Customer experience. It’s become something of a buzzword in retail these days. But for Danielle Schindler, co-owner of Scandia Home in Birmingham, Michigan, customer experience is about more than just closing the sale or competing with big box shops. It’s what her business is made of. The small, local boutique specializes in selling fine linens, down comforters, and unique gifts. When a customer walks into her shop, Danielle wants to know their name, who they’re shopping for, and how she can personalize their shopping experience. Retail is about connecting with people emotionally, says Danielle, who sets a high standard of focusing on the customer and his or her experience in the store. You can’t accomplish this without getting to know your customers, making a connection, and continuing relationships. “We don’t rush through a sale. Our goal is cultivating long-term relationships, not just making a quick sale,” says Danielle. While Danielle worked in a business management role for several years at Scandia Home Birmingham before becoming part-owner, she fell in love with both the industry and the business. This made the transition very easy when she and her business partner, who had the capital to buy the business, decided to become joint owners and take over the day-to-day operations. Set Yourself Apart from the Big Box Stores When it comes to standing out, Scandia Home Birmingham prides itself on searching the marketplace to offer the best quality products as well as customized offerings not found off the rack at large retailers. Even if your business can’t offer the same low prices as your larger competitors, you can still compete in other ways, says Danielle. “I think more and more customers what to shop smaller and local. You may get a better deal at a big box retailer, but the quality and customer service may not compare,” she says. “I am most confident that we can provide a premium shopping experience that is enjoyable for our customers, as well as help choose unique and thoughtful gifts.” Manage the Holiday Rush While the holiday season is generally a hectic and demanding time for Scandia Home Birmingham, Danielle says having a staff she can trust is paramount to the store’s successful holiday seasons. She works hard to empower her staff to be successful any time of year; when the staff gets particularly busy during the holiday rush, they turn the shop into a living room of sorts where customers interact with one another, often sharing opinions and affirmation when choosing items. When it comes to keeping up with the holiday hustle and bustle, creativity and flexibility are your greatest assets, according to Danielle. She isn’t afraid to call customers, ask her employees, and think outside the box when offering holiday sales and incentives. Her advice to other small retailers during the holidays: success comes through preparation. Be willing to move fast to adapt to changing markets, but be sure to remain organized and focused on your bottom line. Speed and agility work in your favor when you have your finances and inventory in order. Extend the Holiday Sales Momentum “For me, the financial challenges happen after the holiday season,” says Danielle, who creates a robust financial plan at the beginning of each year, including earmarking funds to help with first quarter bills. This way when sizeable bills from holiday sales preparations show up in January, she isn’t scrambling. She recommends holding an annual January sale to clear inventory that may be excessive for that time of year. Danielle’s best advice for fellow small retailers? If you truly know your niche and your market, pay attention to trends, shape your business around the needs you have identified, keep your inventory conservative, and then go for it, year-over-year you’ll get better at what you do and in turn, positively impact your sales.