Winter 2008
In-Couraged to Change By Poornima Apte

Article Resources

In-Courage
210.479.2211
In-Courage.net

The Habitat Showroom
214.742.2255
DallasMarketCenter.com

Patti Harbin will tell you success in gift retail is all about access. The owner of In-Courage gift store, in San Antonio, knows her customers need access—to superior customer service, the best prices and the right products.

But until recently, until she completed the expansion and renovation of her store, Harbin worried her displays were getting crowded and that her customers were quite literally not getting access to her products. Even though the store was successful and doing very well, something kept nagging at Harbin. “I just felt something was wrong and decided to change it,” Harbin says of her store which sells a wide variety of gift merchandise with a special emphasis on inspirational products.

The people person that she is, Harbin talked about her concerns and potential solutions with everyone she met—including Tricia Manfolk, the owner of The Habitat Showroom in the Dallas Market Center. Manfolk, whom Harbin sees quite regularly, suggested that one of Habitat’s staff members take a look at the store. Some of Habitat’s advice—to free up the store floor through efficient use of fixtures—became part of In-Courage’s makeover. Now, the store that started just four years ago as a home-based business has expanded into 3,600 square feet of floor space, and things are looking even better for Harbin.

A spark of encouragement

Harbin has always been active in her community. More than four years ago, she didn’t realize that she would end up owning a retail store; she was a busy mother of three girls, volunteering in her daughters’ schools and chairing fundraisers to help recognize teachers. It was on a vacation to the Grenadine Islands that her husband, Lee Harbin, suggested she channel her energies into a business of her own. Her daughters were getting older and Harbin was already seeing that she would grow less involved in the schools. Her friends constantly encouraged her. So Harbin decided to make the leap into gift retail.

At first, Harbin did not even have a storefront. Instead, for almost a year she sold goods at parties hosted by friends. It was a big celebration, Harbin says, when she moved into a 350-square-foot brick-and-mortar store. Since that opening in 2003, the store has moved and expanded quite a few times. Most recently In-Courage expanded into 3,600 sq.ft. of space and Harbin held a grand opening last November. GIFT SHOP caught up with Harbin just before and after this latest expansion.

Corporate accounts

All along, Harbin’s commitment to customer service and going the extra mile did not go unnoticed. Through word of mouth, she started getting many corporate clients who wanted In-Courage to create something special for their employee-recognition packages. Harbin says these clients would give her a budget to work with and Harbin would come up with ideas for gifts. Once clients gave their approval, the gifts would be beautifully wrapped and made ready for giving. Soon the corporate demand started getting so heavy that Harbin found that aspect of her business started encroaching onto the retail floor. There was never enough room to do everything.

So when the opportunity to expand into more space came up in October, Harbin jumped at it. The store now has enough room for all aspects of the retail business.

The additional space gave Harbin a chance for a complete renovation. Since she wasn’t happy with the layout of the store, she decided to change it. Now, there is significantly less crowding, especially after more attention was paid to what Manfolk jokingly refers to as the “butt factor.”

“If store aisles are cluttered enough to have shoppers hemmed in too closely, then sales are lost,” Manfolk points out. So Harbin spaced her fixtures to allow easier foot traffic in the store.

Fixing the fixtures

One of the main areas of focus for Harbin was getting and working with fixtures. She is a firm believer in not spending too much money on new fixtures, but instead bringing old ones to life in creative ways. “The way I look at it, you don’t need to spend all your money on fixtures, but spend it on your products instead,” says Harbin, who says she has seen fellow retailers spend borrowed money on expensive fixtures only to go out of business within a year.

Harbin does believe though that fixtures need to be sharp and properly maintained so that they showcase the products effectively. When she was ready to shop for new fixtures, Harbin approached a furniture showroom in Dallas and negotiated a good price. “Look for store closings too—they want to get rid of their fixtures,” Harbin advises fellow retailers. It helps that she has an eye to find treasures among what others would consider junk. She once found door frames lying around, she says, and brought them in for use as props. “There’s nothing a good paint and some fabric can’t fix,” Harbin says with a laugh.

The new fixtures at In-Courage use glass and lighting to highlight her products effectively, Harbin says. “It truly should be about presentation and access,” she says, describing the role fixtures play in selling products.

More changes

It’s not just the fixtures that Harbin worked on during the change. She says the store also implemented new product groupings—working to showcase large volumes of one product together, rather than having a mishmash of everything. “We also brought in more lighting and glass shelving,” Harbin says.

She thanks the Habitat showroom for its guidance on floor movement. For her part, Manfolk is delighted with Harbin’s success. “Part of being a good showroom is about being able to go beyond just taking an order. These relationships matter,” Manfolk says.

While there have been many changes at In-Courage, Harbin says the most special change was the one implemented to the cash wrap. While it once was just a plain old island (which Harbin hated), the area has now been outfitted with colorful fabric and trim. It is as vibrant in color as the rest of the store. “It’s about more than just using your dollars. That would be the easiest option. Instead we went with something less expensive, but more fun and creative,” Harbin says.

Emphasizing identity

Harbin is happy with the way the new store establishes In-Courage’s brand identity. “We are a store that is all about gifts that motivate, celebrate and encourage. We not only want our customers to find the perfect gift, but we want them to feel good here,” Harbin says. The bright, cheery walls (Harbin loves to use color) and the wide variety of inspirational products help.

Harbin is also grateful for the support of the larger community, the store’s staff of six and her family—her husband and teenage daughters, who regularly help out with the business. “I feel like God has given me the courage and the strength and the energy to do this,” Harbin says. “Everything you do is in the Lord’s courage.”

As advice to her fellow retailers, Harbin has this to say: “Look at what you have and notice what doesn’t work—get rid of it. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have your store look fabulous. Just be open to the nontraditional way of looking at things.”

“You have to step out of your own comfort zone,” Harbin adds, “and not be afraid to ask for advice.” By all indications, Patti Harbin has followed her own advice well. The new version of her store has already led to “skyrocketing sales.”

“It just has that ‘wow’ effect now,” Harbin says.

Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is an award-winning experienced freelance writer and editor. Learn more at wordcumulus.com.




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