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Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Owner of The Bay Leaf points to Internet, downtown hours as contributors to closure

April 6, 2011

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The timer has sounded for a longtime downtown Lawrence kitchen store and Massachusetts Street mainstay.

The Bay Leaf, 717 Mass., is closing after 35 years in business, owner Geri Riekhof confirmed Wednesday.

“It is a very sad thing,” Riekhof said. “I go from sobbing and feeling like there was a death in the family to then telling myself that it is a passage of time thing and the retail world is just changing. At least I got to be part of it when it was still a thrill.”

Riekhof said the Internet has done much to take the thrill out of the business. She said consumers need to understand what Internet purchases are doing to locally owned stores. She said legislators also have to figure out a way to fairly tax Internet purchases.

“The Internet is what is killing us,” Riekhof said. “It makes it so easy to shop without paying sales tax, without paying shipping, and they can still undercut us on price. It is killing local businesses everywhere.”

Other downtown retailers said the Internet issue has become a bigger one as the economy has tightened.

“I don’t think people realize how much of an impact buying online has on local businesses,” said April Del Campo, owner of Prairie Pond Studio, 809 Mass. “I understand everybody wants a few extra dollars in their pocket, but there are others costs to doing that. So many people decide to live in Lawrence because of Massachusetts Street.”

Riekhof plans to immediately begin having a going-out-of-business sale, and expects that the store will close in the next 45 days.

Other factors besides Internet competition have contributed to the store’s decline. The store previously was at 725 Mass., but moved to its current location in 2008. The new space was about 2.5 times bigger and allowed the store to add cooking classes.

Riekhof said the move was ill-timed, as the economy soured just a few months later. She said her landlord — recently elected City Commissioner Bob Schumm — had made several accommodations to try to keep her as a tenant, but ultimately sales fell to the point that Riekhof decided the business was no longer feasible.

Riekhof — who fell in love with the store in the 1980s while working for previous owners Anne Yetman and Gunda Hiebert — also said downtown businesses need to do a better job of banding together to compete.

She said she was disappointed that more retailers did not agree to have later hours during the holiday retail season. She said she would have liked later hours at her shop year-around, but found it difficult to justify it if there only were going to be a handful of retailers open.

“You have to have a critical mass,” said Riekhof, who spent 10 years as a manager with the Helzberg Diamond chain in Kansas City. “It was frustrating that as a group we couldn’t get on the same page about how late we need to stay open to compete with the malls that are in the area.”

Comments

stanman 3 years ago

 You are right, Bug. It's not just the internet. I fell in love with Lawrence because of it's great downtown & cool stores like George's tobacco & The Paradise Cafe. The Bay Leaf was an  "institution", where you didn't go just to buy things, you could also have a great free cup of coffee & hang out and chat with a neat group of REAL "Lawrence people". Good times when the Jennings donuts were next door! It was always a fun place to be.

The new store's new location was way too big and not welcoming at all. It was so weird to have a huge empty kitchen at the back of a store full of items. i don't think any one ever even went back there! They would have to have cooking classes all day every day & night to pay for such an expensive kitchen, and I think things like that would make it hard for any shop to stay in business. The shop did absolutely also lose it's heart & soul when Gunda & Ann left, and the customer service did a humungous nose dive. Before, it was the BEST place in town for service. Not just Gunda & Ann but every one who worked there was really happy to help every customer. But the service at the New store was lousy. When I remember going in to the New store, I always think of some one on the phone ignoring me. It's funny (not really) that the new store has many more employees but worse service, and the store is twice as big but not half as interesting. That's another thing. The store just isnt INTERESTING any more. Gerri didn't have the taste or sense of humor of Gunda and Ann, and everything seemed cheap & chintsy, (but was still really expensive!)

