Thursday, June 5, 2014

Saying Goodbye: Q&A with Tara

Zoe's manager, Tara, dishes on her time at Zoe in today's Q&A!  She and Camille are both doing well and are scheduled to come home from the hospital today!

Q. Why did you want to come to work at Zoe?
Prior to working at Zoe, I worked in retail for 13 years. I always worked in a chain store, which gave me no insight as to how a retail store really worked.  I moved to Alexandria to get my Bachelor's Degree in Fashion and Retail Merchandising, hoping that would give me the answers I was looking for. After moving here, I fell in love with Old Town and all it had to offer. I thought the best way to find out how a retail store really ran was to work for a boutique where they did everything. 

I remember calling Zoe to see if there were any openings available. Susan and I had a pretty long courtship, as she was preparing for a change. I remember wanting to work at Zoe so badly, I even volunteered my time to work for her at Fashion's Night Out. We had so much fun that evening and I was offered the job that day!

Q. Favorite piece that you’ve ever seen in the store (and why)
That's kind of hard. I have had so many favorite pieces at Zoe. Susan truly has a good eye for fashion.  Can I say every single thing from Velvet?  I guess it would be a vest that we received from Waverly Gray in the fall of 2013.  I saw the vest at the showroom, fell in love immediately, and told Susan I would have to have it when it came in.  Well, it came in and I sold every single vest. I never did actually get to have it. I loved it so much I showed it to everyone who walked in the door and it didn't take long for everyone else to love it too.  I even remember doing a photo shoot with it the day we received it in.  It was sold before it came back to the store that night.

Q. Favorite Zoe piece in your closet (and why)
I would have to say every Zoe piece I have in my closet is my favorite.  If I had to choose, it would be a tie between my Velvet Long Sleeve Becky Sweater (which I would live in every day if the weather permitted) and my Chan Luu pink and purple mixed 5 wrap bracelet.  Velvet is my favorite line, so if it were possible to only have Velvet items in my closet I would.

Q. Craziest thing you ever had happen to you in the store.
There was NEVER a dull day at Zoe.  I had my regular visiting customers, some very eccentric customers, and just some crazy things happen. I have had birds fly in the store on two occasions, witnessed many people try to drive up a one way street right outside the store, bikers get yelled at on the street for not obeying the traffic laws, and much more. I have endured a small waterfall coming from the ceiling in the fitting rooms and it becoming icy cold when the AC unit went of the fritz.

One day last spring I became a jack of all trades. A customer had recently purchased bras online for the first time in a while and was unsure of the fit. Although I have worked retail for a long time, I have never worked in intimates, and to be honest I wouldn't know the first thing about bra fitting (I would have left it up to the Victoria Secret employees).  he asked if I would be able to tell her if they fit properly and since I really have no idea, I referred her to Bloomers here in Old Town, who I know would give her the best service. Well, that didn't stop her. The next time she was in she tried something on, and decided today was the day I became qualified to fit a woman for bras!  She came out with her new bras on and asked what I thought (and there were several bras).  I will be adding bra fitter to my resume.

Q. Favorite store event
I think for as long as I worked at Zoe I was at the store for every event we had. Believe it or not I do love working Black Friday. I don't love the getting up crazy early part.  But I love seeing all the customers in the store having a good time trying things on and telling each other what they think of an outfit or piece.  It seems to be the kick off of the holiday season to me and it just gets me in the mood for the holiday.

I also have to say I had a great time when Katie Bartels came down from NYC for her trunk show this past December.  I love her jewelry and all the bright colors.  We had such a good time chatting, trying things on with customers, and of course taking photos.  Her mother was down with her as well and is such a wonder woman.

The District Sample Sale would have to be an event that wasn't necessarily my favorite, but it was an event.  It was in September, right in the heart of DC.  As organized as we always try to be (Susan is a list maker and we are always on time if not early) when we got there to set up it seemed to be a mad house.  Everyone was trying to use the same loading area in a back alley with one elevator.  Not to mention that some stores didn't pay attention to when they were to set up, so when they came late it made it even worse. There was no place to park without getting a ticket or towed, so Susan drove Jim's Honda Pilot around the block and would stop when she saw me standing outside.  I would open the back, grab as much as I could carry and run back into the building to drop it in our spot.  Since the elevator was tied up, I took the steps (and there were at least 3 flights to go up and down).  Finally we got everything in and Susan could go park, but by that time I had run up and down the steps about 50 thousand times and Susan drove around the block just about the same.  At the time we didn't know it, but I was also pregnant.  I guess baby and I got a good workout that day.  I'm so glad Jim wasn't there for that, although I think it may have been a little funny :)

