Thursday, January 31, 2008


I really enjoyed Kay Plantes’ article titled “Reinvention can help businesses escape death” from this month’s Capital Region Business Journal (she writes for Madison Magazine as well). Plantes discusses how businesses should constantly be on the lookout for the next innovation, the next trend, or they will die a slow death. She gives a case study of Magic Mill as an example of how not to operate. When Whole Foods moved across the street from Magic Mill, Plantes points out that Magic Mill could have used that as a push to carry more fresh foods and carryout options—which they didn’t do.

Nothing against Magic Mill, but this very concept came across my radar last week. I visited a longtime Madison retailer (who shall remain nameless) last week for article research. Stepping in the shop was like time had stopped twenty or thirty years ago. Product was disorganized and some hadn’t even been unpacked out of cardboard shipping boxes! After some discussion with the owner, I figured out that this was how the shop looked all of the time; in fact, when I asked the owner if they had just gotten a shipment in, they responded with a “No, I’m just disorganized.” Needless to say I was not too impressed with the lackadaisical approach they were taking with their inventory. I think that shop is also ticking away toward a slow death.

On the plus side, I am happy to say that many Madison retailers are very quick to innovate and sense market changes. For example, Capitol Kids has been carrying “green” toys; Context carries premium organic denim; many specialty retailers are carrying hot national brands as seen in Domino and Blueprint; JC Madison (see last week’s post) moved to a warehouse facility to better cater to their website business.
“Openness to change, creativity and keen observation of marketplace changes are necessary to avoid death,” writes Plantes. I couldn't agree more.

TrendWatch: Winter/Spring 2008

I know what you’re thinking: It’s February! I can’t even see through my windshield covered with snow—forget talking about spring and warm temps! Alas, that’s not the way the retail world works. In fact, many of the local retailers I’ve spoken with ordered their spring 2008 picks back in fall of 2007. This week I want to talk about how to dress cool in the dead of winter and look ahead to spring.

Layer Layering not only keeps you warmer (logically) but adds interest and depth to an outfit. This has become a strong trend in the past couple of seasons. Take a cute wrap dress in a jersey or even silk, add a turtleneck and thick tights underneath, and you’ve taken a summer-weight dress into the winter. Instead of just a standard shirt (or shirt and tie for men) add a vest or sweater and top the look with a blazer (men and women can do this). You’ll look immediately more pulled together. I also personally think when men wear a standard shirt and tie and pair it with a V- or crewneck sweater, it’s a sharp look (and is more casual than the shirt and tie alone). Any number of local retailers can help you on your layering way: Patricia Shoppe, Jazzman, J LaMore, UP Spatique, Twigs and A Stone’s Throw.

Boots I’m on a boot kick. I love ’em worn over jeans the best. I think one of the biggest benefits of wearing boots is that they keep your legs warmer—seriously! I found a fabulous pair on the Victoria's Secret website that I’m eyeing up—a gray microfiber flat boot by Steve Madden. One can fold over the boot for a mid-calf length or pull it up for knee-length. And of course the cute tie on the back of the boots doesn’t hurt, either. I also own a pair of military-inspired black boots and brown faux-suede boots with a gold buckle that I wear frequently. Another bonus: Boots are easier to walk in than pumps on a slippery sidewalk!

Thick tights One word for tights lovers: Scoshi. This small shop is on State Street and the entire wall behind the cash register is devoted to tights. Although on the pricier side (about $20 or so per pair) they’ve got a great mix of patterns and solids. Vera Wang’s Simply Vera line at Kohl’s offers thicker, warmer tights to pair with skirts.

Hats As ubiquitous as it is on Brad Pitt’s noggin, a classic newsboy cap is timeless. Did I mention it keeps your head warm? Check out all kinds of hats at drunkBUTTERFLY on East Johnson Street.

The Best Part The sales! Because the retail world is so far ahead of the seasons, shoppers can find great winter deals right now! Sweaters, shoes, handbags and more are all for the taking at ridiculously low prices. I recently bought two dresses that I plan on wearing with tights and long-sleeve shirts; come spring, I’ll wear the dresses alone with bare legs! Genius! Locally, Patricia Shoppe and drunknBUTTERFLY can assist you with your needs.

