Supporting Independents: Kassis Brothers Is Open Again in South Carolina — But It’s Not Business as Usual

In the wake of the pandemic and economic fallout, independent retailers are facing serious challenges. In a new series, FN will spotlight store owners who are taking smart steps to weather the storm. 

Steve Vettel, owner of Kassis Brothers Shoes in Charleston, S.C., is a positive thinker — even as he navigates through the COVID-19 crisis.

The retailer, who opened the doors to his 1,700-sq.-ft store on April 21 after a four-week hiatus, has fared better than a lot of other stores. Vettel is paying vendors, his rent and the salary of one full-time employee.

“I operate very conservatively,” said Vettel, whose store generates annual revenue of $750,000 to $800,000.

While many stores have been unable to pay for spring goods, Vettel has already received his full inventory — and he expects to make payment on fall merchandise. “By [fall], I think everything will be back. However, before this happened, I was going to hire somebody else and now that’s on hold.”

Although Kassis Brothers is officially up and running, Vettel emphasized he will not be offering a full-service experience for safety reasons. He said he has not alerted the public he is open open in order to prevent an influx of shoppers.

He also noted, “I’m telling customers that we’re not doing regular fittings yet since we can’t stay six feet [away],” he explained. Instead, customers can stop by to pick up an order they’ve made by phone, or he will deliver shoes curbside.

The plan, however, has not been well received by all clients. “I’ve had people ask if they wear a mask if I will fit them, and I say no,” said Vettel, who plans to wear one himself and have his employee do the same.  “Some have been nice about it and others have said, ‘Good luck with that.’”

Vettel — whose store is located in Charleston County, where coronavirus cases and deaths have been on the lower end of the spectrum — said some residents have been skeptical of the stringent safety measures that have been imposed. “In those places that haven’t really been hit hard, people are not taking it as seriously,” he said.

Despite the business interruption, Vettel said spring sell-throughs are on track. “I will be left with some [inventory], but I am every season,” he said. “There will be [product] I can discount later if I have to, but I’m hoping to get a good chunk of my spring stuff sold.”

Vettel expects his regular customers to return as restrictions continue to be lifted. “My clientele is older, and customers come here for the service,” said Vettel.

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