Saturday, July 31, 2010
Last night, I also sat down with the illustration of Zoe Girl and with Lisa's portfolio from her website and wrote down all of the thoughts and ideas I have about the future of Zoe Girl. I sent those to Cori in a bit of a free form manner with the question "Am I making any sense? Can you artistically determine what on earth I'm try to say here?" If anyone can, she can!
As I wait to see what will happen with the leasing process, I'll be continuing to contact wholesalers next week. It is a rather challenging conversation at this point, since I don't know yet when I'll need to purchase stock but as long as I get on their lists and approved, that is a big hurdle. It is a lot of fun to "Shop for the Shop!"
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Yesterday, I mentioned that I would have more information on Zoe Girl. Cori got in touch with Lisa (the illustrator who I mentioned in Tuesday's post) and Lisa is delighted to work with us. We have several options to choose from, all of which I've been mulling since reading Cori's summary of their conversation.
A) We could buy the rights to the illustration we are calling "Zoe Girl" and perhaps have some slight changes made to her. This would mean that I could use her in an unlimited fashion and she could not be used anywhere else (she has been used twice before on one time deals in publications).
B) We could have Lisa design a new Zoe Girl! And buy the unlimited rights to her.
C) We could have what Cori calls the Paper Doll option (I love it!) on an ongoing basis - having the illustrator make changes to the existing artwork (clothes, bag)
D) Have new illustrations done for particular seasons (taking our Zoe Girl and putting her into different scenes).
Now I need to decide what to do! Or in what stages I'd like to do things! Zoe Girl (and all of Lisa's illustrations - her corporate and journalistic clients are all household names) is so dynamic and fun! Zoe Girl is truly iconic! (I think my maternal pride is showing)
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
As usual, I got there a little early and I grabbed a green tea and sat in Starbucks, watching the people and traffic. Once again, I'm pleased with the energy and clientele of the area. Just before time to meet, I walked down the street to pick up a menu from the Chinese restaurant located at the site.
The broker and the contractor were a little early and we immediately went into the space. I was very pleased with the contractor all the way around - he was knowledgable, pleasant, and organized. These traits are very important to me in all things Zoe. (Jim asks me every day "Did you fire anyone today?" He knows...)
The contractor knows the City of Alexandria regulations and requirements well so he was able to look at the space with an eye for what the landlord will need to do versus what will be considered true tenant improvement. I talked to him about my general space requirements - flooring, walls, ceiling and ceiling heights, and walled off space requirements. We also discussed the egress regulations from the City.
He has asked the broker for a CAD or PDF drawing of the space (wonder if the landlord has Propidex?) so that he can identify where water, electric, and HVAC will be sourced. He will be preparing a line item quote for us so that we can have a clear understanding of what each component will cost. He believes that permitting can be done in less than two weeks (from the time we say "Go") and buildout should take 2 months or less. If we can get him the information he needs, he will get back to us Friday or Monday.
He also offered to introduce me to an architect that often does work with their firm and I enthusiastically accepted his offer. The broker has the Letter of Intent drafted and just wants to include the tenant improvement request. We also discussed the rent start and how we want that written into the lease. Of course, there are many options and we plan to ask for a certain amount of free rent. Much of it depends on how we define rent start. I prefer to do it from date of occupancy!
More on my ponderings about Zoe Girl tomorrow...very exciting news today!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I'm continuing to work with the broker on the Letter of Intent for the space I mentioned a few days ago. We are working with a contractor to determine how much to request from the landlord for tenant improvements. I am approaching this with patience - if it is right, it will work out. If not, it wasn't the place for Zoe to be!
Monday, July 26, 2010
What an interesting question...and one that is fraught with debate. Many of the complaints that I hear about boutiques here in the DC area is that they do not carry anything above a size 8. Now, if you have this conversation with my mom, who is approximately 5' 2" and slightly less than 100 pounds and who was a "perfect 8" (her words) back in the day, it makes you wonder what has happened to sizing over the years. She now claims that "nothing fits her" and that "things are too big". Yet, studies show that the average American woman is a size 14. And plus size models are considered anything above the normal sample size of 2 in the fashion industry.
Recently, a plus size model, Crystal Renn, was criticized by other plus size models and fans for dropping 15 lbs from her 5' 9" frame (she now weighs 150 lbs). But shouldn't we all strive for healthy (mind, body, and soul) rather than a predetermined number? I know healthy (and unhealthy) women of all shapes and sizes. We shouldn't be defined by a clothing size.
