Thursday, May 31, 2012

Finding the Unique

In many of the posts about going to the apparel markets, I've talked about the huge number of designers who have booths at each event.  At the large markets, there are frequently over 1,000 individual booths!  If I didn't always have a plan going in, I would probably just freeze from being overwhelmed with so many beautiful things in one place!

While I always try to leave myself a little bit of time to explore, I am usually fortunate to get through my appointments prior to returning home.  I try to research designers as much as possible before going to market and I also depend on the showrooms that I do business with to give me guidance on other lines they may carry that might be a good fit with the store.  And of course I frequently get cold calls (or emails) about new lines.

One of my new favorite ways to connect with designers (both large and small) is a website called JOOR.  They work to create a virtual "market" where designers and store owners/buyers can connect and share information (and even place orders)!  As a store owner, I signed up and then created a profile with information about my store - pictures, where I am located, brands I carry, price points.  The designers also create profiles and can provide pictures, pricing, and linesheets to those stores that they have connected with on the site.  There is no cost to me as a store to join (the business model must make money from the designer and, possibly, some percentage of sales (I'm not sure about this)).

There are internationally known designers on the site as well as very small, one person design houses.  Both designers and boutiques have the opportunity to connect with each other and once that relationship is established, the boutique can see any information that the designer has placed on their page on the site.  The site has a built-in messaging feature which allows for easy communication between boutiques and designers.

Like any site, the tool can be available but it all comes down to what level of effort you put into it.  I have connected (both by my own request and by the request from designers) with a number of the lines on the site.  In one case, I visited the showroom of one designer (due solely to her connection with me on JOOR) and placed an order for Fall.  In another case, I'm planning to place my first on-line order on the site with a jewelry designer who asked to connect with me on the site.  (We've since had a lovely phone conversation so I could get to know her better - the virtual world can only take you so far!)  In both cases, I did not know about these designers until they requested to connect with me on the site.

Another thing I like about the site is that is a treasure trove of information and tips about things that boutique owners, managers, and buyers can use!  Almost every week they publish an article on something that helps me learn or think about things in a new way.

So, despite my on-going frustration with much of the lack of technology in the industry, this site definitely is meeting a need!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day Off

Most of you who read the blog on a regular basis know that Mondays are my day off.  "Day off" is a bit of misnomer in that it only really means that I'm not at Zoe.  One recent Monday was a very busy "Day off" but energizing and fun at the same time.

Let me first note that you normally could NOT tell that I own a boutique with the way I am dressed on my day off - very casually and comfortably!  But this recent Monday was an exception so I put on make-up and one of my Kathlin Argiro wrap dresses!

I started my day with a breakfast meeting at a local coffee shop.  Let me first take a brief break from the blog to share one of my pet peeves.  When employees of an establishment do not know/understand a deal being offered by that establishment, it is VERY frustrating!  The coffee shop had a "Check In" deal on FourSquare.  The person waiting on me did not understand the deal and I had to finally give up on trying to explain it to her.  I will likely not be going back to this establishment.  End of rant.

My breakfast meeting was with a man who is developing software to better connect and integrate small businesses with charities.  We were put in touch with each other by a mutual friend who knew that I had the small business experience, a desire to integrate further with charitable causes, and an IT background.  We had a lively discussion on the possibilities for the software and I shared with him ways that it could be helpful (and not helpful) for businesses like mine.  They are currently in an Alpha testing mode and plan to do something with me in August of this year.  It was fun getting to be on the user side of software development!

From there, it was off to Staples for office supplies and to send a multi-page fax.  (No fax hogs this time around).  And then to the cleaners to have a dress taken in.  Pet Peeve Number Two of the Blog Post!  As a retailer, I am constantly puzzled by what my designers are doing with sizing.  I had ordered this particular dress for myself based on what I know about this designer (one that I carry in the store).  And it came in HUGE!  This is why I have to try on everything that comes into the store - so I know how things are going to fit people!

From there it was off to my monthly meeting with my counselor and then a dash back to Old Town for a luncheon meeting.  This meeting was also business-related - with a woman who owns a luxury fashion branding and marketing business.  We had known each other through Twitter but really connected after Jim had met her and her husband and asked them how they liked their Mini Cooper (they were parked close to Zoe one Saturday morning).  When Jim happened to mention his wife owned Zoe, she gave him her card (which he passed on to me) and I realized that I "knew" her.  Some follow-up emails resulted in our lunch meeting.  It was fun to "talk fashion" and share our different perspectives on the business.

