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Top 6 Maternity and Kids Toy Stores

At Star Cloud, we are passionate advocates of small businesses whom we feature on a daily basis on both Facebook and Instagram.

Come and share our celebration of local and independent small businesses for babies.

The Giving Tree Children’s Boutique

The Giving Tree Children’s Boutique, in New London, Minnesota, specializes in quality, unique baby’s and children’s clothing in sizes newborn – 12. They also carry a wonderful selection of classic wooden and educational toys, books and gifts for all ages.

You will always be welcomed with a smile, and your children will be welcome as well. There is a small play area and salt water aquarium for their amusement while parents are free to browse and shop! You’ll enjoy your visit to The Tree!

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Arkansas Baby LLC

Arkansas Baby LLC, in Little Rock, is a children’s boutique that provides a selection of natural products like cloth diapers and environmentally-conscious diapering options, toys free from harsh chemicals and heavy metals, as well as homeopathic remedies and personal care items for both the natural mom and baby.

Natural items for diapering, play, and wellness — how wonderful!

Facebook | Website | Instagram

Le Gribouillis

What a genius idea it was to create a place — in Levis and Val-Belair, Quebec City, Quebec — especially for mothers who want to get out and meet and chat with other … adults!

While moms can have a tisane, coffee or freshly-made smoothie, and relax, exchange ideas, and laugh, their babies and young children can sleep, meet, and play in areas specially designed to meet their needs.

Services offered include beverages, snacks, light meals, a shop, special workshops and events for mothers and mothers-to-be, and haircuts on Mondays.

Enchanting for babies, toddlers, and young children. A favorite spot for mothers and mothers-to-be: 177 reviewers have awarded Le Griboullis a rating of 5.0!

Facebook | Website | Instagram

Photopia Studios

Some of our sweetest memories are evoked by photos of our babies and children. And truly great photographs are created not taken, says owner-photographer Cliff of Photopia Studios, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

With his creative talent, awesome skills, and loads of charm with babies and children, the results will be memories you’ll love forever.

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Kids Emporium by Lazy Francis

Kids Emporium by Lazy Francis, in Chelsea, London, UK, is a special baby and children’s boutique offering clothes, accessories, shoes, toys and gifts.
Clothing spans basics and casuals through to special occasion and luxury kidswear for 0-12 years, alongside footwear, accessories, toys, gifts and interior design pieces.

Here you will find exquisite choice and variety for every occasion in a child’s life and for all types of customer, taste, budget and need, with regular arrivals of new and exciting hand-picked brands.

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The Magical Toy Shoppe

The Magical Toy Shoppe, in Lexington, Kentucky, is a toy store where children can explore and play — a great shopping experience for both kids and adults! Their goal is to carry high-quality unique toys for every child.

There’s a great selection for children of all ages, from toys for infants to baby dolls and games, from craft kits to sleds, and magical educational toys and books, too. Rated 5.0

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Small businesses like these enchant us. They inspire us. They fuel our communities.

By shopping locally we are contributing to our local economies, supporting family businesses and making a difference. We hope you have enjoyed their stories of Baby Love.


Ching Ching Wang is a marketing intern and student at Concordia University. She’s building skills and experience at the intersection of data management, analytics, and marketing. Constantly learning, always curious, she combine a DIY mentality to problem-solving. Ching Ching is also a self-starter and is working on a YouTube video channel, and has a wide variety of interests such as communications, international business, world religion and mindfulness practices. LinkedIn | Twitter

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6 Best Seasonal Campaign Ideas for Retailers and Small Businesses

‘Tis the season and ‘tis always the season.

Taking full opportunity of the seasons and events in your local community can build a better business, engage more customers and increase profits.

Many retailers struggle to create interesting and unique seasonal campaigns and here, we have the best ideas to kick start you to remarkable and memorable seasonal campaigns.

1. Creativity is key

Think outside of the box and challenge your competition.

Think of how Google utilizes its web design through Google Doodles to emphasise a momentous day or person throughout history. Why not add snowflakes to your logo during the winter or add leaves during Fall? Try changing your strap line to incorporate your seasons.

Over large seasonal campaigns like Christmas, Easter and Black Friday, customers will be swamped with emails, offers and promotions from other companies. The key is to stand out. Create a clever, funny marketing campaign or a compelling, emotive storyline that makes you stand out from the crowd. Even try changing your traditional mode of contact.

Why not pick an interesting, catchy or different theme for the season? Instead of a traditional family Christmas why not change your theme to ‘Advent Calendar’, ‘Countdown to Christmas’ or ‘Naughty or Nice’?

The key is to stand out from your competitors and create captivating campaigns.

2. Storytelling through a customer journey

Providing excellent customer service is vital to a successful business.

Customizing business to suit your consumer needs is a great way to build loyalty and trust with your clients.

A loyalty program can establish this and ensures customers keep coming back for more. A loyalty card for a coffee shop is an example where customers buy nine coffees and getting the tenth one free.

This type of loyalty card program may not work every business. So why not check out Thirdshelf, a loyalty marketing software that automates customer communications and helps independent retailers create their own customized loyalty programs that build strong and lasting relationships with your consumers.

Remember to choose the best seasonal campaigns that is tailored specifically to your target audience. For example, a flower shop would benefit from Mother’s Day and Summer Wedding seasonal campaigns.

3. Finding the best channels for your business

Using multiple marketing channels is essential during an age of digitalization and social media.

Social media is a fantastic way to engage younger audiences. From Twitter and Facebook to Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, social media is a great way to reach a wider audience.

It’s also an opportunity to leverage user generated content such as holding contests. Examples include photo competitions, questions to the experts of your company, or customers sharing their favorite products, with a branded #hashtag. This helps to create a personal and authentic business brand.