Spring Fling

I checked out Marie Claire this week and found some trends I’m looking forward to—and some I’m not. One was clothing in day-glo colors. To me the term “day-glo” always brings to mind Hypercolor T-shirts, leggings and eighties flashbacks. Luckily another trend I saw was wedges (good call) and patent leather. I love patent and am excited this glossy trend is still rocking. I plan on picking up at least one more pair of patent pumps and hopefully, a cute patent clutch.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stylemaker Q&A

Jenny Condon, owner of JC Madison
2140 West Greenview Drive Ste. 1, Middleton. 824-9715.

Condon opened JC Madison just over three years ago and her business is still doing very well—even after a name change (formerly called Allure) and a move to the Greenway Industrial Park this month (the shop was originally located in Greenway Station). The business specializes in high-end handbags and jewelry, and also carries a small clothing inventory.

Why did you move out of Greenway Station?
We were actually looking to get into a different space. We had a huge space [at Greenway] but such a small back area. We needed a bigger back area for shipping and the office and the website type of stuff. Our lease ended with Greenway and we took the opportunity to move quickly and move right away.
[Now] we have two thousand square feet but a huge warehouse space in the back, offices, a dressing room and bathroom. There is also a front showroom area.

How much of your business is from the web, and how much is from the storefront?
I’d say eighty/twenty. Eighty percent is website, twenty percent store. But moving out here, we don’t know what to anticipate so we’re going to work on events once we get settled in here.

Why do you think the website is doing so well?
Because we carry a lot of the brands of handbags, jewelry and accessories that are really wanted; not everyone can sell these bags online and not everyone can open an account with these brands online. (Ed’s note: handbag brands include Kooba, Botkier, Gustto and Isabella Fiore).
They [the brands] just don’t want to be oversaturated online. If everybody could sell them, then their bags wouldn’t do as well because they’d be everywhere. These brands want to promote their exclusivity. There are only a few of that one bag out there, not five hundred.

Where do you go to buy your merchandise?
I go to New York at least a few times a year. Our showrooms are there. I also go to a couple of the shows. I talk with the brands a lot on the phone and over e-mail.

What qualities do you look for in what you sell?
We look for unique and up-and-coming designers and ones that are in our “tier.” We’re kind of in that middle tier, like $500–$700 handbags. We’re in the basic designer category. Really high end is like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada.
I don’t like to get anything too low either because then you get into copies and lower quality. We look for really well designed handbags.

What new items will you be carrying this spring besides handbags?
We’re picking up a new jewelry line called Jules Smith I met her; she lives in the Virgin Islands and does really fun sterling silver and 14K gold-plated stuff over sterling silver. She does very fun things—hoops that are really funky, cuffs, lots of bangles; an anchor pendant. We’re picking up a lot of her jewelry. $70–$300

For sunglasses, we sell Mosley Tribes, or Oliver Peoples’ trendier brand. We sell tons of their sunglasses. Reese Witherspoon was seen wearing their “Aviatrix” aviators. We do really, really well with those. We have them exclusively online and they’re not opening up any other accounts. Aviatrix aviator sunglasses (shown in link above), $275.

What are the spring handbag trends?
We were just at the shows and just saw a lot of new, fun bags.
Everyone’s still doing patent.
Every single designer has a few large clutches, even for day. We’re ordering some light yellow bags in some smaller size bags and clutches.
I saw long chains on little bags, like a Chanel bag but with a long chain.
Nylon—which is really weird (laughs), but only one or two designers have done it but it’s going to be big. These bags have leather trim and they’re just some really amazing cool, fun and bright bags.
This is a huge trend—going with the whole green theme. People are doing [shopping bags] in a light leather and then you can pull it out of your handbag … A couple of them are more like a canvas bag and then a couple of other designers do leather.

Why do you think trends are lasting longer? For example, I know patent and large clutches have been popular for a while.
It does depend on the trend. If they’re difficult to make it to the mainstream, it probably won’t last.
Something like patent is timeless. A nice, white patent is really pretty and black patent will look really pretty with florals.

What clothing is being paired with these handbags you’ve talked about?
It’s still going to be very similar but not the same as last spring: tights, leggings, dresses, tunics and gladiator sandals.
When I was at the New York show every single girl had flat boots with leggings or tights. It was unbelievable. It’s nice because you can wear a flat boot but still look trendy and comfortable.

