RATING THE BOUTIQUES CONSUMERS PICK TOP SHOPS IN SIX CITIES.
Byline: IRA P. SCHNEIDERMAN
NEW YORK--Dozens of high-end, designer-oriented specialty shops around the country have recently gone bankrupt, or simply shut down. It's a shrinking market, but there are survivors. It's often a matter of pampering customers and transforming them into regular clients. That's what keeps these shopkeepers in business. The second phase of the WWD study involved interviewing women who shop these high-end boutiques. They were carefully screened. Those between 25 and 59 years old, college-educated, employed in a white collar profession, with an annual household income of at least $35,000, were chosen in each of the 10 markets. Consumers were read a list of boutiques, compiled by WWD. In order to qualify for the survey, a respondent must have shopped in one of the boutiques. From a starting sample of 1,000 people--100 in each of the 10 markets--NPD Group conducted a total of 43 interviews. Households with incomes over $50,000 represented 58 percent of the sample, while the median income of those polled by NPD was $53,700. Respondents with household incomes over $70,000 made up 26 percent of the survey. Women were asked why they liked the stores and what they usually bought there. Based on their responses, here are six shops from six different metro areas, which generally don't have reputations outside their trading areas, but received kudos for service, selection and ambience from women in the survey.
Claire Dratch, Washington, D.C. This traditional, elegant boutique in the Washington area carries conservative, but stylish business clothing, formalwear, wedding and bridesmaid dresses. Respondents admired the consistent high quality of the clothing, the selection, the ambience and personal service of the store. However, they cited a few drawbacks, such as limited accessibility and availability of parking in a congested shopping district. Perception of a typical shopper at Claire Dratch is a women age 30 to 50 who is a professional or upscale housewife, belongs to a country club, drives a Cadillac, Lexus or Mercedes, is politically aware, watches CNN and lives in an upscale townhouse in the best part of town.Lilly Dodson, Dallas This boutique was described by respondents as a fancy, expensive and fashionable. The typical Dodson customer, as perceived by respondents, drives a Cadillac or Mercedes, or gets driven in a limo. She also reads Ladies' Home Journal, watches religious programs and plays tennis. Besides its signature multibrand store, Lilly Dodson also owns an Escada boutique in Dallas.
Exit, Miami Good bargains and friendly sales staff at this Miami retailer are the main draws, women said. Typical of the shopping audience are high school or college students looking for medium price and quality casualwear for everyday use. Merchandise, much of which can be found in competing boutiques, is described as trendy and up to date. Some older shoppers complained that some of the styles are too skimpy for fuller figures. Some said the aisles are too close together and the clothing is a little unorganized. On the plus side, however, shoppers said some outfits are coordinated, which they said was helpful. Respondents described the ambience as comfortable, with light music playing in the background. The typical Exit customer is perceived as someone who watches "Beverly Hills 90210," drives a small car, reads Elle or Cosmopolitan and is interested in trendier sports, such as in-line skating.
Susan, San Francisco Susan carries a selection of high-end designer apparel that was widely cited as "excellent" and "elegant." However, some respondents found the "runway" type styles to be a little dramatic for their taste. One women who browsed through the store said she found the atmosphere uncomfortable and the sales staff "snooty." Susan's core customer is a professional woman or wealthy housewife who is concerned with social issues, goes to the opera, ballet or social functions, and is often concerned about what her neighbor wears to the gala.
Isaacson's, Atlanta Isaacson's is known for conservative but fashionable styles, selection and excellent quality of merchandise, and a rich assortment of designer and career clothing, eveningwear and cruisewear, among other lines. The sales staff was described as knowledgeable and attentive, but not pushy. Many customers said they were initially drawn to the store because of sales promotions. Typical shoppers of Isaacson's are described as upscale professionals who go to parties, watch the Discovery and Learning Channels and are concerned about the environment and finances.Ultimo, Chicago This upscale retailer of designer clothing on downtown Chicago's Oak Street caters to celebrities and high society. Respondents found the designer eveningwear and day clothes to be "beautiful and unique," but generally way out of their price range. The ambience was described as extravagant and exclusive, but consumers said the sales staff was "a bit snooty." The typical shopper here was described as rich, with few working women. More than likely, she is a member of a country club, drives a Mercedes or BMW, reads The New Yorker and watches PBS.
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