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!