Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Hammer

In my previous job, people who worked with me sometimes designated me "The Hammer".  Their theory was that they only got me engaged when someone else wasn't listening to what they were saying.  It was my job to drive the point home and put an end to the discussion.  If something absolutely, positively had to be finalized, they brought "The Hammer" to the table.

It wasn't one of those roles I particularly relished but when it was necessary, I could employ my best grumpy and firm self and put an end to the nonsense.  I recently had to get the old Hammer persona out at Zoe.  (I looked around and couldn't find anyone else to do it so it fell to me).

It always bugged me (in the corporate world) when people didn't do the things that they said they were going to do.  Well, as I had suspected, it is the same in the fashion world too.  In the last week, I've had to follow up to see why Zoe had fallen off the "Store Locator" list for one of my major brands and continue to bug another major label to include Zoe on their "Store Locator" list, a request I had been making since early April.  (Both have now been addressed)

Then there is the mystery of the lost/changed orders.  When I got to market, I have a certain amount of money I am able to commit, a certain mix of clothing and accessories I want to buy, certain colors and styles from the designers (so that the store looks well merchandised and consistent), and even certain "numbers" of things (x number of sweaters, x number of tops, x number of skirts, etc).  So when I order and commit money based on my formula, I am planning to receive those things.

I recently had one line come back to me (after I had ordered for Fall at market in February) and tell me that they had decided not to make two of the items I ordered.  The rep couldn't tell me exactly why.  The silver lining is that it allowed me to take that money and reallocated my sizing and designs with that same designer.  So, a positive overall because it happened well before I started receiving the merchandise.

Other lines just either have bad record keeping (remember, it is all paper driven) or just arbitrarily decide that you aren't going to get items from your order.  I've followed up on a couple of those instances in the last week.  And don't get me started on those that ship your order to some other store OR ship the order to you COD when you've already paid for it via credit card!  The Hammer definitely comes out for those instances.  Trust me, techie friends....there is a ripe opportunity to help the fashion industry with technology!

A special nod to my in-house CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) - my husband, Jim.  On Saturday evening he suggested that I take one of the sandbags and put it in a Zoe bag and place the bag at the edge of the terrace to catch the eye of passers-by.  I did this on Sunday and two sisters came into the store.  As one was completing her purchase, she said "I knew I would like this store when I saw your bag outside!  It was just so cute!"

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tourist Season

In writing the business plan for Zoe, I took into account that Old Town Alexandria is a tourist destination.  In just the past two weeks, I've had the opportunity to meet a number of tourists at the store.

Many of the visitors have come from the Midwestern states - Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan.  Most are here either on business or they have traveled with someone here on business.  And they really seem to enjoy the DC area and especially Alexandria.  And, even more exciting (to me), they enjoy shopping at Zoe!

I learn a great deal from them as well.  Yesterday, a mother and daughter visiting from Michigan had just finished a food tour of Alexandria!  I had no idea there was such a thing!  I ask lots of questions since I am often asked about fun things to do by out of town visitors.  The tour had finished up at Old Town Coffee, Tea, and Spice (located in the 200 block of South Union Street).  As they walked up the street, they saw Zoe and decided to come in to shop!

Last week, a couple from Kansas City came in the store.  The female half of the couple tried on a necklace and liked it very much.  She and her husband were considering it as a gift for a relative.  They left without purchasing it.  Within an hour, the phone rang and the lady told me that she wanted the necklace and could I hold it for her?  And they returned shortly thereafter and she bought it for herself!  She wore it out of the store and I could tell she was very happy with her purchase.  (She confessed that she made the decision over a glass of wine!)

Earlier this week, I had a mother/daughter from Oklahoma who had accompanied the daughter's son on a trip to DC.  While he was out with the school tour group, they were shopping!  The daughter had a passion for denim and had fun trying on the two brands I carry at Zoe.  She is able to wear denim to work and is always on the lookout for the latest releases.  She ended up purchasing a pair of the Mother jeans that I recently stocked in the store.  She told me she has over 40 pairs of jeans in her closet!

One thing I love about the job is all the interesting people that I meet!