New features of Facebook and Instagram stories are great ways to showcase your business. You could even hold time-limited competitions lasting the full 24 hours of the story. It personalizes your business’ relationship to brand followers by allowing a personal insight into your company.

A top tip is to find the best channel that suits your consumer market.

At the same time, don’t forget the importance of emails when reaching your clients. In today’s age, email may seem outdated but it helps business with their seasonal planning and updates customers on the latest discounts. It can also build hype and awareness of seasonal campaigns. But most importantly, email is considerably more trustworthy than social media channels and engages more consumers and helps business profitability than social media.

Likewise, a weekly or monthly newsletter is a fantastic way to personalize your business strategy, hold promotions and keep customers informed of current events and unique selling points: a fantastic way to showcase what your business is all about.

4. Incentivizing, promotions and discounts

Can you name a customer that doesn’t love a discount or promotion? I can’t either.

Incentivizing, discounts and promotions builds a positive rapport with your consumers and can encourage loyalty and future investments.

Coupons are great ways to thank your customer for contributing to your business but at the same time ensure that they return and continue their investments. Try offering discounts online or in-store with their next purchase. Or likewise, you could offer discounts to nearby food outlets or local attractions to provide incentives for returning customers.

AllReceipts is a Digital Receipt app that allows customers to access their receipts via smartphone and offers a fantastic opportunity for retailers to add mobile coupons to their receipts that ensures loyal, returning and long term customer acquisition.

Free product giveaways or samples are ways that consumers can test and try your product which often generates sales.

Either way you choose to approach this tip, incentivization is a way to thank your consumer, build relationships and encourage further investment in the long term.

5. Harvesting local flavour

Locality can be your unique selling point.

Before you think big, it’s always good idea to think small and harvest your local community into your business. You never know how your local reputation can build a bigger, better and brighter reputation that reaches a wider audience.

If your business is family-owned, why not post videos on social media of your family working together? Benefits of SMBs is that emotional connections to customers are more direct.

Stores can even create in-store experiences that coordinate with local or micro-seasonal events. For example, you could create educational experiences related to a product you are selling. An example is demonstrations of bath bombs for Mother’s Day or chocolate samples at Easter. At the same time, you could host themed events relating to a particular season, such as a Beach Party if the focus of your seasonal campaign is summer vacation. This strategy can draw people into your store, increase awareness and boost sales.

You could even reach out to local media such as local newspapers to gain publicity before your in-store event. Equally, you could use local media after your event to show the benefit and positive outcomes of the customer experience you created. Even using local influences such as holding a meet and greet with your local politicians can increase engagement.

6. Prepare your top Seasonal Calendar dates

My last, but certainly not least, remember to start early and plan your seasonal campaign.

Planning your seasonal campaigns ensures that your business is ahead of the game, ensuring you make the most of promotional opportunities.

This advice may seem pretty obvious and straight forward, but there is nothing worse than having to tweak your marketing campaigns during the season when your focus shown be on operations, execution and keeping customers happy. Starting early can save you lots of stress and increase the popularity and profitability of your business during the seasonal campaign.

Planning can also help you to avoid mistakes, providing enough time to make necessary adjustments to improve your seasonal campaigns.

Try Dor which provides a gateway to practical planning techniques. The software analyses and gathers data from your business to measure the success of each individual campaign.

If a strategy works well, you can re-use it in the following year and if not so well, you know to avoid it. The point is, is that if you don’t plan ahead, then you won’t know the best and optimal strategies that suit your business.

Whether you know it or not, there’s always a seasonal holiday going on. There’s no need to restrict your seasonal campaigns to the big holidays like Christmas and Easter. Seasons are year-round endeavours, so get planning and picking your seasonal campaigns.

A good idea is to plan a marketing seasonal calendar. This advice is extremely useful for retail owners, as it is easy to miss or forget the different seasonal opportunities that exist in each month. Despite the Easter surge of chocolate, the spring and summer season is where business comes to a lull. So why not exploit this and think creatively?

Think about micro-seasonal events that can engage more customers and boost sales. Top events include Mother’s Day, Summer Vacation, Independence Day and Back to School.

Bringing it together

An effective business will ensure that all these tips interlink. You can provide discounts and promotions for local attractions, you can use creatively build your social media channel and you can leverage social media to emphasise a personal customer journey through competitions and branded #hashtags.

A successful business finds way to utilize these tips and intertwine them to create engaging and remembered seasonal campaigns that keep customers coming back for more.


Sarah Jane Callender is a Freelance writer and student at Lancaster University studying Politics and English Literature. Sarah enjoys championing small businesses and is interested in digitalization, the gig economy and its impact on politics and economics. With a passion for travelling, she rarely likes to stay in the same place for long but loves the comfort of home. LinkedIn | Twitter

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Flower Power – our Small Business Love

At Star Cloud, our regular Sunday Small Business Love column summarizes some of our best retail stories featuring small businesses all over the globe.

We are passionate advocates of small businesses whom we feature on a daily basis on both Facebook and Instagram.

Small businesses enchant us. They inspire us. They fuel our communities. By shopping locally we are contributing to our local economies, supporting family businesses and making a difference.

Come with us now and share our celebration of local and independent flower retailers.

The Pink Petal Flower Shop

Located in Pierre, South Dakota, The Pink Petal is a full service flower shop specializing in flowers for all occasions including weddings, holidays and funerals. They also have antiques for sale and offer services such as home decor.

They have even been known to shop for the antiques you are looking for — that is the kind of service you can expect from The Pink Petal.

Shop their website for your Easter bouquets and celebrate springtime beauty!

