Monday, February 27, 2012

If It Is February must mean it is time to shop for Fall!  "What?", you say.  Yes, that's how it works.  Before I even have all of my spring deliveries, I need to start thinking Fall!

The "big" seasons (Spring and Fall) are too much for me to do in one day.  I made a trip to market in NYC on Tuesday, February 21st and will be going back the day this blog is published (February 27th) to visit some showrooms and have lunch with one of my designers.  One day, I hope to be able to stay in NY for multiple days in a row and get it all done at once.

If you've been a reader of the blog, you know that I always take an early NE Regional to NYC on the day I'm going to market.  Tuesday's train was right on time and, since the market was at the Javits Center, an easy walk on a brisk, sunny NY morning.  Registration was quick and easy and I went first to visit one of my sweater lines - Laurie B.  I was their first customer and the first to write an order with them at market.  Hopefully I started them off on the right foot!

Then my day began in earnest.  I had 8 appointments to meet prior to my 4:42 pm train back to DC.  Since I've written about market in general several times, I'll touch on the highlights.

  • I didn't carry any coats this past year because I wasn't really sure of the market for them and, it turns out, it was probably a good decision with our warm winter.  However, I have decided to bring in a limited number of coats/jackets this winter.  I am very excited about the stylish selections!
  • I saw quite a bit of sapphire blue in all of the collections as well as a beautiful copper color.  
  • A big highlight of the trip was getting to meet Tracy Reese following my appointment to see her Fall line.  She has the most beautiful smile and was so warm and genuine.  And she radiates joy.  Just like my meeting with Yoana Baraschi last market trip, I feel like I'm meeting a rock star (for my industry)

The lovely Tracy Reese

  • I learned my lesson from the last market and did take an energy bar with me to eat during one of the appointments.  I apologized to my hosts in advance.
  • During the course of the day, I managed to lose both a bottled water and a bottle of Diet Coke.  Those of you who remember my propensity for leaving my beverage at your desk, in a conference room, or on a random file cabinet/counter will not be surprised at this.
  • I fell so in love with one piece that the ladies at Beth Bowley were calling a Swacket (a combination Sweater and Jacket) that I threatened to take it with me!
  • One of my lines ended up being a huge disappointment.  I'm not sure where the designer is taking the line (both from a design and price point standpoint) but I'm hoping for better in the next deliveries.
  • One of my lines has a dress named "The Susan" (not after me, but I can pretend).  Of course, I want to buy it.
  • I'm taking a little step into bringing in some more accessories and, drum roll, a run of flats and a run of booties for Fall.  I will never go very deeply into shoes due to space constraints and the fact that we already have two great shoe stores in Old Town.  But I liked the offering, they had no minimum requirements and I thought it would be a nice addition to the line.   We'll see how it goes!

I finished right at 4 pm and made the quick walk (now under cloudy skies and into the wind) back to Penn Station.  I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat before hopping on the train.  A long but successful day.

For my friend Renee, I wore an Alice & Trixie grey sweater dress with black almost the the knee boots and black tights.  

Next up:  Market Trip 2

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Get To Be The Model

I enjoy talking to all of my customers and have become acquainted with the life events for many of my more regular customers.  One customer who has a fairly active and interesting social life will often ask me "So what fun and exciting things have you done lately?"  Most of the time, I don't have anything too significant to tell her!  The energy, time commitment, and monetary demands of owning a business tend to limit much of my fun!  I am fortunate to get together with friends for lovely brunches, lunches and dinners on occasion but those events, coupled with one night a week out with my husband and my January trip to Tampa, summarize the "fun and exciting" for me.  Until last week.

In my end of year post, I mentioned that Zoe was going to be in a coffee table book/magazine publication called The Scout Guide.  An edition is being developed for Alexandria/Arlington/McLean.  The planned publication is the March/April timeframe so they are beginning to take pictures for the guide now.  I scheduled my picture for Monday, February 13th, knowing that Zoe would be closed for the day.

One of the focus areas of the guide is to let people see the person behind the business as well as feature the business.  So I knew I would be in the photographs.  First step was to take care of my always unruly hair.  May I just say how much I love my stylist Linda at Ernst & Co. in Springfield, VA.  She actually came in early that day just to do my hair prior to a class they all had to take at the salon.   What was even more amazing that no matter where I went that day (the grocery store, etc.) people stopped me to tell me how great my hair looked.  If only Linda could come to my house every morning!