Monday, June 20, 2011

First Trunk Show

Saturday was another "first" for Zoe - we hosted our first trunk show!  But first, a little history as to how we got here.

Since opening Zoe, I am bombarded daily with phone calls, emails and walk-ins attempting to sell me something.  It might be a potential new line to carry in the store, a person trying to get me to change credit card processing companies, or someone selling boxes and bags.  It could also be someone trying to get me to advertise with their publication.  I have to make decisions every day about where (and where not) to spend my money.

Early this year, a handbag designer found Zoe's Facebook site and sent me an email along with information and pictures of her designs.  Her approach was genuine and gentle and her designs were gorgeous.  We began an email/Facebook conversation with an agreement that I would look at her line after Zoe had opened.  When I went to the NY Market in early May, I got to meet Alexandra Satine for the first time.  She was just as lovely as she had come across in her emails and seeing her bags in person sold me on her product.  I placed an order for her Fall line.

She had offered to come to Alexandria to do a trunk show at Zoe at anytime and we agreed on June 18th.  She allowed me to select the bags from her Summer 2011 line that I wanted her to bring for the show (hard too do because they are all so gorgeous!)

As soon as Alexandra arrived at the store on Saturday morning, we cleared the round table that I have at the entrance to the store so that she could set up her display.  She had a beautiful mix of lucite stands and metal poles on which to display the bags.  And smelling that amazing Italian leather all day was heavenly!

We had a lot of time to get to know each other better as we worked together throughout the day.  While Zoe's trunk show was really agreed upon with an electronic "handshake", she told me that some large stores where she does shows require her to sign very detailed agreements stipulating all sorts of things (for example, that she isn't allowed to sit down)!

I was truly mesmerized by the information she shared with me regarding the true ins and outs of the fashion industry.  While I have already started looking at stores and shopping with a very different eye after opening and running my own store, I now definitely look at it with an even greater understanding and deeper perspective.

Alexandra had a lot of interest and many compliments on her bags.  Many customers were amazed that someone so young (in her late 20s) was the designer and many were happy to hear that they are made in New York City.   I truly believe she has a very bright future ahead of her!

On an unrelated note, now that the fountain is running outside the store, many children come up to throw coins in the fountain (I joked to the CFO that it was a new revenue source for their association).  Often, parents and grandparents will urge the children to make a wish.  My favorite thus far was uttered by a little boy after throwing his coin into the fountain.  His grandmother asked what he had wished for and he said "A Penguin!"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Excitement in Old Town

While I consider the little piece of the world that I occupy in Old Town during the day to be fairly interesting/exciting, things got very exciting on Friday!

I was working with a customer when a woman walked into my store and said "President Obama is going to have lunch across the street at Union Street Public House."  I will admit, I laughed and didn't believe her.  I continued working with the customers and I rang them up and they left.  Interestingly enough, I did take time to look across the street and saw that there were a number of large SUVs parked on the opposite of Union Street (where parking is not permitted).  Interesting, but I'm still not convinced.

I check Zoe's Twitter account, which follows fashion accounts and local Alexandria government and information accounts.  The Old Town Alexandria Patch account says that President Obama and Vice President Biden will be dining at Union Street Public House today.  Hmmm.

But I'm still skeptical.  Obviously, someone important is over there.  But if it were the President, wouldn't they likely have someone in my store and have possibly closed me, since I have a directly line of sight to the door?  A crowd is gathering on the sidewalk and on the terrace where Zoe is located.  Secret Service members are definitely there and they are wanding anyone who wants to go into the restaurant.  Rumors abound through members of the crowd out on the terrace - "It's Sarah Palin!  It's former Rep. Weiner (eww!)"

After a bit of a wait, I see two young, familiar looking girls emerge - Malia and Sasha.  And then immediately after, Michelle Obama.  I knew she was tall but she is very tall in person.  Sadly, they did not come shopping at Zoe but instead hopped in the SUVs and left.  No sign of President Obama or Vice President Biden.  The crowd dispersed and our afternoon went back to quiet.

