Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Two Mondays, Two Trips

September has been a very busy month for Zoe in terms of planning for Spring 2012.  On Monday, September 19th, I took the train to NY for Coterie, which is a very large Apparel market held at the Javits Convention Center.  Because the show is SO busy and I needed to take the time to see each of the lines I carry in the store, I did not get through all of my vendors prior to coming home.  So on Monday, September 26th, I made the trip to NY again to meet with some of Zoe's suppliers in their showrooms.

The first trip (to Coterie) followed the same pattern as my other market visits to NY.  I was so busy I didn't even have time to eat a proper lunch, snacking on Diet Coke and a Luna bar while I reviewed Issa London's Spring line.  My sincerest apologies to my friend Renee, who wanted me to have a picture taken in the outfit I wore to the market.  I do not have a picture but I did get kudos from several of the exhibitors on my outfit so I must have hit the NY look just right this time!  I wore black and red tights (perfect for the new color blocking trend), black boots, and a black 60s look dress with a wide belt at the hips.  A short trench coat kept me warm on the train and on the Fall weather walk to/from Javits.

My second trip was definitely the more fun/interesting of the two.  I took my same 5:30 am Amtrak out of Union Station and arrived perfectly on time to NY.  I had several blocks to walk to my first appointment but covered the ground quickly and had a little time to kill.  I walked over to 7th Avenue (also known as Fashion Avenue).

As I walked down the street, I passed the most adorable cupcake place I had ever seen - Baked by Melissa.  I had to go in to learn more.  They sell what I would say are truly "one bite" cupcakes in all sorts of delicious flavors.  (What more perfect thing for Fashion Avenue - a chance to get something sweet to address your sugar craving but not OD on sugar!)  I selected three little cupcakes - Tie Dye, Peanut Butter Cup, and Red Velvet (of course).  I then took them to the Starbucks across the street, got a Tall Americano and sat down to enjoy my treats.

While sitting there, I looked back across the street and saw more signs that let me know I was truly on Fashion Avenue - "Perfect Airbrush Tan", "Teeth Whitening", "Plastic Surgery" (hopefully all not done by the same firm).  What a place to play to people's insecurities...

It was soon time for me to go to the first showroom appointment.  Many of the buildings in this area (I was on 39th Street at the time) are homes to Showrooms and Fabric stores.  Each of the showrooms is so beautiful, light and airy.  Lots of room to display the clothing from the different designers but the employees are jammed into very small (unprivate) cubicles.

It was so relaxing to review the lines in the showrooms.  At the first showroom, I got to try on some items (since they tend to sample the non-runway items in my size) so I could get a perspective for fit.  I spent two hours there and also got to see the other lines that they represent.

From there, it was just a few blocks walk to the Chan Luu Showroom on Broadway.  Walking there, I passed the beautiful Fashion District sculpture - a button with a needle through it!

The Chan Luu Showroom is on the Penthouse level of their building.  While there, I looked at Spring 2012 Ready to Wear, Scarves, and Wrap Bracelets.  The views from their windows were amazing!  I took this shot of the Empire State Building.

It was briefly cloudy at the time I took the shot but the day itself ended up being warm and beautiful.

One of the things that fascinated me as I walked back toward Penn Station via 39th Street were the many, many fabric stores.  Their windows were bright with displays of bolts of fabric, trim, and buttons.  And they all looked busy.

As far as fashion this time around, I wanted to wear items from the showrooms that I would be visiting. I wore my midnight blue Velvet Winnah Dress with my Chan Luu Doeskin long cardigan over it (to stay warm on the train).  Both showrooms were pleased that I was wearing their clothing!

Another very long day but successful and satisfying!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Extreme Shopping

There are shoppers and then there are extreme shoppers.  When I shopped elsewhere prior to Zoe, I don't think I ever fell into the "extreme shopper" category.  My shopping went one of two ways - I would go for a major shopping trip once per season.  Or I would order things on an occasional basis whenever I got a chance to catch up on my huge stack of catalogues at home.  When we went on vacation, I tried to buy something at a local boutique that would be different from anything I could find in the DC area and would also be a nice reminder of my trip.

Last Friday, I was working with some customers visiting from Houston when Zoe's phone rang.  Unless there is something very serious going on in life, I don't turn my attention away from customers in the store to answer the phone.  After they had departed, I checked the Caller ID and noticed the call was from Los Angeles and the caller had left a message.  Many of the designers I work with are based in Southern California so I thought it was likely a call from one of them.

