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Trade Show Planner: Independent Strategies

In-store events, local partnerships and strategic marketing and advertising plays are pumping up sales at four independents.

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The comfort offerings at Shoes N Feet.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

NEW YORK — Sure, times are tough, but some retailers are finding success with inventive promotions and strategic partnerships. Here, four independent retailers share their methods for navigating the tough times and how they plan to tackle fall and spring.

Sassy of Margate

Though sales have suffered at Sassy of Margate, a women’s shoes and accessory boutique in Margate, N.J., owner Stacy Kastel said her fun-loving approach to retail has helped keep her business alive. “We don’t discuss the economy. People are tired of it. We’re all about our promotions right now and having fun,” said Kastel. “We’re certainly off [in sales], but we’re still doing business. An $800 or $900 day this year was more like a $1,200 day last year. So you just don’t look at last year.”

In addition to scaling back for spring and buying sure-fire styles, Kastel has relied on in-store parties to keep the shop atmosphere inviting to consumers. “We make them laugh, we have a good time in here,” she said. “You need something upbeat to motivate consumers and entertain them while they shop.”

Kastel recently invited an airbrush artist into the shop to customize Ugg boots, which are a big draw for the store. And following the success of a fashion show she threw last summer for 500 customers, which raised $10,000 for a local charity, Kastel hopes to host a similar event this fall. “We sold a nice chunk of change the next day. Everyone had a blast,” she said.

Heading into fall, Kastel is betting on her strong Ugg business, as well as key trends from vendors that consistently sell at the store, including Donald J Pliner and Stuart Weitzman. “Stuart Weitzman’s peep-toe styles are looking strong for fall, and Cole Haan has these adorable cherry-red-and-purple rain boots for less than $100,” she said. “The boots with hardware will be big, and we’re looking to jump on any trend that our customers really want.”

While she’s hoping to remain at full price, Kastel said she’d likely introduce fall sales at some point. “Women who can spend $800 or $900 are spending in the $300 range this year,” she said. “We just have to work with it.”

Shoes N Feet

Chris Bentvelzen, owner of two Shoes N Feet stores in San Francisco and Belmont, Calif., said his business has remained fairly steady, thanks to referrals from the medical community. “A large percentage of our business comes from doctor and podiatrist referrals, and that’s always been the most profitable part of our business,” he said. “We buy our inventory [for] that community.”

Bentvelzen, who stocks brands including Merrell, Aetrex, Brooks and Rockport, has seen traction with small in-store events this year. Beginning June 22, his stores will launch a customer appreciation week featuring a guest physical therapist who will perform spinal evaluations for customers.

The retailer also has experienced a traffic boom as a result of a local marketing initiative. “We’ve been advertising on Yelp.com, putting announcements and pictures up, and we’re getting a good return on investment there,” he said. “And we always try to look at how we can reconnect with the customer we already have.”

One of the best ways to do that, he explained, is through reminder postcards to customers who have recently purchased items that will eventually need to be replaced. For shoppers who buy athletic shoes, for instance, the store will send a postcard six months out to let them know their shoes may be close to wearing out. When customers buy inserts for their shoes, they get a note a month later informing them of other available inserts, followed by a reminder a year after the purchase date, informing them it’s time to replace the insert.

Looking ahead, Bentvelzen said he believes consumer confidence is picking up and that fall should be a better season, with multipurpose shoes particularly strong for fall into spring ’10. “Customers were worried about whether they were going to have a job next week or next month,” Bentvelzen said, “I see that changing. Some of our stores are down a little bit, but as a company, we’re up from last year.”

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