Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Want To Be A Mountain Climber

"I want to be a mountain climber and discover a mountain and find fossils and jewels on top of it."  When I heard a six year old girl utter these words today while playing on the patio outside the store, I knew I had been given the best quote to sum up the year.

I loved her enthusiasm, her optimism, her lofty goals, and her imagination.  She will make a perfect small business owner some day!  Because when you do something like opening your own business and pouring your heart and soul into it, you aim high and hope for great rewards!

I've honestly been a bit overwhelmed the last two days, thinking back on the year that closes out at midnight tonight.  The experience itself has been everything I had ever hoped for and more.  While I'm still in the process of developing the profitable side of things, I can't even begin to put a price on the intangible rewards.

One of my hopes was to feel truly part of a community and I feel that way every single day.  The people that are part of my daily routine - Jared the garage attendant, Freddie the UPS Driver, Dave the Mailman, Joyce the neighborhood lady who treats me to Starbucks because she says "I like you.", Charles the neighborhood man who says his dogs think I have the best water dishes in Alexandria, Cher the young homeless woman.  They all make me feel wonderful every time I interact with them.

My customers have been nothing short of amazing.  Many of them share their lives with me - introducing me to sons, daughters, mothers, brothers, sisters, and husbands.  They ask about me and ask about the business and seem to truly care about the answer.  They give me both positive and constructive feedback so that I can continue to make the business a better place.  Some of them hug me when they walk in the door.  I love that they are at Zoe because they want to be - not because anyone makes them be there (a few of the accompanying males look that way, but we've covered that subject).

I've been amazed at how much deeper many of my existing friendships have gotten and how many acquaintances have developed into friends.  And, perhaps most critically, my faith continues to grow deeper.  Each day, I acknowledge to God that he put me there for a purpose and for Him to help me to carry out that purpose in His honor.

As I close out the year, there are so many new things with the business to look forward to!  I'll have an intern from the Art Institute working with me one morning and one afternoon a week for the first quarter of the year.  I plan to take the business into the ecommerce realm by the end of the first quarter.  Zoe will be part of the Junior Friends Toast to Fashion event in March and will be included in the First Edition of The Scout Guide Alexandria.  This is our first year in the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Bureau Visitors Guide, and Zoe will celebrate her first birthday in April!  And all of that is just in the first four months.

It has been a busy almost nine months since Zoe opened her doors that sunny April morning.  I am taking a short Winter Holiday for the next four days to refresh and relax.  And yes, like in past jobs, I'm anxious about being away and relaxing.  But I'll let you know about the experience in my next blog post.  Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blog Worthy

I have to admit that I am always so excited when someone writes about Zoe!  One of the things that the Art Institute students reminded me during their presentations in September is that many bloggers are looking for things to write about and welcome your contact.

I've found that lots of people read blogs (look at you, you are reading this one) as a source of news and information.  I personally have several that I follow, some related to fashion and others written by people who are friends or relatives.  None related to technology at the current time although I do follow some technology "Tweeters" and may read items that they suggest.

Blogging about Zoe was started in May when local Old Town Alexandria Patch blogger Tara Maglio wrote about Zoe in her blog "Young Life in an Old Town"  I wrote about that fun experience in this post.  Tara came back to visit me during the summer and wrote another lovely piece for The Patch.

Sometimes, people will blog about the store and I will not know it!  In fact, once I started looking at the Google Analytics for my website, I discovered that an out of town blogger had stopped by Zoe after we had closed on summer evening.  You can read her post here - I hope she will come back to visit sometime!

A lovely woman visited the store one Saturday afternoon.  She and her husband had written a blog at one time about small, independently owned businesses and she wanted to start one again.  She asked me for my story and I shared it with her.  She made the story about the store one of her first posts on her new blog.

DC Ladies is a popular blog with many contributors on a variety of topics of interest to women of all ages.  One of their fashion bloggers visited with me in store one morning and wrote a fun piece on Zoe and another new boutique in Alexandria, Bishop Boutique.  Karen's post can be read here.

Jessica Richardson of Alexandria Lifestyle has written several complimentary updates about Zoe.  Her blog is so pretty and easy to look at/read.  It is really becoming a "go to" spot for anyone who wants a native's perspective on Alexandria!  She focuses on discovering new and different places to shop and dine as well as interesting things to do.  Her several posts include:

First visit to Zoe
Trunk Show at Zoe
Friday Shopping Picks
For Last Minute Gifts - Shop Locally

And wait until I tell you more about The Scout Guide she is developing for Alexandria!

The students from the Art Institute introduced me to the popular Mom-focused blog WiredMomma!  Knowing that many of my customers are local mothers, this seemed like a good place for me to spend some advertising dollars.  When I contacted her about ad rates, she told me that she'd love to write a blog about the store.  I really enjoyed her write-up on Zoe.

Another Fashion Blogger with a gorgeous site is Jenn Barton's The Medestrian.  She included the beautiful Inslee by Design calendars that we carry in store in her list of Favorite Merry & Bright Things.

Most recently, Northern Virginia Magazine sent a blogger to meet with me in the store on a Saturday morning!  Most Saturdays when I open are fairly quiet but not this one!  I was very pleased with the blog and felt it did a nice job of conveying Zoe.

I'm looking forward to inviting these and other bloggers in when I start unpacking my spring shipments!

Speaking of blogs, thank you for reading this one.  Coming up - Looking Forward to 2012!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Eve

This was Zoe's first Christmas Eve in business so I felt it was worth writing about in the blog.  And this should be the last of the Christmas posts for this year!

I had already decided that Zoe would not be open the full 8 hours on Christmas Eve.  I had chosen 4 pm as the closing time.  Other boutiques in the Alexandria/DC area had 2 pm and 3 pm closings (and some did not open at all).  Based on my experience, I found that I could have closed at 3 pm with no issues.  I did have one man come in to look at around 3:02 but then no additional customers after that point.  In fact, The Christmas Attic across the street closed at 4 pm!

I did not experience any frenzied, last minute shopping on Christmas Eve.  A few men came to look for maybe "one more gift" or a stocking stuffer but they weren't desperation shopping.  Many people had family visiting from outside the area and were just enjoying the sunny day by getting out for a stroll in Old Town.  I had one female friend come in to buy a few gifts (and a gift for herself).  But it was very much a quiet day.

It was nice to have the extra time that evening and the time on Christmas Day to relax a bit.  Having worked every day since Thanksgiving, it was a nice break (although sometimes I feel a little lost/overwhelmed when I'm home - I have SO much that needs my attention!)

Overall, the Christmas season was enjoyable and, as always, a fantastic learning experience!

Next up:  Blog Worthy

Monday, December 26, 2011

Would You Like A Box With That?

Not to be confused with "Would you like fries with that?"

Although I had people buy items as gifts earlier in the year, I had never really had anyone ask for boxes.  And much of the jewelry that I sell comes with it's own beautiful storage bag so that was frequently satisfactory for most customers.  (One man, upon buying his wife a necklace and selecting a decorative bag said "Wow - I don't even need to wrap this now!")

But if most people are like me, they REALLY like to have a size appropriate box for their gifts.  In early October, I ordered three sizes of boxes from Capital Packaging and Design.  They serve many of the businesses in Old Town and the salesman, James, had been calling on me since the summer.  Because they are based locally (Gaithersburg), I had my boxes within a day or two.  I had chosen not to have them imprinted with the logo so that substantially cut down on delivery time (and cost).