What new handbags are you going to pick up for yourself?
Isabella Fiore is coming out with a really awesome shoulder bag and baby bag. It has tattoo print on the leather and it says “free spirit” with a bird or flower. It’s really funky; it’s cool. Free Spirit Lulu tote, $395.
Rebecca Minkoff is doing the chain clutches like the Chanel ones. It’s a clutch with a long chain so you can wear it on your shoulder or messenger-style. Rachel Bilson was spotted with one. Clutch, $325.
Gustto is the brand with the nylon bag. They have a bright orange, pink or blue bag in a really neat shape with patent on the top. It’s a nylon shoulder bag. ~$400.

Sunglasses and jewelry are in stock now; spring looks start arriving in-store February 28, with some arriving later in March or April.


Local pet goods retailer bad dog frida received the Adoption Champion Award from Planet Dog. “The award supports, encourages and rewards Planet Dog retailers who ‘romp the extra mile’ when it comes to social responsibility, philanthropy and advocacy for pet adoption,” according to a press release.
The shop’s Collars for Canines Program last December gave cusomters ten percent off each collar and leash when they donated a collar and leash. Bad dog frida also makes a financial contribution to a specific rescue group every quarter.

bad dog frida, 2094 Atwood Ave. 442-6868.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Store Closings

These stores have closed: Patrick's Look of the Isles and Oriental Specialties, (both located in Hilldale Shopping Center), and peg's consignment on Atwood Ave.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Shops for the New Year

Shoppers/readers: the Madison area is chock-full of fun and exciting new shops that have opened in the past six months. If you haven’t already visited these shops, here’s your chance to in the New Year!

Store: ARCHIVE Vintage Art
Location: 183 W. Main St., Stoughton. 205-9252
Opened: May 2007
Owner: Sharon Beckman

What was your inspiration for opening the store?
I always collected interesting paper goods. When I lived in Paris, I traveled all over and would buy anything that caught my eye and always thought, ‘Wow, that would look great in a frame someday.’ I always thought it would be an adventure to own your own business.

Why did you pick downtown Stoughton?
It’s got a great downtown. And I thought the store would fit in well on Main Street. I live here and moved here about two-and-a-half years ago.

What do you carry?
Antique art from 1850–1960. Everything from original paintings to prints to postcards to sheet music to button cards. Anything I think looks good in a frame.

What’s your background?
I have a fine arts background. I was graphic designer for over twenty years. I went to college for a fine arts degree with major in painting and a minor in French and graphic design. I also spent two years in Paris painting and I spent sixteen years in New York doing graphic design.

What stores and restaurants do you frequent in Stoughton?
Badfish Creek really comfortable outdoor clothing; The Stolen Heart for gift items; Woodland Studios has a great gallery space; Vincenzo’s wine bar; El Rio Grande has great Mexican food; Midnight Moon bead store; Catfish River Antiques is one of the best antique stores I’ve been to anywhere, ever.

What do you like most about Stoughton?
It’s got such potential. We drove here downtown one night and thought, ‘Wow, what a vibrant downtown!’ It’s kind of like that best-kept secret around Madison.

Store: Modern Bead
Location: 743 N. High Point Rd. (Sauk Point Square Shopping Center). 828-2323.
Opened: December 15
Owners: Shannon McCarthy and Troy Baumann

What do you sell?
Beads and related supplies. Our specialties are Swarovski crystals, natural stones and sterling silver. We also have classes and parties. People can also buy smaller quantities of beads and then just use the tools in-store. We’re really trying to get people who have been wanting to try beading.

What is your background?
I went to school for theatrical design but have beading my whole life. The first time I sold some jewelry I was twelve years old. My husband (Troy) was a buyer for a Madison store for a number of years and he was also a store manager. We kind of talked about opening a shop together. It’s mostly something we planned to do together for years and years and just finally did it. I had seen bead stores that carried some of my favorite things, but Madison didn’t have my dream store. So I created my dream store.

What do you like most about owning a store?
To me it’s definitely when people come into the store and they’re as excited about beading as I am. It’s about sharing that love. For me it was an exercise in self-control when I used to go into beading stores and try not to buy everything! Having someone walk out of our store and say, ‘Wow, I can do this.’ Empowering people to try it, and seeing that they have a creative bone in their body after all.

