‘LET’S GET DRESSED’
A RETAILER THRIVES BY DEEMPHASIZING CASUAL AND PROMOTING ELEGANCE.
Byline: Rusty Williamson
DALLAS — Betty Thrasher cut her teeth on retailing as a child playing in her family’s mercantile stores, which were scattered across rural east and central Texas for more than 80 years.
Those stores are closed, but Thrasher is still in retailing.
She owns The Rosebud, a 20-year-old women’s specialty store in Temple, Tex., a town of 55,000 residents north of Austin, the state capital.
Thrasher believes she has something in common with the more than 600 doctors who reportedly practice in Temple, which is known for its numerous specialized medical centers.
“We’re both in the business of making people feel good, and I do it with fashion. When you look good, you feel good,” she said. “Fashion has a place in a woman’s life, no matter where she lives.”
Temple, it turns out, is quite the civic-minded town. And there are numerous black-tie and cocktail affairs that call for getting dressed up. Thrasher stages numerous charity events, including a big fall fashion show, each year to show off her latest styles and raise money for local causes.
Social occasion is 35 percent of the yearly volume at The Rosebud, but you won’t find party clothes on the selling floor of the 2,600-square-foot store.
Instead, the wide selection of vendors and styles is presented privately in the store’s plush salon-style dressing rooms.
“Our depth of social occasion merchandise is a big investment, and not every store has a reason to stock it and present it the way we do,” Thrasher said.
Vendors include Sunni Choi, Carol Peretz, Stephen Yearick, Ursula of Switzerland, Cattiva, Daymoor and Carmen Marc Valvo.
The spectrum of labels bares proof of the classic to opulent merchandising approach at The Rosebud, which Thrasher explained is necessary in light her store’s eclectic clientele, which ranges in age from teens to nonagenarians.
Thrasher takes a customer list with her on market trips to New York and to the mart here to help guide her buys.
“I put faces in the clothes I see at market, and I know pretty quickly what I like — and what will sell,” she said.
Sportswear, however, is displayed on the floors and generates nearly half of annual sales.
Starting this fall and going into spring, Thrasher plans to promote sportswear ensemble dressing and is deemphasizing casual with the mantra “Let’s Get Dressed.”
“The overly relaxed merchandise is not good for specialty stores, and I’m highly concerned about what I’ve seen in the market,” she observed. “So for spring, I’m searching for more structured and dressy styles, like silk suits in bright colors. Dressing up will be promoted from the minute you walk in the door.
“I’m looking for very tailored, sophisticated sportswear. It’s even better if it’s in an imported or unusual fabric.”
Sportswear bestsellers include Raffinella, Jontagia, Marisa Minicucci, Enrice Fereci, George Simonton, Basler, Bicci, Lafayette 148 and Renfrew.
Day dresses and suits now only account for about 15 percent of Thrasher’s sales, but the category is her fastest-growing niche.
“Everywhere I go, women are asking for sophisticated dresses and suits. They want newness, but not fads,” she said. “It’s a high priority on my market trips.”
Her top dress and suit resources now include Ildi Marshall, William Pierson, Lihli, Hino and Malee and NR1.
Thrasher emphasized, though, that there’s a difference between classic and boring: “I bring in the trends in a subtle way, and accessories are great tools for injecting newness into an outfit. You can do so much with a beautiful scarf, a wonderful hat or shawl or an unusual handbag. And we’re playing up items that work with classic sportswear.”
To illustrate, she cited a denim jacket with Mongolian lamb trim, a curly lamb jacket and animal-print leather coats that started checking as soon as they hit the selling floor.
Average purchases at The Rosebud are about $500 and might include a social occasion dress or an accessorized suit.
Overall sales this year are projected to climb 20 percent. According to sources, Rosebud sales surpassed $1.5 million last year.
Should Thrasher need an advance trend forecast, she can always turn to her nephew, Tom Ford, creative director at Gucci, for some advice.
“I got a letter from Tom recently and hope to see him at an upcoming family reunion,” she said, noting, however, that the store doesn’t carry Gucci because “you need a big space to present it right and you have to buy it in depth to make the proper statement with it.
“Our family is so proud of Tom,” she added. “Even as a young boy, we knew he had a special vision and talent.”