Friday, March 30, 2012

Mirrors Tell A Story

When I clean Zoe's mirrors each morning, I'm reminded of the story of the day before.

It is always good to see lots of fingerprints around the door handles - that means people were trying things on and going in and out of the dressing rooms!  The large handprint next to one of the doors reminds me of the (im)patient husband waiting for his wife to emerge.  And without fail there are little handprints from a toddler touching the mirrors (always toward the bottom of the surface!)  I even occasionally have a nose print from one of my four-legged customers fascinated with their reflection!

I love stories.  Each of us have them.  And they continue to expand!  Where do you see stories in your day to day life?

Next Up:  Junior Friends Toast to Fashion Event

Monday, March 26, 2012

Springtime Window Decorations

I have always been in awe of creative people.  You've probably picked that up as a theme as you've read my blog over the past two years.  I find that I love to surround myself with them because they are such an inspiration to me.  How fortunate I am to have two such talented and creative people as Janice and Karen as friends, not to mention honorary "Aunts" of Zoe!

On Wednesday while I went downtown to see Intern Anna's final presentation, they not only watched over Zoe but they installed the springtime window display!  They would not tell me what they were going to do beforehand but instead wanted me to be surprised when I returned.  This was fine with me - I know that they know what I like and don't like and would take the utmost care to create something beautiful and perfect for Zoe.

The beautiful flowers you are about to see were created using tissue paper, cardstock, double-stick tape, and glue.  As Janice said "This is the least expensive display we've done for you!"  A thumbs up from me (although none of them have been even remotely expensive due to their tenacity at finding inexpensive materials combined with their ingenuity).

To learn the details about their creative process (and how they incorporated the Cameo Silhouette), please read their delightful blog at  For those of you who love antique furniture and unique items, please make sure you see them at Luckett's Spring Market on May 19th and 20th.

On Friday, a customer came into the store and told me she drives by Zoe every morning and loves looking at the windows!  She was especially drawn in by the beautiful flowers!  On Saturday, a group of young ladies were shopping in the store.  One was visiting from Boston and was taking pictures of the flowers on Zoe's wall (pictured below) and in the windows.  Her friends said "Oh, you are such a tourist!"  She didn't care - she said "They are beautiful!  I want to remember them!'

Recognize this tissue paper?  It is Zoe's signature pink polka dot paper!

The windows will be perfect now and as we continue into spring.  I have to think that Zoe's retail and residential neighbors appreciate the beautiful and appropriate decor.  

Next up:  Mirrors Tell A Story

Friday, March 23, 2012

Intern Anna's Last Day

Sigh.  I knew it was coming.  And I dreaded it.  But at the same time, I had to be happy.  Intern Anna's last day at Zoe meant that she was within a week of graduating with her degree in Fashion Management!

When we introduced Intern Anna to you in early January, we had NO IDEA how quickly time would pass!  Each item that we had planned for the course of the internship took place and Anna was an invaluable help to me.  I could not have accomplished inventory nearly as quickly without her.  She was a rock star during the warehouse sale.  And we had a fabulous trip to NY to finish buying for Fall.  In addition to those big events, we focused on the day to day tasks of running a store.  I had Anna create two window displays for me, both of which got rave reviews (and helped to sell the clothing!)  She assisted me in merchandising the store as new items arrived for Spring.  She reviewed packing lists and entered inventory into the point of sale system.  We talked about different advertising strategies and what would work and what wouldn't.  It was always fun to have someone to share and discuss ideas with on a regular basis.  On her very last day, I did teach her how to ring up a customer because I had to run a quick errand in Old Town.  I felt that ringing up a customer was the least important thing she needed to learn - she already knew how to do that from her previous retail work!

On her last day, Anna brought me a bouquet of my favorite spring flowers - tulips!  Each color had a purpose - the purple to match Zoe's walls, the pink to match the "Z" in Zoe's logo, and the orange/coral to match the brand new Beth Bowley Poppy Fields dress!

Anna's final project was on display at the National Building Museum on Wednesday.  Dear friends Janice and Karen came to the store to watch Zoe (and decorate the Spring windows!) while I went downtown to see Anna's display.

It had been quite some time since I had been to the National Building Museum.  I love the fountain in the middle of the Main Hall.