And the coffee! Remember when you could smell the coffee a block or 2 away? I started going to The Bay Leaf to get the best coffee about 24 years ago. When they didn't order my favorite beans, I bought whatever was left in the bins. But soon they didn't refill ANY of the bins, everything was empty and old. It's a drag to go the whole way down town to get your favorite coffee, just to find out they're out. Of EVERYTHING. Once, I would understand, but this happened about 10 times to me. I was a coffee customer FIRST and then I started doing all my gift & cooking shopping there because it was a great place, but it just was too hard in the last 3 years or so, with no coffee & only crummy merchandise.

The internet IS destroying small businesses, and I hate to see this in Lawrence. But a LOT of mistakes were made at The Bay Leaf, and it just didn't seem like Gerri cared until it was too late. Maybe Lawrence isn't as important to her because she's from Johnson county.. I don't know. But The Bay Leaf was a FUN place where you felt special and were always treated you like you were the #1 customer. It ended up another boring place to buy the same junk you see everywhere else, which you can do that at Wal-Mart. Or Amazon. SAD.

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Dasman888 3 years ago

P.S.

... claiming a Google Business Directory costs nothing on the front end, and to have it built out to provide a permanent online presence is a couple hundred bucks, and maybe a monthly maintenance fee, if someone like me does the build-out. WAY more cost effective than advertising (and doesn't even require a website).

A down economy will ALWAYS demonstrate who has the workable business model, and who doesn't. As you'll recall, everybody was a Real Estate genius in 2005. That worked out, right?

Yes, I run a small business. No, it's not a retail B/M store. I'm not interested in creating a job with really long hours, when I can create a business with much more value, without all the high costs.

Retail is tough, and anyone that doesn't think so has never run a business. When you have high fixed operating costs and low margins, strategic errors are often business ending. Same thing with restaurants. There isn't much margin for error, and if you have blind spots in your "business personality" that rub new customers the wrong way, it's impossible to become and stay profitable.

Do customers really want what you have in your store? If they do, and you're struggling to stay in business, you aren't making your customers happy enough to want to return.

The grocery business has the lowest margins in retail. Typically 1% to 2%. Natural Food grocers another 1% to 2% above that. If a grocer "minds the store" and doesn't just waste money, they typically do fine, even with those low margins.

Why? Simple... FOOD. Folks want it and need it, and always will. But WANT is the big deal. It doesn't matter how great an idea is... if the market, i.e. "folks", don't want it, then it's game over.

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Dasman888 3 years ago

As a Lawrence resident, seeing ANY business close, is a sad thing.

That said, blaming the demise of a Bricks and Mortar retail store on "The Internet", is shortsighted and off target...and very common for small business owners. I suspect, that Geri just didn't understand how to use the internet, to make her business a local "hit show". Most small business folks don't understand, or have the time, to learn "the marketing piece", and it is frequently confused with advertising, which DOESN'T work, unless it is PART of a clear overall marketing strategy.

Apple Computer's Macintosh sales were up 23% in 2010, against an industry wide growth of less than 5%. Apple computers are WAY MORE EXPENSIVE than other companies offerings, and yet Apple's profits and growth are unparalleled in the personal computer industry. (APPL stock currently trading at $336/share).

That snapshot of Apple, provides everything a business needs to know to be a hit locally... if they can decipher what it means, but low price is no where near as big a deal as folks think it is.

The reason customers fail to show up in sufficient numbers to keep ANY business open, is because, 1.) The customer experience isn't enjoyable enough to engender customer loyalty, and, 2.) The business isn't providing enough of what folks want.

Take the above, and combine it with, 3.) A poor understanding of small business marketing... ...and it's a recipe for business losses.

A fair question also: Why wasn't The Bay Leaf running an online sales presence? Bricks and Morter/with an online presence too, is a proven business model, and typically the online presence brings in far better margins than the physical store.

More than 80% of folks looking for a product or service in their LOCAL area, search online for it, and around 40% of those folks buy from a local business. Only about 20% of folks even use the "Yellow Pages".

I searched The Bay Leaf in Google, and saw that they had pretty good feedback from customers, and yet, they hadn't even claimed their Google Local Business directory listing, and leveraged it to get their business in front of new customers.

I have no knowledge of how good a job The Bay Leaf did at creating "customers who were rabid fans", and that is essential now for any business.