I purchased the small square jewelry size boxes, blouse sized boxes, and sweater sized boxes.  The jewelry boxes already came "preassembled" with the cushion material inside.  The other two box sizes were folded flat for easier shipping.  When my mother came for Thanksgiving, she probably spent close to two days unfolding the boxes, putting three sheets of Zoe tissue paper and a Zoe sticker in each one and then folding them flat again for storage.

The boxes have definitely come in handy and it has been nice to have them to offer to people during the entire holiday season.  And I still have enough left that I can continue to offer them as requested/needed throughout the year!

On Friday, a man walked in and asked if he could buy a box.  I gave him one - it just seemed silly to charge him for something like that.  Hopefully people who received gifts purchased at Zoe were excited to see the pink polka dot tissue paper when they opened the box!

Next up:  Christmas Eve

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Music

I have always loved all different types of Christmas music from the beautiful hymns to the secular carols to the sillier songs (think "Rockin Around The Christmas Tree").  However, this year I almost had Christmas music meltdown.

It all started innocently enough.  Knowing that I wanted to start playing Christmas music in the store on Black Friday, I added some additional holiday songs to the store iPod.  But I didn't add enough.  Turns out that I only had about 3-1/2 hours worth of music to last me through the day.  Considering that Black Friday was a 12 hour day and most of my others are 8 hours, it meant I was hearing the same songs OVER and OVER again.

One night recently, Jim started playing a Diana Krall Christmas CD.  I had to ask that it be stopped immediately.  And I love Diana Krall.  But after hearing her music all day, ever day, I couldn't take it any more.

It was time to get creative (and add more music to the iPod).  I went on a search for some unique groups that I wouldn't tire of so quickly.  And I found some fascinating new groups that not only have great Christmas albums but also wonderful every day music.  If you've never listened to Pink Martini, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or She and Him, I recommend you give them a try.  They have helped to preserve my sanity this Christmas season!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Trip to George Mason

First of all, my apologies for not posting in a week.  The demands of the Christmas season (both at Zoe and at home) have pretty much consumed all of my blogging time and energies!  And I hate to try to write when I'm just too tired.  But, on the bright side, it allows me to store up all sorts of interesting things to share with you!

Last week, I told you that I had taken a trip to George Mason University in Fairfax, VA during the day.  The purpose of that trip was to participate in an orientation class at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).  This class is required in order to continue to participate in the SBDC Small Business Counseling Program.

So why am I doing this?  In many ways, it is much like a "mid-year review" in my old corporate life.  Zoe has been open for 8 months now and I've learned a great deal.  I also know that I have many opportunities to continue to learn and would like to have qualified professionals take a look at what I'm doing and give me guidance on what to continue to do and what to change.

As I mentioned above, the SBDC is located in Fairfax, VA - a good distance from Alexandria.  The meeting was at 11 am on a Wednesday.  The Washington, DC metropolitan area is comprised of approximately 5.5 million people.  The session had about 20 participants and 3 staff members.  And I knew two of the people there - one was a customer of mine (who also lives in Alexandria) and the other (one of the instructors) is a friend from my UVA Executive learning trip to Denmark in 2008.  A small world indeed.

Each participant had been asked to fill out a questionnaire online prior to attending the session.  The instructors had folders prepared for each of us with a copy of our completed questionnaire as well as a data sheet on our company.  Of the participants, probably 2/3 were men and 1/3 were women.  About half had already started their business and half were in the process of developing a business plan.

One of the most helpful items in the folder was a supplement titled "2011 Guide to Doing Business in Virginia".  Anything you would want to know is contained in this little magazine.  I will definitely hold onto it as a reference guide.

We were then paired with the person at our table and asked to learn about their business and the product/service/solution that they would provide through their business.  We then got up in front of the class and told the other students about our partner's business.  My partner had started a business to prepare people who are planning to take the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification exam.  He focused on working professionals by teaching at night and on the weekends and provides a money back guarantee to anyone who does not pass by the third try.  He does all of his training in person.  He also has a full time job.

There were definitely some interesting ideas from the students in the class!  And, sadly, in a couple of cases I could not understand at all the purpose of the student's business.  A great lesson in being very clear on what value your idea will provide to your target market.

The instructors told us that our first counseling session would be scheduled for sometime in the first 3 weeks in January.  I can't wait!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Final Results - Window Wonderland Contest

Many of you who read the blog on a regular basis knew that Zoe was entered in a Window Wonderland Contest here in Old Town Alexandria.  From Black Friday through December 5th, individuals could vote for their favorite window display.  The winner would receive a visit from the mayor, a big red bow to place on the outside of their building/space, and earned media.  And, of course, bragging rights.

Zoe mounted a forceful campaign which served as a reminder to me why I quickly got out of politics (my first career out of college).  I can do it when I have to but it definitely isn't enjoyable or within my comfort zone!  Once all of the dust had settled, Zoe had finished a very respectable third place with 494 votes.  The store had received some social media attention by hovering in the top three for the last three days of voting.  A significant accomplishment for a new business!

Janice and Karen were in this morning to watch Zoe while I went offsite to a meeting.  They are already planning for next year's window!  I can't wait to see it!

Thanks again to EVERYONE who voted for Zoe.  And the Happiest of Holidays to you!

Next up:  My Trek to George Mason

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don't Do It!

Last Wednesday, I received an email from my Point of Sale Software vendor, touting a new release of the software.  My first thought was "Hmmmm...not so sure I want to perform an upgrade during such a critical time of year in my sales cycle."  Plus, past experience has never made me a fan of jumping into a new release quickly unless there is a regulatory reason to do so.  I reviewed the bug fixes and enhancements and determined there was nothing that I needed at this time.  This could definitely wait until January.

On Friday, a follow-up email came out.  Turns out that there were some incompatibilities with some database configurations that had created problems for those trying to upgrade.  The link to upgrade had been suspended until the development team could fix them with a new release planned for early this week.  I had to smile (a little bit) but felt bad for those who had attempted the upgrade and the developers who now had to work the weekend to fix the problem.

Moral of the story - Don't Do It!  (Or, at least don't do it until someone else has done it first!)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Trunk Show Fun

This past Saturday, Zoe teamed up with Meagan Kurtz of ADMK Jewelry for an in-store trunk show!    We started carrying the ADMK line in early November and thought a trunk show would be a great event to allow Zoe's customers to see more of the line.

Meagan is the consummate professional.  She arrived an hour prior to the start of the show to make sure she had plenty of time to get everything set up.  She brought a table and table cover and lots of pretty forms to better display the necklaces.  She brought a large selection of earrings and some bracelets as well.  We had also agreed that we would draw for a pair of earrings from those people who made purchases during the trunk show.

As always, I enjoy having someone else working with me in the store to talk about fashion and the business.  Meagan told me that, in college, one class she took was titled "The Psychology of Clothing".  This sounds like a class I would enjoy.  Because it is always difficult to tell what is at the heart of anyone's clothing purchases!  She said it was a difficult class and I believe her!

We had a number of Zoe's existing customers and some walk in customers participate in the trunk show!  There seemed to be a good mix of people buying for themselves versus buying gifts for others.  And Meagan jumped right in to help when customers were trying on other items at Zoe!  It definitely made for a fun afternoon!

