Kirkland shops: In it for the biz, or just for fun?

The second Thursday evening of every month in Kirkland is best known for the Kirkland Art Walk. Recently, the downtown galleries, restaurants and local coffee shops have added jazz to this monthly scene. Last month, I decided to roam downtown to see for myself all the evening now has to offer.

The second Thursday evening of every month in Kirkland is best known for the Kirkland Art Walk. Recently, the downtown galleries, restaurants and local coffee shops have added jazz to this monthly scene. Last month, I decided to roam downtown to see for myself all the evening now has to offer.

After visiting the galleries featuring new collections and listening to some of that live jazz, I decided to do a little shopping, as I never seem to make it downtown when stores are open (and it was advertised shops would be open late during the Art Walk). As it was only a little after 6 p.m., I was surprised to see many were already closed. Disappointed, I found myself asking, “Are these businesses really here to make a living or are they just a hobby or passing fling?”

Now I’m sure I will upset some downtown retailers (and I do apologize in advance), but this is an important question that all business owners, retail or not, should ask themselves. I believe the best way to determine that answer is to ponder the following questions:

Are you available to your client base when they need your products or services most? If your retail store keeps the same hours as corporate businesses (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), most of your customers are at work when you’re open. If you want to increase sales, be open when people have time to shop, which could mean evenings and weekends.

The night of the Art Walk, one of the few stores actually open was ROMY’s on Lake Street. Now, ROMY’s isn’t the first place I’d normally look for a dress for myself and a birthday gift for my daughter, but, because they were open late, I ended up purchasing both at the shop. And I’ve gone back several times since. Why? They were open when I needed them to be — during my off hours.

Do you know firsthand what your customers want and need by putting yourself out on the front line? The only way to keep a pulse on your business is to be in the middle of it. If you don’t know your customers, or what they want, you are operating in a customer service vacuum.

A recent visit to Lotus Spa on Central Way is the perfect illustration: I had gone to Lotus with a group of women to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Opting for a little personal pampering with a glass of champagne and hors d’oeuvres, we were assisted by a lovely lady who made our experience memorable. Later, when one of the group returned for another visit, I was surprised to learn the outstanding customer service was actually performed by the spa’s owner, Donna Phung. Needless to say, I was impressed. Donna knows her success is based on her customer’s experience, and the only way to monitor it is by keeping her own finger on the pulse.

Are your employees trained well enough to represent you properly when you aren’t around?

Most small business owners can’t work 24/7. But employing poorly trained individuals can lead to your demise.

Take for example this experience I had while visiting another local business a while back: Again, I was looking for something specific and had money to spend. The business had a great selection of merchandise but, after 20 minutes of looking, the clerk — who was more focused on stocking inventory than helping me — still hadn’t said so much as a “hello.” I left without spending a dime. Why? Because her actions, or inactions, left me feeling invisible — and that’s the last thing you want a customer to feel when they walk out your door.

So, are you in business to truly make a living, or is this just a hobby or passing fling? If you answered “no” to any of the questions above, I suggest it’s time to rethink your business model. Or maybe, it’s just time to close up shop.

Susan Burnash owns Purple Duck Marketing in Kirkland. Her company focuses on marketing, public relations and video production for businesses and nonprofits. Contact her at (425) 896-8959 or

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