Any business that does a good job leveraging Local Online Search and Social Media, and learns how to use it to promote their businesses, will thrive in a down economy. Those that DON'T, sadly, are not likely to be around in 3 to 5 years.

...and yes, I am a S/M size business Marketing expert whose specialty is leveraging the internet for Bricks and Mortar biz. Sorry I hadn't gotten my services to your business yet... the need is far greater than the number of marketing specialists that do what I do.

Anyway... I'm sorry to see a local business, especially a "Main Street" located one, go away. Small business is the lifeblood of every local community.

DJY

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OhHai 3 years ago

Maybe being open only during times when most people are at work, or closed on holidays when potential customers stroll Mass St. looking for a store to be open wasn't such a great business mode. Huh.

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Adrienne Sanders 3 years ago

I look more like a college student (I'm not) than a yuppie housewife and I always had a hard time getting someone to help me in there.

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BigPrune 3 years ago

Maybe the City should ban internet purchases to protect our downtown.

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Marnie 3 years ago

I don't want to add to the acrimony but did want to say I was very sorry to hear The Bay Leaf is closing and, like other people, really question how the internet contributed to the closing of the store. I have little retail experience but was very concerned when the store expanded and started offering cooking classes. It lost its old charm. What particular products are people buying online that has hurt The Bay Leaf? Coffee? I suspect there are other stores in town that sell cool housewares and that this kind of competition perhaps affected the picture. I don't recall The Bay Leaf ever having a sale, except via participating in the sidewalk sale. This is a loss for downtown. I worry about Winfield's for the same reason and hope their expansion is successful.

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Lawrence_Pilot 3 years ago

I love the way all of you Internet experts know exactly what retailers need to do to survive. The fact that none of you have ever run a retail store is irrelevant...uninformed opinions are what matter here!

Thanks for all your advice. Now I'll know throw it in the garbage and go open my shop.

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Bug 3 years ago

I will miss the Bayleaf and the ladies that work there very much (Hannah, Pat, Becky) but there are reasons other than the internet that this store is closing.

The Bayleaf was a fun, funky and cozy niche store until it was sold and moved to the current location. The feel of the store changed and the merchandise changed to items that can be bought in any large chain store for much, much less. The quality of everything except the coffee, went downhill and the prices went up. Some of the employees were negligent at best, rude at worst. There were times I went in and was basically ignored in favor of a what was obviously a personal phone call or display arrangement. Who wants to shop where the clerks make you uncomfortable? I found myself waiting to shop when the above ladies were working. So I'd add poor customer service to the reason the business failed.

It is sad to see it go but don't blame the internet!

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Kookamooka 3 years ago

I find it interesting how many wives of doctors have businesses in downtown Lawrence. It means that people without deep pockets can't even make a go of it.

If you just want to set up shop and rest on your laurels then the business will fail. If you want to work hard marketing, developing community, staying late so working people can shop downtown, greeting people when the come through the door, finding out what they are looking for, designing a gift basket for them, gift wrapping, and managing the "back office", while also developing a user friendly website and app, then you can, maybe, survive. If you just want to display and arrange pretty things and sit back and watch them walk out of your store....something might be amiss.

There is a way to do business in this economy but it isn't easy.

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donsalsbury 3 years ago

The Bay Leaf is a fantastic niche shop with a lot of cool stuff, and its presence in Downtown Lawrence will be missed.