Next up:  Don't Do It!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend

This past Friday and Saturday were VERY big days in Old Town Alexandria!  The Campagna Center's Annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend and Parade brought throngs of people to Alexandria's streets!  If you recall last year's blog post regarding this weekend, we've been anticipating the event for a year!

The entire weekend is jam packed with events, starting with a Christmas Marketplace at the George Washington Masonic Memorial and continuing with Heather and Greens Sales at the same location.  I had pre-ordered some beautiful square boxwood wreaths and a boxwood kissing ball to hang at Zoe as well as a beautiful square magnolia wreath for my door at home.  (Due to two rambunctious cats, I don't do much decorating at home but I always insist on a pretty wreath on the door!)

A picture of one of the wreaths at Zoe:

Friday evening continues with an event called Taste of Scotland which includes tastings of rare Scotches, Scottish food, beer, and wine.

Saturday continues as a jam-packed day in Old Town.  In addition to continuing Heather and Greens sales (now at the Campagna Center) there is an Advent Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House and a Holiday Design Tour of Homes (one of the homes on Prince Street was just around the corner from Zoe!)

And then the big draw - the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade!  You will never see as many men in kilts and adorable dogs in one place!  I knew that parade time would be quiet at Zoe and indeed it was - everyone was lining the parade route!

Zoe actually got very busy later in the afternoon as people headed to the City Marina Docks and Waterfront for the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights.  Over 50 boats participated in this event on the Potomac River!  Traffic was so crazy that after I closed I walked several blocks down the street for Jim to pick me up.  There was just no point in him getting tied up in that traffic.

If you didn't get to participate in any of the events this year, make sure to put it on your calendar for next year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

College Football Saturday Update

Really?  A boutique posting about college football?  What could the two possibly have in common?

Regular blog readers may remember my post from early September about how much I missed being able to go to games this year.  Like any situation, one has to figure out how to adapt with what they've been given.

Since I couldn't watch or attend any UGA games in person, I made sure to wear red and black (the school colors) in the store every Saturday.  Since I favored those colors in my office career days, I didn't have any problems putting together different outfits to fit the bill.  This past Saturday, I went so far as to wear my "G" earrings too!

Early in the season, a woman walked in on a Saturday afternoon wearing a "Dawgs" t-shirt.  I first said Hello, then said "Are you a Georgia fan?" and then asked "What is the score?"  Since most games started (and sometime ended) while the store was open, I could only occasionally sneak a look at for the score.

I did have a few men ask about a wide-screen TV on Saturday afternoons!  I'm sure Comcast would be happy to set me up if I requested it!  But that might be pushing my obsession a bit too far!

This is what I miss the most!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Window Wonderland Contest in Old Town

Last week I posted pictures of the design and development process and decorating strategy for Zoe's windows.  But what I hadn't seen yet was how beautiful they also look at night!  I wanted to share some pictures with you.

I do not think I could be more pleased with how they turned out!

I had also promised to provide you with information on how to vote for Zoe's windows in the contest.  You do need to be on Facebook to vote but you can vote once a day!  You will need to like the Old Town Boutique District page (easy to do from the link I will provide to you) in order to vote!

Vote for Zoe here!  or here for the non-Facebook voting site.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Small Business Saturday

Hot on the Heels of Black Friday was Small Business Saturday.  This "Shop Small" day is supported by American Express.  And, for American Express cardholders who registered their cards, any purchase of $25 or more at a small business on Small Business Saturday would result in a $25 statement credit for that customer.

I thought that American Express did a great job of promoting the day.  Jim told me that he heard radio ads every day on the way to work.  I saw full page ads in the Washington Post.  They sent a kit to the small businesses (like Zoe) to help us know what resources were at our disposal as well as provided us with collateral to use in marketing the day.  As another plus, they also offered businesses $100 worth of Facebook ads targeted to users in the business's general Zip Code area.  They confirmed that my ad was approved and running - I would be curious to know if they could provide information on the amount of clicks the ad received.  (There is that analytics thing again!)

Any time a customer used an American Express card in the store in November, I told them about the promotion.  And I sent out a link to the site to sign up in my Black Friday/Small Business Saturday email. But I didn't see the result from it that I think I was expecting.

I had a good day at the store but only received one American Express card for a purchase.  The man who presented the card was not a previous customer but did know about Small Business Saturday (a plus!)  I think I had expected more people to shop with American Express cards and to Shop Small.

So what would I do differently?  I think I would publicize it more heavily and earlier in the process.  I also think I would come up with some type of unique give away or promotion that would also draw people in so that it would be more than just them desiring to "Shop Small".  The local organizations here in Alexandria do such a good job of promoting "Shop Local" and "Shop Small" that many people probably already feel that they do this and don't need to make a special effort to do so.

Compared to the 12 hour Black Friday, the 8 hour Small Business Saturday seemed like a half day!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday

I really wanted to share Zoe's First Black Friday experience with you on Friday evening but I could barely keep my eyes open to eat dinner, much less type!

There had been so much publicity about the Black Friday events in Old Town that I was a little later sending out my email to my customer base.  Also, I had just sent an email a few days prior about the Donations for Discounts program so I hated pounding people with so many emails.  Although I know I have to embrace it from a business standpoint, I always feel a twinge personally when I'm part of pushing the commercialism of the holiday season.

Earlier in the week, one of my customers had come by and told me that she would be out of town on Friday but she wanted to call in during the 6 am - 8 am time period when we were offering 30% off everything in the store.  And I had a customer email me on Thanksgiving to ask me to set aside a couple items on Friday when I got to the store so she could also purchase them during the time period.  So, I thought I might get a couple sales during the early hours.

Still, I thought I must be crazy - was anyone going to get up to come shopping during the early morning hours at a boutique?  Best Buy and Target, sure!  Zoe?  Who knows?

My mom and I got up at 3:30 am on Friday morning and were at the store by 5 am.  I had several things I wanted to prepare prior to opening the doors at 6 am.  We opened while it was still completely dark outside.  And, to my surprise, the first customers walked in the door at 6:05 am!

We were steadily busy during that first two hours!  I had more sales in that first two hour period than my very best day since I had been open.  Many of them were previous customers who were thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity to purchase items that never go on sale!  It was so much fun sharing the Black Friday experience with them!  One of my regular customers brought her daughter with her and she drew this message on the Fisher Price draw/erase board I keep in the toy basket.

Things were quieter during the 20% off period between 8 am - 10 am but then picked back up for the rest of the day (we offered 10% off from 10 am - 6 pm).  Because we weren't really in a position to brew coffee for our customers, we gave a $5 Starbucks gift card to each person who made a purchase on Black Friday.  This really seemed to please our customers as there is a Starbucks just a block from Zoe!

I was also thrilled that one of my customers brought 30 food items for the Donations for Discounts program during that first 2 hour period!  She was then able to take 60% off her purchases!  And I have a great supply of food to take to ALIVE! this week!

I will admit that I normally keep a running total in my head on any normal day but I just couldn't do it on Friday because we were processing sales through so quickly in that first two hours.  I was so excited when I ran my end of day program and saw the final result!  As exhausted as I was, it was well worth it to open for those 12 hours.  And I was so glad my mom was here to help me.  There is no way I could have done it alone.

