By June Allan Corrigan
The landscape in terms of clothing and accessories has definitely changed in recent months. With people hunkered down at home and only recently starting to emerge, their fashion needs may have changed but their interest in the topic hasn’t necessarily waned. If fact, it may have sharpened if they found themselves with more time on their hands to study current trends and reassess their own wardrobe. It could be they also want something to cheer themselves up! A new piece of clothing, an accessory or both could be just the thing. For this article, three retailers in different parts of the country identified some of their top sellers and described how they’ve been helping customers in the current economy.

Face masks that are available from The Gift Niche. The store’s motto is “If we have to wear a mask it’s going to be cute.”

Apparel at Oooh La La, an upscale women’s boutique in Palm Springs, Calif., leans toward classic, timeless styles. Brands like Michael Starr, Wooden Ships and Hard Tail number among the top-selling brands. In terms of accessories, shoppers will frequently choose a piece of jewelry from the plentiful selection on hand. “I think people really like to buy jewelry because they enjoy taking a piece home with them. It reminds them of their trip to Palm Springs,” said store Owner Michelle Gonzales. Oooh La La also sells quite a few purses. In the current economic climate, Gonzales is trying to buy jewelry and accessories that make a statement. “Merchandise that gives somebody a reason to buy it. They don’t already have the item. It’s something different, it’s something new and it’s something that makes them feel happy when they look at it or put it on.” Meanwhile, her clothing picks are mindful of the fact people are spending more time at home. “We haven’t as much of the dressy, going-out styles and instead have more casual, lounge and leisure wear that still looks put-together but is comfortable.”
There is plenty to draw inspiration from at Oooh La La because not only does the 3.000-square-foot retail space house a fashionable women’s boutique, it also encompasses Baby La La right next door, a trendy shop for the younger set. Then there is Shoe La La and even Puppy La La, for you guessed it, canine attire and more. Gonzales has found that the live videos she and her staff record and post on Instagram each week have proven helpful in selling fashion merchandise. “We’ll model our new arrivals and pair them with jewelry and other accessories. A lot of people will come in and buy the entire look. It just takes the thinking out of it.” If shoppers come into the store not having seen the week’s video, staff are likely to mention a featured outfit. “We’ll definitely let them know that this happens to look great with that, but we’re never pushy.”

Apparel displays at Oooh La La Boutique. The store’s apparel selection leans toward classic, timeless, styles.

After 38 years in business, The Gift Niche in Roanoke, Va., knows a thing or two about inspiring shoppers to browse and buy its wares. Top sellers inside the 1,000-square-foot retail space include jewelry, purses and headgear. “We sell a variety of hat styles, but we also create something unique that no one else has. We make a headband called Party on Your Head. It’s what we’re known for,” said Laura Duckworth who co-owns the store with Virginia Taylor. The decorative headbands are custom made on the premises to mark a wide variety of occasions – all the traditional holiday periods such as Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July, special events like graduations and milestone birthdays or whatever theme someone has in mind and wants to special order. There are select women’s apparel items and unique children’s wear on hand, although T-shirts reflective of the area typically top sales in the clothing division. “We do well with ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ and Roanoke-themed T-shirts,” Duckworth said.
The Gift Niche is gradually increasing its hours post quarantine after re-opening at the beginning of June. Curbside delivery is available for anyone who is reluctant to enter the store plus Duckworth is willing to meet patrons who want to come in after hours. “All they have to do is call and make an appointment. We’re trying to accommodate customers as best we can.” Facebook has been a lifesaver for the business during these pandemic times. “We had bought so much merchandise for the spring and it had just started coming in when we had to close. So, what we did is we took our best-sellers and we made a video and went live on Facebook. And people bought! It was sort of like QVC and it worked!” Buoyed by their social media success, The Gift Niche team has made a couple of videos so far with another in the works.

Victoria Taylor, co-owner, Connie Kirby, employee, and Laura Duckworth, co-owner, The Gift Niche in Roanoke, Va. Jewelry, purses and headgear are best-selling for the store.

Since face masks have become an essential accessory these days, The Gift Niche now stocks a variety of colorful fabric styles. Duckworth has also been busy making a flamingo print version. “Another thing we’re known for is flamingo items – flamingo-themed merchandise and apparel,” she explained. “People come to us looking for flamingos. We have a T-shirt, a wrap, pocketbooks, children’s clothing and more. Now I’m making a flamingo mask which I can’t keep in the store!” Staff at The Gift Niche are in the habit of suggesting accessories to customers who are making apparel purchases. The well-accessorized clothing displays around the store prompt sales as well. The era of face masks has ushered in new color-coordinating opportunities.
Hoops are in at Bella Rose Boutique in Biloxi, Miss. Hoop earrings, that is. “Small hoops, big hoops, matte or shiny hoops. We do really well with any type of hoop earring,” said Assistant Manager Victoria Fountain. Erimish stackable bracelets account for a lot of accessory sales as well. The approximately 8,500-square-foot store caters primarily to high schoolers and 20-somethings but there are plenty of fashions for junior high school girls and even moms. “If a mother and her younger daughter come in, they can both find something in the store. Teachers like to shop here too,” Fountain continued. Keeping up with what is trending this summer, Bella Rose Boutique has been selling a lot of body suits and seamless tops. Rompers – basically a top and shorts combined, similar to a onesie – have been especially big sellers. “We sell rompers like crazy.”

A view of the sales floor and the counter at Oooh La La Boutique in Palm Springs, Calif. The store also has a trendy shop for youngsters next door.

To help customers maximize their dollars when shopping at Bella Rose during the current economy, staff will usually ask them if they’re looking for anything in particular as they enter. Fountain provided the example of a father who came in with his daughter on Mother’s Day. “He said I have a $100 bill on me. I don’t want to put the purchase on my credit card. That way my wife can’t see what I’m buying her.” Fountain took her cues from this information and ended up being able to find a pair of earrings, a necklace and three bracelets for his $100 budget. If customers aren’t as forthcoming with price points, the staff’s role is to listen. “If we pull a shoe for example, and they say oh, it’s a little bit pricy, we try to find them the best shoe in the style they’re interested in but provide other less expensive options.” Gauging and adjusting to a customer’s needs and budget is key. Bella Rose staff behave similarly regarding accessory sales. “Customers might come out of the fitting room and we’ll ask them: ‘Do you need anything else? Did you want us to pull some shoes to go with that? Or accessories?” We don’t want to push them into buying anything they aren’t looking for but we’re always there to encourage and suggest,” Fountain concluded.