Sherree Rothstein and her staff have spent more than 25 years helping local women to embrace their stylish side. The secret to their success: customer service.
Don’t be surprised if you walk into The Clothes Gallery looking for a new pair of jeans and find precisely what you were looking for – and then some. You might discover a new top, a fun scarf, a gorgeous pair of gold hoop earrings or even a new friend.
At this carefully curated shop at 51 N. Williams St., in downtown Crystal Lake, kind and dedicated staff members genuinely enjoy getting to know their clients and helping them add new pieces to their wardrobes. This personalized shopping atmosphere is intentional; it’s a source of pride for everyone who works there.
Sherree Rothstein, who has owned and operated the store for more than 25 years, says investing in her staff has been key to her success. Not only has she offered professional training to her employees, but she’s also dedicated her own time and effort to training them. She teaches them more than just how to use the point of sale system and maintain the sales floor. Rothstein is committed to developing their approach to customers, too. Instead of focusing primarily on selling, Rothstein says the team cares more about helping customers find the perfect outfit.
Rothstein knows how it feels to walk into a store and feel like the staff isn’t excited to help, and she never wants shoppers to feel that way in her space. “So many customers have become friends,” she says.
This meaningful, service-oriented approach and dedication to curating the right inventory mix are among the most significant reasons her shop has thrived for so many years. The McHenry County community has rewarded Rothstein’s attention to quality and service with loyalty. For more than two decades, this store has been a mainstay of the downtown.
Rothstein moved to the Chicago area in 1981 with her husband, who also worked in the fashion industry as an apparel representative. The couple operated a showroom inside Chicago’s Apparel Mart to introduce up-and-coming designers to retailers across the Midwest. When the opportunity arose to purchase The Clothes Gallery in 1995, Rothstein took the leap and brought her own flair to the business.
Rothstein funnels her energy into curating the right mix of styles, fabrics and price points so clients can always find what they need. Sometimes, customers benefit most from trendy items at lower prices, and other times they go for higher-priced, premium-quality pieces when they’re looking for a wardrobe staple.
“I go to a lot of trade shows to look at a lot of things that possibly can work for my clientele,” Rothstein says. “I think one of the things that really distinguishes us is that I go to so many of these trade shows and shop for the best of what’s being offered in my price point.”
She loves bringing in sustainable products when she can, but she says sometimes that label could be deceiving. Like the “clean eating” movement, buyers should be discerning when spending extra money on so-called sustainable fashion.
“It’s a fabulous thing, but it’s also somewhat abused,” she says. “A brand could say they’re sustainable because they use cleaner water or recycle their water, but then they’re using horrible dyes.”
Still, she says it’s exciting that, as brands research different manufacturing methods and planet-friendly fabrics, vendors are starting to offer retail outlets a more comprehensive range of options. She believes this trend will continue to grow and become increasingly more accessible for all shoppers in the years to come.
For those who are ready to refresh their closets this summer, Rothstein is happy to share her style forecast. She says feminine details, like eyelet stitching and ankle-length jeans with a little flare at the hem, will be very popular.
“These jeans look adorable with sandals, boots or sneakers,” she says.
She also thinks vibrant, saturated hues will be trending, as well as rich, cognac-inspired colors. And when fall rolls around, keep an eye out for beautiful jackets and sweaters.
Regardless of what’s trendy, Rothstein encourages her shoppers to buy whatever they feel good wearing, regardless of whether it’s trending. The store carries a range of traditional and contemporary pieces so customers can always find what suits them best.
The Clothes Gallery is open daily for in-person shopping, but you can shop from the comfort of your couch, too. The online store, at theclothesgallery.com, sells tops, bottoms, dresses, bags and jewelry, with free shipping on orders over $150.
For updates on new items, sales events and even live shows featuring Rothstein herself, follow The Clothes Gallery on Facebook.
In addition to being a fashion destination, Rothstein has made a point to support charitable efforts in the community and give back to the people who make her business successful. After 27 years in business, Rothstein has navigated the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, and she has advice for running a successful company.
First and foremost, she believes you shouldn’t try to do it all.
“I invest in mentors and programs,” she says. “You can‘t be great at everything. I’ve been willing to pay for advice in areas where I don’t have the expertise.”
In addition to investing in training for her staff, she also seeks outside help with managing inventory, so she always knows which items need to be replenished. This helps keep the selection in her store balanced and fresh.
Rothstein cautions that entrepreneurship is hard work. “You have to have a passion that will keep you wanting to work because business is hard,” she says. And while running a business is a challenge in regular times, she says right now things are even harder because staffing is a major concern.
This doesn’t mean that, if you need to bring in employees, you should run out and hire just anyone, though.
“You shouldn’t take someone just because you can afford them,” she says. Instead, look for someone who has some of the skills you’re looking for and help them hone those skills even further.
And for those going into an industry that requires a significant amount of overhead (as retail does), she says paying attention to your location and your finances is critical.
We’ve all heard the notion of location, location, location when it comes to real estate. For retail businesses, those words ring especially true. Rothstein says it’s essential to investigate potential sites. Everything from foot traffic to parking and knowing what other stores are nearby can influence the success of a venture.
Of course, even if you can find a prime spot, Rothstein cautions that you also need to have your finances in order.
“It can be hard to profit in a small business,” she says, and that’s especially true in the startup phase. She recommends making sure you can support yourself through the first three to five years until the business is turning a healthy profit.
Above all else, Rothstein thinks entrepreneurs should be comfortable with risk.
“You can’t be risk-averse,” she says. “You have to be a risk-taker because every day is a risk. There’s no guarantee.”
Rothstein is proof that the right mix of business sense, confidence and commitment can lead to lasting success.