Zoe (and I) survived our first Black Friday!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Visiting the Alive! Food Pantry

If you've been reading this blog for any period of time, you've probably picked up on the fact that I am somewhat uncomfortable with the commercialism surrounding the December holidays.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or even Festivus, it is important to not forget the meaning and spirit of the season.

This is probably very much at odds with my ownership of Zoe.  In the retail world, the holiday shopping season is considered critical to the overall success of the business.  And, I'm participating in a number of events (Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Coupons) that promote shopping at this time of year.  But I kept thinking that I wanted to find a way to do something positive for Zoe's hometown of Alexandria that would be a win for the charity and a win for my customers.

Last year, we hosted a 50th wedding anniversary party for Jim's parents.  They do a lot of work for their local food bank in Central Virginia and had told us of the ever-increasing needs for this organization.  Knowing that they did not want gifts, we asked the attendees (in lieu of a gift) to bring a donation for the food bank.  We also decided that, rather than giving the guests favors, we'd donate the money we would have spent on favors to the food bank as well.  We were so delighted to deliver over 450 pounds of food to their local food bank as a result of the party!

Also one of my mentor boutiques, Duo New & Used Clothing in Charlottesville, sponsors a food drive with their customers.  Greer designed the program to allow for discounts based on food donations.  I asked her if she would mind if I did something similar at Zoe!  But what was the right organization in Alexandria?  I contacted the Executive Director of ACTion Alexandria for advice.  He directed me to ALIVE!

A partnership with ALIVE! was exactly what I was looking for.  I've asked Zoe's customers to bring canned goods to Zoe in exchange for a 1% discount for each item donated (up to 30 items).  A customer brings 10 items for donation, they get 10% off their purchase!  Everyone wins!  We will be running this program through January 6th.

On Monday, I went by to meet the team at ALIVE! and get a greater understanding of their needs.  I took some pictures during my visit.

You can see that they could use some more tuna, canned beans, and spaghetti products!

Soup is also a significant need as well as pasta sauce!

We are honoring the Donations for Discounts through all of our Black Friday sales and other coupon discounts.  I would love to make a huge delivery to ALIVE! on Monday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Zoe Gets Ready For Christmas

It has always been a process for me to know the difference between what I am capable of doing versus what I really should be doing.  One of the things I've almost forced myself to do over the past couple years is to admit when something isn't my area of expertise and ask people who know how to do it to help me.  Who better to ask to help me with Zoe's windows than my very creatively talented friends Janice and Karen.

Like many of the other people mentioned in Zoe's journey, they know my philosophy for the store and my aesthetic likes and dislikes well.  I knew that I would like whatever they came up with for the window decoration.  My only really need - that it not be expensive!

Last week, Janice sent me a picture she had found showing their concept for the windows.  I gave it a thumbs up and she and Karen came to the store to get a good look (and do some measurements) at the windows.  We had agreed that we would get together on Monday to decorate the windows since the store is closed on Mondays and Janice would be going out of town for Thanksgiving later in the week.

Before I show you the final product, I'd like to take you on a journey of how they got there.

Start with The Washington Post

Roll newspaper into cones and spray with silver paint

Assemble snowflakes

Buy Garland

Cut Garland Apart

Glue Garland Balls to Snowflakes

Hanging the snowflakes (with fishing line)

Add plum colored ornaments, snow, and wooden Christmas trees...

Plus gorgeously dressed mannequins...

And you have a "Window Wonderland"

I'll include nighttime pictures (plus how to vote for your favorite Old Town Alexandria window) later this week.

Next up:  Visiting the Alive! Food Pantry

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Mobile Showroom

I've talked in previous posts about the "Road Reps" who bring the different fashion lines sold through their showrooms to Zoe.  This is always a big help to me because it allows me more time to review a line (especially when it is new to me) and helps me manage my time at market much better.

Recently, I was contacted by a rep from one of the Atlanta showrooms regarding a line I had been considering - Yoana Baraschi.  I was very intrigued when the rep told me that he had a Mobile Showroom for me to review the line.  What might this be?

James showed up right on time and told me that the Mobile Showroom was parked in the metered spaces behind my building.  I grabbed my coffee, my notebook and my phone and rounded the corner of the building.  And there it was!

The showroom had a nice table set up where I could write in my notebook and make notes on my linesheets.  It was warm and comfortable.  And James had it set up with Slat Grid on one of the walls so he could hang the pieces for my review.  The only thing missing was a place for me to try on the items (he offered me to take anything I wanted into the store to try - oh, how I wanted to but I was tight on time).  It really made for an enjoyable, easy experience for both of us!  I have no idea how much something like that must cost but it would definitely be a great way to travel!

Next Up:  Zoe Gets Ready for Christmas

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Have I Got A Deal For You!

Did you know that there are over 550 "Deal" sites in operation today?  Groupon and Living Social may be some of the most well-known/popular but there are many others that have copied these industry leaders.

Confession time - I subscribe to 4 different "deal" sites.  One (The Capital Deal) I subscribed to in order to get the free Papa John's pizza.  I subscribed to Specialicious because they tried to sell me on deals for the store and I wanted to get a better idea of their offerings and product.  I've been a Groupon subscriber (both in this area and San Diego) for quite a while (and it is the only one from which I have purchased deals).  And I subscribe to the local Old Town Alexandria Patch deals (which are fairly infrequent at this point).

In thinking about my Groupon usage, I think I've only let one expire without having the opportunity to use it.  I've used the others I've purchased, either for things that I already knew I wanted or something I wanted to try.  However, with the exception of one, I've not returned to the restaurant or service provider after using the Groupon.  It wasn't that any of it was a bad experience - I guess I got what I wanted for it but wasn't left wanting more.  Am I typical?

I have thought a great deal about the value of offering a deal for the store.  Do you make money?  Do you actually gain repeat customers?  Are you really reaching your target market(s)?  Is a good method for getting your name out there?  How do people perceive businesses that offer deals?

I was recently approached by someone whom I know about offering a deal on a niche site here in the Alexandria/Arlington area.  I do like their target market and their approach to the deal process.  She was able to provide me with concrete numbers on subscribers, open rates, and purchase rates.  She was able to show me the contract language up front.  She has signed up others in my same category who I admire and who already have successful businesses.  And she is someone I trust.

So, pending the final contract review, I think I'm going to take the plunge into the "Daily Deal" world!  I'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Small Company, Big Goals

I love all of the brands that I carry at Zoe but one of my creative favorites is knitwear brand LiaMolly.  When I first began studying brands for the store, one of the things I did was go to my own closet to look at pieces that I loved.  I hadn't even realized that I owned a beautiful LiaMolly sweater (that I often paired with a Velvet top - one of my other brands).  After looking at the "then current" line for Spring 2011 and speaking with the wholesaler, I placed my first LiaMolly order at the Atlanta market last October.

Her beautiful designs did not disappoint - they were popular with my customers for their uniqueness and high quality.  Even before opening my doors, I had already placed orders for Fall 2011 as well.  Although there are some very large "corporate" fashion brands, many are small businesses not unlike Zoe.  It was not unusual for me to communicate directly with LiaMolly's COO when arranging payment or making a change to an order.

