Monday, December 31, 2012

A Look Back (and Forward)

I actually love the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one.  Each year, I take time to remember what I thought the year would be like on January 1st and then reflect on what actually happened.  The year never turns out like I thought it would - there are happy times, sad times, and many surprises along the way.  But each event has its purpose, even if I don't always understand it at the time.  But there is always something magical about a new year - it is like having a blank notebook full of pages to be filled with the next chapter. 

As part of my reflection for 2012, I read my end of year blog post from last year.  It was encouraging and fun to read my feelings at this time last year and to review what has actually happened for Zoe and for me this year.  At the time, I think I could only look about 3 months ahead.  And I had a full plate and then some! 

After the store closed this afternoon, I stayed to catch up on some administrative tasks and do a little clean-up.  When I finished, I sat there in the quiet for a while, listening to the excited voices outside from First Night Alexandria attendees and couples and groups heading to dinner.  I thought about the year in review and what makes Zoe special to me (and, hopefully, my customers). 

One of the things that stands out to me most is the relationships that I and the other ladies at Zoe have the opportunity to build with our customers, our designers, our neighborhood friends, and our business partners.  There is nothing that lifts my heart more than seeing someone I know walk through Zoe's door.  I want all of our relationships to be genuine - to be more than a potential transaction (and that goes for Zoe's vendors as well as Zoe's customers).  I want to always feel that, at the end of the day, I have conducted business in such a way that is honest, fair, and authentic.  I can be very hard on myself (constantly evaluating what I could be doing better) but I want to know that I've always given it my best.

I am grateful to every person who was part of my and Zoe's life in 2012.  And I can't wait to see what 2013 brings!  Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Small Business Saturday - Year 2

I learn something new every day as the owner of Zoe.  And I always try to learn even more when something doesn't turn out as I expect it to.  If you remember last year's post regarding Small Business Saturday, I was generally satisfied with the day but felt I should have approached it differently.  So this year, I tried some new strategies.

First, I included details on Small Business Saturday in my "Holiday Happenings" email that went out to the people on my mailing list.  I included a link to register the American Express card for the $25 statement credit and announced a 20% discount for the day (for all customers).  As a result of that email, we had our first "pre-shopping" for Small Business Saturday!  One of my customers had been eying a dress and uses her AmEx regularly.  She contacted me and asked me to hold it for her so she could get it on Small Business Saturday and get the discount and the credit!  A win-win for everyone!

When Saturday came, it was much colder than Black Friday had been and very gloomy.  I wasn't sure how many customers we would have and even said as much to Tara.  Much to our surprise, we were steadily busy throughout the day and customers were delighted with the 20% discount. 

My favorite story of the day was a couple who came back on Saturday who had briefly stopped in the store on Friday late in the day.  The husband said to me "After we looked around and said good-bye, you gave us a look like "I know you'll be back!"  And here we are! " (Please note I have no idea what sort of look I had on my face after being up since 3:15 am on Friday morning!)  But I was delighted they came back to shop with us.

American Express does a great job of advertising Small Business Saturday.  I appreciate that they offer their customers this incentive without passing the cost along to the merchant (don't worry - we pay plenty to accept AmEx on any given day).  When we totalled the day, I had almost tripled the total from last year!  What a great surprise, especially considering the weather! 

Next up:  The Best Of

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Black Friday

Before I logged in to Blogger this evening, I tried to tell myself that it REALLY hadn't been a month since I wrote in the blog.  Being delusional works for about 3 seconds until you are forced to face reality.  Sad.  Just Sad.

I'm not one to make New Years resolutions (I could write a whole blog post JUST on that!) but I do vow to do better in the coming month with Zoe's blog.  It is important to me but I just haven't been placing the right amount of emphasis on it this month.  There was this thing called Christmas...

Speaking of Christmas, it is a perfect segue to talk about Black Friday.  Technically, this was Zoe's THIRD Black Friday at her location on Union Street.  Let me explain....

The first was just after I had signed the lease for Zoe's space.  The signing took place 2 days before Thanksgiving and I spent the day before Thanksgiving running around like a mad woman to get things done now that I had a REAL address!  So on Black Friday 2010, I was eager to show the new space to Jim (you might remember he had been afraid to look at locations since I seemed to lose every location he previewed!)  We went to Old Town so I could take him in to show him the space! 

The second was in Zoe's first year of business, 2011.  As you can read from last year's blog post, I was nervous and didn't know what to expect but was pleased with the result (and exhausted!)  And I always learn lessons that I can apply the following year.

Well, one thing that hasn't changed is that I'm always nervous.  I got to the store an hour early to turn up the heat, make sure the computers and credit card processing capabilities were in good shape, and make some last minute adjustments to the store.  Janice and Tara joined me and we had our first visitors not long after 6 am!

The publicity for the event was very well done and more stores participated this year than any previous year.  The Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association were very much behind the effort and the DASH bus system operated the King Street Trolley beginning at 6 am that day. 

Zoe had several customers "pre-shop" this year, which was very wonderful.  It is great when people do this - they try on items prior to Black Friday, have us hold them and then are able to come in to pay during their chosen time period (we did the same sale as the previous year - 30% off from 6 am - 8 am, 20% off from 8 am - 10 am, and 10% off from 10 am - 6 pm). 

We also had our first Facebook Store sale during the 30% off time period!  So exciting!

I was so pleased that the store was pretty consistently busy the whole day.  It was so much fun to get to see so many of Zoe's customers, especially since I am not in the store as often any more. 

One woman and a friend came into the store and had a number of bags from other Old Town Boutique District stores!  We told her that it looked like she had had a very successful shopping day thus far!  We found out that she was the Grand Prize winner from the Old Town Boutique District Scavenger Hunt held back in September (remember this blog post?) and she was making the rounds using her gift cards!  We thought that was SO cool!  I had to have my picture taken with her.

Patricia with her Zoe purchase!

My second fantastic surprise was a visit from designer Kathlin Argiro and her husband!  They were in town for the holiday to visit Kathlin's parents and stopped in to see me.  Kathlin had seen Tara in Firehook Bakery (just down the street) and had thought to herself "She must work at Zoe - she looks very stylish!"  And in she walked and saw Tara behind the counter!  So perceptive!  It was such a treat to see Kathlin - she is one of my all-time favorites!

Me with Kathlin and her gorgeous wrap dresses - already thinking about what to order for Spring!

Although I have never been a Black Friday shopper myself, I am glad that there are Black Friday shoppers out there!  Like last year, many people were buying for themselves although we did sell a few items as gifts.  It was a long but enjoyable day!

Next Up:  Small Business Saturday (Year Two)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Window Wonderland 2012

Remember all the fun and frenzy of last year's Old Town Alexandria Window Wonderland contest?  And remember when I said that the voting/campaigning process reminded me why I got out of politics?  Well, we won't focus on all that right now.  But I do want to tell you more about the windows and the process for creating them.

Let me first state that I am ALWAYS the last to know what Zoe's windows are going to look like each season.  This time around, both Tara and my husband, Jim, knew about the windows and were sworn to secrecy!  I was outraged!  (Not really)

Janice and Karen wanted this year's design to match the chic offerings at Zoe so they selected sparkly chandeliers as the foundation!  They took lampshades

And created these beauties!

If you notice, the first two shades above had their covers completely removed but the ladies incorporated the cover into the design of the third shade/chandelier!

They then added snowflake and colored ball ornaments, plastic pink and clear crystals (previously used in the Valentines window), strips of tulle and some tinsel.

