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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published March 11, 2010                                                        

Independent stores focus on
service, quality

Retail store owners bring expertise, high standards and friendly atmosphere to their shops

 By Pamela Lannom

   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 hooked.
   “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 situation.
   “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 Italian-made.
   “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 sells.
   “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 in college.
   He and partner Jim Loufman specialize in skiing. Mike Choate is an elite cross-country skier.
   “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 looking for.”
   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 customers.
   “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 looking for.”
  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,” she said.






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