Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Getting Creative

I'm always thinking of ways to draw more people to Zoe.  And show them things that they would like when they do come into the store.  On Friday, I had been thinking about pushing one of my rolling racks outside the door so that people could see an example of the kind of clothes we carry.  I don't want to do this during the week because I believe it would detract from my landlord's entrance.

I found out on Friday afternoon that they are going to be closing at 2:30 on Fridays during the summer!  So I readied my rolling rack to put outside after they closed!  I had some challenges with it that first afternoon as it got to be a little windy and it was hard to keep it upright!  But I sold one of the items I had displayed on the rack so that gave me a good feeling that this was the way to go.

On Saturday morning, I walked down to Starbucks to ask if I could borrow two of their sandbags (they had a bunch piled up outside their door following the recent flooding).  They said "Of course".  Now, it was up to me to transport the sandbags back to the store.  Try doing that dressed up and in high heels - plus these things probably weigh 50 lbs each.  I am sure I was quite a sight.  But I managed to do it (and paid for it with aching deltoids and obliques).  Maybe it is a new fitness program I should start - the Sandbag Workout.  Or maybe we should have a Boutique Olympics and include the sandbag carry as one of the events?

All kidding aside, the sandbags did the trick.  No problems with the rack despite lots of wind on Saturday and Sunday.  And a number of people came in the store who told me they were drawn by the display.  I've toned it down slightly today - I've hung a top from the door handle and a dress from the hook where I normally hang my "Open" sign.  I'll do the rack on weekends when it won't be a distraction for my landlord.

Last week, a customer came into the store prior to picking up ice cream for her children (I've mentioned we have 3 ice cream stores in close proximity to Zoe).  She really liked the store and told me she would share information on it using an Old Town Moms Listserv on Yahoo.  Sure enough, I got messages from two Old Town friends on Sunday evening, sharing the nice blurb she had written.  There is nothing better than someone else speaking highly of you!

My customers continue to be fun and enjoyable.  I've had them share parts of their food purchases with me - I got to try salted licorice from The Sugar Cube on Saturday.  They make restaurant recommendations for other parts of Northern Virginia.  A couple who had owned a boutique in Myrtle Beach talked to me in length about the boutique business - what worked for them and what didn't.  Sometimes my past customers stop in to introduce their children to me or just say "Hi!"  It truly is everything I had hoped for as far as making connections with people.

The heat has been pretty intense here the past few days.  Customers have commented that the store feels comfortable, which is exactly what I'm striving for.  No one wants to try on clothes when they feel hot and sticky.

For those following the FedEx saga, they did finally pick up the package late last week.  When I checked the tracking information this morning, I found it should be back to the Display company on June 1st.  Hopefully, we can put this little drama to rest.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Philanthropy Continued

One of the boutiques that served as my inspiration for Zoe is Sonia Says of Athens, Georgia.  They have a motto "Looking good while doing good."  If Zoe can accomplish the same for our customers and community, I would be very happy!

In one of my earlier posts this month, I mentioned the Charity Day held by the Old Town Boutique District.  I chose to have Zoe participate as well by donating 10% of Gross Sales to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.  I choose AWLA for two reasons - one being that so many of my customers have pets which are very important to them and my first pet upon moving to the DC area out of college came from AWLA (Muffin).

This week, I receive a very nice welcome note from the Executive Director of ACT for Alexandria, a Community Foundation.  They recently held an event during the Mother's Day weekend called Spring for Alexandria which encouraged donations and volunteerism throughout Alexandria.  I've contacted him to find out how Zoe could be more involved in the community.

I also met with a representative from UVA's McIntire School of Commerce to discuss holding a women's alumni event at Zoe.  We are currently targeting July for the event.  By keeping alums involved with the University, we establish a connection that can then turn into continued to support for the School and University, whether it be monetary or mentoring relationships.  Plus, as a bonus, I get to introduce Zoe to more people!

McIntire had a nice write-up for Zoe in the Alumni Notes in their May 2011 newsletter.  They took some of what I said in an email to them and included it in the blurb.  I was pleased with the results and have already heard from some of my classmates who didn't know I had taken the leap into business ownership!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Day In The Life....

