It’s become quite obvious that while video did not kill the radio star, online sales seems to be crushing the brick and mortar shopping experience. In the midst of what should be a dismal outlook, one Hollywood star has boldly proclaimed that mom and pop shops don’t have to become relics.
Surrounded in rolls of silk, cotton, velvet, and other fabrics in a 10,000 square foot warehouse, in New York City’s Lower East side, Zarin Fabrics and Home Furnishings, owner Jill Zarin, a former participant on The Real Housewives of New York City, is not counting the ways the retail industry is now challenging small business owners.
“Retail has changed so much from brick and mortar to online,” said Zarin, Chief Marketing Officer of Zarin Fabrics. Along with thousands of other small business owners, the reality TV star is confronting the reality that having a storefront involves facing stiff competition from online retailers.
“The challenge with retail in 2016 is: ‘how do you maintain a physical presence and survive, when everyone else is going on the internet,’” said Zarin. “We’d like to do both.”
Zarin is not discouraged. She believes in being creative. Zarin hand-picked a team of top buyers from stores and high end designers that she’s keeping hush-hush, to create a space where “it’s really important that people have a unique experience,” she said.
“You have to rely on the fact that people want to touch and feel (fabric), especially when it comes to luxury fabrics,” said Zarin. “I really want to continue to have a physical presence and combine that with a strong online presence.” And that task, said Zarin, is a family affair — with her husband of 15 years, Bobby, CEO and son, David who “is the new president and responsible for taking us into the next century.”
Despite the daunting task of getting shoppers to somehow ‘touch and feel’ fabric in an online store, Zarin said she has history on her side — as the family store prepares to enter its fourth generation, after opening in 1936. “We survived World War II and 9-11,” she said. The September 11th terrorist attacks sunk New York into a deep depression, according to a 2004 Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Some of the areas impacted were in the tourism industry — a sector Zarin said entrepreneurs and other brick and mortar retailers rely on in their cities.
Zarin knows entrepreneurs like herself will need more than ‘survival’ skills to win the game of retail sales in the age of the internet. Zarin said she and her team are working on simple internet strategies to entice shoppers to seek the Zarin Fabric experience. “We have cashmere blankets, custom pillows, gift items, and art work,” she said. “It’s not just about selling heavily discounted fabric, it’s about creating an experience for shoppers.”
Shoppers are always looking for deals. “The biggest secret is, we are high-end but we discount everything, sometimes even up to 70 percent off,” said Zarin.
She explained that part of keeping up with shoppers’ demands for quality items at a discount, is branding, which is vital to brick and mortar stores. In fact, like an outdated pair of jeans, Zarin said the discount luxury fabric company decided to drop the ‘warehouse’ from its name 15 years ago “just to keep up with our high-end designers.”
The company continues to change with the times, said Zarin, like spending $50,000 a year on advertising back in the seventies.
“We would buy a dollar-sized ad,” she said. “There was no other way to find a store than in the Yellow Pages.” Today, it’s all about Google when you’re shopping. “Does a 20 year old know what a Yellow Pages is?” Zarin asked rhetorically.
Like antique door-stops and paperweights, brick and mortar businesses are using those heavy pages to serve other purposes. Businesses are jumping into the World Wide Web; however, Zarin said small business owners should not underestimate the personal touch brick and mortar shops bring to communities.
“There’s something to say for the physical experience of touching when shopping,” said Zarin. Mom and Pop won’t need to close up shop for good, if they can embrace new technology, no matter the size of their company or what they’re selling.
Photos coutresty of Jill Zarin
Nkoyo Iyamba has won Emmy and Murrow awards as a broadcast journalist. She is now a freelance multimedia journalist in the Washington, DC, New York City, and Atlanta areas. In her spare time, she designs couture gowns for weddings and formal events, especially quinceanera gowns. You can find her gowns at UpScale Seconds in Haymarket, VA.: https://www.facebook.com/upscale0seconds/
Nkoyo considers herself a journalist with a flair for all things international. She lounges in the arts, fashion, and entertainment worlds. Her passions are driven by world affairs and the human condition in her community, around the country, and abroad. She loves writing and reporting on the everyday lives of regular folks, especially issues affecting women, children, and minorities. Nkoyo has worked in the following markets: KSL-TV and KSL Radio in Salt Lake City, WTOP Radio in Washington, DC, The CBS Early Show in New York, KBYU-FM in Provo and KUER-FM in Salt Lake. WCCO Radio and KMSP-TV in Minneapolis. She also enjoyed singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for eight years.