Friday, December 31, 2010

Moses and Me

Toward the end of November, I read a devotional that I've continued to go back to weekly.  The tagline was "You can't change the past, but you'll ruin the present by worrying about the future."  The focus that day was on Moses, his awareness of his own weaknesses and his fears regarding what the Lord was asking him to do.  God asks Moses to look at what he has before him and how he could trust God to use those things (Exodus 4:1 - 5).

While I'm not destined to do any great things like Moses, he and I do share the same challenges of fear and uncertainty holding us back at times.  Like Moses, I often knew what God was telling me to do but would say "No, not really.  I'm not capable.  This isn't going to work.  Think about all that can go wrong."  I would wish for a "burning bush" to show me what I should do when He was telling me the whole time (I just wasn't listening or trusting!)

As I look back over the year, I'm thankful that I started listening to God and trusting in Him more.  I would never be looking at the joys and fun and excitement of opening my own business had I continued to resist His guidance and direction.  Now that I look back, I had LOTS of burning bushes (I'm surprised my hair wasn't on fire!) but I kept refusing to see them.  And, ever since I stepped out with that trust, I've found that just about weekly, I had to say "OK, I trust you, God, to show me how I'm going to get through this or how this is going to work.  I know there's something in here you want me to know!"

It has been an amazing year.  And I'm thankful for all of you who have joined me along the way, loved me, believed in me, and encouraged me.  Here comes Zoe!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Alexandria's Old World Charm

I had to share this great article on Alexandria from the Virginia Business website today. In addition to Old Town being close to my home, these are many of the reasons that I wanted to locate Zoe there!

Virginia Business - News: Old World Charm keeps tourists and workers flocking to Alexandria

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lessons Learned

Today, I am finally feeling better after being sick for the last two weeks.  It has definitely been a lesson to me to consider how I will handle the store if I am sick like this in the future.

When I first got sick, it felt like a garden variety cold.  Sore throat, runny nose, blah feeling.  Definitely not something that I'd want to share with my customers!  When I didn't get well after 5 - 7 days, started coughing and had horrible sinus headaches, I knew I was in for it.  Having spent the better part of the last two days in bed, I would not be going to the store to open Zoe if she were open for business.  And just imagine - this time of year (the week prior to Christmas and the week after) can be some very important periods for the store!  Not a time to be closed!

It really impresses upon me the need to have good, dependable people to work with me in the store.  Two friends have already said that they would like to do so, which makes me SO happy!   Not only for periods of illness (which I hope are few and far between) but also when I need to go to an appointment or take care of an errand that can only be done during the day.  Knowing that I have people who work the store regularly, know our merchandise, our policies and our customers will give me much needed relief.

On another note, I'm waiting for the estimates for my buildout.  They were to have come in yesterday but have not yet arrived.  A follow-up has been done with the Project Manager.  I'm very eager to see the numbers.  I don't think anything yet has happened quite at Susan speed!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Almost Christmas

...but that doesn't stop Zoe!  Fortunately, everyone feels the sense of urgency and is continuing to work on getting Zoe going!

Over the last two days, I've received the remainder of the web designs from Web Designer Mark.  Excellent work, as usual.  With just a couple of comments/changes from me, they are ready for Web Development!

I got a call today from one of my wholesalers to let me know that one item from my Tracy Reese order had been cancelled.  The company decided not to make that item so I'll look at the linesheets and make a new selection!

My buildout plans have been submitted for permit.  And the landlord's architect weighed in with only comments, no changes.  This is very good news all the way around!  And, my real estate friends will especially appreciate this...I already have my first lease amendment!

I got to share Zoe bags with my mother-in-law, mother and sister-in-law!  They are so excited!  I can't wait for 2011 to get here!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Zoe's Reusable Bags

...are here!  They arrived on a full size tractor trailer (thank goodness they did not fill the tractor trailer) this morning!  They look beautiful, just as the proof did!  I am really excited to share these with my customers, as we will not only be helping the environment, but each time my customers return with the Zoe bag, they will be eligible for a discount on their total purchase!  Everyone wins!

They are now happily at home in our Family Room:

Also today, my landlord forwarded me an email from the owner of the Christmas Attic.  She was inviting all Union Street businesses to be involved in the upcoming Christmas in July program.  Here is link to the 1st Annual event, held just this year!  I contacted the coordinator and let her know I would be in business in the first quarter of 2011 and would love to participate in the July event.  She wrote back and confirmed they would love to have me!  How exciting!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Design Documents and More

On Friday morning, I received the full package of architectural design documents for Zoe's space!  These were promptly sent off to my landlord for review (for their portion of the buildout) and to the construction company for estimating work.  I can't wait to hear from everyone regarding the next steps so we can hopefully get going ASAP!

In a brief burst of energy on Friday, I updated my accounting software with my most recent activity and well as started working again on my Point of Sale software set up.  When I sat down to log in to the Point of Sale, I realized I had forgotten my password.  Fortunately, they have an "override" feature which gives you a code.  You can use that code to make a call to the software company so that they can provide you a temporary password to get into the software so that you can fix your password issue.  So, already, I am on their bad user list.  And yes, every IT department has one.

Once I got over my shame of being on the bad user list, I continued my set-up by completing my vendor set-ups and Category Card set-up.  I also "received" the second PO that we had entered last week for the Immediates that I had purchased back in October.  I have lots of additional PO work to do in the next few weeks!

I got an email from my Account Rep at Velvet by Graham and Spencer with the catalogue for the Summer line!  Oh, what fun it was to look at that and imagine what I'd like to have in-store!  They have the most amazing tops in gorgeous colors with the most stylish takes on them.  Just wearing one of their tops immediately jazzes up anything else you are wearing!

For my techie friends, we've decided to go with Wordpress for the Zoe website official blog.  More to come on the development process!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Experimenting with E-mail Marketing

I've been feeling under the weather the past couple days so I decided to focus my non-energetic self on testing my Constant Contact account under the 60 day trial.  I had twelve friends who had originally told me that they would be happy to be testers.  (A special thumbs up to my male friends who volunteered - I feel the love!)

The Constant Contract program is very easy to use (even a caveman could do it!)  You log in to a dashboard that allows you to build all aspects of your communication.  The first thing I did last week was to set up things like the Organization Name, logo, email address and phone number.  These are all important because they will appear in various sections of the email.  You also set up signature information, who the email will come from, and options for updating your information and opting out.

The next step involves contact set-up.  You can create several different "Lists" and add as many contacts as desired to each list.  You can also add the same contact to multiple lists.  Right now, the only List I have is a General Information list.  However, if I wanted to, I could have a "locals" list who would get emails about local events and sales, an "out of town" list that might get emails less frequently or only get emails about online (when I get there) sales/events.  If I ever have a loyalty program, perhaps there would be a loyalty program members list....the possibilities are endless.

Setting up contacts is very simple.  If you already had a large list, the program enables you to import the list.  Since my list was very small, I was able to type everything in easily.  The only required field is email address.  I have also added first and last name.  If desired, I could add custom fields, notes, phone numbers, mailing addresses.  Pretty much anything you could imagine.

I also have the ability to track my contacts - how many new did I add in what month?  Did I remove any?  Did anyone opt out?  All interesting and important things to know.

Creating an email can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.  You can name the email (something meaningful to you - the people receiving it do not see the name) and then begin setting it up!  You can also copy a previously created email or edit it at any time.

You do need to define a Subject Line for each email as well as "who" it is from (in this case, Zoe Boutique).  You also define a From email address and a Reply to email address.  You have the ability to provide a link to a web page version of the email as well as the ability for the person to forward that email to a friend.

The program comes with a number of pre-defined templates or you can create your own.  For test number one, I chose one of their templates and added the Zoe logo and some customized text.  I did not play with it on the first test, but there is significant flexibility in the fonts, background colors and outlines available.  You also have the ability to add or delete "blocks" of information from the mailing.  I'll be testing all of these in future tests.

Once you are ready to send the email, you can chose which list(s) you'd like to have receive it.  You have the ability to send a draft to yourself and 4 other people if you choose (I did the draft to myself prior to sending the test to my larger group).  You may also send it Now or schedule it for a later date/time.  I sent it Now as part of the first test.  You also have the ability to "Tweet" the email and to add Social Networking links to the email.  And off it goes!

