Small U.S. stores adopt personal touch to survive

Tue Nov 25, 2008 7:49am EST
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By Nick Carey

LIBERTYVILLE, Illinois (Reuters) - Many U.S. retailers, large and small, have good reason to envy Sue Opeka -- sales at her store have been up 15 percent for the past four months and she's up 5 percent for the year so far.

Opeka's store, The Present Moment, sells "affirmational and motivational" gifts such as placards lauding family and friends. The shop sits on the picturesque main street of the wealthy northern Chicago suburb Libertyville.

Opeka opened her store after a corporate career that included a long stint at auto parts maker Tenneco Inc. She attributes part of her success while retailers around the country suffer from a slowing economy to being "non-cyclical."

"When times are good people seek affirmation, when they are bad they seek motivation," she said.

Staring into the face of a possible recession as the holiday shopping season approaches, many small U.S. stores and boutiques catering to wealthier consumers are adjusting strategies and inventories.

Some are adding a personal touch to attract clients who are more cautious with their money and lure them away from the major U.S. retail chains. Those who have succeeded are managing to defy a sharp drop in luxury sales hitting profits at stores like Saks Inc and Nordstrom.

When Opeka launched a customer appreciation program last year, she hoped for 200 responses in the first three months. Instead, nearly 1,000 people answered.

She also holds a series of workshops in the back of her store, which is dubbed "The Gathering Place." The fall schedule has included popular workshops entitled "Laughter Yoga" and "Cultivating Self Love."   Continued...

<p>A free personalization promotion is seen inside a holiday-themed store in New York's Bryant Park, November 24, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>