I am also a minimalist on make-up and wanted my make-up to be camera ready.  The Alexandria Gazette-Packet had a "Talk of the Town" article in December on places that would do your make-up so I placed  a call to Bellacara, a beautiful cosmetics boutique in Old Town.   I was very pleased with the work that my make-up artist did for me - I had explained to her that I would be photographed but it would not be a close-up.  I so wish I knew how to do all of the wonderful eye make-up she did for me!

Then it was off to the store to get dressed.  I had chosen a look that I felt was representative of who I am - fashionable, stylish, comfortable.  I chose a Chan Luu Embroidered Top over a Chan Luu Cami and my white Red Engine Jeans.  I topped it off with a necklace that I already owned and some amazing Steve Madden platforms that I had found at DSW (picture coming at the bottom of the post)!

The photographer, Amanda Fillmore Martin, and the stylist, Kathryn Martin, arrived right on time.  They have been retained by The Scout Guide to style and photograph all of the shoots.  Kathryn quickly went to work in moving things around to take advantage of Zoe's big bay windows.  We also redressed all of the mannequins and placed new items in the cubbies of the IKEA sweater case.  The owner of The Scout Guide, Jessica Richardson, also joined in the fun!

One of the poses Kathryn had me sit in was one where I have one leg tucked under me and the other hanging down while sitting on the sweater case.  I love the pose but I definitely would have done some stretching prior to the afternoon had I known!  My middle aged body doesn't contort like that any more!

It was so much fun to have other people figuring everything out for the afternoon.  All I had to do was follow their direction and smile!  The time flew by and within an hour and a half, they had all the shots they needed and we put the store back together.

On Monday, Amanda sent me a link to the proofs.  I was very pleased with the results and my only change will hopefully be to reduce the brightness in the window behind me.  What do you think of my favorite?

Oh, and before I forget, I must share the shoes (Jim, I know you are reading - they were very inexpensive!)

Sigh.  Then it was back to the real world.  But I thoroughly enjoyed my "model for the day" experience.

Next up:  Fall 2012 Market

Monday, February 20, 2012

Credit Card Inspection

A little less than a year ago, I was filling out the forms to set up credit card processing for Zoe.  Believe me when I tell you that there were probably more pages in the credit card agreements (and legalese) than in my lease for the space!  One of the things I was told is that there would be a "site inspection" prior to my approval to confirm that I was a legitimate business.

Zoe was knee-deep in the construction buildout and I was not always on-site a full day.  When the company contacted me to tell me that I had been approved, I assumed that the site inspection had occurred at some point when I wasn't at the space.

Imagine my surprise a couple weeks ago when I got a call late one day asking to schedule a "site inspection"!  Of course, I agreed to it and asked the caller if this was something that they did on a yearly basis since I had been in business for 10 months!  He said that it was not, that for whatever reason they were just getting to me now!  Think of the wildness and mayhem I could have been committing in the meantime! (just kidding)

The inspector showed proper identification when he arrived and was required to take pictures of a number of things, including my point of sale computer, my office desk (messy, as usual), and interior and exterior shots of the store.  He told me and Anna that they find all sorts of fraud going on as part of these inspections.  One company had identified themselves as a bookstore - he said there were definitely no books being read in this house of ill-repute!  On a serious note, he said they often uncover places where people are held as slaves or have been victims of human trafficking.  So a visit to a place like Zoe is an easy one to check off the list.

I wondered if the inspection had been prompted by my request for the manual credit card processor.  Not many people have those sorts of requests any more.

Next up:  I Get To Be The Model

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Warehouse Sale - Part III

The big day is almost here and I have to think about "what do I know for a fact that I don't know?"  And is there anything I can do to mitigate the risks of the "don't knows"?

One thing I did (call it double disaster recovery planning) was get an old fashioned manual credit card device.  You remember them - the ones where you place your card on the metal surface and a paper form is laid over the card.  A large "block" is then swiped back and forth over it to create the imprint.  I was very anxious about the ability of my iPhone device to have a strong enough signal (and also unsure of the Wifi we were told we would have) in order to process cards on it.  So, to be sure, I went back to manual!

I had already planned to offer the people on my mailing list a preview of the items going to the Warehouse Sale (at Warehouse Sale prices) the night before and the morning of the set-up.  So, I set up my H-rack in the store and filled it with the hanging items going to the sale.  It gave me a good idea of whether or not I had enough (or too much) in terms of merchandise.  Fortunately, it was "just right"!

Before I knew it, Friday afternoon was here and Jim arrived to help me move the sale items to the Masonic Memorial for set-up.  As he carried things out of the store he said "Now, none of this is coming back, right?"  I didn't know how to answer that!

