When Markel Jones was looking to open Out of Stock MD, his North Market Street vintage sneaker and clothing shop, he already had a thriving online business.
Jones had run Rebellious Sole, a pseudonymous business that helped customers track down older or hard to find sneakers for several years. It had evolved from buddies calling to ask him to find them a certain pair to a website with a PayPal account.
Even with online commerce becoming an ever-larger part of the retail industry, Jones went in reverse from the usual trend, in which brick-and-mortar stores work to find their online niche.
But he said the change to a physical location helped give him legitimacy.
In the shoe game, where anyone can buy a domain name and sell shoes that may or may not show up when customers order them, it’s hard to show that you’re an authentic dealer, he said.
“Having a store does most definitely help,” Jones said.
While Out of Stock does sell products on its website, it uses Instagram to show customers what types of products it has.
“We are very Instagram-heavy. That’s pretty much the only social media we use,” Jones said.
Whitney Dahlberg, of The Muse, also uses Instagram, along with Facebook, to help let customers know what merchandise she has, as well as to share information about events and artist demonstrations.
Because the shop sells one-of-a-kind merchandise, it would almost impossible to sell things on the store’s website, because even the same models of an item are different, she said.
To her, the website and social media serve more to help her customers get a feel for the store.
“For me, it’s more of an informative thing,” Dahlberg said.
Retro Metro has an email list for promotions and daily specials, which it also posts on Facebook, said Dana Ward.
She said she thinks it would be very hard for a store to operate without an online presence unless it has been around for years and has a steady core of customers.
Especially with people using their phones so much today, stores have to be accessible, she said.
Jennifer Stillrich’s Patrick Street vintage clothing and accessory store, Venus on the Half Shell, doesn’t have a website.
In fact, her counter still holds a rotary phone and an answering machine.
Stillrich said she’s thought of selling online, but feels like in order to devote herself properly to the store, she has to really focus on that aspect.
She fears selling online would be a distraction.
The vintage items the shop sells can’t be found in another size or color, and shopping for them is “such a tactile experience,” Stillrich said.
“But I do love Instagram,” she said.
Customers often ask whether they can find items online, and she refers them to the Instagram page.
With a background in visual art, she’s found that she enjoys taking pictures of the items so that they sparkle online.
“That’s a fun visual activity for me,” she said.