Ten years ago, $200 seemed like a ridiculous amount to pay for jeans. Shinola was just an old shoe polish. And Lilly Pulitzer dresses were a purchase made on Palm Beach vacations. A decade ago this very week, three top-notch Twin Cities boutiques opened for business. They’ve endured moves, a recession, growing local competition, and, of course, the Internet—always with a smile. This weekend, Max’s, Melly and Covered all celebrate their 10th anniversary with fitting fanfare—bubbly, bites, and giveaways. (Details on the Shopping + Style Events Calendar.)
If you’ve never been, this weekend would be a good time to check out these savvy boutiques. Max’s is recognized nationally for its unique and cutting edge assortment of designer jewelry, and gifts. Melly is the Twin Cities only Lilly Pulitzer signature shop, and that’s just the start of its preppy, Palm Beach-ready assortment of upscale women’s apparel and accessories. Covered was one of the first shops in town put us in premium denim, and since the early days of Seven For All Mankind, it has evolved into a reliable resource for cool, contemporary fashion and accessories.
“I guess 10 years is eons in terms of retail these days,” says Max’s owner Ellen Hertz. “Truth be told, when people ask me if I can believe that it’s been that long, I have to admit that when I think of all of the comings and goings of other businesses, coupled with the fact that we’ve been in two locations (at Excelsior & Grand) within the 10 years, not to mention the scads of trade shows and trunk shows, 10 years becomes much easier to believe!”
In honor of 10 years in retail, here are 10 insights to take from their success.
1. Never put all your eggs in one basket. No craze, no matter how big and how crazy, can last. That’s what makes it a craze. When Covered opened, nearly half of the inventory was premium denim. Now, says owner Stacy Larson, jeans make up just 20 percent of what you see on the sales floor. It was about six years ago that Larson knew she needed to make a change to stay viable. She started bringing in a broader assortment, including lower priced lines, and added shoes, which have become one of her top selling categories. Similarly, Kate Spade used to be a big seller for Melly, but that changed once a Kate Spade store opened just down the hall at Galleria. It was a big blow at the time, but one that pushed mother-daughter owners Mary Mead and Caryn Kelly to seek out other brands true to their look, which infused the store with freshness.
Annette Ferdinandsen Designs Jewelry at Max's
Annette Ferdinandsen Designs at Max's
2. Stay true to your style. No matter what’s on the runways, I know I’ll always find great sunglasses, fashion jewelry, and something pink or striped at Melly. I know Max’s will have some unusual chocolate infused with interesting ingredients to make a memorable gift. I know he perfect t-shirt or bootie or forever jeans await me at Covered. Surprises are fun, but consistency is what brings us back.
The fashion uniform at Covered
3. Don’t believe the hype. Despite the fashion world’s declarations that flare jeans would make a strong return for spring, national sales figures now confirm they’re not selling anywhere near as strong as predicted. “Thank goodness we didn’t buy heavily into flares,” Larson says. “We just knew our customers were not going to buy three pair. They’ve got all these tops that don’t go with flares. And always, it’s the shoe drama. Flares look better with heels and no one wants to wear heels that much.”
4. Don’t fear the big guys. Hertz, a Detroit native, brought in Shinola watches before the Shinola store opened in North Loop, and that didn’t stop her from selling them. She is as passionate about the brand as her customers are about shopping with her. Melly was understandably nervous when Target announced its Lilly Pulitzer collaboration last year, but the buzz around that line only added to awareness of and interest in the brand. So when it was gone at Target, shoppers knew they could find the real deal at Melly.
5. Make yourself known in the industry. Covered is giving away more than $10,000 in products from its most popular lines this weekend. Big brands including Joe’s, Hudson, Botkier, and Dolce Vita offered up the swag because Covered is as loyal to its vendors as it is to its customers. It’s the same reason Melly was able to land luxury outwear line Moncler and why Max’s has jewelry designers from all parts of the country visiting the store to do trunk shows on a regular basis.
6. Be a place people want to linger. Customers love to party at Covered, whether its Black Friday brunch or a mid-week happy hour with DJ and wine, the store knows how to have fun. Max’s sets the tone with a seating area and magazines right up front. There’s always chocolate to sample, and often a trunk show to peruse.
7. Remain calm. “Everything moves exponentially fast now than it did 10 years ago—trends, styles, designers, technology, competitors,” Hertz says. “The world is moving at warp speed. Customer patience has shortened. Retailers need to figure out how to create an environment of calm, where people want to be.”
8. Embrace local. “People are so incredibly supportive of the independent retailer,” Hertz says. “It started during the recession, I’d have customers ask, ‘how are you doing?’ That’s morphed into, ‘I am so glad that you made it,’ ‘I love coming in here,’ and ‘The neighborhood wouldn’t be the same without you.’ I truly have been blown away by the support and encouragement I’ve received from people who, at the time, were total strangers. People want the small, independent retailer to succeed but, obviously, words aren’t enough — they have to be buying what you’re selling.”
9. People will pay for more than stuff. “Yes, price point matters,” Hertz says. “But so does quality. So does uniqueness. So does where it’s made. So does customer service.”
10. Be nice. More than anything, all three of these stores are places where you know you’re going to find help, advice, an honest opinion. You know they’ll work with you on returns. You know they’ll give your kid a candy or stick of gum—buying you just enough time to make a purchase. The staff is loyal, because the owners are kind and caring. And your purchases really make a tangible difference.