Shops Tucked Into Orland Park Car Dealerships Diversify Into Spa Items And Resort Apparel – Chicago Tribune

When Loree Kowalis wanted to add something special to her husband’s family-owned Lexus dealership, she had to be a bit stealthy.

While the parts guy was doing other things, “I was sneaking around with the feminine touch,” she said. “I didn’t like seeing the boxes of parts over there. I was rummaging things in the cupboards.

These “things” would eventually lead to shops in each of the three Kowalis Auto Group dealerships: Lexus in Orland Park and Merrillville and Toyota in Orland Park. Besides typical auto parts, customers can find merchandise bearing the Lexus and Toyota logos, such as water bottles, mugs, hats and key rings, designer handbags, jewelry, clothing resort wear, sunglasses, sandals, spa items and greeting cards.

Kowalis, who is married to Jeff Kowalis, son of the auto group’s late founder, said when the Lexus dealership in Orland Park moved to the street in 2006, they decided to include space for a boutique. “Lexus was promoting ideas on how to provide the best product experience and service to our customers. I suggested it.

Her stepfather agreed that she could try. “We started small, and it’s grown ever since,” she said. “We started with a few small items and people loved it.”

When the Toyota location was redone in 2013, they added a boutique to the plans.

“We had one at Lexus and our customers loved it so much,” Kowalis said, adding that many of their Lexus customers also own a Toyota. “They like to walk and browse while waiting. It is not a profit department, but a customer service department.

Although Kowalis had no retail background—she was a nurse educator—she had a background in design, which was helpful in choosing merchandise and arranging displays. But she was pretty much alone when it came to running the shops.

“It’s mostly a male-dominated parts and service department, so I took the ball myself,” she said. “I hired a couple of part-time women to help me, and we made it more of a customer service role. They actually help customers while they wait, so they work together in the cafe and the restaurant. shop and make sure people are taken care of.

One of the employees who keeps the stores running is Brittany Ellison, who also works in the parts department.

“It’s a fun little place where (customers) can shop,” she says. “It adds a bit more character to the dealership – something you don’t see every day.”

She said the shop’s customers were men, women and couples. “Yesterday I had a son and his mother. It’s not just for women. The men are sitting there and they end up shopping.

Ellis said the shop gives customers something to do while they wait – or if they just need to pick up a gift or greeting card – and adds “a bit of character” to the business. .

“It’s nice because it’s not like a typical dealership, so when you’re waiting for your service…it’s a fun little place for you to shop and take a look at the things you don’t. wouldn’t normally see,” she said.

Kowalis said the prices at the store are “half of what local boutiques” charge for similar items. “People were like, ‘I’m at the shop in Frankfurt and it was three times the price.’ I tell them we’re doing it because they’re a customer and we’re providing a service,” she said.

“We have Toyota and Lexus merchandise, but we’ve added trendy fashion accessories, jewelry and fashion pieces — nothing too big. We added handbags because people asked if we could have them.

Merchandise varies by season. “In fall and winter we have ponchos and jackets,” she said. “If someone is going on vacation, we have beachwear and sunglasses. We actually bought flip flops and sandals because people were asking if we could. »

Boutique jewelry is considered fashion jewelry. “We don’t sell real diamonds or anything,” Kowalis joked. “Swarovski crystals are as expensive as we are.”

Customer requests carry some weight when it comes to selections. “If a person asks me, I won’t do it,” she said. “But if five or six people ask, I might test it (to see) if it’s something people really want to watch and buy.”

In Kowalis’ experience, handbags and seasonal jewelry are top sellers in addition to caps, fedoras and sun hats at Lexus. “It’s a customer favorite,” Kowalis said. “Sometimes, as the girl just told me, she would pull out six hats and sell each one the next day. … I went to see them, and she told me that they were gone.

She said guests tell her they feel “like being in a hotel lobby. That’s what they’re comparing too. …I feel like I’m in a hotel and I can buy something from the gift shop.

Although she estimates that 90% of the shop’s customers are women, more and more men are buying items, and it’s not just people waiting for their car to be serviced who are shopping. “We have visitors coming in – (representatives) from wholesale parts stores and body shops. They will take something for their wife like a card. Sometimes they buy sunglasses.

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Others know the boutique will have appropriate clothing for a winter getaway in a warm location that they won’t find in traditional stores.

“Everything is geared towards our people,” she said. “For Lexus, they’re going to be getting away all year, so we’ve got that for them. … If they’re traveling in a hot climate, we’ll have the sandals, the tote, the hat, the sunglasses and even jewelry so they can pack their bags and go on a trip.

When it comes to stocking the shops, Kowalis has to think a season ahead because she usually buys a dozen items, not a thousand. Additionally, she tries to source products from women-owned businesses, such as the candles she stocks, and smaller businesses, such as Immaculate Waters all-natural bar soap, hand lotion, and soap. liquid soap based on “pure water from the grotto of Lourdes”.

As another way to give back to customers, boutiques offer breast cancer awareness programs and products in May and October. “I think if I shop, I serve that community,” Kowalis explained. “We do pink ribbon awareness and have merchandise. … It became so popular that people asked if we could have it all year round.

She hopes to host more in-person charity events and women-sponsored events soon, given that restrictions have eased around the pandemic.

“We used to have an education (programme) in May and October – speakers and evening events. But we haven’t done that for a few years with COVID. We offer it at the Lexus Orland Park location because it’s a bigger space.

Melinda Moore is a freelance writer for the Daily Southtown.

Richard F. Gandhi