After 14 years at Tyrone Square Mall, Ashley's Collectables is calling it quits with prices cut 20 to 50 percent on its stock of porcelain and crystal figurines.
"If we'd have known the economic recovery would take this long, we never would have bought the store," said Kathy McCabe, who purchased the store in 2008. "Even if we paid no rent, we'd lose money. It's sad."
Despite such popular names as Swarovski, Lenox, Hummel, Armani and Kameleon, sales fell from $600,000 in 2007 to $275,000 in 2010.
With prices ranging from a $15 dog figurine to a $6,000 Lladro wall sculpture, Ashley tried less pricey lines and branched into handbags like $39.95 Miche bags. No luck.
"We still get collectors looking, but in this economy, even many of our most loyal customers quit buying," said Kathy Powell, an Ashley's saleswoman from day one. "They cannot afford it."
Affluent shoppers may be starting to spend more freely in this relentlessly slow jobless recovery. But McCabe's lament over how long she can hold out waiting for a rebound may become more common. Like Borders and Robb & Stucky, which lived more than a year off the good graces of patient creditors and landlords before filing for bankruptcy last month, many stores are alive thanks to rent concessions. Meanwhile, many collectibles-obsessed shoppers moved on during tough times to stores run by manufacturers or their online sites, which boast more variety than what's offered to independent dealers.
The loss of Ashley's also will end a Tyrone mall icon: a life-sized resin dog sculpture that for years has been a front door, eye-level magnet for passing kids.
It helps stop parents and then draws them in to browse, while keeping their children occupied.
Now a black Lab retriever, the $550 dog has also been a German shepherd, a Rottweiler and a greyhound.
Enough children stop to pet the pooch, kiss its head or even offer it a sip of bottled water that Ashley staffers regularly rub the dog down with sanitizer.
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Also looking to keep up with online competition, Nordstrom's paid $270 million for HauteLook.com, a "flash sale" site that luxury apparel designers use to dispose of leftovers at deep discounts.
The site offers deals of 30 to 50 percent off to members for a limited time on select fashion, beauty and travel.
Flash sales are a booming trend online, with sites that did not exist until 2007 racking up sales of $900 million in 2010, according to the research firm eMarketer. HauteLook had 4 million members and sales of $100 million in 2010. Other big rivals are Giltgroupe.com, ideeli.com and Ruelala.com.
The sites are gaining popularity with what American Express researchers identifies as "luxury newcomers."
As a group, the newcomers are 61 percent of luxe shoppers responsible for 36 percent of all luxury spending. And American Express says 43 percent of them are Generation X or Gen Y, while a third are baby boomers.
"A superior in-store experience is our roots," said Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Inc. "But using technology to serve customers the way they want to be served is critical."
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The National Pork Board has finally retired "Pork: The Other White Meat" after a 25-year run.
Except for occasional mentions in healthy-eating ads, the new slogan is "Pork: Be Inspired," reminding me of one undeniable truth of lame slogans:
Pork: Dress it up any way you want, but it's still a pig.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.