As I've said before, there are always new and interesting things that happen to me every day as a boutique owner.  A few over the past week....

  1. A small bird came hopping into my store.  I chased it out.  I knew that it was not a good idea for either of us if it took up residence here.  One day, a squirrel almost ran into the store.  We had quite a little standoff in the doorway.
  2. Today I am getting the windows cleaned at the store (inside and out).  It is a fairly involved process since there are so many individual panes.  I could ignore it when the weather was cloudy but it REALLY looked bad when the sun shines in!  I'll have this done at least once a month going forward!
  3. Some of the floorboards toward the back of the store had started lifting (probably due to the high humidity over the past few days).  I notified the construction company and they sent someone out right away.  Kind of the anti-FedEx.  (they are my new Verizon/Comcast).
  4. I always appreciate how my friends look out for me.  Friend Jamie reads the blog on Zoe's webpage using Google Feed Reader.  She noticed that the first picture that I put in the blog never shows up when she reads it that way (I use a function called Featured Image with that first picture).  She let me know so that I can work with my web developer to see if there is a fix (or a workaround) for this.  It is a known issue (per my web searching) but I'm hoping he can give me some guidance on how to fix it.
  5. Yesterday I got to help a customer pick out birthday gifts for her sister and niece!  Those visits are always a lot of fun.  The customer was a similar size to her sister so she got to try on lots of pieces to find just the right one!
  6. I knew it was a matter of time until I witnessed a fender bender at the intersection of Prince & Union.  Sure enough, a large tractor trailer could not swing the corner and managed to scrape (and then back into) a mini-van.  Right at lunchtime too!  The intersection (which is always busy) was blocked for a little while.
  7. For the past two days, we had the Tall Ship Gloria docked just down the street from Zoe.  Yesterday morning, I saw all of the sailors walking down Union in their dress uniforms.  They looked so crisp, clean and nice.  A lot of people came down to tour the ship.  It was a lot of fun to look out Zoe's door and see the tall masts.
  8. I've had all kinds of great visits this week!  Friends and UVA classmates Akram and Ken stopped in (within 20 minutes of each other) as well as other UVA alums (and Denmark classmates) Stacey and Dave.  And friends Renee and Michelle stopped in after taking their children to visit the Gloria!  I have not lacked for company!
  9. Zoe's Spring Sale has started out well - people seem to be enjoying the opportunity to get some great spring pieces at sale prices!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


You knew it had been too long since I wrote about one of my vendors.  Most days, things go pretty smoothly.  Other days, it is as if no one can do anything correctly the first time.

Back in March when I got my big truckload shipment of fixtures at the store, I received 5 mannequins.  One of them did not work properly with the other pieces of the system so the Display company had to order a new one.  They said that they would arrange to have the "bad" mannequin picked up and shipped back to me.

Time passed and I had lots of other things on my mind.  A couple weeks ago, I got a call from the display company, saying that the new mannequin was shipping that day.  I asked when they were going to pick up the old one and they said "Oh, we did."  I said "Oh, no, you didn't!"  When they started researching it, they found that FedEx claimed they picked it up but then didn't know how to get it back to them.  Thus the saga began.

You may remember that FedEx has continued to deliver my packages to 130 North Union Street, which is a residence.  I have complained about this to no avail.  So, that week that they told me my mannequin had shipped, I took a stroll down to 130 North Union.  And there was my mannequin.  I was beyond perturbed.  All sorts of grumpy thoughts were going through my head as I hauled the mannequin back to Zoe.

When I called the Display company, they said they would get it straightened out.  Well, we know I'm not particularly a patient person, especially when gross incompetence is involved.  So, I called them every few days to complain.  Lo and behold, the FedEx Ground guy shows up and introduces himself today with the comment "Oh, I finally found you."  Shockingly, I managed to hold my tongue!  I asked him if he had a call tag for the mannequin and he said "No.".  As soon as he left, I called the Display company to tell them to get that call tag submitted since FedEx finally knows where I am.  They assured me they would.  Stay tuned...