Facebook | Instagram | Website

SS Floral Event

Located in Yateley, England, SS Floral Events directly serves Hampshire, Surrey, and Berkshire as well as Greater London.

An independent award-winning flower shop providing beautiful flowers for all occasions, they offer a wide range of other services including venue decoration, wedding/prom dressmaking and more.

With their vast experience in floristry and events management, isn’t it time for you to enjoy their quality products, gorgeous designs, and best customer service? Rating: 5.0


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Benjamin Walden Creations, LLC

A local Blountstown, Florida, the florist with a great variety of fresh flowers and creative gift ideas to suit any style or budget, Benjamin Walden Creations specializes in weddings, events, sympathy and special occasions in Calhoun, Liberty, Jackson, and Gadsden Counties.

Every day looks better with flowers from Benjamin Walden Creations. This is your chance to send that gorgeous Easter bouquet that sings of springtime’s living beauty.

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Twilight Acres’ Homegrown

Twilight Acres is a second generation family farm located in New York’s Hudson Valley.

HOMEGROWN is their new retail shop in the Stone Ridge Towne Centre, a full-service luxury floral design studio featuring, among others, their own sustainably grown botanicals.

Don’t forget to visit the honor system flower cart located at the entrance to the farm on Cottekill Road!

Facebook | Instagram | Website


Ching Ching Wang is a marketing intern and student at Concordia University. She’s building skills and experience at the intersection of data management, analytics, and marketing. Constantly learning, always curious, she combine a DIY mentality to problem-solving. Ching Ching is also a self-starter and is working on a YouTube video channel, and has a wide variety of interests such as communications, international business, world religion and mindfulness practices. LinkedIn | Twitter

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Top 5 Ways Retail can Adapt to the New Consumer

We are now at a major turning point in the history of retail. The changes retail faces today are much the same as when the motion picture industry was disrupted by television in the 50’s. Today, the motion picture industry is thriving, driven by new technology, and more importantly, the new consumer.

Now referred to as the apocalypse, retail has to change fast to survive. Here are 5 insights into how to thrive in this environment.

1. Take decisive action

The old retail brands are dying. The press is filled daily with the news of the bankruptcy death spiral. The Limited is gone, Sears is on life support. Macy’s is downsizing.

All of these stores have one thing in common – they are unable to keep pace with the rapid changes in the way consumers shop. Disruption is the order of the day. Amazon, Uber, Facebook, brands that didn’t exist 10 years ago are the disruptors. Mastery of the digital world is the weapon of choice.

An EY (Formerly Ersnt & Young) survey showed that 77% of the business executives they surveyed felt their business could no longer grow profitably on a reliable basis.

The only way SMB is going to avoid this fate is to understand the fundamental shifts in consumer behavior that are taking place and translate them into products that resonate. ie The Dollar Shave club. The good news – if you succeed you will become rich beyond your wildest dreams by selling the business to the deep pocket digital guys that are out there. (Unilever paid a billion dollars for Dollar shave – the one billion dollar shave!)

The EY survey showed that 60% if the execs saw the future as being more difficult than today.

THIS INVOLVES RISK.

You have to abandon the approaches that aren’t working, replacing them with the entrepreneurial energy that your business was originally founded upon. The customer is changing faster than many of us care to admit. The new consumer is already here.

YOU CANNOT STAND STILL.

The EY survey showed that 68% of the execs said their attempts to change the business have failed.

Here are five big fears retail execs have about the future of their business. You’re not alone in your anxiety.

With this in mind this report will give some insight into the decisive action that has to be taken.

2. View Digital as the portal to the bricks and mortar Experience

One decision that has to be made is to view digital as the greatest thing that has happened for bricks & mortar. It is free, can be directed at the target customer, it can be measured. Simons, the Canadian mini department store retailer recognizes this.

Simon’s is the greatest store that nobody has ever heard of. Founded in Quebec city in 1840 and still headquartered there, Simon’s is now coming up on the radar screen with an aggressive bricks and mortar expansion. The opening of their latest store in Calgary offers wonderful insight into what makes Simon’s great. Catering to the new consumer in your retail vertical is key.

Each Simon’s store has its own art and its own story. The Calgary store reflects the fabulous vision of local artist, Maya Gohill.

Maya’s world is inhabited by magical characters and fabulous colors. The website is the ad for the store. However, you have to visit the store to experience this. This is the key to Simon’s ongoing success. It serves as a beacon for the future of retail.

Welcome to the magical world of Maya, Big Heart, Big Art.

3. Leverage Experiences to Drive Sales

You have to personalize your brand by creating an online shopping experience and mobile influence in-store, that resonates with your customer. The power of personalization involves grabbing your customers attention with stuff they need to know.

Today’s digital lifestyle places your brand in competition for “eyeballs”. Your customer is suffering from information overload, message bombardment.

At the heart of personalization is great data. This comes from technology embedded into your website. Combined with an app you can gain insight into your customers behavior, what makes them tick, what is bringing them to your product.

Amazon is the master. I am “Gary”. Every two or three days I am advised of great books that I will read on my kindle. They are mystery stories as the algorithm shows I love mysteries. A food product delivered is damaged. The Amazon phone is answered immediately, a refund issued on the spot. “Frictionless”.

Your business can emulate this success. Compelling customer experiences require a new business model to reinvigorate how you do omnichannel retail. The new consumer comes with new expectations of fulfillment and in-store experience.

4. Target Baby Boomers

In less than five years, 50 percent of the U.S. population will be over the age of 50. They will control 70 percent of the nations disposable income. These aging Boomers are becoming increasingly social media – savvy, they will be putting their money on whatever is hot. Obviously, brands are going to live or die based on this groups spending habits.