We did our best to make creative use of things we already had on hand.  We used Zoe's "Coming Soon" Sign (which was hanging in the store window at this time last year) doubled over to mark the check-out table.

We turned the H-rack to the side so that it would allow people easy access into the space.

Anna pictured with the H-Rack prior to the start of the Sale.  We had a small sign on the end of the rack listing the brands we had at the sale.

We also turned the table to the side to allow people more space to browse and to also provide a natural dividing line between Zoe's space and the next space over.

That evening, we made an emergency trip to Home Depot so that I could buy two inexpensive (less than $6 each) mirrors to prop up in the space.

The table was completely full when we started the sale!

Due to significant track work on Metro on the weekends, we picked Anna up on Saturday morning to make sure she didn't have any issues getting to the sale.  Jim took this picture of the sun coming up from the hill on which the Masonic Memorial is located.

Ah...the things we do for our children (Zoe)

There was a little bit of early shopping going on (other store owners/team members buying from each other) as well as the four lucky shoppers who won a drawing and got to come in at 8:30!  Zoe probably had 4 sales prior to the sale officially starting!

The next several hours were almost a blur.  I was processing sales as quickly as possible.  Clothes were flying on and off the racks - it was all we could do to occasionally try to get them back into their proper size groupings!  We had two instances where a customer was in such a hurry to get to the next store that she left her credit card with us (fortunately, Anna was able to track them down both times - it helped that they were carrying the bright Zoe bags).  The table was a mess!  My original stock of business cards was depleted and I brought out more from my purse.  By the end, I was writing the store information on pieces of paper. (Lesson - bring more cards next time).

One big mistake of mine was not having something with me to drink - I definitely started to feel dehydrated.  Fortunately, Jim had a neighbor follow him to the Memorial in the mid afternoon (so that he could leave my car there) and he brought Anna and me something to drink.  I think he was blown away when he walked in and saw how empty our racks and table were!  

As you can imagine, sometimes clothing ended up in the wrong places - it was not unusual for another store owner to bring one of our items back that had ended up in their area (and we did the same).  The mirrors were a huge hit - not many others in my area had mirrors so many people were coming to look at themselves in them.  At one point, the line was 4 deep just to look in the mirror!

Although things slowed down a little in the afternoon (to the point where we were able to straighten out the remaining items on the racks and tables) we remained steadily busy until the close (our last sale was right at 4 pm).  

The tear down was much simpler than the set-up - simply because there just wasn't that much to take back.  Jim came over again to take the clothing and racks back to the store.  And Anna and I headed back to the store to now process everything that had been sold that day.

Janice and Karen had gone far beyond the call of duty to man the store all day for me while I had been at the Warehouse Sale.  They told me that several people had come all the way down to the store after shopping at (or learning about) Zoe at the Warehouse Sale.  It was really wonderful to be in the position to have the store "open" in both places at the same time!

Anna and I started processing the sales through the Point of Sale system at around 4:45.  Each item we had sold that day had to be removed from inventory and, for those items paid for via credit card, each card had to be hand entered.  We developed a system by which Anna read out the items sold on the ticket.  Once I had entered them, I confirmed the total with her.  If the total matched, she then gave me the payment method and I entered it in.  Much to our delight and relief, all of the credit cards processed with no issue!

Then, the moment of truth - how had we done?  I really had no idea, we had been processing sales so quickly.  I ran the end of day program and my hand flew to my mouth - I told her "That can't be - did we make a mistake?  Did we really do that well?"  We double and triple checked totals!  I almost cried for joy - I couldn't believe what a success it had been.  We totaled 80 individual sales and had a sales day that even beat Black Friday.

Besides the items listed above and in previous posts, what would I do differently?  I would definitely take additional items to sell as the table and racks got cleaned out.  I do think in several cases we could have probably sold even more if we had it available.  I'll definitely try to find the right "Chinese Screen" to provide a semblance of a dressing room.  

It took me a couple days to recover from all of the activity of the previous week.  I hope to have the opportunity to do it again next year as a smarter and wiser shop owner!

Next:  The Credit Card inspection

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Warehouse Sale - Part II

Like anything that I'm uncertain about in life, I was extraordinarily anxious about the news segment scheduled for Wednesday morning.  So I went back to my tried and true rules (from corporate life) of how to quell as much of that anxiety as possible.

#1 - Wear something that makes you feel entirely comfortable.  This goes back to my earlier blog post on not letting your clothing choices be part of the reason you feel anxious.  I chose the cute Beth Bowley Wool Shift that I had been wearing during the Fall and Winter.  I knew it fit well, was comfortable, and had no likelihood for wardrobe malfunctions.