Over the summer, the LiaMolly Facebook page included some press/information on the fact that the Asian manufacturing facility that had produced the LiaMolly clothing was increasing the minimum orders from 300 pieces per style to 2000!  For a company that sells to small boutiques like Zoe, it was not going to be feasible to expand their market to this extent.  I knew that LiaMolly had decided to bring the manufacturing back to the US and focus it in New Orleans (where the company is based).  I was thrilled as I try (as much as possible) to stock the store with products manufactured in the United States.

I knew that things weren't going as planned to obtain the knitting machines when I contacted the wholesaler in September to make an appointment to see the Spring 2012 line at Coterie in New York.  The wholesaler told me that they would not be showing at Coterie but they would send me linesheets when they became available.  Because I set aside certain amounts of money for certain classifications of items, I knew I wanted to hold some money to spend on LiaMolly's spring line.

In October, Seema Sudan, the founder and creative talent behind LiaMolly, had taken matters into her own hands.  Using a funding platform called Kickstarter, she laid out her plans and requirements to keep the line going and manufacture it in Louisiana.  She had one month to raise the $26,000 downpayment on 1 knitting machine to keep the company going.  You can read her story here.

I admired her determination and her bravery.  I'm sure she had attempted other avenues of financing and been turned down.  I wanted to do what I could to help.  I shared the Kickstarter page on my personal Facebook page.  I made a donation on behalf of the store.  I talked about it to anyone who seemed interested.  And I thought about it a great deal.

I am very fortunate to have some wonderful friends who are well-networked in Louisiana.  In telling them about LiaMolly's challenge, they were able to share her story and needs with the right people in the right places.  I received wonderful news yesterday that, thanks to their communications, Greater New Orleans, Inc., was in contact with Seema to discuss how they may help LiaMolly!

And today, Seema announced via Facebook that they had reached (and exceeded) the goal of funding the downpayment on one knitting machine!  And with 3 days to spare!  It is so exciting to see this great example of a small, determined company prepared to make a difference, train skilled workers, and add jobs in their local community.

Plus, I still get to sell beautiful sweaters like this Fall's Sparrow!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Deck The Halls (But Not Too Soon)

Yesterday, my friend and former MSMIT classmate Ken posted a copy of this sign on his Facebook news feed with the comment that he wholeheartedly supported this strategy and would be doing some of his Christmas shopping at Nordstrom because of this stance.

It has been a while since I shopped in a mall and I had completely forgotten that Nordstrom approached the holidays in this way.

I am in full agreement with this strategy!  It really is a little disturbing to walk into a store on Halloween and already see Christmas decorations everywhere!

Zoe will be decorating for Christmas during the week of Thanksgiving.  My far more talented decorator friends Janice and Karen will be taking the lead in making Zoe's windows beautiful and inviting.  There will be a contest in Old Town for the best decorated window.  The winner will receive recognition from the mayor and a big red bow to display prominently at their location.  I will be sure to share pictures of Zoe's windows with you!  (and let you know how to vote if you think Zoe's windows are the best!)

Sunday, November 6, 2011


One of my favorite major holidays has always been Thanksgiving.  Although I've heard stories of the event being fraught with family tensions and chaos, for me it has always been a relaxing day (even when I have cooked the meal) full of good food, good company, and good thoughts.  And of course the day after Thanksgiving was always a relaxing day to catch up on rest and reading.  (See my lack of Black Friday shopping post!)

I had been thinking for a couple of months about what I wanted to do for my customers for the holidays.  I wanted to take the opportunity to let them know how very much I have appreciated their business and support in the 7 months since Zoe opened her doors.  While I have very strong feelings about Christmas and celebrating that holiday for the appropriate reasons, I realize others celebrate other holidays or none at all.

As I continued to think about it, I realized that what I wanted to express to my customers was a perfect fit for a Thanksgiving card!  But where to find the right card?  The cards I looked at didn't seem to be appropriate or were just flat out unattractive!  Who would know where to guide me?  Of course, it was Cori to the rescue!  I emailed her to ask if she knew of companies that produced good corporate cards for Thanksgiving and she immediately got back to me with 4 wonderful suggestions.

As I looked at the offerings, I found myself most drawn to a company called Cards for Causes.  Not only did they have beautiful, customizable cards but they also donate 20% of each card purchase to the non-profit cause of the customer's choice!  What a great situation and a chance to allow Zoe to continue her focus on charitable work!  The beautiful cards are on order and should arrive this week so that I can begin preparing them for mailing.

In a continuation of "The Places You Will Go", I went to the Breeder's Cup in Louisville, Kentucky this weekend.  A customer who lives in Louisiana called me from Louisville on Friday to tell me that she was wearing one of the dresses that she ordered from the store and asked if I could ship her another one in a different fabric!  I had always wanted to go to a horse race at Churchill Downs!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oh the Places You'll Go!

Not quite the same focus as the wonderful children's book from Dr. Seuss but I thought this was the perfect title for this entry.

I've mentioned how much I enjoy it when customers will come into the store wearing something they have purchased from Zoe or tell me about wearing the item.  Recently, one of my local customers stopped in the purchase a gift for a friend.  As she was looking around, she told me that she had worn a dress she had purchased in the store to a book signing party for one of the Kennedy family members.  She said "You were right there with me!"

When I thought about her comment, I realized that I DO get to go to a lot of wonderful places!  I've been to countless weddings and rehearsal dinners.  I've been on trips to Italy.  I've been to awards presentations.  I've been to the beach.  I've been on first dates!  I've even been to the awarding of a Distinguished Flying Cross!  It is one of the many aspects of boutique ownership that I love - having the opportunity to be part of people's lives and helping them feel good about the way they look in their clothes.

I've thought a lot about how I used to feel in the corporate world.  How I loved it when I found an article of clothing that  was completely comfortable and complimentary.  I'd wear certain items when I would feel anxious about other things with the thought that at least I didn't have to worry about what I was wearing that day - I was free to worry about everything else!  Let's face it - our clothing should never be a distraction for us!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween At Zoe

Let me first remind everyone that if you are ever in a location needing rain, please ask me to come and plan some sort of event.  Because I can pretty much guarantee a ton of it.  Remember the Sidewalk Sale?  Remember my Fashion Event at the height of Tropical Storm Lee?  Let's add to it the Halloween events in Old Town for Saturday!

In preparation, I picked up quite a bit of candy a few weeks ago at Giant, using coupons and the specials they had going at the time.  Both of my crystal bowls at Zoe were filled to the brim with candy.  Did anyone come trick or treating for candy during Saturday's Nor'easter?  Of course not.  Where is that candy now?  In my home, being handed in big handfuls to the few trick or treaters we have.  And yes, I did "sample" some on Saturday at the store.

In the spirit of things, I had also planned to combine fashion and a costume on Saturday!  One of my favorite comic strips has always been Peanuts.  (A little known fact - Jim and I visited the Snoopy Museum in Santa Rosa, CA on our honeymoon).   And I always considered Lucy as the ultimate Big Sister.

In the 2007, a group of designers was asked to create fashions inspired by the Peanuts characters.  During Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in 2007 in New York, a show was held titled "Snoopy in Fashion".  Following the show, each of the items was offered on eBay for auction with all of the proceeds going to the organization "Dress For Success".  Of course, with my love for Peanuts and my love for fashion, I had to bid.

I won one of the Lucy outfits, designed by Liz Claiborne.  This beautiful outfit has a black high waisted skirt, a black sleeveless peplum top and a satin jacket with snaps.  Here is the outfit as it went down the runway.

