Wednesday, June 30, 2010
This morning, I had two excellent phone calls. One with a broker/realtor who specializes in space in Del Ray. We are going to meet for coffee to discuss my needs on Friday morning. I was very impressed with her - she had a real passion for the neighborhood/community and she had researched me based on emails we had traded late last week/early this week. She also told me about a news story that appeared on Fox 5 (Washington DC) News this morning about Del Ray!
After review the catalogue they sent last week, I spoke with Christian at RTR Packaging about my needs for Bags, Boxes, Tissue Paper, Garment Bags, Receipt Holders and Gift Card Holders. He is sending me a sampler that should arrive in 3 - 5 days so that I can better select what I need. Their lead time on custom items is 90 - 120 days. I found RTR when shopping with my Mom at a boutique called Sonia Says in Athens, GA. I absolutely love their collateral and wanted to use the same supplier.
After a delightful lunch with three old friends in Old Town, Alexandria (and an external peek at some space as I walked to the restaurant), I went across the river to National Harbor. One of my friends had recommended a new store called Charming Charlie. In the name of research, of course I had to check it out! I like to understand the different concepts that stores use and how they make themselves unique, even if they are things that would not work for Zoe. Charming Charlie is divided into areas by the specific colors of accessories - they have jewelry, handbags, some shoes and some clothing as well as some odds and ends. The store was very busy for 2:00 in the afternoon but I couldn't tell if people were buying or just looking. Prices were quite reasonable but the quality also looked inexpensive. It is a great place to go if one wanted some costume jewelry or a purse that you wouldn't carry on a regular basis. I'll definitely go back again.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
1) Those that are based on other's "personal/emotional" values. i.e. - A blue sign versus a black sign or "you don't want to locate in that neighborhood, you want to locate in my neighborhood"
2) Those that are based on genuine "business" factors - i.e. marketing strategies, desirable clothing lines.
It can sometimes be a challenge to separate the advice into the proper category and I find that they sometimes overlap. I like to listen to all forms of advice, even the outrageous. I'm trying to make note of those that fall into Category 1, file them away, but look closely at any that seem to be a recurring theme (meaning they may merit consideration in Category 2).
As I've mentioned in another post, ultimately the store will have my "personality" to it. Not an agglomeration from well meaning others. (And, I realize I can't please everyone all the time/be everything to everyone nor do I have any desire to do so.)
This afternoon, I met a new friend for coffee to discuss the demographics and success of businesses in her neighborhood. We had a wonderful conversation and she was able to give me a real consumer's perspective on what works and what doesn't, why businesses are successful, and the opportunities for becoming part of the community. Community is something that is very important to me. I want myself and Zoe to be a good neighbor and to be a place where people feel warm and welcome. I want to know my mailman/woman, the other retailers, the moms/dads/baby-sitters, and the local barista (a must!)
Please do keep the advice coming!
Monday, June 28, 2010
Today's field trip probably doesn't fit into either of the above categories but belongs in a new one! I think I can classify it as Zoe's first field trip! This morning, I drove to Richmond, VA to visit a Fixtures and Forms store named Store Fixture Supercenter.
And there it is! In all it's glory! Now, let me say that the Supercenter is a very impressive warehouse with all sorts of things a boutique owner needs for a store. Larry, who manages the warehouse, is also my new best friend. (Seriously). But getting there - let's just say this is one dumpy neighborhood. Fine during the day but I don't think I'd want to be hanging around after dark. (Some first field trip for Zoe, eh?)
Larry welcomed me to the center and let me browse to my heart's content and make copious notes. It was so helpful for me to get a feel for the prices of various items, like bulk hangers, wall standards, countertops, tagging guns, steamers, shelving, acrylic signs/frames, gridwall and slatwall accessories (this is something I may have to consider as part of my buildout of the space). We also talked about delivery - he told me that they could deliver to Northern Virginia but that I might find it less expensive to come down, pick out what I want on one day. Let them get it packaged up and then come down another day with a truck to get it. Sounds like I need to put Jim on the payroll!