Although it is not a store event, my favorite event with Susan was going on the buying trips to NYC.  We went to showrooms, met the reps, and decided on what would be coming to the store the following season.  This was an opportunity of a lifetime.  My first day on the job was a buying trip. I have to say without a doubt, that was the BEST first day of working a new job I have ever had in my entire life!  Although I was like a kid in a candy store, Susan kept me under control. We left early on the Amtrak, got to NYC and were able to walk to all of our appointments since they were all located just blocks from each other. I remember going to the showroom that houses the Velvet line and falling in love immediately. And one of the most exciting showrooms was Chan Luu.  First of all, it's the penthouse floor of a very tall building. When the elevator doors opened it was a sea of wrap bracelets just waiting for me to want them all. You would have thought I was Susan's child, as I was saying "Susan can we get this, Susan can we get this?"  I had to tell Susan never to send me to NYC alone to purchase for the store because I would only come back with Velvet and Chan Luu.  Oh, and I loved eating at this great little Italian place in Hell's Kitchen.  It was the best pasta I have ever eaten.

Q. What I love about Jim.
Seriously, what is not to love about Jim!  I absolutely love how Jim can crack me up without even trying to be funny.  I love the comments he leaves on Instagram and his ability to pick out anything car related in the photos.  One day Zoe had a little bit of a disaster.  A water line that was connected to the HVAC unit of the burst and water started pouring from the ceiling tiles in the fitting rooms.  I started getting the mess cleaned up, called Susan and asked for Jim's help if he was available.  Needless to say he came to my rescue and was not a happy camper.  We had a good time cleaning up the mess and poking fun at the way it was handled by all parties involved.

Q. Favorite Susan quote.
Susan is so articulate that I am not sure that she has a quote that she uses all the time.  When she says "remind me to tell you...", you know there is a great story coming!

Q. When I see Zoe pink, I think...
Immediately I think of Susan and Zoe.  Purple is my favorite color, but Zoe pink will be unforgettable.  No matter where I am, who I am with, or what it is, I will always think of Susan and Zoe. 

Q. What you’ll miss most about the store.

I cry as I answer this, not just because I am overly emotional, hormonal, and just gave birth, but because I will truly miss everything.  Every morning when I come into the store, there is an email waiting from Susan.  And if there isn't I get worried and email her in a panic to make sure she is ok.  Almost every day I get to see Buckley and Thatcher - two of my regular doggie customers who made it just a little bit easier to deal with the passing of my dog and best friend Blitz.  I will miss getting to relive high school all over again with Alexandra.  The stories that were told, and the helpful big sister advice that I could give.  I'll miss all the customers, who made me laugh, smile, and even a little angry (although I never showed it).  I will miss the VIP valet parking I received in the parking garage.  At some point I never had to park my car because Jared and the guys always did it for me (although it was to their benefit too, they could move me around all day and get more cars in).  I will most certainly miss all the shipments of new product coming into the store.  It's like Christmas when you open those boxes, wondering what's going to be inside!  I even nicknamed our UPS man Freddie Claus, since he's like Santa bringing me gifts all the time.  I will miss the smiling faces of both Freddie the UPS man and Dave the postman. I will definitely miss the friendships I've made with customers.  I must say, Zoe did have some of the best customers in the world.  They are always so thoughtful and genuine.  They have followed me through the last of my schooling and my pregnancy and had great advice to offer along the way.  It was never a dull day at Zoe, and I truly had some of the best experiences of my career with Susan.  She has taught me things I would have never learned at a chain store or even in class.  At Zoe you are family, and I will always love my Zoe Family.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Saying Goodbye: Q&A with Jim (Susan's Husband)

Susan's husband Jim chimes in with his own special Q&A on the blog today. Did you know that he has one other appearance on the blog?  He subjected himself to an interview after accompanying Susan on a buying trip to NYC last year!

Q. You were responsible for Susan creating Zoe – why did you think this would be a great fit for her?
Based on Susan’s very diverse background in business, technology and love for fashion, I felt she would be a perfect small business owner. She became excited when we first discussed the idea of a clothing boutique.

Q. What’s the most beautiful item that you’ve ever seen at Zoe?
That’s a tough one! The Kathlin Argiro wrap dresses, Rebecca Taylor tops and Katie Bartels jewelry are all very beautiful.

Q.What’s your favorite Zoe item that has made it to Susan’s closet?
Her red Rebecca Taylor Summer Floral top and white Red Engine jeans.

Q. What is the craziest thing (that you are aware of) that ever happened at Zoe?
Hearing about the “professor” exchanging water squirts with the bike riders, one unfortunate rest room incident and the rescue squad visit.

