Retail is tough business even in the best of times, and for Max Ryan, who is closing his Springdale clothing store after 47 years, it’s a crossroads into retirement.
Ryan’s is one of just a few family-owned retailers in the region, and the store has been open more than four decades. The 65-year-old Ryan said he is closing doors as soon as the inventory is gone.
“It’s been a good run, but I am ready to retire and my children have great jobs of their own and are not interested in taking over the store,” Ryan said.
He said the days are long and he puts in about 60 hours a week as the manager, buyer, merchandiser and bookkeeper. He has maintained a small staff of six full-time employees than have logged an average of 20 years at Ryan’s. Ryan said bidding the store good-bye is bittersweet but it’s time to move on.
It was a career that came naturally to Ryan, also a skilled musician, who worked as church organist part-time for more than 30 years.
Ryan’s family clothing store in downtown Springdale dates back to 1966 when Max’s father, Troy Ryan, bought the business he had managed since 1941 under the name Rowland’s. Retail was a downtown enterprise back in the 1940s and 1950s long before shopping malls and urban sprawl.
Records from the Shiloh Museum in Springdale indicates there were five clothing stores, 14 grocers, four drug stores and two hardware stores in downtown Springdale in the 1940s.
Ryan said he joined the family business in the early 1970s and there were nearly a dozen retail stores and restaurants in downtown Springdale at the time. The Northwest Arkansas Mall was just being built, Wal-Mart was in its infancy and the Internet – which made online retail possible – didn’t exist.
He credits the store’s longevity to the fact he has tried to keep up with the latest clothing trends from birth to burial, going to the Dallas and New York markets several times each year. Ryan said in later years the downtown location meant people had to plan a trip to the retail store, but his lower overhead costs also meant he could pass along better prices for the last fashions.
His 15,000 square-foot store building is for sale and Ryan said he’s getting out of the way for something that will hopefully be bigger and more exciting in downtown Springdale.
Two years ago, Ryan said he had no intention of selling clothing online, and he has not changed his mind even though he knows it’s a fast-growing business for many brick & mortar retailers. The store does not have a website, much less a Facebook page or mobile shopping application.
For Ryan, personal customer service means greeting his customers by name with a handshake and a smile. He said personal touch was part of the value he could provide along with good prices to a loyal customer base, and it worked well for the family store through the years.
Other retailers might say that embracing social media and technology is a good way to stay connected with their customers, to keep the conversation going even when they are not in the physical store. Kantar Retail analysts said technology is the great equalizer for small retailers and those who want to stay relevant in the next decade will need to embrace the digital age as online sales are becoming to big to ignore.
Forrester Research predicts online retail will reach $262 billion this year, up 13% from $231 billion in 2012, and representing 8% of the total retail market share. Forrester expects a compound annual growth rate of 9% aided by traditional stores’ investments in web processes to support a multichannel strategy.
Experts agree niche retailers can still flourish in a big box world, but augmenting their business with online offerings has never been more important than it is in today’s digitally connected world. Small, full-service brick and mortar retailers often don’t have the time amid long work weeks to kick-start an online retail venture, which is why they should outsource the work if possible, according to analysts.
Fayetteville-based Btiques works with small clothing retailers to help them promote limited quantity retail through a free mobile application that is shared through the retailer’s social media pages.
“We launched the mobile app three weeks ago and have signed up 15 small retail stores in Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith and the Little Rock area. The feedback has been great and consumers like having a shop-mobile option,” said Will Carter, co-founder of Btiques.
He said consumers often buy fashion on impulse, they don’t know they want it until they see it. Btiques will promote the hottest fashion trends on social media for the retailer and then make the product accessible via the mobile application. The customer can purchase the product online and either have it delivered or pick it up at the store at a convenient time.
Carter said the mobile application is free and easy to use for the retailer and consumers.
“We are paid a percentage of the sales generated from the application,” Carter said.