By the way, I love my UPS deliveryman.  He has never had a problem finding me from Day One.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Continued Week of Firsts

Jim is my blogging "conscience".  He is always asking me if I updated the blog and, if I answer that I haven't, he tells me that I need to!

Zoe will continue to have many "firsts" as the year progresses.  On Friday, I had my first return (oh dear!)  As you know, Zoe's bags are pretty distinct.  I saw a woman walking down Union Street with one and I thought "Hmmm - she is either coming to get something else (I encourage people to bring their bags back for a discount) or she is returning something."  Indeed, she was returning something.  I had contacted my point of sale software help desk not long after I had opened to make sure I knew how to process a return.  It took me a little while to run through it because I wanted to make sure I did it right and didn't create a credit card issue for either of us.  Fortunately, it went smoothly.

On a lighter note, I had the first couple kiss in my store over the weekend!  A sweet smooch!

And, I'm getting ready to start my first annual spring sale on Tuesday!  I had gone through and noted all of my upcoming shipments (through November, believe it or not) and know I'm going to have more coming in early to mid-June.  I need to start moving some of the remaining Spring items to make room for the new items.  I have sold out of several things.  I can tell you that my customers love things in all shades of blue - those have definitely been my best sellers!

I had visits from friends Martha and Alex D. over the weekend and Janice came to help me on Sunday afternoon.  I love seeing familiar faces in the shop!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Blogging, Newspapers, and Fun Visitors

Last Friday, I had a visit from Old Town Alexandria Patch blogger Tara and her daughter Sophie.  Tara had called me to ask if she could come by to write a story on items that Zoe carries that might be appealing to Alexandria Moms.  I started walking the store, thinking about what would be comfortable, fashionable, and affordable for all the Moms that I know.  I had a lot of fun making the list but even more fun working with Tara and Sophie!  Tara's blog appeared on the Patch yesterday and I loved her article!  She writes a very fun blog for all you Moms who enjoy another Mom's perspective.  I'm not a Mom and I'm hooked!

Zoe also had an article appear in the Alexandria Gazette Packet yesterday.  I am delighted to receive the press but must admit I'm a little embarrassed regarding the part about me.  I honestly don't ever think of myself as lucky - fortunate or blessed perhaps but never lucky.  And I am not sure about the quick rise part - I had always felt I had worked very hard to reach the levels I did reach in my technology career.  But of course I like the parts about Zoe!

I had several enjoyable visitors yesterday - the founder/buyer of the Shoe Hive (and Founder of the Old Town Boutique District) stopped in the store yesterday as well as the manager of the Shoe Hive.  It is so nice to meet experienced Alexandria merchants.

In the afternoon, my point of sale consultant, Pat, stopped by the store.  We had always done all the work on the system in my home so he had never seen the store.  He was very complimentary, which means a lot because he sees LOTS of stores in his line of work.   He was also happy to hear that the software, support, and integrated programs were working well.

And later in the day, Kelly, a merchant coming to Old Town stopped in my store to ask about my experience with the point of sale system.  It was fun talking to her about her business and my experiences in starting Zoe.

Each day is a wonderful surprise!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Web Presence

One of the challenges of having a new business is staying abreast of all of the different marketing and informational resources available to you.  Friend Tim recently noted that that I was not on Google Places and I took the necessary steps to rectify that situation.  In a meeting with a consultant, I was also advised to take advantage of a service called GetListed.org.  This is a one stop shop to get your business listed on Yahoo!, Bing, Yelp, and other search sites (in addition to Google).

It is interesting how high this blog comes up on Google and Bing searches when looking for Zoe Boutique Alexandria.  I've had people come into the store (that I did not know) who told me they've been reading my blog!  While I am certainly aware that anything I write here (or on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere) is pretty much available for anyone to read, it is still amazing to me that people I don't know even want to read it!

In other store related news, I purchased some dog treats during my shopping expeditions on Monday.  And I got to give them to my first doggie customers yesterday!  Next up, leash hooks for the dressing rooms (thanks, Juice!)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Staying On Top Of Things

One of the things that I try to do every day is keep track of anything and everything that my designers are doing on their websites or in terms of public relations.  I will admit that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are very helpful in this regard as they push the information to me rather than me always having to look for it.

