Byline: E.G.

CHICAGO — In an age of anxiety for specialty stores, two Chicago-based shops have recently expanded with new locations.
Ultimo, Oak Street’s designer emporium, opened a 3,500-square-foot clone on San Francisco’s tony Geary Street. It abuts and is attached to the Jil Sander boutique, also owned by Ultimo proprietor Joan Weinstein. A Dallas Ultimo opened in March.
And, according to executives at Bigsby & Kruthers, the Chicago-based men’s store has had so much success with its new women’s divisions in two stores that it opened a third Bigsby For Women in its suburban Oakbrook location in March. Among the women’s assortments are Giorgio Armani, Max Mara and Lida Biday.
So what’s their secret, at a time when so many small shops are struggling?
“There may be a decline in people opening them, but they’re still successful. Otherwise designers wouldn’t be opening their little stores,” said Weinstein, commenting on the growth of designer boutiques worldwide.
Both retailers pride themselves on focused clothing assortments.
“What is unusual about our approach is that we’re a small store, but we have many collections that we tailor to our customer. We have a specific point of view. We’re not all over the place,” said Weinstein.
“We can be more targeted, more like a rifle than a shotgun,” added Gene Silverberg, Bigsby’s chief executive. “We can buy ones and twos of items just to have them. In a department store with a grid system of buying, it’s harder to do that.”
Service is a key ingredient in the recipe for small-store success.
“Our customers appreciate finding cream-of-the-crop lines and being treated in a certain way,” said Allyson Bass, general merchandise manager for Bigsby’s women’s division, which offers free alterations.
And convenience is a selling point: “Everything is at your fingertips,” said Weinstein. “You don’t have to run up an escalator or an elevator for something.”

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