Rather than lighting the chandeliers themselves, they used a lighted strand of garland (found at one of the many estate sales they scour on weekends!)  They added more colored balls and snowflake ornaments as well as Chinese food containers wrapped up as packages (in pink polka dot Zoe tissue paper, of course)!  The floating packages were the brainchild of Tara and Alexandra's creative thinking one Sunday afternoon earlier in the Fall!

The end result looks beautiful day and night!

And, you guessed it comes...please vote for Zoe's window display in the Old Town Boutique District Window Wonderland contest!  The link for voting is:

You may vote through December 9th!

Next Up:  Black Friday - Year 2

Monday, November 26, 2012

Babysitting Zoe

You may remember my blog post from last July about the first time I left Zoe "alone".  Like any new mother, I felt pangs of anxiety even though I completely trusted her caretakers.  Recently, I've gotten used to leaving Zoe with others on a more frequent basis.  I'm sure you've wondered just who are those lovely ladies?

Sweet and lovely Alexandra was Zoe's very first employee!  A local high school student and a native of Old Town, she has a real love of fashion and a vision for where she wants to take her life and her career.  She gives me a great perspective on how young people view the world (and helps me remember the joys of being a teenager).

In addition to her retail expertise (she previously worked at TREAT when it was located in Old Town), Sarabeth is a yoga instructor/enthusiast and a communications guru.  She works full time in DC but we love it when she works with us during special events! 

A customer service/retail maven are the words that immediately come to mind when you meet Tara.  A Pennsylvania native (and passionate Steelers fan), Tara's warm personality and lovely glow makes everyone feel comfortable the minute they walk in the door.  In addition to working at Zoe, Tara is also a student at the Art Institute in their Fashion Management program.

My favorite window design duo, Janice and Karen, also work at Zoe.  Both come from professional backgrounds (Janice in Finance/Investments and Karen in Information Technology), but also discovered they had incredible creative talents.  In addition to creating Zoe's window displays, working part time at Zoe, and running their own business (Semper Stylish), these ladies also run marathons!  I'm trying to get them to bottle their energy and give some to me!
Speaking of Window's that time again...

Next Up:  Zoe's Window Wonderland decorations

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Facebook Store

I've written several times on this blog about my frustration with the use of (or lack thereof) technology in the fashion industry.  It is always important to me that technology be used for the right reasons and not just for the sake of technology.  Which is why I'm always curious to learn about new developments and why they might make sense for Zoe.

My original goal this year was to implement ecommerce on Zoe's website by the end of the First Quarter.  Everything seemed to be lining up - I had Intern Anna working with me at the store from January - March, the months of January and February are fairly quiet, and I wanted to have something to launch in conjunction with Zoe's first birthday!  I approached my Point of Sale system sales rep with questions and a request for a quote.  And then things stagnated.  By the time I finally got my questions answered and got a quote in hand, Intern Anna had graduated and I was reconsidering where to best spend my money on publicizing the store.

I continued to toy with the idea of pulling the trigger on the ecommerce solution when I started meeting with the young lady who now manages Zoe's social media.  She introduced the concept of a Facebook Store to me.  I think I had vaguely heard of the concept but had never investigated it or had any idea how it worked.  It was intriguing to me because not only did it expose your brand and your offerings to a wider audience, but by incorporating it with your Facebook page, you were introducing the items in your store to a group of people who had already indicated that they wanted to be connected with your brands.

Some very large corporations (who already have a significant ecommerce presence) tried a Facebook store and then retired it.  Speculation is that it was because they basically mimicked the items they already had on their well-known, well-trafficked websites.  Many of the most popular Facebooks sites with Facebook Stores are related to musicians (think Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber). 

Because I was curious to see how it would work in a retail environment, the young lady who manages Zoe's social media found and showed me some examples of stores (such as one that sells baby items).  It was clean and easy to use/follow.  So then I asked her to provide me with a breakdown on potential Facebook Store software solution providers and costs.  Just as I would expect when researching any vendor, she provided three potential solutions, the pluses, the minuses, and the costs of each.  After review and back and forth questions, I selected Payvment as the solution for Zoe's store.

While the interface is fairly easy to use and understand, there are many areas that must be configured properly in order for everything to work together - think shipping policies, tax policies, sizes, colors.  And not to mention pictures and descriptions.  She had to go through quite a bit to get it all set up and working together (plus having me asking a million questions as I reviewed/testing items!)  It is easily as detailed as setting up a traditional ecommerce site.

As fate would have it, we launched the Facebook Store publicly on October 29th - the day that Hurricane Sandy was moving into our area!  We continue to grow the inventory on the store as we receive new merchandise and she is able to snap more pictures.  We've really tried to promote it through a series of Zoe Thanksgiving posts on Facebook - each day, I write about something I am thankful for in my life and then tie it to an item in the store - we offer a discount on the item in store but an even deeper discount on the Facebook Store! 

This week, we started to see some of the fruits of our labors!  We had a new customer who had seen an ad in a magazine for an item and then went to our Facebook page to investigate.  When she found our Facebook Store, she selected two additional items, called the store, and placed an order over the phone.  We also had an existing customer contacted us via a Facebook message when she ran into an issue using the store and then came in the next day and purchased the item.  We hope this is just the beginning of a building momentum!

We plan to utilize the store to offer the same Black Friday prices (at the same intervals) that we will offer in the store.  And for the first time, Zoe will be able to participate in Cyber Monday by offering a coupon code for the Facebook Store. 

Those who know me know that I am rarely on the bleeding edge of technology.  And while I don't think this is bleeding edge, I haven't seen a lot of boutique type stores put together this kind of offering.  I definitely don't mind trying it and learning from it.  I'd love to know what you think of the concept.  Take a look at the store at this LINK.

Next up:  Babysitting Zoe

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Closet

My closet is a bit of a sensitive subject.  My desire and imagination is that it looks like one of those ads from The Container Store or California Closets.  And yet, I struggle to even get it to a point where I'd even feel comfortable having someone come to look at it to design it into the closet of my dreams.

Two and a half years ago, after I had left my job to focus on opening Zoe, I spent almost a week working on my closet and dresser drawers.  I had three motivations at the time:

a) They were a mess
b) My community was having a Yard Sale and I wanted to get rid of some things
c) I wanted to look at lines that I already owned and liked that I might want to carry at Zoe

This cleanout was a very fruitful effort.  Everything got straightened out, I had a large number of things to sell on the yard sale (you might remember this post from way back then), and I found some of the lines that I loved (LiaMolly, Velvet, and Honeydew being carried at Zoe all came from this closet/drawer cleanout!)

For a while, the closets and drawers were perfect.  I vowed to keep them pristine.  And then....well...things slowly went off track again.  Things come back from the cleaners and you don't put them on the right hangers.  Skirts get mixed in with the dresses.  Items that you wore in the corporate world get mixed in with the casual items.  Before you know it, you've got a mess on your hands again.  (Please, please tell me there are others like me - that I do not suffer from disastrous closet syndrome all alone).

Earlier this year, I wrote a series of posts on the high cost of cheap fashion.  While I haven't been one to buy things I don't wear or buy things that I wear and toss away, I think it is important to always be thoughtful about what we purchase and why.  As a store owner, I encourage my customers to make sure that what they are buying works with their closet - what is ideal is when they bring an item (or items) that they already own and want to style with something they have seen as Zoe. 

