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What is a Specialty Store?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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A specialty store is a shop, usually retail, that offers specific and specialized types of items. These stores focus on selling a particular brand or a particular type of product. For example, a store that exclusively sells cell phones or video games would be considered specialized.

The definition for specialty store is actually somewhat loose. Sometimes, it includes chain retail stores that sell a specific brand of clothing or clothing that is manufactured specifically for that store. If a shopper buys a shirt from the Gap, for example, it will have a Gap label.

By this definition, the store can carry a diverse range of products. Though a store might specialize in clothing, the garments could be for children, teens, or adults. It might also carry shoes or socks. Some places branch out even more, carrying clothes for the whole family, as well as accessories, dog bowls, toys, and a variety of other non-clothing related items, all with the store label.

In other cases, the specialty store is not brand sensitive, but offers certain kinds of items that could all be loosely classed together. A grocery store that specializes in selling organic products, for example, would be considered a specialty retailer. The many ethnic foods markets that import most of their products are also examples. The products they carry can vary significantly, but they all fall under the class of being imported from a specific place like Asia, England, or Italy.

Another example is a store that sells one kind of item only, like cell phones or video games. The product selection is usually wide at a store that sells video games, and it is likely to have products that work with a variety of game systems. A cell phone store might sell many different cell phone brands, in addition to offering access to contracts with a specific cell phone company.

Some specialty stores are not linked to a chain of stores, but operate from a single location. A small health food store, a high-class women’s boutique that offers couture clothing, or a little bait and tackle shop may all be considered examples of such a store. Even though prices might be higher at these establishments, customers often prefer the expertise offered by small stores, which are often opened by owners who are passionate about the products they sell. In large chain stores, employees may not offer the same assistance and product knowledge. There are exceptions, of course, and some chain stores are known for their high degree of customer service and product knowledge.

Advantages of Specialty Stores

Specialty stores offer many advantages, including:

1. Product expertise

Retail businesses that focus their sales within a specific product category, such as cosmetics, sports gear or books, can offer their staff in-depth training that provides them with detailed product knowledge. These employees serve as reliable sources of information for customers who need guidance in selecting the right product. 

2. Pleasant atmosphere

The design and layout of specialty stores are often a far cry from the sterile and impersonal environments of general merchandise retailers. While discount supercenters commonly feature bright fluorescent lighting and aisle after aisle of stockpiled inventory, specialty stores typify a more intimate, home-like setting with softer lighting and products strategically arranged in a visually appealing display.

3. Personalized customer service

Shopping at specialty stores is considered to be an elevated experience—one that is exciting and satisfying. Along with an inviting ambiance, specialty stores offer an unmatched level of customer service. Shoppers who are enthusiasts of a particular product—for example, techies in an electronics store—are more inclined to return to a store where the employees remember their name, preferences and purchase history. New customers feel like valued patrons when staff members take the time to learn about their shopping needs and answer questions with interest and sincerity, all of which promote customer loyalty.

4. Higher-quality products

Specialty stores cater to a niche market and carry a limited scope of inventory. As a result, these retailers focus on curating a collection of high-quality merchandise. Product labels often feature buzzwords such as “locally made,” “handcrafted,” and “sustainably sourced.” Customers perceive specialty stores as places to buy well-made, one-of-a-kind items.

5. Workshops and special events

Many specialty stores offer workshops, lessons and classes that showcase products they sell. A kitchen goods store, for example, may offer a cooking class that utilizes cookware and utensils from its inventory. Customers can test out the quality and functionality of products before purchasing.

Disadvantages of Specialty Stores

Since specialty stores are so niche, there may also be disadvantages as well, such as:

1. Lack of variety

Specialty stores sell a limited scope of products that meet a specific need or match a specific interest. This automatically narrows the list of potential customers. The majority of a specialty store’s patronage consists of aficionados, gift-seekers or consumers with a one-time particular need or want to be fulfilled.