I finally had to take a "time out" after our lunch meeting and rush off to a long overdue pedicure.  By the time I finished it and trips to two grocery stores, it was after 5 pm and I hadn't been home since 7 that morning.  Some day off!  I made up for it this past Monday (Memorial Day) when I did NOTHING!

A Side Note:  I did leave out one thing from my previous post on Boutiques Give Back.  When Jim and I arrived at the store that Saturday morning, there was a dead bird laying outside the door.  While I did not feel that this was a particularly good omen on a day I was dedicating to animals, it appeared that the bird had flown into the window on the door and that is how he met his demise.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Boutiques Give Back - The Event

Saturday morning was bright and sunny - a beautiful start to Boutiques Give Back!  With the nice weather, I knew there would be a lot of people walking, dining, and shopping in Old Town!

On Thursday afternoon, the Animal Welfare League had delivered a large A-frame sign for me to display during the event.  While the rep was here, he also gave me some handouts about a program they are running called "Wild Flower Pets".  With the new puppy and kitten season upon us, there are some older animals at the shelter who haven't been adopted yet.  AWLA has placed a flower on the older pet's pictures on their website and they will waive 1/2 of the adoption fee for anyone selecting these pets!  While he was explaining the program to me, a customer in the store told us that she was trying to help her niece adopt a dog and this sounded like just what they needed!  So we got to hand out a flyer right then!

The combination of the two signs together was a great draw!

AWLA was a fantastic partner - using all forms of social media to alert people of the event.  While I've never been a huge fan of Twitter, I became a believer on Saturday.  A customer came in the store immediately after seeing a tweet about the event (and brought this gorgeous fellow below).

He even went "off leash" and accompanied his owner to the dressing room!

I didn't get to take pictures of all of our visitors but I also loved this adorable miniature Collie (Daisy).

I am so appreciative of PetSage for providing us with the cat and dog treats to hand out to everyone.  I even got to hand out some catnip to Mailman Dave (and found out he and his wife have 3 cats at home)!  He reported to me today that two of his three loved it!  

AWLA had told me that they would bring an adoptable dog to the store for a couple hours when I'm normally busiest.  I asked them to come between 12:30 - 2:30.  My heart completely melted when I saw Sally (a beagle mix).

She was SO sweet and enthusiastic and was really well-behaved.  And quite the charmer - one lady gave a donation to the AWLA volunteer after meeting Sally!  Of course, I had to have my picture taken with her and give her a little love and attention.

I will confess I would have loved to have brought Sally home.  It is a good thing that my husband is always the "voice of reason" with regard to things like this.  I could hear his voice in the back of my head, reminding me that she would need to be walked in the rain and snow!

I was pleased with the event and did much better with sales than I had done "on my own" the previous year (more for AWLA- yay!)  In my on-going quest to always figure out what I could have done better, I would have had a way for people to give direct donations to AWLA if they didn't want to buy something.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Prep for Boutiques Give Back

Zoe's first significant event as part of the Old Town Boutique District (OTBD) is the Annual Charity Day, called Boutiques Give Back on May 19th.  I was informed of the date at the time I was signing up for the OTBD and immediately started thinking about what charity I would promote and support that day.

Last year, although I was not yet a member of the OTBD, I participated in Charity Day on my own!  I didn't have the media coverage and promotion but instead relied on social media postings and a sign in the store.  At the end of the day, I was able to write a small check to my chosen charity, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.

I am fortunate to know a couple of the members of the Board of Directors from AWLA - one a former co-worker and the other a Zoe customer.  I had recently made a donation to their Spring Fundraiser/Silent Auction event called Mardi Growl!  And it just seemed like a logical step to work with them for Boutiques Give Back.

I started out by writing to AWLA's Development Director to introduce myself, explain the promotion, my passion for the League, and ask if they would be comfortable with a) Zoe partnering with them and b) cross-promoting the event.  He got back to me quickly with an affirmative "Yes" and asked for my logo.  I sent it on to him and told him that I would provide him with more information as I learned more by mid-April.