So now it was time to look at my closet with a new eye.  The cleanout this time is focusing on:

a) It's a mess (this seems to be a theme)
b) What fits me?  (do you keep clothing that you wear when you feel heavier or thinner than normal?)
c) What is my style?
d) What mistakes have I made in building my wardrobe?

I'd love your feedback on items a) and b) but I wanted to talk a bit on item c).  I've noticed that as my age and life stage changes, my style seems to change with it.  Items that I loved 3 years ago I don't love so much any more.  It's not that they were trendy.  They just simply don't fit the person I've accepted in myself.  I feel more comfortable and more "me" in other styles.  Does this happen to you too?  Do you find your style (and your closet) evolving over time?  I've realized that after my first pass through the closet (to pull out the obvious items where it is time to go) that I'm going to need to try on a lot of things and determine if they really still reflect my style or if it is time for them to find a new home.

Oh, and the mistakes (Item D).  How does one end up with at least 6 black cardigans of different designs?  And what is going on with my obsession with red?  (I do like the color and I'm sure my UGA affiliation might be a bit of a contributor).   How many formal dresses does a woman need?  These are the ugly questions I must ask myself as I go through my closet. 

But it has also been a fun exercise.  I've found skirts that I've combined with different tops, sweaters, and blouses.  I've found ways to transition pieces across seasons.  And I'm starting to make room for new things! 

I'd love to hear more about your "relationship" with your closet!

Next up:  Zoe's Facebook Store

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Trick or Treat

Remember Halloween last year at Zoe?  I just reread my blog post and it reminded me just how much I wanted to forget it!  When the young lady who works with Zoe's social media asked me if I would be dressing up for Halloween, I told her I was the Scrooge of Halloween!  But this year's experience may have me rethinking my curmudgeonly stance!

On the Saturday prior to Halloween, Zoe participated in the Trick or Treat at the Boutiques event sponsored by the Old Town Boutique District.  In preparation for all of my trick or treaters, I contacted Tamara of Alexandria Cake Pop Company for some fabulous Halloween Cake Pops.  As usual, she did not disappoint, delivering 7 dozen to the store late in the day on Friday.

Alexandra and Sarabeth were working at the store that day and I had not intended to stay the whole day.  But I couldn't help myself when I saw cuties like these visiting us!

I loved this beautiful little ladybug!  And her mom was wearing the wings!

I love "Where the Wild Things Are" so I was especially entranced with Max!

This Pirate Family was very fun and let us take their picture!

We found out that this Tigger costume was over 40 years old!  It was still fantastic!

We even had a Pegasus almost take flight from outside our door!

On Sunday, the Halloween festivities continued with the Doggie Trick or Treat sponsored by the great little pet store in Old Town called The Dog Park!  The event kicked off at The Dog Park at 1 pm on Sunday.  Each participant was given a map of participating stores and off they went.  As you know, people in Alexandria love their dogs!

We weren't sure how many people we would have since Zoe and The Christmas Attic were the only two stores down on our end of town participating (many of the stores were further up King Street).  But we were ready.

We've already talked about my challenges in craft stores.  On Friday, I walked into a Hobby Lobby, went straight to the cashier and said "Where can I find the little bags?"  She knew how to speak my non-craft language and sent me to the right spot.  In and out in 4 minutes!

On Saturday as they had time, Alexandra and Sarabeth bagged up treats for our doggie friends.  Of course, we had to put a Zoe Girl sticker on them as well!

Shortly after 1 pm, we started getting our Doggie Trick or Treaters!  We gave them the bagged treats to take with them and individual treats for them to eat right there in the store. 

This guy's parents were out walking him, heard about the Doggie Trick or Treat and went home and got him into costume so he could participate!  He was appropriately dressed for the storm that was on the way!

This Great Dane was HUGE but was so sweet!  He won the "Biggest Dog" award (by far).

Both events were not only fun but also great publicity for the store!  Many people said it helped them discover places that they didn't know existed prior to the event.

Maybe I'll even dress up next year....

Next Up:  My Closet

Monday, November 5, 2012

Repairs and Returns

At one of my previous companies, I had a quotation from Voltaire on my white board - "Perfect is the enemy of good."  I wrote it there to remind me that the quest to make things perfect can often impede progress on making things better.  In the case of the blog, my desire to write perfect blog posts often keeps me from blogging at all.  I'm going to try to do better.

I'm skipping the subject of Zoe's Babysitters for now and will come back to it when I feel I have the perfect post (ha!)  It seemed like a good time to comment on the wonderful practices of two of Zoe's designers when it comes to repairs.

It is always my desire that my customers be completely delighted with their purchase from Zoe.  And in doing so that means making things right when something isn't of the right quality.  And I'm fortunate to have two suppliers who have the same philosophy.

On Fashion's Night Out, a woman who had been a customer was in the store for the event.  She remarked to me that the pearl from her John Wind Initial Necklace had become discolored and she wasn't sure what to do about it.  In my chaos induced fog, I apologized to her but I didn't offer a solution.  By the next afternoon when I started to recover I thought "Wow - I need to see if I can do something about that."  I contacted John Wind Maximal Art and asked if it would be possible to order a new pearl for her (thinking that I would replace it myself).  Immediately, they told me that if I would send it back, they would repair it themselves at no cost except for my shipping to them!  When I told my customer, she was thrilled!

Within a week and a half, we had a beautiful new pearl on her necklace!  Since then, we've also had them fix a bracelet and another necklace.  I love the fact that they stand by their products.  It certainly increases my loyalty as a retailer.

I have loved carrying the Chan Luu Wrap Bracelets, Scarves and Ready to Wear from the first day I opened the store.  The bracelets are all so unique and beautiful although the various combinations can end up being expensive, depending on the semi-precious stones, gold/silver content, and crystals.  But with that added expense comes a guarantee.  And I can tell you about it first hand!

I can always be found wearing my Chan Luu Hematite wrap bracelet.  In fact, wearing it in the store became my best selling point.  I had to always keep one for sale because people would see mine and want to buy it!  I wore it day in and day out for about a year and half.  One evening after arriving home from the store, I was watering a plant that we have on top of our refrigerator.  As I brought my arm down, I heard something hit the floor.  At first, I thought I had knocked something off the refrigerator but when my cat Lotus went to investigate, I realized I had lost one of the hematite beads from the bracelet.  And Lotus thought it was something to eat!

I rescued the bead and took it and the bracelet to the store the next day.  An email to Chan Luu customer service was greeted with a return authorization and instructions/expectations on the repair.  I sent it off right away, with the only cost to me being the shipping for a small USPS Priority Mail box!  I'm currently waiting to receive it back but should have it within the month.  Knowing that Chan stands behind her workmanship like that makes me proud to carry her line.

Next up:  Trick or Treat!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Customers Make My Day

People often ask me what it is like to own a store and to interact with so many different people.  My answer is always that 97% of the people that come into my store are wonderful.  That's a pretty good percentage if you ask me.  I've written before about how much I enjoy getting to know people and what an amazing privilege it is to get to be part of their lives.  I recently had two customers who left me with a lasting impression.