2. Market dependency

Specialty stores can be a risky venture because they operate at the mercy of a market where trends come and go quickly. If the products sold at a particular store lose their popularity, consumers will look elsewhere to find a store that has what they’re looking for.

3. Seasonal swings

Depending on the nature of product offerings, specialty stores can be susceptible to significant fluctuations in demand. There is more of a drawback to store owners, rather than to customers, when a product is out-of-season and therefore, in low demand.

4. Pricier products

Specialty stores are associated with higher quality products and consequently, are also perceived as more expensive. This is true in some cases, as specialty stores do not typically order items in bulk at the level that discount retailers do, translating to higher costs that get passed on to the consumer in the form of a steeper price tag.

5. Less convenience

Due to the lack of variety, specialty stores are not able to meet all the needs of consumers, driving them to buy from other retailers in order to complete their shopping lists. Some customers may find it inconvenient and not worth their time to visit a store for only one particular item, choosing to pass on a specialty store in favor of a general merchandise retailer.

Specialty stores are also not as ubiquitous as mass merchandiser locations, making them harder to find and longer to travel to, which can be a deterrent for potential customers.

Examples of Specialty Stores

Specialty retailers span numerous industries. Types of specialty stores range from nationally-branded big box stores to single mom-and-pop type shops. Here is a list of well-known brands that are considered specialty stores:

Health

Retail businesses in this category focus on at-home healthcare items such as first aid supplies and over-the-counter medications.

  • CVS
  • Walgreens
  • Rite Aid

Home Improvement

These stores cater to general contractors, DIYers and homeowners, with products ranging from lumber to garden supplies.

  • Lowe’s
  • Home Depot
  • Ace Hardware

Pets

Pet owners shop at these locations for all things related to their furry, scaly and feathery friends.

  • Petco
  • Petsmart
  • Chewy

Office Supplies

Office supply stores sell products and equipment that meet business and home office needs including printers, paper, pens, staplers and labels.

  • Office Depot
  • Staples
  • Office Max

Home Decor

With collections of throw pillows, artwork, candles and more, home decor stores channel consumers’ interior designers.

  • IKEA
  • Bed, Bath and Beyond
  • HomeGoods

Children’s Clothing

Kids’ clothing retailers carry tops, bottoms and outerwear for babies to big kids.

  • Carter’s
  • Children’s Place
  • Gymboree
SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By julies — On Jul 02, 2011

You will usually get much better service when you shop at specialty stores than you do from traditional department stores. Most of them will go out of their way to make sure their customers are satisfied.

If you are looking for a particular item, or don't know for sure what you want and are looking for some ideas, they can be very helpful.

I was looking for a certain Western style of purse once, and the owner of the store took quite a bit of time to help me find just what I wanted. The next time I was looking to buy a new purse, I went back to this store because of the great customer service I received.

By John57 — On Jul 01, 2011

If you are a "brand" shopper, you will find yourself at specialty stores most of the time. I think one thing that helps many of them be successful, is that if you know the brand, you know what to expect.

If you have a hard time finding jeans that fit you well, and you find a pair at Gap that become your favorite, you will probably return again to purchase jeans from them.

Many people have their favorite brands they buy over and over again at specialty stores, and these stores rely on their customers repeat business.

By andee — On Jul 01, 2011

If I am shopping for something special or a unique gift, I find myself using specialty retail stores more all the time. What I like best about them, is you have a better chance at finding something that is different.

Sometimes they can be more expensive than other stores, but if you shop their sales and end of season clearance, you can get some great deals.

By anon71925 — On Mar 20, 2010

the specialty stores can't afford to lose a single customer due to bad service because they don't have that many products that they can make a sale from then and there.

By anon41484 — On Aug 15, 2009

In the retail industry, it has to do with the percentage of "hard goods" to "soft goods". i.e. Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney's New York, Bergdorf Goodmans, Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia...
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