RetailSpeaks Brings Private Networking to Gift and Stationery Retailers

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With its official launch during the New York International Gift Fair, RetailSpeaks forges new ground with a private, territory-protected network specifically created for the gift and stationery industry.

In a world filled with multi-outlet and online stores, independent retailers have been more focused on surviving than thriving the past few years. Unlike their behemoth counterparts, businesses under individual ownership lack networking capabilities that offer support, sources, and solutions for day to day operations.

In response to that shortage of information, RetailSpeaks was established, set to officially launch the same weekend as the New York International Gift Fair--one of the largest congregations of retailers nationwide.

"RetailSpeaks provides independent retailers access to their peers and information," explains founder Cinda Baxter. "During the major shows--the Stationery Show, the Atlanta show, the New York show--buyers are gathered in one place, able to compare notes, and to learn from one another. But then they go home and find themselves battling the retail wars alone."

Independent retailers--typically owners of 1-3 stores, with fewer than ten employees--have had an uphill battle fighting multiple outlet chains and online competitors. With no corporate support, backing, or visibility, the old fashioned "mom and pop store" has had to become very business savvy very quickly. Charm and neighborhood familiarity are rarely enough to compete in today's marketplace.

As an independent retailer herself the past thirteen years, Baxter knows of what she speaks. While participating in a select group of stationery store owners that met annually in New York, she learned early on how important it was to have a network of peers. A few years later, she founded Brilliant Ink, a collection of design-driven stationers and manufacturers from across the country. "It's amazing how much valuable information we've shared with each other," she adds. "Many of my business decisions and buying moves have sprung from our group conversations."

What sets RetailSpeaks apart from other online forums is the commitment to privacy...and exclusivity. New members are not allowed into the password protected forum area until it's been verified they are, in fact, brick and mortar, independent storefront operators. Additionally, a protective 'bubble' is established around each participating store to assure no nearby competitors are able to join--and listen in--as they discuss their best practices and sources. Essentially, they're members of an exclusive club with the singular goal of independent success.

Forum subject matter covers the full gamut of business-critical topics--finding new lines, dealing with employees, creative marketing ideas, customer concerns, and vendor issues. Arguably, the most valuable of the list may be in the vendor area, as stores contend with the trials and tribulations of getting their fourth quarter holiday shipments as expected.

"Imagine learning that Company A was shipping on time and complete, while Company B was shipping late or already out of stock on popular items. Having that kind of information before the boxes arrive gives you the freedom to adjust as necessary, reducing financial loss from mis-ships and shortages." Baxter continues, "That alone can save independents anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars annually."

Recognizing the value of accurate feedback for vendors, RetailSpeaks will debut two new services later this year--"The One Minute Survey" and "Ask the Expert"--designed to glean grass roots information that will help manufacturers better understand how their products and processes translate in the real world. "The price tag will be extremely affordable," according to Baxter, "far less than what it costs to design and launch their own research campaigns."

Membership in RetailSpeaks is $40.00 for the first year, including verification that the applicant is an independent store front retailer. After that, annual dues drop to $36.00 per year. Once a geographic area is absorbed by members doing business there, the area is closed to new applicants.

Cost of the two vendor programs will be announced later this year.

Baxter's goal is to build on the good work inspired by the Gift and Home Trade Association (GHTA) and various Buy Local campaigns springing up nationwide. "Many of us recognize the importance independent retail holds in our marketplace. Giving store owners a safe haven in which to learn will always translate into stronger businesses, more revenue, and additional stability in our local economies. It's a win win, all the way around."

About Cinda Baxter:
Cinda Baxter's resume also includes three years as an Advisory Board member for the National Stationery Show, two years as an Advisory Board member for the Gift and Home Trade Association, two years as a Blue Ribbon Panel Judge for the Louie Awards, two time winner of the national Retail Excellence Award, Charter Member of the National Stationery Show Delegates Program, and speaker at the New York International Gift Show, the Los Angeles Gift Show, and the National Stationery Show, among others. She and her designs have been featured in a number of national and regional magazines, including "Modern Bride," "Greetings, Etc.," "Gift Beat," "Minnesota Monthly," and "Gifts and Decorative Accessories," the latter of which also carries her byline on occasion. This fall, she will debut online as a video host/trainer on the Gift and Home Channel (giftandhomechannel.com). In addition to Brilliant Ink, she also founded The Print Lab--a collaborative partnership between professional stationers and Epson America.

About the Gift and Home Trade Association:
GHTA is a nonprofit professional trade association whose goal is to make the business of gift industry professionals better and to improve the relationships between suppliers, retailers, and representatives in the gift and decorative accessories industry. The goals of GHTA are to create a visible, powerful voice for all participants and to provide educational and networking opportunities. Their mission is to lead and transform the gift and home industry to ensure its long term health and viability. For additional information, visit giftandhome.org.

Contact:
Cinda Baxter, Founder
RetailSpeaks.com
4241 Legend Lane
Golden Valley, MN 55422
http://www.retailspeaks.com

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