From a reporting standpoint, I can then see how many people (and who!) opened it as well as how many bounced, how many chose to opt-out, how many clicked on a link in the email and how many forwarded it to someone else.  I can also (as I get more emails/data) do comparative measuring for my overall success rate as well as success in the past three months.

Also very cool - I had three people let me know yesterday that they wanted to be part of the trial after I had sent the original email.  I was then able to add them to my contact list and send the mail ONLY to them.

I'm looking forward to learning more about the program and continuing my testing!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Gifts

Today, Jim was sharing information with me on the different cards and gifts they were receiving at work from their vendors.  Of course, many of the gifts are food related and are delicious (and addictive!)  He asked "Do you think you'll get anything from any of your vendors?"  I reminded him that this was the fashion industry and, if I'm lucky, I might get a stalk of celery!  No yummy tins of cookies. :(

I completed the review of the architect's design this afternoon and provided him with one question and a few comments/clarifications.  Thank goodness for the internet!  Some of the symbols used to represent things on the drawings were new to me and I had to look them up to be sure I understood what I was seeing!

I also received my paint chips today from Dunn-Edwards in California.  They look even prettier than they did on the website when I was doing the design.  And now, time for a confession.  I found the color that I wanted in a People Magazine Extra that I received in October called "Stars At Home!"  The color "Primitive Plum" was used to paint Audrina Patridge's bedroom.  So, if you are a "The Hills" fan, you'll be thrilled!  (Many of you know my opinion of reality TV....)

Tomorrow I hope to do my first Constant Contact test!  Watch your inboxes!

Monday, December 13, 2010


When Jim and I arrived home from seeing a movie on Saturday evening, there were two boxes on our front steps.  They were addressed to me but I could not imagine what they were - I had finished my Christmas shopping and wasn't expecting any other packages.  I was shocked and delighted to find that they were the flooring samples that I had ordered on Thursday evening!  I had not imagined they would arrive this quickly!

They are all very nice but I have selected a Mediterranean Kempas as the floor coving for Zoe.  Based on this information and other feedback I provided to my architect over the weekend, I have a set of plans for Zoe to review that can then be sent for quotation and permitting!  Oh, finally!

Thanks also to all of you who have agreed to help me test my email marketing!  I should be sending the first communication this week!

Lots of follow-up work to do this week to make sure we don't lose any momentum going into the holidays!

Friday, December 10, 2010


Most of you know that I am an early morning person.  I like nothing better than to accomplish the big things in my day first thing in the morning and I've approached my work on Zoe in a similar manner.

After breakfast and seeing Jim off to work, I sat down to finalize and summarize my homework for Web Developer Phil.  Immediately following, I finalized my homework for my architect.  By sending them this information early, they have what they need from me to get started right away.  (and, as most of you know, I expect everyone to share my sense of urgency!  Doesn't always happen but I can hope!)

Of course, around lunchtime, I found out that I needed to send a fax.  Doggone it.  Off I go in the cold to my friendly Staples.  No one guarding the fax machine this time.  A word to businesses - please develop online forms or accept scanned versions of documents.  Let's put the fax to bed.

In the mail this afternoon, I received confirmation from the State Corporation Commission for my Assumed or Fictitious Name Certificate.  One more business-related step out of the way!

My architect has sent me some base design drawings for review based on my homework responses and our meeting yesterday!  Lots of good things to review over the weekend!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Busy, Busy, Busy, Busy Day

And I enjoy it that way (especially when I am controlling the busy!)

The morning started with me heads down on my homework for web developer Phil.  I have finished all but one item and should be able to finish it up in the morning to meet that deadline.  As part of my preparation for the site, I also set up a Twitter Account for the store (for those who enjoy Twitter, it is @ShopAtZoe)
I am also taking advantage of the 60 day trial for Constant Contact's email marketing program.  I'll be doing some testing, so if you are interested in being a guinea pig, let me know!

One thing I liked about Constant Contact is that, after signing up for the trial, I was assigned an account representative who will help me with anything I need as I am learning how to use the product and testing it.  She called and was very nice and helpful.  More companies should consider doing this - it makes the likelihood that a trial user will become a paying customer.

By the time I finished my homework, it was almost time for the consultant to arrive to begin the POS*IM implementation.  I had set up the iMac at the dining room table earlier in the week, had gathered all of my vendor files containing my orders, and my two boxes (so far) of products.  The set-up process did not take long at all and we set the machine up as the server in case I add further workstations in the future.  As with any system, we had to set up the backbone first prior to entering detailed data.  So, of course, it meant setting up vendors!  (Address Book, for all my ERP friends out there)

One of the things I really liked about the consultant is that he was able to ask good questions about my future plans (especially regarding eCommerce) so that we set up the system in such a way that we were optimizing for the eventual online shop.  Also, he showed me how one field in one section could then be used to print or report in another section.  And, of course, the fun and delightful category codes!

We followed the vendor set-up with Category Cards, Item Cards, and Purchase Order Entry.  He also set up and configured the label maker and we printed some labels as well as installing the bar code reader.  Our poor dining room.  If you feel slighted that we haven't had you over, there is a reason for it.  At least half the table is now Zoe things!

Being the nitpicker that I am, I noticed something wrong with an inquiry screen and one of the reports.  He called it in right away.  Please don't tell him yet what he's dealing with.

After a late lunch, I headed off to Zoe's home to meet the architect and work on the decisions for finishes for the space, storage area, dressing rooms, lighting, flooring and decor.  He also took a significant number of dimensions that will help with my display planning.  We spent about an hour working on these items and then I came home and continued my homework for him!  I have to admit, I love standing in the space and looking out those windows, watching all the activity in the street!

And, I'm already starting to think about the next Market (there is one in NYC called Intermezzo in January and of course the Atlanta market in early February)!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Web Site Launch Scheduled

In my initial discussions with Web Developer Phil today, we have selected the week of February 6th for the launch of Zoe's website!  I love having a firm timeframe - it gives me something to really look forward to!

Earlier in the week, Web Designer Mark had sent me the designs for the blog page and the individual entry/comments page for the site.  While I have used this blog site as more of a "project blog" to share the happenings with planning the boutique, I'll have a blog on the website that will be more store/fashion focused.  I may continue to post to this site regarding my experiences as a small business owner but will keep the two purposes separate.

Phil and I had a very productive Skype chat and I was able to answer many of his questions.  I do have some homework that I've promised to complete prior to Friday morning!  But all enjoyable homework (how often does that happen?)  He seemed glad that I had a technology background - it definitely made our communications much easier!  We also share the same horror over sites that are NEVER updated.  So, we have bonded!

I got word from RTR that the Zoe Bags should clear customs next week and be on the way to our house.  Now the challenge is going to be where to store 30 cartons of bags.  The house is about to get a lot more crowded!

I was able to easily set up my iMac yesterday and am ready to go for the Point of Sale installation and implementation start tomorrow morning.  I'm sure I'll have lots more to report regarding that project tomorrow.  And, tomorrow afternoon I am meeting my architect at the space to hopefully finalize the design elements of the space so we can submit plans for quote and approval.  Right now, we are hoping for build out to be complete by January 31, 2011.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Learning about ADA

On Saturday morning, Jim and I took a quick trip to Zoe's home to take some more measurements needed for the signage company.  We went early because we knew that the Scottish Christmas Walk was scheduled to start that morning in Alexandria.  Traffic gets crazy because the streets are blocked off and thousands of people come out to see the parade.  Even as early as we went, we saw several men in their kilts walking to the parade start location.  I'm so excited that I will be down there next year for the event!

This morning, I was back at City Hall to discuss ADA regulations for my space.  Although this is an area (for the most part) of responsibility for the landlord, I also have some things that I need to do to make sure I comply.  Building Plans Examiner Ken sat down with me and walked me through the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) document on Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.  I learned all about the requirements for restrooms, drinking fountains, sales/service counters, dressing rooms, and general space access.  Zoe's home falls under a category called Mercantile.  He was also kind enough to make me copies of the relevant passages so that I could refer to them easily when making decisions on my cash wrap area and dressing rooms.  Once again, a HUGE thumbs up to the City of Alexandria and their employees.  Every person I have dealt with has been kind, professional, and accommodating.

