Customers keep returning to one-stop apparel shops


POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

As a young girl helping in her mom's dress shop, Gilda Minassian never thought she'd want a career in women's merchandise.

But Minassian discovered her love for selling the clothing while working as a saleswoman 30 years ago for Cotton Cargo at Kahala Mall.

Now the owner of Calista by Cotton Cargo, Minassian said, “;This store is like my baby. I nourish it every day, and I get results.”;

While still an employee, Minassian eventually became the company's overall manager and buyer. By 1996, she had purchased the Kahala outlet, then the Ward Warehouse and Waikiki stores in 1998, managed by her mother and sister.

When she moved the Kahala store to a prime spot in the mall in 2001, she changed the company name to “;Calista by Cotton Cargo.”;

“;Calista”; means “;womanly beauty beyond the ordinary”; in Greek, she said. She kept the “;Cotton Cargo”; name so her customers wouldn't think she went out of business.

The original concept of Cotton Cargo was clothing made solely of natural fibers, but in the modern version of the store, Minassian wanted to offer “;a wonderland”; of apparel that was dressier, trendier and a lot more colorful for women of all ages, she said.

“;It's a one-stop shop for special occasions; we have shoes, bags, accessories,”; Minassian said. “;I have customers who come in on Saturday at 4 p.m. and have a dinner to go to that night, and say: “;Dress me up!”;

Her mother, Irma Minassian, managed the Waikiki store until it closed in 2002. Sister Peggy Worthington, a former Holy Nativity School teacher, has been in charge of the Ward store since 1998 and Gilda's retired husband, Edward Mehrabian, helps in the Kahala store.

Minassian said her mother taught her a lot about how to keep a business going, even in tough times.

“;I learned a lot from her, mostly customer service and how to run a business,”; Minassian said. “;She told me to always be honest with your customers, be truthful, and you will always get their business. Even if they don't buy anything sometimes, always be grateful, be patient, and try your best to help them, because in the long run they are going to come back.

“;I know most of my customers by face or name. Seventy percent or more are repeat customers,”; she said; some have been coming back for more than 25 years.

“;I have this intuition to connect with customers. I really, really enjoy getting to know my customers. It gives me energy to get a positive comment, when I've done something people really appreciate,”; she said. “;On buying trips, I buy specifically for one person in mind. I tell the saleswomen: So-and-so is going to buy that, wait and see! And when they do, it's 'wow!'”;

Worthington, who also grew up in her mom's dress shop, found her fashionista side when she began managing the Ward store.

“;I like dressing up people. It gives me satisfaction when they find something and they're so happy,”; she said. “;It's really fun every year to help (prom-goers) find the right dress, and the shoes and accessories so they're all ready for the night. We have a service where we keep track of their schools so two girls don't go to the same prom in the same dress.”;

The family works well together, and Mom always is a big help, even when illness keeps her at home. She does anything that needs to be done, like tagging and processing merchandise.

“;Mom is always watching our back,”; Worthington said.