As You Wish Pottery Owner Lori Neff Divulges Secrets To Success in Retail

Ken:  So you actually offer classes where people can come in and learn to paint? 

Lori:  We do have classes.  What’s interesting is, I was at a store one time when a lady came to pick up one of her class pieces and she was beyond thrilled.  She said, “I didn’t think I could do it.  They talked me into taking this class and now look at my piece.” She was so excited, and it looked amazing.  That just gave her the confidence that she could do it again and again. 

Ken:  That’s great.  So you don’t really have to be super creative to paint?  You just have to know the basics and with a little bit of instruction, you can create a piece that looks really great? 

Lori:  That’s right.  We have something for everyone from two to ninety-two years old. 

Ken:  Lori, let’s talk a little bit about your business strategy and expertise.  You bought an existing business and we’ve had some tough times in the economy here, but what has the growth of your business been like over the last few years?  What are some of the obstacles maybe that you ran into and how you overcame them? 

Lori:  We feel that to have a successful business providing excellent customer service and the right location are the most important things.  In our business customers are coming in to have an experience, so our job is to make sure that we are making special memories one customer at a time.  That’s actually our vision statement.

We also need a lot of foot traffic from both adults and kids, so finding that type of location comes with a big price tag.  Most rent in these types of locations can be high, so you have to be very strategic where you’re placing your business.  We try to financially position ourselves so that if/when the right location opens, we’re able to take advantage of the opportunity to build a studio.

There have been some challenges that we faced as we’ve grown our company.  As we grew, we needed to ensure that we have a good training program in place for our staff, so that we maintained consistency among the studios.  From time to time staff members from one location will fill in at another location and the policies and procedures are the same.  They can just typically walk in and get right to work.  They don’t have to be reoriented on things.

To do this, I took it upon myself a four month long project to get our staff training online.  Some of the training is narrated and some has to be read by the staff members, there are also videos and quizzes to help ensure they fully understand.  This has actually made training the new staff members a smoother transition for our managers and we’re turning out better trained staff.  That was a big challenge that we had; consistency in our training. 

Another challenge we face when opening a new studio is that we really have to determine how close it is to the existing studios that we have.  Inevitably, when you open a studio it will pull business away from another studio, but what we have to determine is how many more customers are we able to bring in with that new location. 

A lot of research goes into opening a new studio and we have to make sure it’s the right fit for us, both from the type of the center that we will be in and the type of foot traffic the center has.  It costs a lot of money, in my opinion, to open up a studio, so we need to make sure that we’ve done our homework before we sign on the dotted line.

I’ve talked to several studio owners across the country that have one location, and I have to say that the challenge of growing is to ensure that their business has set policies and procedures and a good training program in place.  You also have to be aware of the support staff that it takes to go from one studio to two studios to four studios etc.  When we went from our fifth studio to our sixth studio, we saw a big difference in everyone’s workload and ended up needing to add another district manager and reorganize a few things.  Staffing is something that you have to really take it into consideration when you’re trying to grow. 

Ken:  What it sounds like is you need a team of really good people working around you who understand the concept of what you’re trying to do so everyone is working toward the same goal.
Growing from five to six and six to seven studios, does it get easier each time or do you think it’s the same sort of uncertainty and roadblocks each time you open a new studio? 

Lori:  You’ve probably heard the analogy people say that when I went from my second kid to my third kid… wow, did that just throw me over the edge.  When we went from our fifth studio to our sixth studio, that is when we had to regroup and we had to get better quality training in place. 

We just had to kind of regroup and shuffle some things around.  Then when we opened the seventh studio, we were ready and it did not add an extra burden to anyone.  We were prepared for that next step.  I feel that when we open our eighth studio, it’ll be seamless as well. 

Ken:  That’s great.  How many studios do you plan on opening, just out of curiosity? 

Lori:  That’s so funny.  I don’t even know, because it has to be the right place, the right time.  We’re just always kind of looking. 

Ken:  Are you looking to grow outside of the Arizona market?  I know all of your locations right now are sort of in the Phoenix metro. 

Lori:  They are.  People have asked and right now I think we’re just going to concentrate in Arizona, but we’re always open to the opportunity to maybe move out of state. 

Ken Sherman

Ken Sherman is a multi Best Selling Author, host of the Business Innovators Radio show and contributing writer for various media sites covering business innovators and successful entrepreneurs in Business, Health, Finance, Legal, and Personal Development.