Local boutiques adapt to pandemic, changing fashion world

April Hancock, is the owner of JaeLuxe a trendy women's boutique at The Greene. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
April Hancock, is the owner of JaeLuxe a trendy women's boutique at The Greene. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

It’s been difficult to operate a small business during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many local boutique owners said creative marketing and sales techniques have allowed them to prosper.

April Hancock, owner of JaeLuxe Shoetique at The Greene Town Center in Beavercreek, said she changed the stock her store carries during the pandemic. Her store focuses on trendy shoes and sequined dresses, but she said she got in a lot more matching sweat suit sets and comfortable clothing during the pandemic, which brought in a different set of customers than what she would typically serve.

“We said we know we’re in a pandemic, and we know we have to pivot not panic,” Hancock said. “And that’s what we did, and it turned out really good for us.”

Hancock said her sales increased by 131% compared to 2019, but strong sales haven’t held strong for all stores.

Riley Dugan, a marketing professor at the University of Dayton, said many small luxury businesses are struggling right now. He pointed to specialty chocolate retailer Godiva closing all their physical stores as an example.

“Any type of small retailer, particularly one that is kind of in the luxury space, they’re all going to be struggling right now,” he said.

JaeLuxe is a women's boutique in The Greene. April Hancock, owner of JaeLuxe Shoetique in the Greene, said she changed the stock her store carries during the pandemic. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
JaeLuxe is a women's boutique in The Greene. April Hancock, owner of JaeLuxe Shoetique in the Greene, said she changed the stock her store carries during the pandemic. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Larger retailers are also able to sell online, he pointed out, something that can be more difficult for clothing boutiques that rely on their in-person experience to sell items.

Dugan said it was important for stores to be able to pivot as the economy changed. He suggested that stores take advantage of shifts in the fashion industry towards sustainability and minimalism, but also praised stores that had brought in other types of merchandise to what they typically have.

Loralei’s Boutique in Centerville focuses on consignment clothing, and Suzanne Wehrly, the owner, said she has seen more young clients in the past year.

“I think young people are really interested in recycling and sustainability,” she said.

Last year, she said her store stopped taking as many prom dresses and mother-of-the-bride dresses, which is usually big business for the store. But the market for those items has shrunk during the pandemic.

Wehrly said 2020 started off well, with strong sales. The pandemic lockdown cut into sales a lot, she said. A lot of customers were both buying and selling clothing in May and June, Wehrly said, but that’s dropped off as fewer people need new clothing to wear.

Barbi Dewitt, owner of Mirabella Boutique in downtown Fairborn, said she also saw a huge increase in sales once stores were able to reopen last summer.

“We were up 90% in July,” Dewitt said. “I had to hire more help because it was hard to keep up with the demand of just people wanting anything, to go anywhere.”

But Dewitt said the demand started to drop off in the fall and the winter. While she said her sales were up overall in 2020, she said she had to hustle to get to that point, changing what was in stock in her store and delivering sales to “a crazy radius” of customers.

JaeLuxe is a women's boutique in The Greene. April Hancock, owner of JaeLuxe Shoetique in the Greene, said she changed the stock her store carries during the pandemic. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
JaeLuxe is a women's boutique in The Greene. April Hancock, owner of JaeLuxe Shoetique in the Greene, said she changed the stock her store carries during the pandemic. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

“The time that I had extra, I prepped, prepped, prepped for social media rather than binging Netflix,” Dewitt said.

Dewitt said she often works with clients who come into her store to find a perfect outfit, especially people whose bodies have changed recently. That experience is hard to recreate online.

Wehrly said her store also experimented with selling items on Instagram and Facebook, and Hancock said her social media strategy included marketing to local mom groups and redesigning their website.

Hancock said she also talked to other small business owners about what they were doing, and that helped her make choices in her own store.

April Hancock, owner of JaeLuxe Shoetique in the Greene, said she changed the stock her store carries during the pandemic. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
April Hancock, owner of JaeLuxe Shoetique in the Greene, said she changed the stock her store carries during the pandemic. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Wehrly said she is looking forward to the vaccine rollout and thinks that will help their store with sales.

“I think we’re really looking forward to the spring, people getting their vaccine,” Wehrly said. “I think things will turn around in the next couple of months.”

In Other News