I checked in at the main table and was given directions to the Fashion Management area.  Since the Art Institute has coursework in a variety of disciplines, I had to pass many of the Culinary students and their final projects - many of which were cupcakes (and me unable to partake since I gave up sweets for Lent)!

To my delight, Anna's project was located close to several of the other students who had participated in the case study on Zoe last summer/early fall.  It was nice to talk with them again and see the culmination of all of their hard work!

Anna's project was a Women and Children's Boutique called Dahlia to be located in Frederick, MD (she is from the Frederick area).  On display were copies of the business plan they had developed, their marketing plan, and even VERY detailed designs for clothing (I was blown away by just how many different measurements there are for each garment!)

Anna is engaged to be married next year and is in the process of relocating to Towson, MD.  She has a job currently lined up in Towson but we hope to have her back at Zoe to help with some special events in the future!

On my way back to my car, I got to enjoy the view of this beautiful flowering tree.

Congratulations Anna!  We will miss you!

Next up:  Zoe's Springtime windows

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hotels and Heels

While most of Zoe's customers are people who live locally (Virginia, DC, Maryland) we do get some visitors to Alexandria who also enjoy boutique shopping.  The key is making sure that they know we are here and what we have to offer!  We have an ad on a map (ResortMaps) and are in the 2012 Alexandria Visitors Guide.  Last year's holiday coupon book was distributed in hotels and brought some visitors to Zoe.  But what if a fashionable shopper asks the hotel where he/she might find boutique clothing?

I had wanted to visit a number of the walking distance hotels in the area for quite some time but my "Monday time" had been limited by other commitments and errands.  And, honestly, I wanted to look my best when I met with them and I rarely dress up (or put on make up!) on Mondays!  Rather than let inertia hold me back, I sent Intern Anna on a mission!

I had her go to four local hotels with a handful of the store's business cards, introduce the store to the concierge, invite them to visit, and let them know that if they would ever like to work with me on developing a promotion for their guests, I'd be delighted to do so.  Her feedback upon her return from the field trip was very positive - the concierges appreciated the contact, the business cards, and were looking forward to learning more about the store!

Now on to the heels!  In the last two weeks, not only has friend Jamie suggested that I make sure to have some heels for women to use to try on clothing but I've also had at least 4 other requests!  It's one of those small things that you think "Duh!  Why didn't I think of that?"  In 3 of the cases, I was able to lend the platform Steve Madden heels to customers so that they could get an idea of how a dress looked with heels.  But since those are mine, I'll be wearing them sometimes!

I decided to select three pair of dressy yet inexpensive shoes (in common sizes) to keep in the store to aid try-ons.  And I already had one woman use them this morning!  I think these have a classic but fun look!

Next up:  Intern Anna's Last Day :(

Monday, March 19, 2012

Video with the Cake Pop Girls

Last September, in the midst of one of the 90 rainy days that month (slight exaggeration, but not much), two young women walked in to the store.  They were holding a Tupperware container and my first thought was "Uh oh, another person trying to sell me jewelry."  Oh, how wrong I was.

Tamara and Emily were a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.  They were so sweet and enthusiastic I couldn't help but like them!  And that Tupperware container wasn't filled with jewelry but was instead filled with Cake Pops!  They were in the process of kicking off their business - Alexandria Cake Pop Company - and were walking around to introduce their product to local merchants and find potential distribution outlets for the cake pops.

I had seen cake pops at Starbucks and heard some friends and Mom Bloggers talk about them.  But I had never seen cake pops like these!  Tamara and Emily had come up with all kinds of adorable shapes and characters!  And each was elegantly wrapped to preserve its shape and freshness.  They offered one to me and I chose a Cat (in honor of my niece, Allison Catherine, who we call Cat sometimes).

We also spent some time together brainstorming other outlets for their cake pops - places where they might be able to sell them and also advertising and earned media possibilities.  We had such a nice time together - it is always fun to talk with other entrepreneurs!  They left some business cards with me to share with customers that might be interested in their product.

So now the proof was in the pudding - here were two lovely, fun young ladies with a great idea and a cute, creative product.  How good were the cake pops?  All I can say is Yum, Yum, Yum!  They had the three main ingredients for success - a great personality, a distinctive product, and it tasted as good as it looked!