One afternoon in mid-September, a woman walked in and asked if I had any white dresses.  The remaining ones that I had from summer were in the back and I asked her if I could grab some to show her.  She said yes.  I brought out a selection and she chose one of my favorites - a Graham & Spencer jersey dress.  She tried it on and then came out for us to look at it in a 3 way mirror.  It was then I found out she was shopping for her wedding dress!  She had looked at the bridal stores and just felt out of place in the more formal gowns.  Her wedding was to be in her back yard, she was in her mid-30s and she wanted something that fit her style and personality.  She asked if I would allow her to bring something else in to try on with it and if I would be willing to hold it until Tuesday (this was a Friday).  Of course I told her Yes!  (She looked beautiful in the dress)

She had taken my business card and on Tuesday at around lunchtime she called to say that she had a 1 pm meeting but would be over at around 2:30 when it ended (she works close by).  Sure enough, she came in after two to try on the dress again.  She then told me that she had taken pictures of herself in it (on Friday) while in the dressing room and sent to her fiancee and her sister to see what they thought.  She felt it was a winner!  The funniest thing was that she said she normally never walked in the direction of my store from her office - she felt it was meant to be that day that she had walked that way.  While I've had the honor of dressing many a bride for showers, rehearsal dinners, brunches, and going away events, this was Zoe's first wedding dress.  It was a great feeling!

A few Saturdays ago, a mother and daughter walked into the store immediately when I opened on a Saturday morning.  Although we will often get the morning coffee drinkers at that time of day on a Saturday, we rarely get serious shoppers that early.  The daughter picked out three dresses to try on and headed for the dressing room.  I had told her that we had heels in the dressing room so that she could see what the dresses would look like in heels.  She came out in the first dress and looked absolutely stunning.  If you could have seen this dress on her, you would have said "Wow!"

The ponte fabric draped perfectly on her figure.  She remarked that she wasn't used to heels that high (yes, I've been known to favor a higher heel or two!) and preferred a kitten heel.  As she went back into the dressing room to try on the next dress, her mother told me that her daughter was more used to combat boots - that she had recently completed two tours of duty with Iraq in the Army!  What a fun opportunity to dress such a lovely and courageous young lady!  She looked equally stunning in the second dress but decided to stick with the one above as her choice (it was to wear to a wedding).  It was such a warm and happy start to my day.

Next up:  Baby-sitting Zoe

Monday, October 8, 2012

Zoe's First Scavenger Hunt

If you've been a long time reader of this blog, you may remember when I posted two years ago regarding participation in the Old Town Boutique District Annual Scavenger Hunt as a customer.  I had such a fun time and looked forward to the day that Zoe could participate too!

This being our first year as a member of the Old Town Boutique District, this was our first scavenger hunt!  One of the first things I did was have Cori develop postcards that would give a discount through October 31 to everyone who participated in the event.  The event was slightly different from previous years in that the participants did not receive a gift at each store but were instead incentivized to complete the entire Scavenger Hunt in order to receive a SWAG bag full of gifts from all 35 stores!

I had also asked Cori to provide me with a graphics file of just the Zoe "Z" for my stamp.  The folks at Minuteman Printing of Crystal City (a long time tenant from my Charles E. Smith days) took excellent care of me.  Even to the point of creating a special "cut"for the stamp so that it would fit perfectly within the squares on the Scavenger Hunt Passport Card.  (Yes, I measured the size of the square before placing my order.  I wanted it to fit correctly.  This probably ranks up there with my sending myself a piece of mail to see if the Post Office was holding my mail properly before I opened.  I'm particular about certain things.)  And they delivered the stamp to me at no cost.  How I love people who make my life easier!

Now, when talking to Minuteman Press, I asked if they could also provide me with a stamp pad with bright pink ink.  They could not but suggested that I visit a Michael's store to find one.  Anyone who knows my lack of craft skills knows that I do not do well in a Michael's store.  In fact, I think some sort of alarm goes on in the back when I enter, indicating an intruder in the store.  This trip was no different.  I walked in, was immediately overwhelmed by all the stuff and just stood there for a minute or two.  I found a young woman who guided me to the stamp pads.  Thank goodness - I might still be in there if not for her!

I also decided that I wanted to add something to the discount post card that we would be putting in the SWAG bags.  So I ventured off to Costco to purchase bags of the Ghiardelli chocolates that I offer to customers in the store.  Costco ranks up there with Michaels as another place that I do not like to go.  But off I went on my quest.  My hand got quite the workout stapling those chocolates to the postcards!  But well worth it.

I did some practice stamping on Friday morning before customers were set to arrive.  I had been in NY the day before (see previous blog post) to buy for Spring but felt it was very important to be back at the store for this event.  I had been told that people really enjoy meeting the owners and, for me, it felt very important to be there to welcome people who had never been to Zoe before to the store. 

We had our first Scavenger Hunt customers arrive at around 10:30 on Friday morning.  Of all of the people who came through the store, only one person was a previous customer from my mailing list.  So it was fantastic to get to introduce so many people to Zoe!  We printed out Passports for several customers and I also gave away the Passports that had been mailed to my home (we had received two since Jim is also on my mailing list, good husband that he is). 

It was fun to see people's approaches to the Hunt.  Some were all about the stamp - in one case, a group had set a goal of completing ALL the stores in 2 hours!  Others looked around to see what we had to offer and some purchased items in the store.  Everyone we met seemed in a good mood and had lots of fun with the event.

On Sunday, our lovely neighbor Mystique Jewelers was closed.  The owner, Liz, had called me the previous night to ask if we would stamp their symbol on people's Passports.  On Sunday before I opened, I put a note on their door directing people to Zoe for their stamps.  We noted that we stamped our final passport at 3:46 that afternoon!  (The participant was done and ready to drive her passport to Periwinkle for the final stamp and SWAG bag!)

We eagerly awaiting the drawing of the winners so that we could notify Zoe's winner right away!  I was so pleased that she remembered the store and was happy to win our gift card.  We are looking forward to having her shop with us soon!

It was a very fun event for me and the store.  Already looking forward to next year!

Next Up:  Customers Make My Day

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Spring Shopping in NYC

Yes, you read that right.  The fashion industry is structured such that I was shopping for Spring 2013 in September 2012.  It's no wonder I open boxes I receive 5 - 6 months later and exclaim "Oh, that's what I ordered!"

Although Zoe has been open for a year and a half (officially today as a matter of fact), this is now my third "Spring" to buy for as part of the lifecycle of the store.  Each time, I think I learn more and more.  Plus, as I listen to my customers, they tell me what they are looking for too!  And I've learned that the big buying seasons (like Spring and Fall) require me to go twice.

I've told you a lot about my market experiences in the past so I try to just focus on the things that are unique about that particular experience.

