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Inside View on Retail: Bob Lowe

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Clothier Bob Lowe is in his 42nd year leading Town & County in Brentwood Center. He describes recent years as “trying” for the 54-year-old boutique store, but coupled with an affluent average customer and a shedding of consumers’ psychological barriers, he sees turnarounds in 2011.

How did Town & County compare to its specialty store peers in sales, dating back to 2008?
We experienced between 3 percent and 6 percent declines. That, by industry standards, was awfully good. So far, as a store, we’ve definitely seen a turnaround and a brighter light ahead in 2011.

To what do you attribute your optimism?
I think there is a lot of pent-up anxiety. We’re fortunate that our average customer, if they so desire, has the ability to buy new clothes. Now, they may schedule back their purchases, but they still have that ability (and) a desire and a need to freshen up their wardrobe.

Reports show cotton prices have increased 20 percent to 35 percent. What has been the trickle-down effect for Town & County?
As we went to market in January and February, we were frightened. We did not see those price increases. A lot of the manufacturers were willing to absorb some of those costs. Prices will not be any higher in fall in our store, and we handle the better (merchandise), which uses a higher grade of cotton.

Do you use discounted e-shopping programs such as Groupon?
No. If we were to use Groupon and offer a $100 gift certificate for $50, it’s my understanding that Groupon would take $25 of that. I can’t pay my bills or keep my doors open at that rate. I think it is geared for someone who maybe has a lower cost of product involved, a larger margin of profitability, or they are strictly looking for immediate cash flow. … Groupon is a shotgun approach. Facebook is a targeted approach for us.

What are some guiding philosophies that privately owned retailers should be mindful of?
  1. Provide the merchandise, service and atmosphere that make your customers want to shop local. Merchants are the ones who help provide the tax revenue for our schools and support for our local charities, among many other things.
  2. Think daily: How can we serve our existing customers better? Let’s take care of the ones that we’ve got first.
  3. Make certain that everyone in your organization has thorough product knowledge.
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