Many Madison shopkeepers and mercahnts are feeling positive about sales over the last year and they attribute it to their loyal, local customers. To keep these customers happy, business owners say, they are constantly reassessing their inventory and making changes to keep up with the changing economy.
“We have a good customer base,” said Sheila Salkin, co-owner of Ciao Bella. “We have good prices. We changed our business about six years ago and really altered our prices. Now you can get a dress for $50, instead of $150 so it’s much more affordable for students or women, young families.”
Keeping affordable inventory is also important to Janet and Jerry Connolly, owners of The Audubon Shop.
“We’ve seen a lot of up and downs in the economy in the last 25 years,” said Janet.
While birdseed has carried their business through the years, high end birdfeeders and telescope sales have slowed a bit.
“People are being careful. People are always thinking twice, they don’t have the disposable income they had 5 or 6 years ago," she said.
As a brand new shopkeeper, Madison Wool Proprietor Dayna Mankowski said sales have been good since she took over the business in June. While serious knitters keep busy throughout the summer months, most interest in buying yarn is when the weather is cold.
Mankowski said she saw a boom in handmade gifts for the holidays, as well as turning to the craft to keep them busy during the downturn in the economy.
“I definitely have seen a real turn to handmade,” she said. “People, especially in between jobs and the economy, want to stay home and make more things,” she added.
Mankowski prides herself in stocking the shelves with unique, one of a kind yarn.
“I carry a lot of independent yarn spinners that you can’t get anywhere else, just maybe online or farmers’ markets. It’s definitely a destination for knitters.”
Gretchen Matkin, owner of Maggie’s of Madison, said carrying unique, specialty home decor and linen items has also made her store successful.
“We are really lucky to have our core clientele from the shoreline and they are very loyal. At Maggie's we strive to offer superior service, beautiful products and a pleasant atmosphere and I believe that is why people come back to our store,” she said in an e-mail.
Matkin stressed that while her store may not carry the least expensive items her clients keep coming back for the quality of the goods.
“I see a continued trend in buying the best so it lasts a lifetime,” she added.
“We had great traffic throughout the year and found clients may not always be purchasing the largest ticket item but several smaller gifts,” added Matkin. “I work really hard to find beautiful gifts at a great price point for the store.”
Uniqueness and specialty items are also what make Foxglove & Cheese Shop popular. Over the years this store has been in many different locations and Owner Fawn Nebinger said she has had to change her inventory to keep up with the changing economy and trends. Now at 119 Samson Rock Drive, with an expanded gourmet cheese collection, in addition to bath products, Nebinger says business has been picking up.
While summer and holiday time traditionally have been her busiest times, Nebinger is expanding her food selections to include gift baskets for sympathy, anniversaries and birthdays.
“We saw a big upsurge in our gift baskets this Christmas,” says Nebinger. “I’m hoping that once people know we have gift baskets - those people buy all year.”
Reaching out to the local community is what the Chamber of Commerce’s “Love Your Local” campaign is all about. As a member of the Merchant Committee for the Chamber of Commerce Janet Connolly says she is pleased that shopkeepers are banding together to promote shopping in Madison.
Eileen Banisch, Executive Director at Madison Chamber of Commerce, echoes this sentiment.
“I think the quality of customer service at the small, individually owned shops in Madison, as well as the quality of the merchandise they offer, is quite often better than you’ll find if you go elsewhere,” Banisch said.
At France Ameriques Owner Jacqueline Guizol said her local customers are very loyal.
“It’s been good because people have a tradition to come back,” said Guizol. “The important thing right now is to stay in business, to keep people happy and to have local people who support local stores and this is happening because I have a tradition.”