Marketers are obsessed with the millennials. The boomer is overlooked. Boomers are not “old”, even though they may be wearing adult diapers. They are still attacking life in them with a youthful vigor. The new consumer are not just Millennial digital natives, but digital immigrants and are quickly become mobile natives as well.

Herein lies the key to selling an older customer. A young customer will not shop in an old environment, an older customer demands a young environment. Hence the poster people for Depends are 40 year old Hollywood celebs, even though the customer is 55+.

MILLENNIALS DON’T HAVE $150.00 TO SPEND ON A DOG BED.

It’s my opinion that marketing to an aging population will require a sea change from the current thinking. Casper gets it.

A full 40% of the 50+ population owns a dog. Research shows the dog ownership can be beneficial for the health and welfare of an aging population. Why not sell them the new and improved dog mattress?

The bar is getting raised higher on a daily basis now with how well retailers are able to know and cater to their target audiences. So, how can aging consumers spell business opportunities?

5.Invest in Retail Technology

YOU ARE THE DIGITAL MARKETING MANAGER OF YOUR COMPANY.

It is your responsibility to develop and execute the digital strategy. It is a new role to fill in business today. The good news is you are in at the beginning.

The digital world is a lifelong learning experience. If you don’t have the skills you can learn them. If you are proficient, you have to constantly update and broaden your digital knowledge.

At the MACRO level here are the subjects that you have to have a conversational knowledge:

  • Global Trends

Digital transformation and disruption. You are part of what is happening globally.

  • Big Data and Analytics

You have to measure everything. Digital analytics is cheap and comprehensive. Because of this, you can dive into your business, unearthing new opportunities that would have escaped you in the past.

  • IoT Strategies and Business Models

Learn from best practices.

  • Augmented Reality

Add AR to your vocabulary. It’s “a technology that superimposes a computer – generated images on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.” (Oxford) WOW!

  • Logistics and Supply Chains

You have to connect the dots. Successfully integrating the supply chain.

  • Smart Connected Product Design

The key to success today is bringing your products faster to the market than ever before. Invest in yourself. This is one of the best investments in retail technology you can make. For SMB retailers, adapting to the new consumer is key to optimizing your businesses and ensuring your profit margins reach targets and continue growth.


Gary Hayes is a savvy veteran of Canadian Retail, where he implemented the BAYMART discount store concept in the BAY as well as Vice President of Smart Set, then VP of Reitman’s in the 80’s. Most recently, Gary developed and executed the Giant Tiger fashion apparel strategy, effectively bullet proofing GT against Walmart. Gary is now a thought leader and consultant with Retail Adventure, and the ultimate retail trend watcher. LinkedIn | Twitter.

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6 Fitness Small Business Stories

At Star Cloud, we are passionate advocates of small businesses whom we feature on a daily basis on both Facebook and Instagram.

Our regular Sunday Small Business Love column summarizes some of our best retail stories featuring small businesses all over the globe.
This week we are honoring outstanding independent health and fitness retailers. Here are their stories.

Midwest Fitness and Training Studios

  • In Dyer, in northwest Indiana
  • Structured programs
  • Wide variety of small-group classes
  • Expert exercise instruction
  • Nutritional guidance, meal planning
  • Lifestyle coaching

Midwest Fitness and Training Studios powered by Tina Sena is an exceptional AllReceipts fitness center:

We are not a typical gym where you come and go without anyone noticing and, moreover, “workout” without achieving any results.

Due to our exclusive program design not found anywhere else in northwest Indiana, we look to work with individuals who are committed to reaching their health and fitness goals; then we measure your progress monthly with our state of the art technology tools.

From expert exercise instruction to nutritional guidance to meal planning and lifestyle coaching – No one just exists at Midwest Fitness, you “strive” as we teach, train and coach you to reach your goals at every session.

These teachers really care!

Facebook | Instagram | Website

Aspen Athletic Clubs

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  • Iowa’s fastest growing fitness organization and health club
  • 5 locations in Des Moines, one in Ankeny and one in Cedar Rapids
  • Certified Personal Trainers and Group Exercise Instructors
  • A wide variety of classes, including BODYPUMP™, BODYATTACK™, Spinning™, Zumba, Kids Klub, sauna, basketball, tennis and more.

Their mission: “Aspen Athletic Clubs is dedicated to changing and improving people’s lives. We provide fitness programs and guidance to make everyone’s health goals become reality in a caring, fun, and dynamic environment.

Our passion for fitness is fueled by our positive attitude and the desire to exceed the expectations of our members and each other. We Inspire Results!”

Aspen Athletic Clubs is consistently voted the best in Des Moines. With seven locations, over 20,000 Iowans choose Aspen as their home for all things health and fitness.

It is the fitness facility where real people get real results.

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Pure Barre Delafield

  • In Delafield, Wisconsin
  • Offers a total body workout using the ballet barre for small movements which burn fat, sculpt muscles and create lean physiques.
  • With 400 studios in North America, there’s one near you.

“For over a decade, I’ve watched Pure Barre change bodies across the nation. The best part is that not only does it change bodies, it changes lives.” Carrie Rezabek Dorr – Pure Barre Founder

 

Facebook | Instagram | Website

Martial Arts Spirit Health and Fitness Academy

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  • In Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia.
  • Extraordinary expert teachers
  • a caring family atmosphere
  • Preschool and school programs
  • Taekwondo and cardio combat

At MAS we know how important family is. Everyone regardless of age gender or religion who joins us joins our family united in experiencing all the benefits of Martial Arts. You will learn from the best and we will instill in you or your children who attend our schools an experience that will shape your life forever.

