by Karen Alberg Grossman
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Here a poem shared with MR by a long-time merchant from an independent menswear store:

‘Twas days before Christmas and all through the store
Not a customer was stirring, not even a bore.
The suits were all hung on the rack with great care
In hopes that some shoppers would somehow appear.
The sellers were dressed in their nicest new threads
While visions of cash registers rang in their heads…

When out on the street there arose such a clatter
We sprang to the door to see what was the matter
And what to our wondering eyes should appear
But six Amazon trucks and they all drew quite near
With hundreds of boxes from somewhere online
To customers right to their homes, in no time!

Now Amazon, Walmart
Now Macy’s and Costco
On Poshmark, On Groupon
Through cyperspace all go…
Then right there, on his phone, our sole shopper tapped away;
Who needs stores, he declared: it’s much more fun this way!

25 Replies to “A RETAILER’S TALE OF WOE”

  1. On line buying never connects on a personal level. During the Holidays, bring in the Vino, set up a small bar, send invites to join you to your wonderful customer base the month of December, and have some cheese platters (also vegan delights) daily everyday. Sharing your love, sharing your thoughts together of the year gone by, and saying thank you to all your loyal customers for their love and support over the many years. More and more today we all need to personally connect . On line is here to stay, but a warm embrace, a toast to your customers good health, will never be replaced. 🍷 🍷 Cheers and Saluti. 😎 Bill

    1. Whether we admit it or not there is much truth in this poem. To a certain degree we can as retailers offer an “An Experience, Offer our professional advice, and touching and feeling the garments is still important to many”.
      But record store closings speak to the validity of this poem.

      Holiday business is not what it once was and we have to adjust to that. In our store we are still more tailored clothing and that is hard to buy online. So going forward we will focus more on that in our marketing and inventory. Hopefully more profit with less markdowns on items less likely to be purchased online. Unlike sportswear that is sold online by our own vendors! We must decide, can my clients buy this online before placing an order!

    2. Hallelujah !!! Embrace and stir up the energy with in store events and special services which your clients cannot get anywhere else! 2020 is about embracing change and being nice. Don’t let the clown in the White House dissuade you from being nice, be nice to everyone.

  2. Well written and profound. However, there still is a place in the market for customers that want the personal experience of good experience, touching and examining the merchandise, and most of all trying it on.

    1. The fine stores I sell to have customers who want to be surprised ; salespersons who have a relationship with their customers may suggest cashmere socks or silk scarves that would be a boring online search, with no way to compare quality.

  3. Obviously written by one of the “Old Guard”. My advice, talk to your clients. Ask what they are buying elsewhere and most importantly, provide and experience and a reason for your client base to come visit your store more often. Sharpen up your sales help. Get them invested!

  4. Funny Poem. Thankfully It’s not that bleak. I’ve been buying and selling Men’s clothing for almost 40 years, and while it is definitely different now and in many ways more difficult, We’re still here. We were all told 15-20 years go that we “brick and mortars” would all be gone before now.
    People still need a human connection and if we give that to them right, they come again.
    Here’s to another year and hopefully a good one.

  5. so so untrue !!!! our stores are doing very well , there customers love the personal experience and warmth from our stores owners and associates ,also of course being able to touch our wonderful products !!!!!!! BRICK AND MOTOR ALIVE AND THRIVING !!!!!!

  6. We find more than ever that the personal connection can often trump the mindless on line ordering while sitting at home in your underwear where you end up looking like you did 10 years ago and never being presented the reason to evolve. We have the good fortune to entertain many clients who crave a personal touch, appreciate the value of the finest quality, and relate to a sales professional who not only knows his name, wife’s name, dog’s name, and sales history to give him the best possible recommendations. That’s specialty retailing today..

  7. This poem shares my thoughts exactly. In fact, it showed up as “the same boat” theory where I didn’t feel alone with this thought, and it made me smile . The Amazon et al shopping phenom has clearly put a dent in holiday sales for me and many of my mom and pop shop owners. There was a time when holiday shopping was an event… bustling down busy streets and looking at beautifully decorated windows, the holiday season was always my favorite. I applaud those who make each store visit a special occassion, but we first have to get them away from their iPhones and computers. I’ve owned my company as a custom shirtmaker for 42 years, and while sales have gotten smaller each year as the casual trend exploded, I still hold what I do with great pride. I sell a SERVICE… and you can’t get my expertise on a link. I love what I do and mostly because of the experience of working with wonderful men who brighten my day with their stories. ( It isn’t always about making money for me, it’s about making personal connections.) A personal service is priceless and I’ll keep at it until it no longer brings me joy. ( But I sure miss seeing men in great suits, colorful shirts, wonderful silk ties… and a pocket square for that special touch.)…. Ahh.. those were the days. :)

  8. Cute poem but way too bleak, though probably written tongue in cheek (I, too, am something of a bard).
    But after 57 years in retailing I have to tell you that I still love the business, and our customers still seem to appreciate what we do.
    Sure, we wish we had more of them, but practically every day new people find their way onto our sales floor and give us every indication that our presence seems to matter to them. If I felt otherwise I think I’d get out of retailing and try something easier like astrophysics or brain surgery.

