Shop Talk: Boutiques thrive with customer experience

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – In a year filled with store closings nation wide, small shops seem to be multiplying.

It’s another sign of the changing retail landscape, the focus of “Shop Talk,” a series of First News special reports.

In a stark contrast to many of the closing “big box” stores,  old houses in the 500 block of W. Wayne street are home to new small businesses.

People who own boutiques spend almost as much time on developing relationships with customers as they do with their inventory.

An old house at the intersection of W. Wayne St. and Fairfield Ave. is home to Smiley’s Joy.

“Every cent we make in the store goes back into bringing more products in, that someone might need or might want, so they do have a pleasant shopping experience,” Cathy Smiley, owner of Smiley’s Joy said.

Smiley smiles when she talks about her small shop, but gets even more passionate when the topic is customer interaction and shopping experience.

Those words set boutiques apart from the big box chains and online giants.

“You can touch, feel, try on,” Smiley explained. “I tell people if they want to walk around with their home decor, try different things.”

A few minutes away, at Jefferson Pointe, the Family Christian store is closing. There’s new life next door though, as Lori Eddy gets ready to celebrate the grand opening of her boutique Couture Cottage, on May 20.

A welcome sign greets customers at Couture Cottage at Jefferson Pointe.

Eddy talked with NewsChannel 15 about opening a store in the current state of the retail industry.

“It’s a little scary,” Eddy said before countering. “I’m not a big online shopper. I like to feel and look at clothing. And a lot of people need things short notice, and you can’t order something online and guarantee it will fit. You’ve got to send it back. It’s a hassle.”

She echos the thoughts of other shop owners, acknowledging that today, it’s about more than the sale.

“I learn so much from [the customers],” Smiley said enthusiastically. “I’ve learned how to wear clothing in a different way or, with home decor, put different things together that I never would have thought of.”

Upcycled military canvas bags are popular sellers at Smiley’s Joy.

Both Smiley’s Joy and Couture Cottage offer clothing, home decor and gifts. They also offer a changing stock of new and unique items.

Shoppers tend to go online or to big box stores for specific things they know will be there.

The small stores rely on those who see shopping as a way of entertainment or relaxation.

“Everything in here is unique and different,” Eddy added. “Somebody could come in here looking for one thing, and might need something else and don’t realize it.”

One more thing that sets these types of stores apart from the national retailers is a sense of community. Many owners find themselves supporting each other.

“I hope more retailers like me come in, because it helps us all,” Eddy said.

“We’re so familiar with the other shops, if [customers] say ‘I’m looking for this particular item,’  if at all possible, we say ‘I know who might have it’ and we’ll mention that other store,” Smiley added.

While customers are spending more time in boutiques and less in chain stores, shop owners are not reveling in the struggles of others.

“They need their jobs too,” Smiley said concerned. “No ill will at all towards the big stores, because we understand everyone needs their jobs.”


“Shop Talk” – A series of special reports, will continue throughout May on First News and on