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Cover Story | Getting in the black: Retailers count on the holidays

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Cover Story | Getting in the black: Retailers count on the holidays Buy this photo

Business World photo illustration/Don Seabrook Holiday buying helps keep Wenatchee Valley businesses in the black.

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Holiday heroes help Collins Fashions’ bottom line

Collins Fashions’ employees focus on providing top notch customer service all year long. 

Their goal, said owner Marcy Collins, is not only to greet each customer, but to learn their name and something about them, which, combined with the right merchandise, helps build relationships and brings them back. 

During the holidays, that personal attention expands to include family members.

We make men look like heroes,” said owner Marcy Collins. “It’s so much fun.”

It’s more than the gift wrapping, layaway and special ordering, which has been a mainstay since Collins got into the retail business 38 years ago. It’s also being able to nudge gift-givers in the right direction, using knowledge of favorite colors, styles and brands of Collins Fashions’ repeat customers. 

The efforts are rewarded, she said.

I’m really blessed,” Collins said. “We have wonderful local customers and many repeat out-of-town customers. Grandparents and parents come to visit from all over the U.S. and they do some major shopping. They love our downtown.”

She estimates up to 30 percent of her annual sales revenue comes during the last quarter of the year, though she isn’t relying on the seasonal push to get into the black.

It’s the frosting on your cake. It’s a good way to finish the year. It can be a lovely frosting or a little sparse. Every year is a little bit different,” she said. “If the passes are bad and people stay here locally, we might do a little bit more.”

Holiday sales played a bigger role when she and her late husband Grover Collins opened Kids Count Too in East Wenatchee’s Wenatchee Valley Mall in 1980.

They relocated in the late 1990s into the 2,400-square-foot corner space at 2 S. Wenatchee Ave. that had been home for 40 years to Button Jewelers, which moved into its own building at 444 N. Mission St.

The idea behind the move downtown was to grow the business, beyond adding square footage.

They added a few racks of women’s clothing as a test.

When I was in the mall, I had customers asking me to add women’s clothing to the mix,” she said.

A few racks soon turned into half the store and, about 15 years ago, Kids Count Too gave way to Collins Fashions.

Womens clothing proved to be more profitable than children’s clothing, with inventory turning over twice as often.

With children’s, you only get two turns. In women’s clothing, you get a four-time turn. Or at least three. That’s why it’s profitable,” she said. “That’s something I had to learn. And it’s a faster-paced business. We just run our toes off in here.”

It wasn’t an easy decision, though.

I didn’t want to give up the kids clothes,” she said. “My husband came with the figures,” pointing out the difference in profits between the womens and childrens fashions, which finally convinced her to let go of the Kids Count Too side of the business.

She learned some other strategies over the years that have helped boost business.

She purposefully selects lines that allow her to reorder and fill in sizes and styles.

If a customer comes in and needs an 8, I can get it. That way, you have the turn. That’s what built it,” she said. “I order from companies that have the colors, sizes and options that people want.”

The other lesson was how to handle the “dogs” — those items that, when they are arrive, “make you go, ‘What was I thinking?’ And I get the look from the girls — ‘Do we have to sell this?’”

I’ve been doing this since 1980, so I’ve had many bombs,” she said. “If it’s a bad call, it’s better to just own it and put it on the sale rack. If it’s the right price, people will love it.”

She also learned not to have big sales too often, which can discourage regular customers.

I have all these good customers who came in last week, so taking 20 percent or 30 percent off this week wouldn’t make them happy,” she said.”I learned not to do that when I had the Kids store. I do always have a sale rack, though, and I do clearances twice a year.”

One starts around Labor Day and the other starts in late January.

Half-yearly sales work better,” she said. “Those who are waiting for them know it’s a gamble. These are the leftovers, so what’s here is what’s here.”

Learning to adapt comes with being in business for a long period of time, she said.

The business evolved, in part, based on surrounding businesses. When they first moved downtown, Green Turtle, a women’s boutique, was across the street and Mills Bros. and Palmer’s Shoes were next door. Each of the store owners purposely tried not to carry the same lines.

When you duplicate it, you dilute it,” she said.

After Green Turtle closed, Collins picked up some of that store’s popular lines including Tommy Bahama, Brighton and Joseph Ribkoff. When Palmer’s closed, she added some boots and shoes. And last year, after Mills Bros. closed, she added some men’s Tommy Bahama and Cutter and Buck.

Now women can come in and buy gifts for their husbands while they’re here. That was a big hit last Christmas,” she said.

They added masculine-themed wrapping paper to match.

The overall result has been an uptick in year-round revenue.

December used to be my biggest month,” she said. “I have many months now as big as December.”

That doesn’t mean she ignores the holiday season.

Every holiday we try to have a new sumthin sumthin that they haven’t seen before or that we’ve added to our mix,” she said.

This year, work is underway on a new Brighton brand accessory display.

We’re redoing that whole department, bringing in new fixtures and everything. We should have that done just before Thanksgiving,” she said.

She also brings in items just for the holidays — cozy socks, robes, scarves.

Fall and winter merchandise is arriving daily this time of year, ordered from the fashion trade shows in March.

We are a small women’s department store. We fit them from the top to the bottom, from foundations to jeans and slacks, tops and jackets, boots, shoes and purses,” she said. “We do whatever we can do to make a woman look her best, feel beautiful and good about herself, and have a good experience while she’s here. We like to make them smile.”

The hero-making service is just part of the package.

 

Customer service, with a bow on top

Hundreds? Thousands?

Collins Fashions owner Marcy Collins isn’t sure how many items she has gift wrapped for customers over the years.

A lot,” she said. “We don’t wrap as many until the last quarter of the year,” she said, though her gift bag inventory dips leading up to Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day.

We’ve always provided it,” she said, from the time she and her late husband Grover opened Kids Count Too in the Wenatchee Valley Mall in 1980.

It’s likely part of what helped her earn the store a “best customer service” award from the Wenatchee Downtown Association earlier this year.

It’s not the only thing, though.

Here are some other customer-service practices used at Collins Fashions every day:

  • Greet the customers when they come in.
  • Learn the customer’s name.
  • Learn three or four things about them before they leave the store.
  • Call them when something comes in that they might like.
  • Thank them for coming in that day and other common courtesies that let the customer know, “We look forward to seeing you again.”
  • We write thank you notes for any sale over a certain amount,” she said.