and you have to have great displays to do that. And in order to
have great displays, you have to have a full-time merchandiser.”
Sandra is indebted to hers, Jeanette Vokey, who has been with
the store for 15 years. “She’s like a rock. She takes ownership of
the business, which is what every store owner wants.” Ivy James,
who’s worked at the store for 17 years, is another employee
Sandra is eager to recognize.
The backdrop to these stimulating displays is an aura of calm
achieved with soft instrumental music and non-invasive scents.
“We have created a culture of warmth, colour and charm,” says
Sandra. “Customers tell me they come here to relax and escape
from their stresses. It’s a visual experience that is very uplifting.”
Her warm and friendly employees help solidify that feeling.
“When somebody comes into the store, we treat them as if
they’ve come into our home,” says Sandra. “I tell my staff never
to say ‘Can I help you?’ Instead, if they want to compliment
somebody, that’s okay, so long as it’s sincere.
“Our first priority is to build a relationship. If we achieve
that with our customers then we don’t have to focus on selling
because that will automatically come. When customers come
back and ask for an employee by name then we know we have
been successful in our jobs.
“It’s hard to create that homey atmosphere at the mall,” says
Sandra, who’s eager to find a destination store one day. “At a street
store people open the door and it’s like they’re entering a home.”
The mall’s limitations extend to hosting special events. “You
can’t close your doors, and there’s not enough space to do
seminars or taste-testing.”
The greatest benefit of the mall location is, of course, the traffic.
“Because I’m in the mall, I get a lot of customers. We’re in a
great spot – right across from the food court – and we’ve got
great big windows which we take advantage of. People will be
at the mall to see a movie with no intention of shopping and
will come into the store because of our window displays. Other
people come to the mall just to see what we have done with our
“The first year I was in business I spent $17,000 with an
advertising agency – and that was 22 years ago. Since I came into
the mall, I’ve done very little. The money I spent in advertising
is now going toward the rent.”
And rent just went up $2000 a month. “I’ve been able
to keep good margins by changing the way I buy,” says Sandra.
“I look really hard for great deals and opportunities.”
Couple the increased rent with brutal hours, the mall is open
until 10 p.m. every night except Sunday, and a street store is
sounding better by the minute. If only Sandra could find a
location. Fortunately, her daughter Leanne has agreed to come
“full force into the business” which should free up some time for
Sandra to hunt for a suitable destination. Leanne is also planning
to shake things up at the store and focus her efforts on how the
business can operate more efficiently and profitably, no doubt
ensuring its survival for the next 22 years.
A SPECIAL TOUCH’S MILESTONES
Sandra is invited to join the
Health Care Foundation’s board
of directors. Since joining, she’s
been a contributing sponsor
for the organization’s three
major events which raised
approximately $375,000 in
A Special Touch is chosen among
140 retailers at the Avalon
Mall as the 2007 Crombie Reit
Store of the Year. The store also
received the 2007 G. Kearney
and Daughter Timeless Service
award and a Sales Acheivement
award from the mall.
Sandra is chosen as one of seven
retailers to sit on the Retail
Council of Canada’s Taskforce
of Independent Retailers.
Kristi Jensen Pierro, the creator
of Snowbabies, attends her first
signing in Canada at A Special
Touch. She returned this year for
another very successful signing.