After I finished up at City Hall, I went to the Apple Store to purchase the iMac that I need for my Point of Sale software.  As a business owner, they have me work with Apple's Business Team to make my purchases and ensure that I have everything I need to be successful.  The store (nor the mall - Fashion Centre at Pentagon City) was not as busy as I thought it would be at 11 am.

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Design and Back to the Techie World

Tonight I am blogging while listening to Diana Krall's beautiful Christmas album.  Wouldn't it be interesting if our lives had a soundtrack?  I can only imagine what mine would sound like!  Oh well, that is a discussion for another blog.  I love music!

This morning I had some preliminary sketches of Zoe's space from my architect as well as two pictures he took while we were at the space yesterday.

We had just been outside to look at the contents behind the barn doors at street level.

This is a view from inside the space looking at Union and Prince Streets

I am so in love with the amount of light that comes through those windows.  I thrive in naturally lit space.  While we can't light all of Zoe with the windows, I will have a wonderful view to the outside world.

In looking at my layout, I have gone back to my architect for more information on the dimensions so that I can sketch in my design and also begin ordering my fixtures.  I also did a little research this afternoon to confirm whether or not I need certain fixtures (by law) in the space.  I will also share this information with him.

On the techie side, I have become a Skype person.  Since my web developer is in British Columbia, we determined that our best option to keep costs affordable for the international calls would be to use Skype.  I now have an account and have it set up on my laptop and cellphone.  It's going to be a nice thing, just one of those things I never needed until now!

Also, I signed off on the proposal for my point of sale software and we begin configuration next Thursday.  I am very excited about getting this started.  The timing is good as the consultant does a lot of inventory work with clients in January so getting it set up now is a plus for both of us.  This is techie work I don't mind doing at all!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Designing the Space

This morning, I met my architect, buildout manager, and representatives from  Rand Construction Company to begin discussions on the design and buildout of Zoe's home.  At one point, there were seven men and me in the meeting.  I thought I was back in an IT meeting (ha!)

Rand Construction is currently contracted to perform the buildout of my landlord's space and provide the vanilla shell of my space.  With their knowledge of the space and team already onsite, we hope to utilize them in the buildout of Zoe's space as well.

I was the first to arrive at the space.  I let myself in and looked around to see if anything had happened since I was there last Wednesday.  When I walked back to the area that is to be my office, I set off the motion detector security system.  It sounded like a car alarm going off!  Fortunately, the Construction Superintendent disarmed it (the panel is in the landlord's space) and followed up with the landlord to make sure it is disconnected permanently!

After everyone arrived, we did a brief walkthrough of the space and discussed some changes to the restroom that the landlord is installing for me.  We discussed the items that will be demolished and also some alternatives.  In looking at a bump "in" within the space, we all realized that we did not know what was behind it.  We went outside and opened one of the brown barn doors beneath Zoe's home to find some brightly lit signs that had belonged to the museum!  The good news is, those can come out and we can reclaim the bump "in" space within the store.

After the Rand team departed, my architect and buildout manager and I discussed specifics of the space - where will my cash wrap be located, how many dressing rooms I want and where.  I explained to them the hazards of blind areas in the space - it would be a haven for shoplifters.  I have a vision for the layout and "flow" of the store that seems as though it will work nicely with what is available to us.

After I returned home, I focused on paint colors.  I love deep, vibrant colors and am especially drawn (for Zoe) to Plum.  I found a color I love called Primitive Plum by paint company Dunn Edwards.  As compliments, they recommend a color called Whisper for Trim and Clouded Vision for an Accent paint.  Their website allows you to apply the design to a room of your choice and I used one of their living room options.  It was gorgeous and had the affect that I wanted!  I sent it to my architect so that he could see my paint color palate.  This will also be a nice compliment to the vibrant pink in the log and the different colors in Zoe Girl.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


As I prepared my file to meet with the team at Affordable Signs this afternoon, I had not realized that my original meeting and quote from them dated back to June 28th!  In many ways, it just hadn't seemed that long ago!

I took a copy of the quote with me, as well as the Historic District Signage requirements and pictures of the logo.  I was able to meet with Carrie, the same young lady who had taken care of me in June.  We talked not only about the exterior signage but also about a banner that I can hang inside the windows to announce that Zoe will be opening next year.  (I'll have to check the City regulations on that also).

I have several "to do" items following out meeting - confirm the window dimensions (for the interior "Coming soon" sign), provide a graphic of the logo (easy to do - Cori has already provided me with all that I need), the amount of frontage on the store (this will dictate some aspects of the size of the signage) and the space available for on-building lettering (and the size of the letters currently there).  After speaking with my architect, we can confirm these numbers on Thursday when we meet.

On my way home from Affordable Signs, my route took me past the first space on N. Henry Street that I had offered a Letter of Intent.  If you remember from that August timeframe, I lost out on the space because a day care center in lease negotiations for the space needed my space in order to have the required amounts of space for food prep and admin per the requirements of the Commonwealth.  I was really surprised to see both spaces still for Lease - either those lease negotiations are going on longer than mine did or the deal has fallen through.  Although I liked the space, I think I am happier with Zoe's new home!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Picking Up Steam

Oh, how exciting it is to type those words in the title!  On Thursday of this week, I will be meeting with my buildout manager and architect at Zoe's home to finalize our plans for the space.  They have some ideas also on some of the things outlined in the vanilla shell portion of the landlord's work that will be advantageous from a space standpoint.

I have also been in touch with Web Designer Mark to give him the thumbs up on the Home Page design.  He will be continuing with the interior page designs as well as providing my introduction to the Web Developer.  I can't wait for Zoe to start living in her on-line home as well!

Tomorrow, I'm planning to visit Affordable Signs in Del Ray to review the quote they provided me over the summer, talk about Old Town's signage requirements and move forward with the sign order.  I am not sure how long it takes to produce the sign and want to make sure we get that process moving as well.

Many thanks to all of you who have been so excited about Zoe's new home - it was a long wait but, I believe, well worth it!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jim's First Visit to Zoe's New Home

We are not superstitious people.  But Jim had decided that he did not want to see where Zoe would be located until the lease was signed.  He had gotten his hopes up as high as I did when I had lost out on the other spaces and I think he felt if he didn't see it, he wouldn't be as disappointed.

This morning, I wanted to go to Old Town to see what kind of traffic was resulting from their Black Friday promotions.  The City of Alexandria had made parking free at all city garages (we took advantage of this!) and the members of the Old Town Boutique District had a number of creative sales in progress.  I ask Jim to come with me so that he could finally see Zoe's home.

I was thrilled to see that the listing agents had put big "Leased" signs on their For Rent signs!  It really made it feel official!

Jim loved the location and the space!  He hasn't stopped talking about it today!

I saw several people with shopping bags from various stores and my "across the street" neighbor, The Christmas Attic", seemed busy.  I'm hoping to see more traffic tomorrow for Small Business Saturday, sponsored by American Express.   If you are an American Express Card Holder, you're eligible to earn a $25 statement credit on any purchase of at least $25 on Small Business Saturday at any locally owned independent small businesses that accept American Express.  You can redeem this offer by registering your American Express Cards at

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Did Zoe Move Already?

Ha ha - more on that title in a moment...

This morning, I started early.  It was time to attack the to-do list that had been WAITING for Zoe's lease to be signed.  First, I contacted my buildout manager and my architect to share a copy of the lease as well as the drawing for some work that the landlord will be performing as part of the buildout.  I also followed up with my landlord to provide him with the additional contact information he requested on Tuesday.

Then, I went to Virginia's Business OneStop website to print out a copy of the Certificate of Assumed or Fictitious Name form.  This form is required because I am doing business as Zoe Boutique but my LLC is under a different name.  The form is filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court for the City of Alexandria and then the certified copy is sent to the State Corporation Commission in Richmond.

By shortly after 9, I was heading through the metal detector at the Courthouse and off to the Clerk's office. With the Thanksgiving holiday almost upon us, there were not many people requiring services and I was seen immediately.  The young woman was very helpful and I had my certified form and was on the way to Alexandria City Hall!

