SPECIALTY STORES

SPECIALTY STORES UNDER SIEGE: A SURVIVAL GUIDE

"Department Stores Spell More Small Store Misery"
"Designers Eye Additional Retail Locations"
"Outlet Malls Invade Metro Areas"
"Everyday Sales Nourish Price- Conscious Customers"

Headlines taken from a recent sampling of industry publications are less than comforting. Whether television, radio, daily papers or the trades, the stories carry the same message. Taken in total, they are describing the independent specialty retailer under siege. Until recently, with obvious exceptions, the fashion apparel industry has gone along pretty smoothly, but recently, our live-and-let-live attitude looks more like dog-eat-dog:
Department stores and chains are promoting incessantly.
Designers and manufacturers are aggressively opening stores.
Manufacturers and suppliers are selling to anyone and everyone.
Without question, our industry is in turmoil. Specialty store closings are at an all-time high. For many of those remaining, volume is much less than just a few years ago. And if that's not enough, apparel manufacturing is confused and frequently out of touch. So what's going on? Is this the end of the line? Is it time to cash out and buy that bed-and-breakfast in the mountains?
The problem with all this doom and gloom is the generalizations. Not every independent specialty store is struggling. Many in our industry are stronger than ever. Their sales are up, their payables are current and their outlook is positive. With all that is happening to our industry, how is this possible? What sets these stores apart from the rest of the industry? In the legal profession, lawyers openly examine the work of their peers. In the restaurant industry, ideas and techniques are freely exchanged. But specialty apparel retailers exist in a vacuum. We seldom visit our competitors, network little and depend way too much on our suppliers for information. Being a successful retailer in the Nineties is not an accident. It happens only with the combination of hard work, skill and determination. Today's best stores have some common qualities that are worthy of examination:

Narrow Focus
While a cliche of the first order, niche retailing is the only appropriate response to the influx of big stores. Big stores sell everything to everyone. Best stores focus, choose and edit. Big stores are general. Best stores are specific.

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