Industry Report

To Compete with Chains, Boardman Shops Sell Service

BOARDMAN, Ohio – During an impromptu visit to Mr. Perfume in Boardman, a young couple went from window-shoppers to life-long customers in a matter of minutes.

For owner Ned Sedar, it was business as usual.

The couple stopped in to inquire about a perfume the wife enjoyed. Sedar, after listening politely, told her, “That bottle is too expensive. I will not let you pay that much.”

A look of uncertainty came over the woman’s face, but Sedar was unfazed.

“I can order that for you, and I will beat any price, but I’m not letting you pay that much,” he said, reaching into the display cabinet and pulling out a fragrance.

“This is your scent,” he said.

“I love it!” the woman responded. 

Her husband agreed. After a short discussion, Sedar convinced the husband that he too was wearing the wrong scent. 

“I love that on you,” the wife said after her husband tried it out.

Feeding off their energy, Sedar proclaimed he would sell them both scents for the price of one, a statement that produced looks of disbelief from the couple.

“You just made us life-long customers,” the husband said. “This is great because this one is a heavy sprayer. She even sprays her body,” he said, miming his wife’s actions.

“Really? What line of work are you in? Education or health care?” Sedar asked.

The woman, who appeared as though she had just witnessed a magic trick, answered, “health care.”

That interaction illustrates what Sedar says is the biggest difference between buying from a local merchant and shopping at a big-box store.

“Most owners of small businesses know their customers by their names. Big corporations, they do their hourly thing, you take your stuff and you leave,” he says. “They don’t care if they sold you, they don’t care if you’re happy.”

Sedar does and he has proof.

Over the 10 years he’s been in business at 7101 Lockwood Blvd., Sedar has amassed countless thank you cards from customers appreciative of his service. The cards by the hundreds fill shelves in his shop. 

But going above and beyond for clients is nothing new for the small businesses around the U.S. Route 224 and Tippecanoe Road intersection in Boardman. 

“What sets us apart is the quality and care and time we put into things,” says Sam Giambroni, manager of Branch Street Coffee Roasters, 1393 Boardman-Canfield Road. “Whenever people come here, we want to make them feel like they’re home. That’s our goal for everyone who comes in.”

Sam Giambroni, manager of Branch Street Coffee Roasters, says the cafe’s attention to detail separates it from the chain coffee shops in Boardman.

For Patricia McSuley, owner of Salon 224 and Compassionate Wigs at 1295 Boardman-Canfield Road, going above and beyond is particularly important.

Open nine years, Compassionate Wigs provides wigs to women going through chemotherapy or those with alopecia or thinning hair.

“I spend at least two hours [each] with my clients who are coming in for wigs,” McSuley says. “They’re not people who have worn wigs before. They don’t know anything about them.”

In addition to private fittings, McSuley also custom cuts the wigs and shaves a customer’s head when it’s time to fit her.

Business owners say treating customers like family is even more important around the holidays, when local shops compete with large chains for shoppers.

One way they find an edge, they say, is by inviting the community into their stores with events. Bergen Giordani, owner of One Hot Cookie and OH Donut Co., 1314 Boardman-Canfield Road, says the two shops will be hosting “lots of hands-on things, classes, demonstrations,” throughout the season.

Events include cookies with Santa, a demonstration of making a gingerbread house and a class on how to make a doughnut-hole Christmas centerpiece.

One Hot Cookie and OH Donut Co. will also host a Gilmore Girls trivia event, “because everyone loves the Gilmore Girls,” Giordani says.

Bergen Giordani and Morgen Chretian run One Hot Cookie and OH Donut Co.

Branch Street Coffee will kick off the holiday season with an event on Small Business Saturday, held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. “That’s one of our biggest days of the year,” Giambroni says.

Businesses that lack a storefront will set up inside the shop to sell items, and the Peppermint Pals will be on hand to play local music.

“Anything that was made in Youngstown, they’re going to come spin those records for us,” he says.

At Mr. Perfume, Sedar will offer buy-one, get-one free on anything under $59, and 20% off anything over $59. “They cannot touch me at the mall,” he says.

Sedar says he runs two ads a year to promote his Christmas prices, one mailer and one in the paper.

“Those are scalable. Word of mouth is not scalable,” he says.

Don’t tell that to Randy Kostek, owner of The Difference, a men’s clothing store at 7098 Lockwood Blvd.Kostek, who’s been in the clothing business since he was 17, says he’s had the same customers since he opened in 1986. “Now their kids are coming,” he says.

So trusted by his customers is Kostek that many will call, giving him their Christmas lists, purchasing all of their clothing needs at his shop. “You can’t go to a department store. They’re not going to fit this stuff there. It’s not going to work,” he explains.

Patricia McSuley of Salon 224 and Compassionate Wigs sees an uptick in business during the holidays.

Even though she’s not in retail, McSuley says Salon 224 sees a boost in business around Christmas.

“People are getting their hair done more around the holidays. They’re timing it so it’s done for the holiday,” she says.

Another way small businesses take the upper hand is by working together. 

“In this plaza, we don’t talk about Black Friday. We talk about Small Business Saturday,” says Pepe Parish, owner of the Orange Avocado Juice Bar, 1393 Boardman-Canfield Road.

“Keeping everything local is super important because if you help out your fellow local businesses, it helps you out in the long run,” says Parish.

For Halloween, the businesses held a Trick or Treat across the plaza, with all the businesses passing out candy.

Pepe Parish, owner of Orange Avocado Juice Bar, says he and other businesses nearby hosted trick or treating in the plaza around Halloween.

One Hot Cookie’s Giordani calls the event “a true testament to everyone working together.”

Many of the shops even sell each other’s products. One Hot Cookie and OH Donut Co. sell Branch Street Coffee, while Branch Street offers locally made soap, honey and art.

Recently, Branch Street partnered with Burgan Real Estate to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.  Proceeds from every bag of their Papua New Guinea blend goes to the nonprofit.

“Burgan is actually matching whatever we get from this,” says Giambroni.

McSuley has a simpler approach. “Sometimes when people are waiting for their hair color to process, I’ll take them over” to Canterbury Creative, a shop a few doors down.

Working together and being a part of the community also helps business owners market themselves, Giordani says. “We position ourselves as locally owned. We try to take part in the communities that we’re involved in.” 

Still, Sedar says the popularity of online shopping and the ubiquity of chain stores means small businesses are fighting an uphill battle. “Next year will be worse than this year. Every year coming will get worse,” he says.

But that doesn’t mean he’s changing his ways. Recently, a woman entered Mr. Perfume looking for a gift for her mother on her 90th birthday.

“I found a scent she liked and told her, ‘I lost my mom. Take this from me to her and tell her happy birthday.’ She gave me a hug and cried – and I’m waiting for a thank you card.”

Pictured at top: Ned Sedar opened Mr. Perfume a decade ago and has collected thousands of thank you cards from satisfied customers ever since. 

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.