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Little Cricket Gift Gallery

 by Karen Booy,  
as published in the CRAFTLINK Newsletter


Ever dreamed of having your own little gift shop? May creative souls long to create their own retail oasis, a place where they can sell their goods -- on their own terms in an atmosphere that best represents their product. So what does it take to plunge into the life of a retail gift shop owner? Join us as Ron Kalmakoff shares his thoughts on the challenges and rewards of starting a new business from scratch.

As I look to the past, I feel like I've been enrolled in a LIFE course, gradually gathering information preparing me to own my own business. Fifteen years ago I moved to Vancouver from a small town in Saskatchewan, Canora to be exact. Little did I know then the paths I would journey on, the career moves I would make and the people I would meet. so much of the past plays an important part to the success of what is now. My enjoyment today is where I can say that I am finally ready to create not only my goals, but also one of my dreams -- having my own small space. A place in the world that makes a difference for someone who walks through the doors of my little shop, or a new learning experience for me. Each day is a new adventure.

It's part of my enjoyment to make an artisans' work shine, give it a temporary home and send it on its way so others can find the same enjoyment and appreciation in what the artist has created. Most artisans and those that promote the artisans are after success. Unfortunately we've been taught to measure success with money. I've come to know that success and enjoyment go better hand in hand. It's all in the way that you handle it or view it. I've created what I feel is a successful little business and I not only enjoy it, I also have a passion for what I am doing.

Many years ago I worked as assistant manager at a little shop on one of Vancouver's main shopping streets, Robson Street. The store was involved with Canadian art and craft, both retail and wholesale. One of my strongest memories of that job is the week that I started my position. My manager asked me to create a new window display. I had never done a window display before. Little did I know that the two-hour project would turn into an eight -hour obsession! I decided I wanted to do the best window that the shop had seen. I had furniture and artist's work scattered everywhere. I wanted that window to make people stop. My efforts and creativity were rewarded --- from that point on I was in charge of window display.

What I learned through that one task is how important that window was for the business. It should be inviting. It is one of your key advertising tools especially for new customers who have never experienced your business. When I was looking for a space for Little Cricket Gift Gallery, I searched for  a building that had great windows. Look at it this way, your windows should be your magnet to draw people in.

After a couple of years on Robson I moved on to a six year banking career. I eventually started working with small and large business clients. here's some blunt advice if you want to start your own business --- if you are not good at handling money or at bookkeeping, get good at it or hire someone who is. You have to know where and how the money is being spent in order to survive.

My next career move came as a complete surprise to me but was such a major asset to starting a business of my own. For three and a half years I became a credit investigator working for a major company investigating new and established businesses and opening new accounts for the company. I studied what made some of our clients successful and what made others have to pack up their dreams.

I knew that if I were to start my own business I had to be unique and my look had to be fresh. Everything from the name of my business, the colours on my walls, the furnishings and display pieces and most of all --- the work from my artists and crafters. My communicating with my artists is so important. i share my ideas with them, give my advice on the direction of their work. It's theirs to take of leave. As a result I now have one-of-a-kind pieces being made for my gift gallery.

During the 15 years before I started Little Cricket Gift Gallery I also promoted the late fabric artist, Zim. At the same time I had my own career as an artist, a singer and songwriter. As an artist I hate promoting myself (a problem that so many of us share) but I love promoting other artists and helping them shine. Hmm, maybe that's why I always found others to promote my music. 

All of these career changes have helped me establish a path for Little Cricket Gift Gallery. I believe that we should always pull from the positives in our past to help create our future success. 

I always get asked what inspired me to create the name for the gift gallery. Maybe I should say who inspired me. I have to thank the singing crickets that I hear outside my home, who sing to me in the evening summer months. I am called a gift gallery because I don't house art that a true gallery holds. I want people to know that my price range is at a comfort level for everyone's budget. 

Little Cricket Gift Gallery was opened on November 4th, 2000. One day in August, I just decided it was time to make this big change in my life. I searched out my location and once found, gave my work notice in September. I only had six weeks to put my new business venture together. Six weeks of 6:00am to midnight, seven days a week, but a proud moment when I opened. Although it was a lot of work, I enjoyed the challenge of putting it together in such a short time.

Customers point out the quality of the work at Little Cricket Gift Gallery daily. I often get asked where I find my outstanding artists. Let's just say, I am never afraid to ask and to search out artists in any community I visit. After the galleries' great Christmas season now artists and crafters are starting to come to me. I've had to start a waiting list for months to come. Since I have a small space I can only house a selected amount of work at a time. I don't like clutter and my customers appreciate the open feeling when they walk through the doors. All of the artisans' work is seen and people take their time viewing the work. It makes me feel good because that means the customer feels comfortable in my space. 

Ron's Retail Business Tips:

First of all if you are looking at taking on a new business venture, make sure that what you want to do is unique to the area where you are opening. If it is already being done in that area, create your own style in a new area. This is advice from an ex-credit investigator. Over and over again I would see a new business opening a few blocks away from someone who has already created the same business. The theory is they're doing well at it, why not me? Consider the fact that you may split up the clientele that could hurt you both. 

Think before you invest in anything you feel you need. Save as much money as possible for purchasing product. Be prepared to start pulling favors from family and friends. Do you know anyone who can build or renovate, help you paint, set up your business, you get the idea. it will save a lot of money when starting out. This was one time when I decided not to be so independent, this is NOT the time to prove to the work that you can do it all yourself.

Remember when a customer walks through your doors, you are selling them a total package. Your presentation not only involves your decor and product, you and your staff are part of that presentation as well. Sometimes just those little things you do will keep your customer coming back. I shop where I get treated well and receive great customer service and that's where I go back again. I know that I am not alone in my feelings on this subject. The way people shop now is different than they used to. Why should customers come to you when they can shop with a click of a button or a 1-800 number from their home? You have to learn to keep your customers and keep their interest.

Here are some other simple retail tips to think about:

* Product quality and price work hand in hand
* Regarding promotion, get creative and save
* In display, move product quickly somewhere else if it is not being noticed

In closing, Craftlink asked me to describe my gift gallery. It's rustic, warm and inviting. At nighttime when you drive by, it glows from the street. It always keeps changing. I've made it feel comfortable because it is my second home. Most of all I am proud and thankful to the artists who have faith in me to find a new home for their creations.

Written by Ron Kalmakoff,
 Little Cricket Gift Gallery, #102-22347 Lougheed Highway, Maple Ridge, BC Canada

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