It was also extremely niche and insanely expensive to boot. I can't tell you how many times I wandered through the store, looking for something I could afford, and giving up after turning over the third $20 price tag for a spatula. (the price is just an example; i only remember it was more than i was willing to pay). I also went in several times looking for something in particular and never finding it. Did I go to the Internet instead? Frankly, no. I just decided not to worry about finding that item because it was a one-off sort of thing. I am apparently not in their target market; much as I am not in the target market for a linen store on the Plaza selling $3000 sheet sets. Such stores price themselves out of the game; their goal doesn't appear to be selling to the average walk-in customer, which just doesn't make sense to me. If you are trying to be a niche 'destination' sort of shop, you're better off renting a very inexpensive space rather than being downtown with high rent, short hours, and lots of foot traffic with very little conversion to sales. Never once have I seen The Bay Leaf bustling with customers; those who go in generally appear to be misguided average-income folks who spend five minutes trying to find the non-existent 'non-premium' items, or people who can afford to get whatever it is they want. I bet the sales conversion rate is less than 1% in that store; the only way it might be better than that is because people are increasingly turned off by someone charging such exorbitant prices and stop entering the store altogether. It truly amazes me how they have managed to stay open 35 years; chalk it up to management, plain and simple.

Downtown Lawrence needs to decide whether they're either going to be the Plaza or Westport. If there are fewer bars bringing evening clientele in that cause the retailers to shutter their doors early, maybe it would be a successful retail space; the Plaza shops at least have decent evening hours. But at this point, I think the critical mass of bars have removed that potential. They at least can usually make enough to pay their rent, so the momentum will continue, and more retail shops will close.

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DillonBarnes 3 years ago

I have to admit I had no idea we had a kitchen store in Lawrence.

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Steve Jacob 3 years ago

Downtown Lawrence retail has always been overpriced, and they got away with it until internet shopping really kicked in.

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Eride 3 years ago

I have to agree with monkfellow's comments above. The reason I shop online rather than from a store downtown is convenience... not the few dollars I would possibly save by not paying taxes (not admitting that I don't declare said sales tax on my tax return cough).

When the stores downtown close before most people could realistically go home from work and then head downtown to shop is it no wonder that they go shopping online where an infinite variety of goods are available at all times of the day? This isn't even addressing the issue of how incredibly more expensive certain stores are downtown compared to anywhere else. I am sorry, but if your business model requires you to sell the same quality of goods at a price that is 80-250% more expensive then prices at other easily accessible merchants... you are going out of business.

Bottom line:

  • most downtown merchants are not open for reasonable hours
  • downtown lacks a sufficient variety of merchandise to be worth shopping at compared to shopping locations in surrounding areas (also the internet)
  • downtown merchants tend to have prices that are excessively higher compared to almost anywhere else you could buy something

The business model of many of these merchants is a big massive fail.

Supporting completely inefficient businesses that cost the consumer way more isn't good for the community, it isn't good for anyone!

This city would be better off if selfish wackos like these downtown merchants and their supporters hadn't been able to prevent the development of shopping areas in town that actually provide a benefit to the consumers in Lawrence.

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LJ Whirled 3 years ago

Facing pressure from increased internet sales, they moved to a new space about 2.5 times bigger?

There's your trouble.

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freestatehawk 3 years ago

I like(d) The Bay Leaf too, but I was privy to this conversation once upon a time:

Q. "Do you have a potato ricer?"

A. "No, but I'm sure we could have one in for you in about two weeks."

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billybrewster1 3 years ago

For years, brick and mortar stores have clung to the belief that in surveys of the shopping public things like selection, personal service, and quality goods are more important than price...because that's what the surveys say.

It is a lie.

Consumers taking surveys don't want to feel like cheapskates so they hedge and say that if the selection is good, the service is excellent, and the quality is of a high-value, then they will gladly pay a slightly higher price. A slightly higher price that allows small, independent retailers who pour their hearts and souls into their businesses and into the community to eek out a very modest living before they too have to attend their children's soccer games and school functions.

But the consumer votes with his/her wallet every time.

If they can save a dime by getting something online, they will. Let someone else pay retail. If they can skip out on paying the sales tax that they're supposed to pay to support the functions of government that we all use, they'll skate in a minute (despite the fact that they're required to report and pay these taxes...no one does). This places more pressure on local retailers that face higher sales taxes and property taxes to offset those lost revenues from online sales, and tips the balance even further towards online merchants.

To pretend that later hours, a bum-free environment, and more parking would tip the balance towards brick and mortar stores is a pipe-dream.

The bottom line is that most people are cheapskates...they just don't like to think of themselves that way.

