Can't say it's a surprise.
Clutch Boutique at 50th and France will close at the end of the month. The polished handbags that not enough women could justify at full price are now 30 percent off. Owner Lori Cheadle said she simply reached the breaking point. Holiday sales were underwhelming and the last four months have been slow, which she attributes, in part, to bad weather. But long before the holidays and the dreary spring, there was an obvious sign of trouble: no customers. Almost every time I passed the boutique, it was empty.
And that was not for lack of publicity. I wrote about Clutch several times because when it opened, it was the only boutique in town specializing in high-end handbags from little-known, up and coming lines. I'm always thrilled when an independent retailer raises the bar for Twin Cities shopping. Unfortunately, this one raised it a bit too high. I never made a purchase at Clutch. I can't afford $500 or $600 for a bag.
And yet, a lot of shoppers apparently can. Survey after survey shows that women will invest hundreds in handbags - just look at the shelves at Nordstrom and Neimans and Coach, which seems like a veritable bargain, compared to the $2,000 designer bags celebs carry. Expensive bags do sell. So why didn't they sell at Clutch?
Cheadle thought we were ready to go a step beyond Coach and Louis Vuitton - to spend on a bag that wasn't covered in designer logos, that wasn't the same bag everyone else was carrying. She underestimated the importance shoppers place on big name brands, but I think she also sold herself short by remaining so focused on really, really expensive bags instead of diversifying a bit. She's got a great eye - I've got to think she could have found a couple of lines in the $100-$200 range, which would have inspired me to browse more often. But it's more than that. Compare Clutch to StyledLife, which hits the same prices and sells some of the same brands. The store experience is night and day. Clutch looked lovely, but felt a bit empty and quiet. At StyledLife, happy music is always pumping (and for sale a the music bar). Owner Kevin Quinn and his employees are eager to assist. The store feels more three dimensional, with table after table of things to touch. So when a shopper realizes the bags are almost all beyond budget, she can console herself with a belt, a cuff bracelet, a scarf.
Finding that perfect balance to make merchandising magic is no easy feat. It's sad to see Clutch go.
Of course, it's always on to the next store. And at 50th, that will be Ladyslipper Boutique, opening Aug. 1 in the former Spirit Kids, 4940 France Ave. Owned by the stylish duo behind Bluebird Boutique, which successfully sells pricey bags and shoes, the new accessories shop will expand on their casual, contemporary look with Frye boots, Dolce Vita and Botkier bags, cool watches, jewelry and more. The owners, who just returned from a buying trip, plan to keep prices under $400.
Let's hope they stick to that.