The City of Alexandria has a Permit Center in City Hall where much of the rest of the registration process takes place.  I filled out a Zoning Approval form along with a Business License Application and a Federal W-9 form.  Before I go any further, I want to note that everyone I dealt with was pleasant and helpful.  It made what I thought was going to be a stressful process very easy!

During the discussion with the Urban Planner on the Zoning Approval, she told me that the address of One Prince Street - Retail was not acceptable from a 911/Fire/Safety standpoint.  Since my space is at the corner of Prince and Union, she has now assigned Zoe a new home address of 130 South Union Street!  This information will be updated in their citywide database system tonight and notification will be sent to the various agencies and people who need to know.  So, a little surprise but certainly not a problem.  The Zoning Approval process is complete.

Zoe has also been assigned a Business License number and should receive the papers for it within the next two weeks.  The Permit Center then sent me to the Signage Office (two floors down in City Hall) where the Urban Planner reviewed documentation on the Criteria & Standards for Administrative Approval of Signs within the Historic Districts.  She had some great GIS software that showed multiple views of the site and we discussed the options and the requirements.  She believes that Zoe's signage will only require administrative approval rather than have to go through a public hearing process.  Once again, she was another kind and professional person!

When I finished up at City Hall, I walked the few blocks to Zoe's Home!  Knowing that there had been some discussion about the alarm system for the space as well as knowing that the GC for the landlord was in the process of building out the office space, I went into the office building and introduced myself to the Superintendent for the GC.  He confirmed that it was "safe" to go into my space and no alarms would be triggered.  So, for the first time, I turned the keys in the locks and opened the door to Zoe's Home.  What a wonderful feeling!

I was delighted to find that the work that I had requested the landlord perform on the space had already begun - the carpet had been pulled up, a non-load bearing wall had been taken down, and the dehumidifier required by the previous museum occupant had been removed and was waiting to be transported out the door.  After walking around a bit inside, I locked the doors and headed home.

After arriving home, I immediately contacted my landlord to let him know about the space address change (he will be notified by the City but I wanted him to know in advance) as well as thank him for the work already started in the space.  I also updated my buildout manager and architect with the new information as well as contacted my accountant to let him know the lease had been signed.

A very busy, productive and fulfilling day with Zoe!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Zoe Has A Home

After what seems like a VERY long time, I am very happy to announce that Zoe has a home!  This afternoon, I signed the lease for space at One Prince Street, Alexandria, Virginia!  For those familiar with Alexandria, it is at the corner of Prince and Union Streets in the Old Town section.  It is located across from the Christmas Attic and the Union Street Public House and a couple blocks from the Torpedo Factory.

We met in the landlord's current office (they are moving into the office building behind my retail space) and I had my first opportunity to meet the CEO and CFO.  They were very gracious and welcoming and seemed genuine in their enthusiasm to have me as their tenant.  They now have my security deposit and I now have a key to the space!

As part of the lease, there are certain things that the landlord needs to do to the space to prepare it for me to do Zoe's buildout.  They will begin this process ASAP.  My architect will begin his design of the space for my buildout with hopes to be done in the February/March 2011 timeframe.

There are so many things that I can do now that I have confirmation of Zoe's home.  I can't wait to get started on Wednesday morning!  This good news today just adds to my Thanksgiving blessings!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Zoe's Home Page Design

Web Designer Mark always sends me design-related items a few minutes prior to our phone conferences so that I can have an opportunity to develop some quick first impressions before he formally presents the design to me.

Knowing we had a call at 8:30 this evening, I had logged into my "work" email early and I was waiting for the email.  It arrived about ten minutes before our call - right on schedule.  I was DELIGHTED when I saw his design for the home page and decided to get Jim's reaction.  (He was sitting across from me, also on his laptop).  When I spun my laptop around and said "Hey, look at this!" he audibly gasped!!  He thought Zoe's home page looked beautiful.  So did I.

Mark and I had a twenty minute conversation where he reviewed what he had done with me and gave me time to make comments and ask questions.  As usual, I'll review for a day or so and provide him with my feedback via email.  I love that he has not only captured everything I've said to him about my vision for the store/site but also that he has been faithful to incorporating the branding, logo, and Zoe Girl throughout.   I also like that he doesn't want to make Zoe Girl a pre-packaged clone of every other website out there.  He understand my desire for clear, clean, yet unique.

Tomorrow:  Might there possibly be good news on the lease?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Are You Ever Going to Open?

I have recently been very busy finalizing plans for and then celebrating Jim's parent's 50th wedding anniversary!  It was a wonderful thing to not be working full time so that I could really focus on doing everything to make the event wonderful!

But fun continued with Zoe as well!  I received 3 other hat boxes that I had purchased for decor and have enjoyed looking at them and considering their possibilities.  I have one left to receive from California.

On Friday evening, just as I had returned home from decorating the venue for the party, I got a call from my broker to let me know that the landlord is ready to sign the lease and I should receive a signed lease from them on Monday.  We have one area that they have not yet received clarification on that will likely require us to do an amendment to the lease.  I am willing to sign so that they can get started on their portion of the buildout.  I hope to be reporting great news this week!

It has been a great deal of fun to see the different marketing strategies for small local businesses as the Christmas holiday season approaches.  Although I am NOT a Black Friday shopper (I do most of my shopping pre-Thanksgiving or online), I may go to some of my sister boutiques in Alexandria on Friday to see the level of crowds and activities.

Tomorrow evening, web designer Mark and I will be reviewing his design of my home page.  I am so excited to see what he has done with my comments following the mood board review/selection.

As you can imagine, I got LOTS of questions about Zoe during the party.  I know that people wonder why it has taken me 6 months to get this far!  Except for what I've felt were longer than I'd like delays with the leasing process, I've felt the timing has been just right.  I hope I still feel this way when I open in Spring 2011!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Final? Or Not Final?

Yesterday, I had decided to ratchet up the pressure on getting the leasing process moving again.  Although I'm trying so very hard to be patient, I've reached the limit (and oh, have I been having to try so hard to be patient - surely that counts for something!)

Before I left for my exercise class this morning, my broker had sent me an email to say that he expected an update this afternoon.  That was fine - I had decided I'd take my class, come home for a shower, eat lunch and then embark on my mission.  When I checked my email after the shower, there was a revised copy of the lease!  (What I hope is the FINAL copy of the lease).

I reviewed it this afternoon and sent a copy to my attorney for his review.  I am happy with the content and noticed only a couple minor typographical errors.  I would be VERY HAPPY if we could get it signed this week.

In the meantime, I also stumbled across a new website (from Google) at  If you choose to set up an ID/boutique, the site runs you through a series of questions - likes and dislikes for styles, colors, and silhouettes of clothing types.  It also asks about designers that you like and don't like.  Based on all of this information, it categorizes you in a distinct "style" and then presents clothing, shoes, and bags for your review.

Now, the point of the site is to try to get you to buy the items in places in your boutique.  You have the opportunity to like and dislike the items so that the site can continue to determine items that match your personal style.  I find it fun to see what they come up with, how much of it I like, and then consider my wardrobe and how it matches up (or can be enhanced).  They do include two of Zoe's designers - Tracey Reese and Rebecca Taylor.  If you do try it, let me know what style category you are in - I was Classic (not a big surprise).

Hopefully more happy news on the lease tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Design, Etc.

Today, the postman rang my doorbell and delivered the first of my hat boxes to me!  This is The Hecht Co. hat box and also included 4 vintage hats that I will also use for decorating.

This morning, I visited a friend of mine in Dunn Loring.  She lives in a house built in the 1800s along the WO&D Trail.  It was once a store along the railroad that ran where the trail does now.  She is an expert with paints and has been slowly and carefully restoring her home.  I knew she would have good advice on paint colors and types.  She introduced me to an English paint company called Farrow & Ball.  While I may not be able to afford their paints, looking at their website gave me all sort of ideas for paint combinations!  Once again, it is important that the decor compliment the clothing, not distract from it.

