DOING DOUBLE DUTY
BOUTIQUE OWNERS IN NAPLES, FLA., WORK TO APPEAL TO TWO GENERATIONS AS WELL AS TWO DISTINCT GROUPS — RESIDENTS AND TOURISTS.
Byline: Anita J. Finkelstein
NAPLES, Fla. — They say there are only two things to do here: shop and play golf. With more golf courses per capita than anywhere else in the country (a number that tops 80) and over 100 apparel stores, it’s a fairly accurate statement. How the little resort town, with an in-town population of a mere 19,500, came to be such a shoppers’ paradise is almost a mystery.
Nancy Abbass, owner of Fancy Nancy’s, feels the shopping developed as a response to the constantly growing number of country clubs, which generated a need for clothes.
A Chamber of Commerce volunteer offered another idea: “It’s probably just that so many people with money flock here.”
The majority of the fashion boutiques and specialty stores are housed in three main shopping areas and one shopping mall. Waterside Shops, a lushly landscaped mall houses both Jacobson’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, and well as many upscale chain stores such as Banana Republic and Talbots.
The majority of independents are nestled either in the quaint walking promenades of Third Street South or the newly renovated Fifth Avenue South.
There is also Venetian Village, a charming Mediterranean-style collection of stores and restaurants on Venetian Bay.
Stores ranging from Marissa, which stocks an international mix of designer labels, and Jami’s, a small Florida chain that focuses on bridge labels, to moderate resort boutiques like Zazou all thrive on the mix of residents and tourists. Most, however, focus on the needs of the residents and part-time residents, who mainly come from the Midwest and spend from October to April here.
Margaret Scatena, owner of La Petite Femme, describes that customer as “a mature woman with a good amount of money.”
As Tony Maran, who owns Wind and the Willows along with his wife, Lucille, explained it: “We stock items for the tourists — T-shirts, shorts, gifts — but it’s the residents that buy the sportswear and evening clothes.”
La Petite Femme
“Naples is so well stored, you really need to have a specialty,” explained Margaret Scatena, owner of the two-year-old La Petite Femme in the Third Street South shopping area.
Scatena is no stranger to retail here. She owned The Clothesrack, a moderate apparel store in town, for 14 years before deciding to retire with her husband. Less than 5 years later, Scatena, now a widow, decided to start a new retail venture, and she knew she needed a niche. “The town has grown so much in the past five years, it’s very popular for shopping and I needed something unique.”
Her bright, colorful 1,500-square-foot shop, which specializes in apparel for women 5 feet 4 inches and under, houses such labels as Herbert Grossman, DeRue and Marisa Christina. Scatena, herself a petite, considered every detail in appealing to the smaller, shorter customer. Everything from the displays to the racks, mirrors and shelving units is adjusted to a lower, more accessible height.
“So many petite shops don’t consider those things. I wanted to make it comfortable for the customer,” Scatena said.
As a result, she has a loyal following. Last year, her sales came close to the $2 million mark. “They love to come here because it’s really for them, and has everything from casual and career to eveningwear. They end up buying in bulk because it’s all here,” said Scatena.
Right now, Scatena is hot on Hawksley & Wight tailored jackets with gold buttons, which she said are selling consistently at $198 a piece. “The women here have their clubs, their golf, their tennis and their parties — they need a lot of clothes,” she pointed out.
As a petite buyer, Scatena said she’s constantly searching for manufacturers who will cut petites and aren’t in department stores. She is also always on the hunt for petite blouses, which she said are difficult to find. “I search the Atlanta market for lines, and I often try to encourage manufacturers to do petites.”
Scatena now has a bit of competition, as two more petite stores have opened in town. She said she is not worried because she feels her product is strong and she backs it up with frequent advertising and special sales. “The retail market is very strong, and Naples is only growing,” she said.
In fact, Scatena closes the shop in the extremely quiet months of August and September to take vacation and do buying trips. “I could stay open, of course, but I always say, ‘You don’t want to be the richest girl in the cemetery.”‘
The Wind in the Willows
For 20 years, Tony and Lucille Maran have run their business, The Wind in the Willows, out of a charming old storefront in the Third Street South district.
