Spot On

The Paint Spot art materials store in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. For more than two-thirds of that time, Kim Fjordbotten has been in charge. A consummate artist and creative retailer, Kim talked to us recently about her store, art trends, social media, and the future.

You became owner of The Paint Spot 11 years ago, after managing it for 10. Is it everything you always thought it would be?

Yes – I like the independence. I’m free to choose which 60 to 80 hours each week I work.

But you have lots of help.

There are 10 employees both full and part-time. Our offices/desks are on the sales floor so that we’re always accessible to our customers.

Are any of your employees Millennials?

Yes, quite a few. They may work full-time this week and part-time next week, and then take a month off and then come back. Quality of life seems more important to Millennials than career advancement. They want to create their own adventures.

I’m not saying they don’t work hard, or they don’t want to succeed. They do. They’re really sophisticated. I think we, as mentors, have to offer them more opportunity, like encouraging them to grow as teachers, or as artists or administrators. We need to make them see themselves as more than just retail sales clerks.

While we’re disappointed when employees reach a certain level and move on, we have a talent pool of Paint Spot alumni that always comes back to shop. They also have the power to influence others, so it’s long-term payback.

How has your business changed over the years?

When I started my career, the fax machine had just been invented. We didn’t have a computer at work for a long time, and I remember the huge debate over whether to accept payments by credit/debit cards. There’s been a lot of talk recently about POS systems and websites, and that’s so old a conversation. Technology is getting easier, more streamlined. Today, anyone can open a store with an iPad for a till.

What kinds of changes do you see going forward – any concerns?

I worry that the small/midsize retailer will be gone. There’s a certain amount of self-sacrifice in owning a store. There’s also more risk. I don’t think the next generation is willing to take that on. I see them working for the big guys, or being a small, boutique online business.

Do you take advantage of social media?

We do everything from newspaper ads to TV appearances to Twitter. There are three people on staff who can post as The Paint Spot. We don’t post religiously – there is no schedule. Some days we simply have lots more to talk about than others.

The “put your cell phone away at work” rule is gone. If the store is doing something that the employees like, we encourage everyone on staff to post about it to their own networks. Also, customers message us orders, or message us questions on Facebook. We get referrals from Twitter.

I’ve found that social media pays. It’s fun to help a person who comes in to buy a product just 20 minutes after we’ve talked about it in a post. I don’t know how many phone calls I would have had to make to get that one person to come in. Customers who research online before they come in mirror my marketing message – “I saw your video where you did this,” or “I read your newsletter where you did that.”

We’ve been on YouTube for a month now, and we’re trying to build a channel there. It’s a lot of work to make a video, but I’m hoping more work now means less work later.

None of us should underestimate the educational opportunity of social media. I wish manufacturers used it more. They should concentrate on getting key retailers and bloggers to look at their content.

What sort of art trends are you seeing?

There’s the “Art as Stress Relief” trend – you know: coloring books, paint nights, Zentangle. There’s also the whole “Accidental Painting” trend; the idea that anyone can be successful in art with the alcohol inks and the pouring mediums. It’s throwing paint on a surface and watching it do stuff. Very entry-level. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

by Tina Manzer

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