After I finished up in Richmond, I drove back up to Alexandria to visit Affordable Signs and Banners for a price quote. They are also located in an industrial area of Alexandria (Zoe is really starting to think the WV field trips sound pretty good at this point) but have beautiful offices and are very helpful. I had done research on their website so I was able to describe what I wanted and they were able to give me budgetary quotes for an oval sign, a scroll (to hang it on), installation of the sign and acrylic lettering for the building itself. While we were talking through the requirements, the admin team also pulled some good business development contacts for me for the City of Alexandria. Talk about getting more than I'd even hoped for!
Tomorrow: How to sort through advice....
Friday, June 25, 2010
I had a great time walking Del Ray this morning. It is such a fun, vibrant neighborhood. I think what I like about it is that it reminds me of other areas that I enjoy shopping, like Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Orange Avenue in Coronado, and Prospect Street in La Jolla. I saw some potential spaces and have contacted the agents to have further discussions. Many of the stores there do not open until 11 although a few open at 10. At one of the stores that does open at 10, the owner told me that they have found that mothers drop off their kids for school, stop for coffee, and then want to shop. Sounds good to me!
This morning, I also signed up for a Business CostCo membership. Yes, I have taken the plunge. I know that I need a good place to get basic supplies for Zoe and CostCo seemed to make the most sense. With the purchase of a business membership, I also get a personal membership.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Yesterday, I worked on determining the items I will need for merchandising in the store (confirming start-up costs) and looking for suppliers. Although you might not consider it when you go into any local store, I have to have clothes hangers, clothes racks, mannequins, merchandise tables, a steamer, and signs. (Just to name what's on the floor - not even counting what I need at the cash wrap desk or in the store room or the office). After going through my lists, I determined two vendors that I will work with to satisfy these needs - Fixtures & Forms in Richmond, VA (taking a trip there on Monday) and Affordable Signs and Banners in Alexandria.
I'm also continuing my search for the perfect location. Prior to meeting my friend Renee for lemonade at Panera last night, I made a stop at a potential location. Looked around at other businesses in the area, looked in the windows of the space, considered parking and traffic. I'm going to get in touch with a friend of Renee's who lives in the neighborhood for additional scoop on the location. And on Friday morning, I'm going to be walking the Del Ray area of Alexandria. I love their Business Association tag line "Where Main Street Still Exists". They have no women's clothing only boutiques (Kiskadee is a retail outlet that sells a variety of things and includes women's clothing).
I'm also focusing on beginning to narrow down the logos. The more I "spend time with them", the more I'm beginning to develop my favorites!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I've collected a good portion of the expense information that I need, so that portion is more rounding out any uncertainties and missing data. I'm working on the revenue piece and making steady progress there also. It's just time to stop thinking and start doing!
With regard to the logos, I've been holding them fairly closely - only allowing my family and Jim's family to see them. Yesterday, I shared them with a group of important friends. It is a little scary - like telling people what you are going to name your baby and being fearful that they will immediately insult your choice of name! They are all very beautiful but you just never know about other's reactions. Fortunately, they were quite positive and enthusiastic although they got a little over the top with the creative marketing concepts. But we all need reminding of what NOT to do!
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
1. I get to read fashion magazines as part of my job. This is actually one I still struggle with a bit, even as I enjoy it! Reading InStyle, Lucky, More, etc. is business research, not goofing off! I still occasionally have to remind myself it is ok.
2. Surfing the web, looking at clothing and accessories websites. Virtual shopping is part of the job of understanding the business, trends, and lines I want to carry. A far cry from looking for solutions to IT problems.
3. Field trips to observe those in my industry and potential competitors. I get to browse, try on clothes, take pictures of storefronts, all in the name of business! What used to be something I might do once every six months, I now do every week!
4. I get to choose the themes, the colors, the logos (with Cori's excellent help, of course). It's all about what I like and what I think my target demographic will like. I don't have to try to please everyone. Or feel bad when I don't.
5. Thinking about all of the details is like planning a party, which is something I love to do. Picking out bags and tissue paper (I'm working with RTR Packaging in NYC on this aspect) and potential programs/offerings is energizing.
On a more serious note, I've discussed the "swipe fees" legislation that has been in conference committee here in DC. It is an amendment to the financial regulation legislation that would limit the fees credit and debit card issuers can charge retailers. The House leaders have proposed that government issued pre-paid cards and reloadable pre-paid cards will be exempt from new swipe fee rules. It will be interesting to see what happens to the amendment when this is offered in conference committee on the Hill today.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Everything had been staged in our family room downstairs and I had gone through the different categories of items and noted brands that may be of interest to others, especially clothing. On Friday evening, Jim put together the garment racks that I had purchased at Walmart and helped me hang up everything. I priced all of the odds and ends type items with little price stickers and then printed out signs from Microsoft Word that detailed the prices and items available in each category. We were set!
