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They Are Retail

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NRF’s “This is Retail” video contest, part of the multi-faceted Retail Means Jobs campaign, was developed to raise awareness of the industry’s substantial economic impact. Contest participants submitted two-minute videos summarizing how their companies positively impact customers or community, their role in the creation of an innovative product or technology, or how a specific idea could spark new jobs and boost the economy.

A panel of veteran retailers winnowed a field of some 100 independent retailers to a more manageable Top 20, and then turned those videos over to voters to choose the Top 10 – and, ultimately, the three top finishers.

More than 420,000 votes were cast for the 10 finalists over five days in April. Tanna Dang, owner of Eden in Love in Honolulu, was awarded the top prize of $25,000. Kim Williams of The Polka Dot Press in Tallahassee, Fla., claimed second place and $15,000. Susan Kaufman, proprietor of Market Alley Wines in Monmouth, Ill., was awarded $10,000 for third place.

First Place
Tanna Dang
Owner, Eden in Love
In 2004, Tanna Dang decided to leave her “comfy” post at a local bridal publication to pursue her dream job at The Wedding Café, a resource center offering area couples workshops on planning their special day.

By 2007, she and her husband Bryson, now owners of The Wedding Café, had doubled its size – and found opportunity catering to the post-bridal market. The Dangs created Eden in Love, serving brides-turned-shoppers (and shoppers-turned-brides) with stylish apparel, accessories and jewelry by local designers.

But there’s another side to Dang and her business: giving back. From head-to-toe styling sessions for young girls with cancer to a silent auction after Japan’s devastating tsunami, Eden in Love is known throughout Honolulu as much for its good works as its trendy fashions.

“My love for cute clothes and accessories became an outlet to do good and to fuel my passion to create opportunities for my team and customers,” Dang says. “Retail has given us the opportunity to give back and we wanted to share that with the nation. We also had big dreams to take our non-profit program, Divas Doing Good, international if we were able to win prize money.”

Dang’s philanthropic dream is well on its way. Partnering with Orlando-based Global Hope Network International, Eden in Love is helping transition a Sri Lankan village to self-sustainment through Global Hope’s Adopt-a-Village program.

Taking top honors in the contest brought forth a range of feelings for Dang. “I was excited, overwhelmed, humbled, proud, hopeful — every possible emotion you could imagine,” she says. “We were so proud to win first place, but really we have to give all the credit to our fantastic voters who got us there.”

Second Place
Kim Williams
Owner, The Polka Dot Press
Tallahassee, Fla.
The Polka Dot Press “began as a natural extension of my love of all things paper,” says Kim Williams. Seven years ago Williams started an online stationery store in her dining room; last year she opened shop on Tallahassee’s busy Market Street to become part of the local business district’s fabric.

Now, she says, in addition to her devoted online customers, “We have loyal local customers we call friends.”

Today, Williams and her employees serve customers counting on The Polka Dot Press for personalization — everything from wedding invitations to customized water bottles. “We love to build memories for others and to give back to our community,” Williams says.

The Polka Dot Press’s college internships recall the start of Williams’ 20-year retail career, as an executive trainee at an Atlanta-based department store. “I knew at a young age I wanted to work in the retail industry,” she says. Along the way she earned a merchandising degree from Florida State University and “was mentored by some wonderful [people] — both buyers and executives. I learned both sides of the business and was able to see the ‘big picture.’”

Williams found the NRF contest on Facebook and, at the outset, was motivated by the cash prize. “But halfway into the process, it became much bigger than [the money],” she says. “This contest was an amazing experience for my store, my community and myself. We met so many fantastic people and the exposure has been amazing. We are grateful for the support and love of our community and customers.”

Third Place
Susan Kaufman
Owner, Market Alley Wines
Monmouth, Ill.
Susan Kaufman pursued an interest that culminated in a passionate retail business. Her deep interest in cooking — and the wines that accompany meals — led the former journalist to open Market Alley Wines in her hometown.

Despite her newcomer status – the store has been open less than two years — Kaufman’s video dispenses sage retail advice from the customer’s point of view. “It’s about the selection, and giving people the opportunity to come in and discover something different every time they’re in,” she says.

Her video doesn’t shrink from the fact that “small-town retail has taken a hit over the past several years,” Kaufman says, but “if you create a true destination, the community will support you.”

The community has embraced Market Alley Wines as a place to gather, relax and shop. Kaufman now has three part-time employees, and business has picked up to the point where “I need at least two people and more on busy nights and holidays.”

As for the contest, Kaufman says she “had a unique story to tell and a chance to share it. I didn’t anticipate getting as far as I did, but I think my story resonated with many people.

“Even if I didn’t get very far,” she says, “I thought the video would be a good promotional tool.”

The reality of her win struck Kaufman the morning of the awards ceremony. “That’s when it really hit me. ‘I’m in Washington, D.C. I have won — my little store in my little community.’ I had been in business less than one year and the other finalists had a combined experience of nearly 60 years! I was so proud of my community for supporting me and Market Alley Wines.”