I had my planned conversation all ready had they come into Zoe - about supporting policies to help the small business owner!  Maybe next time!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Our Small World

Although you would think that I wouldn't be surprised by much of anything anymore, I'm still amazed at what a small, connected world we really are.

Last week, I had a customer and a toddler in my store.  As she and I were talking as she shopped, she told me that her husband's family owned a small chain of boutiques.  When I asked the name, she told me South Moon Under!   I have to admit I was pretty blown away because a) I really like the fun vibe of their stores and b) I was shocked that she would be shopping anywhere else!  She told me that the stores started out as a single surf shop in the late 60s and morphed into their current configuration as the owner determined what customers wanted.

And that really fits with what I'm learning about the store.  I know the store will continue to change as I learn more about my customer's needs and wants.  I've already learned some great lessons about sizing, colors, and price points.  A good friend told me before I started that the end picture may look different from the starting picture.  As long as I can remain flexible and continue to learn, Zoe can continue to grow and flourish.

In another small world incident, I signed on to my standard "info" email address for the store about a week and a half ago.  A young woman in San Diego had found out (most likely from a blog) that I would be carrying a line of handbags from Alexandra Satine.  She asked in her email if she could order a bag through me.  After working with Alexandra and the customer, she made the purchase from me this week.  Alexandra is bringing the bag when she comes for the trunk show on Saturday and I will ship it out to the customer next week!  It definitely makes me think about what it will be like when I do take Zoe to the eCommerce world!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dedication Ceremony

On Monday evening, my landlord held a Dedication Ceremony for their new association headquarters.  They had moved into their space in mid-March, just before I moved into Zoe's space.

The event took place both inside and outside their headquarters building.  In preparation for the event, they redid the landscaping on the terrace outside Zoe's space and also refurbished and started up the fountain!  My friend Janice commented on Sunday that not many boutiques are located in such a pretty garden-like atmosphere!

Some pictures:

The Fountain


Looking Toward Prince/Union Intersection

The event started with a prayer by an Episcopalian minister.  The CEO of my landlord's association then spoke, followed by the head of their Board of Directors, the head of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor of Alexandria.  Then, a HUGE pair of scissors was brought out and the official ribbon cutting took place!

It was a beautiful evening so people were able to walk freely from inside to outside.  Lots of talk about the plans for the waterfront here in Alexandria, during the speeches and during the individual discussions that followed.  Since we are so close by, it is definitely a topic of interest to all of us.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Challenges, Challenges

Thursday was a day of challenges.  And not only is that part of being a business owner, it is just part of life.

Here in the DC area, Wednesday and Thursday were extraordinarily hot days.  When I left the store on Wednesday, the thermometer in the store read 84 degrees.  I normally try to keep it at 75 during the day and I thought that the AC was just having a hard time with the hot weather.  But when I got to the store on Thursday morning, it was still reading 84 degrees, despite having had the door closed and the slightly lower temperatures overnight.  It was then I knew I had a problem.

The temperature outside the store climbed to 102 degrees on Thursday.  It hit 86 in the store.  I called my landlord to let him know that I thought that something was wrong with the AC.  As you can imagine, with a day that hot, the HVAC company had LOTS of people to deal with and didn't make it to see me that day.

My IT friends will appreciate this - the heat caused my router to go on the fritz so I was without internet service for about an hour and half until I managed to get it cooled off and restarted.  (Oh yeah...I was loving it...ha!)  And remember, no internet service means no credit card processing.  I did have one sale during that period in which I ran the card information once I got everything back up and running again.  I will admit to being VERY anxious during this time period.  You'd better believe I called the point of sale folks and the credit card processor to talk about contingencies!

Although I didn't have a lot of visitors on Thursday, those who did brave the heat (both outside and inside the store) were determined shoppers.  I had my best day of the week, despite all of the challenges. But, I must admit, I was happy to get in my car that evening and cool off.  I was glad I had worn a strappy maxi dress that day or I would have really been miserable!

The good news - the HVAC guy did get to me on Friday at around lunchtime and found that it was an easy fix.  Cool air was flowing once again!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Connecting People

One of the things I always loved doing in previous jobs is connecting people with other people they should know.  Having a good network of people with a variety of interests, talents, and experiences makes everyone involved better.

