What started as a fresh produce market in 1962 has evolved into a fresh, chic, lively boutique that caters to an ever-growing fan base of Wisconsinites and North woods visitors just south of Antigo. Evolution has, in fact, been one of the key factors contributing to Exclusively Schroeders’ 50 years of success.
The boutique, currently co-run by Judy Schroeder and her sister-in-law Gina Schroeder, started out as a means for the Schroeder family to sell their fresh produce — primarily potatoes — and maple syrup. “Twenty-five years ago our shop was still solely selling produce, but then we visited a shop in Wautoma — Heath Farm Market — and were inspired by the gifts and collectibles they offered. We met with the owners and they steered us in the right direction. So we became a gift shop with a lot of fresh produce,” Judy adds.
Over time, consumer interest in collectibles waned. At the same time, a popular clothing boutique in Antigo closed down. “We’d always sold sweatshirts and t-shirts, but when Thelma’s closed there was a gap for us to fill. We got rid of the collectibles and most of the produce — except for the potatoes our family grows — expanded our clothing line and added jewelry and accessories.” The shop took off — the new focus on “funky, trendy” clothing, accessories and jewelry was a success.
But the evolution wasn’t over — today, Schroeders offers fewer gift items, but they’ve added a collection of kitchen gadgets that are very popular with their customers. “We keep trying to evolve — to keep changing along with our customer base.” That base tends to be women between the ages of 30 and 60 who “don’t want to dress like they’re old. Even though we’re aging, we like to have fun with what we wear. We help women look as young as they feel.”
While her family runs the 2,000-acre farm, Judy and Gina oversee the expanding footprint of her retail enterprise — including a Schroeders’ gift shop in the newly opened, 564-employee Antigo hospital. “Some of our best customers work at the hospital and they love having a mini Schroeders there. It’s not your normal hospital gift shop. We offer baby gifts and unique items for people staying in the hospital, but we also have jewelry and purses for the employees and visitors. We hope to offer workout clothing there in the future to help encourage employees to workout during their work day,” Judy adds.
They also recently expanded and renovated Exclusively Schroeders to recreate the “Industrial Chic” interior they’ve seen when visiting other retailers. “Everything will be under one roof now, but we’ve altered our offerings again — bringing over the most popular items from our smaller shops. We’ve kept the frame shop, but will no longer offer year-round Christmas items.”
In an era of big-box retail, Schroeders’ boutique success stands out. And it’s not just because they’re always changing their product line to meet new consumer interests. The North woods region has seen an influx of tourism that has benefited their retail enterprise. And, notes Judy, “Our town has always been supportive of us and our employees are fabulous. They’ve been with us a long time. They know the product mix, they love what they’re doing, they like to work with one another and it shows. They make it fun to shop.” Judy concludes, “That’s why we have people from all over the state, tourists — and those with summer homes in the area who are from outside the state — who shop here. They tell us they drove to Antigo just to shop here.”