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thesloss 3 years ago

Geri! Becky!! Love you!

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monkfellow 3 years ago

While I am sympathetic for the loss of a good business in Lawrence, the owner should stop "blaming the Internet" for the loss of her business.As to the taxation issue, the companies do not benefit from "services" a city or state might offer from tax revenue they'd be collecting. As for the free or reduced fee for shipping, it's called a "bonus" or an "indiucement" to purchase something. One issue that's recurring here is that the stores are open hours that are,apparently, convenient for the operators but not for the customer. The family unit of 35 years ago is a fading memory. Online stores are open 24/7, I don't have to put up with haughty or incompetant help at a brick and mortar store and I know when an item will arrive. The customer is in the drivers' seat, and brick and mortar merchants had better wake up and smell the coffee.

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nugget 3 years ago

Left a charming location to move into the current space which personally talking to friends felt cold and unlike the old place. At probably four times the space, likely a $ignificant increase in overhead not to mention the installation of the huge kitchen in the back, meaning the need for a lot more sales. All adds up to poor business decisions in my book. I'm sorry they're going and will miss the store, but blaming it on the internet sounds like a cop out.

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Scott Morgan 3 years ago

Invested in cooking lessons, and not building an internet presence. ummm? Marketing 101 Lesson one the Blacksmith Shop 1899.

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Beth Ennis 3 years ago

I agree Irenaku. This is very sad. I also wonder how much the bay leaf put on line for their own internet sales? I know that Au Marche sells a lot of items on the internet. I wish it weren't too late. My husband and I do a lot of on line shopping. I love their store. But yes, we work in Leavenworth so by the time we get back, all the stores downtown are closed, except on Thursdays. It just gets old having to plan your day around going places that aren't open when it is convenient for you. I wish more store owners in Lawrence agreed with Geri about being open later hours. Especially when the weather is nice, I love walking downtown and going into stores. We have done a lot of purchasing by just browsing downtown. We just don't get much opportunity to do so.

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Ron Holzwarth 3 years ago

There is nothing quite like holding an item in your hands and looking it over very closely before deciding to purchase it or not.

But, that's just a personal thing.

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Irenaku 3 years ago

SUCK! I love the Bay Leaf. I could go there and get the coolest gifts for people...and for myself. We will miss you!!!

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macon47 3 years ago

a 35 year run is commendable maybe it was time to retire?

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Darrell Lea 3 years ago

Locally owned stores need to come to grips with the idea that they can develop and expand a presence on the Internet while simultaneously selling goods and services out of their brick-and-mortar stores.

Rather than blame the customer for not choosing their store, an enterprising merchant can take their store to where the customer is.

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Bill Lee 3 years ago

Big box stores, beginning with Walmart, have taught consumers that by dropping down a little in quality can lead to very large cost savings. The convenience of the internet is also a very big factor because I don't have to leave home to shop. I don't have to deal with parking or traffic. Most retailers are online.

I wish more stores downtown were open evenings, but thanks to the restaurant and bar traffic, there are few places to park. High rents downtown are also a factor that must be dealt with, or more stores will be closing.

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gsxr600 3 years ago

Face palming at the part where "consumers need to understand what Internet purchases are doing to locally owned stores"

No, the business needs to understand what internet purchases are doing to your stores. Is price the only thing consumers care about? Absolutely not, and that's why some businesses shift their resources to consumer satisfaction, customer service, providing a niche product, creating an environment consumers prefer experiencing over one-click shopping at home, etc.

But anyway brb, blame consumers for your fail.

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sad_lawrencian 3 years ago

People need to stop blaming the Internet for the downfall of society and culture. The decline of American civilization started long before DARPA created the Internet (or was it Al Gore?) and long before the World Wide Web grew into fruition in the mid 1990s. It's time for you to grow up and accept the fact that some businesses thrive, and others do not. That's the nature of a capitalist system. Taxing Internet purchases will not save small business. Only savvy small-business owners will save small business.

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AnnaUndercover 3 years ago

Will miss this wonderful store.

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