By Catherine LeBlanc, 4/11/2011
“Life is too short, so do something that makes you happy.” Those words were the launching point for Mary Batson, owner of Out of the Box, who opened her own gift shop over 2 years ago. The thought of owning her own store seemed like a distant memory. Marriage, children, and life were the priority. She just never took those steps, until a very close friend died of Breast Cancer and at that moment in her life, Mary realized that now was the right time to pursue her dream. While scoping out the ideal location in the downtown district of Crystal Lake, IL she found her store front and opened Out of the Box on October 2008. Mary has never looked back.
With an exceptional mix of fun, one-of-a-kind gifts, Out of the Box prides itself on offering a great selection of jewelry, scarves, accessories, home decor, and stationary. Mary knows what women want and her vast array of products offers something for every age. Mary says that customers enjoy coming to Out of the Box because “they feel like they can come in to pick up a gift while still being able to purchase something for themselves.”
Mary is very optimistic about this year. Although the start of the New Year was a little slow due to some bad weather, March and April are proving to be strong months. Spring is here and Out of the Box is now seeing an increase in sales and traffic as a result of the new season.
When Mary started her business, she always felt that Mother’s Day is a very important holiday to focus on as a gift store. Mary says “Everyone needs a gift for Mother’s Day. With my business centered on women, they are shopping for their moms, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters. Then those same women shoppers will send their male counterparts back to our store because they saw something THEY love for themselves for Mother’s Day”.
Planning is critical in capturing Mother’s Day business. Mary begins thinking about Mother’s Day around the fall time. She states “I mainly finalize my buy during the January shows. I may add a few things here and there just before Mother’s Day, but a majority of my plans are locked down after the first of the year.” Having an attractive mix of new products along with strong staple items are very important in highlighting this holiday. This past January, Mary picked up a new OneCoast line for her store. The new line is doing well for us and we are putting a blurb about this line in our local magazine as a great Mother’s Day gift idea.”
At Out of the Box, Mary loves to set up her seasonal displays and her talent is evident throughout her store. “We plan our merchandising displays around the end of April. Most of our Mother’s Day items are merchandised towards the front of the store.” She sets up her large front table with great gift ideas for Moms right in front with some Graduation ideas towards the back of the table. “As important as Mother’s Day is” Mary notes “we set up our displays in a way where we are continually reminding our customers of the next upcoming holiday like Graduation. “ Frequently updating and changing displays from time to time keeps things fresh looking and new.
Spring also marks a big focus in advertising for Out of the Box. At this time of year, Mary spends a good amount of her advertising dollars on building her spring business with an emphasis on Mother’s Day. “In addition to advertising in our local newspapers, being connected with our downtown association is critical. In the past, our downtown association has worked events around Mother’s Day. That theme was “A Garden Party” that included a weekend long event that centered around giveaways, music, contests, and an art fair within the downtown district. This has proved to be very successful in driving my Mother’s Day business by bringing people to our downtown shopping district.” Additionally, Mary does try one or two new advertising opportunities. “It is very important to try something new in advertising, but you must stay on top of the results and really monitor what works and what doesn’t work.” In addition, Mary has recently improved her website and continues to maintain her Facebook page, both proving to be important assets to her business message.
To round out her advertising efforts, Mary sends email marketing blasts to her customers around the first of May that includes a twenty percent off coupon that is good for the entire month of May AND can be printed off multiple times. “This is the only time of year that we do a coupon like this. And what we see is a surge of gift-buying business around Mother’s Day and then picks up again at the end of the month. Customers then realize that the coupon is expiring soon so they hurry back to buy something for themselves.” All in all, this coupon has proved to be a great selling tool in bringing in repeat business for the entire month of May.
One important aspect of Out of the Box that Mary’s customers have come to love is gift wrapping. Mary loves being able to offer gift wrapping to her customers. “It’s like giving them something extra and shows them how much you appreciate their business.” For Mary, gift wrapping has set herself apart from her competition. Her customers know that they can come in at the last-minute, be able to purchase their gift items and have it beautifully wrapped – all in one trip!
Mary is passionate about her business and truly takes pride in every detail of her store. Being able to offer unique gift items at affordable prices are the foundations to her business. Her belief in excellent customer service is the glue that holds her foundation. “I believe the reason our customers come back to us time and time again is because of our customer service. We assist them from the moment they walk in with a smile and “Hi”. We are never pushy, but courteous and helpful every step of the way.” With a consistency in her customer service efforts, her customer base has grown year after year.
A resurgence of customers shopping local and coming back to downtown boutiques and stores are very reassuring. By focusing on excellent customer service, offering gift wrapping, and hosting events are all key factors in growing your Mother’s Day business.