She knows that I write the blog about Zoe but prefers to get her updates "in person".   She knows that I consider Zoe my "child".  As I was sharing all of the accomplishments (and frustrations) with her, she laughed and said "You sound like a pregnant woman who is ready to give birth!  You are done being pregnant!"  Then she went on to talk about how I would have behaved had I ever actually been pregnant - probably trying to boss the Ob/Gyn around and nitpicking every detail.  She really had me laughing - I fear she knows me too well!

I got a very nice gift on Saturday evening from neighbor Charlie (a CIO at a credit union in Alexandria). He gave me some computer networking equipment for the store.  I offered to pay him but he said he wanted to support what I was doing and he would be really happy if I could use it!  I feel so fortunate that all of my neighbors have been so excited and supportive of my new adventure!

Tomorrow:  Does Zoe visit the City of Alexandria offices?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hunting for Hat Boxes

I've had a lot to think about since my shopping extravaganza for Zoe on Friday.  One of the things that appealed to me in looking at all of the decorating ideas was the use of hat boxes for decor.  I have some vintage purses I plan to use as well as a couple pairs of long gloves.  I'm also looking for some unique shoes but found myself very drawn to the concept of hat boxes.

You may remember a much earlier post about my department store shopping experiences.  What if I could find hat boxes from regional department stores that are now defunct to decorate the store?  First, I wanted to focus on the DC Region - I found a Woodward and Lothrop and Hecht Company hatboxes on Etsy.  What else did I want?  I knew I wanted Marshall Fields (Chicago) and found it on eBay.  And then I went back to Etsy and found Bonwit Teller.  But then I started to struggle - what were some of the places we had visited over the years?  Fortunately, there was a Wikipedia article on that very topic.

I've made a list of others to focus on, including Richmond institutions Thalhimers and Miller & Rhoads as well as DC's Garfinckels, San Francisco's I. Magnin, Cincinnati's Pogue Company and Atlanta's Rich's.  I'm very excited for the ones I've purchased to start arriving!

No new news on the lease today - an email from my broker saying he is still pressing them for the new draft of the lease with the final buildout and square footage information in it.  I paid my attorney today for his work in October and did some more updating/configuration in the accounting software.  I'm so excited to move forward I can hardly stand it!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Shopping for Zoe

This morning, my friend Janice and I headed out to Leesburg, VA to visit Old Lucketts Store and other antique offerings in the area.  The purpose was to find items that I might use in decorating Zoe's interior space.  Janice is the antiquing expert and was the perfect person to guide me on this journey!

We arrived at Old Lucketts Store shortly after they opened at 10 am.  We started first by exploring the outside "sheds" and then moved into the main house.  When we first walked in, we were looking at the beautiful displays everywhere when Janice pointed out how they had used an old mirror frame to help create a centerpiece.  When I looked closer at the centerpiece design, I realized that the bowl making up part of it was exactly what I had in mind for one of the pieces at the store!  We immediately disassembled the centerpiece and took the bowl to the counter for safe-keeping!

We encountered room after room and floor after floor (there are 3 floors in the main house) of beautiful displays and items.  Even if the items weren't what I was looking for, I got so many great ideas!  I also found a small shoe ornament and a vintage purse that I also purchased there.

We walked across the highway to another antique store that has a significant amount of iron items.  When I went into the store itself, I was immediately taken with two gorgeous metalwork mannequin forms.  While they are not a full size that I would use to show clothing, they will be a beautiful way to show accessories.  Each one has delicate metal flowers worked into the design.  After some creative seat moving and maneuvering, we were able to get both mannequin forms in the back seat of my car.

All this shopping made up hungry so we made the quick drive to downtown Leesburg to replenish our strength at a delicious restaurant called Lightfoot.  Lightfoot Restaurant occupies space that used to be a bank and they have left much of the old marble, wood, and architecture intact.

Our strength renewed, we moved the car from their parking lot to a nearby parking garage and restarted our shopping.  We looked in a number of antique stores (like the trip to market, it begins to become almost overwhelming at times!)  I saw a beautiful armoire at one store that I really, really liked.  I need to sleep on it to consider if it would be a good fit in the store.  (Believe me, it was not going to fit in my car!)  At the price and in its condition, I fear it won't last long there!

Tired but happy that we'd had a successful day, we trekked back to Alexandria.  Now my mind is exploding with ideas...if I only had a space to put them in!  Of course, I have to provide the latest lease update.  The Landlord is still working on the handicap access requirements so I have no new lease yet.  Part of the hold-up on giving me a new lease to review is that, depending on the outcome of their inquiry with the municipality, my square footage may change slightly.  They want to reflect the proper square footage in the lease.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Another Morning, Another Delightful Surprise!

No, seriously!  Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about looking at my email first thing in the morning and having something fun to review from Web Designer Mark?  This morning's delightful email surprise was courtesy of the very talented Graphic Designer Cori!  She has been working on collateral for Zoe and had Business Card and Contact Card designs for me to review!

As usual, Cori had captured the personality and direction of the store perfectly.  I spent a couple hours this afternoon reviewing the designs and determining my favorites.  Each detail is important to the branding of the store and I want it all to communicate the same message of style and joy.

On the not quite so creative front, I also called the Virginia Department of Taxation this afternoon to change my business start dates for Income and Sales Tax Withholding.  This will prevent them from sending me the forms and me from having to fill them out until I truly need to do so.

Day Two of being annoying regarding the lease seems to be working.  This morning's report from my broker had no new news but this afternoon's report confirmed that the landlord has decided to do the vanilla shell work on my space themselves (as opposed to having my construction team do it) and are discussing the handicap access requirements for the space with the proper local authorities.  Once they have confirmed their responsibilities and it is adjusted in the lease, I should have a document for review.  We'll see what tomorrow's being annoying strategy brings!

I also made a quick trip this morning to IKEA in Woodbridge, VA.  They actually have an IKEA Business Group that can provide assistance on furnishment for office and retail spaces.  I love to walk around and look there anyway!  And on Friday, friend Janice and I are going to Leesburg to look at some stores there for ideas and possibilities.  The creative side of the business has definitely kept me upbeat and focused this week!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mood Boards

Yesterday, I described the two mood boards that Web Designer Mark had reviewed with me.  Today, I spent a great deal of time reviewing them so that I could provide him with the appropriate design direction.

Which one do you think I picked?

Drum roll please....

Mood Board #2!  And why is that, you may ask?
  • It fits more with the fun, joyful image that I'm expressing through starting the business
  • It is a good fit if I do go into children's apparel in the future (a sister website following these same conventions would provide for a standard theme)
  • Zoe Girl was used as an inspiration, which is very important to me to keep her central to branding of the store
  • It is a contrast to the stark, serious fashion sites and will blend well with my "sister sites" in Old Town Alexandria
I then provided Mark with the specific things that I loved and the things I'd like to change/see rendered differently.  Based on my feedback, he plans to have a Home Page designed for me by the end of the week and have enough ready to hand off to the web developer by Thanksgiving!  

In other news, I called my broker today to talk about the lease.  And I will now call him every day until things are resolved/we get a lease signed.  I hate to have to unleash annoying Susan but it's time to pull her out of my arsenal.  Let's just hope we don't get to mad Susan.  No one likes to see that.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Oh Wow!

Those were the words that I said when I opened the email from web designer Mark this afternoon just before our scheduled call to review the two mood board samples.  Like Cori and Lisa, Mark has done an excellent job of capturing all that makes Zoe so special.

Mood Board Number One (that we are dubbing the Fashion Industry look) is very sleek and uses a bold color palette.  The primary fonts are Serif and Sans Serif with a gorgeous font called Jane Austen that would be used for one of the features.  If I had to compare Mood Board Number One to an existing website, I'd say it has a bit of Ann Taylor and Nordstrom combined.

Mood Board Number Two (that we are dubbing the Boutique look) is very fresh, light, and fun.  Mark used Zoe Girl as the inspiration for the color scheme on Mood Board Two and picked out some elements of her style to compliment the look.  The fonts are easy to read and a bit playful (one is called Coquette)!  If I had to compare Mood Board Number Two to an existing website, I'd say it has a bit of Design Sponge look to it.

Mark is able to use some of the unique fonts via a subscription based service called TypeKit.  Rather than attempt to use my own words to describe it, I'll let you read more about it here.  One of the things that I really like about it is that it makes the unique fonts not graphic but instead text.

