With decades of experience, whether in men’s clothing, women’s clothing, sportswear, gifts and linens, or jewelry, this group of retailers serves a passionate and dedicated collection of return customers. Shreveport Magazine sat down for a morning cup of coffee with five of the city’s local retail business owners – Knox Goodman, owner of Knox Goodman’s Boutique; Matthew Brown, owner of Sportspectrum; John Pickens, owner of John Pickens Clothiers; Trisha Hogan, owner of The Village Washstand; and Sid Potts, owner of Sid Potts, Inc. – to talk local business, setting trends, Internet competition, and the evolution of this industry in Shreveport, as well as their own businesses.
Give us a brief history of how you started your business.
KG I opened on my dining room table in 1974 representing a designer in New York. She invited me to New York and I went in September of 1974, and came back with a little, green suitcase full of jewelry. I opened up out of my home two afternoons a week. At the time you couldn’t advertise a business in the neighborhood, so I would write cards to people and then the news eventually traveled by word of mouth. We went public in 1981 and then moved twelve years later to my current shop, Knox Goodman’s Boutique, on Azalea.
MB It all started for me in 1972 in my basement. I grew up in a tennis family, so I started stringing racquets and selling tennis equipment out of my basement. In the summer of 1980 my brother took a tennis pro position at Pierremont Oaks tennis club and threw me in as a package deal to run the shop, and that was really the start. We opened up Sportspectrum two years later in Portico Shopping Center. We made our big move to Fern Avenue seven years ago, in 2008. It was my dream store that I had wanted all my life and it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.
JP I started working at Rosenblath’s in 1989 and went on my first buying trip with them within the first year. In 1993 I took over the store and then worked with them until it closed in 2003, and that’s when I opened up myself as John Pickens Clothiers. Rosenblath’s always had a niche, and I inherited that niche.
TH In 1976 a man who owned a shop called Gatehouse in Pierremont Common called me and asked if I would be a linens and place setting buyer for his shop. The more my mother and I looked into it, we decided that we could do our own shop in that location within that niche, so we talked to the man and he agreed. Mother and I opened The Village Washstand in Pierremont Common that year and have been open ever since. Today the shop is a third generation business with the help of my three daughters: Elizabeth, Molly, and Annie.
SP I’ve been in the jewelry business for 36 years. For the first 18 years I was a buyer and a regional manager for a major jewelry chain and then for the last 18 years I’ve been running my own jewelry store, Sid Potts, Inc. We go all over the world to sell and buy jewelry, and people from all over the world come to see us.
What is “going to market” really like in the retail world?
JP Going to market is a lot of hard work. It consists of non-stop, ten-hour days. In Dallas and Vegas I have appointments every hour on the hour. In New York, the appointments are all over town so there are about four or five per day. It’s more exhausting than you would think.
KG It’s not all glamorous. One of my old friends once described going to market with a saying. “You can’t sell out of an empty wagon, but you can have so much it breaks the axle.”
Is there added pressure going to market knowing that you need to bring back items that potentially set new trends in Shreveport?
MB Some of my favorite times have been going to market and trying to find things a little different, things that Shreveport doesn’t have. The Vibram Five Finger shoes were one of those crazy things we decided to try. If we didn’t try we were never going to know, and then they just bloomed. Every other person walking into our store for a year wanted to at least try on that shoe. And even though we knew that shoe probably wasn’t a good idea on half of those people, you couldn’t talk them out of it. They wanted to have the hottest thing on their foot and that was crazy.
TH You definitely can’t stay still. There are only so many linens you can buy. There are only so many table settings you need. You have to venture out. We always looked for the gift items that no one else in Shreveport had. When we go to market and someone in our area is already selling an item, we won’t sell it, not because we don’t like it, but because Shreveport is a little city, and we have the same customers. Our customers have great taste, and if they see an item in three different places, it loses the edge that our customers want.
SP With the way the jewelry industry runs, you can’t have the exclusivity in towns like Dallas and Houston like you can have it in Shreveport, so we’ve tried really hard to create that environment here through the jewelry we offer at our location. We have been able to bring those big cities to Shreveport. We have people stop by our store from big cities like Los Angeles to bring our jewelry there just as much as we go out there and bring other jewelry from other places here.
There is a common perception that local shops are too expensive. What would you say to someone who would shop at a chain store over yours because they don’t think it’s as expensive?
MB What we offer is completely different than if you were to walk into Academy Sports + Outdoors. Our whole idea is putting that person in the right shoe. As far as apparel goes, our products are different than what you find anywhere else. We are all about customer service.
TH My mother used to say, “Quality is not always a price tag, just like class is not always the amount of money you have. It’s what you bring to the table and it’s how you treat people. It’s worth what you pay for.”
KG I’m trying to fit the person who needs a meeting-greeting-drinking-and-praying dress, and also have them feel like we can get it altered at their convenience. Being of personal service is how I built my business. Now, if someone buys a $20 pair of earrings or a $150 dress, or even if they just come into the store to look around, I write thank you notes to thank them for their business.
How do you use your local business to support the community?
JP When someone comes and shops with any of us and supports our businesses, we get income from that and, in turn, go out into the community and spend the money. One hundred percent of the money stays here with our employees, our product, and our type of sales base. If you were to go out and shop at a chain, a lot of money does not stay here in this community.
MB We started doing races just as an avenue to bring customers through our door, and from that point it expanded almost into a company in itself. Where we were putting on a handful of races per year at first, now we’re doing about 125 races per year, most of which are partnered with charities and generating a lot of charitable money in the community. It’s been a win/win situation.
SP I really believe in Shreveport and try to pour alot into the community. You don’t see us buying alot of billboards or things such as that because we like to be able to give back to our community instead. It’s our responsibility to support the culture here in Shreveport whether it is through the local school systems, the symphony, the opera, the regional arts council, or even local businesses such as The Robinson Film Center. I really believe that helping make Shreveport become better through those aspects comes full circle as a local business owner.
How do you compete with Internet companies who sell similar items online and ship straight to customers’ doorsteps?
TH There will always be a customer who wants to shop online, there’s no way around that, but they won’t have the same experience as our customers have when they actually walk through the door. Luckily our shop sells a product that you really need to touch and see to know what you want, but I also have my three daughters who have helped tremendously when it comes to our shop’s online presence. I definitely couldn’t do it without them.
MB Our customers of today come in the store with already so much more information. They’ll come in to try a shoe on, but they have already done all the research. However, they are still coming into the store. At that point, it’s just important that we have the shoe in stock and in their size, because if we don’t they’ll order it right then online.
SP I deal with this everyday. The Internet is great in this business as an information system and really allows us to learn things more quickly, but there is still something about touching and feeling something before you buy it. When you actually put a piece of jewelry on someone it lights up and you can see the color, the size, everything!
How did you find your niche in business that you are truly passionate about?
JP My grandmother used to spoil me rotten with clothes. When I was fourteen I would ride by bike to Pope’s to buy polo shirts. That’s where my passion for men’s clothing started but I never thought I would go into the business until I started working for Rosenblath’s in college, and it snowballed from there pretty quickly.
KG I’m passionate about being honest with my customers. It’s a great feeling to go to an event where a woman who came into the shop attends and looks beautiful in the dress you helped her select. I’ve found my niche in helping women look their best, and I love it.