Back to the original question - I plan to carry sizes from 0 - 16 and look forward to adding to the wardrobes of many beautiful, healthy women!
Saturday, July 24, 2010
One of the other spaces I toured was also new and not built out but was too large (over 1700 sq ft) for the store. We toured one space that I knew had housed a boutique previously. (one that had failed). I did not like the window lines and, when we went inside, there were dead "water bugs" (as the other broker called them - they looked like roaches to me) on the floor. Yuck. No thank you. The space was on two levels and very claustrophobic, even though it was completely empty.
The final space had been a spa/salon and was in a good location but the layout was so choppy and the parking limited. It was also on two levels and just didn't have a connected feel to it. It was charming and had potential but just not for Zoe.
I am continuing to hear from my potential wholesalers AND I got a quote from RTR for my bags, boxes, etc. following my visit on Tuesday. Things are starting to come together VERY nicely!
Thursday, July 22, 2010
I also had time to run to Best Buy to purchase the QuickBooks for Mac software (it was on sale this week). Have to take advantage of those opportunities!
Tomorrow, I will be participating in a formal tour of space in the Alexandria area. I am hoping to see that "fall in love" space!
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I was a little early for my meeting so I decided to explore the neighborhood a bit. I was intrigued by what looked like a large church at the corner of 6th and 20th. When I went to check it out, I found it was a collection of small shops called Limelight Marketplace.
Then it was off to RTR! I met with Christian, who I had emailed with and spoken with over the phone. He could not have been nicer or more helpful!
From there, I strolled down the street and quickly found myself at the Flatiron Building, which I love. I could take a field trip to NY just for the architecture but that wasn't why I was there so I didn't linger overly long. I browsed a couple of boutiques and then set out to find lunch!
I didn't want to eat anywhere I could eat in the DC area and I really didn't want to eat at a lunch bar/buffet/deli type place. In my strolling, I stumbled upon Beppe, a Tuscan restaurant.
We had a very good discussion regarding others selling the line in the DC area (one store in Georgetown sells the line but they did not think that would be an issue if I am located in Virginia as planned) and made plans with me to follow up with the wholesale contact. It was great fun seeing their design/production process and was another excellent learning opportunity.
I had some time so I strolled the streets of Tribeca, popping in and out of various stores and boutiques. I look at each with an eye for "what are they doing to draw in the customer and to get he/she to come back?" Many of the stores had a very minimalist approach - some intentional (as part of their look) and others I believe had decided not to put money into a merchandising scheme. They are depending on their product and location to be the draw and not focused on the experience. And that's fine - it is just not what I want for Zoe.
I took a brief late afternoon break at an amazing bakeshop called Tribeca Treats. It was phenomenal and they were super nice. I had one of their "cookies of the day" - a lime shortbread and a cold ginger lemonade. Total bliss! I bought two more cookies to take home to Jim (and yes, they did make it all the way home and he took them with his lunch today!) I highly recommend this as a stop over if you find yourself in New York!
Then it was back to Penn Station to take the train home. Here, I'm standing with everyone, staring at the departure board to see what gate our train will be assigned at the station. The minute a gate is identified for a departure, a mass exodus occurs!
An uneventful and quick train ride back to Union Station had me home shortly after 9. Tired but exhilarated at the same time! I loved my field trip and can't wait to go back!
Monday, July 19, 2010
It was a great experience, though. And it really allowed me to picture the boutique in a variety of different configurations/locations. Doing this helps me better define what it is I really want for her. And allowed me to see what Sunday afternoon traffic (foot traffic) in the different areas looks like. I haven't decided if I am going to be open on Sundays right away but I need to take into consideration the pros and cons of doing so.
The spaces we looked at were in the Clarendon/Courthouse/Ballston areas of Arlington and Old Town and Del Ray in Alexandria. I hope to have more to look at and answers to my questions by mid-week!
Just a quick note since I've been talking about the Wall Street bill that had been in conference committee before being passed by both houses. They have deferred the credit/debit cards fees discussion to the Federal Reserve for a study of what constitutes reasonable fees. The banks are basically says "we're going to get the fees one way or another" so it looks like the Fed will be determining if it can be less painful for anyone. (Or if everyone is going to be upset with the result). It will be interesting to see the results of their study.
Friday, July 16, 2010
One of the first questions that people ask me when they hear I am planning to open a boutique is "Where is it going to be?" I can't wait until I have the answer to that question! The truth is, that while I have desired locations, desired base rent and square footage amounts, it all has to come together "just right" before I can feel comfortable signing on the dotted line.
