When husband-and-wife retailers Edward and Faina Shapiro opened an apparel boutique last year, they approached it with the same high standards with which they’ve run Diamond Dream Jewelers, in Bernardsville, N.J., for more than 30 years. “The clothing collections we buy have to have a quality; they have to have style and not be overdistributed,” says self-described fashion lover Faina. The couple opened the 2,500-square-foot boutique above the ground-floor jewelry store in October, but have been researching the concept for years—studying consumer behavior and intelligent store design. “We’re still figuring it out,” concedes Edward, “but the response from customers has been great, and we’re hoping eventually the two departments will help each other.”
What made you want to expand into apparel?
Edward: Faina loves to shop! No, seriously.… Our customers appreciate the good things in life. Everything we offer needs to be something that’s going to last. We’re from the former Soviet Union, and it’s a very European way of buying and shopping—buy less and spend on nicer things that you will get years of use out of.
How do you get shoppers to go upstairs?
Edward: We looked at this. [Guys] want a first-floor shop. In our travels in Europe, we’d see things for men right by the door. They want to grab it and get out. Women—they will go anywhere. So this is a women’s boutique. To go upstairs for apparel and accessories, you have to walk through almost the entire jewelry store. We’re always looking at ways to increase traffic in the jewelry store, too.
How is the apparel business challenging?
Faina: Clients don’t see us as an apparel [seller] yet. But they’re getting to know us. Over the holidays, we had a lot of customers say they were glad they didn’t have to go to the mall anymore.
Edward: The clothing business moves at a quicker pace. But customers love it; there’s nothing like this in the area. We have a very big mall near us—The Mall at Short Hills. But you can’t find this inventory there. And you can’t beat the service here.
What was fashion-buying like at first?
Faina: My first appointment was at 2 p.m., and I left at 8 p.m., when they basically said I had to leave. It was so overwhelming. First you look at what they have. They show you runway photos; you pull merchandise you think you like. Then they have models try everything on; of course everything looks amazing. I said, “I have to try everything on to see how it looks on a real person!” I’m used to buying now, but it took a while.
Edward: You order six to nine months ahead, and you choose sizes and colors and sets. Then in two to three months…everything has to go on sale to make room for next season’s merchandise.
How are fashion and jewelry retailing alike?
Edward: In the jewelry trade, relationships are very important. It’s the same in apparel. A lot of the showrooms are mom-and-pop operations, even if big companies are behind them. It’s all about good relationships.
Photograph by Peter Chin