They say in business you have to know your customer if you want to succeed and survive.

Shelley Coleman-Cox, part owner of Cayman’s on Main Street, knows this better than most.

For the past 30 years, she and her family have been getting to know their customers well — and it’s paid off.

“One thing that’s easy in the clothing business is finding out who your customers are,” Coleman-Cox said. “We figured that out 30 years ago.”

And it doesn’t take a fashion expert to figure out what shoppers want when they come to Cayman’s, 2001 W. Main St., at the Carriage Plaza shopping center.

Most of the items are high-end, the type of stuff “you typically have to go to Dallas to find,” Coleman-Cox said.

“The more specialty items, the ones that are hard to find, that’s what our customers want,” she said. “Pretty much everything in our store is unique to Norman, probably Oklahoma, too.”

Coleman-Cox said Cayman’s has “many” long-term customers, something she attributes to knowing them, knowing what they want and treating them like VIPs when they come in the store.

“I feel like we’re kind of an institution in Norman,” she said. “At least that’s what I think.”

Humble beginnings

But Cayman’s hasn’t always been an institution, or whatever you want to call them.

What is now Cayman’s started out in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan won the presidency, when the Coleman family bought The Locker Room, a boy’s clothing store in town. The new owners were husband and wife Caylon and Patsy Coleman, their son Curtis and Coleman-Cox, their daughter.

All of the owners are involved in the business, with Patsy and Coleman-Cox running the day-to-day operations, Curtis working as the accountant and on the back-end and Caylon, who is retired, still pitching in when needed.

After changing the name to Cayman’s, the family soon added men’s clothing to the mix and opened a second store for girls and women right down the street. By the late 1980s, the stores had combined into a somewhat smaller version of the current store.

Today, Cayman’s is 7,000 square feet and sells cosmetics, home decor items, footwear, accessories, custom designed jewelry and, of course, men’s and women’s clothes. They added 3,000 square feet five years ago to expand into cosmetics and custom designer jewelry.

“They have both been very successful,” Coleman-Cox said of the additions. “And I think it gave the store a more complete feel.”

And as for adding more space, she didn’t rule it out. It’s possible,” Coleman-Cox said. “No plans right now but it’s possible. We always want to keep our options open.”

Challenges, what lies ahead

Like just about every business on the planet, Cayman’s is dealing with the current recession (called the worst since the Great Depression). But when asked if it’s affecting her business, Coleman-Cox offered a rare answer in these economic times.

“Not really,” she said. “I think like any other business, we’ve made the necessary adjustments and changes to deal with (the recession). We were very fortunate to survive the oil bust of the 1980s, here in Oklahoma, and we learned a lot of valuable lessons we’ve been able to use recently.”

It also doesn’t hurt to have a top-notch staff and clientele who keep buying their merchandise.

“We couldn’t do without either of them,” Coleman-Cox said. “We have an incredible staff that is always helping us look to the future and none of this is possible without them. The support from the community, our customers ... has been unbelievable over the years. We definitely couldn’t have done it, made it 30 years, without them.”

What the future holds is still up in the air.

Coleman-Cox said the Internet has changed her business. She said websites like Facebook and Twitter “have been huge for advertising,” and that the Internet in general has made the job of finding merchandise much simpler.

“I’ve got it all at my fingertips now,” Coleman-Cox said. “Before it was beating the path, going to market. Now, I still go to market, but I use the Internet for research, to see what’s out there. It just makes things easier.”

She said the future for Cayman’s may lie in places where most businesses — especially retailers — have been for a long time. For all its bells and whistles, Cayman’s doesn’t have an online store.

Coleman-Cox said the prospect of selling to clients online is daunting.

“Right now, it would be like beginning a whole other business,” she said. “And that’s not something we’re going to do right now. Maybe someday, but not now.”

Andrew Knittle 366-3540 aknittle@normantranscript.com

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