How Small, Local Boutiques Are Saving Retail

Small Businesses

Even if you haven’t been following the shift in the retail environment closely it’s nearly impossible to avoid the headlines of what some have termed the “Retail Apocalypse.” “America’s Malls and Department Stores Are Dying Off” and “Why Retail Is in Distress” are just a couple of the recent headlines. Yes, there have been some casualties. Many companies have shuffled leadership and others were forced to address product issues. Online and mobile shopping, the rise of “fast-fashion,” and shifting customer expectations have forced big-name retailers, some of whom have a presence in Alexandria, to quickly pivot and address a well-informed customer base. Shopping has become a larger experience than just purchasing “stuff,” and brands are scrambling to find authentic ways to interact with and retain their customers.

Amid this flurry, an interesting and positive scenario has emerged: some small businesses are not only surviving, but even succeeding, in this challenging environment. As I read these analyses I think about Kiskadee, and the other small businesses that contribute to Alexandra Stylebook, and how this relates to my shopping experience. What is it about small retail businesses that allow them to navigate this significant headwind? Here’s my personal perspective, as a customer who loves fashion and her community, on why some small businesses are successfully weathering this turbulent retail environment.

1. Personalization and Customer Focus

Remember the chorus from the song that opened Cheers that began with “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name….”? Small businesses are hyper-focused on knowing their customer and providing personalized service that exceeds expectations. A quick call to let you know your favorite earring arrived, or placing a rush order for the cocktail dress needed for a special occasion, small businesses make their customers feel like the #1 priority. Always.

2. Product Selection

Gone are the days when shoppers stand in awe of countless choices. Shoppers want a well-edited selection of versatile, season-less pieces and are willing to spend more for better, if fewer, pieces. Strong customer relationships inform a well-tailored buy, and since small businesses are more nimble than large chain stores they can quickly adjust to unique and fast-changing collections.

3. Shopping as an Experience

More than 92 percent of total retail sales in 2016 were via a physical store, so while e-commerce is growing, it’s still a small part of the retail story. Customers still crave a brick-and- mortar environment, especially one that supports their local community and one where they build relationships to feel like “a part of the family.” Shopping is increasingly a much more encompassing experience.


Think about the way you shop…doesn’t this sound very appealing, and familiar?


There is a “secret sauce” that small boutiques use to find pieces with subtlety different details that differentiate their offerings. The art of buying, knowing the customer, the price point, the “uniqueness”– so much goes into finding the pieces, like those below, that cater to a store’s valued client base and makes them a little bit more…special.


Small Businesses

Sweater dresses, while perfect for fall, aren’t a go-to for me, but the mix of materials and cut make this unique take on the sweater dress super flattering. Knit on the top, the dress breaks on the bottom into a soft rayon, but it’s the angle of the dress-drop that really matters. It doesn’t cut horizontally at the widest part of the hip; instead, it elongates the body by tricking the eye to move diagonally.


Small Businesses

This versatile Finley shirt dress can be styled casually-cool as a duster, with neutral accessories for a simple but polished look, and layered over a white tank paired with neutral loafers and denim for a casual fall weekend. Finley is known for their men’s-wear inspired pieces, but the subtle details make it clear this line is made for women. The A-line silhouette flatters various body types; notches at the dress’ bottom allow for ease of movement, and strategic button placement prevents the dress from pulling. It’s subtle details like these that are often overlooked in typical men’s-wear inspired pieces but elevate a look considerably.


Small Businesses

A forgiving silhouette, this airy olive-green dress is perfect for D.C.’s extended summer. Several subtle touches elevate this dress to something more than “basic.” The silk material adds a level of refinement, and though voluminous, the material prevents that volume from becoming overwhelming. The slide slits reveal a hint of leg and breaks the monochrome color, while the hi-low hem spotlights a fantastic pair of shoes. Can you find a similar tank dress in a mall? Probably. But I bet it would be void of these subtle details.


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