by Karen Alberg Grossman
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Sometimes it’s not the big things but rather the small gestures that let your customers/vendors/staff know how much they’re appreciated. Here, a few ideas that independent store retailers can try now to generate sales while stores are closed (and/or starting to open) and to keep them connected to the people who matter. (Please let us know what you’ve been up to so we can expand the list!)

  1. Send out a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter via email or social media. It doesn’t have to be fancy or highly professional, as long as it’s personal and heartfelt. Promote Shop Local, not just to benefit your own store but to promote other local businesses (share where you’re buying the best home-made cookies, who’s delivering amazing pizzas, new wines you’ve discovered at your local wine shop, etc.). Why not feature a photo of your dog in a store-made paisley mask? Include safety measures (sanitizers, masks) that you’ll be taking when the store reopens. (Will you implement a no-return policy?)
  1. Show gratitude. Craig DeLongy at John Craig in Florida sent supermarket gift cards to his furloughed employees. I love the idea of giving sales associates a clothing allowance now to select fashion from your current (and rapidly-aging) inventory. Once dressed to impress, they can post selfies (or do video chats) on social media, touting your store’s fabulous spring/summer offerings, available for immediate delivery. (If nothing else, you’ll have fewer outfits to markdown…) How about a hand-written thank-you note to vendors who’ve given you decent discounts or extended payment terms? Or to landlords who have adjusted rents?
  1. What a perfect time for closet cleanings now that people are stuck at home! Challenge customers to empty their closets and dump stuff they no longer like (or that they no longer fit into). Offer to guide them on facetime if they’re unsure of what to discard and what to keep. Plan a trade-in charity event for when the store reopens.
  1. Curate style boxes. With the growth in subscription services, customers are getting comfortable receiving boxes of clothes that they might or might not opt to keep. Savvy retailers including Trevor Furbay in Cincinnati and Michael Duru in Monmouth County N.J. know their customers well enough to curate winning assortments. Be prepared to deliver the boxes and later pick up rejected items. (Also recognize that after the third box, your customer will likely have enough to wear…)
  1. Maximize gift card business. Many retailers have done this, selling gift cards either with a percent donated to front-line workers or a discount back to the customer. But Scott Shapiro at Syd Jerome Chicago went a step further, suggesting customers purchase a minimum $500 gift card in exchange for 50% off on any single item, including expensive Italian suits. “By the time the store reopens, spring goods will be marked down anyway,” he confided, adding that these gift card sales have been very strong at denominations of $500, $1000, and often higher.
  1. Create a custom magazine. How unfortunate that some stores are cutting back on this valuable marketing vehicle just when their customers finally have time to read! Of course, during a pandemic, content should be crisis-sensitive: less pushing product and more entertainment and inspiration. Karen and Murry Penner just sent out a fabulous digital magazine with features including “Togetherness Overdose” “Quarantine Survival Tips” and, just what Houstonians have been waiting for, the secret recipe for Penner Brownies.
Maceoo Masks
  1. Bring in a few new designers! Yes, the main mantra is to cut expenses but here’s our suggestion. Get rid of vendors that are under-performing, over-distributing, or over-promoting online. Then along with your mainstay brands (some of which are surely over-distributing and over-promoting), bring in two or three new names, tell their stories, wear their designs, tout the value of artisanship, sustainability, performance fabrics, whatever applies. (Check mr-mag.com for regular profiles of emerging designers.)
  1. Maximize Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Yes, the world might be falling apart but who can neglect mom? Pick a few great items to promote on social media, offering free gift wrap, free delivery, return pick-ups, etc. How about including a rose-with-purchase or a creative piece of hand-made jewelry from a local designer with each Mother’s Day purchase? Feature an interesting assortment of masks—so many vendors and retailers are making them out of beautiful menswear fabrics. Promote them as Father’s Day gifts, or use as gifts-with-purchase.
  1. Remember that the main reason independent stores exist is their strong relationships with customers. Never take these friendships for granted. Express gratitude for each purchase.
  1. Always dress better than you have to, every day, even for Zoom meetings (says Karen in her pajamas…) For if we in the industry don’t appreciate and promote the transformative power of great clothing–the lift, the confidence, the joy it brings—how can we expect it from our customers?


  1. Karen,
    your comment “Always dress better than you have to, every day, even for Zoom meetings”
    is exactly right.
    Jim Knight

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