The next step is for me to decide which direction I want to go and identify those aspects that I like and don't like for that mood board.  If I do that, he may be able to have a design of the Home Page ready for me to review by the end of the week!  He has also recommended a developer for me - Phil, who lives in Vancouver.

Today's conversation was wonderful and truly lifted my spirits after the frustrating few weeks I've had with the lease.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Starting Out In Style

One thing that I had never had much time to do was consider decorating.  The decorating done in my home was done in conjunction with a professional interior designer and was done over a significant period of time (as we had money to do different things).  Although I could say to her "I like this and not that" I never really did any of the initial selections myself.

This has all changed as I contemplate the design for Zoe.  While I want the main attraction to be the clothes and other items that I'm selling, I want to have a warm, inviting, pleasant atmosphere that makes people comfortable when they visit.  I've been spending time recently (between accounting system set-up and leasing headaches) looking at potential designs and ideas for the store.

A couple new finds that I hope to visit next week are Old Lucketts Store in Leesburg, VA and Oliver Dunn, Moss & Co., and Catherine Roberts in Georgetown, DC.  Friend Janice has been to Old Lucketts and another antique store (Ekster Antiques) and has offered to go with me next week on my hunt for new treasure for the store.  I have a very specific mental visual of what I want and just need to find the right thing to satisfy that picture!

Next week will also be a serious push to finalize the lease.  Watch out - I've got my hard hat on and I'm climbing into the bulldozer!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How Do You Feel About Cotton Prices?

Not a question I ever thought I would be asking myself, that's for sure!  The New York Times had an article yesterday stating "A severe shortage has pushed cotton prices almost 80% higher since July, a shift that has manufacturers and merchants predicting 2011 price increases." As a result of the higher prices, some retailers are raising prices on garments containing cotton while some apparel manufacturers are looking for substitute materials.   

Each day, I receive an email "digest" of retail, small business and entrepreneur news articles to help me learn and keep me abreast of all that is going on in my "new to me" industry.  

I also love learning about new outlets for fashion news and information.  Today, I found a very fun blog called Corporette.  It brands itself as "A Fashion and Lifestyle Blog for Overachieving Chicks".  Very good, practical and fun fashion advice for women who don't want to just wear the "Corporate Uniform" to work every day!  

Sadly, I cannot report that I am any further along in the leasing process.  I had been scheduled to receive the costs from the general contractor for the vanilla shell space today but have not received anything yet.  There is always tomorrow...

But, happy news is that Web Designer Mark has told me that he has completed one mood board and should have the second one done on Thursday.  We are going to schedule time to talk this weekend to review them.  I cannot wait to see what he has done!

After chart of accounts set up was complete, I started setting up my vendors in the software's address book.  Hopefully, I haven't broken any naming conventions yet.  And I love how it reminds me to get the Tax ID for 1099s - every time I go into the vendor record!  (Are you proud of me, Janie?)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A New Viewpoint

This is the first time I've voted as a small business owner.  I always have key issues that are important to me when selecting a candidate but I also spent time studying not only those running for Congress in my district but also in other races throughout the country as well.   It is a perspective I've never applied previously and I've enjoyed learning about the issues and potential initiatives that affect small businesses.  Regardless of how you vote, I hope you voted today!

I am eagerly awaiting the delivery of the vanilla shell buildout numbers from the general contractor.  Those numbers, coupled with the numbers I've already received from my architect, will allow me to discuss the lease changes with my attorney and hopefully move the leasing process forward.  I am a very motivated tenant!

This afternoon, I got a momentarily scary call from one of my wholesalers, asking if I was going to place an order with one of their lines for February delivery.  I knew I had placed one in Atlanta two weeks ago!  Just as I was reaching for the paper from my file, she found it!  Huge relief!  Now, if they'd incorporate a little technology into the process...

I also started working on the chart of accounts for my QuickBooks software this afternoon.  I discussed the general strategy with my accountant and he has asked to see what I come up with.  And yes, I can hear those of you in the peanut gallery laughing.  The good thing - much of my previous career has prepared me to address things like this, even if they aren't the things I look forward to doing!

I'm still haunting some thrift shops to see if I can find the right items for the store decor.  No luck so far this week but I'm confident I'll stumble onto something soon!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fixtures for Zoe

But first, an incredibly cute picture of Lotus in my "proof" Zoe bag!  I had just returned home from Giant and tossed the bag on the window seat.  Lotus especially loves the reusable bags.  I think she make a good Zoe mascot!

The other side of the bag is a gorgeous picture of Zoe Girl.  I had taken the bag over to show Cori so she could see her beautiful logo design work in all its splendor!  The Website URL is contained on the ends of the bag and inside the bag.

But back to fixtures.  In the hopes of SOMEDAY getting the lease signed and moving forward, I've been considering design and fixtures for the store.  I love looking at examples of designs online and seeing how they have used color and merchandising successfully.  Some things that I'll need to start ordering soon:

  • Racks
  • Shelving
  • Tables
  • Mannequins
  • Chairs/Couches (for my customers and/or patient husbands/boyfriends/significant others
  • Steamers
  • Hangers
  • Sign Holders
Hangers are especially interesting.  How many times have you shopped at a store and tried on something with a beautiful wooden hanger and, when purchasing the item, been asked if you'd like to keep it on the hanger?  Then, the store gives you a plastic hanger and keeps the wooden one for reuse.  (They occasionally forget, as I have a few wooden Ann Taylor hangers in my closet!)  There is a good reason for this - the wooden hangers cost about twice as much as the plastic ones do!  I think I'll be keeping the wooden hangers also.

Tomorrow, I'm going to visit a furniture store that also has a specialty in designing retail space!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Merchant Services

Our own personal credit card statement/agreements are confusing enough.  Being a merchant who will accept credit cards takes it to a whole new level!

As part of my conversation with my point of sale software vendor yesterday, I asked him to have their merchant services person contact me with additional information on what they can provide to me for credit/debit card processing.  Gina was very responsive and sent me information yesterday afternoon.

This morning, I printed it all out for review and starting writing down my questions for Gina.  There is so much new terminology that I spent quite a bit of time researching and trying to understand what it all meant!  I did not want to go into my conversation with her sounding like a complete idiot!

I will make the statement that the whole credit card process is a win for the banks and not a win for merchants and consumers.  The myriad fees charged to merchants for everything imaginable:

  • A percentage of each sale
  • A flat swipe fee
  • An additional fee if you have to type in the credit card number (as opposed to swiping)
  • An additional fee if you have to call in an authorization
  • An additional fee if you accept foreign credit cards
  • Higher fees for accepting corporate cards, loyalty cards or rewards cards (you know those cards that give you cash back?  Your merchant pays a higher rate to take them)
  • A minimum fee (in case you don't reach a certain fee level)
  • A fee for sending in your batch every night (and if you don't send it within 24 hours, there can be additional fees)
Gina told me to budget (once all the fees are added on) for 2 - 3% of my sales to be taken up in credit card fees.  I thought it would likely be around that 2% mark.

There had been some problems in the past with people setting up merchant services accounts without having any type of retail business.  They used these accounts to process stolen credit card numbers and commit fraud.  So, once I do sign up, they will perform a site visit to authorize that Zoe really does exist!

The good news is (and we had discussed this in earlier blogs) is that I will be able to accept debit cards (for actually a lower rate than credit cards) but I will not be able to offer the cash back feature that is available from some merchants.  (I won't have the PIN pad feature).  But many of you had privately contacted me and said you hoped I could take debit cards so I am glad to report YES!

There is a lot going on in the credit card world these days.  This recent article from the Wall Street Journal discusses a settlement that Mastercard and Visa have come to (but American Express is still fighting).  Very interesting read from both a consumer and a merchant standpoint.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Point of Sale Software Version - Evo

This morning, I met the Point of Sale software salesman at the Apple Store to get a demo on the new version of the POS*IM software that I selected in July.  Pat had prearranged with the Apple Store to provide us with access to a show floor iMac and he quickly installed the demo software.  The name of the new release is Evo (I supposed for Evolution of the software).