Today, my primary broker sent over 13 specifications on different spaces in the Del Ray, Old Town Alexandria and Arlington (Ballston to Rosslyn corridor) area. Jim and I are planning to drive them this weekend so I can determine which ones I'd like to tour. It is really exciting to have all of these potential choices!
I'm also typing today's blog on my new Apple laptop. It was a breeze to set up and I'm enjoying learning all about it. I feel good so far that I made the right choice. I also am doing a 60 day trial of Apple's MobileMe service, which will allow me, among other things, space for back-ups online. I've also set it up so that my iPhone and MacBook have synched calendars, contacts and web bookmarks. It also allows you to find you iPhone if you misplace it.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Knowing my love of fonts and history, Cori had researched the font that I was most enamoured with - it is called Kabel. It was designed in honor of the laying of the first transatlantic cable in 1927. Kind of a neat tie in since I used to work for a wire and cable company that made cable for those same purposes.
Cori also gave me good advice on the types of things to confirm with RTR when I meet with them next week in NY regarding my bags, boxes, tissue paper, etc. I will be able to sound like I know what I'm talking about! (and then call and get her to explain it to me!)
And then there is the fruit. The fruit being my first computer purchase for the business - an Apple MacBook Pro with Office for Mac. I am charging the battery as I type. I am so excited to have made the decision to go with Apple. I'll also be purchasing an iMac closer to time for the store to open to serve as the Point of Sale computer. I am planning to use Quickbooks for Mac for my accounting system and POS*IM for my Point of Sale solution. And yes, POS*IM is pronounced "Possum". Those of you who know I'm from WV are having a good laugh, I am sure.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Today, I met my dear friend Akram for coffee in the Courthouse area of Arlington. I got there a little early and walked Courthouse and Clarendon, looking at potential space! It is a great area and very vibrant, even on a Wednesday at mid-afternoon. When Jim and I lived in Arlington, we spent a fair amount of time over there and this was before they had focused on the significant upgrades to the neighborhood. The big negative is that it is far enough away from my house to be of concern. I have to admit, if I have two things that are pretty important to me in my location (in addition to it being a good business location) it is that it is a walkable area (that Main Street feel) and that it (ideally) is within 10 minutes of my house with light traffic. Hey, a girl can dream, right?
I did see a couple of spaces of interest, though, and will follow up. My visit was Akram was great - as always, he had such good questions about my venture and was very encouraging and supportive.
Well, back to the confession. The business plan is **GASP** not done yet. I'm continuing to make good progress but really need the results of my trip to NY to finalize it. I was going to put an excuse out there like "Well, it's not midnight yet so I'm not late," but I know I'm not going to be done by midnight. You may all abuse me at will.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I was totally in Business Susan (as opposed to Social Susan) mode. Those who know the difference will be pleased to know that I already got him to throw in something for free! I'm going to do my due diligence as far as reference checking and need time to review the terms and conditions but I am feeling good about this one!
Cori (the super-talented graphic designer) is back from vacation and we hope to meet this week to work on the logo! I think I have decided which "logo family" that I'm going to go with and just have some questions for her about possibilities.
I'm so excited for my trip to NY next week. With all of these things coming together, it is starting to feel more and more real!
I'll close with a quote that I love (from a recent NAWBO newsletter):
Fear paralyzes; curiosity empowers. Be more interested than afraid."
--Patricia Alexander,American educational psychologist
Monday, July 12, 2010
Tomorrow afternoon, I have a demo with POS Vendor C, who is currently running at the top of my list of favorites. Based on our call on Friday afternoon, I have been preparing additional questions for our demo time.
So many of you have shared such positive feedback with me and have been so incredibly supportive. I cannot thank you enough!
At one of my recent church services, our minister spoke on Ephesians 6:5-9. He used this passage to speak to us about work. One of the most meaningful passages is the later half of verse 8 "...knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord." In discussing this verse, he noted that we are put here on earth to:
- Care for one another
- Care for God's creation
- We are created to create
It is my hope to honor God through Zoe in all of these things. If I can continue to work on Zoe from the heart, I believe I can achieve this with His help.
Friday, July 9, 2010
1) Verizon did finally decide to get back to me, and sent me an email saying "Let's talk." So, I called the representative. No answer and what did I get when I reached her voice mail? "The message queue is full for the person you are calling. You will now be disconnected." Ummm...this is the phone company. Don't you think they could figure out how to handle their voice mail a little better?
