Indeed, Strouds didn't take long to find its following. The stores' emphasis on value pricing struck a chord with local shoppers. More important, however, Stroud proved brilliant at responding to customer demand.
"One of the first things we found was the customer wanted 'better' or 'best' quality merchandise-not necessarily the least expensive 'good' merchandise," Stroud says. "Price was certainly an issue for our customers, but so was quality. As a result, we decided to upscale our stores," with higher-end merchandise and expert service.
To no one's surprise, Strouds became a masterpiece of merchandising. Among the stores' more important innovations: Using "vignette" displays to sell whole rooms worth of linens and accessories instead of individual pieces. These coordinated displays were precisely the kind of merchandising ploy department stores lacked the space to duplicate. Yet they were the key to bigger sales. Telling a customer that $52 worth of accessories would "finish" a room was helpful. But showing the customer how those accessories worked together-that clinched many a sale.
Customer preferences have shaped even small decisions at Strouds. For instance, instead of organizing towels by brand, as is traditional in most linen departments, Strouds coordinates towels by color-the way most customers want to shop for them.