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Specialty retailers emphasize the store experience

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2012 Business Person of the Year Libby Story McRight

Upon the 2006 opening of the Libby Story store in Starkville, the university town had one other clothing and accessories boutique. Today the city has about a dozen and a half, Libby Story McRight says.

“Now, I bet there are 20 at least,” she says.

“I’ve got several competitors I think are really good. I like them to keep me on my toes.”

McRight and her top competitors have found that in a crowded market, offering a “buying experience” can bring that something extra that separates them from the pack.

Don’t underestimate the value of “the feeling” you provide the customer when she walks into your store, retail consultant Margo Kopman says.

As principal of Insight Retail Solutions in the St. Louis area, Kopman makes a living advising independent “mom-and-pop” shops that specialize in women’s apparel and accessories. Her clients are on both coasts and in between, and include Madison’s Taylor Collection Apparel & Accessories.

“It’s the experience,” Kopman says. “People walk into specialty stores because of the experience that is available there.”

She also advises boutique owners not to fret if a competitor moves nearby. You will be bringing traffic to each other, says Kopman, whose firm is an affiliate of Management One.

“Having synergies with other stores like you, even though they would be considered competition, is strongly suggested as the more strong independent retailers there are to shop from in one area, the stronger your business can be.”

Big box chains can’t offer the same appealing shopping experience, but they can secure big markdowns from wholesalers that let them slash prices at the speed of light.

“I would definitely say independents have to always be on their toes in regards to the big boxes if they have competing vendors,” Kopman says.

The other edge for big boxes comes from in-house inventory planners who are constantly analyzing hard numbers and adjusting in-season inventory buys, as well as forecasting for the next season, she notes.

Such constant analyses are something small retailers had not ought to neglect, Kopman advises.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it. If you are measuring it you can’t fail, because you have the knowledge to make a change in the right direction.”

Focus on the things you can control, she says, and you can make the necessary adjustments to grow.

“The sky is the limit.”


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About Ted Carter