Another thing I love about them is their focus on philanthropy.  They donate 5% of all of their profits to Operation Second Chance, an organization that focuses on serving wounded, injured, and ill combat veterans.  With both of my parents having worked in the Veterans Administration, this was a cause near and dear to my heart.

You can't help but love them!

They are truly inspiring as entrepreneurs because they aren't afraid to try new things to bring publicity to their business.  A couple weeks ago, they contacted me and asked if I would allow myself to be videotaped for a contest being held by the National Retail Federation.  The contest was titled "This Is Retail" and they were asked to submit a 2 minute video on their small business.  The winner will get $25,000!  What a great boost for a small business!

They had an intense day of videotaping prior to stopping by Zoe.  They had been wonderful to send me the questions in advance so I was prepared for the taping session.  We made a few slight changes to the area of the store where I would be filmed, set up some lights, and ran through the questions!  I had such a fun time!  I can't wait to see the final product and learn how they do in the judging process!

And I definitely can't wait to get the cake pops I ordered for Zoe's birthday celebration!!

Next up:  Hotels and Heels

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Junior Friends Toast To Fashion

In our year end post, one of the events we had been excited about this year is the upcoming Junior Friends Toast to Fashion to be held on the Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria on Thursday, March 22nd.  The sponsors of the show, the Junior Friends, are a dynamic, involved and philanthropic group of young women.  The events that they hold help promote and support the great work of The Campagna Center here in Alexandria.

On Friday of last week, Zoe's beautiful model Katelin came in to select the items she'll be wearing next Thursday night!  First, we talked about her likes and dislikes and then went through the store to select all of the possibilities for the evening!  Ladies, if you've ever gone into a store and had the chance to try on anything and everything you like, you know how much fun it can be!

As we tried different combinations, Katelin would model for me (aided by the Steve Madden platforms that I still had at the store from my "model shoot").  We would rank the selections as "keep" or "discard" and ended up with two great looks - one from Beth Bowley and the other from Yoana Baraschi!  (I'll keep their visual identity a secret until I post on the actual fashion show event)!  Katelin left with her two dresses and made her way to the store which was my "shoe partner" for the event - Bishop Boutique.  By the time the evening had closed, she was ready for her modeling debut!

Tickets to the Toast to Fashion are on sale now!  Don't miss out on this fun event and the chance to do something wonderful for The Campagna Center!

Next up:  The "This is Retail" video with the Cake Pop Girls

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Planning for Zoe's First Birthday

I've experienced some over the top first birthday parties and some very sweet, low-key ones.  I've always wondered what kind of mother I would have been - a big blowout at a park with a moon bounce?  A Chuckie Cheese extravaganza?  A quiet, at home event with a few friends and family members?

When planning for Zoe's first birthday party, I'm trying to strike a balance.  I'm doing a lot to try to publicize the event (meaning lots of people are "invited") but the event itself will be reflective of my particular tastes (and budget).   As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm working with Affordable Signs and Banners on a banner for the celebration.  I've ordered the MOST delicious cake pops from the ladies at Alexandria Cake Pop Company.  And I'm working on a surprise gift with purchase featuring Zoe herself! We will also have store-wide discounts and drawings for gift cards over the two day celebration (April 6th and 7th).

Yum!  Cake Pops!

The biggest challenge is getting the word out.  Of course I'll use all of the normal methods (email list, Facebook, Twitter) but I've also posted the event on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association website and the Old Town Alexandria Patch website.  I've asked the bloggers behind the Alexandria Lifestyle website to publicize the event.  I've made requests of a couple of organizations associated with the Washington Post to include the event in their publications and I plan to run local newspaper ads.  As I am preparing to join the Old Town Boutique District, I'll be adding the event to their calendar and email blast.  I hope it will turn into an opportunity to celebrate with current friends and make new ones!

I'm also thinking about asking my brands to publicize the event (or at least wish Zoe a Happy Birthday!).  I am confident that some of the smaller ones will be happy to do so but will find out about the larger ones!

It is hard to believe my "baby" is almost 1!  We've definitely had our challenges and have more to come but I LOVE her!

Note:  One of Zoe's biggest cheerleaders, the one and only Juice, visited us in the store on Saturday!  It was wonderful to see her walking up the stairs!  Thank you for making the long trek to see us, Juice!