On Wednesday morning, I was meeting with a Fashion Account Executive from DC Magazine.  We were discussing Zoe, the magazine, and opportunities for publicity and advertising.  Our meeting extended slightly beyond the planned time and my next appointment arrived.  If you have not yet been introduced to Inslee Haynes, you are missing out.  She does beautiful fashion watercolors which she turns into stationary and prints.  Inslee is going to do some illustrations for Zoe and came to meet me and see the store.  Since her prints and stationary are being sold and marketed to the same clientele as that of DC Magazine (and their parent company Modern Luxury) having the two of them meet was perfect!

Speaking of connections, I've now had several people come into the store that said that someone else told them about it.  Some as a result of the posting on the Old Town Moms listserv and others from the hair salon and spa down the street.  I gave some of my cards to one of the stylists there yesterday so that she could keep them at her station and provide them to anyone who may be interested.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Ok, so it isn't exactly tomorrow.  But I still need to tell you the sewing story.

One of the Chan Luu dresses in the store is made of a very delicate fabric.  Accordingly, the tag was sewn into the fabric with one stitch each.  Over the course of people trying on this particular dress, the tag came off (I actually found it in the dressing room one evening).  Knowing that the tag needed to be in the dress, I decided to sew it on myself.

Let me be the first to say that the words "Domestic Goddess" are not on anyone's lips when they speak of me.  I had to look around the house to find a needle and thread and finally found a sewing kit that I had picked up during one of my many travels.  Since the dress is gray (and this kit had a gray thread), I was set.  

I was so proud of myself - here I had everything I needed and I was going to fix the tag!  Little did I know it would take me 20 minutes just to thread the needle!  Once that was done, I was able to reattach the tag with fairly limited fanfare (although my knot-tying skills are also in question - no wonder I ask the far more talented people in my life to do these things!)

On the list of things to do - get some true sewing supplies for instances just like this (and some much easier to thread needles).

On a side note, I had my annual eye exam today.  Although you wouldn't know it from my needle-threading experience, the doctor said my vision had improved a bit and I was not showing the typical over-40 symptoms of losing my close-up vision.  I asked her what on earth would have caused my vision to improve.  She said she believed it is because I'm now no longer staring at a computer screen all day that my eyes are under far less strain.  A very happy side benefit to the career change!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

An Unfortunate First

When the blog switched from the experiences of starting a retail business to running a retail business, I noted that there would be a number of firsts in the initial year in business.  Some good, some not so good.  Yesterday was in the "not so good" category.

The Police call it Grand Larceny from Building.  You probably know it as Shoplifting.  At some point between 11:30 and 12:15, a dress was stolen from Zoe.  While I am certain that I can narrow it to two people who came into the store, I am not sure which one it might be.  In both instances, I was working with a customer (one checking out and in the other instance, one trying on).

As the owner of the store, I know every piece of merchandise here.  I know how many we have of something, I pretty much know which sizes we have remaining and I often know prices by heart.  When I was hanging up some clothing that had been tried on, I noticed the dress missing.  I looked around the store and in the dressing rooms at least three times, thinking that perhaps it had been hung up in the wrong place or left in the dressing rooms.  Once my search proved fruitless, I had to resign myself to the fact it had been stolen.

I called the Alexandria Police Non-Emergency line and they sent an officer out about an hour later.  He was very nice and took down all of the information regarding the case.  Obviously, if the person is caught, I will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.  He told me that the person stealing it probably would wear it and was not likely stealing it to sell it.

While I realize that things like this will happen, I couldn't help feeling dejected.  My day was lifted by a visit from the wife and daughter of a man I used to work with as well as a visit from one of my regular customers with her daughter visiting from LA.  Being surrounded by familiar people was comforting.

Whenever something goes wrong, I always look at what I could have done differently.  I always did this in my previous line of work.  What did I learn that will help me do a better job now and in the future?  How could I have done this differently?  What warning signs did I miss?  Although I hate for bad things to happen, if it can be turned into a learning experience there is always a positive side to it.

Tomorrow:  Sewing?  Really?