For Shops by Todd Inc., bringing “affordable luxury” to customers has been a rewarding journey. The latest reward for the company is one of the best views from a downtown Dayton corporate office.
Shops by Todd, the business behind 18 Midwest retail shops, is anchoring itself in downtown’s newest business district — the Water Street District steps from the Great Miami River.
The business was incorporated in 1996, but its history stretches to 1981 when Todd Bettman’s mother started a small gift shop at a North Dayton tennis club.
Today, Shops by Todd is building its 18th store. It has about 350 employees and has a presence in six markets, including Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis (where it has dual markets), Akron and Cleveland, under the brand names Occasionally Yours, Pandora and Jake’s Toggery.
Sales reached about $22 million in 2015 and the company is targeting $25 million this year, Bettman said.
The common denominator? “Innovation and detail,” he said.
“We always talk about detail in this business,” he said. “What my wife Jean and I have brought to the table that really … innovated in the industry is that we pay attention to detail.”
Creative and savvy
In the past, gift shops have offered perhaps hundreds of different items, but “our concept and innovation was to boil it down to a few great brands and really focus on those brands,” Bettman said.
Walking into a Shops by Todd store is “really like walking into a branded company store,” he said.
“We never planned anything,” said Jean Bettman, company principal and Todd’s wife of 24 years. “Everything grew organically. We were given opportunities, thank goodness, and we capitalized on those opportunities.”
Jason Woodard, principal of Woodard Development, who with Crawford Hoying is developing the Water Street area, called the Bettmans “a very creative and savvy team.”
“Their success in an extremely competitive retail world is evidence of their vision and ability to react quickly to a rapidly changing market,” Woodard wrote in an email.
“They reached out to see our last remaining space, and after spending some additional time in the neighborhood they jumped at the chance to be part of the vibrancy that has been created.”
Personalized items and gifts fueled the first Bettman family shop and led to what Todd Bettman called his family’s “first real store,” in 1988, at Salem Plaza.
“Where we are now from where we were then is a whole different ballgame,” he said.
Work and college
In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Bettman helped develop an early family store and helped run it, even as he attended the University of Georgia, fielding phone calls from store employees more than 500 miles away.
“After class I’d come back,” he recalled. “There would always be six or 10 messages on my machine from the girls in the store, asking questions.”
By 1992, Bettman had graduated and the store had moved to a larger site, a 4,000-square-foot store in Englewood.
The progress from there was steady. Bettman recalled a pivotal moment, visiting what was then the newly opened Mall at Fairfield Commons on a Black Friday during the first Christmas shopping season after the mall had opened.
“There was nothing but people, everywhere,” Bettman said. “I kind of got stars in my eyes. I said to my wife, ‘There are more people in this mall today than I will see in our store in a year. We’ve got to be here.’ ”
By 1996, the Bettmans signed a lease for what became their second store, this one in the mall.
Other key moments followed. An ongoing partnership with Fort Wayne, Ind.-based luggage and handbag designer Vera Bradley has been crucial. The formula of handbags in a gift shop yielded an immediate increase in sales, Bettman said.
“Sales went up 40 to 50 percent right away,” he said. “Customers had never experienced anything like this.”
In 2007, Occasionally Yours opened at The Greene, the nation’s first Vera Bradley signature store, with custom wallpaper, wood floors, cabinetry and other touches.
“We’re considered their premier retailer, the one everyone looks to,” Bettman said.
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