From coast to coast there are small fashion businesses that are thriving in spite of the mountain of obstacles that seem to be in the way. One challenge new entrepreneur entering fashion face is competition from major retailers with deep pockets. The previous two blogs examined niche markets that provide safe-haven where big box companies don’t go. But there is another safe haven where small business shares the market with the majors. These are the areas of fashion where consumers simply trust small business over the majors to supply the fashion item. What does that mean? Well an example can best answer the question.
There is a very large market of ladies searching for church hats that opens every spring. Yes, fall is another time for dress hats for church, but spring is more important because it contains the two largest days of the year for church hats—Easter and Mothers Day. All the major department stores and many of the other big box companies will have a selection of dress hats to meet the demand, but the selection is not extensive, it is not on target with fresh millinery designs, and there is plenty of duplication of styles. In addition, there is no dedicated area to dress hats that tells a story consumers trust.
What about small business? This is where the church ladies go to select new hats for spring and fall. Why? First, small businesses that concentrate on church hats make this an important part of their inventory. The shopkeeper is aware of changing styles and colors for the season, not to mention their expert help to customers in choosing the right hat for their personality and stature. They also have such familiarity with headwear that showing customers how to wear a hat is almost natural.
Then there is the unique factor. One thing women searching for church hats don’t want to happen is to show up on Sunday morning and others are wearing the same hat. Small millinery businesses have wide selection, but very little duplication of hats in the same style and color.
I don’t believe anyone has ever officially done the statistics, but I feel it is almost certain that the church hats retailed over a season are 80% or higher from small business.
What day is more important in a woman’s life than their wedding day? For that reason everything must be perfect. This day will be frozen in the wedding album for generations to come so brides want traditional elegance. While some majors venture into the specialized business of bridal accessories, the wedding party mainly trusts the expert advice of professionals in small business.
Should the bride wear gloves? If so, what length and what design? And what about the bridesmaids? There are endless options here from no gloves to wrist length, over the elbow, and opera length. Brides feel much more confident when they have the input of that small business professional that has accessorized hundreds of weddings and has insight on what looks best for each individual occasion.
Jewelry is another area that calls for important decisions. Brides planning a wedding have their hands full with all the details of making the occasion perfect. Accessorizing the gown is one more decision to be made and it is an important one. Here they often feel comfortable with the advice of an expert. After all, the choices will appear in nearly every picture in the wedding album for all posterity. Some gowns look good with necklace sets. Should it be pearl or rhinestone? Others call for earrings only. In addition there is the bridesmaid jewelry. When that expert in small business makes a recommendation, a lot of weight comes off the shoulders of the bride. They feel reassured because a professional with a history of experience provides input they trust.
Evening bags are another accessory tailored to each bridal occasion. Bridal bags for the bride and evening bags for bridesmaids is an option. Actually, for bridesmaids the evening bags are often given as gifts. But does the individual wedding call for evening bags? The small business expert not only helps make the decision, but normally they are the only one selection to provide the bridal bag for the bride and colors for bridesmaids. Overall, bridal couples trust small business when it comes to an event as important as the wedding day.
FASCINATORS & FAST INNOVATION IN FASHION
Fascinators were on the rise before the royal wedding, but after that event hit world-wide television, the chart of popularity went straight up. This is a new addition to headwear and who do consumers trust for the latest innovations in fashion?—Small business of course, usually boutiques.
Fascinators will be covered in depth in the next blog, but here they are only used as an example of the fast reaction small business has to innovation. When small business sees new fashion items making a sudden rise in popularity, they get with suppliers and have it in the store within a week or two. Big box companies don’t operate like that. Their purchasing was done months ahead of time and buyers have layers of bureaucracy before innovative items hit the floor. So for the really “new” in fashion, consumers trust small business.
Fascinators are an excellent example of fashion items that rise suddenly because they are so cyclical. For centuries they have made a sudden appearance on the fashion scene and then completely disappeared, retuning again for a new generation that views them as entirely new.
A famous picture of Marie Antoinette wearing a fascinator makes the point. When high hairdos are in style hats can’t be worn so fascinators are the only choice in headwear. Over the last few hundred years, fascinators came and went with hair styles. Most recently, cocktail hats and fascinators became an important fashion statement in the sixties. But today’s generation doesn’t remember that so they appear to be entirely new. The important point is fashion items that suddenly rise to popularity consumer expect to find in small fashion businesses and that is where they look.
This is only a sampling of the fashion items that consumers depend on small business to supply. How often is small business overlooked or underestimated when we think of the overall retail picture. They are there and many are thriving because they provide endless products in niche markets that the majors miss and even more important, because the expertise and personal service of small fashion businesses simply cannot be duplicated by the majors in many markets.