As any of you that have participated in something like this know, the bargain hunters come early. Even though the sale wasn't due to start until 8 am, people were already roaming the streets before 7:30. We opened the garage door at 7:30 and started putting out our "merchandise". I had probably sold 1/3 of everything before 8 am!
It is always amazing to me the things that sell. After my mom sold a certain item in FL at her moving sale, I will never say never again. And no, I am not going to tell you what it was. I am still appalled. I sold a bridesmaid dress, some hideous t-shirts (that I honestly just put out there to see if anyone would buy them), every pair of shorts except for 1, and practically every one of my odds and ends items. Also tons of other clothes and books. I price things to sell at garage sales because I definitely do NOT want to bring them back in the house! With the exception of a few things, everything that didn't sell will be taken to Goodwill this week.
You meet so many nice people at things like this. I really enjoy talking to them and I'm delighted when they find something they like. You could especially see some happiness on some of the women's faces when they purchased the clothes. I know that is one of the things I'm going to enjoy about Zoe - helping women feel great about themselves!
It was VERY hot on Saturday, so we closed up shop at around 11:45. The sale was to go until 12. But a great experience and one that makes me more sure than ever that I'm on the right path!
Friday, June 18, 2010
When Cori shared the designs with me, it was as though I was seeing Zoe's personality and essence come to life. She seemed more "real" than at any time prior to this. Those of you with children have experienced that first wave of awe and wonder when you see the baby's sonogram picture. I feel like I've gotten my first glimpse of Baby Zoe!
Cori is incredibly talented and creative. I am so impressed with the way that she took my words, my colors, my examples, and the writings in the blog (which she kindly read during the design process) and developed the gorgeous designs. We both agree on something very fundamental - letters of the alphabet have personalities. And the letter "Z" has a very strong, vibrant personality. When I first fell in love with the name "Zoe" many years ago, I was struck by the femininity of the name but also the strength and distinctiveness of it. I felt I would be equipping my daughter with a name that would take her wherever she wanted to go in life.
I also must admit to being a "font geek". I love different types of fonts and the character and history behind them. Cori can speak in depth on this topic and is very thoughtful in her use of fonts in the logo designs. She will also produce additional history for me on the fonts for whatever logo I select.
In addition to showing me various logo designs, Cori also created sample collateral using the different logos so I could see how they would look on price tags, postcards, stationary and web headers. It really helps to be able to see how it would translate to true "use".
Zoe is going to be absolutely beautiful!
Thursday, June 17, 2010
As part of the purchase of my business plan software, I received a free 1 year subscription to Inc. magazine. I got my first issue yesterday and am really enjoying it. Although the entrepreneurs profiled in the magazine aren't opening women's clothing boutiques, there are so many interesting things about their businesses that I can apply to Zoe.
In my continued quest to define the lines I will carry in the store, I found http://www.findleyshirt.com/ . Who doesn't need a beautiful, well-made, distinctive shirt to pair with slacks, skirts and shorts?
And today is logo day! I know I'll have much to report on this topic tomorrow!
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
But I know that the key areas will be appealing to three senses - sight, sound, and smell. Sight is probably the first impression that anyone will have of the boutique - color scheme, decor, lighting. Then comes sound - what type of music will I have playing? The jazz that I love so much (but might not fit my clientele), indie music, classical? (Another problem with liking too many genres!) Finally, the smell - fresh flowers? A key "scent"? Hopefully not the smell of greasy pizza from a store next door! (a key to the location hunt!)