Next:  Working with Zoe's model for the Junior Friends Toast to Fashion

Thursday, March 8, 2012

George Mason Counselor Site Visit

In January, I had my first formal visit with a counselor from the George Mason Small Business Development Center (at their Fairfax location).  When the coordination staff called me in February to ask if I'd like to have the counselor come on-site to visit the store and provide suggestions/feedback, I jumped at the chance!  We scheduled the meeting for Tuesday, March 6th after 4 pm.

The counselor arrived right on time and took a look around.  We spent time discussing the way that traffic flows through the business (where do they walk/look first), the set-up, the displays, and the "reasons why" behind particular decisions.  We then sat down to chat further about display and marketing options.

She liked the layout of the store, the color scheme, the dressing rooms and mirrors, and the wide aisles.  She also thought I had enough merchandise in place to not make it look too empty (or too full).  Her one major suggestion was that I consider installing some additional track lighting on the wall displays to draw people's eyes to them.  I had wanted to do that at the time of buildout but things were already so pricey that I held off on doing so.  It is definitely something I'll look into for the future.

We talked about some of my latest marketing initiatives and she felt I was on the right track.  One thing that intrigued me was the concept of taking what I had learned through Software Usability studies (who are we designing for?  What are they like?  What are they going to need?) and applying it to more narrowly defining my customer.  This was timely as I had recently discussed a marketing idea with an outside representative who was able to paint a VERY specific picture of their customer.

My customer can really vary.  A great example was the woman who walked in the store yesterday with her son.  She was 83 years old and found something she wanted to buy.  She's not my target market but I do find women who are that age have found things they like in my store while I've also had a 12 year old find items in the store (she (with Mom footing the bill) has shopped here more than once).  Most of my customers fall in the 30 - 60 range.  Lots of food for thought!

What is hard to believe is that I'm now planning for Zoe's first birthday celebration!  I met with the ladies from The Enchanted Florist this morning to discuss an arrangement for the round table for that weekend.  And with the beautiful spring day in front of us, I couldn't resist these tulips!

Next up:  Planning for Zoe's first birthday!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Zoe's Website

Back in October, I wrote a blog post just after I had started using the Google Analytics feature on Zoe's website.  It has been incredibly helpful to me to see how many views the site gets a day, how many are from referrals (and from where), and the search words used to find the site.

I had done some Search Engine Optimization with a third party firm beginning last summer but had been dissatisfied with their approach and results and had cancelled the service as soon as was permissible in the contract.  With my plans still focused on getting eCommerce started on the site in Q2 of 2012, I knew it was time to start increasing Zoe's visibility on the web.

When I arrived at the store on Tuesday morning, I found a card from Goggle AdWords in Monday's mail.  It included $100 worth of free AdWords advertising.  When I had a free minute later that day I signed up. The process was simple and the dashboard of data is already providing great information.  By the time I have exhausted the $100 credit, I'll have a good idea of whether or not it is something I want to continue and at what levels on a monthly basis.

I'm always looking at what's working/what's not working.  During our lunch with Kathlin last Monday in NYC, we talked a lot about the many different social media platforms, how they are used, why people use them, how to interconnect them (or break them apart).  People have told me that they like this blog because it gives them insight into the person behind the business.  People like Facebook because they can see the new arrivals and events at any time.  I've had people tell me that they look at my website and look at the new arrivals there.  I have met some people through Twitter who have then shopped in the store or at the Warehouse Sale.  It's just figuring out how to use each to reach and satisfy each particular audience.  I can't say I have any firm answers (yet) but I'm still analyzing and learning.

One thing I realized last week is that I didn't have a link to Zoe's website on this blog.  I made that change and have already seen the results in reviewing the Google Analytics information for the week.  Any small thing I can do to continue to get Zoe's name and what we have to offer available to as many people as possible!  Stay tuned as I continue the journey on to full blown eCommerce!

On a side note, there are many reasons that people love to patronize small, local businesses.  I experienced one of them on Monday.  I walked into the company that did Zoe's external signs and "Coming Soon" and "Grand Opening" banners - Affordable Signs and Banners.   I wanted to discuss a banner for Zoe's First Birthday (coming up in 1 month!) and a small, portable exterior sign.  I said that I was from Zoe Boutique and started talking to her about what I needed.  She started writing up a quote request form and said "You're Susan Gerock, aren't you?"  I was shocked (and pleased) that she remembered my name, especially since I haven't been in the store for about 11 months!  They not only have a great product, but they make me feel special - not just another number or dollar sign.

