Welcome to the Extraordinary Ordinary April Feature!
I’ve been a fan of Small Business Saturday each holiday season, choosing to shop for unique gifts in local area businesses. In our economy, small business owners struggle for community support. I came to know Designs on You owner Trudy Salinas through Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday in November. Trudy banded together a group of area businesses to encourage a “Shop Local” holiday attitude in November, keeping tax dollars within our community. Trudy is in the process of keeping her business going online while letting go of her storefront setting. She is upbeat and excited at the changes ahead for her.
Q) I loved the holiday season due to your idea to gather a group of area businesses for Small Business Saturday shopping after Thanksgiving. How did the idea come together?
A) I got the idea for the Passport to Savings promotion from the Small Business Saturday website. A company in Michigan did it with stores in their community, and I thought it would be a fun way to create excitement in our community as well. Many local businesses were excited to be a part of the event and each gave a $50 gift certificate for the grand prize and gave a great discount or coupon to use that same day, too. I received a lot of great feedback from the people who participated in the promotion saying that they really enjoyed getting to know the local businesses that they hadn’t been to before. It was a real win for everyone involved.
Q) What was the best part of coordinating the “Shop Local” program?
A) The best part for me was the appreciation from the people who came in. It was so nice to hear people say how they enjoyed the day and often shared with me the purchases they had made throughout the “tour” of local shops they took that day. The passport, itself, was a lot of work to design and put together, but it made the day so much fun that it was worth every minute. Each store had its own holiday stamp to stamp the passports with and they had to get a stamp at each spot to be entered for the grand prize. It created quiet a bit of festivity!
Q) What has been the most eye-opening part of owning your own business?
A) For me, the most eye opening part of owning my own business was the lack of loyalty people exhibit. I had a considerable group of loyal customers who had shopped with me for many years, many of them since my early days in business twenty years ago as The Button Lady…a pop up retailer at cheerleading events. But I found it more and more dismaying when people would have absolutely no loyalty to any business, not just mine, after you’ve worked so hard to please them and work with them on their budget, etc... From conversations I’ve had with many retailers I know around the country, I’ve found this to be true, and these are successful retailers who are doing everything right. The internet and people’s desire to get everything as cheaply as possible, makes it hard to compete sometimes, but what people forget is that working with a local, independent business is worth so much more than the couple of dollars they would save on the internet.
Q) How did you juggle family and business ownership in the early years?
A) In my very early years, my son was ten years old and we would do a couple of cheerleading competitions a year selling buttons only. We were actually pioneers in this area as cheerleading vendors soon after became a staple at local and regional cheerleading events. Back then I would bring my son and his best friend along to help me set up the buttons and to work with me selling. From ten until about seventeen years old, my son didn’t mind it so much, because hey, how cool is it to hang out and look at cute cheerleaders your age all day? After seventeen, he would grudgingly come with me and once he turned twenty-one, he thought the cute moms in their late twenties and early thirties were kind of nice to look at all day, so he started not minding again. Oh, we’ve laughed and laughed about that over the years and teased him so! My husband started helping with the weekend competitions in 1997, and as a family we would work each event, which became quite a large staging event after the first five years. In 2015, I retired from event vending.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family that goes seven generations back, so for me it never seemed like juggling at all. Quite the contrary, it seemed more normal to me than the life I was living prior.
Q) What are some of the pivot points of your business, taking you in unexpected directions?
A) The biggest pivot point in my business that actually blew me out of the water was the decision to bring a line of essential oils into the shop. I had a retail friend of nine years, whom I trusted very much, call me and suggest that I bring them into my store. I told her she was crazy and that in no way did essential oils work into my merchandise mix. She had a successful gift and fudge store in a very small town in central Illinois, and she had made a decision to bring more gifts with purpose into her shop when she came upon essential oils. She kept calling me telling me how she was astounded every day that she was seeing faces she had never seen before from that very small community. She thought it would be a great way for me to bring new faces into my store as well. I became intrigued with all I was hearing about the oils, and after doing some research on the company I finally agreed.
What I didn’t know was how that one decision and those little bottles of oil would change my life forever in the space of a year…physically, emotionally, and financially.
Q) If you could go back in a time machine and change any decision you made, what would you do differently?
A) If I could go back in a time machine and change one decision I’ve made I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve grown two successful businesses and I have no regrets on any aspect of that or in my life, either. I’m a true believer in that everything in our life happens for a reason. If something goes awry from a decision I’ve made, I look to where I could improve the next time and I also look for the silver lining, because there is always a silver lining if you look for it. In looking for it, we are in a place to grow and learn from every experience.
Q) You’ve been in business for more than two decades so what changes have you seen along the way?
A) I’ve seen many changes in the last twenty years in my industry as well as the industry I primarily served, which is the cheerleading industry and apparel sales. I’ve loved experiencing and using the newest and latest technologies in apparel decoration. Things that used to be very difficult to do and labor intensive have become commonplace with computers and easily affordable for a small business. I have regularly attended trade shows in the last twenty years to stay on top of trends, and the things that are possible today with short runs and personalization are amazing.