#2 - Don't overstudy.  Let's face it - I'm going to be talking about something I know and I love.  There is no reason to over-think it and over-rehearse it.  Go over it a few times and then let it go.

#3 - Go to bed early.  I always do this and then end up waking up about 10 times during the night.  This was even worse because I knew I had to get up early to be there by 6 am.  At least I didn't have to go far from home (I can see the Masonic Memorial when I walk out my front door).

The night before, I had decided that I did not like the mascara I had on hand as well as the lipstick.  A trip to CVS was necessary to remedy this situation.

Wednesday started early (I got up at 4:15).  When I arrived at the Masonic Memorial, it was raining.  I (and others) had even beat the TV crew there!  We got in and got settled and the models arrived as well.  The TV host (Annie Yu) would do short teasers about 15 - 20 minutes before each longer segment.  Everything was live!

Once I got there (and made sure I knew how to pronounce the brand of shoes my model was wearing), I started to calm down.  I'm like that - once I get the lay of the land and once the train has left the station, I'm ok.  At that point, I figure I can't get off any way so I might as well enjoy the ride.

In between segments, we got to take some pictures.

Me (Zoe), Amy Rutherford (Red Barn Mercantile), Annie Yu (Fox 5), Toni Henderson (Mint Condition), Jill (Treat), Elizabeth Todd (The Shoe Hive)

Brianna (Zoe's lovely model in Alice & Trixie) and Me.

Before we knew it, it was really showtime. The first long segment had Elizabeth talking about the origins of the Warehouse Sale, the Boutique District, and pointing out some of the great finds.  Zoe got some good press during this segment.  The second second included each of us talking about the outfits displayed on the models - my speaking part!

The link to both videos can be found here.

As soon as we were done with the second long segment, we were told that we could go.  Knowing that Janice and Karen were on the way to open the store for me, I quickly packed up and headed to the store.  It was so nice to have them there (they were finishing the Valentine's Day decorations) while I got settled in and took care of some of my morning routine items.

The challenging part?  I already felt like I had done a days work and my day hadn't even really started yet!  And I still had the sale to get ready for on Saturday!  Lots of caffeine was consumed that day...

Next up:  The Actual Sale

Monday, February 13, 2012

Warehouse Sale - Part I

At the very end of 2011, I found out that Zoe would be part of the 2012 Old Town Boutique District Warehouse Sale.  This event, in it's 7th year this year, is traditionally held on the first Saturday of February (barring bad weather) at the George Washington Masonic Memorial at the top of Old Town (at the intersection of King Street and Callahan Drive).

Each participating vendor has either a small or large space and is allotted one (for small) or two (for large) 8' x 2' table.  The rest of the design of the space is up to the individual vendor.  The main purpose of the event is to allow the vendors (local Alexandria boutique owners and jewelry/accessories designers) to sell stock at drastically discounted prices (anywhere from 65 - 90% off) to fashion-minded bargain hunters.  The vendor boutiques are a mix of shoes, clothing, and home goods.

Since this was Zoe's first year to participate, there was much to learn.  Each participant pays a set amount for their size space and also provides a copy of their certificate of insurance.  Part of the money paid for the space goes toward publicity for the event.

Intern Anna and I started preparing for the event by updating the Point of Sale system with the items remaining from Spring/Summer last year.   Then it was time to determine what to do about the price tags.  We decided to print out new tags (showing the original price) and then mark the Warehouse Sale price with a "Zoe Pink" ink.  Anna was dispatched on her first field trip to PaperSource to obtain the proper pen.  I would also do the same for the Fall/Winter items that I would take to the sale but would wait until closer time to the sale to make those changes.

About two weeks prior to the event, we learned that there would be an opportunity to publicize the event on the morning broadcast of our local Fox affiliate.  Those of us who were participating were assigned a model from a local high school to showcase an outfit that would be under $100/$150 at the sale.  We were encouraged to pick items with color to better show up on the broadcast.

We were told of our model's sizes and were sent a picture so that we would have an idea of what would work best for her.  Of course, Brianna (Zoe's model) was even prettier in person than she was in her picture.  Her mother brought her to the store to try on the dress (a great Alice & Trixie Pucci inspired print) and we also picked out some ADMK Jewelry earrings (not on the sale) to compliment the look.  She was then dispatched to The Shoe Hive to be outfitted with appropriate shoes for the broadcast.

How adorable is she?