2) I spoke with what is now Vendor C for my hardware/software. He not only called me as a follow up to my query (he left a voice mail for me this morning) but he was available on a Friday afternoon and spent quite a long time thoughtfully answering my questions. We've scheduled time next week for a demo. But he gave me pricing information (including maintenance costs), training information, disaster recovery information, implementation information, and interface information. Everything I needed, in one phone call.
In addition to my phone fun, I've been reviewing the information for my business plan related to the IBISWorld Industry Risk Rating Report on Women's Clothing Stores in the US. If you ever have any desire to know how many women age 15 - 39 have lived in the US over any period of time, let me know. I've got your numbers for you! Seriously, a great report, that goes through structural risk, growth risk, sensitivity risk, and industry risk.
Finally, I've been doing my homework on the dreaded swipe fees for credit and debit cards. And a question to all of you out there - how important is it to you to be able to use a debit card to pay for clothing purchases? I'm trying to gauge if this is an option I want to offer to my customers. Feel free to post a comment or send me an email with your thoughts.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
One of the nice things about today's adventure was that the tour was conducted by someone who I know from my past career working in real estate. There are some pluses and minuses about the space and sometimes I feel like Goldilocks "Too big/Too small, Too warm/Too cold". A plus is that the landlord is motivated to work with the base rent and is interested in putting retail in this space (there is also a restaurant looking at the space). The negative is that since the space had already been used for another purpose, the TI (Tenant Improvement) allowance may be limited. But it is potentially negotiable. The lease is a triple net lease and the broker was able to give me an estimate as to what the net would be.
I do want to get an idea of what they might be able to do for me. I'll send my business plan next week so that they can have an opportunity to put a proposal together. Progress!
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Don't get me wrong - they were friendly, personable and helpful to the extent they could be. Note I say "could be" because if they had actually listened to what I had asked them to show me as part of setting up the appointment, it would have been a very good meeting! And yes, I can picture some of you laughing because you know how pleased I always was when vendors came in unprepared.
There are days that I think to myself "Surely I am not the only person who researches X, Y or Z prior to making a decision. There are too many other people who have opened retail businesses for me to believe that I'm out doing something no one else has done." Maybe the heat is making everyone loco. (I'm studying Spanish right now to keep my mind challenged in different ways).
Anyway, I have some basic information to go on and more research to do. Let's see if Vendor B does a better job tomorrow...
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
It was a special insert published by the paper called "Remembering The Diamond". For those who did not grow up in WV or frequent Charleston as a shopping destination, you might say "So what?" My experiences shopping there with my family are definitely an inspiration for the kind of experience I want to create with Zoe.
Located at Capitol and Washington Streets in downtown Charleston, The original five story Diamond opened in 1927, the collaboration of Wehrle Geary (who opened a shoe store at 25 Capitol Street in 1906) and A.W. Cox, who opened a Capitol Street Department Store. A remodeling in 1948 included the installation of the first escalators in West Virginia. The Diamond was THE center of commerce in Charleston, until the Charleston Town Center shopping mall was built three blocks away in 1983. The Diamond lasted five months after the Town Center opening.
Now, Zoe is not going to be a department store, selling everything imaginable. But I hope that it will be an experience that people will remember for a long time, just like some of my memories of The Diamond...
- The Fifth Floor cafeteria, where we always had lunch. The cafeteria ladies were always SO grouchy, it was almost funny. And they put gravy on everything.
- The Fifth Floor was also home to the book department and the location where I bought my set of Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" books.
- At Christmastime, there were toys on the Fifth Floor also - even more reason to go there first!
- The Fourth Floor was furniture, and lots of it. Of course, ever chair and couch had to be tried and a game of hide and seek with my brother usually commenced.
- The Third Floor was the Children's Floor! They had funny mirrors that made you look tall and thin, short and fat, and just bizarre! Of course, we perfected our ham routines in front of these mirrors.
- Mom and Dad normally convinced us that we needed to try on some clothes too. Many a "first" item in my past came from this floor.
- The Second Floor was the magical floor with my mom - women's clothing and shoes. LOTS of time was spent on this floor!
- I'll never forget being old enough to walk around the floor on my own and look around. I felt so grown up.
- And the shoe department was where I purchased my first pair of espadrilles (yes, I had a preppy phase in high school).
- We rarely stopped at the Mezzanine floor - it contained the offices and the beauty salon.
- The First Floor was full of delights, including cosmetics, perfume, hats, the men's department and a snack bar! We normally managed to wrangle a Coke and a treat from my parents by the end of the day.
