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Small Retailers Have Big Season All Sewn Up

Even in the face of chain competition, these specialty shops predict strong back-to-school sales.
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With back-to-school season underway, kids across the nation are getting ready for another year of making new friends, learning new lessons and adjusting to classroom routines. While it may just be the most dreaded season for school children, it remains one of the most anticipated times of the year for retailers, big and small alike.

In 2007, Americans are expected to spend an estimated $18.4 billion on back-to-school items, according to the National Retail Federation Consumer Intentions and Actions Back-to-School survey. The back-to-school shopping period, the NRF states, is one of the top consumer spending times of the year, second only to Christmas.

Amid a maelstrom of price cuts and advertising wars among big retailers, small retail outlets around the country are looking to snag a piece of the back-to-school pie for themselves, and from the looks of it, it seems they are faring quite well.

"Our back-to-school sales have increased about 20% from last year," estimates Susan Powers, co-owner of

So Sweet Boutique, a shop specializing in discount and designer children's clothing based in Oviedo, Fla.

This, Powers says, is despite the fact that the boutique is located less than a mile away from giant retailers like

Target

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and

Dillard's

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.

"We don't try to compete with them because we carry unique items that you can't find in local department stores," says Powers. "That's helped us a lot."

The boutique has also revved up its marketing strategy, with massive in-store and Web site back-to-school sales, and mass Internet mail outs.

On the West Coast, India Castillo, owner of

Jax Children's Boutique in Los Angeles, agrees that she has also not seen much in terms of competition from the big guns. "I sell specialty items, so we're just very different from a Target or a

Gap

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," Castillo explains. "People come to us looking for something different."

Castillo says she's seen back-to-school sales start to pick up in August and expects to do even more business in the next couple of weeks. "Business is going really well," she says. "I've seen a lot more people coming in during the last few days."

Marilyn Secor, owner of Marilyn's Bundle of Joy, a children's clothing store in Bergenfield, N.J., says she also expects sales to increase in the coming weeks.

"There are a lot of people still on vacation," she says. "The weather is really warm, too, so people aren't really thinking corduroy pants and sweaters, which is what we're showing for fall. We start getting busy after school starts."

This season, popular colors include pink and brown and teal and brown combinations, Secor says. Kids are also on the lookout for funky prints and skinny-leg jeans -- trends her small store can easily keep on top of.