Open Online: Accessories at Apparel Stores

   Accessories of all kinds and new fashion colors are still a spring thing at many boutique apparel stores, even if shopping for these items might take a different turn these days.
   At The Vogue Boutique in Elk City, Okla., Owner Lori Weatherly said, “We are doing everything we can to help people shop. We’re in a smaller town, and you have to take care of those who are taking care of you.” And that includes helping with fashion.

A window display at Vogue Boutique. One of the ways the store
is connecting with customers is email.

   “Trends in clothing and accessories are darker colors this year,” she noted. “I bought for the season six months ago, but it makes sense now to have more versatile colors that people can wear at different times of year.” The colors Weatherly sees trending are “mustard, navy blue, even olive green. People can wear these colors year round rather than during a limited time.” This makes their appeal broader.
   While her store is now closed to the public, even before closing, Weatherly focused on “Sanitizing the counters, wiping down credit cards both before and after a customer inserted it in our machine, and right before anyone walked past the door, we had a stand with hand sanitizer on it.” At present, she explained, “We have curbside pick-up, and we have free delivery. My husband has been the delivery boy, delivering packages on front porches all around town. On our website, we offer free shipping.” To promote store merchandise in today’s business climate, she relies on social media and her website. “We have been in business 14 years in May. We are really a brick and mortar store, that is my passion. I love my customers and giving them a hug. Not being able to do that bothers me, but we have moved to online, and this has helped push our online store forward a lot more.” She added that “We have always used Facebook and Instagram, but we’ve also started an e-mail marketing campaign, sending information on what we have to people’s in-boxes with little specials we have going.” Her shop itself is 1,600 square feet.

Owners Matt and Lori Weatherly of Vogue Boutique in Elk City, Okla., photographed outside of the store. Darker colors are in fashion this year, according to Lori Weatherly.

   In Oklahoma City, Okla., at Blue Seven, Owner Caleb Arter has also switched to primarily online orders. “We have had quite a few online orders that are keeping us busy. We’ve pretty much switched to online plus curb-side pick-up and some shipping. Most people do pick-up, I think they just want to get out of the house,” he said.
   As far as accessories go, he said, “We have not had the time to focus on that very much. Really the thing we are most having luck with right now are what we call ‘quarantine survival packs.’ We have them for men, women, families, and for kids with different age groups, 8-plus and under 8 years old.”

Madison Dowdy, manager and merchandiser, of Vogue Boutique. Mustard, navy blue and olive green are all trending colors currently, according to the store’s owner.

   The pack of store items has a higher value than their sales price point, and are a mixed batch of merchandise. “We sort items by who would like them, and we sell them for $75, $50, and $25 dollars. The $50 pack is the most popular, and we put about $60 worth of items in there. That keeps us pretty busy; it’s kept the few employees I’m able to keep on busy enough that we can rotate and come in every other day as teams for now.”
   As many stores of all kinds have noted recently, puzzles are an item they are adding in to their merchandise mix at Arter’s 6,000-square-foot store. “We sold those really well early on. We do carry a lot of accessories and apparel, and those were always our bread and butter. It is hard to curate and order puzzles when I have those wonderful clothing items sitting in the store,” he related.
   A top-selling accessory for the store up until Covid-19 were hair accessories. “We did really well with them for the last 12 months, from Scrunchies to clips. We also did very good business with jewelry, specifically earrings, and bracelets that were throw-back styles to the 1990s era of friendship bracelets and Pura Vida-type bracelets. Fanny packs did well for us as bags. We sell handbags, too, but it was the fanny packs that were a big draw.”

Leslie Freeman, owner of Soho Clothiers in Rogers, Ark., photographed with shop dog Sophie.
Hair-related items are selling well for the store.

   “For now, those assorted gift packs are good, because we can pull from inventory; people are getting a little more value for their money because they can’t choose what they are getting, and they really enjoy them.”
   The packs contain primarily fun items, such as tactile putty, kinetic sand, squishy balls, books, puzzles, and gummy treats. “We all have kids here and we know we don’t want ours just focusing on video games all the time, so we want families to have something to enjoy.”
   Keeping the store sanitary at his shop is about rotating employees. “We work in pairs two or three days a week each, and we have Clorox wipes everywhere. We wipe the mouse and scanner and doors if people come in to pick up. We are not open even for appointments, just for curbside pick-up and shipping.”
   Social media is key for Arter in fueling interest for the store. “We have used Instagram successfully, Facebook not as much. But we haven’t put as much energy into it. It’s a big learning curve. We’ve been here 17 years,” he attested, “and there wasn’t any social media when we started. We had to evolve to that.” Now things are evolving faster, specifically in regard to online sales. “The silver lining here I suppose is that we learn quickly, and we’ve jumped on the online train. It’s definitely the time to start learning a lot about online, and that’s been good.”
Leslie Freeman, owner of the 3,100-square-foot Soho Clothiers in Rogers, Ark., described her current trend in accessories as also leaning toward hair-related items. And for her shop, these items are doing strong business now. “I have sold a lot of accessories for hair right now, Scrunchies and messy bun wraps – I’ve sold 15 of the bun wraps just today. With everyone working from home, other accessories I’m not seeing so much,” she said, although some jewelry items sell as well. “In apparel, we are selling a lot of pajamas and lounge wear, and anything that has a waist band, really.”

Colorful jewelry from the Vogue Boutique’s inventory. The store is celebrating 14 years in business in May.

   The store has closed its doors to the public, but to stay sanitary, Freeman cleans every 15 minutes, wiping down counters and taking similar measures. “If anyone wants to come by to pick up, we do curbside. We glove up and bring the merchandise to the car.”
   Her best advice for running a business now, is to use social media. “It’s always been big for us. We don’t have a website because we turn things very quickly. We keep our Instagram fresh and updated, because it’s more important now than ever.”
   Freeman has noticed that “people have started taking to social media more. We have a pretty good online presence. We don’t have a ton of followers, but we have around 4,000, and they are very loyal and stay up to date with us.”
   The other advice she has to offer is to be “totally transparent. We tell people what we have, we show them what they need. We don’t show dresses right now, we show them things like hoop earrings they can wear eventually, or pajamas or Scrunchies they want right now. We are here not only to survive during this time, we care about people and what they want. We are taking this one day at a time.”
   At Willow in Big Sky, Mont., Owner Debbie Applebaum is searching for a way to attract customers to her shop online. “Jewelry, other accessories, clothing, people are just not buying anything since I had to close down. I’m trying to get pajamas in, because that’s what people want. In my opinion, no one wants to buy any new outfits. Where are you going to wear them? At the dining room table, with your husband, who you see 24-hours a day?” She said she absolutely has to “focus on comfort clothing now.” When her brick and mortar store was open, she sold many purses and scarves, but there is no interest online in those items for her shop. “I had not done much business online, I had not blogged enough and things like that. I’ve been in business 25 years, and now things have to change with online merchandising.”

Bracelets from Vogue Boutique being modeled by the store’s manager and merchandiser. Social media and a website are helping the store conduct business in the current climate.

   Applebaum does have social media accounts for her 2,400-square-foot store, on both Facebook and Instagram. “While that hasn’t been our focus, I do have a girl who does update that two or three times a week. Mostly right now, it’s building up our website that’s important. I have $200,000 in merchandise and nowhere to show it.” She noted that she would be going into her off-season now normally anyway, but she would’ve “gotten rid of winter items in March. That didn’t happen of course.” Applebaum is making a strong effort to build her online presence and build sales now.
   It’s a changing world for fashion accessories and other clothing items, and the transition will take a little time overall.

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