Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Want To Be A Mountain Climber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blog Worthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

Next up:  Blog Worthy

Monday, December 26, 2011

Would You Like A Box With That?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up:  Christmas Eve

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Music

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Trip to George Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Final Results - Window Wonderland Contest

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

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

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

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

Next up:  My Trek to George Mason

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don't Do It!

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

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

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Trunk Show Fun

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

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

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

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

Next up:  Don't Do It!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend

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

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

A picture of one of the wreaths at Zoe:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

College Football Saturday Update

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

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

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

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

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

This is what I miss the most!