2. Maya Papaya & Toni Macarony
Simone Oettinger, owner of children's clothing store Maya Papaya & Toni Macarony in Evanston, Ill., says back-to-school season means being prepared well ahead of time.
"In the fashion business, the seasons start a little earlier than in reality. So right now it's 100 degrees outside and I am receiving fall merchandise. In terms of preparing, I need to make sure that my merchandise for the fall is here in July because I have to unpack it, tag it and hang it," says Oettinger, who opened her store in 2008. "Fall for me starts in July."
Oettinger says personalized customer service -- remembering kids' names, what they like to wear, what interests they have -- is important. But owning a clothing store is still tough when you're competing with big chain retailers.
"Everybody talks about customer service, but customer service alone is not enough to stay in business," she says.
"I cannot compete with Gap. I cannot compete with Target. I have to have unique merchandise that they don't have elsewhere," Oettinger says. "The key for small business is differentiation. There is no point for me to stock commodities that people may find at Target or Gap."