I was exceptionally pleased with the latest release.  The usability of the software has improved over the previous version as well as the graphic presentation and configuration options.  And, as I continue to become more knowledgable about the retail industry, I'm able to understand all of the possibilities for using the software to run this key part of my business.

As part of our demo, I had taken one of the orders that I had written at Market a few weeks ago to review the software capabilities in handling the set up of this purchase, the categories that I would want to track, and how the order would be received and placed into inventory.  We also talked about how the software would allow me to track special promotions and interface the customer information with my Constant Contact email marketing account.  I currently plan to purchase the iMac and Point of Sale software in early December so that I can begin setting up my inventory as I receive it in January.  It was time very well spent.

Tomorrow - the intricacies of credit/debit card processing!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Don't Be "That Girl"

At my last company, we had a running joke in my department whenever there was a company-wide process or initiative that required a response by a deadline.  We would always say to each other "Don't be that guy...who has not gotten the information in by the deadline."  As I am working on content for Zoe's website, I find myself saying "Don't be that girl...who has a horrendous, out of date website."  There are some REALLY bad ones out there.

Personal pet peeve, but something that makes a terrible impression on me is when I visit a website and see events or news or blog postings so completely old and out of date.  I wonder how much they are paying attention to the rest of the details of their business if they allow their public face to the world to look that way!  OK, off the soapbox now.

One of the content items I was working on this afternoon was related to all of the different transportation methods that people can use to get to Zoe!  I'll be listing Metro information, Parking information, Water Taxi (from National Harbor/Gaylord), and the Old Town King Street Trolley.  All this in addition to a map that, when clicked, can allow you to get directions from anywhere.  Of course, with any content, I'll need to keep it updated appropriately so I am not "that girl".

We are still working through the open items on the lease.  My architect and contractor and providing me with numbers for us to do the vanilla shell work ourselves, with the landlord giving us an allowance for this work or a rent abatement to cover the cost.  We are hoping this might help move the process along and allow the Landlord to focus on their own buildout and not worry about getting mine done also.

I had lunch with members of my Columbia Zoe Council today and got to show them the proof of Zoe's shopping bag!  So much fun!  And they are working on helping me come up with a title for Zoe's column on the website.  They are such wonderful creative inspiration!

On the finance side of things, I faxed (toll free number so no waiting at Staples) documentation to Wells Fargo Financial to confirm my credit worthiness for one of my designers.  I had spoken to the banker yesterday to confirm the information I needed to send so it was fairly easy to put it all together.  All I can say is thank goodness for the financials in my business plan.  I look at them just about every day!  Sometimes when I get a request like this, I panic for a moment and then I remember "Nope, you've got know how to do this."  It's all so new!

Tomorrow, I'm meeting with my Point of Sale software vendor to look at the new release of the software.  He tells me that the price has gone down.  I'm hoping it really has and that it is not like the airlines, who charge a la carte for everything!  Oh, you wanted the software to run after you loaded it on the server?  That will be another $295...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Does It Take?

Last week, a friend of mine and I had gone to lunch in Old Town Alexandria (where Zoe will be located).  As we were walking back to her car, we stopped in a housewares shop.  As we were browsing the shop, she told the owner "My friend is going to open a clothing boutique here in Alexandria!"  While I won't share exactly what he said to us, let's just say he was not at all supportive and called my sanity into question!

It was ok because I've certainly called my sanity into question at least once a week since I started considering this idea a little over a year ago!  It was actually very helpful to find a couple of quotes that were encouraging:

Business plans are less important than businesspeople, according to Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator. When considering an investment, Graham writes, he wants to see four characteristics in an entrepreneur: determination, flexibility, imagination and naughtiness. Naughtiness? "Morally they care about getting the big questions right but not about observing proprieties," he writes. "... They delight in breaking rules -- but not rules that matter."
While I feel strongly that it was and is important to have a good business plan in place as my guide, I realize that I'm going to have a lot of surprises thrown my way, as well as things that I just can't control.  I'm going to have to continue to be flexible and determined to meet my goal.  I've always had a good imagination and, believe it or not, a certain amount of naughtiness (which I'd more define as knowing what to care about and what not to care about)!  

I also liked this quote from Confucius:

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
Once again, it speaks to having that flexibility to work with whatever is given to you.  I've really had that trait since my father was diagnosed with cancer over 6 years ago.  My feeling was, "Just tell me what it is, so I can figure out how to deal with it."  There was nothing that I could do to cure him but it did allow me to grieve and to prepare myself to help and emotionally support my family.  A true example of what doesn't kill us makes us stronger!

Not everyone will think what I'm trying to do is a good idea.  With God's help, I'll do the best with what I've been given!

Friday, October 22, 2010


Now when I go shopping, it also doubles as business research.  How much fun is that?

Yesterday I had some time to kill between an appointment and lunch with a friend.  I didn't want to go home and turn around and come back to the restaurant so I visited a close by shopping mall.  I did so with two major purposes in mind: 1) to see what brands the stores carried and 2) to look at merchandising strategies.

I will say that I will now never shop in the same way again.  As I looked at prices, I calculated what they had paid for the items wholesale.  I'd look at the whole store and estimate just how much the merchandise (inventory) had cost in total.  I'd look at the selections and think about who their target audience would be.  My eyes are wide open!

This afternoon, I'm reviewing the final set of wireframes from Web Designer Mark and starting to work on some content for the site.  He'll be sending me mood boards for the site in the next two weeks!  I am so excited - I love how the site is coming together.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Label Maker

With all of the new paperwork coming into the house with deliveries, lease documents, and the orders from Market last week, I HAD to get organized today or lose my mind!

First trip was to Staples to get hanging file folders and a plastic file box (plus send a fax to sign off on Zoe's bag proofs).  Then, to Walmart to buy an inexpensive label maker (which I already love).  I took all of my paperwork and sorted it into individual piles on the floor (sound familiar, COPT friends?)  I listed all of the labels I would need, printed them, and now I have a very organized file box full of files.  Jim is going to be so happy when he returns from KY tomorrow night to see that the dining room table can be used for dining again!

You won't believe this, but I already have enough vendors and categories to use up the 25 folders I bought today.  I think another folder buy will be in order soon.  As time passes, I'll decide what to leave in folders and what to put in three ring binders.  I feel much calmer now that things are better organized.

No new news on the lease.  I summarized the results of yesterday's meeting for my buildout manager, architect, and general contractor and sent them copies of the communication from the landlord.  I'm hoping to get things moving again on Friday.

Next up - working on content for the website!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And the Beat Goes On

Back to the real world today (albeit a little slowly, since I was still very tired from my travels)!

While I was away, the proof for my bags for Zoe had arrived!  RTR is wonderful about notifying me about shipments so I always know when something is on the way and when it should arrive.  I had told Jim that I was expecting the proof on Friday, so he opened it in my absence.  I love it!  On one side, we have the Zoe logo and on the other we have Zoe Girl.  On the ends and inside the fold of the bag, we have the web address.  This first set of bags are going to be reusable, so they can be taken to the grocery store, Target, Walmart, etc.  Additional advertising for Zoe!

Two large flats of my tissue paper had also arrived in my absence and have currently taken up residence in our kitchen.  Nola (one of our cats) is enjoying rolling around on the boxes.

I heard from two of my wholesalers today, confirming my new customer information so they could set me up in their systems and enter my orders (perhaps there is technological hope!)  And, I had a meeting with my attorney, my broker, and the landlord's broker this evening to review remaining open items on the lease.  We are still working through some of the definitions of the buildout and delivery of space to me but nothing that is insurmountable.  The landlord's broker is very encouraging and said they are happy with me and are excited to have me as a tenant.  The landlord representatives (a CEO and CFO) are away at a board meeting but we hope to pick this back up when they return later in the week.  I am eager to finalize this key piece and move forward!

Oh, and the immediates (scarves and bracelets) I ordered two weeks ago arrived today!  So exciting!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Market Report

The October Apparel Market wrapped up today in Atlanta.  Spring 2011 fashions have been ordered for stores all over the US but most importantly, for Zoe!  I want to share the whole experience with you!

