Carol Schroeder: Retail brilliance
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In retail, orange has become the color of money thanks largely to Carol “Orange” Schroeder, co-owner of Orange Tree Imports, an award-winning gift and gourmet shop in Madison.
One of five member of our inaugural Women of Industry class, Schroeder is honored to be a peer of class members Deb Archer, Lisa Kivirist, Ayla Annac, and Jordyn Schara. “I love the fact that In Business is pointing out that many women do make time to make an impact beyond their own store or office,” Schroeder says. “That’s something Madison should be proud of — that our influence extends beyond our own community.”
Her insights into independent retailing, offered in three English and two Russian editions of Specialty Shop Retailing: How to Run Your Own Store, have reached 40,000 people worldwide. Those insights have helped Schroeder and husband Dean, who opened their shop in 1975 and now are celebrating its 40th anniversary, survive four decades in an industry where big-box stores and Amazon.com have helped to slice the retail pie thinner and thinner.
Caroline Kennedy, former editor-in-chief of Gifts and Decorative Accessories, a national trade magazine, notes that an independent retail business can’t reach its 40th anniversary without a brilliant, driven leader. Asked what impresses her most about Schroeder, her success as a retailer or her effectiveness as an industry leader, Kennedy says one element can’t be separated from the other.
“One cannot become an effective leader in the retail industry without being a brilliant retailer too,” Kennedy says. “That is the credential that draws others to listen to and learn from them. It takes savvy and a lot of hard work to establish a successful independent retail business, especially in this day and age of chain, big box, and mass merchandise stores competing for the consumer dollar.”
Fortunately, there were some counter trends aiding Orange Tree Imports and other independent retailers, including the emphasis on sustainability and the Buy Local movement. Buy Local has been the biggest push in terms of supporting independent business. “It’s similar to the environmental movement because this made people aware of the importance of locally owned businesses and why it’s important to support these businesses with your dollars,” says Schroeder, who stated her career in 1974 as the manager of a branch of the Scandinavian import shop Bord & Stol. “Local goods and services are more environmentally sustainable, and the money to local businesses stays in the community and benefits that community.”
When more dollars stay in the community, that helps local businesses support nonprofits and cultural attractions, Schroeder notes. While larger corporations certainly donate money, “We give money, time, and help to a lot of smaller groups that Wal-Mart is never going to touch,” she adds.
Fortunately, even the convenience of ordering online with Amazon cannot replace the in-store experience retailers provide. “We are very lucky that Madison, in particular, is very loyal to small retailers, and understands that if you’re ordering something online from Amazon, that doesn’t have the same impact on our community that buying something locally does,” Schroeder states. “It also means we have to stay on our toes to make sure that shopping is efficient and enjoyable, which many independent retailers do. They make a serendipitous experience at the store.
“The social experience is visually exciting, and there’s almost a feeling of wondering what you’re going to see next and discovering something you didn’t know that you need,” she adds. “That doesn’t happen when you’re shopping online.”