Clothing has come a long way since Martha Caywood was given “a little corner” in husband John’s shop. Although Martha was fond of the name “Caywood Clothier,” John wanted to go with something more regional, so Derby Shoppe it was.
Now, 35 years later, Derby Shoppe is not only still in business, but also in it’s original location — quite a feat for a town the size of Danville.
Martha began with the shop part-time, and several trips to buyers’ markets later, it was obvious she has an eye for classic yet trendy designs. Soon, she was given more than a corner at the shop and it was expanded. Then the couple opened Raggs out in Danville Manor, which was added on next door to the Derby Shoppe when the space became available.
John had stepped out of banking to open the men’s specialty store, but stepped back in a few years later.
“Within a year or two of my working full-time, the men’s side was kind of scrunched up a little,” Martha says, but admits — when the store stopped carrying tailored men’s clothing, it was kind of like giving a child away.
But men had stopped wearing dressier things to work, and they’re not like women when it comes to clothes, she points out. “Men buy about five nice outfits, and they’re done. They don’t want new clothes, most of them, just for clothes sake.”
A secret to retail success, especially with a specialty store, is buying smart, she says.
“We go to market, we buy three, maybe four pieces of an item. Maybe five, if it’s a major ‘wow’ piece, but we don’t want our customers running into their outfits all over town,” she says. Bigger places buy by the hundreds, and she’s not interested in that.
“If you’re paying $150, $175 for a jacket, you don’t want to see it everywhere. And we have a customer base that’s pretty well spread out, so we’re careful about it,”she says. “There’s not many specialty places left in the smaller towns. They’ve lost them.”
She says ladies like to get in the car to go places, so the more Danville has to offer, the more it brings them here.
In the last 35 years, Martha says the biggest change she’s noticed is the price of clothing and variety.
“When I went into the clothing business, you’d have to be stupid or blind to fail,” she says. Back in the days of prep, style was pretty simple. Blazers, cardigans, slacks and shetland sweaters were staples. “The only way you’d goof up then is because you didn’t have enough.”
But today’s market is much different.
“For the longest time, for instance, we didn’t carry dresses. I don’t wear them, just thought it was more simple that way,” she says. But when Bonnie Purcell began 23 years ago, who is now store manager, the shop began to offer them. “She wears them, I don’t,” Martha says.
However, many younger customers are first introduced to Derby Shoppe and Raggs because of a need for dressier attire.
“They may come in to get a dress for a special event,” she says. “But we want to keep them coming back. So we’re aiming at the younger base for some of our items now.”
Another secret behind her success as a mainstay retailer in Danville, Martha says, is to know your customer base. “That’s the answer to knowing how to buy, by listening to your customer.”
Also staying away from over-buying has helped the shop stay alive. “Overbuying will put a specialty shop out of business.”
Martha also says smart merchandising is key.
“But good, friendly service brings in a loyal customer base, which leads to word of mouth spreading,” she says. This is why she is so pleased to still have Purcell in the store she says, as well as Michelle Hill — a longtime store associate. Newcomer Tabitha Teague is another knowledgeable associate, who Martha says adds to the friendly shopping atmosphere.
“We’re very lucky with our staff.”¿
Although he eventually returned to banking for good, Martha says John continues to be an integral part of the business.
“He’s the finance manager, the money man. He has the checkbook, and let me tell you, those numbers are crunched at all times. We don’t get to over-spend,” she says.
The Derby Shoppe and Raggs 35th anniversary celebration will include a Chamber of Commerce After Hours business event (Oct. 20); free lunch served to customers (Oct. 29); a Madison Hill Clothing trunk show (Oct. 25); Geiger of Austria trunk show (Oct. 22); and door prizes, such as a $35 gift certificate, given away daily. Most trunk shows offer a percentage-off of items ordered for next season.