Within cheerleading specifically and apparel sales in general, it has been amazing to be part of the changing retail trends. I remember when I went to a tradeshow in my early years, back when girls were wearing tight crop top t-shirts. At the show they were exhibiting long torso t-shirts. I remember telling the rep that I would never be able to sell those shirts in my store…that the girls would never wear them; they were too long. He looked me square in the eye and said, more than asked, “You’re from the Midwest.” I said, “Yes,” and he replied, “Give it two years. It usually takes two years for fashion to go from the coasts to the Midwest.” I smiled and thought, “Yeah. Right.” Well sure as shinola, two years later, those t-shirts were all the rage and who had them first? That’s right, this girl! I learned a valuable lesson that day that helped me to introduce many things first after seeing them at the year’s first shows on the west coast.
So, not being a fashion queen nor someone who would wear or use much of the retail products I sold, I found it fascinating to be a part of that little piece of culture every day.
Q) How do you foresee businesses changing in the next decade?
A) I think it’s going to be very difficult for businesses in the next decade. I see many people, every day, just jump into a business without making a business plan or really thinking things through. It’s sad, really, because with a little planning, they could have such different results than what many got, which was going out of business and losing everything.
The internet and big box stores have made it very difficult for small businesses to compete. The marginal businesses will be lost automatically, but it’s the businesses that are doing things right that are really struggling to get and keep people engaged. Happily there seems to be a resurgence in shopping locally and, like always, there is a core of customers who do everything they can to shop locally. Businesses are really going to have to keep on top of engaging their customers in a way that best suits their demographic. How do you stand out as a beacon in a sea of noise?
Q) Your transition point, away from storefront to online business, is huge. Your excitement at the prospect overflows when you talk about it! How did you make the decision and why?
A) The decision to close the retail portion of my business became a very easy one. My brother became ill with cancer in 2014 and passed six months later. He was just two weeks shy of his 54th birthday. I received a call from my mother one day, concerned that there was something wrong with him. I told her I hadn’t heard anything and said I would call my father to find out. When I called my dad, it turned out that my mom was right and that he was on his way to the hospital at my brother’s request. All I could think of in that moment was that my 78 year old father shouldn’t be alone there with my brother if they were going to be hearing bad news from the doctors. I knew that my dad would get there in about 15 minutes and that it would take me about 45. I flew out the door and booked it to the hospital, never thinking for one minute to waste even five minutes of time to put a note on the door at my shop.
Thankfully, I arrived within minutes before the doctor and was able to be a pillar of support for my dad and my brother, and the only one not in shock enough to ask some pointed questions of the doctor and get some much needed information. One of my best qualities…I don’t crack under pressure, I thrive. Actually, I’m what my Uncle Jim would describe as a “foxhole guy.” Someone who you’d want with you in a foxhole during a battle. Someone you know who would never leave you behind. Someone who would save you in any way under any conditions.
When I returned to my shop the next night, I found a somewhat nasty note that had been shoved through the mail slot. It bothered me for a couple of weeks and I decided to write a blog post about it. It went viral overnight, with more than 70,000 views and hundreds of shares. To date it has been viewed more than a half million times in more than 100 countries…countries I never even knew existed! It somehow became the voice of small business around the world as it was shared hundreds of times by small businesses and chambers of commerce. Blogged about and re-blogged, re-tweeted, and posted to Pinterest. It was all rather surreal and crazy at the time, and I started getting some really mean and rude comments. At first I thought they were from my customers, because I really didn’t expect or hope for more than maybe 25-50 of my customers to even read the thing! Once I realized, three days in, that it had gone viral, and from the tone of many of the people, I realized that they were just internet trolls. But I was really shocked by what people had the nerve to say to someone, someone they didn’t have to look in the eye while saying it.
Even though I knew they weren’t my customers, those statements really got me down, because I really couldn’t believe that there were people so ignorant in this world who believed something like my obligation was to be in my store that day and not with my brother who was receiving a death sentence of a diagnosis. Really? After that, going to the store just wasn’t fun anymore. As much as I tried to recapture my love and passion for my retail store, I found that passion just no longer existed. I was tired of trying so hard to create relationships with people who, by and large, didn’t really care about me, just what they could get from me. That they didn’t have to care at all, that they were under no obligation to… well, I just started caring that they didn’t.
Q) Wow! I didn't know that's took the wind out of your sails. You were so eloquent with your response to the nasty note too. I do have one last question for you, Trudy. Since you've started hosting free seminars about doTerra Essential Oils, how did the discovery of essential oils impact you?
During that time, I was beginning my journey with essential oils and had some very amazing personal experiences with them and the vitamins and supplements that we sell. I found that it was so much more fulfilling to help people feel better and achieve wellness, than it was to run a retail store that I no longer loved going into every day, that the decision was a no brainer. My passion was so strong that in a year I had personally enrolled over 60% of my team of now 120 consumers, of which about ten who are building the business with me. I needed to close the retail portion of my business to have the time to coach, mentor and train my team of consumers and builders.
I’m so thankful for the many things my retail store has brought me, most importantly many lifelong friendships, and most especially essential oils. Had I not met my friend, Julie, at a retail conference seven years ago, I probably never would have been introduced to essential oils and its business opportunity, which enabled both of us to close our successful retail stores. I wouldn’t change a minute of any of it!
I am currently happily in pursuit of a four year retirement, building a pipeline of residual income that grows daily, and servicing the apparel decoration needs of my current customer base with a small shift in mode of delivery. My life is pretty groovy these days and I’m loving it!
Thanks, Trudy, for sharing your extraordinary story with us! Check out Trudy's website and Designs on You Facebook page:
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