We value health, lifestyle, fitness, exercise and sport equally as friendship, loyalty, respect, honesty and knowledge. M.A.S can assist in your physical, personal and spiritual development if you work with us. We do not give false promises but we guarantee that when you join our club, put in the effort, together we will reach our goal.

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Phase IV Scientific Health and Performance Center

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  • In Santa Monica, California
  • Helps people of all ages and abilities reach their health and fitness goals
  • With individualized guidance, metabolic testing, and exercise programs.

Phase IV wants to help you improve the quality of your life for you and your family. No matter your age, abilities, or goals, Phase IV provides Life Health Solutions to help you acquire the healthy personal lifestyle you’ve always wanted.

There’s no way I can overstate Robert Forster’s knowledge and understanding of athletic performance. Throw in the fact that he’s also a physical therapist and the excellent team that’s laser focused on his vision, and you’ve got a combination that can make anyone, from elite athlete to club rider, so much more than they already are. Thanks Phase IV!

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Surf Sister Surf School

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  • in Tofino, British Columbia
  • a surfing school encouraging more women to try surfing and to be more comfortable in the water.
  • What makes the team unique is they see teaching as the opportunity to share their passion and love for surfing and the ocean.
  • Once you become a Surf Sister, you’re always a Surf Sister!

The Story

The year: 1999.
The vision: To encourage more women to try surfing and to have them feel less intimidated and included out in the water.
It began: With a truck, a few boards and a cell phone (yes cell phones existed in 1999).

Fast forward to today and not only will you often find as many women surfing in Tofino as men, but Surf Sister is the biggest all female instructor surf school in the world. With over 30 staff, us girls love what we do, do what we love and it shows.

By offering progressive camps, surf camps abroad, and starting local Surf Clubs and all women’s surf competitions, more and more amazing female surf talent is shining on the west coast. Once a Surf Sister, always a Surf Sister!

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Ching Ching Wang is a marketing intern and student at Concordia University. She’s building skills and experience at the intersection of data management, analytics, and marketing. Constantly learning, always curious, she combines a DIY mentality to problem-solving. Ching Ching is also a self-starter and is working on a YouTube video channel, and has a wide variety of interests such as communications, international business, world religion and mindfulness practices. LinkedIn | Twitter

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How Instagram is Key for Your Small Business

With the advent of stories on Instagram, local retailers are finally realizing the potential of social media. There’s never been a better time to be seen and do Instagram right. Stories give retailers the opportunity to showcase and showroom in a way that was previously unavailable, not just their products but their brand culture and their in-store experiences.

If social media ever was a place for brand discovery, Instagram’s recent upgrades in the past few months represent a tidal wave of innovation that can benefit small businesses of all kinds. With clickable links likely arriving in 2017 or next year in 2018, this is the right time for local retailers to optimize their Instagram presence.

Create Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories allows independent retailers the ideal channel to leverage their brand and family run small business culture like never before, in a way that’s almost more immersive than video. With more metrics for business accounts on Instagram and more ways to boost and diversify content than ever before, Instagram leads the pack of social media channels now where brands can be experienced that promotes foot traffic, especially in rural U.S. locations.

Do Marketing Automation

With the uses of hashtags and tools such as Instagress, small business owners can fully target their key audiences and drive traffic to their website. Using marketing automation with authentic branding can do wonders for a new small business in terms of brand awareness and customer loyalty.

In terms of social ROI, Instagram now has the most robust advertising, branding and marketing potential of any channel. While Pinterest remains impressive for Millennial women, Instagram far exceeds Facebook in terms of engagement. If Facebook is a landing page for your business, Instagram is the social media experience of your brand.

Instagram showed impressive growth in the second half of 2016, where since June of last year, user growth accelerated by 33% as the platform welcomed an additional 100 million users in just six months. Instagram stories and marketing automation remain the two most qualified ways for local retailers to stand out, in a world of immersive visual storytelling. Retailers who are not accomplishing both of these tasks to grow their following, are missing out.

If you are a beginner using Instagram stories, start here or here.

We use mobile coupons and leverage both digital receipts and offers on physical receipts to boost your business, register here to learn more.


Michael Spencer is a content strategist, futurist and marketing consultant. He was named a 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice and blogs on technology trends as well as retail. He’s based in Montreal and manages social media branding for tech startups, in addition to blogging. LinkedIn | Twitter

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7 Point of Sale Trends for Retail & Small Businesses

The future of retail technology is looking very bright as we head into the middle of 2017. Major events such as the National Retail Federation and Shoptalk taught us a lot about next-gen commerce. Not lost in the shuffle, has been the evolution of Point of sale solutions where “add-ons” become increasingly sophisticated and useful for retailers.

Let’s take a look at some of the key developments in the point of sale space. It’s only just been over one year ago that it was announced one of the leading POS solutions, Lightspeed, which now caters to over 40,000 retailers, was starting to offer e-commerce. Meanwhile, Shopify, another Canadian-based POS provider for e-retailers has been expanding their offices with new locations in Toronto and Waterloo.

1. The Augmented POS

Meanwhile, the integrations that point of sale solutions are offering are increasing at tremendous speeds, introducing new software plug-ins and better data optimization for retailers with deeper features for stores.

Vend offers a wide array of POS integrations, and they are not alone. POS solutions such as Shopify, Lightspeed, Vend, Revel Systems, Shopkeep and others literally have hundreds of potential API integrations that can mean for retailers, an “augmented” point of sale solution customized for their needs is easier than ever to set up.

2. Loyalty Marketing Upgrades

For a prospective retailer trying to choose a POS solution, Capterra and Merchant Maverick are equally good places to start.

