How To Start and Operate Your Own

By Dusty and Bonnie Henson, Owners "World Famous" El Paso Saddleblanket Co., El Paso, TX

Free Catalog
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Chapter VIII


The atmosphere you create in your place of business is crucial to your sales. Customers who feel comfortable and enjoy a pleasant experience in your store are likely to come back time and time again bringing their friends and family.

How do you invent the right personality for your store?

Don't feel bad if your head doesn't immediately fill with ideas. Let's go back to the "follow the leader" principle.

Think back several years, maybe your whole life, and remember stores you have really enjoyed. Make a list here by name, or type of store it was, and why you remember it as a special shopping experience. These do not have to be related to Southwest in any way. Your list might include very unrelated businesses such as a feed and seed store or a bakery.

Name or Type of business and Why I liked going there


Chances are for some of your listings, you even remember the name of the store owner or your favorite salesperson. Were they friendly, helpful and smiling? Did they make you feel important when you bought something and thank you for your business? Can you see yourself imitating the people you admired in these stores?

It is very important that you and your salespeople make customers feel welcome and valued. The customer is king and needs to be treated with courtesy and respect. No matter how big your own ego might be, you must play down your role to be a true professional at sales.

There might be a temptation for owners of a Southwest Store (especially women) to deck themselves out like "Flower of the West." You've all seen an example of this somewhere—long prairie skirt, ruffled blouse emphasizing the bust, gaudy turquoise necklace, big dangle earrings and too much makeup. Men can also get too carried away such as trying to look like an Old West gun slinger. These kinds of get ups are only appropriate for your town's frontier days or sidewalk sales. A shopkeeper's attire can be of Southwestern style but always conservative, clean, neat, and tasteful. Don't do anything that distracts from your merchandise or overpowers your customers sense of worth.

What else do you remember about your favorite stores? Were you always drawn to the merchandise in the window or want the outfit that was on the mannequin? Let's consider how the store created an atmosphere that made you want those items. Some of you may immediately think of big red SALE  signs. But sales and discounts are not necessary in every situation.

Have you ever paid full retail for a product and remain delighted that you made the purchase? Of course--we all have. Why? Because it was something we felt we needed or just really wanted. People have many needs that go beyond food clothing, and shelter There is almost a universal need for "adornment", both personal and for our habitation. Merchandise in a Southwest shop can satisfy people's needs to feel attractive and to feel important by their selection of household decorations. Americans are the most materialistic people on earth and tend to purchase ornamental objects even when no apparent necessity is involved. Marketing is all about making consumers want something they didn't know they needed. Is this dishonest? Of course not. If you don't get their money, the next merchant will.

Enhancing your display with lighting

So, without lots of "SALE" signs, how do stores lure consumers to buy? Try this simple experiment. Take five pieces jewelry and lay them on a table or countertop. Dim your overhead lights in the room. Now take a spotlight or bright flashlight and shine on one item. Does it suddenly outshine the surrounding pieces? Shine the light on a different item. Which is more appealing now?

Yes, lighting play a big role in merchandising. But don't stop there. Take the same five pieces of jewelry. This time set each one on a different colored background. You can use towels, clothing, leather, anything handy. Again shine the light over each piece. Do some colors enhance the merchandise or detract from its beauty? The right color combinations and the right lighting can do wonders. If you will be putting some merchandise in glass showcases make sure they are lighted and always use background fabric that enhances the merchandise.

Another type of lighting that can jau up your store is the use of colored neon lighting. this will be particularly effective if your customer base leans more to the trendy, upscale market.

Enhancing your display with sound

A customer's senses can be stimulated by more than brightly lit displays.

Sound can play a major part in creating an appropriate atmosphere in you shop. Mood setting for a Southwest store can be achieved with classical guitar, Indian flute, or lively Gypsy King tapes. Avoid extremes such as gangster rap or sleepy elevator music. The overall tone should be upbeat and pleasing to the ear. Mexican Mariachi and country western music is also very appealing to compliment the day's repertoire

When you establish which music seems to stimulate the most sales, play those tapes every single day. You will probably end up with less than half a dozen that are real winners. Don't worry that you will get tired of the same old songs. Pretty soon you won't even hear the music. You will be too busy capitalizing on the customers' responses.

Another compelling reason to play music in your store is that it does away with a store's "empty" feeling when there are only a few shoppers. The music has already welcomed the customer, so the sound of your voice greeting won't echo off the walls. Avoid at all costs a cold, empty, lonely atmosphere. Shoppers who have already had a really bad day can be revived with proper stimulation.

Enhancing your display with smell

Ever notice what neat tricks grocery stores use to get shoppers to fill those carts? How bout the smell of freshly baked bread and pastries? Umm, doesn't that make you hungry?

Food smells would not be appropriate for a Southwest store, but there are scents that can be used effectively. Some of the most appealing scents come directly from the merchandise. Leather products particularly have distinct olfactory effect. Keeping all your leather items in one department will concentrate and heighten the effect.

Textile products also emit their own pleasant fragrance. This primarily comes from the natural lanolin in sheep's wool. Since this is a more subtle scent, textiles should not be placed near items of dominant odors.