And then there is my list of "Bare Essentials" and "Lovable Extras". The Bare Essentials list covers the things that are "must haves" for the boutique - kind of like when you are buying a house and you know the two key things it has to have in order for you to love it (and this normally has to coordinate with what your spouse wants too!) And then the Lovable Extras - things I'd love to have but maybe not right away. Although it is difficult, it is important to put a stake in the ground in both areas.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
One of the areas I've been focusing on in planning the merchandise for Zoe is jeans. Jeans are a very personal thing - just ask any woman. The perfect pair can make us feel fantastic! Some favorite labels that I'd like to carry in the store are PRVCY, Recession, and French Dressing. Mindi Abair, one of my female saxophone players, recently did some designing for PRVCY. Excellent work! PRVCY is woman owned and they give 10% of their proceeds toward fighting breast cancer.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Since I'm working on estimates (don't have a specific space yet), I've learned that if I am in a masonry building, it is one rate for insurance, while if I am in a frame building, it is a different rate (based on fire and other hazards, of course). The policies also require that I have a central station alarm system, which will be an important discussion in my lease negotiations. The policies are very comprehensive and cover inventory, fixtures, liability, employee dishonesty and even loss of income.
I'll also have to consider business life insurance for myself (in addition to the personal life insurance I already have) and a retirement plan for myself!
Right now, we are working on the quotation for Workers Compensation insurance. I have to provide an estimated total of yearly salary for my employees and will be audited yearly to see if I have exceeded or fallen below that number. I have a high level estimate of number employees, number of hours they will work and salary. I'm eager to get the results to add to the business plan.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Zoe continues to move forward at a very deliberate, thoughtful pace. She got her business credit card yesterday (one major step toward going to market)!
In addition to the focus on the lines I want to carry, I've also been working on "journal" with pictures of a cool counter/cash wrap area, the type of mannequins I want to have, chairs for weary shoppers (or patient husbands/boyfriends/significant others), colors for fitting room curtains. All those fun design things that I've been dreaming about and now get to put into action!
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Another one of my reference books "FabJob Guide to Become a Boutique Owner" includes a CD-ROM with exactly those types of questions, with key categories on Accessibility, Outside Appearance, Inside Look and Feel, The Staff, Merchandise, Fitting Rooms, and Purchase/Exit. Talk about putting learning into immediate action - Jim and I had our anniversary dinner in Old Town last night and as we walked around afterward, I gave a verbal dissertation on why different locations did and didn't work - pointing out stores I liked, stores I didn't, and stores that had gone out of business and why. Just as I know more about the manufacturing of plastics than I ever thought I would, he's going to know more about boutique ownership than he ever wanted to know!
In all seriousness, the questionnaire is great and I'm going to keep it with me every step of the way to make sure I can answer all of the questions in a satisfactory manner with regard to Zoe. FabJob has a great website - http://www.fabjob.com/ that contains information on a variety of different careers.
I spent the rest of the afternoon focused on researching the fashion brands for my store. I've found several that I like so far that seem to fit in the style and price range that I envision. I think this means I should buy more fashion magazines as part of my business development. One of my favorites is LiaMolly - www.liamolly.com - I definitely want to carry their line in Zoe.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Mignogna talks in-depth about how to survive your first two years, both from a business and personal standpoint. She shares the good and the bad on every topic from Customers, to Security, to Marketing, to negotiating a lease. What I really liked was that she talked about the same type of things that we consider as part of disaster recovery in IT - how do we set it up correctly, how do we protect it from disaster, and how do we fix it if disaster does occur?
What I did not realize until close to finishing the book is that she ended up closing her store (a paint your own pottery and beading store in Ashburn, VA) in 2008 due to the challenges of the economy and the desire to do something new. She has written a follow-up book titled "Cute Little Store 2 - Whatever happened to that Cute Little Store?" Sounds like a must read! She still has a website - http://www.cutelittlestore.net
I spent a good part of yesterday thinking about my employee plan - what duties do I want them to perform? What kinds of things do I need to add to my employee manual? What kind of person do I want to hire and where do I find them?
Monday, June 7, 2010
We have little rituals that we follow, including sandwiches from our favorite shop on Elliewood (Take It Away - a relative of the Cheese Shop for all you W&M folks). After the sandwiches have been devoured on The Lawn and we've taken a stroll around the UVA Grounds, we visit the different shops on The Corner. Mostly, this is me visiting and Jim standing outside, holding my purchases and people watching.
There were several new stores on The Corner since we had last visited, one of them being a small store behind Starbucks called Duo (www.shopatduo.com) . I was immediately charmed when I went in - warm, welcoming decor, unique clothing, and a unique concept - new clothing downstairs and consignment upstairs! I spent quite a bit of time there and emerged with two tops, both of which were fun and affordable.