Q. What is your favorite Zoe event?
The Warehouse Sale. Seeing all of the other shop owners working hard to sell things at the Masonic Temple is a great idea. Everyone seems so excited before, during and after that event.

Q. Has Zoe changed Susan? If so, how?
Susan has found a new resource for friends and business contacts that she may not have been exposed to prior to opening Zoe. The designers, customer reps, vendors and customers all have touched Susan in one form or another. The “shop local” mantra is very important to Susan.

Q. What was one thing you didn’t know about retail that you’ve learned since Susan opened Zoe?
I had no clue about how the fashion world worked and remain amazed that the clothing designs must be purchased two seasons ahead.

Q. What do you think of when you see Zoe Pink?
The reusable Zoe shopping bag with the distinctive “Z” and Zoe girl logo.

Q. How do you feel about Susan closing the store?
I am sad but must remain realistic about the decision to close Zoe after Susan has invested so much time and effort in the store. Running a business and working a full time technology job is very demanding. I’m hoping Susan can enjoy some time to relax.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Saying Goodbye: Q&A with Christen

The wonderfully stylish Christen worked with Zoe for almost two years - first as the store's social media manager and then as an employee.  Today this delightful friend of Zoe (and Susan) shares her thoughts.

Q.Why did you want to come to work at/with Zoe?
Having cultivated a relationship with Susan and Zoe's employees after months of working with the team on Zoe's marketing efforts, it seemed a natural next step to work at Zoe too! I was already familiar with the product, and loved the store--for obvious reasons. It has meant so much to me to have been a part of Zoe and to tell her story.

Q. Favorite piece that you’ve ever seen in the store (and why)?
The Issa leaf-print silk dress/tunic is a truly remarkable piece. I am very pear-shaped and have to be very careful of what I wear when it comes to dresses. The dress is exquisite and incredibly flattering. It is bold but not in-your-face. Modern yet somehow classic too. It's a piece I will wear for many, many years to come.

Q. Favorite Zoe piece in your closet (and why)?
Oops. I just answered it. After several weeks of working in the store, I simply couldn't stand to leave the Issa dress behind one more time. So it came home with me...

Q. Craziest thing you ever had happen to you in the store.(or with Zoe’s social media)
I don't know if you would qualify this as "crazy," but while I worked at Zoe there was a man who always walked his two dogs just to Zoe's doorstep so that I could feed them treats. He always refused to come inside though and the dogs would wait outside until I noticed they were there. It was both sweet, and incredibly awkward at the same time!

Q. Favorite store event
I was only able to pop in briefly, but the last Katie Bartels trunk show was really great. It was fun to see the store filled with new Zoe shoppers and long time Katie fans. And her jewelry always brightens the day!

Q. What I love about Jim
I had only briefly met Jim once when I got a flat tire in Old Town a few blocks from the store. My husband came to rescue me, and after almost 30 minutes of trying to get the flat tire off the car, it still refused to budge. I recalled that Jim works on and restores cars and thought he might know what was going wrong. I called Susan and immediately Jim dropped everything to come and help us. As fate would have it, mere minutes before he arrived the tire finally popped off. I felt terrible for having bothered him for nothing, but will always remain grateful that a near-stranger was willing to help us.

Q. Favorite Susan quote
"Let me think about it." I love that Susan carefully thinks through everything thing she does. It has always made an impression on me, since I am very impulsive--for better or for worse.

Q. When I see Zoe pink, I think...
I helped Susan with Zoe's social media for a while, and will always think of trying to find relevant images for events and marketing purposes that included the just-right-shade of pink! For no other client did I have a color scheme to adhere to, but I always loved the finished product! Pink makes everything better.

Q. What you’ll miss most about the store.

This may seem self-evident, but I'll miss the shopping the most. For two years, I have shopped at Zoe consistently and my wardrobe is much more stylish for it! I'll miss knowing that I can always pop in, give Tara a hug and leave with a sartorial pick-me-up!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Saying Goodbye: Q&A with Anna (Zoe's Intern)

Students from the Fashion Retail Management program at the Art Institute used Zoe Boutique in developing a case study and recommendations for enhancements to the store's marketing strategy in the Fall of 2011. Anna was one of the students in the class and later asked through her professor if she could complete her internship requirement at Zoe. A wonderful partnership (that is now a wonderful friendship) was born! Anna shares her thoughts on Zoe in today's Q&A.