  • Market was held on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday this time around (rather than the normal Sunday, Monday, Tuesday).  This was to avoid conflicting with Yom Kippur.  Consequently, this meant that I went on Thursday, came home (more on that later), and then went back for my showroom visits on Monday of the next week.
  • Walking to the Javits Center before 9 am, I walk past restaurants and food carts.  There was the most amazing smell of Chinese food this time as I walked to the convention center.  I have never been one to eat Chinese food for breakfast but I could have that day.
  • All of my reps said that Wednesday had been insanely busy for them.  A good sign!
  • When I arrived at Javits, I went straight to my first appointment (at 9 am).  I kid you not, I did not have time to do anything other than go from appointment to appointment until almost 3 pm that day.  It was intense and the collections were very large.
  • The worst item I saw all day?  A combination skirt/pants.  A big NO!
  • I saw a lot of green.  I purchased it sparingly (and normally combined with a more neutral color) as I don't think it is a color that looks good on everyone.
  • I did do some try-ons myself (love that the sample sizes are usually my size!)  At one booth I tried on some pants under my skirt and at another I tried on a jacket (that actually went amazingly well with the necklace I was wearing that day)!  In fact, when the buyer from a store outside Baltimore saw me with the necklace and jacket combo on, she asked for the name of the jewelry designer so that she could contact her!
  • My favorite new line that I'm bringing into the store for Spring?  Amy Matto.  And she is just lovely - it is always such fun to meet the designers.
  • The train ride back was uneventful UNTIL we left Baltimore's Penn Station.  From my usual perch in the Cafe car, I hear the conductor communicating with the engineer.  We have come to a complete stop.  Someone is standing on the tracks about a train length ahead of the train.  And not moving, even though the engineer is blowing the horn.  Amtrak called the police but fortunate the individual moved about 10 minutes later.  The speculation was that, because the person appeared to be a teenage male and things like this had happened before, it might be gang initiation related.  I was just so happy that no one was hurt AND we didn't have to sit there for an hour!
  • I came home because the next day (Friday) was the start of the Scavenger Hunt for the Old Town Boutique District stores.  Since it was Zoe's first, I felt strongly that I be there.  I'll be writing a blog post on it too!
  • On the return trip on Monday, I had appointments at showrooms, two of which I had been to before.  Tara joined me on the trip also!
  • Our train from DC to NY was horribly delayed once we left the station.  When I saw that we weren't going to make our first appointment, I quickly contacted her and asked if we could reschedule to later in the day.  We were late enough that we had to go quickly to my second appointment!
  • It was a good thing we had our walking shoes on because we zipped around the Fashion District from appointment to appointment with little to no time to spare.  We did manage to grab a late lunch prior to getting back on the train.
  • For my friend Renee - On the first day, I wore a Yoana Baraschi Blazer and Skirt and on the second I wore my favorite Velvet Winnah dress from last Fall.  Oh, how I love that dress!
Next up:  The Old Town Boutique District Scavenger Hunt

Friday, September 28, 2012

Geo What?

For a variety of reasons, I've been in discussions regarding the transition of the management of Zoe's social media to an outside consulting organization.  Not only have they helped me appreciate the value of connecting through the most well-known of the platforms (Facebook, Twitter, blogging) but also the value of using additional platforms to reach an even more targeted audience.

One of the first things I did in our conversation was confuse social location services (things like FourSquare and Facebook Check-Ins) with Geo-Targeting (the strategy of targeting marketing/advertising to people based on their location).  The one thing I did get right was that it is all about location!

One of the questions that I asked of my consultants was information on the demographics of the users of each social media platform.  If the demographics of the people using the platform don't fit Zoe's customers, it probably doesn't make sense to spend time and effort on it.

I'd love it if social location services worked for the store.  I've had a FourSquare profile (one for the store, another for myself) for probably 9 months.  I ran a couple of "specials" on it for 2 - 3 weeks at a time but got no check-ins (and consequently no redemption of the deal) from it.  Personally, I have a lot of fun "checking in" on FourSquare and have gotten several deals (especially at restaurants and some stores) from doing so.  But I do not seem to fit the typical demographic using FourSquare.

In July, I had a visit from a rep from a company called ScoutMob.  They are a hybrid of a Daily Deal service and a social location service (their deals also appear on a participating company's FourSquare site).

Their business proposition was a good one.  They run the deal as the featured deal one day on their site although it remains available for 6 months.  I get to set the parameters of the deal and I only pay if someone redeems the deal via their SmartPhone.  They send someone out to interview me and take pictures.  Zoe's deal ran on September 11th.

On the first day of the deal, a user can "capture" it via a code that they can then provide in the store when they are ready to cash in the deal.  Of course, anyone can look it up (or pick it up via FourSquare or ScoutMob) at any time in the next 6 months.

We had a nice number of people "capture" the deal on the day it ran but none of them have shopped in the store yet.  We've also had a couple of people come into the store with the deal on their smart phone (one we could see as they were looking around, the other found it via FourSquare).  But no takers yet.  What I suspect is that Zoe's demographic and the users of this App don't necessarily match up.  But it is always worth a try especially when the risk is low.

And not to matter what decision I make about Zoe's social media, I'll always be writing Zoe's blog!

Next up:  Yes, I'm buying for Spring in September

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why I Don't Make Decisions When I'm Tired

The day following Fashion's Night Out was a bit of a struggle for me.  It had been an intense period leading up to the event and then the event itself was busy.  Couple that with eating dinner at 11 pm and having a hard time "coming down" after all the adrenaline pumping that evening and I didn't get much sleep.

Bright and early on Friday morning, a young man came bounding up the stairs armed with an iPad in hopes of talking with me about an inventory management software system.  I let him get about 5 minutes into his spiel when I told him that, while I'd like to talk to him about it, I simply couldn't that day.  I explained to him honestly that I would want to ask him lots of questions and that I couldn't really put a seriously coherent thought together at that point so it was best that he come back.  It was important to me that a) I didn't write something off that could potentially be important to my business and, conversely, b) I didn't agree to something without giving it the proper thought.

He could see that he wasn't going to get any sort of response from me that day so he agreed to return the following week.  The original premise of the product was somewhat intriguing - it allowed a store to track people's interest in items and alert people when those items go on sale.  This is something we had done through the human computer method (my head) since the store opened - if someone really liked something but didn't buy it (and had connected with the store), I would contact them when it went on sale to see if they were still interested in it.  Ninety percent of the time, they were still interested in it and would purchase it at that time.

The product, Lemur (yes, like the animal - they even incorporate it into their logo), can be help businesses move old and slow-moving inventory by capturing the information during interactions between salespeople and customers and providing contacts and alerts when those items go on sale.  Imagine you are in your local big box electronics store and you are admiring the latest and greatest television set.  An employee sidles up to you and asks if they can help.  You tell them that you like the TV but it is too pricey for you at that time.  They ask if you'd like to know when it goes on sale (and possibly what price you'd be willing to pay for it).  You say "Yes", they enter it into the application and you get an email from the store if the item goes on sale.

I asked him questions about connectivity with the point of sale system (since that is where I also control sale prices and time periods) and he confirmed that there were no pre-developed APIs to link the two systems with information.  They also did not yet have the type of reporting from the product that would be effective for a store like mine.  While it is an interesting concept and they were willing to allow stores to perform trials with it prior to making a decision on a purchase/revenue-share model, it seemed to fit a large store model (where employees don't necessary develop relationships with customers) rather than a small boutique store model.  I asked if they were performing trials in any boutiques at the time and he confirmed that they were not.

I'll keep an eye on the product as I'm always interested in opportunities to improve the customer experience but it doesn't appear to be the right fit for Zoe at this time.

Next up:  Geo what?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fashion's Night Out - The Recap

I've heard it said that you can tell how much fun you had by how long it takes you to recover from said event.  Considering it has been almost two weeks since Fashion's Night Out and I am just now recovered enough to blog about probably says more than all my words can express!

The morning of September 6th found me loading the car at home with chilled prosecco and sparkling lemonade, a change of clothes, and a whole lot of hope.  After a stop at the Old Town Safeway (and enduring the jokes "Where's the party?" after buying 6 bags of ice), I arrived at Zoe. started to rain.  I made several trips from car to store and back (with the help of a local neighborhood man who took pity on me), got the cooler packed with drinks and ice and took a deep breath.

As the morning went on, the rain got heavier and steadier.  Was this going to be a washout?  Would anyone come out in the rain?  Was I going to have a whole lot of prosecco all to myself?  I busied myself with making the swag bags and tried not to think about it.

Fortunately, the rain cleared by mid-afternoon and everything started to dry up.  As soon as the sun came out, people started to come out too!  I had a couple of people come during the afternoon hours who weren't going to be able to make it that evening.

