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Personal touch helps local businesses fend off online retailers

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With the holiday season in full swing, shoppers around the world are rushing to purchase the perfect gifts for their loved ones. It’s no secret that many of these people will be logging onto online retailers like Amazon to do much, if not all, of their shopping. However, small businesses are ready to service local shoppers as well, and many on the North Shore know they can provide their customers with more than Amazon.

Andrei Bogolubov, co-owner of outdoor apparel shop Hook Life in Sea Cliff, said he understands that online shopping can be helpful to consumers, thanks to its con- venience. Many small businesses like his have an online presence where customers can buy their goods from home but, he said, being able to touch and feel the prod- ucts in person gives customers an even better experi- ence.

“What a small business needs to do is have an online business but not ignore the bricks and mortars,” said Bogolubov. “You have a very special relationship with customers.”

Bogolubov said this is especially true of downtown Sea Cliff, where small businesses are the norm. People still want to have that shopping experience in Sea Cliff, he said, and large online retailers cannot compete with that.

To make sure that his business keeps customers com- ing through the door, Bogolubov said it is important to make it stand out among the others. He tries to always have an interesting display in the window, with colorful lights shining through during the holiday season. Dur- ing the warmer months, he and fellow owner Dimitri Schidlovsky like to keep their door open so people pass- ing by can hear music and see the store’s interior, hope- fully enticing them to come inside.

“You’re selling a shopping experience as much as a product,” Bogolubov explained.

This sense of experience is a point of emphasis for Paul Giordano, owner of Giordano’s Gift, Garden & Design in Sea Cliff. While his business focuses heavily on greenery and landscaping, it also sells gardening equipment and other outdoor gear. He takes pride in his sales staff’s ability to help customers select the best trees, plants and equipment for them based on the work they are trying to do.

“Amazon is every size fits all, Giordano said. “We tai- lor it to the individual needs of each customer.”

Giordano makes sure his customers know that his business is where their friends and neighbors work and shop — a familiar and friendly place to spend their time.

“With Amazon, you’re buying something online,” he said. “There’s no engagement with another human being. When people come here, we know their names, we know their homes.”

Although Glen Cove does not have a tremendous amount small businesses in its downtown, Charles of Glen Cove has maintained a presence in the city for years. The hardware store’s owner, Doug Goldstein, takes pride in the business’s old school approach to retail. He doesn’t sell anything online — the store doesn’t even have a computer. Instead, it is lined with hundreds of products to choose from, along with several signs that encourage shoppers to ask for help if they can’t find something.

Goldstein believes in personalizing the shopping expe- rience, allowing people to work alongside his staff to fig- ure out exactly what they need for their projects. He said it also carries many products that cannot easily be found elsewhere, giving his shoppers the opportunity to always find something unique.

Lisa Cohn, president of the Glen Cove Chamber of Commerce, used to own a small phone system installa- tion business. She said she would always focus on going the extra mile for her customers, providing them with everything they wanted or needed.

“As far as companies using us as opposed to bigger companies, it’s all about services,” she said. “What are you going to provide what others can’t?”

Cohn said that small businesses are of tremendous importance to any community not only because of the revenue it can bring but also because they relate to the area’s character. She said the best way for small busi- nesses to remain competitive in an age dominated by online retailers and big box stores is to be creative. Whether it be through special events, sales or promo- tions, creativity is a great way to get one’s business out there and let prospective customers know that it is a great place to shop. Then, she said, they can show why they are truly special.