I have to assume that my customer is a savvy consumer.  She is tuned in to fashion, trends, and prices.  When I received notification on Sunday evening (via a Facebook posting from one of my designers) that she was putting certain spring items on sale, I immediately went to her web page to see if any of the items I had in store fell into that category.  Sure enough, three pieces that I have in store were part of her online sale.  I immediately made plans to put the items on the same level of sale shown on the designer's website when I opened the store on Tuesday.  And, because a blogger was preparing to publish a piece on the store (and one of those items is included!) I contacted her quickly so that she could update her story before it appears later this week.

I love it when my designers receive recognition in one of the fashion magazines.  If people like what they see in the magazine, they often come looking for that particular style in store.  Just this month, one of my designers has received press in Women's Wear Daily and InStyle.

As a side note, did you know that this week is National Small Business Week?  I encourage you to support your local small businesses, whether they be restaurants, boutiques, spas/salons, coffee shops, or service providers.  All of the small business owners I have met thus far are truly invested in making their communities better.  Show them some love!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Zoe's Video

Sometimes, words just aren't necessary.  Or maybe I'm speechless.  Hollywood doesn't have to worry - there is no threat of a new actress emerging on the scene anytime soon!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Charitable Giving

Philanthropy has always been important to me.  And it is a tradition that I hope to continue through Zoe.

In February, my friend Renee told me that the school her son attends (Immanuel Lutheran School in Alexandria) would be holding a Silent Auction in May.  The school was looking for local businesses and individuals to donate to the auction.  I thought it was a great chance to get Zoe more involved in the community, get to know more people, and support a great cause!

For the auction, I decided to donate one of Zoe's lovely Graham & Spencer leather bags along with a Gift Card for the store.  I packaged everything in one of the reusable Zoe bags and included one of the Zoe soaps that we give to all new customers.  Here is a picture of the bag:

Of course, you can imagine I was DYING to know who had won the Zoe donation!  I didn't have to wait long!  The winner came shopping on Wednesday!  It turned out that her husband had kept up the bidding for the Zoe donation and won it for her!  She had a great time trying on clothing in the store and got to use her gift card for her purchase.  What a great thing all the way around.

So many of the businesses in Alexandria are charitably minded.  The members of the Old Town Boutique District are sponsoring a Charity Day on Saturday, May 14th.  Each of the members of the district have selected a charity that will receive a certain percentage of their sales that day.  Some are also taking donations for their charities as well.  What a fantastic idea!  Shopping for a cause!

As friends and fans of Zoe, do you have any causes that are important to you that you would like to see us support?  We are trying to find a way to do something at least once a month in support of great organizations!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


In all of the curtain hoopla, I neglected to write about two significant anniversaries in the life of Zoe.

Friday, May 6th, was Zoe's one month anniversary!  I can honestly say that the first month FLEW by!  It is impossible to quantify how much I learned in that time period (about the business and about myself).  Did I come home every day bone tired?  Yes.  But did I come home happy?  Yes again.  I love the opportunity to employ so many different skill sets in running the business.  And the constant learning!  I learn from doing. I learn from my customers.  I learn from my vendors.  I learn what works and what doesn't work.  And I know I'll keep learning.

Saturday, May 7th was the one year anniversary of me leaving my job in the corporate world.  The anniversary caused me to spend a lot of time reflecting on the past year.  I really don't think I would trade this opportunity for anything.  Now, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the money I used to make.  But I've learned to do a lot more with a lot less.  And there is a particular joy in accomplishing that.  Everyone who knows me, from Jim to my mother to long time friends, tells me that I am a different person - happier, more creative, mellow.  How do you put a price tag on that?  I know for a fact my health is much better (mental and physical).  And, I've talked about this before, but I have a much closer relationship with God.  I've finally started to learn what ceding control and trust are all about.

I'd also be lying if I said I didn't miss the people that I worked with at my job.  It's not often one finds oneself working with such smart and talented colleagues.  So many of them remain true friends, for which I am very grateful.  I love the fact that I can keep them as friends while continually expanding my world of new friends.

