A Day in the Tech Life of an SMB, Pt. II

Last week we shared the first in the video series that we’re calling “A Day in the Tech Life”. The premise is simple. We visit small businesses and ask them to describe how they use technology to run their businesses. And in some cases, they tell us why they choose not to use any software for some aspects of their businesses.

SaaS is an increasingly dominant factor in running a modern SMB, but pen and paper (not to mention dry-erase whiteboards) are alive and well, including in businesses where you wouldn’t expect them to be. 

The impetus of the series was to share the day to day experiences of SMBs at the LSA’s recent LOCALOGY:ENGAGE conference in Washington, which was all about building SaaS products for SMBs. 

In the weeks leading up to the event, I spent a few afternoons visiting Chicago-area small businesses with a videographer to capture some stories that illustrate the themes addressed in our Modern Commerce Monitor SMB survey research. These include the need to save time, to have a better view of the business’s performance, and to deliver better customer experience. 

This week’s episode features Larisa Olson, owner of Chantilly Lace, a lingerie shop located in an upscale outdoor mall on Chicago’s tony North Shore that she acquired more than three years ago from a longtime owner. Since then she has spent much of her time putting her own unique stamp on the shop. 

Chantilly Lace puts out a quirky and clever email newsletter, offers a high-end inventory that Larisa selects herself on regular buying trips to Paris, and has an attentive staff that is passionate about delivering highly personalized service. 

As you’ll observe in the video, Larisa runs her business with a hybrid mix of technology and old school pen and paper.

One of her first moves as a business owner was to replace “chicken scratch” with an inventory management system. She has a modern point of sale system, and she monitors sales results on her smartphone throughout the day. As she puts it, “running a business without software is hell.”

Yet Larisa also has a comfort zone around pen and paper that contrasts here use of software in other parts of her business. For example, her “CRM” is a spiral bound notebook with color-coded entries for each customer transaction, with notes about returns and customer preferences. When asked if she would ever replace the notebook with software, her response was “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

Larisa’s hybrid view of technology is common and instructive. She sees the need to automate certain highly complex aspects of her business with software, yet she also likes her self-designed pen and paper processes that she finds comfortable and effective. It seems the closer the process is to the customer, the more she favors a hands-on, analog, personal approach. Simply telling her “there’s an app for that” isn’t effective. You have to convince her that your software will treat her customers better than she will. 

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