At 4 pm, Tara and Zoie arrived to help me begin the set-up process.  These young ladies had volunteered to help with FNO at Zoe because they love fashion!  The first thing we did was prep the table for the arrival of the cake pops from Alexandria Cake Pop Company and prepare the glasses for the beverages.  Then we determined that the patio was dry enough to "Roll Out the Red Carpet" and set up the table to show off the raffle items and collect entries.  Between those tasks and changing into our "uniform" (the FNO T-shirt and dark pants/denim) for the evening, we stayed busy.

The cake pops were everything I had hoped for and more!  Tamara had recently purchased a machine that allowed her to print logos and words and she put it to work for my order!  We had agreed she would do cake pops in the shape of purses and she added to Zoe logo to some of them!

At 6 pm, people started arriving and it was non-stop busy!  We had photographers stop in from WJLA 7 News as well as the Alexandria Times.  Just like our Sidewalk Sale experience, we had quite a bit of time where we were having to ask people to wait for dressing rooms!  Alexandra arrived at around 5:45 and barely got her breath before she was managing the dressing room queues!  Sarabeth arrived at around 7:00 and keep the clothing orderly, replenished the sale rack and made sure everything got back to the proper place.  Janice and Karen arrived and immediately jumped behind the counter to help me wrap and bag the sales.  We ran through our 20 SWAG bags (gifts with purchase) before 8 pm!

While all this was going on inside, Sally and Jamie were snapping red carpet pictures outside and Tara and Zoie were registering everyone for the raffle prizes!

Tara and Zoie

Red Carpet Lovlies

We had a slight lull during the time of the Fashion Show (at 8 pm at the Torpedo Factory) but it picked right back up again at around 8:25.  Jenn of The Medestrian watched the Fashion Show for me and reported back that Zoe's model looked stunning in her Chan Luu top and Rebecca Taylor Skirt.

Zoe's clothing at the Fashion Show

I couldn't believe that we still had people walking in right at 10 pm.  Everyone we spoke with that evening had a wonderful time!  At the end of the evening, Tara and Zoie brought me a huge stack of cards from everyone who had connected with Zoe that evening (several inches tall!)  Since I was so tired, I decided to hold off on the drawing for the raffle items until the next morning.  I had no idea how sales were totaling (I knew we had been busy) and was delighted with that result too!  And the next morning when I saw how much our Facebook "Likes" had grown, I had another smile on my face!  Plus, everyone had a good time!  I couldn't ask for more!

The one question I know you've been asking yourself....did the Essie Nail Polish arrive in time to be included in the SWAG bags?  The answer would be NO!  UPS Driver Freddy did have a delivery for me on Thursday afternoon (a beautiful box of Chan Luu Fall Ready to Wear) but no nail polish.  It arrived on Friday.  So, Zoe fans, you can look forward to another event in the future where you will get a bottle of this lovely nail polish.

From the Lessons Learned column...have multiple corkscrews on hand.  We managed to break 2 during the evening.  That is one "Business Continuity" item I had not thought to include in my plan. 

Next up:  Why I Don't Make Decisions When I'm Tired

Friday, September 14, 2012

An Early Morning Fashion Show

In my Question and Answer post regarding the prep for Fashion's Night Out Alexandria, I had mentioned that Zoe had the opportunity to dress a model for a FOX 5 Morning News segment.  As a participating store, we were also given the opportunity to attend the taping but needed to arrive by 6:30 am in order to not disrupt the filming of the teasers and the segments.

I was up bright and early last Tuesday morning and even left the house prior to Jim's departure!  I stopped by Zoe and got the store ready for the day, grabbed a Venti Americano as I passed by Starbucks and arrived at The Torpedo Factory just prior to 6:30.  I could see the FOX 5 News truck already set up outside the building.

As people began arriving, imagine my delight when I discovered that one of the founders of Fashion's Night Out Alexandria (and the key speaker for the segments) was wearing some gorgeous red Katie Bartels earrings that she had purchased at Zoe during the Christmas in July weekend!  Zoe would be on TV in multiple ways!

This time around, there wasn't much for me to do except observe and enjoy!  Zoe's model looked stunning and the cobalt blue of her dress looked fantastic on TV.  Here is a picture of her taken at the store during the fitting the previous Friday.

After the segment aired at around 7:50, the models returned the clothing and I was back to work!  Here is a link to the segments (look for Zoe's outfit in the 7 am segment).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Capital BikeShare comes to Zoe

Two things:

1) I am horribly delinquent in writing in the blog.  I'm getting abuse from more than just my blogging conscience (Jim) these days.

2) I'm still recovering from the fun that was Fashion's Night Out Alexandria.  Since I'll have to write a few posts about that event, I thought I'd at least get an interim post in while I finish recovering.

What better to write about than the new Capital BikeShare station that has been set up outside Zoe?  The Capital BikeShare program has been in place in DC and in Arlington County for sometime.  This popular program allows people to "rent" bicycles for use at one spot and drop them at another spot (if desired).  Many people have found it a great way to commute, to explore the area, and to run errands.

Late last year/early this year, the City Council in Alexandria voted to add Capital BikeShare stations in the Old Town area.  There was some discussion as to where they would be located but nothing had been finalized.  My thought was "that sounds cool!"

In May of this year, a man was outside Zoe on Prince and Union streets doing some measuring.  Local residents came up to him to ask what he was doing (I had Zoe's door open and could hear the conversation).  He said he was measuring for a potential Capital BikeShare station to go on that corner. Uh oh.  I may experienced my first ever case of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

Honestly, my initial thought was....great.  So now I have a bunch of people coming in the store to ask me how to use it (I get asked every question imaginable - from where to have lunch to the location of the nearest ATM to how to get back on the Beltway).  There will be some sort of loss of parking spaces.  And how many people on bikes have ever purchased anything from the store?  (To their credit, I do have people who discover Zoe while biking on the Mt. Vernon Trail who do end up coming back as customers).  I also worried about the two local bikeshops located within a block of me who rent bikes.

In June, a representative from the City's Transportation and Environmental Services T&ES) came into the store to introduce herself and tell me about the plans for the BikeShare station.  She had also posted signs indicating that there would be a hearing about the location.  I truly intended to attend the hearing but I got the day mixed up and missed it.  In reading the minutes of the meeting, it turned out that no one attended!

The T&ES representative had told me that the station would likely go in during the late summer.  Sure enough, the final week in August saw more signs posted to prohibit parking and the station materialized quickly.  The station took 3 parking spaces along the Prince Street side of Zoe's courtyard.  I sent a note to the T&ES rep to ask for brochures and updated maps so that I could learn more about the BikeShare and provide information for those who had questions.  She brought it by before the station even went into operation.

Despite my initial angst, the BikeShare station hasn't been nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  One woman told me she discovered the store when she turned in her bike at that particular station!  I haven't had a lot of questions AND the bikes do appear to be used frequently.  My only remaining lament is the loss of the 3 parking spaces so close to the store.  But it looks like we may develop a positive co-existence!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Continuing Prep for Fashion's Night Out

Today's blog comes to you in Question and Answer format:

1) So, how are those SWAG bags coming along?

Overall, they seem to be coming together nicely.  We have some fabulous items including a mini Inslee by Design calendar, the Haughty Cosmetics Lip Gloss, Scarves from Velvet (huge thanks to them for sending these to me!), and a postcard for a discount on a future purchase.  What hasn't gone well?  Getting the Essie Nail Polish.  Who would have thought this would be so painful??  Trying to find a distribution chain for nail polish that retails at $8 has been almost impossible.