I arrived at AmericasMart without issue on Thursday morning.  For those of you familiar with the Atlanta area, the Mart takes up three large buildings in downtown, close to the Olympic Park and Phillips Arena areas.  Building 1 is Home Furnishings, Building 2 is Gifts, and Building 3 is Apparel.

Clutching my ID and business card, I was quickly processed through registration and had my official badge, showing I "belonged"!  Just a note to my IT friends - the computer that registered me was the LAST computer I saw in the Mart.  More on this in a bit.

Along with my badge, I received a thick booklet (think about two Readers Digest magazines attached together) outlining all of the vendors, designers, and sales reps.  It also included their locations and phone numbers for the Market period and additional maps of the Mart.  There were also some advertisements.  The first thing I saw was that there was free coffee in the second floor lounge so I made my way there.

As I sat there and sipped my coffee, I noticed a stage and runway - this would be the location for various fashion show events throughout the Market period.  And the whole building pulsed with dance music!  Building 3 has a huge open atrium and each floor can be accessed either by short escalators or pod shaped elevators that are glass and look out into the atrium.

I had intentionally made my first appointment for 11 am on Thursday.  I was afraid that my flight would be delayed or registration lines would be long or some other disaster would befall me.  I did not want to be any more panicked than I was!  Since I was early, I decided to start to get the "lay of the land".  After I sipped my coffee, I started to look at some of the vendor displays.

The way the Mart is set up, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floor are temporary exhibits.  These are wholesalers who come in just for the market and set up in temporary space, often separated by curtains (imagine trade shows you've attended).  I walked around and looked at these offerings.  While there were some nice things, I will say that now I know where a lot of bad fashion comes from.  It has to be purchased somewhere!

The 6th floor contains fine jewelry, the 7th some additional apparel, jewelry and accessories and then the 8th starts the permanent showrooms.  Each floor going up seems a little larger and more structured.  I wish I had been wearing a pedometer as I walked the perimeter of each of these floors, just looking and learning and taking everything in.

Since my first appointment was on the 8th floor, I made my way there and located the site of that meeting.  Before I knew it, it was time to go in!

Many designers do not want to have to worry about the wholesale process, so they make agreements with professional wholesale organizations to handle that part of the process.  My first visit was to one of my accessories vendors, where Heather and I spent significant time selecting beautiful belts and handbags for Zoe.  Heather was wonderful as she provided me with the specifics on how the belts are sized to fit and typical size distributions.  I tried them all on (of course)!  She also introduced me to the jewelry lines that her wholesaler represents, so I can select from those items as well when I'm ready.

Now, for my techie friends - when the wholesalers say the term "Write an Order" they truly mean "Write".  There is not a computer in sight.  Everything is done by hand on order forms with multiple carbon copies.  Totals are done via calculator.  The fashion industry may need some technological help!

It was time for lunch (there were several places to get a sandwich at various locations in the Mart - they even had a Chik-Fil-A on one floor).  I regrouped, updated my buying totals and headed on to the next appointment.

The 1 pm appointment was my first apparel appointment and it did not disappoint.  This wholesaler represents a very large number of designers, some of which I knew and others I did not.  The account rep allowed me to go through the designs for my chosen designer, pick out what I liked and we put them up on the board (this is a multi-level set of small grooves extended from the wall that allows the clothes to hang against the wall so that you can see them easily.  The walls are always white.  After I had selected all that I liked for the store, she grouped the items into their delivery dates (I'll write a whole blog on how that works) and gave me line sheets (I promise to do a glossary on these terms) so that I could see the wholesale price, the recommended sales price, the sizes available and the colors available.  From that, I selected what I wanted to order, size distributions, and colors and we proceeded to "Write an Order".   In this case, I also filled out a form required for a new buyer where they will check my financial situation/credit.  Oh, and I bought beautiful pants, jackets, tops, and dresses for Zoe!

The final appointment of the day was with one of the wholesalers with whom I had been talking for some time.  Most of the account reps are young (to me), probably mid-20s.  A few are my age or older but not many.  This particular wholesaler was showing the denim line and one of the primary knit lines that I wanted to carry and I was not disappointed.  We had a fantastic session and I left clutching orders for those items for Zoe also.

Although I was tired, I felt that I should continue to explore and learn as much as I could.  (By now, it was around 3:15).  I continued to walk the higher floors and was wowed to find one floor that was nothing but prom gowns (this is the time of the year that stores are purchasing them, so they can show them in the spring).

I did visit one more wholesaler that had not been on my appointment list and looked at their dress line.  I took line sheets and wrote out some orders but didn't place them.  Since they weren't on my list or part of my going-in budget, I wanted to make sure that I really wanted the items before placing the orders.

When I walked out of their showroom, I was suddenly exhausted.  And it was almost 5!  Time to head to my mom's in Athens!  Traffic was bad but could have been worse.  What is normally about an hour and a half drive was two hours.  That night, I could hardly think clearly.  It was a combination of tired and trying to process everything I had seen that day!  I went to bed after dinner so that I could be ready to hit the ground running the next day!

On Friday, I was up at 5 and out the door at 6!  Traffic to Atlanta wasn't bad and I was parking at the Mart in an hour and a half!  I grabbed one of my beloved Americanos from the Starbucks downstairs and sat down to reevaluated my progress from the previous day and map out the day ahead.  I knew how much I had left to spend and what mix I wanted to go for in my purchasing.

My first appointment on Friday was at 9 and was delightful.  Abby could not have been sweeter or more helpful.  She and I went through the racks together, selecting colors and styles.  In their showroom, we hung them on a rack and looked at the color combinations and selection that way.  Especially when thinking about sizing, I had to consider the cut of the item, the pattern, and how it would look on different sizes and body types.  I also purchased some earrings in complimentary colors to add to this collection.

As before, after the meeting, I regrouped and reviewed my plan, my budget and my remaining needs.  And then off to the second meeting at 10:30!  This apparel meeting was slightly different but still very enjoyable.  The rep gave me the line sheets so that I could follow along and she presented the collection to me on the white wall.  She would put the different groupings of items up and I would ask her to remove the ones that I didn't like.  During all of these showings, I had the opportunity to fully inspect the garments and feel the materials and quality.  Once we had a "collection" for a single ship date, we'd write an order for that date.  That's another thing, IT friends.  Each ship date had to have it's own written order sheet.  It just doesn't seem productive!

During the 10:30 meeting, the rep showed me a pair of denim jeans that had been worn by a model on the runway in New York last month.  I have never seen such a long, skinny pair of jeans in my life.  We both had to giggle at them because they just don't look real!  And that takes me to my next thought - I got to see runway models up close during the Market.  And nothing prepares you for it.  Even though I've seen them in ads and on TV, to see them in person is shocking.  They are like torsos on stilts!  Ladies, I think they are born that way.  It is not attainable!  So don't ever beat yourself up about it!

Virtually everyone I met with was helpful, kind, and supportive.  I met two reps (both of which I visited on a whim - I didn't have appointments and I hadn't been in contact with them prior to the show) that were less than impressive.  I probably wouldn't not purchase from their lines because I didn't like how they handled their presentations and they questioned the fact that I didn't like everything they showed me.  Obviously, they hadn't talked to any of my former technology salespeople (ha).

After a quick lunch, I headed to my final scheduled appointment at 1 pm.  We had a fantastic review of tops that I think all of you are going to LOVE!  After selecting the styles, we picked colors and sizes.   In this meeting (and in ALL of my meetings) all of you were with me.  I constantly thought "Oh, that would look so nice on this friend" or "What a perfect color for that friend!"  Each one of you is my constant inspiration!

After this meeting, I did a final tally of my purchases.  Although I had some money left in the budget, I felt that same exhaustion and overload starting to set in and decided it was time to call it a day!  Although I so much wanted to continue to explore the Mart, I felt that I had accomplished exactly what I set out to do.  Zoe is dressed for spring!

Once you've written an order, it is as though you've joined a secret society.  You are then given the "password" to the designer's site and can look at the line sheets and fashions to your heart's content.  And, you can download all of the photo and written content you need for the web presentation. (Web Designer Mark was happy to hear this!)

I'm in the Atlanta Airport as I type and will go through my orders tomorrow to summarize all of the deliveries so I know when I should be receiving what items.  The scary part - buying for summer starts in early February....