Before I knew it, Tuesday afternoon had arrived and it was time for me to take Zoe's items to the Masonic Memorial to get set up for the television broadcast.  Of course, I took far too many things.  But you don't know until you've gone through it at least once!  After a little (actually, a lot) of anxiety on my part, Zoe's "broadcast table" was ready to go.

Gorgeous Tracy Reese 3/4 Shift on Table, Beth Bowley Geometric Print Dress on Mannequin

Next up:  Warehouse Sale - Part II - The Broadcast

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Preparing for Valentine's Day at Zoe

It was so wonderful having Zoe's windows decorated through the Christmas holidays that I really missed the extra sparkle after I took everything down prior to the start of the New Year.   My extremely talented friends Janice and Karen had said that they would like to keep decorating the windows as appropriate as the year went on and I agreed it was a real benefit to the store to do so.

As always, I give them carte blanche in determining what they would like to do with the windows.  and they never disappoint.   They have also recently formed a company to showcase their decorating and furniture restoration talents - Semper Stylish!  You will see their watermark on some of the photos I share in the blog.

And, great news!  NO voting on this window display!  Just enjoy!

First, they start with raw materials - pretty "bling" and sparkly hearts

Add Poster Board (from Michael's) and Karen's new Cricket Silhouette machine (or, as the non-crafy person like me calls it - the stencil paper cutter thingy)

It not only cuts these amazing stencils but also the clear plastic pieces to hold them together.

In order to hold the 3-D shape and have the structure to showcase the "bling", they add the clear plastic surrounds and hooks for easy hanging.

The window starts to take shape on a cloudy Sunday afternoon.  (Karen makes many trips up and down the ladder)

It looks like it is raining hearts on Zoe's mannequins!

The pink and red hearts are a perfect fit with Zoe's blue themed windows.

A view from outside the store.  The "bling" really sparkles when we have sunshine.  And the hearts really draw people's eyes to the window and to the store.

I'm thinking of starting a sideline business as their agent but they won't need me for long!  (of course, there would probably be a permit required for that too - Alexandria humor).

Next up:  Preparing for the Warehouse Sale

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A New Store Grand Opening

Just about the time Zoe opened in April of last year, the Hallmark store on King Street announced that they were closing.  There was a great deal of speculation as to what might go into the space.  Our curiosity was soon satisfied when we found out that that an Anthropologie store would occupy that space.

I had very mixed emotions about this revelation.  Prior to opening a store, I had been an Anthropologie shopper myself.  I always looked forward to receiving their beautiful catalogue each month and had ordered several great clothing pieces over the years.  As I learned more about the fashion and retail business, I found out that several of the brands that I carry at Zoe were also brands carried at Anthropologie.  We both shared a desire to deliver stylish and unique pieces.  

Of course, many more people know the Anthropologie brand than know the Zoe brand.  Would the addition of a chain retailer be a new draw for people to come to Alexandria to shop or would it be a detriment to my business as people would go with the name they know?  And what did the ability of the chain retailers to pay higher rents do to the rental environment in this area?  

I was eager to see what the new store looked like and what it had to offer.  I did not have to wait long - my friend and neighbor Maggie had received an invitation to the private Grand Opening event on the Thursday night before their official Friday opening.  When she accepted, they asked her if she would like to bring a friend and she asked me to join her.  Of course, I said yes!

The event truly was invitation only - they were checking names against a list at the door.  The store was already bustling when we went in (the event was from 6:30 - 8:30).  The build out and layout was beautiful (someone told me afterward that they might use this store as a prototype for changes to other stores and introductions of new products).  The store had added a second level (more of a loft-sized space than a full second level) where they had some additional home goods and the dressing rooms.

We were impressed with their helpfulness and, especially, the food and drinks.  We had to ask about the catering company (a company out of DC called Spilled Milk) - it was top notch!  They were well-stocked with spring items (of course) and also had a small "Sale" area of winter items set up in the back.  Maggie had scoped out a cute strapless dress on line that she hoped to get at the store and we found it quickly.  She was going to try it on but the lines for the dressing rooms were crazy.  She decided to purchase it and try it on at home.

I enjoyed looking at the different clothing offerings and price points.  And, of course, their lovely displays.  One of my favorite moments was when someone complimented Maggie on her sweater (a LiaMolly that she had purchased at Zoe!)

Getting to see the space and offerings made me feel better about having the store in Old Town.  And I signed up for their mailing list again (all the better to keep tabs on their new arrivals and sales!)

Next up:  Preparing for Valentines Day at Zoe