10 Things I Learned After 10 years in Business by Virginia Champoux-Sokoloff
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10 Things She Learned After 10 years in Business


Congratulations to today’s guest contributor, Virginia Champoux-Sokoloff.

This month, she celebrates 10 years as co-owner, with her husband Jay Sokoloff, of Mortimer Snodgrass, a funky and unique gift store in Montreal Canada, (interior pictured to the right).

When they opened their first 500 sq ft shop they had no idea what they were doing. Today, Mortimer Snodgrass is a well known brand favored by magazine stylists and discerning shoppers.

In this guest article, she shares the wisdom she has gathered during a ten year period of running a successful business.

10 Things I Learned After 10 years in Business

1 – Trust your gut.

We have never done research, we have never gotten professional opinions. Every decision we have made, from renting space to choosing products has been pure instinct. We trust our gut, it has worked every time. (well, almost, see #6!)

2 – You have to love it.

You will not be successful if you do not absolutely love what you do. We play to our strengths and split the work according to what we are good at (creative vs administrative), but we both love what we do, every day.

3 – Be yourself.

We always say that everything we sell is something we would either buy for ourselves or for our friends, but we really mean it.

The store is an extension of us. It represents us, represents what we like, what we use. We don’t try to be something we are not, we don’t sell things that don’t represent who we are as individuals. (We said no to Crocs, and we are still happy about that!)

4 – Treat your staffers right.

I had some pretty horrible or difficult bosses in my student days and I have decided that I will always treat my staff well. Just because they are part-timers who cycle through a few semesters at a time doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be rewarded.

We take them for a holiday  meal, we invite them for a summer BBQ at our house.

We find that the more we open our life up to them, the more likely they are to go above what is demanded of them. The ones who see it only as a paycheck will never fully embrace the spirit of our store, but the ones who join in tend to stick around longer and put more energy in their work.

5 – Surround yourself with people you enjoy.

From your staff to your suppliers to your landlords, it’s much more pleasant to deal with people you enjoy.

So what if their products are a tiny bit more expensive or if their shipping is a little slower? If you work well with someone, it’s worth nurturing those relationships. In the long run, those people will always be willing to work with you.

6 – There will be failures, learn from them.

Not every decision will work out. You can rent the wrong space or order the wrong stuff.

Don’t agonize over it.

Learn from your mistake and correct the course. If you are too afraid of failing, you will not take chances, and sometimes, those chances are the ones that will lead you onto bigger things.

7 – You cannot please everyone.

No matter how hard you work, no matter how many customers you do please, there will always be someone who is dissatisfied. You can try your best to make it right, but sometimes, there is simply nothing to be done.

You cannot take it personally.

You just have to think that whatever is causing this issue, it is bigger than the interaction you are having with this person at this moment. Let it go. It doesn’t matter in the end, this person was not going to be a life-long customer and it’s just better to hold you head high.

8 – Hard decisions suck, but they have to be made.

It’s never fun having to fire someone, or dropping a line that you have carried for years but that is no longer working for you.

This goes back to #1, trusting your gut.

When you know something or someone is not working, don’t let it fester. It’s not pleasant, but it will only get worse and harder to deal with. Rip that band-aid off in one shot, get it over with.

9 – Don’t be pressured by fads.

Reps will constantly try to tempt you with The Next Big Thing. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of selling only the *hot* item of the season.

But customers will stay loyal to you if you stay loyal to your brand.

10 – There are no rules.

To this day, we don’t have a business plan. Sounds crazy, but we don’t. We get up everyday and we have fun, we laugh with our staff, we laugh with our customers.

Sometimes, we cry a little too.

But we get up and do it again the next day and we keep moving forward. We never thought we’d be here 10 years later, who knows where we will be 10 years from now.

We have fun, we love it, that is all that matters.

Image courtesy of Mortimer Snodgrass

Virginia Champoux-Sokoloff is co-owner (with her husband Jay Sokoloff) of Mortimer Snodgrass, a funky and unique gift store in Montreal Canada that is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary.

Virginia’s dog, the real Mortimer Snodgrass, is now an 11 y.o. mutt who roams the house looking for shoes to steal, having retired from the daily grind of greeting customers behind the counter. Married for 9 years to Jay, they are raising 2 daughters.


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  1. Hi Virginia – love this article. I just went by your Twitter account mortsnodgrass – what’s the deal with #snodversary and the Snodchildren? It sounds *adorable*, but it sound like it has something to do with Halloween too? Is that right?

    • not quite! for the entiere month of October, we celebrated our 10th anniversary, aka #snodversary and it closes tonight. We will be awarding prizes to both in-store shopper and our line followers on twitter and facebook. We have a bit of Snod-vocab we like to use, so the Snod-children are my kids, who are in charge of drawing the winners later… Other Snod-vocab includes Snod-tacular, Snod-tastic, Snod-ilicious and of course, Snod-ka, which we enjoy once in a while!

      • @mortsnodgrass I *love* the snod-vocab. SO much personality. 🙂 Happy Anniversary again!

  2. This is a Great inspiration and a great article. I’m in the process of opening up a small retail location and I have gotten all the details about renting space. I will be starting out small and will have to block off some of the space I won’t be using. I make eco-friendly Scented Soy candles and will compliment them with home decor and other accessories just as jewelry as I want something for everyone, I’m passionate about my candles, my customers love them and also I’m a Stylist so I love fashion jewelry too and I love to decorate so my store will be mainly just that, What advice would you give me since I’m having to start small with small inventory as far as restocking goes to stay open and keep a wide variety of what I will be offering.

  3. I loved reading this post. Very inspiring! It’s great to know that you made it so big, it’s stories like these that motivate people to do so much better in life and gives a lesson to never give up. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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