We are lucky enough to support an amazing and diverse community of merchants here at ShopKeep POS, from butchers and bakers to candlestick makers (well maybe not the last one).

Every month we ask one of these merchants to tell us their story and share some hints and tips about how to get ahead in retail.

This month we are pleased to welcome Karen Sanderson of Brix Bottleshop in Kalispell, Montana.

1. How did you get started in retail?

Opening a business has always been a dream of mine, but I was never sure exactly what.  I absorbed some incredible ideas while traveling as a winery sales manager.  When we moved to Montana from Portland, Oregon, I really missed the industry.  Coincidentally, a wine shop had just closed, so I took the opportunity to open a specialty beer, wine, and foods store after only having lived here a year.

2. What was the best/hardest part about starting up?

Even though I spent 8 years selling wine to restaurants/retailers all over the country, I didn’t have much practical retail experience myself, so the set up (right before Christmas) was much more intense than I had expected.  I also did everything completely on my own with no mentor or business partner, which is sometimes awkward in a male dominated industry.  The best part was actually doing it, and seeing my dream come to fruition.  It has evolved immensely since then, so now the best part is watching it grow and getting to know our customers.

3. If you could share one bit of wisdom with a new retailer just starting out, what would it be?

Put as much money as possible into inventory.  If you are on a budget, then make sure you have backup funds.  I’m pretty sure that’s the only way I survived the slow winter.  Also, get to know your customers as well as you can.  Nothing makes me happier than having a regular say, “you really nailed it on that red blend, I loved it!

4. What’s your favorite piece of technology (other than ShopKeep POS!)?

My other iPads, iMac and iPhone rule my world, and save the day when I have to bring my 5yr old into the shop while I work.  And the coffee maker, if that counts.

5. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in business and what did you learn from it?

My time is so limited now that I have let important things fall through the cracks.  I often question my decision to have started a business during a weak economy, in a town where I didn’t know many people, all while having a 4yr old and traveling husband.  Some days I have to just stop mindlessly rearranging a display, tell myself to refocus, and get back to my notes of daily priorities.  (and then a delivery shows up, then customer walks in, then a wine rep shows up with a bag, and then I’m out the door to Kindergarten, and my list gets put off another day…)

GoDaddy.com for my web hosting/email blasts.  It has been a time sucking, bad experience from the beginning, and now I don’t have the resources to take on something better.  It is nearly impossible to get my logo on the website, and the emails always send in different formats than what I created.  It makes my business look sloppy, which is the antithesis of my overall marketing goal.

Bonus: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the ShopKeep POS Merchant Community?

Starting and running a store can be very stressful and lonely at times.  The only people who understand retail is other retailers, and they are also too busy to get together.  In a small town like mine, I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about my ups and downs anyway.  Most people don’t understand margins, they just want the best deal.  I swear that some customers think that the product just magically appears on the shelves and that owners are rich from all the sales.  I wish!  My daily joy comes from our regular customers and all the praise from the new ones.

p.s. Now that I’m approaching my 1 year anniversary, it’s nice to recap and remember why I did all this in the first place.  Shopkeep took me a while to set up in the beginning, but now that our inventory, UPC’s and pricing is all entered, I would absolutely fail without it.  I am so glad I discovered ShopKeep, thank you!

— A huge thank you to Karen for taking the time to share her story with the ShopKeep Community. If you’d like to find out more about her business, check her out her store on Facebook and show your support.

About the Author

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate, and Head of Marketing at ShopKeep point of sale’s UK headquarters. Paul uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.