Retail Guide: Getting to Know Steven Dann

Steven Dann is living the American dream. He started his career at the age of 21 as GM of Hogan’s New York flagship before being recruited to Versace. After receiving numerous promotions there, Dann was itching to go solo.

Today, he runs the 5-year-old Steven Dann boutique in his hometown of Great Neck, N.Y., stocking high-end labels such as Casadei, Badgley Mischka and Thakoon. Despite a rocky retail climate, the store is thriving, thanks to a unique mix of merchandise, a growing private-label offering, a fiercely loyal customer base and a little bit of “Sex.”

Customer profile: “I have customers into their 60s, and 18-year-olds coming in to buy our riding boots. My customers really want labels. If they’re spending $900 on a shoe, someone better recognize it.”

How do you build relationships? “I’m always in my store. My clients become real friends — I go to their weddings and parties, and they come to my parties.”

Biggest opportunity: “My private-label business has grown in a huge way since it launched last year.”

Brand on my wish list: Brian Atwood

Edge over the competition: “I’ve been working with designers to try to get exclusives. If a shoe is in Neiman Marcus in a basic color, we’ll have it in a random blue, which helps us sell items at full price.”

What’s working? “It’s been a weird season. I sold a $14,000 crocodile boot. When the economy was good, we never sold anything at that price point. But the expensive and moderate items sold well [last year]; the mid-priced items didn’t do as well.”

What’s not working? “Department store discounting has blurred the lines [for consumers]. With all the sales [today], a 16-year-old girl can now access a shoe that was generally marketed toward a 35-year-old.”

Industry issues: “I wish the retail industry would invest in the ‘Sex and the City’ [movie franchise]. In 2008, for example, we sold out of the Judith Leiber cupcake bag and Givenchy sandals [featured in the film], and we sold 17 pairs of the Giuseppe Zanotti fish sandal. It was a wonderful, unexpected surprise.”

Bottom line: “You need to understand what the customers want, and you need to do as much as you can for them, because without them we’re nothing.”

Up next: “I’m opening a café across the street. I’ve always wanted to do a little café in a really chic way. It’s going to be called Crave.”

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