Imagine my surprise when the message was from a production company in LA.  They were calling local boutiques to ask if we knew anyone we would classify as "extreme shoppers".  They are in the process of casting for a Reality Series on Extreme Shoppers (Remember you heard it here first!)  Their qualifications:

  • Is your closet filled to the max?
  • Do you spend the majority of your time shopping in stores, adding to your shoe collection, and expanding your wardrobe?
  • Do you have an un-matched style all your own?
  • Do you have GREAT taste and a passion for acquiring new finds?
  • Do you spend lots of money, time, and energy shopping?
  • Is shopping more than simply a hobby for you?
  • If you or someone you know embodies the phrase "shop till you drop" we want to meet you!
I just had to call them back out of sheer curiosity.  I spoke to the casting agent and then he emailed me the flyer with the qualifications I listed above.  I can't say that I know anyone who fits those qualifications but if you do (and have a desire for your 15 minutes of fame), let me know and I'll be glad to share the information with you.  (And, hey, come do a little of that extreme shopping at Zoe!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Mad Men Moment

You may remember my post in late August regarding students from an Art Institute Public Relations course and their study of Zoe.  On Friday, September 16th, I had the opportunity to receive their Public Relations pitches at their classroom in Arlington, Virginia.

Earlier in the week, their professor had stopped by to tell me how she would be grading the students and how I should grade the students.  Her instructions to me were to think about which team I would hire if I were making a selection of a public relations team.

So, I put on my best Joan look (a sweater dress, but I didn't do for it what Joan does for dresses) and my Lee Garner, Jr. mindset (minus the smoking and the obnoxiousness and other questionable behaviors).

After receiving information from me in August, the students spent time inside and outside the classroom over the next 3 weeks preparing their pitches.  What was interesting is that each group took a different focus on where Zoe had opportunities to increase public awareness of the brand and store.  The first group focused in on key demographic traits of some of Zoe's existing customers.  The second group focused in on Social media and attracting a slightly younger customer to Zoe.  And the third group focused in on the future of Zoe and potential new businesses that may spin off from the original store.

They had all conducted focus groups and performed detailed research on opportunities that I had not yet considered for the business.  Of course, I had questions for each group after their presentations but I was not as tough on them as I've been known to be on other presenters.  (Surprised?)

It was a tough decision to select a winning group.  Each group had suggestions that were new, fresh, and easy to implement.  Keeping in mind the guidance that the professor had given me, I selected the group that had best understood my goals and focus for the business.

The hardest thing is when you know a weakness in yourself and people who don't know you very well point it out.  The students felt that I needed to put more of "myself" into communications and PR activities.  They pointed out that this blog was a great example of what I should do more of in my public relations campaign.  They feel that my thoughts/opinions/personal experiences would do a great deal to draw people into the store.  For a private person like me, just writing this blog is a HUGE leap.  I have to consider how I could overcome my reluctance to "put myself out there" to make my other communications more relatable.

The whole process was a wonderful experience for me and, hopefully, for the students.

A very surprising and touching event happened when I got back to the store.  I had put a sign on the door on Thursday evening to let people know that Zoe would open later than normal on Friday (I wanted to make sure that I gave the students my full time and attention and wasn't rushing them (or me)).  After I got to the store and opened, Cher came to see me.  She wanted to make sure I was ok because she had seen the sign on the door and was afraid something was wrong with me.  Here is a person who has FAR more to worry about and yet she was concerned about me.  I was truly overwhelmed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Spring 2012 Fashion Shows

It is mind-boggling to think that, with our DC area weather just turning cool today in preparation for the Fall season, the Spring 2012 Fashion Shows have been taking place in New York over the past week (called Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week).  And that I'll be going to NY on Monday to select the spring items for Zoe.

Two of the lines sold at Zoe conducted runway shows during Fashion Week.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to see recorded versions of both shows.  Some day I hope to actually attend one in person (but I don't think I'll ever be famous enough or important enough to sit on the front row and be snapped by the paparazzi!)

The real point of a runway model is to "display" the clothing in such a way that you are fascinated by the garment.  The model is not supposed to stand out in any way.  I have to say that I was so distracted by the distressing thinness of the models at one of the shows that it negatively affected my viewpoint of the designer and the garments.  While I've recently been given some grief about my weight (and lack thereof), these women truly were too thin.  And some of them had skinned knees and odd sunburn/tan lines that added to the distraction.  Thinking it might be just me, I asked Jim to look at one of the shows.  He had me stop about halfway through because he was so disturbed by the look of the models.