Next Up:  The On-Site Review

Thursday, March 1, 2012

NYC Trip with Janice and Anna

Because the collections are much larger, I have found that I can no longer complete the buying trips for the Spring and Fall seasons in a single day.  Last Fall, I went to New York on successive Mondays with one trip dedicated to the market and the second dedicated to showroom visits to buy for Spring 2012.  I knew that I would need to do the same in February to buy for Fall 2012.  And, it would give me a great chance to share the buying experience with intern Anna and one of Zoe's "Aunts", Janice.

I must admit that I was fearful that they would both dislike me greatly after following the frantic pace that I normally undertake on any trip to NY.   We were on my normal 5:30 am train out of Union Station with planned arrival in NY at 8:44.  Fortunately, we were right on time (with the only glitch being the very late opening of the Cafe car on the train)!

One of the things I love about most of my trips to NY is that I can usually walk everywhere that I need to go.  This trip was no exception.  We quickly set out for our first appointment - a 9:15 with a potential new line for Zoe called Contrarian.  I had hoped to visit their showroom when I was in NY the previous week but had run out of time.  The designer, Alexis, was waiting in the showroom for us and we had a great time looking at the different pieces.  The showroom was bright and airy and freshly painted - a great space to show off the beauty of the clothing.  Janice tried on a couple of the capes/coats!  We selected some lovely, unique pieces for Fall and were off to our next stop!

I had been to the Findings New York showroom on my September trip and had enjoyed the experience greatly.  However, I had not met the adorable showroom dog, Romeo!  He came out to great us as we waited for my Account Executive and started our visit off on a great note!

Our first look in the showroom was at Velvet, one of my favorite lines in the store.  It is always such a challenge to narrow down to the appropriate pieces, then colors, and then sizes!  Janice and Anna were a big help in doing this since they have both worked in the store with me and know the customer base.  Our next look was at Graham & Spencer, which is another line I carry in the store and is by the same designers who create Velvet.  We found some great pieces (and one somewhat daring piece) to order for Fall.

Next up was a look at a line that I'll be bringing in for the first time this Spring - Tocca.  We saw two deliveries for the line but were starting to run short on time for our next appointment.  I asked the line representative to write up the orders but we wouldn't do sizing and colors at the time.

From there, it was a quick walk to Broadway to the beautiful showroom for Chan Luu.  They were in the process of preparing to redo their showroom when I visited in the Fall and the makeover looks great!

I always try to start with the jewelry, work my way to the scarves and then focus on ready to wear.  There is always SO much to look at when it comes to jewelry, especially when it comes to the wrap bracelets!  Janice was the one who noticed that they use paint rollers as their method for displaying the bracelets!  I love it!  I'm thinking about doing the same for the store.

Janice caught this picture of me while I was intensely reviewing some of the single bracelets.

And yes, I managed to lose the water bottle at my left wrist.  Things don't change.

I love going to the Chan Luu showroom.  It is so easy to shop there outside the chaos of market.  Natasha, my Account Executive, is lovely and helpful.  She took excellent care of us and helped me determine exactly which items were new from those I had seen at the Summer market.  Plus, you just can't help admiring the view.

Our time there flew by and we were headed out the door to meet designer Kathlin Argiro for a late lunch at Mercato in Hell's Kitchen.  The restaurant was packed and for good reason - it was delicious!  It is always so enjoyable to catch up with Kathlin - I come away from our conversations encouraged and enthusiastic!  She had some fabric samples for some spring wrap dresses to show me in person (she had sent pictures via phone) as well as the different possibilities for one of her incredibly creative designs - the dress/sarong!  She is currently looking at fabrics for me for this piece as well!  Look for more on this clever design soon!

When we finished lunch, it was time to head back to Penn Station for the trip home.  We arrived with about a half hour to spare so Janice and Anna went on the search for a Starbucks.  They found one but said it was in a very sketchy part of the vast building.  I had remained on the main level to catch up on emails.

Our trip back was uneventful and we arrived a few minutes early (ah, the joys of train travel!)  They were both still speaking to me at the end of the trip so I didn't drive them completely crazy with my intense scheduling!  Another successful trip made even better by their presence.

Next up:  Getting ready for the web