Since many POS systems lack a highly sophisticated loyalty program builder native to them, it’s no surprise that loyalty apps are one of the most popular features and upgrades SMB retailers purchase.

Thirdshelf stands out from the pack, being integrated with both Vend and Lightspeed and offering machine-intelligence in how they send out automated loyalty offers. We also like their emphasis on building and nurturing high-value customer relationships.

3. Receipt Printer with IoT Capabilities

The common receipt Printer which you would find on Amazon now, is in 2017 officially, a cloud-connected device. This means access to mobile coupons, digital receipts, Promotional direct to receipt solutions seen on the paper receipts themselves, all fully customizable.

As loyalty apps converge with retail apps, and the mobile wallet evolves, the devices in-store are also adapting to cater to provide in-store enhancements in the store environment. The IoT of retail is not just about Beacons, it’s becoming more accessible than that. Any store that buys a receipt printer, can now upgrade to be a store of the future.

4. Mobile and iPad POS

Not only is mobile the major trend for consumers, many point of sale solutions can now be easily installed on a tablet. This is very convenient for many store owners and also can help entrepreneurs connect the dots, for instance with mobile integrations. Indeed smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home will increasingly be valuable for both consumers and retailers in how they connect to apps and services more seamlessly.

With better data optimization and access to in-store analytics, such as the foot traffic sensor Dor, that will soon be able to integrate into the POS directly, retail-centric customer analytics solutions will help retail owners make better decisions from actionable insights accessible easily from their mobile device and through the cloud.

5. Improved Customer Experience

Cloud connected printers, tablet-based POS, improved integrations and apps, all lead to an improved store management with direct results upon the customer experience for customers.

The wide variety of Lightspeed POS integrations and Shopify apps, ultimately mean that the customers win. Offering them digital receipts with our AllReceipts app, is an added bonus. Small businesses have more tools now than ever to improve any aspect of their business with software that’s becoming smarter.

6. Rise of Mobile Ubiquity of Utility in Retail

While mobile payments growth is steady, it’s also quite slow even in 2017. While many younger consumers are more mobile-native and have adopted different mobile payment solutions, by and large, it hasn’t grown as fast as some had expected.

While McDonald’s will be experimenting with mobile ordering, and AmazonGo is based on QR code mobile sign-in, and digital receipts solutions use QR code tech that’s more private, anonymous and does not require E-mail info, the fight is still on between Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, along with several retail in-app payments systems such as Amazon Pay.

In an interesting twist to the narrative, Samsung Pay is experimenting with a new kind of contactless payment called CCP. Contactless Companion Platform (CCP), will enable contactless payments to move beyond simple owners of NFC-enabled smartphones, to other devices.

Additional payment device might soon include anything from:

  • Wearables (e.g. smart watches)
  • Rubber wristband
  • Keychain
  • Jewelry
  • Smart clothes

Anything a CCP chip can be embedded in, which might stimulate consumer adoption more.

7. Tapping into In-Store Tech Enhancements

With technology comes a lot of neat experiments occurring as experiences in the store. Some of these include magic mirrors to help us try on clothes, augmented reality screens, new advances in digital signage in-store and VR product discovery tours in-store as well.

There exists a new plethora of solutions to equip the retail sales associate and even a robot named Pepper that can be a customer engagement interface in the store itself.

RFID also has the chance to create pre and post sales in-store experiences that have yet to become mainstream but holds some promise.

The intersection of new consumer experiences in the store and technology, and how these will integrate with the POS system, will mean new data points that open up new possibilities for marketing, advertising by location and offering a more personalized and educational customer experience are on their way.

In 2017, the point of sale remains at the heart of retail innovation, and with the cloud and mobile connecting consumers and marketing channels better than ever, even small businesses can leverage connected devices and omnichannel touch points like never before.


Michael Spencer is a content strategist, futurist and marketing consultant. He was named a 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice and blogs on technology trends as well as retail. He’s based in Montreal and manages social media branding for tech startups, in addition to blogging. LinkedIn | Twitter

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5 Kiddie Small Business Stories

At Star Cloud, we are passionate advocates of small businesses whom we feature on a daily basis on both Facebook and Instagram.

Small Business Love

Our regular Sunday Small Business Love column summarizes some of our best retail stories featuring small businesses all over the globe.
SMB and independent retailers contribute to communities by providing great shopping experiences and products that promote local economies.

This week we are honoring outstanding independent retailers for kids. Here are their stories.

Rollie Pollie

  • In the heart of downtown Bentonville, Arkansas
  • toys, fashions and gifts, carefully selected
  • to foster a child’s creativity and imagination

We know kids work hard. They explore everything. Their creativity, their senses, their environment, their strength, their place in the world…everything.

They dissect the physical world around them, and learn more about it by the minute, and just like any demanding work, it requires certain tools. For kids, toys are the tools of the trade.

With that in mind, we offer tools and style that work alongside a child’s creativity and imagination.


Facebook | Instagram | Website

Le Gribouillis

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  • In Levis and Val-Belair, near Quebec City, Quebec
  • A place for mothers to meet and chat
  • A place for children to meet, play…or sleep

What a genius idea it was to create a place especially for mothers who want to get out and meet and chat with other … adults! Babies and young children can sleep, meet, and play in areas designed to meet their needs.

Services offered include beverages, snacks, light meals, a shop, special workshops and events for mothers and mothers-to-be. Haircuts on Mondays.

Enchanting for babies, toddlers and young children. A favorite spot for mothers and mothers-to-be. Rating: 5.0

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Facebook | Instagram

Juno Boutique

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  • In Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia
  • A baby and children’s store
  • stocking thoughtful, unique and quality clothing, shoes, toys, gifts
  • decor and lifestyle products.