I had never really imagined wearing it.  I was delighted to have a piece of fashion that meant something to me and the proceeds went to a good cause.  I had thought that someday if I had room in my home, I would display it and some other items I've purchased over the years.  But here was a chance to wear it!

I did a "trial run" try on earlier in the week.  I would have loved to have found a wide belt like the one pictured on the model but a quick look at some other local stores didn't show me anything I liked.  On Saturday morning, I slipped into the outfit.  The top went on with no problem.  The skirt was quite a tight fit in the waist (ooof - I probably should not have had that waffle for breakfast).  Believe me when I say I was "sucked in" for the entire day!  Honestly, the model must have had a rib removed or something!  I've lost a lot of weight but I'm not runway model thin by any means!

Here I am, modeling the dress in the store.  I wish it were a better picture so you could see the full effect of the dress.  I should have recreated the pose of the model in the runway!

Sadly, not many people braved the weather to visit the store to see my fashionable costume (I had even created a little sign to explain the costume to anyone who may ask).  But it was fun nonetheless.  And I was so excited to get to wear it and find that it (mostly) fit!

Next:  Oh the Places You'll Go!

Friday, October 28, 2011


You can't escape it - numbers have a level of importance in every business.  And not just sales and profits and expenses but also your online presence and engagement with potential customers.

For example, I write this blog for a few simple reasons - 1) It is a way for me to share the process of creating and running the store with friends and other interested parties, 2) It provides me with a method for documenting all of the key events (and helps remind me how far I've come!), 3) It provides a reference for anyone who might want to know more about the experiences of a normal person trying to build and run a boutique, and 4) It provides a real look at the person behind the business.

I will never know who reads it and, unless they comment or email me directly, what they think of it.  But I do enjoy looking at the statistics for the blog to see what topics are being read, where my readership is located, and how they arrived at the site.  (Don't worry, I don't know who any of you are!)  This week, I seem to have a strong readership in The Netherlands (Juice, were you carrying a Zoe bag when you visited Amsterdam?)

Google provides not only the map shown above but a detailed breakdown of the browsers used and even the operating systems/device types used to read the blog.

The blog is one thing because it is fun and interesting and if people enjoy it or find it useful, that is wonderful.  But I decided this week that I needed to start tracking the visitors and their engagement with Zoe's webpage (, especially with the knowledge that I am planning to add eCommerce to Zoe's site next year.  I contacted Web Developer Phil and had him apply the Google Analytics code to Zoe's website.  And timing was perfect as I had just sent out a Constant Contact email that included a link to Zoe's site.

While it has only been up and running for a few days, I'm already finding the statistics fascinating.  Please note I do control myself and only check it once a day!  It is really interesting to see what city the user is located in while looking at the site, what browser and operating systems are used, which service providers they are using and even the screen resolution if they access it via mobile device!  It is also very helpful to see "where" they came from (the referring sites vs. an organic search).  I know there is much more to learn from the information!

Next: Halloween at Zoe!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Planning For The Holiday Season

It is hard to believe that Christmas is now less than two months away!  But in the retail world, we've been planning for it for quite a while.  I am very curious to see how Zoe's first full holiday season will play out!

You may remember my Black Friday post from soon to be a year ago - it was the first time Jim had seen Zoe's space since I signed the lease just prior to Thanksgiving.  I had been curious to see the shopping traffic in Old Town during that time frame.

Let me make the confession that I have not ever been a Black Friday shopper.  I have a friend who, with his wife, does ALL of their Christmas shopping on Black Friday.  I've just always struggled with the concept of early rising and the crowds. But Zoe will be participating in the Black Friday promotions in Old Town!  Like last year, parking will be free on the streets and at many garages in Old Town.  And many merchants will be opening early and offering great deals to their customers.  For more information on Old Town's Black Friday promotions, you can visit this special page on the Shop Local website.

And then there are the coupon books.  For years, we've received the "Shop Alexandria" and "Dine Alexandria" coupon books.  And now Zoe is going to be in the coupon book!  The team that publishes the book sent a photographer to take exterior and interior shots of the store and designed the coupon based on the offers that I determined would work best for Zoe's customer.  I had an opportunity to see a proof of the coupon yesterday and had very few adjustments.  That book will be mailed to local zip codes (both residential and business) in mid-November as well as distributed in local hotels and in the visitor's center.

Back for another year is "Small Business Saturday" sponsored by American Express.  They have already sent me a window cling for the store with the message "Shop Small" (I love it!)  The same offer stands as last year - Cardmembers who have registered their eligible American Express Card for the Small Business Saturday offer can take advantage of a $25 statement credit by shopping at Zoe and other small businesses on November 26th.  American Express also provides a number of promotional tools for businesses to help get the word out, including a $100 worth of targeted Facebook ads.

I will look forward to reporting to you on the results of all of these different promotions in a future (post holiday) blog post!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Meeting Mark

On Sunday evening I met Zoe's web designer, Mark, for the first time!  As you may remember from last Fall's blog posts, Mark was recommended to me by one of Cori's colleagues.  He lives in a suburb of Durham, NC so all of our work was done via email and phone.

Mark had originally lived in the DC area and was returning this week for a conference called "An Event Apart"  billed as "Three Days of Design, Code, and Content".  We follow each other's personal accounts on Twitter and agreed that it was time for us to meet and for him to meet Zoe.

After being completely horrified by the work being done on the Beltway, Mark got settled into the apartment where he is staying in Falls Church and made his way over to Old Town.  He thought that Zoe looked beautiful!  We both laughed because he came up with Zoe's online "look" prior to me determining the design for Zoe's bricks and mortar home.  Yet both seem very complimentary of each other.

Over dinner at Chadwicks, we touched on topics as far ranging as Wordpress (what I use to manage content for Zoe's website and what he is using for a blog for his wife) to church to couponing!  We had the same comfort level and easy rapport as we had had when working together remotely.  I had the opportunity to also learn a lot about the company he works for and about Durham.

It is hard to believe that last year at this time, we were working through wireframe diagrams like the one below:

I am forever indebted to all of Zoe's creative team members for inspiring me then and now.  They constantly help me look at the world in new and fresh ways.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Taking The Show On The Road

In Monday's post, I talked about my plans to have a "Satellite Zoe" at the Alexandria Country Day School (ACDS) Big Top Country Market event on Saturday, October 15th.  With the exception of taking a few of Zoe's things with me when I spoke to the BIAGO women's group last month, it was the first time I had truly taken "the show on the road".

The first thing I had to do was make sure that Zoe's bricks and mortar location could stay open while I was at the event.  My wonderful friend Janice agreed to take care of Zoe while I was away for a few hours.  Knowing Zoe would be in capable hands, I then focused my planning on the event itself.

Part of the challenge was determining not only what I needed from an administrative standpoint but also what merchandise I wanted to take out of the store for that day.  Of course, my trusty lists with their ever present checkboxes were started as I had quiet periods during the day in the store.

As I made the administrative list, I quickly realized that I was missing a few key things - a sales receipt book (so that I could note what inventory was sold and also give the customer a copy of the receipt), a cash "box", and more change!  It was off to Staples (and a dispatch of Jim to the bank) to take care of those missing items.  Of course, I also had to pack bags, tissue paper, business cards, contact cards...everything you'd have at a regular cash desk.

