January is a lonely month to be an independent retailer. I think about this as I zip past 50th & France without stopping. (I want to stop, really I do, but it's so cold or I don't want to climb the snowy curb in suede boots or it's already dark at 4:30 p.m. and I just want to hibernate.) Still, there are sales worth a brisk (okay, numbing) walk, and soon enough, there's Valentine's Day to get us back into boutiques. Meanwhile, storeowners plot, plan, and try to figure out what will make us shop small, and in person. Here are five boutique retail predictions for 2015.
Studio/Stores. It’s the increasingly common tale of the crafty entrepreneur who starts out making things in the kitchen and those things become so popular, they being to take over the entire house. If a maker is going to pay for a studio space, she might as well let it double as a store and sell some product to offset the rent. Short term storefronts are becoming more accessible to indie brands, with larger stores closing or scaling back, and shoppers are increasingly willing to venture beyond the mall into a neighborhood for unique shopping experiences. Case in point: the new Wind & Willow Home in South Minneapolis. Hang tight: regular retail hours start in February.
Going Off Line. Successful mini-chain Patina, with seven gift stores across the Twin Cities, made the surprising decision in December to stop selling on its website. A message from owners Rick Haase and Christine Ward on patinastores.com says, “We want to concentrate on what we do best: the store experience.” And it’s true: the magic of Patina, and so many small boutiques, is in the merchandising: the tables of things you didn’t know you needed—all color coordinated or grouped by occasion; the burning candles and cheery music and artfully arranged pyramid of pretty little bowls—it's what makes you need that stuff immediately. A few years ago, a store wasn’t really a store until it had a URL. Now, rather than rushing online because it’s the thing to do, more small companies are realizing that a website is a whole other business, and one that may or may not make sense for every brand and all merchandise. If you can’t beat Amazon.com, perhaps you’re better off doing something the e-beast can’t do.
Expansions. In 2014, the Twin Cities saw a good number of small stores add a second location—from Brightwater Clothing & Gear in Edina to Corazon in St. Paul. They can’t all be Evereve (formerly Hot Mama), which has gone from a single store in Edina to 50 nationwide with plans for at least a half dozen more this year. But the ambitious few will try. One to watch: Primp, which is up to six boutiques and won't stop there.
Collectives. All eyes on D.NOLO, the upscale fashion cooperative where a number of retailers with complimentary style are all selling under one lofted roof in the North Loop. In February, two well-established retailers, women’s boutique Arafina and Invision Distinctive Eyewear will join the mix at D.NOLO, which is adding space to accommodate demand. You can be sure others will try this concept, which used to belong to antiques dealers.
Collaborations. Teaming up with a designer on exclusive product isn’t just for Target anymore. It’s a maker’s marketplace, and like-minded designers and retailers are finding that working together can be rewarding all around. Parc Boutique has done it successfully with Hackwith Design House and Solid Manufacturing Company. Exclusive collaborations are a major focus for Wilson & Willy’s, now online, and opening soon in the North Loop. It’s a great way for a store to create some excitement and tell a meaningful story about a maker, or the making of the product. Today more than ever, stores need stories to stay relevant.