I knew I was in trouble when I called the number that one of my clothing wholesale showrooms had provided to me as a possible resource.  Honestly, it was if I had called a convenience store.  When the woman who answered the phone asked me to spell my FIRST name and told me they would call me back in 15 minutes, I knew it was a lost cause. (And no, they did not call me back).

It is possible that I found a resource for the nail polish but I am not sure if it is going to arrive on time for FNO.  Finger(nail)s crossed!

2) How are you getting the word out?

All the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, local newspaper ad, email list) plus a new method - postcard mailing!  As I type, I have 1 postcard sitting on the cash wrap waiting to be handed out/mailed.  The other 199 are (hopefully) in the hands of people who will want to attend the most fun fashion event of Fall!

The thanks for these amazing postcards goes to my dear friend and talented graphic designer Cori.  I had sent her an email saying that I needed 3 postcards created (One for the FNO mailing and two for other purposes) - could she help?  I only had to describe what I was trying to do with each one and she sent me drafts that were perfect.  I did not change one thing!  Plus, she negotiated a fantastic rate with the printer and had them deliver to me at the store.

Oh, and did you know it almost impossible to find postcard stamps these days?  It took me raiding 3 post offices in the Alexandria area to get enough to do the mailing!

3) What are you wearing for FNO?

Of course, this is something that I've given a lot of thought.  It is going to be a long day for me - actually the same as Black Friday last year - 12+ hours.  I'll have several people helping me that evening and I thought it would be good if our guests could identify who is representing Zoe.  With that in mind, we are all wearing the FNO Alexandria T-shirt with black pants or black denim.  I had already bought a range of sizes to sell in the store so it is the perfect solution.

4) How else is Zoe being highlighted for FNO?

Zoe had her first radio experience (that we know of) on Monday when the morning team from FreshFM (94.7) told listeners that Zoe was an FNO participant and gave away a $100 gift card to the store.  I must confess that I did not hear the radio "shout out" because I was busy doing my normal "day off" things but I was told by others that Zoe made the show that day!

The previous Friday, stylist Kathryn Martin came by the store to pull several looks for the FNO Alexandria Fashion Show scheduled for 8 pm at the Torpedo Factory.  Those items will be dropped off for the model fitting by this upcoming Wednesday!

And, Zoe hits the TV airwaves again on Tuesday morning when FOX 5 broadcasts segments from The Torpedo Factory.  A complete outfit from Zoe will be shown and described on air.  Sarabeth and I got to work with the model yesterday to pick her look and she was stunning!  I have a picture but I'm not going to share it - you'll have to watch!  The segment on the Fashion portion of the the FNO event should take place at around 7:40 am.  I won't be on camera but will be there to observe.

We've also provided information and photos to bloggers and look forward to posts in the upcoming few days.

5) What else?  Why is the event at Zoe going to be so much fun?

We will have Prosecco, Sparkling Lemonade and Cake Pops.  My friend Sally of Sally Brewer Photography will be taking photos on Zoe's red carpet from 6 - 8 pm.  And, in addition to the SWAG bags (with purchase), we'll be doing a drawing at the end of the evening for some fabulous prizes including a $200 Zoe Boutique gift card, a Chan Luu bracelet, a Tru Tru classic tote, and a package of great fashion films!  Plus, you'll get a postcard for a future discount on all the great Fall Fashions you'll be seeing that night!

Next up:  The FOX 5 Segment experience

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Review By A Retail Specialist

At the risk of creating a Yogi Berra-esque quote, I will say that "There are some things I know and some things I don't know."  It's the things I don't know that keep me pushing to try to solve them and to find people who can give me answers or guidance.

A couple of weeks ago, two organizations that I am part of in Alexandria announced a visit from a state-wide retail specialist.  He would be speaking/answering questions at two morning meetings that week and would be available in the afternoon to visit your business and provide you with feedback on things that you may wish to improve and on the things you are doing well.  I had planned to attend one of the morning meetings anyway but jumped at the chance to have him visit the store and to also learn more about the services that the Alexandria Small Business Development Center could offer to me.

I arranged for them to come one afternoon when I had help in the store so that I could give them my full attention.  The advisor, Marc Willson, has a wealth of experience.  You can read more about his background here.

Marc asked me a lot of questions about the history of the store, my focus, and who made certain decisions.  He liked the openness of the store and said that my cash wrap was perfectly positioned.  Two areas that he suggested might be improvements were in temporary signage that I put in my windows and in lighting.

With regard to the temporary signage, he thought that putting my sale announcements and new arrivals in some pretty "shabby chic" type frames would be more eye catching and "fashion focused".  Of course, I contacted the lovely ladies from Semper Stylish right away to see what they might come up with for the store!

Then on to lighting.  You might remember a long ago blog post about my decision to use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs in the store (everywhere except the window lighting).  I like the energy saving features they provide, the softness (and calmness) they give the store and, frankly, I didn't want to spend a fortune on lighting as part of the buildout.  Marc suggested that I put in track lighting in certain places to highlight pieces and areas that might get hidden in the store.  There are a couple of areas that may be well-served with this type of highlight and I plan to look into how it blends with the aesthetics as well as the price to do so.

One area that I asked him about was advertising.  It is still a struggle to understand where advertising is working and where it is not working.  He suggested that social media is the big thing in advertising now as well as local newspapers.  He said that just about anything else wasn't worth the money.  That is helpful to me and is pretty consistent with what I've found with regard to feedback on my advertising.    He and the ASBDC rep were both excited to learn about this blog and some follow-up discussions have resulted in me being asked to contribute to their blog on a regular basis.  (I haven't decided on that one yet - it is quite daunting just keeping this one going!)

But a very good experience and a great resource!  I look forward to implementing these suggestions and reviewing the results.  And finding out what else I don't know.

Next up:  The lead-up to Fashion's Night Out

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Some Days, I Get To Try on Lip Gloss

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been knee deep in planning for Zoe's involvement in Fashion's Night Out Alexandria.   One of the things I've been working on is figuring out exactly what to include in Zoe's SWAG bags for the night.

I love supporting other women-owned local small businesses so my mind jumped immediately to Michelle Coyle's Haughty Cosmetics line of lip glosses.  Michelle is such a lovely person!  I met her when she came into my store shopping one day and selected an Issa London dress for her friend to wear as part of her wedding weekend attire!  As she was checking out and we were chatting, she told me about her business and gave me her card.

I was immediately smitten with both her product and her mission.  She donates 50% of the net profits from the sale of her lip gloss to domestic violence prevention education.  I would love to carry her product in the store but she already sells to a fabulous cosmetics store in Old Town.  But I've been thinking for a long time "how can incorporate/promote her product?"

When the idea of SWAG bags came up in my meeting with Jenn of The Medestrian, the Haughty Cosmetics lip gloss came to mind.  I contacted Michelle and asked if she'd be open to allowing me to provide her product to my customers as a gift.  She said Yes!  So the next step was to schedule a meeting to determine what shade(s) I would select for the SWAG bags.

Sarabeth was coming in that morning and when she arrived I told her "Today, we are trying on Lip Gloss."  We both agreed that we had never before had a boss say that to us in any of our corporate jobs.  (Note - if any of my former bosses are reading, I'm glad you never said this to me.  It would have been a very uncomfortable thing.)  It was a great day to do the testing because I am fair skinned with dark hair and Sarabeth is blonde with a more tan skin - we were able to gauge which colors would look good on the largest number of people.

