Exclusive Uptown, Minneapolis boutique Intoto is closing after 21 years (sale details here). The economy is not to blame. Owner Karen Heithoff is 65, has five grandkids in New York and other interests to pursue on her bucket list. "It was just time," she says. If you're not familiar with Intoto, it's probably because you couldn't afford it - the store stocked luxury labels like Dries van Noten, Phillip Lim and Paul Smith and never apologized for it. "When we opened, our customer wasn't shopping in Minneapolis - they would shop when they traveled," Heithoff said. "We romanced those customers. They really trusted us." Despite the coming of the Mall of America and the steady ascent of the Galleria, despite more recent high end boutique arrivals like OPM, and our more recent love affair with fast fashion from the likes of H&M and Forever 21, Heithoff believes there is room in the Twin Cities for another designer store like hers. Here are her secrets:
- Service. "We would do anything for our customers. We really became friends with them."
- Have a point of view. "Our customers learned to appreciate our taste. We educated them. If you confuse your customers by switching directions all the time, it's the kiss of death."
- Don't be ruled by the economy. If you're a high end store, stick with it, even in tough times. "Of course it's been challenging in the last 18 months, but if someone wants a $10 t-shirt, they can buy that elsewhere, not from me," Heitoff said. "In our case, our customers are loyal and they continued shopping with us." Her one concession, within the lines she stocked, she looked for a broader range of price points.
- Don't underestimate the market. "There's a refined fashion look in Minneapolis that could be worn anywhere. It's very sharp."