In 2006, the regional government in Madrid, Spain instituted a ban on overly thin models during their Fashion Week.  They based their criteria on the BMI measurement (which has certainly had its share of controversy as well).  But it sounds like a step in the right direction.  A model doesn't need to look like a skeleton in order for us to appreciate the design she is wearing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Happy Ending with Comcast

Those who read the blog as I was preparing to open Zoe know that there is no love lost between me and telecommunications providers.  But, as you know, I may hold you to a high standard and get frustrated when you don't perform but I will also sing your praises if you do well.  Today, Comcast "exceeded my expectations"  (which, admittedly, are pretty low to begin with).

Around 11:30, I realized that Zoe's email synchronization was failing.  When I tried to access Google, Safari froze.  Hmmm...not normally problems I have with my Apple OS, email, and browser.  I walked back to look in the office and saw that the lights on both the phone and internet modems were not lit up in their normal Christmas tree fashion.  Oh no.  I picked up my phone - dead!

Using the tiny screen on my iPhone, I found the Comcast website and started the call process, absolutely cringing each time I had to press "1" or "#".  After about 3 minutes of navigating the phone tree, I was connected with one of the nicest customer service representatives I've ever encountered.  She was pleasant, upbeat, competent and informative.  She told me that my area was experiencing an outage that was affecting both phone and internet connectivity.  She gave me the main ticket number for the outage and attached my ticket to it.  She said they would work on it as quickly as they could.  I was shocked that I didn't get transferred, put on hold, or hung up on!

I called my landlord to let him know because I knew that they had their DR internet connection via Comcast.  He said they would have their IT person check to see if they were also having problems (it turns out they were too).

As you know from previous Internet fun at Zoe, I have to have a way to process credit cards when I don't have internet connectivity.  I started putting those measures into place in case the delay was a long one.

Within an hour, the problem had been resolved.  I happened to walk back to my office to drop something in my file cabinet and saw the modem lights shining brightly!  I quickly checked both phone and internet connectivity and found no issues!  Happy Happy Joy Joy!  The only "slight" black mark against Comcast was that the rep had said that an automated voice system would call me when the outage was fixed but I never got a call.  I guess I'll forgive them this time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rain, Rain Go Away

I was chanting the words to this old nursery rhyme every day during our horrendous 4 days of rain last week.  The personal side of me finds rainy days calming and peaceful.  The businesswoman side of me can't stand them!

When I looked at the weather forecast on Labor Day and it said rain through Friday, I thought surely they had to be mistaken.  We'd just finished with the rains from Hurricane Irene the week before.   Weren't we "done" for a while?

Tuesday wasn't quite as bad.  I had started planning Zoe's Fall Open House over the weekend and the rainy day gave me time to finalize the schedule, determine the sale items, prepare the computer system, and send the email announcement.

Wednesday was a little worse.  I did get one bright spot in the day when my favorite Connection Newspapers photographer, Louise, arrived to take some pictures at Zoe for their weekly "Talk of the Town" feature on Fall Fashion.  Working with her and picking the items to be photographed was a nice break in a very quiet day.  I did have a woman come in who had been walking her dog in the rain.  I am always very welcoming of dogs at Zoe but I had to politely ask her is she had a towel and, if so, would she dry off her dog?  I could just see the dog shaking off the water from his coat all over the new Fall clothes!

Other favorite moment on Wednesday - a small sparrow came into the store (I don't blame the bird, probably wanted out of the rain!)  But, a very funny chase ensued as I tried to shoo my new tenant back out the door.  After about 5 minutes, the sparrow finally found the door again and departed.

Best attitude of the rainy week has to go to UPS Deliveryman Freddie.  He dropped two boxes off for me as he dragged a dolly up two sets of stairs to my landlord's space.  I told him that I hated that he had to be out in the weather.  He had a smile on his face and said "I already know I'm not going to be dry today so I might as well just enjoy it!"

We did get a short reprieve on Thursday and a few people ventured out.  I felt most sorry for the woman who came in my shop who had been visiting from Ft. Lauderdale.  She had traveled with her husband on Monday evening (he had a business meeting in DC).  She had not really been out of her hotel room the whole time due to the rain because she didn't have a car and had planned to walk everywhere!