Michelle brought her collection and we talked about best-sellers, hot colors, and what was flattering.  She had testing wands available so that we could try on as many colors as we wished.  After several evaluations, we settled on her color named "Give", which is a gorgeous Cranberry Red.  I know that people are going to LOVE it!

Next up:  A Review By a Retail Specialist

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sidewalk Sale - Year Two

It is very exciting to be sharing "Year Two" happenings with you, the second of which was this year's Old Town Alexandria Sidewalk Sale.   This was the Third Annual Sidewalk Sale and was organized by the fabulous Cindy McCartney, who owns Diva Designer Consignment in Old Town.

You will be glad to know that no blood was shed this year (you may remember my crash to the ground incident in trying to save the clothing from rain during last year's event!) but there was some hair pulled out (more to come on that!)  We were SO fortunate to have beautiful weather the entire day, coupled with greater advertising for the event as a whole.

So what was different for Zoe this year?

  1. We were asked to start at 9 am rather than our normal opening times (some stores open at 10, others at 11).  
  2. I had a lot more pieces to offer for sale - there is a great difference in being open 4 months (last year) and a year and 4 months (this year)!  Karen brought her folding table so that I could have a better way of displaying the folded items (I don't think I had any folded items on the sale last year).
  3. I did some of my own advertising for the sale by coming up with a "Top 10 Reasons to Love Alexandria's Sidewalk Sale" and posting two items a day (one in the morning and one in the evening) on Zoe's Facebook page.  By the time I go to #1, a number of people were following to see what I'd say next!
  4. I had a large enough number of Zoe customers on my email list to offer them a private sale the day before the Sidewalk Sale opened.  I was delighted with the people who came to take advantage of this opportunity.
  5. Last year, I managed to run the store and the sale alone - this year, I had help (thank goodness!)
On the morning of the sale, Jim and I walked in to Zoe.  The store felt "warm" but I quickly adjusted the thermostat to the daytime setting.  Within a short period of time, I realized it wasn't cooling off.  Uh oh.  (hence the hair pulling)  I contacted my landlord and asked if I could contact the company he had given me earlier in the year to get someone in to look at it.  He gave me the go ahead.  Turns out, that company was the one who installed the unit last year but doesn't have the contract to service the unit.  They did send a guy out to look it who told me "the problem is in your landlord's space".

In the meantime, I had a sale to get staged!  Jim helped me set up the table and the H-rack and get all of the clothing situated in the right places.  Even as we were setting up, people were coming up to take a look at what we had to offer.  Within a few minutes after 9, we already had our first sale on the books.

I am so thankful that Alexandra and Sarabeth were there to help me.  We took turns with one person outside (to greet people and monitor the table and the racks) and two people on the inside (to manage the dressing rooms and the cash wrap).  There is no way I could have done it myself this year.  Especially as I was on the phone with my landlord and the air conditioning people during part of the day!  Fortunately, the second A/C team (the ones with the contract) put a temporary fix in place to get me through the weekend.

Zoe has two dressing rooms and we repeatedly found ourselves in the position of having to ask people to wait until a dressing room freed up.  At one point, we asked someone if they minded using our restroom (which is not open to the public) as a dressing room!  It was a lot of fun to meet new people and see many of our previous customers.

Even as we were packing up at the end of the day, people kept coming in.  Two women with a baby came in at 6 and shopped with us until almost 7.  It was a long day but a successful one.  I did manage to get a sunburn on my shoulders since I'm never out in the sun!

Jim and I were eating dinner at around 7:45 when the rains came that evening.  We high-fived each other with joy that it had held off until after the sale was over!

Next up:  Some Days, I Get to Try On Lip Gloss

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Market Trip

I've now figured out that I travel to NY 7 times a year for buying trips.  I always end up going twice for Spring and Fall buying since the collections are so large and I like to intersperse Showroom trips into those buying seasons.  About a week and a half ago, I headed to NY to look at Early Spring and Resort collections.

Because the collections are much smaller and I do not bring in a lot for this particular season, I had a very focused schedule for the morning at the market and then had two showroom appointments in the afternoon.

Some highlights:

  • I visited two new "Made in USA" designers and loved their collections.  I continue to hear this request from my customers and I want to honor their desires (and part of the mission of my store) as much as possible.  Both are small enough that I got to meet the designers as well and had favorable impressions of both of them.
  • So many great primary colors were showing up in the collections - think Blue, Red, Yellow, White.
  • One of the showrooms I visited was actually in the midst of moving showrooms so they had me look at their collections in the meeting room of the condo building where one of the owners lived!  I got out of mid-town and the Fashion District and up into the residential areas of the Upper West Side.  I loved her building and wanted to just move in right then and there!
  • The other showroom I visited was back down in the Fashion District.  I love the light, airy environment of this particular showroom and the fact that it is so small that I can see the collection in detail and in an unhurried fashion.  Plus, I like that they sample the items in my size!  I tried on one skirt (that I have ordered for the store) that I honestly did NOT want to give back.  I half-jokingly asked "Can I take this with me?"  
  • As I walked back to Penn Station (no taxi trauma this time around - both taxis I took were without unnecessary angst), I saw a store owner trying to hold a shoplifter inside the store!  It takes a lot to get New Yorkers to stop and look and this ruckus did the trick.  The possible shoplifter had one shoulder and arm outside the store and the store owner was pulling the door to prevent him from exiting.  A whole lot of yelling and swearing going on.  The potential shoplifter managed to get some muscle behind his push and came bursting out of the store just as I had passed by.  Let's just say I got out of the way as quickly as I could!
  • For my friend Renee, I wore my Yoana Baraschi Faux Wrap Dress, a Chan Luu Asymmetrical Cardigan (to keep warm on the train), and Delman Black Patent Leather Sandals.  

Next up:  Sidewalk Sale, Year Two

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Continuing to Get the Word Out

I was never one of the kids in school who had the desire to raise my hand to answer questions.  I was always a quiet learner and participant.  You can imagine how hard it was for me when I had to deal with the fact that there was a class participation component to my grades when I was in graduate school.  I sometimes had to force myself to speak up in class!  I'm much more comfortable talking one on one or in small groups.

So contacting people who may not already have a relationship with Zoe can be challenging for me.  I feel like the little girl who is trying to will herself to raise her hand in class!  But since I function outside my comfort zone just about every day, what's one more thing to add to the mix??

One of the things I try to do is to always keep abreast of what is going on in Old Town.  Whether it be larger events, new businesses, or promotions, I like to know what is going on so I can share the information with my customers, consider the business impacts (positive and negative), and consider new ways that I can work with my fellow business owners.

A couple weeks ago, I was looking at the website for Virtue Feed & Grain, a restaurant that opened a couple of months after Zoe last year.  It is part of a family of restaurants located in Alexandria that are owned and managed by a well-known husband and wife team.  I noticed that they were having a Little Black Dress night on Wednesday nights!  Immediately I thought "Hey, I have a nice collection of Little Black Dresses coming in this Fall!  And since they are just down the street, I'd love to partner with them on this!"

They had a General Manager email address on the website and I sent an email introducing myself and sharing my idea for a) offering their customers showing me a receipt from LBD night a discount and b) coordinating some informal modeling this Fall when I have my full complement of black dresses in store.  They were very positive about the idea and immediately asked for my logo so that they could provide the offer as part of the information given to patrons when they hand them the check!  I was so delighted!

Sometimes, all you have to do is raise your hand...

Next up:  Market Trip