Small shops vie for Christmas business


A Daily News file photo.

Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 08:46 AM.

FORT WALTON BEACH — Holiday shopping season is in full swing, and downtown merchants are trying to attract shoppers by offering products and services that can’t be found at the Walmarts and Targets.

“The important thing that we’ve always focused on is to not try to compete with the box stores, because you can’t,” said Bobby Nabors, owner of Liquid Surf & Sail. “If you try to compete on their grounds, you lose. You don’t have their buying power. You don’t have the marginability. You don’t have the volume. You don’t have the exposure or marketing.

“Our store’s focus has always been to offer a product or types of products that box stores haven’t done real well with yet,” Nabors added. “We offer more specialty brands. We focus more on service.”

Nabors said Liquid Surf & Sail will continue to have discounted merchandise during the holidays. However, offering products the big boxes don’t have is what draws customers.

Like many stores in downtown Fort Walton Beach, Liquid’s participation in Black Friday this year was pretty minimal, with just a few items on sale. Ivey Ladies Boutique didn’t participate at all.

“I personally don’t believe in Black Friday,” said Christi McKechnie, who owns Ivey Ladies Boutique with her mother Laura Valentine. “From a retail standpoint, I think it’s a bit ridiculous. I think we all should be able to get a very good deal. If I went into the store on Saturday at normal opening hours, I think I should be able to get the same deal I got on Friday at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

Ivey opened seven years ago. McKechnie said its products — and more importantly, its customer service — is something shoppers can’t get at a big box retailer.

“I’m not in business to compete with the big box stores,” McKechnie said. “What my customers receive … is they get a very good deal. They get very good customer service. My customers feel like they’re part of the Ivey family. I call them my girls.

“We’re blessed in this community with very giving people and very loyal people, and I’m just thankful for all of them,” she added.

Artesano Hand Made Jewels gets away from larger competitors by offering hand-made products and art pieces that can’t be found anywhere else.

Artesano, owned by Jon Via and his girlfriend Nikki Lyons, works with artists from around the Southeast as well as a group of artists from Peru to make many of their specialty pieces. Via and Lyons also design a lot of the jewelry and leather bags themselves.

“We specialize in a lot of unique gifts and hand-made gifts, so it’s not something you can find everywhere else,” Via said. “People like that nowadays. People like the specialized things.

“Uniqueness is how you have to set yourself apart from those big retailers, and having stuff that they don’t have,” he added.

Via said his store will have sales throughout the holidays and will have a different item on sale each day for the seven days before Christmas.

Run With It did participate in Black Friday, when all its apparel and accessories and some of its shoes were 30 percent off. Tammy Cox, who works at the store, said the holiday season is off to a great start.

“With us being a running specialty, running shoes is different than shopping online,” Cox said. “It’s something you need to try on.”

Run With It offers military discounts and has a unique way of offering other deals for the holidays. The store will sponsor a run Dec. 8, and participants will receive a numbered identification bib to wear that will include a 25 percent off coupon for the store.

Plus Skateshop is another downtown specialty business that offers unique merchandise. While the big box stores carry some of the same brands, owner Lee Feldmeir said his shop gets products designed specifically for specialty stores.

“The Black Friday weekend was pretty strong compared to last year,” Feldmeir said. “I’ve got a good feeling about the entire season as a whole.

“We compete quite well with them,” he added of going up against larger stores. “Having someone enter the business and be able to walk out with it, the power of immediate gratification is important to us.”

Feldmeir said Plus Skateshop’s Cyber Monday sale also was successful. He plans to hold another 48- to 72-hour sale before Christmas, but the date has not been set.

Contact Daily News Business Editor Dusty Ricketts at 850-315-4448 or Follow him on Twitter @DustyRnwfdn.

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