Whether you are looking for a new baby’s outfit or toy, or some cool child’s outfit and matching shoes, or you want to outfit your baby’s room, you will find lots to please you here.

Reviewer: “Beautiful, well thought out children items. Modern yet with a nod to tradition. Items you would be happy to fill your home with. Plenty to inspire children’s imaginations and creativity.”

Whimsical, funky, pretty and hip kids and babies clothing labels! Top quality kids and babies wear and gifts for all ages at an excellent range of prices. Love, love, love! Don’t miss this gorgeous store when you next visit Port Fairy!”

Love

Haha

Wow

Sad

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Facebook | Instagram

Miller Swim School

  • Established in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1960
  • Teaching students to respect and enjoy the water
  • To be safe, successful swimmers.
  • Instructors are well-trained and share their love of water
  • Babies, toddlers and children of all ages love this experience!

Reviewer: “My Son has been going to Miller Swim School since he was 11 months old and now he is 3 and loves the water and not afraid. I think everyone should learn to swim because it is a crucial survival Skill but most of all ITS FUN. The employees at miller make you feel like family.”

More than 180 parent reviewers happily agree.


Facebook | Instagram


Ching Ching Wang is a marketing intern and student at Concordia University. She’s building skills and experience at the intersection of data management, analytics, and marketing. Constantly learning, always curious, she combine a DIY mentality to problem-solving. Ching Ching is also a self-starter and is working on a YouTube video channel, and has a wide variety of interests such as communications, international business, world religion and mindfulness practices. LinkedIn | Twitter

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How SMB Retailers win the Retail Apocalypse

This is the second in a series of articles that will develop an SMB strategy for winning against the big guys by leveraging the pop culture. You can read the first article here.

Is a Retail Apocalypse Coming?

The Big Guys are in Serious Trouble

Add “apocalypse” to your vocabulary. Never in the history of retail has this word been used to describe the state of retail. However, we are teetering on the verge of apocalypse, the scary part is how fast we got there and how few people recognized the symptoms.

It’s a state of affairs that exists at all levels of retail, all at the same time. From the designers, to the middle, to the bottom of the market; from the department stores to the mall brands to big box, there is a death spiral taking place.

The big guys all have one thing in common that has led to their current mess – self destructive navel gazing. They are so caught up in their cultures they have failed what is happening in the external world. Ie: Amazon.

Let’s see what lessons we can learn from this. The headlines tell the story.

Macy’s Plans to become a Discount Department Store

The Macy’s mess became public this Xmas when they announced the closing of 68 stores with up to 10,000 employees losing their jobs.

This, in turn, prompted speculation about The Hudson’s Bay Company buying Macy’s. Even Amazon, in their pursuit of a bricks and mortar presence came up. However, all this talk ended in the past two weeks when it became obvious The Bay did not have the financing.

Macy’s predicament serves as a life lesson for all of us. Amazon is given as the culprit and e commerce as the weapon of destruction.

However, as always, the problems go deeper than the press release statements.

For veteran Macy’s watchers, the problem is very simple – complacency. All Macy’s has been doing for the past 10 years is dragging history forward. No new ideas – no creativity. Prisoners of the iconic Macy’s culture.

“We Don’t Have our Heads in the Sand”

Now, with the arrival of a new CEO, the solution is very simple – go discount. The reasoning is simple. Off price retailers continue to take market share from department stores. They are viewed as a more formidable challenge than e commerce.

Hence, off price is the savior.

Lost in all of this rhetoric is the fact that Macy’s has long been the leader in global fashion. They have shown the way for many decades.

How is this going to fit into an off-price strategy?

Dwindling Mall Traffic as Express Sales Plummet on Discounts

Express stores, the iconic mall brand, sales were down 11% this Xmas. Incredibly, they predict this sales trend will continue through the first quarter of 2017. Dramatic shifts in shopping habit and fashion tastes were given as the main reason. The customer is abandoning the malls in favor of e commerce.

interestingly, contrary to the market buck passing, e commerce was alive and well in Express. E commerce sales were up 9%, accounting for 25% of the Xmas sales.

It was clear, the bad results were the result of poor bricks and mortar merchandising. The assortments were too broad. They were still chasing the junior customer as opposed to the millennial. “Poor product selection” made for an unpleasant shopping experience.

Bringing the assortments into item focus is the cornerstone of the spring strategy.

It is all about making a statement. It is all about drama.

Target Unveils new $7 Billion plan to Overhaul Stores & Digital Operations

So what is happening in Target since they abandoned Canada in one of the worst start ups in retail history? Remarkably, they are still “throwing the long ball”. Faced with same store declining sales they are investing up to $9 billion (does anyone talk in millions anymore?) over the next 3 years to improve brick and mortar and digital operations.

While being described as a reaction to the “seismic shift” in the retail industry it appears to be a knee jerk reaction to Amazon. “We’ve not seen this number of distressed retailers since 2009 in the Great Recession”

Very little insight is given into Target’s e commerce strategy. As with Express, the emphasis is on improving the in-store experience. There is no question Target has to continue to move their “cheap chic” historic strength forward. Apparel and Home are now in Amazon’s cross hairs. Grocery remains and Achilles heel.

Is Target on the Right Track?


Is Target, once again, burning money? I would start with the flier. This paint by numbers format has not changed in 30 + years.

Nor has the fashion mentality. They are obviously an easy “target” (no pun intended) for Amazon.

To varying degrees, all three retailers suffer from sticking their head in the sand. Locked into dragging history forward, they failed to see what was happening in the external environment. In summary – they quit learning.

