When Los Angeles retailer Dimitrios Stavros was looking for expansion opportunities, he gambled on Las Vegas.
After starting out in his family’s discount clothing, uniform and duty shoe business, La Isla Super Outlets, Stavros ventured out on his own, opening La Isla Uniforms in 2002. This time, he put the emphasis on uniforms and duty footwear. “It was a market not being serviced [in the area],” Stavros said.
The untapped market wasn’t the only reason for choosing the city, the retailer admitted. “I love Las Vegas,” he said, recalling childhood visits there in the 1970s. “It was an opportunity to be part of the culture and scene. I couldn’t have found a better city in the world.”
Early on, Stavros wasn’t as serious about his shoe business, but a demand for slip-resistant duty shoes and other styles prompted him to grow the category. “Footwear had been slow moving,” said Stavros, noting the category is expected to account for 35 percent to 40 percent of sales this year. “But now shoes are the fastest-growing part of what we do.”
The Right Mix
The 12,000-sq.-ft. store caters to tradesmen with safety-toe brands such as Caterpillar, Converse, Dickies and Wolverine. However, due to the size of the local hospitality industry, La Isla puts a big emphasis on slip-resistant footwear from Skechers Work, Alegria, Nurse Mates, Dansko, Klogs, Spring Step and Dawgs. “We were losing factory jobs to overseas and [decided to make the store] more service-oriented,” said Stavros, adding that the duty category accounts for 80 percent of the footwear mix.
Stavros has made certain the store fits in with Las Vegas’ larger-than-life glitz and glam. The casino-like atmosphere boasts more than 17 waterfalls, 100 silk banana and palm trees, tropical birds, a poker table from the legendary downtown Horseshoe Casino, slot machines, neon signs, photos of the Rat Pack, as well as nine big-screen TVs playing vendor commercials. Customers can even relax with a free massage in one of three electric massage chairs.
La Isla Uniforms has the advantage of a six-figure marketing budget and advertises in Dex One and Yellowbook, both local phone directories, as well as some area magazines. To connect to the medical community, the store takes out ads in the Nevada State Board of Nursing magazine. And because Las Vegas remains a key vacation spot, ads also run regularly in tourist publications such as “Vegas to Go” and “The Little Black Book of Savings.” As a result, Stavros receives visitors from all over the country and from Canada and Mexico. “[Every day] people come in out of taxis, buses and rental cars,” said Stavros.
Coming off a strong 2010, Stavros was determined to keep the momentum going by stepping up customer service. “We need to exceed customers’ expectations,” he said. There’s a personal greeter at the door and shopping carts are available. But it’s the store’s inventory that keeps its clientele loyal. “Customers [know] we have the products,” said Stavros, who’s opted to buy deep from a narrow list of key brands. To make the shopping experience even friendlier, the store makes special deliveries to hotel guests who order merchandise at Laislauniformslasvegas.com before they arrive.
“We knew we were in for a rough time in the fourth quarter of 2008,” Stavros said about the downturn in the economy. Because vendors were holding back on credit, Stavros narrowed his buying on the better-performing brands. “I tried to buy less [and] turn more to run a tighter ship.” That move paid off: While four area uniform stores have shuttered their doors recently, La Isla saw its best year yet in 2010.
In the work arena, John Estes, VP of sales for Wolverine, said, “Shopping for work shoes can be a serious activity. But in true Las Vegas fashion, La Isla makes it fun. They’re enthusiastic and passionate about their work, which shows in the personalized service they provide. Customers leave with the very best products for their needs.”
La Isla Uniforms was among the first retailers to carry duty footwear brand Alegria, said Leon Hill, West Coast sales rep for the brand. “They started with the Professional Collection and now have more than 14 styles with a wide array of fun, colorful prints to suit the needs of their booming nurse customer base.”
The Las Vegas Scene
Neighborhood vibe: La Isla Uniforms is located one mile from the Strip in a freestanding building the retailer purchased and renovated. It is located near one of Las Vegas’ oldest shopping centers, now occupied by swinger’sclubs and bars.
Customer base: The store caters to hospitality, culinary, medical, salon and automotive workers. Health care customers from the University of Nevada and Touro University Nevada also shop there.
Competition: “It’s hyper-competitive today,” said Stavros, noting that a number of retailers carry work and slip-resistant footwear, including Walmart, Costco and Skechers, which continues to open outlet locations.