Store: Cambridge Stoneware Pottery
Location: 217 W. Main St., Cambridge. 423-9700.
Opened: July 2007
Owner: Jim Rowe (Rowe is former owner of Rowe Pottery Works, also in Cambridge, but is not associated with the company anymore).
Note: I spoke with store employee Diane Luginbuhl, and not Jim Rowe, who was out of town.

What does the store sell?
The shop sells saltware pottery as well as colored pottery. (Editor’s note: According to the website, salt glazing first became popular in the 1800s; most of Rowe’s creations are replicas of historic pieces.) Cambridge Stoneware also sells kitchen stuff like linens, kitchen accessories, glassware and serviceware.

What is salt glazing?
It’s an old traditional way of making pottery. Our new kiln is environmentally friendly. With the traditional salt glaze, you’d get sulfur burn-off, and we don’t have that anymore.

What’s the price range of your items?
Prices range from $10–$150.

Where else do you like to go in Cambridge?
Right across the street from us is Tru Bar and Grill. They’re known for their wood-fired stove. There’s also the Woodshed (home décor, furniture) and Sienna River. Katie’s Corners has Scandinavian décor food and wine. Voyagers makes custom jewelry.
Cabin Fever is new and geared for people who have log cabin homes or want log cabin décor.

Store: Vom Fass
Location: 3236 University Ave. 204-0300.
Opened: Beginning of December
Owners: David and Justin Gibson
Note: all questions were answered by Vom Fass employee David Eisner-Kleyle.

What does Vom Fass sell?
Oils, vinegar, whiskey, wine and spirits.

Why did the owners choose Madison for the first U.S. location of Vom Fass (there are two others worldwide)?
We chose Madison because of the demographic here. Madison has a more European way they think about food. They shop at farmers’ markets and there’s a wide variety of foods around the area. I mean, think about all the cheese we eat. Also, the owners that bought the franchise are from the Wisconsin area.

What is different about Vom Fass than, say, a typical liquor store?
We’re not trying to be a mass liquor store or anything. We have relationships with every one of these products. What you’re getting here are some of the most traditional, highest-quality products in Europe. And we’re all about tasting. When [customers] first walk in, they’re pretty overwhelmed. There’s such a difference in these products; they’re so palatable. Everyone says ‘Wow;’ it’s the most heard word around here. You just really have to taste the products. They’re just so amazing.

What have been the most popular products so far?
Hazelnut oil and the Waldburg balsam raspberry vinegar.

Do you have any upcoming events?
[We will have a] grand opening in the next couple of months. We will be doing tastings, probably a [few] classes here on-site. Being the first store in the U.S., we really want everything to be in order.

Store: Wisconsin Cutlery and Kitchen Supply
Location: 3236 B University Ave. 204-0560.
Opened: Beginning of December.
Owner: Bill Peterson

Why did you pick Madison as the place to open your store? (Editor’s Note: It’s actually right next door to Vom Fass)
I had lived in Madison and wanted to come back here, and I have family that lives here.
I just thought that the location, with Penzey’s close by, with all of the food people, it would be a natural fit. I signed a lease a day or two before Vom Fass did.

What were you doing before this?
I ran a store in Chicago. That store was a cutlery store and they did a lot of knife sharpening. I used to be a rep for a knife manufacturer. I called my rep friends in and said, ‘Let’s see what we can sell.’

What do you sell?
Gadgets are a huge part of the business. I have a wall of gadgets probably thirty-five feet long. [I carry] Forschner knives (it’s the same company as the Swiss Army knife), Mac Japanese knives (I’m the first dealer in Wisconsin that has that brand), Meesermeister, a good-quality German knife, and Shun, another Japanese knife.

Why do you have all of those European companies?
Well there’s only two American manufacturers, but they’re food-service grade. There isn’t any real American manufacturers that make a “retail” knife. I’m just getting started now.

How do you differentiate your store from other area kitchen stores?
I do knife sharpening. I sharpen knives by hand, which is totally unique to this area.

What’s the response been to your store so far?
Positive. I don’t think many people know about it yet. The exposure here has been so good with Vom Fass and Penzey’s; it’s helped out a lot.

What’s been your best selling item so far?
Silicone Zone—it’s silicone cooking [items]. [They are the] hottest items I’ve got. Trivets, spatulas, the pastry brushes, muffin pans, ice cream trays, things like that. They’re colorful and unique, too. It’s one-hundred percent silicone.