Published March 11, 2010
Independent stores focus on
Retail store owners bring expertise, high standards and
friendly atmosphere to their shops
In college, Jeanie Janes was
studying outdoor recreation to prepare for a career as a
park planner for the national forest service. Then the
owner of the clothing store where she worked invited her
to go on a buying trip to New York. She said yes and was
“I love clothing,” said Janes,
who has owned Schoen’s for about 11 years. “I love
putting outfits together. I love beautiful fabrics and I
like people. I have fun with the customers.”
A student of Shale Baskin (of
Mark Shale fame), Janes has always worked in
family-owned businesses. She sees many advantages to
being both owner and sales person.
“Because I’m right here on
the selling floor and I’m not in another office that’s
separate from where the business is being done, I have a
lot of face time with the customers and the sales people
on the selling floor,” she said.
As a small, independent
business owner, Janes looks for vendors in a similar
“We’re looking for smaller,
independent vendors that you might not see in larger
stores — although we have those, too,” she said.
Every item in the store has
been selected by Janes and meets her standards.
“We want to make sure when
customers buy something that they feel they really got
their money’s worth, that they experienced some kind of
value for the money that they put out,” she said. “To
me, that goes back to fabric and construction.”
Steve Potter, owner of
Hinsdale Clothiers since 1988, agrees.
Over the years he has
improved the quality of merchandise the store carries.
Now as much as 50 percent of his merchandise is
“Once you’ve been to Italy
and seen European fashion, you come back and look at
your own store and wish you were as good as what you
saw,” he said.
Like Janes, Potter looks for
items a customer won’t find in a big department store.
“We will seek out lines that
offer popular looks but with a different attitude so you
do not feel like you are buying the same thing that is
in the main stream,” he said.
Hinsdale Clothiers also
offers something else many larger stores don’t — the
expertise to clothe hard-to-fit men.
Customers often come in and
say, “The big stores don’t know what to do with me” or
“I can’t find anyone who understands what I need for my
clothing to look nice,” Potter said. “A lot of men have
given up on the shopping experience because they have
not found a lot of people at retail level that
understand what they need.”
Potter wants all his
customers to look the way he wants to look when they
walk out the door and stands behind every garment he
“We have to stand behind (our
products) as long as necessary because our name is in it
and our personal integrity is in it,” he said.
As an owner, Potter pays
attention to the smallest of details. After his first
trip to Italy in 2003, he closed for three days to
spruce up his store and improve his packaging.
“I looked at our wrapping and
boxes and everything and said, ‘That’s it. No more.’ We
upgraded two more levels in our boxes, our paper, our
ribbons,” he said.
Quality and customer service
also are hallmarks of King-Keyser Specialty Sports. All
staff members are very knowledgeable about the skis,
snowboards and other equipment the store carries, said
Rick Johnson, who has worked at the store since he was
He and partner Jim Loufman
specialize in skiing. Mike Choate is an elite
“We’ve got a couple of guys
who help us out with input on snowboarding,” he said.
“That way, when you come into our store, there’s always
going to be somebody who’s an expert in what you’re
Like his counterparts at
Schoen’s and Hinsdale Clothiers, Johnson makes sure he’s
very familiar with the merchandise he carries.
“We go out West to test
products. We go to local areas to test skis and
snowboards,” he said. “A lot of the hard goods end of
things get tried out before we bring it into the store.”
Johnson also makes sure he
can meet the needs of almost any skier.
“I think what differentiates
us as a specialty shop from a lot of the mass
merchandisers and a lot of the box stores is the fact
that not only do we carry the stuff for the beginner but
we also carry the stuff for an expert and everyone else
in between,” he said. “You have the whole gamut of
products that are available here for a lot of different
ability levels. A lot of time, box stores and mass
merchants will concentrate on the entry level folks.”
Independent store owners also
strive to create a superior shopping experience for
“I think one thing a lot of
consumers are looking for these days is something that a
lot of stores have gotten away from, which is service —
people coming in and dealing with people that approach
you, say hello, help you find what you need and do it
with a smile,” Johnson said. “As much as the Internet
has brought us convenience in shopping, it’s also taken
away some of the personal touch that I think people are
That personal touch is what
keeps shopping in independent stores interesting, Janes
said. She enjoys stopping in someone else’s store to
find an eclectic mix of clothing lines and see the
owner’s unique spin on the business.
“You can go into 100
different independents and none of those stores are
going to look alike or have the same merchandise mix,”