- I'll never forget my mom letting me buy bubble bath (The Diamond had their own brand).
- The charge plates were the kind that looked like a giant press. And any transaction was put in a pneumatic tube and sent to accounting prior to completion of the purchase.
- The Basement was the Bargain area and a Hickory Farms store. They also had gift wrap there! The gifts were always so beautifully wrapped that we kept the decorations from them and now trade them back and forth on the gifts we give each other as a family at Christmastime.
- The elevators had real elevator operators.
- They shipped items free of charge. I'll never forget my mom calling for an item one day and we received it the very next day. Does anybody ship anything for free now?
- By the end of the day, we were loaded down with bags and ready to head back to Beckley.
While we visited many other places on our trips to Charleston, The Diamond always stands out as the favorite. My mom still has her charge plate (I think we still think that maybe someday someone will open it again). Can I create that same magic with Zoe? Or are those times now in the past?
Saturday, July 3, 2010
I started out the morning on a renewed quest for telecommunications pricing. Much to my shock, Comcast/Xfinity was actually helpful (Take that, Verizon!). I do have some budgetary start up and on-going cost pricing now to include in my business case.
The POS software research continued yesterday as I prepare my list of questions for both vendors. It is important that the software make the payment/inventory/end of day process easier, not harder!
Then I went for my meeting with the realtor/broker. We had a great meeting on the outside patio of St. Elmo's Coffee Pub . We talked at length about my business thoughts, what I was looking for as far as community and space, and what makes Del Ray unique. After our conversation, she said something very encouraging - she said that my enthusiasm and focus really showed and that she had seen those traits as great indicators of success for first time business owners. That made me feel good! We are going to reconnect early next week to start looking at space.
When I arrived home, a box had arrived from RTR Packaging with all of my box/bag/garment bag samples! What fun to look through all of the samples and picture Zoe's logo on them! Even Jim thought that the samples were very interesting!
Friday, July 2, 2010
In addition to selecting an accounting software package, I've also been trying to determine if I should start out in the business with a point of sale package or wait until I'm more established. I've seen successful retail businesses utilize both approaches. And I've seen some that never went with a point of sale package (one of my favorites - Flora Ottimer Children's Boutique in Ft. Lauderdale). My mentor/friend Greer at Duo waited a couple of years to implement a POS system because of cost (at first) and then a real need to have an inventory mechanism when she expanded to ecommerce.
There are also options for what I would call "Point of Sale Light" - Cash Register software that doesn't quite have all the bells and whistles of a full blow POS system. And then there is determining how the systems would interface with my bank's merchant services system. Or do I go with a merchant services system from the POS provider? Lots of questions I still need to finalize.
If I had to say that I had a lean right now, I am leaning toward going ahead and going with a Point of Sale system. And I have thought about hosting my software but have pretty much decided to have it in house for now and look to host in the future as their hosting offerings become more robust. I like the Disaster Recovery aspects of the hosted system but have found that their POS offerings end up being more cumbersome and more expensive than in-house offerings.
And then the big decision - do I go Apple or PC based system? I've narrowed down the choices to one in each family and need to do a head to head comparison on price, maintenance, and ease of use.
I'm also looking into Gift Card services through various providers. I do want to offer Gift Cards at the store rather than Gift Certificates since Gift Cards are difficult to counterfeit. I plan to accept cash and credit/debit cards. Still trying to decide on checks and need to talk further with my business banker on safeguards. Sad that you have to worry all the time about how people might try to scam you but that's part of the deal.
Looking forward to my meeting with the realtor/broker this morning! More to come!
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Today, I contacted Verizon Small Business to discuss the best solution for Zoe. I need phone/fax lines and high speed internet. I told them upfront that I was planning a new business and needed the information for budgetary purposes. However, the representative said that unless I had an address for the business already, they couldn't provide me with any pricing information. I asked if I could give them the zip code where I hoped to locate or even a representative address. No dice. No business address, no quote.
The representative suggested that I fill out the Solution Recommender online to get the budgetary quote. I went through, checking the boxes and they presented me with my customized solution (still no prices - hmmmm). I was then able to remove things I didn't need and then click a button for pricing....which took me to a screen to fill out to have them contact me in 2 - 3 business days. I am perplexed (sarcasm intended) as to how this conversation is going to go any differently from the one I just had AND whether or not someone will actually call me. I may wait until after the holiday and try my luck again.
You've got to love them!