Faith Rosenkrantz absorbed her parents’ knowledge of the women’s apparel business and added plenty more in her three decades of running Talk of the Towne, a year-round boutique in Margate.
You need to understand a lot to thrive in that competitive retail segment for more than 40 years, but one ingredient is essential, she said, what you might call the inventory stun factor.
Rosenkrantz rigorously seeks it out at several big New York apparel shows each year, where she buys the sportswear, swimwear and accessories for the next season.
“When I’m at a show, I want to be stopped dead in my tracks. I want something to call to me, to make me say, ‘Oh my goodness, I have to find out about that,’” she said. “And that’s exactly what our customers are going to like.”
She said she works hard each year with her indispensable store manager, Nadine Caporilli, of Margate, to find such moments. But the search is also fun and exciting, enough so that Rosenkrantz’s daughters, a psychiatrist and a nurse, still find time to attend shows with her.
Once she’s got her customers stopped in their tracks, she said, her goal is to offer them looks they won’t see in a department store — or on someone else around town.
“Because we’re so small, we try to keep it so when a customer buys something, she’ll also be unique,” Rosenkrantz said.
That’s important in the closely knit community of Margate, where the customers are part of each others’ lives — and part of Rosenkrantz’s, too.
But even stunners and a unique look aren’t enough in the long run, she said. You have to know the market, understand and even predict its changes, and constantly adapt.
“If you don’t try to see what’s next, you’re in business with your eyes closed,” she said. “I’ve seen stores come and go in this very neighborhood that didn’t see the times were changing.”
The big change the past five years, of course, has been the severe economic slowdown.
Even before that started, Rosenkrantz was routinely predicting the volume and pricing levels that would work for the next season. When the stock market collapsed, she became extra careful.
“No matter how much money people have, everybody when they hear times are bad, all of a sudden they’re going to become a little more cautious spending their discretionary dollars,” she said.
So, like her customers, Rosenkrantz became careful, too, not carrying too much inventory or offering splurge items at odds with the mood.
“We’ve been through ups and downs in the last 40 years and have been fortunate enough to weather the bad times. We’ll get through this and be hopeful the good times will return,” she said.
Retail women’s apparel is a fairly stable industry, figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show.
Talk of the Towne was one of 42 women’s clothing stores in Atlantic County last year, a few more than the 39 in 2001 but also several less than the 50 at the peak of the borrowing-buying bubble in 2007.
The number of employees at such stores in the county rose from 283 in 2001 to 430 in 2007, then was trimmed back to 357 last year.
Rosenkrantz’s parents, Charlotte and David Blustone, started Talk of the Towne in a long-ago economic peak year, 1968. Her father was in real estate and the boutique “fulfilled my mom’s passion,” Rosenkrantz said.
They had family to teach them the business, too — her uncle and his wife, who had 11 women’s stores in North Jersey.
In the early decades of the store, there were more year-round customers, Rosenkrantz said.
“Now, I have more second-home customers. By Christmastime, it gets pretty quiet on the island,” she said.
About eight years ago, Talk of the Towne made its only move, to the other corner of its Ventnor Avenue block into a renovated location.
That kept it a block and a half from the beach, a perfect location to sell swimwear, a big part of its business in the summer.
What is not part of that business, though, even in swimwear, is men.
“Gentlemen come in all the time and say, ‘Where can I get a bathing suit? Is it only for women?’ We gladly run a surprisingly big recommendation business for all of the menswear shops in the area,” she said.
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