Shopgirls versus Public Butter: Battle of the Parkdale stores
On Friday, before the drunk driving fiasco (his drinking, not mine. so happy when he was arrested), I stopped by Shopgirls.
I had met the very nice store owner, Michelle Germain, and her husband on Wednesday at the Gallery 1313 thing and promised her that I would check it out.
I originally heard of Shopgirls through some web press thing and after looking at the merchandise on the website, I decided to skip it. It was cute but not particularly my style – a bit too boho-on-a-yuppie’s-budget. Over the next year, I checked the website to look for updates whenever I read a usually glowing review online but I didn’t notice much of a change in inventory so I continued to not bother.
Anyways, I met the owner through Coko and she was absolutely lovely. Despite the website not being updated when I checked it again when I got home, I decided that she was enough to make me go to the store in a buying mood. (Plus, I just got my bonus that day so I was all shopping++.)
By the time I got to the store on Friday after work, Michelle wasn’t there. Her husband and a shop girl were manning the store instead. Michelle’s husband gave me the Shopgirl reason d’etre and proceeded to tell me many times that he doesn’t like hovering around shoppers while doing precisely that.
The shop girl decided to surf Facebook or something, until a friend walked in and they chatted about men’s clothes. She seemed to have a teenager-like inability to serve anybody that isn’t within her own cultural affliation (Dude, you aren’t cool if you don’t dress like me and like the same bands). Of course, she had to lecture me on the existence of sweatshops when I asked her why these prices were higher priced than stuff I buy from Holts while being … shabbier looking … like I was an imbecile that had never read the news or, oh, have never talked to my parents, both of whom have worked in the shops in their pre-pre-teens. She also told me that it is too high maintenance to update the online store (Business is high maintenance? Do tell. Glad to know you have your priorities straight). If that girl was able to sell using that slightly-above-not-caring attitude then good on her but she was such a massive turnoff.
Man, the interactions between the shop girl and Michelle’s husband was like a case study video about bad management or, conversely, scenes from my parent’s marriage during the 92 recession. Totally made me feel uncomfortable as a customer. I kept wondering if I should leave to give them some room. Michelle’s husband constantly undermined the shop girl’s already half-hearted attempts at customer service. He snapped at her when she interrupted him during one of his designer explanations in a tone of voice I have luckily never experienced with my bosses. And when she went on her ill-directed sweatshop rant, he cut her off and said to me, “She sounds nervous, doesn’t she?” and chuckled.
They were constantly negotiating with with each other instead of with me and undermining the value of their products. When I asked the price of a fab Eve Farber dress ($399 and I didn’t buy it), he said the price and that “that’s pretty expensive. I’m glad I don’t buy women’s clothes”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sales person say that.
The more they talked to me, the less I wanted to be in the store. All I can think of was that if the sales team at my company worked like this, my company would be in big trouble.
I came to the conclusion that when you pay that price bracket for a certain darling dress, it’s not the really the piece that matters itself but the service and the experience. The golden rule for selling women’s clothes at any price level is compliment, compliment, compliment. The motherly sale person at Holts dotes on you until she convinces you are the only girl in the world that can truly own the Greta cocktail dress you came to get but also the Louboutin strappies and while you are here, why not some accessories? They gasp appropiately when the right dress is on, and tell you ever so gently when the wrong dress is barely on.
Does buying Canadian clothes mean that I have to be rudely treated or the price be non-negotiable and unwaverly high? No and no. At his sample sale, Lucian Matis was endlessly attentive and choose the clothes I tried on personally. He makes terrific tea. His prices were lower than Shopgirls. When I bought the pink cocktail dress from Megg, the clerk was once again sweet as hell and offered me an additional 15% discount when she decided that I looked terrific in it and also because “the owner is cool”. The now defunct Brazen Hussy offered me a similar discount because I knew one of the owners. Same as Hoiboi. And Marmalade. And Lauren Tamaki. Swaby was a sweetheart even though I didn’t buy anything.
I guess, ultimately, Shopgirls try to make supporting the local designers possible in a convenient location, but once again, the local designers participating created solely for Queen Street web moppet demographic (I think my previous editor, Rachel from Toronto Street Fashion, called it Craftashionista or something). Maybe I was trying to make the store something it was not. Maybe the shop girl would have been nicer if I didn’t walk in in a suit although that should really not be an issue for someone that wants to hmm… I don’t know, do business?
Oh well, let the recession sort them out.
Maybe I should go back when Michelle is around.
Or maybe not.
Feeling dejected and strangely empty handed leaving Shopgirls, I wandered into Public Butter.
They were having a 50% off sale!
The difference in service was night and day. Gone was the uptight and insecure duo with the manager-employee dysfunction; Public Butter’s shop girl was sweet and helpful and just a little bit stoned. She thought my adult-costume suit was wicked lol awesome.
I left the store with two bags of clothes, including a vintage fur stole that I absolutely loved.
Shopgirls drove me into the arms of a competitor.