  9. Anyone with any history in this business knows that both sides of the coin are “true”. Yes, absolutely, we know we offer something that cannot be delivered in any other way. Yes, absolutely, we can and do constantly look for ways to admit that we could have done better, and then do better the next time. But it is still true that people that used to fill the generational pipelines are not as assured as they were. We’re all attuned to “selling what we have”, and we succeed sometimes. But any more, if you want that exact item in powder blue, you can get it, and it will indeed come right to your door. Scarcity used to be a good thing; it is now an assured loss of the sale. It is also true that some 60% (+) American households have Amazon Prime, and the makers of the gifty items we sell all think they’re wise to siphon off as much as they can before we can get the sale. We’ll never know how to measure what has been diverted or taken, but it is NOT insignificant. For stores that are close to the marginal level, such erosion is disheartening. By the way, though, and on a more serious note: We indie retailers are actually encouraged by the legal system to tip over Amazon trucks, and/or to stab their tires….or anything we please to obstruct or make impossible the delivery of ANYTHING to the intended recipient. As it was said to me by more than one officer: “We can’t get them all, do your part and take them out”. Anyway, the poem’s cuteness level is in the eye of the retailer, from the hale and hearty and robust…to struggling while being told by too many that they get everything on-line. Like my father, I still enjoy providing that connected human thing. Making people smile, wrapping that gift….

  10. We feel the same way. We’ve had multiple events this season that have gathered 30-50 people in our store for non- selling activities. Whether it’s partnering with a charity, or bringing in the local chapter of The Young Presidents Organization. They all create energy, exposure and good will. And ultimately…new customers. Work hard, think outside of the box, create a buzz, get new people in the store. Make more contacts. What does that mean…..sales.

  11. Specialty stores around the country are in a unique position to make a personal connection with their clients, to show them new trends, demonstrate quality, have them feel the fit and see the look. It is up to us to relate to our clients as people and not statistics, and to romance the clothing in the way a smartphone cannot. We are fortunate enough to have many great clients who wouldn’t dream of shopping the big boxes or the internet, and to have suppliers who work with us as partners and not competition. A simple, well executed formula of caring for your customers and helping them to find what is best for them is the key to growing your business as we have. While the internet can be a useful selling tool, it in no way can replace the relationship we have with our clients or the experience that we show them when they choose to visit us.

    1. Agree 100% with the poem. You guys are in dreamland if you think most shoppers care about relationships. I just wish more was offered online. I cringe at these so called ‘relationships’, I’d rather not have contact with anyone when purchasing my clothing.

      1. My shirt studio is a welcome respite for those stressed and driven clients who value their privacy and appreciate our one on one interaction. The distinction between selling a service and selling a product is one that will help make today’s focus on instant gratification less deadly. For those of you who have merchandise that needs a second visit for delivery, it’s indeed the personal connection that keeps these clients loyal. I know this connection matters because I often have clients return I haven’t seen in at least ten years and they appreciate that I remember them. I’ve found the political environment detrimental for my last quarter but I remain positive. I keep politics out of my conversation unless its safe to do so and for those with whom I disagree, I say ” I’m always open to another point of view”. ( This is the hardest part for me as the polarization is so profound and my ( liberal) views are so solid. I got one of my largest orders from a man who shared an opposite politcal view.) It still freaks me out that I work hard all year to drive a profit and don’t know if we’ll land in the black until the last few weeks of the year. This has been a particularly hard last quarter and one I didn’t expect. Up until September, we were positioned to have a strong finish and then the fall/winter season fell on its nose. I’m now in count-down territory and depending on those who have supported us in the past to return. I have fitting appts coming up that may quarentee a soft landing to this year, but it appears it’s the last nine days of the year that will generate the results I need. It’s a crazy up and down career choice, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else~! To my fellow retailers, I wish you all great success. We provide a personal service as we connect with our clients/customers…. We matter. Bright blessings to all.

        1. I was hoping to find a space to share our thoughts and ideas, whether we agreed or not. In acknowledging the importance of relationship building, it depends on the service offered. My sale today (on a Sunday when I’m never open) comes from last year’s holiday sale where I “connected” with the giver of the gift. She remembered that experience, and brought her son in for a gift order THIS year. When I’m not busy writing sales, I actually miss the part of that experience when I’m not “relating” to a client. Selling a service is what a web sale can’t provide… the personal attention and connection that most people enjoy.

