Indie Shops Get Creative to Stand Out

Discussion
Aug 02, 2012

Being small pretty much demands being different if you want to stand out, and independent clothing retailers are finding ways to do just that.

First comes a story from The Kansas City Star introducing the T-Shirt Deli. The owner, Ninel Pompushko, liked the deli theme because similar to sandwich shops, all of her products are made to order.

From the Star: "Customers pick out their shirts, and then they head to deli cases to select type fonts from T-shirts rolled up in foil meat trays. The orders are wrapped in butcher paper, sealed with colorful stickers and put in doggie bags (with a drawing of a poodle, bib in place, excitedly wagging its tail). "Guest check" ticket forms are stapled on the outside with a "To" and "From" for gift giving.

The Kansas City location is the third for Ms. Pompushko, who opened the first T-Shirt Deli in Chicago in 2003.

In other news, The Associated Press ran a piece on the number of entrepreneurs who are opening clothing stores inside of trucks. One of the prime advantages is the ability to open, relatively speaking, on the cheap. Leasing prime retail locations can be a killer for new stores. Getting a truck up and running can be done at the fraction of the cost.

In a RetailWire discussion on the topic back in May, Amy Chase, owner of Haberdash Vintage in Boston, said, "My mobile shop makes enough money in eight hours to pay the rent of a retail space for a month. Also, it attracts press and media that a standalone shop would never get. It may be a fad … but my shop is in its fourth year."

Discussion Questions: Are small shops, by their nature, more creative than large chains? What are some of the most innovative ways that retailers, small and large, are setting themselves apart from the competition?

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8 Comments on "Indie Shops Get Creative to Stand Out"


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Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

The biggest advantage small shops have is the ability to reach into their financial pockets and sponsor a program, try a new product or service — on the spot. Large organizations have to go up the chain of command and get approval after approval over time and from often from uninterested parties.

The creative ideas are in companies large and small. The advantage to act on them quickly and “in time” stays with small companies.

Every once in a while there’s an IBM who dedicates a group to entrepreneurial initiatives that don’t require the long road to the market place. But there aren’t enough of those to take center stage away from small shop creativity and innovation.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Small shops are owned and operated by entrepreneurs and as such, free to try very different approaches. Large chains got to be their size because customers knew what to expect from location to location.

They may be able to adapt items to the local market but need to have processes and procedures in place that allow them to have back of the house continuity. This need to have uniformity limits their ability to be more creative.

Zel Bianco
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Small shops are more creative than large chains as they need to set themselves apart from the competition of large chains as well as other small shops. Large chains are creative, but in a completely different way than small shops; the creative of a large chain has to be replicated throughout all the store locations and takes more planning, time and effort. Small shops have the ability to adapt and change much more quickly, and test the waters, so to speak. For instance, the mobile clothing stores have a unique opportunity to relocate easily and travel to customers vs the brick & mortar stores that need to pull in customers.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
9 years 9 months ago

Smaller retailers are, by definition, appealing to a narrow, carefully defined, and fairly cohesive customer base. They are not constrained by mass market sensibilities. That gives them a lot of room to fully express their individuality and creativity, often on a rapidly evoling basis. This creates their distinctiveness, and their underlying strength.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I would say SUCCESSFUL small retailers are more creative, but there are also a lot of small retailers who struggle because they’re not. The retailers who are setting themselves apart have a differentiated experience, and are able to build a community that customers want to be part of.

Here in Boston we have a small chain that sells baby gear and toys. Two brutal market segments. But Magic Beans is successful because of their social media strategy, unique product selection, engaging service, and some very creative and talented owners. It’s that last element that creates the rest.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I think it depends on how one defines “creative.” Is “try anything” creative or just foolish? As Doug noted, our perception is biased by the fact that those who gambled and lost get eliminated and forgotten. Smaller shops generally are more nimble and don’t have to answer to analysts, but larger ones have more money and more breathing room if things go wrong…just how much the former put that liberty to use depends on the personality(ies) of ownership.

Christopher Krywulak
Guest
Christopher Krywulak
9 years 9 months ago

The “T-Shirt Deli” and clothing trucks mentioned in the article are definitely novel, in much of the same way that food trucks have taken off. They can go to where the customers are. They have significantly less overhead. And by nature, they stand out from their competition, which occupies traditional storefronts on the street or in malls. They’re kind of like the pop-up shops we’ve seen in NYC or London, using shipping containers to showcase items that passersby can purchase via m-commerce, QR codes, etc. These are all innovative ways to stand out, and also to generate high-margin sales.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 9 months ago

This is the fun, quirky, ever-changing fringe of retail that has always and will continue to be the hotbed of innovative concepts in both product and presentation/delivery methods. A very small percentage of these will ever take off into a significant business, but that isn’t the point. The point is to pay attention, and learn.

The Walmarts, Macy’s, and Kohl’s of the world will never kill the innovative spirit of the entrepreneur.

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