Temperatures reached the upper 90s for the Dallas Market Center’s 60th year, so it only made sense for Gifts and Decorative Accessories magazine to round up a dozen retailors and discuss an equally hot topic: How does your independent boutique compete with big-box stores and online sales? The roundtable discussion, sponsored by Michel Design Works, was led by GDA Editorial Director Warren Shouldberg and co-hosted by editor in chief Lenise Willis. The chat took place in the World Market Center in Dallas, TX, Thursday, June 22.
Joining the discussion were:
- Sonia Malloy, Splurge Gifts, Inc., Greenwich, CT.
- Candace Williams, The Toy Maven, Dallas, TX.
- Janet Burke, The Monogram Shop, Houston, TX.
- Kim Rogers, Persnickety, Morton, MS.
- Marcia Houston, The Nest Home and Garden, Eagle, ID.
- Mary Liz Curtin, Leon and Lulu, Clawson, MI.
- Terry Monroe, Murphy’s Department Store, Stillwater, OK.
- Linda Motley, PS The Letter, Fort Worth, TX
- Laura Tarket-Johnson, T is for Table, Centennial, CO.
Overall, it was agreed that it’s still the unique and intimate shopping experience that will continue to draw customers to independent retailers, although an online presence is still necessary—mostly to establish your store’s image and remind your audience that you’re there.
“We sell the whole atmosphere,” Curtin said. “People come by just when they’re depressed—though we haven’t figured out how to translate that online. (In store) we’re selling happiness, an experience. Online is for hunters, not gatherers, and Leon and Lulu is for gatherers.” Curtin said she mostly uses her website and social media just to stay connected to her customers, not necessarily for direct sales.
But for those interested in keeping some inventory online, a few retailers, like Rogers, recommend using “The Bridge,” which keeps track of online inventory, automatically updates any discontinued patterns, and best of all, keeps retailers from sitting on stock. Monroe said his store is also experimenting with working with Google Shopping, which will display his products to online customers that are near his store.
When it comes to buying and displaying products, several retailers had some wise advice. “If you have a really strong display, give it the love and attention it needs; it sells better,” said Rogers. Curtin echoed the sentiment with her own advice: ”If it doesn’t sell, buy more of it!” she boldly added. “A small display looks like leftovers. (When you like a product and stock it) don’t do it, unless you’re gonna do it! Otherwise, your store just looks like your closet.”
Both Monroe and Malloy have found success in filling in gaps after other specialty stores nearby go out of business. Monroe expanded his store’s products to include books, toys and cards after a book store, toy business and Hallmark closed in his area. Malloy added tween items to her store for the same reason and said, “the tween business for me is on fire.” Malloy also added that the business of personalized products has been hugely successful at Splurge Gifts. In fact, she’s adding on another 1,000 square feet, which will accommodate new sections called, “Why Wait?” for grab-and-go items, “While You Wait” for customers waiting on their in-store monogramming, and “Worth the Wait” for products that can be monogrammed. Her silhouette machines, which enable her to print personalized vinyl on many of her products accounts for about 10-12 percent of her business, she said. The best part about in-store personalization? It renders the product non-returnable!
To wrap up, “It’s a good time to be a mom and pop,” concluded Shoulberg. At the end of the discussion, each retailer received a special thank you for participating–a gift bag by Michel Design Works, which included Foaming Shea Butter Hand Soap, Natural Hand Cream, Soy Wax travel Candle and an Eau de Parfum roll-on, all in beautiful floral packaging and the fragrance Botanical Garden.