Q. Why did you want to come work at Zoe?

I had first learned about Zoe while completing a project for my Public Relations class. When I first met Susan she I was so inviting and knowledgeable. I knew that I wanted to learn more from her than what could taught during that project. As my final quarter of school approached I knew I needed to complete an internship. Susan was the first person that came to mind! I knew she would be able to teach me so much more than I could learn in a classroom!

Q. What is your favorite piece the you've ever seen in the store (and why)?

That's a tough one! I would have to say the Issa Kate Middleton dress. Once I saw it on a customer I fell in love, even more than seeing it on the soon-to-be Duchess! Everyone who tried on the dress looked great in it! Unfortunately as a college student at the time, it never made it to my closet!

Q. What is your favorite Zoe piece in your closet (and why)?

Technically in my jewelry box! My favorite purchase from Zoe would have to be my John Wind initial necklace. I had always admired the necklace in store, and finally purchased it after my wedding last year. Like any bride I was excited to show off my new last name, so I purchased my new last initial!

Q. Craziest thing you ever had happen to you in the store?

Definitely every now and again crazy things would happen in the store! I would have to say my favorite crazy experience was the unexpected wedding photo shoot being done across the street! It was so fun to be able to stand in Zoe and watch the bride smiling from ear to ear! It was one of the few good (crazy) experiences!

Q. Favorite store event?

My favorite event was helping Susan at her first warehouse sale! The event itself was not only great, but the prep work leading up to the event, and after when we came back to the store to tally the sales! It was such a fun experience, but it was also an amazing to go to New York and visit a couple show rooms, and meet a few of the designers on a quick buying trip!

Q. What you love about Jim?

Although I didn't meet Jim many times during the internship he was always smiling and seemed very supportive of Susan!

Q. Favorite Susan quote?

It's hard to pick just one! Susan was always so encouraging with all of my endeavors!

Q. When I see Zoe pink, I think...

Happiness...and my favorite color! Every day when I would walk in to Zoe I was always overwhelmed (in a good way!) with a flood of happiness! Susan created such an amazing shopping experience for customers but also created a great environment for her employees! I often wear "Zoe pink" and can't help but smile!

Q. What you'll miss most about the store?

Susan has kept me updated on the store since finishing my internship two years ago. One of the things I think I will miss the most is hearing about the stores new adventures, and plans for the future. Now Susan will be able to update me on all her new adventures, outside of Zoe!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Making a Difference

As you might imagine, my mind has been pretty full lately. Lots of things to think about relating to my day job.  Lots of things to think about relating to closing Zoe. Lots of things to think about that need done at home.  And lots of things to think about in regard to what comes next and how to fill the void that Zoe has filled for me these past 4+ years. I’ve searched for words to describe it (it seems I’m always searching for words these days) and “being at a crossroads” seems to fit every aspect of my life.

I made a quick stop at Zoe early on Wednesday morning on my way to work.  I had a couple of administrative things to take care of and I wanted to grab any trash and boxes from the back.  As is usual, Tara had put the mail that had come in on my desk.  Advertisement.  Advertisement.  Personal Letter from California.  Wait.  Personal Letter from California?  What’s this?  I know people in California but this address didn’t look familiar.

I was in a hurry but, hey, we get so few personal letters these days it warranted my time to open it.  Inside was a beautiful handwritten note from a young lady who had stumbled on Zoe’s blog when working on opening a store in Southern California.  As I read her words, I remembered corresponding with her a few times early on in Zoe’s infancy.  She had been interested in opening a store and had been so excited to find a blog that was honest, upfront, and unabashed in the descriptions of the joys and pitfalls of opening a bricks and mortar store.

She now has a store of her own. She was saddened to hear that Zoe was closing and wanted to let me know how much I had helped her. I won’t lie – the tears started flowing and they did not stop for 20 minutes.  Because if I had to sum it up in just a few words what I want to be remembered for in life, it is making a difference for someone else. When I started Zoe, I looked at it as that chance to truly make a difference in this world. That note spelled it out for me in black and white – I had made a difference for someone, somewhere with Zoe.

Lilly, I hope you are still reading Zoe’s blog. Thank you for making my day. And for making a difference for me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Saying Goodbye: A Q&A With Janice

Susan and Janice became fast friends through their husbands, who share a love of vintage BMWs.  Janice has done everything at Zoe from helping Susan find the beautiful German antique cash wrap desk to assembling Zoe's fixtures prior to opening to designing Zoe's windows to working as an employee in the store. Janice gives us her take on Zoe today:

Q.Why did you want to come to work at Zoe?
I wanted to experience the growth of a wonderful, small boutique in Old Town.

Q. Favorite piece that you've ever seen in the store (and why)
There were so many pieces that I loved that it’s impossible to pick just one.

