A Little Work and A Lot of Sole
In an ever-changing and often uncertain retail world, Kathy Dosch has kept Bur Mar’s, her family’s shoe and clothing store, open for over 40 years. This is your chance to learn from an expert in customer care on how to run a thriving brick-and-mortar.
The mall is disappearing. Retail stores are closing. These are the stories we hear whispered around Aberdeen and in many other parts of the country. The story of Bur Mar’s is different.
Kathy Dosch’s family bought the shoe store on September 9, 1979. “My father saw an ad for the store being for sale and called and asked me what I thought about buying it,” she explains. “I was in college at Northern and working at JCPenney at the time. I had worked in every single department there, except in shoes. But we went for it anyway.” Forty years later, and she can now definitely say she has experience in shoes.
Bur Mar’s started in the Super City Mall and has been a part of the Aberdeen Mall since its opening day in 1990. The store carries women’s footwear that specializes in comfort, style, and support, including brands like Aetrex, Dansko, and Taos. It has a website and social media handles, but Kathy says one key to the store’s success is that it has always remained hyper-focused on sitting and fitting clients in person. “We know our products and how to offer a wide variety of styles in many different sizes.” The majority of people who walk through their doors are there because they have foot discomfort or pain. You can’t step into a shoe and see how it feels online, and Kathy makes that in-store-only experience exceptional. Recently, she added a scanning system that scans customers’ feet and helps them find orthotic insoles, all in an effort to fit them even better.
Kathy also stresses the importance of giving customers convenient shopping hours. “We are open every day, and I really believe this is important because many customers can’t shop between the hours of 10 and five on weekdays.” She has worked six or seven days a week, almost every week, since her family has owned the store and recognizes having longer hours can be a challenge for the business owner. She and her husband also raised two children, and are now proud grandparents, so finding dependable employees who can help fill in has been instrumental. Today, she has a team of seven people who are able to step in when she needs to be away from the business.
Like most stores, Bur Mar’s has dabbled in selling online, even on Amazon, but Kathy says they learned quickly it wasn’t what their customers were looking for. “We do what we do best—that brick-and-mortar, in-store, personal experience. When people come here, we know them by name and they matter to us. It’s important that we understand their needs and appreciate them.” // –Jenny Roth
Q: How do you run a successful business without letting it run your life and finding yourself feeling burnout?
A: It’s a constant struggle. Always do the best for your customers, but put family first. When our children were little, I tried to be home by 6:00 or 6:30 PM every night, but to be honest I missed out on a lot and wish I had taken more time with them. Find balance by hiring a strong team. And if that team isn’t working, make sure to change things. Take the time to take vacations and reconnect and re-energize with your family and friends.
Q: What resources are there in Aberdeen to help business owners that you know of and would recommend to others?
A: I was blessed when we started back in 1979 to be embraced by the Aberdeen Chamber and Retail Committee—they were a wonderful sounding board. I sat on the board for two terms and the relationships I was able to build with team board members were, and still are, some of my most important resources in Aberdeen. The best avenue I think in Aberdeen right now for a sounding board is 1 Million Cups that meets every Wednesday morning at the Capitol Theatre. Another group is the StartHUB discussion group committee.
Q: If you could travel back in time to your first year in business, what advice would you give yourself?
A: Build your relationships with your vendors because through these relationships, you can offer the best merchandise for your clients. Don’t try and be too broad. Be careful in your choices. And don’t buy merchandise just on your likes and dislikes. Think like your clients.
Q: What have been some of your biggest challenges in owning a business, and how have you overcome those?
A: Technology and marketing our store is a daily challenge to manage. I have learned to ask for help and delegate when needed. Overcoming the Internet shopper who uses us as a showroom for fit and style is something that happens weekly. We try to let them know the importance of shopping locally and that we sign agreements with companies for map pricing that cannot be deferred from their advertised prices. We overcome these things by trying our best to offer unique brands and a deep selection of products for our customers that they can’t find everywhere, and by offering them a rewards program on their footwear purchases.
Q: Your business has been in the Aberdeen Mall for years. What are the benefits and challenges of being located in the mall?
A: I believe in the enclosed mall concept. The Aberdeen Mall has been hit hard by the retail recession (nationally, over 11,000 corporate stores have shuttered in 2019) and it has truly affected the big-box stores in the Aberdeen community. When we did a survey, our clients listed the mall first for the convenience and comfort of moving from store to store. Cross-traffic is important for us, and that is a challenge with empty bays. But in a stand-alone or a strip mall, you are totally on your own. Another challenge is that the consumer thinks our rents are too high at the mall and that is false. Our owners are willing to work with retailers. Even though national statistics are alarming for big-box closings, I believe mom and pop stores will sustain Aberdeen and national chains will be the icing on the cake. We need a team to focus on retail recruitment to help Aberdeen be better. I think that would make a big difference.