This year, though, the couple lost their lease. “It’s sad, but it’s given us the chance to look back and clean house,” said Lucille.
While many people would have taken the opportunity to retire, for the Marans, it wasn’t even a consideration. “We know so many of the customers, we get to bike to work every day and we love what we do,” pointed out Lucille.
Tony adds, “What would we do with our time? We’d be bored.”
So they found a 2,000-square-foot corner site with lots of windows in the trendy new Fifth Avenue South area and are in the process of designing and filling their new store.
“It’s a different customer; it’s more touristy over here,” explained Lucille. Because of that, in addition to women’s apparel, 35 percent of the stock is gift items. Lucille tries to find unique pieces — interesting dolls, tiny pillows with clever sayings on them, hand-painted candlesticks and children’s books are all part of the mix.
“Tourists are usually on a limited budget, so I pick things that are easy for them to buy,” she said. Tony added that gift items help keep the store afloat when the fashion business is slow.
In the years they have been here, the couple said they have not only seen a tremendous amount of development, but many changes in the customers as well. Tony explains that what used to be a three-month season for part-time residents has grown to a six-month season. “It’s made business more vibrant,” he said.
And Lucille pointed out that their main customer, who has always been a more mature woman, no longer wants matronly clothes. “She wants to look young and wear clothes that make her feel that way.”
The store stocks labels such as PG Collections, Elliot Lauren, Maureen Keene, Faith and Surya. It is known for its eveningwear, which ranges from sexy little dresses from Gala to more sophisticated two-piece looks from Night Lights.
Lucille credits one particular dress with creating their evening business. She calls it the “bubble dress.” Made by Siacia, it is a full-cut sheath that falls down to just below the hip where it gathers into a stretchy puckered skirt. She buys it season after season in a multitude of fabrics.
“Women love this dress; it hides everything and shows off the legs. I have sold hundreds,” she said.
Last year, the store brought in just over $600,000 in sales, said Tony. He feels increased competition has kept sales flat for the past few years, but hopes the move to Fifth Avenue stirs business. “There are more restaurants and cafes here, which brings walk-in business. Third Street attracts mostly local residents and is more of a daytime-only place,” said Tony.
Clean and sophisticated is the best way to describe Fancy Nancy’s.
The owner of the six-year-old store, Nancy Abbass, said the goal is to keep it light and airy. “I wanted it to feel very Mediterranean. After all, this is a resort area,” she explained.
The 1,700-square-foot shop in the Third Street South area focuses on sportswear and career wear for a classic, fashionable customer. Most of the apparel is in the better-to-bridge category, except in the summer, when Abbass stocks less-expensive looks.
Abbass had no intention of opening a store here when she arrived 10 years ago. But with a background in both wholesale and retail sales, it made sense, especially after she surveyed the scene and noticed there was something missing. “Most of the women come from the Midwest, which is more casual. I thought I could entice them to both update and dress up.”
In an effort to do that, Abbass offers stretchy Wayne Rogers sweaters, modern Garfield & Marks suits and pretty Donna Jessica dresses.
“I try to buy things that don’t have an age to them. It’s hard, but I feel like I have to outfit two generations,” she explained.
Everything is displayed on simple T-stands, glass tables and silver hooks.
She switches resources a lot to avoid looking too much like her competition. “Naples is a very boutique-oriented market, and I want to always be unique.”
Abbass brings in reproduction jewelry and original art from the Pre-Columbian era, which she collects on her travels to South America. It is not only a passion of hers, but it creates another way for her to stand out. “I really feel you have to stay one step ahead.”
She points out that she recently recognized that more Europeans and South Americans are visiting Naples and the West Coast of Florida. “All of the sudden, I wanted to know what languages were important to be able to speak. I know Spanish, and I let the hotels and cruise ships know, so they can send their customers here.”
Fancy Nancy’s is one of the few stores that carry fall apparel in the town. Abbass explained she buys true fall, from velvets to fur collars and coats. She pointed out that her customers do more shopping while they are in town than they do when up North. “They will just take it with them. A lot of stores here don’t think that way, though. Most of my customers are repeat customers, and they’ve come to expect it from me.”