The mini-cupcakes and champagne arrived for the Open House and I had Zoe ready to go.  Previous customer Carol and her husband Rob stopped by on their way home from National Airport to do some Fall shopping.  Just as they finished their selections and departed at shortly after 4 pm, it started to rain. Hard.  It got darker and worse as the evening went on.

Friends Mike and Maggie braved the rain to come to the Open House (afterward, it took them an hour to get home after all the flooding).  And friends Janice and Karen and their husbands came (risking life and limb driving up the GW Parkway from the Mt. Vernon area)!  Thankfully, everyone ate some cupcakes!

One customer and local resident told me that she was on her way (walking) when it started raining so hard that she had to turn around and go home!  I'll probably reschedule the event for another evening later in the month.  I don't want to complain too much.  Yes, I was disappointed but other than being inconvenienced driving home that evening, I did not experience any flooding at home or at Zoe.  Many other people in our area were not so fortunate.  Hopefully the money that Zoe will donate to the American Red Cross (the charity recipient for the evening) will help some of those people.

Friday, it was pouring again but finally stopped around lunchtime.  What was that warm, bright thing in the sky that we hadn't seen for so long???

Next:  Spring 2012 Fashion Shows (Don't Shoot the Messenger)

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I have never been a big fan of cold weather.  But this year I have been looking forward to it because Zoe has so many gorgeous fall and winter sweaters.  But the big challenge is how to display these beautiful pieces without ruining them.  Many are of a fabric and weave that should be stored folded or flat.  

To the rescue comes our friends at IKEA!  I needed something that would match the rest of the decor of the store as well as be functional, easy to store, and inexpensive.  Their EXPEDIT bookcase was the perfect solution.  I purchased two on Monday and Jim put them together in the store on Tuesday morning.  And I've already been filling them with sweaters!

More on the way with new LiaMolly and LaurieB shipments within the week!

Next:  Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Real Life Models

It is hard for me to believe that Zoe will have been open for 5 months as of tomorrow!  That time has passed so quickly and I have the opportunity to meet some wonderful women!

Recently, I've had the delightful experience of having repeat customers come into my store wearing something they bought at Zoe!  In just the past week, I've had 5 different customers come into the store to show me how they were wearing their Zoe find.  What a fun and exciting part of my job!

It is also wonderful when they tell me where they've worn something (and compliments they've gotten on it), that their husband likes it (always a big plus), that it is the most functional piece in their wardrobe, or that they can't wait for me to get more from a particular designer!  Friend Stacy recently pointed out that the Rebecca Taylor top that she had purchased at Zoe was also worn by the host of Food Network Star on a recent show.

Since it is Labor Day, I had to compare those kinds of comments and reactions to comments I got in my old job.  One of my favorites - "Thank you so much for setting it up so that we can use the Fixed Asset system from home."  Truthfully, as pleased as I was to implement something that made life easier for someone, it just doesn't create the same feeling as someone telling you "I wore the dress I bought here to a wedding and couldn't count the number of compliments I received!"

I'm continuing to focus on selecting beautiful pieces for women's wardrobes.  Coming up - Spring 2012 Fashion Shows (this week!) and the Spring 2012 Market Visit (this month!)

Friday, September 2, 2011

I Wish I Could

I have made it through summer almost flawlessly, not wishing for vacation.  My friends have been wonderful, scheduling things for Mondays (my day off) or before/after my work day.  I haven't had to feel left out or an extreme desire to do something I can't do right now.

I should have known that the start of College Football season would be my undoing.  Those who know me know that this is one of my favorite times of the year.  Despite the cloud hanging over the major collegiate sports in general, there is not much more delightful than a Saturday afternoon/evening in a college town on campus for a game.

On Saturday evening, my two alma maters are playing in Charlottesville.  I had my first real feeling of "I wish I could" when I got an invitation from the development office at UVA to sit in the Commerce School box to watch the Cavaliers play William & Mary.  In the past, I would have said "Yes" in a heartbeat.  For now, I have to decline.  Hopefully next year!

I've been thinking of ways I might incorporate college football into my Saturdays here at the store.  (Besides occasionally peeking at the scores!)  Maybe a rivalry day?  A conference day?  A State School day?  We'll see what I come up with!  I don't want to discriminate against the basketball schools either!

Talking about College Football does allow me to post a gratuitous picture of my University of Georgia family with Russ the Bulldog (substituting for the next UGA).  Go Dawgs!  Go Zoe!