Q. Favorite Zoe piece in your closet (and why)
I love all my pieces from Zoe.  They all have such nice memories attached to them.  But, if I had to pick one, it would be my Alice and Trixie tunic top.  I love the bright colors and the versatility of the piece.  It can be worn as a dress, a cover up or a tunic top over capris or tights.  I recently brought it on my trip to Kauai as it folds down to nothing, doesn’t wrinkle and was a beautiful, light and airy piece to wear.

Q. Craziest thing you ever had happen to you in the store.
A customer had selected several items to purchase and then asked if she could use the restroom.  We do not typically allow people into the office space behind the store but she seemed as if it were urgent so I allowed her to do so.  She came back to the cash desk, looked in her purse and said "My credit card is in the car - let me run out to get it."  She never came back.  What really had me worried was that I realized that Susan had left the store check book on her desk when she had stopped by the store early that morning.  I was worried that perhaps the woman had stolen a check and I called Susan right away.  Fortunately, everything was accounted for but the woman never came back.

Q. Favorite store event
I loved all the events.  The trunk shows were interesting as it was great to meet the designers.  One of my favorite events was joining Susan on a buying trip to NYC.  It was eye opening to see all the work that goes into buying the beautiful clothing that ended up on Zoe’s racks.

Q. What I love about Jim.
What isn’t there to love about Jim?  I admire his support and encouragement for Zoe.  Also, he obviously adores and is immensely proud of his wife- what a wonderful quality.

Q. Favorite Susan quote.
I admire Susan’s wise and thoughtful approach to everything she says.

Q. When I see Zoe pink, I think...
...of the elegant beautiful store that is Zoe.

Q. What you’ll miss most about the store.

I will miss the Zoe girls and the fact that it’s no longer there.  It was nice having that connection to Old Town.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What I’ll Love

Owning a business is truly a labor of love. And while it has brought me much happiness, there are a few things I won’t miss once Zoe closes on June 8, 2014 (and some things I’ll get to enjoy!).

1) Black Friday – I will now be snug in my bed on the morning of Black Friday.  I will look forward to seeing all of your purchases on social media and hearing about your adventures.  I will not be at my store at 5 am ensuring that the electricity is on and the internet is up and I can process credit cards.  I won’t be fretting “Will anyone come?” (They always came but store owners always worry that no one is going to come to their event).    I won’t worry about how long Thanksgiving dinner is taking because I really need to go to bed early.  But I still believe that Alexandria does a fantastic job of providing a great Black Friday experience in a way that is a benefit for the stores and the customer.  So if Black Friday is something you enjoy, you should put Alexandria on your list.

2) Worrying about the Weather – I look at the 7 day forecast, the 3 day forecast, the 1 day forecast and the hourly forecast.  Ask me and I can usually tell you that thunderstorms are predicted to start at 4 pm or that we’ll have cooler weather on Sunday.  Because weather is often key for a small business.  Rain or snow, too hot or too cold often means a dip in business.  Now, I’ll look at the weather forecast to ensure I’m dressed appropriately for the day!

3) Holidays with my Family – As many of you know, my precious family lives in Georgia.  I don’t get to see them very often and am thankful for phone calls, email, and FaceTime.  With Black Friday and Christmastime being so important to the business, I haven’t traveled during those times.   And it has been challenging to even go for a weekend at other times of the year.  While they are also sad to see me leave Zoe, they are already excited for my visits!

4) Bad Practices by Vendors – I will say that, for the most part, the vendors I deal with are honest, thoughtful, and straight-forward.  But those that aren’t can really be problematic.  They are in every industry but those bad apples in the fashion industry seem to take the most laissez faire attitude toward things.  They will decide not to make something because they didn’t get enough orders for it or ended up having problems in manufacturing with the design or material.  But they don’t tell you that they aren’t going to ship it.  And if you ordered that piece to go with something else and one ships and one doesn’t, you are going to have an outlier in your store.  Rather than tell you and give you the opportunity to change your order, they ship what they did make and THEN tell you they cancelled the other piece.  And you have no leverage to make them make that skirt!

5) Anonymity -  I have loved getting to know people through the store.  My customers, my employees, my fellow store owners and small business proprietors are precious to me.  But I didn’t realize how much people would want to know me.  I’m a pretty private person.  I don’t do much that is interesting or exciting.  I’ll admit it has sometimes been hard to put myself out there.  I’m looking forward to going back to a quieter life.

Ah, but the lessons I’ve learned….look forward to that post in the next week as well as continuing perspective on life at Zoe from those who have been part of the journey!