Then it was time identify the appropriate merchandise.  I wanted to focus on items under $100 (in case people were only paying in cash).  I also considered the fact that people often are starting to look for gifts at this time of year.  I also wanted to have a subset of items that would be representative of the kinds of things I carry in the store.  The list was growing....

On Friday evening, I packed up as much as I could prior to leaving the store.  On Saturday, Jim and I first came to the store so that I could have things set up and ready to go for Janice.  Then we loaded the car and headed to ACDS.  Jim helped me unload and I set up my table.

In the same room where I was located (many of us had chosen to be inside after learning that it would be very windy on Saturday) was a stationary vendor, a woman who made painted pottery, a Stella and Dot table, a woman selling Macaroons, and two women selling flavored nuts.  The event started promptly a 10 am and ended at 3 pm.

Janice checked in with me mid-day with a sales report from Zoe's bricks and mortar location!  I was finishing with a customer when the phone rang and was at first panicked!  What was wrong?  But it was good news and things were going smoothly for her!

At 3 pm, I started taking down Zoe's temporary location (could this be equated to a Pop Up Shop?)  Jim arrived soon after to pack us up and take us back to Zoe.  Unload (again) and catch up with Janice on the activities at the store that day.

The event was worthwhile, especially for a new business like mine that is working to get the word out about who we are, where we are, and what we offer.  I had the opportunity to hand out a number of business cards, tell people about the store, and make some sales of the merchandise I had brought to the event.  An added bonus - one of my in-store customers was wearing a great Sweater Coat she had purchased at the store and people had asked her where she had purchased it!  When she told them, I had several people come to me to ask if I still had it and, if so, what sizes were available?   The best advertising is a happy customer.

Cute moment of the week:  My 2 year old niece, Allison, has a video called Minnie's Bow-tique.  My brother told me that she was recently walking through the house saying "Minnie's Bow-tique, Aunt Susan's Bow-tique."  She thinks I sell Bows.  And that is quite alright.

Monday, October 17, 2011

High(er) Tech

You can take the girl out of technology but you can't take the technology out of the girl.  Yes, it is still there.  And it is still always thinking about how to use technology to make the retail business and the fashion world a better place.

I've been thinking for a while now about the best way to set up a disaster recovery system for processing credit/debit cards.  As you may recall from reading my blog, I've had two instances (one with my router and one with a Comcast failure) that created problems in this area.  Yet, as is the case in most businesses, it is often something else that helps you come up with the solution.

I had made a commitment to have a Zoe booth at a Fall Festival held at the Alexandria Country Day School.  The genesis for this adventure came from some women from that area of Alexandria who visited Zoe one day and suggested it as a way to get the word out to more people about the store.  Although my focus would be to have smaller, affordable items at a fair like this, I knew that having the ability to accept credit cards (as well as cash and checks) would increase the likelihood of sales.

It was important to find a solution that would work with my current credit card processing company AND with my iPhone 3GS (so, I'm a technology laggard in some areas).  My credit card company had a solution in conjunction with Verifone that they suggested I review as my solution.

One of the things I liked right away was that the Verifone solution creates an end to end encryption.  Meaning no one's credit card number EVER hits my phone at any time but is encrypted at the time of the swipe.  It was also a very sturdy, robust card reader.  And, even better, it came at the right price (30 dollars cheaper when purchased from the Apple Store than from Best Buy!)

The set-up process was also fairly straight-forward.  The technician from my credit card company did all of the set up on their end.  I had already received the sleeve and downloaded the App from the iTunes store and the remaining set up on the iPhone was minimal.  We ran a test transaction through using my credit card and the technician showed me how to set it up to email the receipt to the customer.

The two forms of credit card acceptance are processed in different batches.  Meaning that my store's credit card receipts were processed in one batch that night and the receipts from the iPhone were processed separately.  There is a small ($5) monthly fee to maintain the ability to accept cards on the phone and a separate (slightly higher) swipe fee.  But for the peace of mind that the $5 a month gives me for disaster recovery alone is well worth it.  Plus it makes it easier for those times when I do make sales outside the bricks and mortar store.

Next up:  Adventures at the Country Market

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Year Ago

Whenever I am worrying about a current challenge with the business, I am fortunate to have some friends who remind me of the challenges I had last year at this time and how I overcame those challenges!  (That is what friends are for, right?)

Today, the Atlanta Apparel Market started for Spring 2012 Fashions and Accessories.  Last year at this time, I had butterflies in my stomach as I prepared for my first buying experience.  If you haven't read my post on my first market visit, it is one of my favorites.

I will never forget how I felt in the days leading up to that trip.  My first worry was whether or not I was REALLY qualified as a buyer?  What if I got there and they turned me away?  Believe me, I took every bit of "proof" with me as I could!  I worried whether or not I would make good buying decisions - did I have my customer base appropriately identified?  Would I spend the store's inventory money wisely?  What would the account reps think of the "new girl"?  Had I left myself enough time to do all of the buying?  It was worse than the first day of school!

Also staring me in the face was the fact that I had signed a letter of intent for Zoe's space but there was no signed lease yet.  This was the latest in several "Leaps of Faith" that I was taking, just trusting that God had the appropriate plan in place for me.  I'll never forget sitting on the loveseat in my kitchen on the day before I was supposed to leave for market, getting all of my files and information together and feeling VERY panicked!  All of a sudden, my cat Lotus jumped up into my lap, sat down, and started purring.  How can you be anxious with a cat in your lap?

In so many ways, it seems like just yesterday.  But I've continued to learn lots of valuable lessons along the way.  It is almost hard for me to believe that I am just now getting shipments in store that I ordered AFTER I had opened!

Next:  Zoe goes High(er) Tech!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Interesting People

I've posted several times before about the interesting people I meet in the course of the business day at Zoe.  Last week was no exception!

One day around lunchtime, an older lady walked in the door, stopped and surveyed the store.  She very nicely said "What do you have that might look good on me?"  I loved it - what a delightful opportunity!  I did ask one question - were there any colors that she didn't like (no point in showing someone something they will hate right off the bat).  She told me that she liked all colors.

I suggested she might like one of two sweaters and pulled her size in both.  She tried them on and we discussed the possibilities for different ways to wear each item.  Following our discussion, she chose one of the sweaters!  That was such a fun experience - most of the time people already know what they are looking for or they are browsing the store to see if something pops out at them.  While it does happen occasionally, I don't often get to try my hand at wardrobe suggestions!

Another interesting visitor was the man who collects business cards from businesses based in Old Town Alexandria.  He said that he started doing it to get exercise and get out of the house following his retirement.  And sure enough, he had a big binder full of business cards!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

For Dad

You probably remember my postings on involving Zoe in charitable giving.  Each month, I've continued to try to find ways to involve the store with local charities that are close to my heart.

Those who have known me for a while know that finding ways to identify cancer early, treat it, and ultimately prevent it is a goal for me.  Six years ago today, I lost my father to a rare form of cancer.  I miss him every single day but have felt it profoundly today.  My mother and brother have assured me that he would be delighted that I had launched Zoe.  It sometimes seems unfair that he didn't get to see me act on this dream.