Disruption is Now a Daily Occurrence


In this digital world, where disruption is a daily occurrence, self-learning is the key to moving your business forward. You want to evolve, avoid the revolution that is taking place in Macy’s and Target. Express is evolving, for this reason they are my pick to turn around their business in 2017/18.

Today, because of digital, self-learning is easier than ever before. The internet is filled with opportunities to learn. Best of all they are free.

You can learn about your adversaries at conferences. However you don’t have to attend them. The news is only a google search away.

The south by southwest conference is now over. Can’t afford the trip to Austin? Don’t have a clue what this conference is all about. Google it!

Simons is Leveraging Beauty and the Beast: Leveraging Pop-Culture Works!

The biggest advantage SMB has is to move unfettered through the pop culture world and leverage the free publicity built up by the big guys for the issue du jour. No committee of bureaucrats disguised as a team would ever make a major issue out of Beauty and The Beast.

Yet leading edge, Montreal Simon’s, has made a major issue of Beauty and The Beast. This promotion is totally outside of the historic Simon’s leading edge fashion strategy. A family owned business, they have obviously declared this movie as trendy fashion. Disney has done all the heavy lifting. All Simon’s had to do was push the button. An SMB mentality brought to a bigger business.

Give free movie ticket gift with purchase.


Gary Hayes is a savvy veteran of Canadian Retail, where he implemented the BAYMART discount store concept in the BAY as well as Vice President of Smart Set, then VP of Reitman’s in the 80’s. Most recently,  Gary developed and executed the Giant Tiger fashion apparel strategy, effectively bullet proofing GT against Walmart. Gary is now a thought leader and consultant with Retail Adventure, and the ultimate retail trend watcher. LinkedIn | Twitter.

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5 Great Foodie SMB Successes

These foodie independent retailers stood out to us this week. Here are their stories.

1.Pedalling Squares
  • A unique coffee bar kitchen
  • In Tyne, Newcastle
  • Voted as top 5 cafe in the U.K.
  • Has gained the support of local cycling teams and local families
  • Friday night music club features local musicians
  • Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2016

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“We welcome families, cyclists, runners, walkers and ……even well behaved dogs. We will be using the best independent artisan roasts for the perfect cup of coffee….and cake. Our burgers are the best in NE16…come and try them. Use the cafe for your club meetings and starting point for your runs.”

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No wonder Pedalling Squares is such a well-loved AllReceipts local retailer!

Facebook | Website | AllReceipts 

2. Folies Patissieres
  • Cafe, dessert shop, restaurant
  • Artisan bakery offering gluten-free delights
  • Simple, natural, high-quality ingredients
  • In Laval-Ouest, Quebec

After graduating from the École Hôtelière de Laval and working in the pastry industry for 5 years, Edward Paluck came to the conclusion that few pastry shops offered products where the ingredients were in the spotlight.

Although pastry will always remain a small sin, it wanted to offer products that are as natural as possible, without preservatives or artificial flavors. In addition to offering products that are each tastier than the rest, all are made in a 100% gluten-free kitchen. Your only concern will be to choose among our delicious products.

Come and enjoy a great coffee and sweet treat at this star AllReceipts local retailer.

Facebook | Website | AllReceipts

3. The Well Dressed Food Company
  • Deli, Restaurant, Espresso Bar & Specialty Food Market
  • In Tupper Lake, New York
  • Creative menus inspired by seasonal local products
  • Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2016
  • Dine-in, take-out, or order for free delivery

We offer house-made soups, salads & artisan sandwiches as well as many varieties of bagels and breakfast options. Our deli meats & cheeses are Boar’s Head and our bread are baked in-house.This AllReceipts gem is “a wonderful place to grab a bite or have a special chef’s dinner. While there you can browse the quality products to spice up your cooking at home.” 

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Facebook | Website | AllReceipts 

4. BabyCakes
  • A Chicago food truck and catering company
  • One-of-a-kind gourmet pancakes
  • Innovative breakfast dishes such as Breakfast Fusion™
  • Breakfast dishes with global influences
  • Breakfast 24/7
  • Delivery and catering services to boot!

Chef Leah incorporates modern and classic culinary practices into her cooking, adding a dash of decadence and a splash of showmanship. Food is art; meant to be eaten, discussed, and lusted after! Babycakes elevates classic dishes and serves them at any hour of the day or night.

Facebook | Website |  AllReceipts

5. Andiamo
  • An Italian restaurant with a real neighbourhood feeling
  • A focus on family, freshness and high quality local produce
  • Best pizza in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Yummy freshly prepared juices and smoothies.

We are a neighborhood-style Italian restaurant inspired by the careful preparation and simplicity of ingredients found in family recipes. With a focus on family, freshness and quality, Andiamo! honors the heart and soul of Italian food and brings it to Abu Dhabi.

We try to stay close to home. Our pesto sauce, made from scratch, blends fresh basil, roasted pine nuts, walnuts and garlic. Pizza bakes in our brick oven, pasta is made daily, veggies delivered often and our meat comes from grass fed cattle in New Zealand. Say no to hormones and antibiotics!

Long communal tables and couches place the focus on what’s important; food and people. Get together with neighbors and friends or bring a book and enjoy our popular Italian roast coffee at the bar. Andiamo!

With pasta made daily, sauces blended from scratch and pizza baked right in front of you, no wonder that Andiamo is an AllReceipts foodie hero!

Facebook |  Instagram | AllReceipts

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Ching Ching Wang is a marketing intern and student at Concordia University. She’s building skills and experience at the intersection of data management, analytics, and marketing. Constantly learning, always curious, she combine a DIY mentality to problem-solving. Ching Ching is also a self-starter and is working on a YouTube video channel, and has a wide variety of interests such as communications, international business, world religion and mindfulness practices. LinkedIn | Twitter

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