          PS… I also hug them when they leave and no one has ever been offended. I’m in business now for 41 years as a custom shirtmaker, and while the need has certainly dimished, I love that I’m able to provide this service to those who still want or NEED custom shirts. May the year end well for us all.~!

  12. The specialty stores can be the stores that carry unique merchandise , experimental brands and niche products .With the present mind set every retailer wants to only carry the brands that have become well known and already have a direct to customer model .There is no reason for a customer to come and buy a product which can be bought on line with price clarity .
    There is no differentiation and there is no attempt to check out unique products .There is no reason for a customer to spend one hour to get to the store and look at the line .
    When did the retailer last try a new line or new product or a new look ?

  13. The issue is one of shifting perceptions of what “relationships” are. My generation and my father’s were reliant on the connectivity of the store, wherein the salesperson helped men (and women) make decisions based on what the visitor wanted. That model had the vast majority of our industry DEpendent on INdependent stores that nurtured, sustained, fulfilled. There was so little in the National category, and the people that represented the industry did a far better job of TRULY representing, not just “feeding a pipeline of faceless consumers”. The people that “National” puts on the front lines (if any) know less than their customers, and what’s worse – – – they couldn’t care less. It is that incompetence and indifference that spawned the age of the internet. That NON experience in mass market, national chains moved a nation to regard the field of retail as a go-nowhere profession. It proliferated (exploded) exploded to virtually eliminate the independent portion of the market in the 80s and 90s, so that now, people in their 30s and 40s have the choice of getting no service from either their couch or through the disheartening process of going to the stores that ruined retail. People in my generation agree, too, that, for instance, Macy’s ) doesn’t hold a CANDLE to Hudson’s, which served our local economy beautifully as an independent merchant that dazzled with service and zeal. All of that having been said, it really DOES lay clear the path of opportunity. To knock their socks off when they DO find us. You just can’t mass produce that commitment, that level of passion. I know the direction, I know what to tell myself. I know how to trick myself, (although unfortunately, I also know when I’m being tricked, even by myself). This is a massive topic that is only being sniffed at here. The poem describes exactly what I feel as I look down my own streets here, and see no shoppers, no bags. It is honest, if sad. I bet the author knows the words to tell himself, too. For me, knowing that I still get to do what I love to do, at my own direction, is still enough to motivate me and make me try harder so I can be thinking in terms of much longer time frames than Save the Tiger’s “one more season”.

    1. Hi Peter Rose
      Bravo for telling it like it is~! I share your comment as quoted. ” For me, knowing that I still get to do what I love to do, at my own direction, is still enough to motivate me and make me try harder so I can be thinking in terms of much longer time frames than Save the Tiger’s “one more season”.
      I’ve recently made a shift in my marketing efforts that has prompted me to hold what I do as a SERVICE and not just a retail shop selling a garment. I have a small and committed clientele and I just “Mommy” them so they feel special. As a custom shirtmaker, my service has been hit hard by casual clothing, but I appear to be the last (wo)man standing, and the prize goes to the one with staying power. My pie is much smaller now, but it’s a pie that seems to be mine alone, so as long as men want ( or need) custom shirts… I’m your gal~! Bright Blessings… a New Year follows and we can start all over again. Whew.

  14. By the way, Paul….. the waves of store closures are virtually ALL national in nature; virtually ALL of them are stock market parasites that never should have been here in the first place. And we have miles and miles to go before the scourge of that insane overbuilding spree that lowered the bar of most American’s experience of shopping so badly is corrected. There are still a LOT of us that remember how much more satisfying and FUN and lucrative this business was before CAPITALISM did it’s best to sink (steal) our local capitalism. Every chain that is shrinking or closing is a crappy substitute for what we are able to offer as Indies, and I am thrilled to death by every single announcement of store closings from that sector, no matter what the niche. They are not retail as I define it. SO, I say unto thee, if ALL of those imposters were gone, it would create far too much demand for what WE offer with service and smiles and real engagement for our local economies. Indie stores would be opening up to fill that demand, and our economy would actually be growing for real folks. So cheer mightily when they close. They never DID add anything of worth, while the sheer quantity of PRODUCT they flooded us all with eliminated so many quality operators. Every one of them that closes is a celebration. About time. Patience, my friends, and be of good cheer. Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah.

    1. We’re independent shop owners who sell SERVICE. Let’s always remember that’s what sets us apart from web driven businesss and cookie cutter establishments. ( and our customers remmember US when our service is appreciated. ) I just had a gift certificate sale on the phone because the recipient got one of our GC’s from a friend of their’s, and because I spent time with the original client, he was able to drive that message to HIS friend. It’s always about building relationships and only an independent owner can do that so easily.
      PS… I also send a Thank You message to my clients at year end when I do my final email blast and I ALWAYS thank the folks who support the making of our product.
      May this crazy year end well for us all. Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah as we soon get to start this all over again~!
      Bright blessings

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