I was feeling down this afternoon when two women from Baltimore came into the store, drawn in partially by the ad that I have in my window for Chan Luu Breast Cancer bracelets.  They were so much fun to shop with and, as we were talking, I found that one of the woman had recently (within the last three months) lost her mother to cancer and the other had just found out that her mother had breast cancer.  We all agreed that the word "Cancer" is the most terrible word you can hear.  They definitely were angels sent to lift my down spirits today.  It is so odd how close you can feel to others who have experienced the same things.

I've recently focused Zoe's philanthropic efforts on different types of cancer.  We were a Crew level sponsor for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Regatta held in Alexandria in September.  We participated in a Silent Auction for the Women Mean Business of Alexandria's benefit for The Walk to Fight Breast Cancer.  We are a sponsor for the Super Survivors Contest for the National Race to End Women's Cancer in November.  And we are selling the Chan Luu Breast Cancer bracelets (Chan is donating 50% of the proceeds to, Zoe is donating 10% of all Chan Luu Wrap Bracelet sales through year end to the same organization).

I hope to always live a life as the legacy that my father told me that I was for him.  Thanks to all of you who surrounded me with your love as I mourned his illness and loss and continue to encourage me today.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Dilemma

As many details as you try to cover when thinking about opening a business, there are always so many little things that you just don't think of in the process.  One that has challenged me since I opened is what to do when I have one left of an item.

Now, I'm not complaining.  If Zoe has one left of an item at full price, it means that item has done well!  It is always exciting when you've selected something in the right colors/style/sizes for your customer population.  But then there is that one item, hanging there all alone, wanting a home.

I try to think about the best way to merchandise the single items.  Do I hang them all together?  Do I hang them with similarly styled/colored sister items?  They just always seem to stick out like a sore thumb to me!

One thing I've tried on and off since opening is offering a discount on the full-priced single items on Wednesdays.  As I've tracked sales and traffic over the last six months, I've found that Wednesdays are typically my quietest day.  I've shown the items on my Facebook page (and posted to Twitter as well) but I've never had anyone take advantage of the sale (or even anyone buy the item in the store that day without knowing about the sale!)  I've honestly been reluctant to blast my email list with the weekly deals although that is a possibility also.  Most people like a deal but they also don't want to wade through tons of email from businesses every day.  (And I've had returning customers thank me for not emailing them constantly, which is feedback I truly take to heart).

I'm open to suggestions as to what to do with the lovely but lonely single items!  Here is one of them (a Rebecca Taylor Perfect Shift Dress in a Size 6).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Six Months

Today is the 6 month anniversary of Zoe opening her doors to the public!  Jim asked me last night if I thought it seemed like 6 months - he said it seemed longer just because I had put so much work and effort into it prior to opening.  For me, it seems like it has flown by!

I can say that I am constantly in awe of what I learn every day.  And of the interesting things that happen to me (or for me).  And just think of the material I'm collecting for my future best seller!

One day recently, I noticed a group of people taking pictures on Prince Street.  Not an unusual occurrence on that beautiful and historic street.  But then they came into Zoe.  They were in the Air Force and were in training to serve as Photography Specialists!  They had been assigned to take a variety of pictures and asked if they could take pictures of me in the store.  As they were snapping their photos with their sophisticated cameras and flash apparatus, my landlord walked by.  He later came in and asked me if I was famous!  I had to explain that I did not have my own paparazzi team following my every move!  The students already knew where they had been assigned when they finished their coursework - places such as South Dakota and New Mexico!

In the "Small World" category, two women were shopping the store and, in the course of conversation, one of the women said she lived in Williamsburg.  I told her that I loved "the Burg" and had graduated from William & Mary.  She then told me that both of her sons had graduated from W&M and asked my class year.  When I told her, she said that her son had graduated that year and gave me his name.  Not only did I know him but I had also served on our 20th Reunion Gift Committee with him.  What a nice surprise!

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of women business owners about the store.  As part of my presentation, I tell them a little bit about my background and how I came to open the store before I go in depth on what we offer.  After I finished speaking, a couple of the women came to me and said "I can't imagine you doing anything else - your passion for what you do is so genuine."  Comments like that are so encouraging.  I still have days where I think "What on earth am I thinking?  I must have been crazy to do this!"  I'll let you know if I still am thinking that way in six months!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What A Great Place To Be!

The City of Alexandria continues to receive national recognition this week!  A ceremony was held on Tuesday evening, October 4th to announce that King Street (our Main Street) in Alexandria had been designated as one of the "Top 10 Great Streets" by the American Planning Association (APA).  As an added bonus (for me), Davis Street in Culpeper, Virginia (one of my other hometowns) also received the same designation!

The APA website says of King Street:

Historic, vibrant, and eclectic, King Street has been enhanced by active planning and implementation through its evolution from an 18th century colonial seaport and 19th century center of trade to a center of 21st century commerce and tourism. Planning and preservation have ensured that King Street, part of the "Old and Historic District" in Alexandria's "Old Town" neighborhood, balances the past with the present. The city's Archeological Protection Code, adopted in 1989, requires impact assessments on cultural resources for new development and a Board of Architectural Review ensures that designs for new construction and exterior alterations blend with the street's historic buildings.

Also, the City as a whole has been recognized as a Silver Level "Walk Friendly" Community by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.  A Walk Friendly Community is a city or town that has shown a commitment to improving and sustaining walkability and pedestrian safety.  And, another of my "hometowns" (Charlottesville, Virginia) has the same ranking!  You can click here to see why Alexandria qualified for this wonderful designation!

One of the things I love about Alexandria (and love about having Zoe here) is that we are a metropolitan area with a small town feel!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Some Little Surprises From The City

I really love it when good things happen that you aren't really expecting.  Especially when you've just paid property taxes on your business and wonder just where that money is going.

On the night that I had Zoe's Fall Fashion Party (the night we got 10 million inches of rain), I noticed that the street light was out at the corner of Union and Prince.  I hadn't been at the store quite that late (and in the dark) before that time.  The next morning, I looked on the City's website to see how I could report the issue.  With my technology background, I tend to be very picky about how easy (or hard) it is to do things on line.  Imagine my delight when I found that the City had a very easy to use online form/questionnaire that made reporting the problem a breeze!  I was even given a confirmation number so that I could track the reported issue.

When I looked outside the store on this past Saturday's VERY rainy and dark day, I found that the streetlight that I had reported was beautifully lit!
I know...I takes so little to make me happy.  But that will be a really nice thing as our days are getting shorter all the time.

Moving on to the second happy event, Friday was one of the few really nice days we've had in September.  I had had some nice customer traffic in the morning despite some workmen grinding out the lining of the fountain in the courtyard.  As the afternoon wore on, the grinding got more intense and dust was flying.  I finally had to close Zoe's door because it was so awful.  As I stood at the window of the store, stewing and wondering how much longer it was going to take, I saw a Code Enforcement SUV drive down Prince Street and park.  The Inspector got out and came over to the workers and shut down the operation!  Turns out the City had some complaints from some other businesses about the dust!  The Inspector came in to see me (thinking I was the one who had called).  I told him I wasn't the person who had placed the call and that he should probably also check in with my landlord to explain the situation.

It turns out that the workers needed to have either scheduled the work in off hours (when the businesses aren't open) or have a tent set up to catch the dust.  What a relief!  I was never so happy to see the Code Enforcement team in my life!  With the challenges from the recent weather and the economy, none of us need anything that dissuades people from visiting our stores/restaurants!