Cassidy's Finds its Niche as Community-Oriented Luxury Linens Shop
Cecile Corral -- Home Textiles Today, 11/7/2011 2:00:00 AM
STUART, FLA. - When Kit and Dan Cassidy first opened their bedding and bath linens shop here in 1979, their friends and colleagues had some misgivings.
"People thought we were nuts!" Kit Cassidy said, laughing.
Back then, the town of Stuart was "a very small, intimate community. My sister lived here, and we bought a condo here in 1975, so that's why we decided to open our shop here."
The Cassidys, who in October celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary, stuck to their plan - and it paid off.
"We exceeded our expectations," she said. "People around here supported local businesses, and they supported us."
Added Dan Cassidy: "We've got involved in the community with many charities. It's a very community-oriented store because we like it that way. We choose to be very community oriented."
Cassidy's had competition, as Dan noted, with about four other "mom-and-pop" linens shops nearby in the Downtown Stuart area.
But the couple has managed to "stay relevant" by evolving its business from what it started out as to what it is today, he explained.
Kit and Dan Cassidy each began their careers working for Federated Department Stores as buyers. They began in the company's training program, based in Columbus, Ohio, where they met. Soon after, they married and moved to Memphis to work for Federated's Goldsmith's nameplate - Dan as a buyer for home textiles and Kit assigned to buy lingerie, women's blouses and merchandise for the store's basement department.
After a few years, Dan was hired as a buyer for May Co. And a few years after that, he was offered a promotion working for Dayton-Hudson in Detroit. Kit followed him there, and there they remained for about four years.
It was at that point that the couple started exploring the option of opening their own linens retail business.
In November 1979, when Cassidy's first opened its doors in a 3,000-square-foot space in the city's downtown district, "we weren't a high-end store," Kit recalled. "Back then, we were a bedding and bath store that was moderate to higher-end. But we weren't luxury."
Added Dan: "We were involved in a lot of [home] businesses that we aren't in now."
But as Stuart began to grow - and some smaller retailers disappeared as major chains arrived - "we became more of a niche business," Dan explained.
Because of Stuart's vastly seasonal population, comprising well-to-do snowbirds who spend their winters in Florida and their summers in the north, Kit saw an opportunity to offer a more specific product assortment targeting the local customer base.
"Kit pushed us to be high-end. I wasn't sure about it, but we gave it a try," Dan said. "We wanted to see how it'd work."
Cassidy's tactic was to "gradually sneak in" higher price-point products into the mix, "and most of the time, it worked. When it didn't, we just got out of the category."
Dan remembers that it was in the mid 1980s when Cassidy's experienced its turning point.
"It was when the Fieldcrest Charisma sheets had just come out," he said. "They were considered very high end. We decided to add it to our assortment, and it sold out very well and very fast. And that was one of the catalysts for us to become high end. We learned then that we could sell high price points. We could do it."
Dan and Kit knew there was one other important factor in succeeding in the high-end market: properly training the staff to sell the goods.
"Our staff has become so knowledgeable about the products," Kit said. "And we try to have a staff meeting every month to talk about new merchandise."
The couple credits its staff with understanding the mix, presenting it "very well" on the selling floor, and offering first-rate customer service.
"Each [of the 16 beds] is changed every three weeks, and we do a great deal of cross merchandising," Kit said. "We usually don't designate each bed to just one vendor. We cross-merchandise almost all of our beds with products from different vendors because that is how our staff sells."
Today, Cassidy's has grown into an 8,300-square-foot store - of which 6,700 square feet are devoted to selling space and the remainder to offices and inventory storage. Its vendor list is long and extensive, including Ann Gish, Matouk, Home Treasures, Yves Delorme, Peacock Alley and many others.
The merchandise mix skews heavily toward bedding - 60% fashion and 10% utility. Bath makes up 15% of total sales. And rugs, table lines and gifts each generate 5% of the business.
In recent years, the store has faced challenges in the form of hurricanes and the recession.
"Hurricanes have slowed our seasonal traffic, and when the recession started in 2008 we got hit very hard," noted Dan.
But last year, the numbers started ticking upward - with "a very nice increase in 2010. And so far, in 2011, we've had another nice increase on top of that. We're seeing the business move up again, but it's still difficult out there for retail."
In response, Cassidy's has lately adopted more promotional strategies than it had in the past to draw new and existing customers, Kit said.
"We've become maybe a little more price conscious, and we've added more promotions, such as 20% discounts when you spend $100 or more - we do that in our slow summer months."
Also, when orders are large enough, Cassidy's waives shipping charges. Other perks include free gift wrapping, home delivery for local orders and dog treats for shoppers' pets.
"We are very proud of our sales associates," she said. "They always pitch in with everything that needs to get done around here. They are just amazing."
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