This story is part of a series of stories that will be running in the Tribune through Saturday, which is known as Small Business Saturday. As many local businesses are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, the Tribune encourages you to consider shopping locally this holiday season and supporting some of our great, locally-owned businesses.
HARBOR BEACH — Darlene’s Fashions has been in business in Harbor Beach for over a decade.
Lifelong resident Darlene Schelke has owned the lady’s apparel shop since 2010. Customers may be surprised that her experience goes back much further than when she bought the store.
Schelke started out working for the Brennan’s clothing store in the early 1990s. At that time, it catered only to men. Years later, Lady Brennan’s was started in the basement of the mens store, and Schelke managed that part of the business for 15 years.
She gained a great deal of experience while working for Lady Brennan’s. She said one of the first and most important things she learned was that “customer service is everything.”
“We needed to be honest with our customers,” she told the Tribune. “They needed to have trust in the employees’ opinions. We wanted the customers to love what they purchased.”
This attitude followed her after the business closed. Brennan’s closed in the fall of 2009, and she opened Darlene’s Fashions the following April. At that time, the business was still in the basement, with Classy Threads upstairs.
In 2015, she moved out of the basement and relocated her business on ground level, next door to the old business. As may be expected, Schelke kept the same business ideals when she opened her own store. In addition, she kept many of the same brand names at Darlene’s Fashions.
Over the years, she has carried Isotoner, Gold Toe Sox, Karen Hart and Southern Lady brands.
“Southern Lady was, and is, our best brand,” Schelke said. “Ladies come looking for Southern Lady.”
She said the brand has great styles, an excellent variety, and the cut of the clothes is great.
“They wash up beautifully,” she added.
She said the look of the store from the outside can be deceiving.
“Our shop is a lot bigger than it looks from the front,” she said.
It carries petite, missy and plus sizes. In fact, these sizes range from 4 through 3XL.
“We have casual and dressy styles,” Schelke said. “We have different price ranges. And, we carry a lot of accessories.”
Those accessories include jewelry, scarves, sox, hats, gloves and hand bags.
The store sells casual clothes and dress clothes. They carry a large number of items, but not a large number of any one item. They do not sell shoes or “mother-of-the-bride dresses,” which she described as expensive, full length gowns for very special occasions.
Schelke went on to discuss things customers like when they visit Darlene’s Fashions.
“We’re honest, and we want people to come back,” she said. “Anyone can come in and browse. There is no pressure to buy anything.”
She has gift certificates for any amount, and these never expire.
“The customers love this,” she said.
Schelke said she feels the best sales technique is to keep customers satisfied, and she does everything possible to keep them happy.
“Word of mouth is great advertising, and we have a lot of word of mouth advertising,” she said.
During the coronavirus pandemic, several safety protocols have been put in place. She and her employee, Carol Learman, are given temperature checks each day before starting work. She expects customers to wear protective masks when entering the store, but they can try on clothing. Plexiglas covers the sales counter, and hand sanitizer is available.
“I love what I do,” Schelke said. “I’ve met so many great customers and they’ve become friends. I’m old enough to retire, but I love what I do.”
Darlene’s Fashions is located at 308 State St. in Harbor Beach. Schelke can be reached by calling 989-479-9016.