By Suzanne Bernhardt
Surviving the ups and downs of the economy while trying to maintain a successful business may be an impossible feat for many, but not for Laurel Jones. For 28 years, Jones has enjoyed retail success as the owner of Swimwear Solution in Overland Park, Kansas. Located on the south side of the Kansas City metro area, the 3,500-square-foot store stocks more than 8,000 swimsuits year-round as well as cover-ups and accessories. Jones recently shared with The Swim Journal some insights into her success and as well as some concerns.
TSJ – Do you have more than one store location?
JONES – I have had opportunities to expand and do multiple locations, but I have always been a believer that I should do one store and do it well! As the owner, I like to have personal interaction with my customers, and I couldn’t achieve that with more than one store.
TSJ – What makes your store the “Swimwear Solution”?
JONES – We provide one-on-one customer service. The staff is trained to help the customer select the proper suit, which takes a lot of the frustration out of the swimsuit buying process. We also have a wide selection of swimwear, cover-ups, resortwear, casual dresses, hats, sandals and beach bags to create a one-stop-shopping experience. We cater to a variety of customers, from tweens to seniors.
TSJ – How do you decide which brands to shop and ultimately purchase?
JONES – My buying is based first on knowing my customers’ preferences and then on the fit of a line, the print or color, and the quality of the product. If a brand does not have a good fit, it really doesn’t matter what it looks like.
TSJ – Do you shop brand-new lines or do you stick to the tried and true?
JONES – I stick to tried-and-true brands. As a buyer, you definitely develop relationships with your sales reps, designers and manufacturers, who consistently put out a quality product. We have quite a few customers that are loyal to certain brands for their fit or style, but I add a few new ones into the mix each year. A few years ago, I added the lines Helen Jon, Mazu and Grain de Sable. I will be shopping the new line Isabella Rose by Lunada Bay this year.
TSJ – Do you carry sun-protective wear?
JONES – Yes, lots of hats. In clothing, mostly rashguards. Customers have liked ones that have either a full or half zipper.
TSJ – What are your best-selling styles of swimwear?
JONES – Tankinis, bra-sized swimwear, skirted and high-waisted bottoms. The high-neck bras have been a fun new style to sell this year. And we couldn’t be without swimdresses, plus-sized swimwear and 100% polyester spa one-pieces.
TSJ – What are your best-selling labels of swimwear, cover-ups and accessories?
JONES – For swimwear, La Blanca, Sunsets, Kenneth Cole, Gottex and Becca. For cover-ups and resortwear, Peppermint Bay, J.Valdi, Dotti and DreamDance; and for accessories, Sanuk sandals.
TSJ – Tell us about employees; what are your biggest challenges in finding and keeping good help?
JONES – It is increasingly difficult to find good and loyal employees. Obviously, they need to be paid well, but I feel that the best way to retain them is to provide a challenging but fun and positive environment within the store. As an owner/manager, I like to set the example by living a positive life with a positive way of thinking and a family-like atmosphere within the store.
TSJ – What do you find are your biggest challenges in running a store like yours?
JONES – Keeping up with the ever-changing nature of retail. It is changing at an exponential rate, from the consumer to marketing to the employees. In the last several years, I have had trouble with younger customers “show-rooming” in the store. They try on suits for the style and size that they want and then go to the internet to purchase. The customer has the perception that they can find merchandise online for less money. The frustration comes from my employees spending significant time and energy on these customers and then having them say, “I’ll just buy it online,” and they walk out the door. Therefore, specialty stores need the support of the vendors so that we eventually don’t have the demise of the brick and mortar.
TSJ – Any final comments?
JONES – One of the unfortunate things about retailing is that you never know how your store is performing, compared to the rest of the retail world. I have always felt that it would be nice to have a networking/sharing group of retailers that you could sound ideas off of for marketing, hiring, etc.