I loved my trip to NY last Monday, it was GREAT to have my day off yesterday!  Although I am always very busy, it truly recharges me to have that day to sleep in a little and get things done.  I did go to Zoe for a couple of hours, mainly to take care of filing the Withholding and Sales/Use Tax for April and to prepare the store for the Knitwear sale.  I love my Point of Sale system for things like this.  I can set up a range of dates/times and then select the items and apply the appropriate formula.  Then, when I ring up the item, it rings up at the proper price without me having to do any special calculations or adjustments.  I sold 2 of the sale items today and it worked flawlessly!  And I also needed to do a TON of filing!  I felt much more at peace with all of that done.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Curtains Up!

When Jim came home from work today, he scolded me for not updating my blog in several days.  He said "You leave people wondering what is going on!"  I think it is very sweet that he reads my blog, especially since he lives it day in and day out.  As a side note, I think he wanted to be absolved of all of the ridicule he has been getting for not putting up the curtain rod at the store.

Yes, the curtain rod (and the beautiful curtain) is up!  On Friday night after dinner, we went to Target to find a rod (I had measured the area once more prior to leaving the store).  A sturdy but inexpensive rod in hand, Jim took me to work on Saturday and came in to install the rod and hang the beautiful curtain that friend Karen had made for me.  Photographic evidence below:

For those who may not remember, this curtain now covers the area where the wheelchair lift is housed in the store.

I admit that I did leave everyone hanging last Wednesday.  Just what DID I do on Thursday?  Well, I had the folks from the Old Town Alexandria Patch come in to do a short video of the store.  It has me on camera as well as speaking.  I was very impressed with the videographer - he was extremely prepared and professional.  I have to confess, I am somewhat dreading reviewing the results.  I love sharing anything about Zoe but just hate the sound of my own voice!  I know...so weird.  I promise to share it on the blog when the final version is ready to go.

Zoe has gone international in the past week.  I've had two sets of visitors (one from London, one from Budapest, Hungary) come in because they had granddaughters named Zoe.  Both sets of visitors enjoyed shopping and hearing about the store.  So, when you see those Zoe bags when traveling in Europe...

On Friday, a member of the editorial team from the Alexandria Gazette-Packet came to visit me at Zoe.  She took two photos and did a short interview.  The AG-P is a weekly paper so perhaps there will be something in the paper regarding Zoe this week!

Lots of new shipments arrived last week!  It seemed like every day I was unpacking something fun and new!  Mother, Graham & Spencer, Tracy Reese, Red Engine White Denim.  And I'm kicking off my first true Sale beginning tomorrow - knitwear for 30% off!

I always love it when friends stop by to see me.  I had a nice visit from friend Janet and her husband on their way to Mai Thai on Friday evening.  And friend Andy and his girlfriend came in on Saturday.   That's part of the fun - I never know who might walk through my door.  Strangest visitor this past week - a man who wanted to read my palm.  I told him "No".  This is the sort of thing I never imagined when I thought about opening a store.  My family wants me to keep notes and write a book some day.  Believe me, I'm getting the material to fill one!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Blog Mentions

It is so flattering to have Zoe mentioned in other blogs!  It has happened twice this week and I just had to share!

My friend Renee visited Zoe on Saturday with one of her sons (Josiah) and her daughter (Lydia).  I honestly thought that I was going to need to hire Lydia as my PR person because she gushed enthusiastically about the store for everyone to hear!  Renee had fun shopping for herself as well as her mother and mother-in-law.  She summarized her shopping experience at Zoe in her most recent blog entry.

In yesterday's blog entry, I mentioned that I was adding a new handbag line for Fall called Alexandra Satine.  I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Alexandra on Monday in NY.  We had been corresponding via email and Facebook for a few months as I reviewed her line and she got to know more about my store.  Last night, she sent me an email to tell me she had been featured in a fashion blog called Sugar Rock Catwalk.  As part of the blog entry, the writers note that her bags can be found at Zoe!

I'm still figuring my way around the publicity thing.  Last week, an "Advotorial" appeared in the Alexandria Times.  The title of the article/ad is "Shop Around the Corner".  Since it is actually an advertisement, I wrote it.  It isn't too hard to do as long as I'm writing about Zoe and not myself!  And the Alexandria Gazette Packet included a write-up on Zoe as part of their Talk of the Town feature.

