New Business Profile: Italian Imports

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By Jody Poling Cartier
For Blount Today

Historically Italian leather has a reputation for quality and style that dates back hundreds of years. Now Italian Imports in the Foothills Mall hopes to create their own reputation for offering only the best Italian leathers. Wallets, duffel bags, briefcases and particularly handbags from top Italian leather designers have now found a home in Blount County at Italian Imports of Tennessee.

Co-owners Ken and Kathy Corbin recently relocated their store from Knoxville to Maryville with great results so far.

Business during their first two months of operating here has outpaced that of their former Knoxville location. Kathy Corbin says that, "We only signed a six-month lease because we wanted to test the waters, but so far, customer response has been very encouraging."

Designers have continued to offer both traditional and innovative new ways of presenting leather handbags that meet owners’ current needs yet still retain that distinctly artistic style that defines Italian bags. The Tuscany area is especially famed for its tanneries, regarded as the best in the world. Cows and deer are bred specifically for leather, and are even raised in open fields as opposed to those surrounded by barbed wire so as not to damage the leather.

When asked why they are limiting their stock to the particular items mentioned rather than offering a bigger variety of different leather items, the Corbins say that from a merchandising angle, narrowing focus allows them to specialize in a way that benefits the customers. Offering a big variety of a few items rather than a lot of items without much variety allows customers to shop with purpose, they say. Pointing to their large selection of different designs in leather handbags, Kathy Corbin says that this much variety would not be possible if they had to include dozens of different items in their stock.

The Corbins say some shoppers know that real Italian leather is what they are looking for in a handbag, noting its style and durability. Other potential customers may not be familiar with the specifics of Italian leather, so the Corbins encourage shoppers to use their senses upon entering their store to shop for handbags - touch and smell. Touch reveals the softness that Italian leather is famous for, thanks in large part to the way the leather is treated and sealed. Some handbags offer deceptively roomy interiors and others present a host of special features inside like cell phone and credit card holders, various compartments and particularly lovely interior linings.

Ken Corbin invites customers to look for another obvious sign of quality leather by checking the handle and the trim of the bag. Some manufacturers lower their costs by using inferior or imitation leather on these details. Shoppers can spot this shortcut by folding the handle of the handbag. As one folds it, they should look for cracking. This is a sure sign that it is not quality leather. Ken Corbin says even design names familiar to customers in our area have been known to do this, and the result is a handbag that starts falling apart long before it should. "A quality leather bag can last for decades," he says.
The Corbins say one thing shoppers will be particularly pleased with is the prices. Anyone who is at all familiar with the usual cost of designer leather handbags will be pleasantly surprised at prices that are definitely below the norm, the couple says.

The Corbins say they are able to drastically reduce the prices by cutting out the usual middleman and traveling to Italy themselves twice every year in order to purchase their stock directly from Italian design manufacturers. These biannual trips include visits to Milan and Florence, among other spots, where they choose their stock from a variety of top designers. The hand-embossed, hand-crafted Talja handbags are particularly popular among shoppers looking for a bag that makes a statement. Valentina attracts those looking for subtle sophisticated designs, while Ferromoda is known for sensual and romantic styles and Montini presents a collection that has become one of the most sought-after available.

Customers will also note a small collection of less expensive famous designer imitation bags included in the stock. Ken and Kathy Corbin say this as an attempt to offer a little something for everyone and every budget.

The Corbins say that with the holidays just around the corner, now is a perfect time to discover the unique beauty and timeless style of Italian leather. Layaway is available. Those who visit Italian Imports of Tennessee in the next week are invited to register for an orange and white leather purse valued at $200 to be given away in a drawing on Oct. 20.

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