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Last Update: Tuesday June 15, 2021

Key Idea: Offer the Hard to Find

Assuming you understand your target market thoroughly, the next task you have is to find things customers will want to buy that they can't find conveniently any place else.   More...

Key Question:


Offer your customers the unusual.

Q:  How does Carol accomplish this?

  She gets on an airplane. She walks and walks through the markets of the world to find the hard-to-find. Also, she cultivates close ties with manufacturers and manufacturers representatives. She pays her bills on time so everyone will ship her on time and she even provides feedback from her customers to her manufacturers.

The buying part of retail seems from the outside to be the most romantic. But, like everything else, it is very hard work.

She also warns that she doesn't buy what she likes. She buys what she thinks her customers will buy. As we learned from Medallion Financial, stick to your niche and you'll get rich.

Think about it

What do you do for your customers that no one else does for them? If you can't answer that question, think about what you could do for customers that no one else does.

Clip from: Orange Tree Imports with Carol Schroeder

Madison, Wisconsin:  Meet a guru of specialty retail, Carol "Orange" Schroeder (just above). She is the author of the book, Specialty Shop Retailing,  and she truly walks her talk. With her husband, Dean, they started their business, Orange Tree Imports, soon after graduating from college. That was 1975.

Today Orange is a master retailer and a quiet hero in her community. She was an early leader in the movement to revitalize the old downtown. Soon after buying the building on Monroe Street, Orange organized a neighborhood business association to do joint marketing-and-promotion to change the orientation of their old shopping district to be a vital area for specialty shops and restaurants. That worked miracles. Monroe Street now draws people from well beyond the neighborhood, even Wisconsin!

Go to all the key ideas and video of this episode...

Orange Tree Imports

Carol Schroeder, Founder

1721 Monroe Street
Madison, WI 53711

Visit our web site:

Office: 608-255-8211

Business Classification:
Specialty Retail

Year Founded: 1975

Offer the Hard to Find

HATTIE: How do you stay special? How do you make yourself different from the big stores?

CAROL: Well, we watch for lines that are being discounted, and we try not to carry the ones that we know are really prevalent in the discount or big-bucks stores. But also the fact that we present it the way we do; we select things. Stanley Marcus once said that, `A specialty shop preselects things for their customers. They choose the very best of each item, so that when the customer comes in, they know that there's something really unique about the products that are being offered.' And, also, we offer them in a pleasant environment. We gift-wrap them. We help people select them. And that doesn't happen in a discount store.

I love traveling to gift shows. We're doing New York, San Francisco and Chicago this summer. I also meet with sales reps all the time and review product. And I'll look at almost anything, but I have a clear focus about what I think my store can sell, what my customers will want and will pay for it with their money. And that's how you know if a product is successful or not. It's a mistake just to buy what you want because what you like may not be what your customers are asking you for. There's so much merchandise out there, and you really have to discipline yourself not to just buy what you like, but to think about what your customers have told you they like. They vote with their dollars.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) What fun it was for me to find on these shelves products from two companies we've studied here at SMALL BUSINESS SCHOOL. Jill Smith's Buck Eye Bean and Herbs' shaped pastas and other goodies occupy space in Orange's specialty food section. Judi Jacobsen's Madison Park Greeting Cards have a place in a wide selection of cards you can find only at Orange Tree. Both Jill and Judy manufacture in the state of Washington and here we are in Wisconsin. This is great.

Unidentified Woman #3: Since the beginning, since she opened 22 years ago.

HATTIE: Wow. Tell me why you come here.

Woman #3: It's just a fun place to be. You can come here and look, and then you can go back a week later and find different things.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) The absolute key to specialty retailing: hard-to-find, unusual products. Surprise the shopper, and the shopper will come back.

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