Wait until I tell you what I did today!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

NY Market - May Visit

Since Mondays are my day off at Zoe, that was absolutely the best day to take the train to NYC for the Late Fall/Winter/Holiday market.  (Yes, I know - it is hard for me to think about too!)

I try to get to NY by 8:45 (the market opens at 9) so I was on the 5:30 am Northeast Regional from Union Station.  We were a little delayed just after Philadelphia so we didn't arrive at Penn Station until around 9 am.  There was a significant police presence at Penn Station, most likely due to the death of Osama bin Laden the previous night.

This time I needed to take a taxi to market since it was held at Piers 92 and 94 (too far to walk).  Where were all the cabs on Monday morning?  Not at Penn Station, I can tell you that!  After queueing up in a very long line and shuffling forward a few steps every few minutes I finally got a cab.  No issues at all - the cab drivers continue to impress on my trips to the city.

The show organizer had already sent me a badge so my registration process was quick and painless.  I went to Pier 94 first (where they had mostly accessories and denim), then to Pier 92 for apparel and back to Pier 94 for one last accessory review.  I wrote orders with brands that I already carry in store (Chan Luu, Rebecca Taylor, Velvet, Alice and Trixie) and added two new lines (Waverley Grey and Beth Bowley) as well as a new handbag line (Alexandra Satine).  I was very pleased with the day and very excited about the new items on the way later this year!

This market was not quite as big as the Fall market that I attended in February - the big markets are the Spring and Fall events.  But still, so many different vendors and VERY crowded.  On the way up, I reviewed my monthly reports for Zoe for April and made notes of things I wanted to discuss with the account representatives.  Although I have a "mental total" of what is selling and the margins, it is very helpful to see it on paper so that I can analyze it more thoroughly.

As far as fashion goes, I did go a bit more "New York" this time while still preserving comfort!  The black Dr. Scholl's made the trip as did my Red Engine Black Skinny jeans, a sleeveless black sweater and my Frost Gray Chan Luu Lace Jacket.  Several of my fellow retailers recognized the Chan Luu jacket!

I was fortunate to get on an earlier train and was physically home by 7:15!  An excellent day all around.  Now, where am I going to find that day off this week? :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Grand Opening

Sorry for the delay on updating the blog - it has been such a busy few days!

Zoe's Grand Opening took place beginning Friday, April 29 through Sunday, May 1.  We could not have been blessed with better weather on Friday and Saturday.  Definitely the best Saturday weather that we've had since Zoe opened!

I was very delighted with the results of the Grand Opening.   A significant number of people visited the store and signed up for the mailing list.  We had record sales on Saturday and Sunday.  We had started the initial advertising for the store on Thursday in the Alexandria Times and followed up with ads in the Alexandria Gazette Packet and the Mt. Vernon Gazette.  A number of people mentioned reading the articles and seeing the advertisements!  Print newspapers are not dead!

As part of the Grand Opening Promotion, patrons had the opportunity to draw at the time of checkout to see what level of discount they would receive on their purchase.  Everyone was guaranteed a minimum of 10% with the possibility of drawing 20% or 30%!  The people who drew the 20s and 30s were thrilled!  It was fun to give people the opportunity to do that!

As with the other days, I love all of the people that I get to meet in the course of business.  Mothers and daughters shopping together, friends shopping together, ladies treating themselves to new spring/summer clothing and jewelry, people shopping for gifts, husbands and wives looking for a special item.  Each person had a specific reason for walking into the store whether they purchased something or not.

I was visited by a number of friends over the weekend, including Jamie, Sally, Tina, Jessica, Carly, Amy, Renee, Kathryn and Brian.  It is always such a delight for me to see a familiar face.  And Karen and Janice stopped by to bring the completed curtain (for the wheelchair lift) - now just waiting for Jim to put up the curtain rod!  And Janice was a huge help to me on Thursday afternoon and Sunday afternoon.  I love having her visit/help me!

Tomorrow - Monday's trip to the NY Apparel Market!