If you feel a need for a little something extra in the air, try cedar shavings or burn a little pinon incense in a clay incense oven This is also a product for you to sell. If the customer likes the pinon you can sell him the pinon incense and a attractive Southwest incense burner.

Enhancing your display with touch

Touch is another important sense that is involved in selling Southwest merchandise.

     The richness and depth of wool fiber

     The smoothness of tanned leather

     The coolness of clay pottery

     The coarseness of a horsehair rope

     The gentleness of a feather

     The sleekness of a cowhide rug.

     Tightness of woven threads in a tapestry

Don't worry about your goods getting shop worn from all this touching. With the right merchandise at the right price presented in an attractive setting, the goods will be at the cash register before you know it.

Enhancing your display with taste

The last sense, taste, can also have a role in Southwest sales. Cactus candy, prickly pear jams, and all sorts of chili salsa products sell very well in a trading post setting. On Saturdays or any time you have a steady stream of customers, it might be worthwhile to setup a tasting table for various salsas and chips. This creates an open house atmosphere and increases sales on food items.

Now have you done positively everything you

can to make the customer fee like buying?

Make sure your negatives don't outweigh all the positive effort you already expended. Too many store owners offend their clientele starting right at the front door.

     No smoking

     No food

     No beverage

     No gum

     NO toothpicks

     No strollers

     No shirt, no shoes, no service

     No unattended children

     No pets

     No shopping bags

     No backpacks

     No cameras

     ETC ...

The majority of your customers will not enter with any of the above, so why meet them at the door like a wicked witch? Even those who do enter with something questionable can be dealt with promptly and courteously. Having a trash receptacle in plain sight near the door will remind folks to dispose of cigarettes, candy, wrappers, or any fool or beverage before entering. If someone appears careless with a beverage, you can offer to set it on the counter for them while they shop.

Backpacks, large shopping bags, and strollers can be secured near the cash register for the customers convenience. Well mannered pets on a leash or in the owners arms will rarely be a problem. In fact, you'd be wise to oooh and aaah over it just as you would someone's baby. Little courtesies like this keep the cash register jingling.

Probably the hardest situation to deal with is an unattended child getting into everything. To prevent accidents, it is best to lay out your store with this in mind. The most fragile, delicate, breakable, and expensive merchandise should be above the reach of small hands.

If a child does grab at something you can reach for it yourself and begin a conversation. "Isn't this pretty?" "Did you want to show this to your mother?" Then walk over to the mother and let her know the child was interested in the item. Without offending her, you have brought her attention to the child's whereabouts. Generally, this will bring the situation under control.

The more space and freedom and respect you show a customer, the closer they will bond with you. You and your shop will be a special memory for them and they will return again and again.


In all your attempts to make your shop customer friendly, be sure you're not "giving the store away. Unfortunately, a small percentage of these clients you have been so nice to are shoppers. Not only have they soaked up your hospitality, they've made off with valuable merchandise. Carefully study and implement these techniques to deter shoplifting.

  1. Greet all customers soon after they enter. Even if you're assisting someone, look up, smile and verbally acknowledge the presence of each new person. Shoplifters don't want assistance and don't like attention. If they know you're watching, then hopefully they'll move on to another store.

  2. While customers are in your store do not turn your back on them or go to the stock room. Maintain a vigilant presence at all times while you assist each shopper.

3. Keep expensive merchandise, especially small items, in locked showcases. Keep the keys on you so that you can access the item if you have a truly interested customer. Replace all merchandise promptly if the sale is not made.

4. Keep the layout of your store fixtures in a pattern such that you can see down most aisles from your vantage point at the cash register.

5. Place convex mirrors in high comer positions to reveal areas that otherwise might be blocked from your vision.

6. Be suspicious of someone who enters frequently but never purchases. Put more pressure on this type of shopper. "Can help you find something in particular? What style are you looking for? Is there a certain price range you'd like to stay within?" If it is a shoplifter, they'll be nervous about the questioning and you will have politely made your point.

7. Tell fellow merchants about suspected shoplifters. They will in turn alert you to people they have suspicions about.

8. A system of alertness between you and your assistants can also deter shoplifting. A certain gesture, such as touching your eye with your index finger, can signal everyone to watch a particular suspect. If you're reasonably sure a shoplifter has left your store with merchandise, call the police immediately with a description. Do not try to apprehend a shoplifter on your own. It is too dangerous. Not only might you get hurt, you can get sued.

9. Position your telephone so that you can see your customers plainly while you take a call. Keep conversations as brief as possible so you can get back to making sales.

  10. Keep shelves, counters, and rack displays full and orderly. Take immediate notice of gaps or something obviously out of order. Accurate inventory records need to be kept to detect shrinkage not accounted for in sales. If a particular item is routinely short, consider moving it to a safer location in the store.

The small courtesies and attention you show your customers should work together to encourage sales and discourage shoplifters.


Updated 2001
© 2001. El Paso Saddleblanket. All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced without the written permission of
El Paso Saddleblanket Co.

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