelry boxes. This is really charming stuff with lovely artwork. We’ve also been working hard on adding more activity and special-interest books for the slightly-older-kid crowd (10 & up). Our book section still focuses mostly on picture books & board books (for the little ones), but we’re adding these new older-kid books into our activities section. For example, we’ve got these rockin’ Art Academy books by Silver Dolphin, and lots of new how-to-draw books — several focusing on dragons and fantasy creatures, and a really cool one about manga.

In other news, I have volunteered for an SDDA committee on store hours. The idea is to get a group of downtown merchants to stay open some yet-to-be-determined extended hours — Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sundays.

It’s an interesting nut to crack, partly because there are so many different ideas about what “extended” means. At our first meeting, there was some talk of “extended” meaning Fridays & Saturdays until 7PM, and Sundays from 1-4PM. For our store, that would be a net gain of only one hour — we’re already open until 6PM on Friday & Saturday (as well as Monday – Thursday), and from noon-4PM on Sunday. Overall I think the discussion is a good one, but my take is that for the change to make an impact on our customers and on our sales, it would need to be a little more dramatic than that.

Of course, there are hurdles to making a dramatic change in hours. At our store, for example, there’s simply a limited amount of manpower available. Susan & I run the store by ourselves, and we’re already open 52 hours a week (plus uncounted hours of work opening the store, closing the store, working at home on paperwork & ads, etc). I’m not complaining. We opened a small business with the expectation of working long hours. But if we’re open, say, 6 more hours per week, will we make more money (and make our customers significantly happier) or just burn ourselves out? I think it’s a fair question, and it’s one that lots of small business have to face.

In order for evening hours to be a net gain overall, a few things have to be in place. Customers have to want it. (There are definitely some vocal folks in Staunton who say they want it.) Businesses have to support it; stores who commit to longer hours must follow through. It sounds simple — be open when you say you’ll be open — but it doesn’t always work that way. The word must get out with clear, consistent marketing.

I think that if everything falls into place and we can make it work, it will be a win for a lot of people. I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

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