end of an era

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's a gloomy day here in Wilmington and not just because we are on our 4th day of rain. This morning I decided to make a trip over to the only true art supply store in town, Wilmington Blue Print, for a roll of tracing paper only to find that they are CLOSED. CLOSED. As in out of business. I guess with the slump in construction, their architectural printing business must have just suffered too much? Maybe they didn't keep up with the times? Certainly the local big box Michael's store outdid them on price... I think the root of it is that most of us are willing to sacrifice the experience of good service for cheaper prices. It's very sad to me since Wilmington Blue was an institution since 1934. Now I will have to buy online instead.

This comes on the heels of the local children's shoe store, Children's Shoe Boat, closing thanks to competition from Target, etc. Sure, the store was unglamorous and hadn't updated it's decor in 20 years, but they had a nice selection of quality shoes and very experienced shoe-fitters. Now I am forced to buy shoes in stores where I am on my own, pulling boxes of shoes off the wall, and hoping  I am measuring the kids feet right, no salesperson in sight. Sad.

So what is there to take away from this? Maybe the mom & pop shops need to do better at keeping up a spiffier, more stylish image. Hard, I know, when profits are low. Maybe they need to be more creative with marketing and play up the service aspect.

On a brighter note, my favorite sewing store in town is not a chain. Hayes Sewing machine Co. is doing a brisk business despite the economy. Established 40 years ago by Trevor and Mary Hayes, the whole family still works there. It's not a glamorously turned-out place, but you can barely walk 3 feet into the store before someone is helping you find that obscure notions item, or whatever. I asked Mr. Hayes one day (he is in the store everyday, personally repairing machines) what he attributes his success to and he said: SERVICE. They also do a good old-fashioned newsletter mailing quarterly or so, despite the expense, rather than mass emailings. "What good would emailing do if half you customers are elderly?" says Mr. Hayes. He's got a point- you have to tailor your marketing to your audience. They also have many, many classes expertly taught by the Hayes' daughters. I can attest that they are good, and I always wind up buying a gadget or two or three afterward without any pressure to do so. Now THAT'S marketing. It feels different buying something in a store where they recognize you from one visit to the next rather than someplace where they couldn't care less who you are. That feeling breeds loyalty. I hope.

Loyalty is probably why Fairfax Harware, the local mom and pop hardware store, stays in business despite being within 2 miles of a Lowes and a Home Depot. They can't compete on price, but their service is impeccable- no wandering up and down aisles looking for that random washer or screw. Everyone knows about them and says they love them, but do they put their money where their mouth is? I hope so!

Shop mom & pop!

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