From merchandising and advertising to real estate and technology, business reporters offer insight into the latest trends and people that define today’s top retailers.

Schuler Shoes opens in Highland Park, its 10th location

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: February 25, 2015 - 10:43 AM

Schuler Shoes opened its 10th Twin Cities' location in St. Paul Wednesday. "We sold our first pair of shoes 10 minutes after we opened," said Schuler's marketing director Kari Palmer.

Schuler's continues to grow at a time when many other shoe stores are closing. Venerable retailers such as Roberts Shoes on Lake Street in Minneapolis and Bay Street Shoes in Uptown closed last year.

Schuler's has strengthened its niche by catering to an audience that wants good customer service, knowledgeable sales staff, a wide range of sizes, and relatively stylish but comfortable shoes. Most of its stores are located in the suburbs.

Co-owner John Schuler said only 3 percent of the retailer's sales are online, but the company is hoping to increase that this year. The website has been freshened and reflects current inventories. In the past, inventory was only updated three times a week.

No additional locations are in the pipeline, Palmer said, but the Roseville store is moving in the fall from Har Mar Mall to a new building in the Target parking lot across the street. Construction has begun at the new location.

Grand opening events are planned for March 26-29, but a men's event is in progress. Get $15 off any purchase of $75 or more in the men's department at any of the 10 locations through March 2.

As Highland Park shoppers know well, parking is tight in the neighborhood. Schuler's has its own parking lot with 14 dedicated spaces, next to Walgreens, which also has its own lot. The new shoe store is located at 2081 Ford Parkway in St. Paul.

Plans for TargetExpress in St. Paul take shape

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Target Updated: February 17, 2015 - 6:45 PM

Target’s newest and smallest stores are turning out to be kinda like snowflakes – no two will be exactly the same.

That is becoming increasingly apparent as plans take shape for the second TargetExpress location in the Twin Cities, slated to open in July in St. Paul’s Highland Park.

The first TargetExpress opened in Dinkytown last summer. Given its proximity to the University of Minnesota, it is catered to college students living in apartments and on a budget. So you don't find things like kids' toys there.

But the Highland Park store is in a neighborhood with lots of families. So that store will not only have toys but also items like kids' sporting goods and supplies for a child's birthday party. And it will have more home decor and kitchen accessories as well as a sizable selection of natural and organic products, said Erika Winkels, a Target spokeswoman.

And whereas the Dinkytown store has a whole area dedicated to Gophers-related sweatpants and shirts, the Highland Park store will be fan gear-free.

“The beauty of TargetExpress is that it is so localized,” said Winkels. “We can tailor it for the neighborhood it is going into.”

The Highland Park store, which is going into a recently-shuttered Barnes & Noble location, will be smaller at 16,000 square feet compared to Dinkytown's 20,000 square feet. (Target's suburban big box stores are about six times larger. The retailer also has a mid-size format called CityTarget.)

The Highland Park store is one of eight TargetExpress stores opening this year, compared to six big-box Target stores. These smaller-format stores are of particular interest to Target CEO Brian Cornell who is looking to them to help fuel Target's future growth. He has also said that personalization and localization of stores will be a big part of his strategy.

While they will be different in many ways, the two TargetExpress stores in the Twin Cities will also have a lot in common. They will both have pharmacies. They won’t have much apparel other than some packaged T-shirts and socks. They will both have a lot of private-label brands such as Up & Up to offer cheaper prices.

But it remains to be seen if the families in Highland Park will have as big of an appetite for meat as the hungry college athletes in Dinkytown. The latter store has added more ground turkey, chicken, and hamburger since it opened upon request from students who wanted more protein, Winkels said. The store also beefed up its selection of eggs.

But cheese hasn't been as big of a hit with the college students. So the Dinkytown store has, yes, cut (back) the cheese.

The odd Twin Cities' connection in "50 Shades of Grey"? A shoebox.

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: February 18, 2015 - 1:37 PM

Even a mediocre movie is more enjoyable if it features locales you've visited or people you know. Let me expand that to things with a local angle. The owners of George's Shoes in Arden Hills contacted me to say that one of their products is featured in "50 Shades of Grey," released last Friday.

It's the Walnut Hinge Shoe Shine Kit ($85) made for George's and sold in the Arden Hills store and online at Georgesshoes.com. But don't blame Ron George for shameless product placement. He didn't ask to have the product in the movie. The movie's people came to him. The shoebox kit doesn't even have his family's name embossed on the outside.

The owner of the venerable shoe store, which has been around in the Twin Cities since the 1940s, received an email from the product placement managers back in September to feature the shoe valet after they discovered it online. "We have the biggest selection of shoe shine boxes on the Internet," George said.

