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.