I continued to talk about Duo at dinner that night, still struck by the experience I had earlier that day. And I continued to talk about Duo throughout the summer. Finally, I said to Jim "I think I'll ask the owner if she'd be willing to answer some questions for me about the retail business. The worst she can say is "No" and I'll look elsewhere." He said "Go for it!" and I emailed her.
Very fortunately for me, she emailed me back and said she would be delighted to talk with me and we discussed potential dates for my visit. Since weekends are such a busy time in the retail business, we decided I would visit on a Tuesday late morning in October. I took a day off from work and drove to Charlottesville for the day!
I had painstakingly listed many questions to ask her and she patiently and enthusiastically answered each one. By the time we were done, I felt I had my answer - this was something I could do! I enjoyed the rest of my day shopping in Charlottesville (I admit to buying another top and a scarf at Duo before I left) and drove home that evening.
Greer (the owner) has continued to be a supportive advocate for me. If you are ever in Charlottesville, please visit her store - I guarantee you will not leave disappointed!
Friday, June 4, 2010
I have also been trying to determine the best networking/learning organization for me as a new business owner and selected/joined the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) - www.nawbo.org. They have a local chapter here in the DC/Northern Virginia area as well as a robust national chapter. They have different levels of membership and I joined as an "Emerging Business Owner" - one who is in the process of starting a business or has been in business for less than 2 years. I'm looking forward to this different kind of networking!
The marketing plan and my own competitive analysis notes rounded out the work on Zoe yesterday. I also received a mailing from one of the potential Point of Sale systems and have a DVD to watch with a software demo. Good times!
Thursday, June 3, 2010
As I continued work on the business case yesterday, one of the things I did was review my lists of start-up costs/categories and monthly costs/categories. I realized that I had not gotten a cost estimate on one of those things we have to have (but always dread) - insurance! My financial advisor (who is also the provider of my life insurance) had told me when I discussed my plans with him earlier this year to contact him when I was ready to talk business insurance. Well, I'm ready! I asked him for a ballpark on Workers Compensation insurance, General Liability Insurance, and Property/Casualty. I also made a list of potential calamities (Fire, Flood, Theft, Fraud, Hurricane, different lawsuits) that could be visited upon the business.
I also spent some focused time working on my list of values for the business - what do I want it to be - what characteristics are important in defining it, how I conduct it, the kind of people I hire. That was a fun and interesting exercise that allowed me to jot down a lot of ideas and crystallize my vision.
Next came an exercise where I specified the types of goods and services the business will provide. It also helped me note areas where I won't provide service (such as alterations) but need to find a good reference for those shopping in my store who may wish to have something altered.
Being the "check box" sort of person that I am, I made a list of the key dates/events that have occurred thus far and what is next on the list. Finally, I started my focus on the market analysis portion of the business plan, using information from the website www.marketresearch.com
Courtesy of my friend Tim McCrosson, I also wanted to provide a link to a feature on WAMU radio from yesterday, titled "Alexandria Retailers Hope Bloggers Can Bring in Local Shoppers" -
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
In addition to completing the banking tasks I discussed in yesterday's blog, I also spoke to my accountant regarding the best decision for my technology plan (lease vs. own).
Still working angles for the a visit to Market Days at the AmericasMart Atlanta. I did speak to them yesterday and cannot visit as a non-buyer but can visit as the guest of a buyer. I'm working with some of my boutique mentors to see if anyone is going to market next weekend.
Today, I'll focus again on the business plan and any remaining holes that need to be filled. Hope to start touring locations with my broker next week!
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Very interesting that state governments are now getting involved to lobby against the legislation but they have a point based on their strategy of using the cards rather than printing checks. It just seems that there has to be a way that is fair to everyone - the banks, the retailers (me!), and those issuing/using the cards. Definitely interesting to watch legislation that may have a direct effect on Zoe.
This morning, I'm going to the bank to deposit the rest of Zoe's funding into her business account! And placing a call to the America's Mart/Atlanta to see if I can come to market at the end of next week! I also need to return the calls to the Point of Sale Vendors who I had contacted last week prior to needing to leave town for a funeral. Then back to the business plan. I love thinking about inventory turns and sales per square foot. And I promise we'll start talking fashion in the blog soon! (Just need to get all of the business out of the way first!)