Here's the email from the movie's product placement manager: "I am writing you in regards to Fifty Shades of Grey, starring Dakota Johnson (Social Network, 21 Jump Street) and Jamie Dornan (Marie Antoinette).  I am interested in using the "Walnut Hinge Shine Box" in the film. There is a scene in the film where Christian goes to his wardrobe and pulls several items out.  The "Walnut Hinge Shine Box" would be one of those items."

George said he hasn't read the book so he has no idea if a shoeshine kit is mentioned in it too. "The 50 Shades people paid to have us ship it to Canada and they shipped it back after filming," he said..

I went to a media screening of the film  but didn't see the kit. I was yakking with one of my colleagues as the film began, even though I had been told the scene with the walnut box occurs early when Christian's bedroom closet is shown.

One movie goer who knew to look for the shoe shine kit said that he saw the box in Christian's closet but only for a second before the scene shifts.

If you'd like to see a Twin Cities' connection in the movie, arrive early. It's in the first minute or two of the movie during the opening credits.

Why I'd rather get nothing than the $30 you offered me on Craigslist

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Technology Updated: February 4, 2015 - 10:18 AM

On Sunday I wrote about a local store that buys used electronic devices. What I didn't address in the article is why so many of us can't bring ourselves to sell the old models of phones, tablets and MP3 players sitting unused in junk drawers.

How ridiculous is it to have "money" sitting in a drawer? I don't do it, so it seems dumb to me, but I'm a clueless member of the financially flawed club in other ways.

I recently posted a pair of kettle bells for $35 on Craigslist that were brand new in the package. I've had them for at least 5 years, unused, and the same model is still sold on Target.com for $55 each ($110 for the pair). A potential buyer texted me, asking if I'd take $30 for the pair. I responded with $32 as my best offer. He responded, "$30 is my final offer."

I politely refused, even though it was the only offer I'd received in the three weeks since I posted the item. I would rather donate them to charity than accept his "low ball" offer of $30.

How stupid is that?

I could get a $5 charitable tax deduction for the donation or $30 in my pocket. And I have to be honest here--I take a lot of things to charity dropoffs, but benevolent feelings of warmth don't wash over me when I donate my castoffs. It's more of a "Now it's their clutter, not mine."

So why is my behavior so irrational? Psychologists have a possible explanation.

Vladas Griskevicius, professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, said that if a consumer pays $10 for a mug, and someone offers to buy it, the consumer would not be willing to sell it for $10 or even $11. Instead, the person wants $12.

It's called loss aversion, said Griskevicius."Once we have something, we are especially averse to let it go," he said. "It's irrational, but it's how humans behave."

As an innocent bystander, I can look at the person who wants $12 for a $10 mug and think, "You're crazy. Take the $10." But then I think of my own Craigslist experience and realize that I'm as financially inconsistent as the next human.

Another of my human foibles, procrastination, paid off in the end. Hours before I was going to drop off the kettle bells at a charity, the same buyer texted me offering $30. Again, I said $32 was my best offer. He picked them up in an hour for $32. He got a great deal and I held my indefensible ground.

No bereavement airfare but hotels offered bereavement rate

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: February 2, 2015 - 11:11 AM

I drove to Nebraska last Thursday afternoon for a funeral on Friday. Airfares to Lincoln and Omaha with a one-day advance were worse than expected--about $1,100 each. I didn't bother checking bereavement rates since most airlines only discount 5-15% if at all for bereavement. According to experts in a USA Today article last year, most consumers can find lower fares on Priceline than via an airline's bereavement discount.

What surprised me is that some hotels offer bereavement discounts too. I've never asked for one until now. I phoned the front desk at two hotels, said that I would be in town for a funeral, and asked if they might have a room under $100.

I called the front desk instead of the 800 number because I've always been told that local desk agents offer a more competitive price. At a Marriott hotel that I've stayed at before I've paid $99 to $125 per night before tax. So I was genuinely thankful to be given a rate of $74 per night after mentioning being in town for a funeral. I don't think it hurt that it was a Thursday night in winter in Nebraska.

In previous stays at a Best Western Plus in Nebraska, I've paid $95 to $110 per night. After I mentioned the funeral, the desk clerk that the best she could do was $99. I thanked her for the rate and after a pause she said that she could give me the government rate of $84 a night. (I am not a govt. employee.)

I don't know if I'd have been turned down if the funeral were in high season in Orlando or San Francisco, but the next time you're heading to an out-of-town funeral, ask for a bereavement rate at the hotel. It will probably save you more money than bereavement airfare.

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