I knew I also wanted to give my customers something for their pets as an additional incentive to visit Zoe that day.  I decided to stop in to visit PetSage, a local holistic pet store where I buy dry food for my kitties (all of their other spoiling ended when I left my job 2 years ago but we do still spend the money for the good dry food).  The owner knows me because I occasionally have to buy the food over the phone and have her leave it outside for me to pick up on my way home from Zoe (our store hours are the same so I have a hard time getting there when they are open).  When I stopped in to ask her advice on what kind of treats to get, she offered to donate the treats to me!  That was a fantastic advantage!  I picked up the 70 bags of dog treats and 30 bags of catnip on Monday!

AWLA and I agreed that it might be fun to help promote the event and partnership with my story of why I chose AWLA.  That was an easy one to write!  Although some of you who are on my mailing list and follow the store Facebook page have read the story, I will put a link here for those who have not read it yet.

AWLA has been a fantastic partner!  They have featured Muffin and her story as the "Tail of the Day" on their front page with the Zoe logo prominently displayed as well!  They have been sending out information on the event in their mailings that include the store and logo.  They have posted stories on Facebook and Twitter and they brought some great giveaways and information for me to hand out between now and Saturday!  As of right now, they plan to have a representative on hand between 12:30 and 2:30 and may even have an adoptable dog with them too!

I hope to share a great report on the event with you in my next blog post!

And now, a gratuitous picture of my precious Muffin - Jim and I still miss her.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Off to Market

Last Monday at this time, I was in a taxi cab on the way to Piers 92/94 in New York City for Winter/Holiday Market.  This particular market is one of the smaller ones and collections are very focused.  Some notes from my trip:

  • They definitely have trouble adjusting the temperatures in the market venues.  When I went to Market there last February, it was so warm!  A complete opposite this time - much of the apparel venue was freezing cold!  When I tried on a couple items for size, I asked if I could keep them because they were just right (winter weight) for the temperature!  I felt sorry for the reps - even though they were moving almost constantly showing the lines, I know they were chilly!
  • I've gotten to meet at least one of my designers each of the last two shows.  This one did not disappoint either - I got to meet Chan Luu!  I was so excited, as her wrap bracelets, scarves, and ready to wear are customer favorites.  She was so gracious and kind and I made sure to express your enthusiasm for her wonderful designs!
  • This particular season is a hard one.  I didn't find I had huge demand for holiday/winter items in the store last year.  I looked at 14 different lines in my day there (most of which are ones that I already carry in the store).  I didn't write orders everywhere but took pictures and notes so that I could make final decisions in the coming weeks.
  • There was one line that I had been investigating through a wholesaler/designer website on which I am a member.  I was eager to see their line in person so I stopped by their booth.  While the line itself was attractive and the price points were reasonable, I hated the way their label looked.  It just looked cheap.  I just couldn't imagine it fitting in with the other brands I carried so I passed on it.
  • I still love the "oh, we forgot to tell you" aspect of the business (and I did come up with my brilliant technology idea for the fashion industry during a few sleepless hours one night this past week).  At one of my lines, they tell me "Oh, we've canceled everything you ordered for Fall - we're not going to make those pieces".  Alrighty!  This is the sort of information that would be good to know sooner rather than later!
  • You do a lot of walking around the event space.  In doing so, I passed this same mannequin 3 times.  As I was leaving, I just had to stop in to meet with them.  I was in love with everything in the booth!  They are an Italian based company and I'm trying to figure out how to find the money in my Fall orders to bring some of these clothes in.  One of their dresses and belts is in the picture at the top of the post.
  • My train was scheduled to leave NY Penn Station at 4:42 pm.  Knowing that it can take a while to get back to the station, I left the show at 3:35.  I first checked into the bus shuttle that the show was running back to Penn Station but found that it was not leaving until 4.  Fearing that it would not maneuver as well in traffic as a cab, I got in the taxi line.  It was a reasonable length but soon fewer and fewer taxis started pulling into the venue.  And those that did were being "demanding" about where they would and would not take people!  The "traffic supervisor" told us that taxi shift change was coming up at 4 pm and they were on their way back to their home base.  Uh oh.  What??  Who ever heard of taxi shift change?  And why at 4 pm?  Then all of the Town Car vultures started descending on the line, charging $100 to go just about anywhere!  I decided to stand my ground, even when the woman behind me and I got thrown out of a cab who didn't want to go where we wanted to go!  We finally found a nice driver at around 4:10.  When he dropped me a block from Penn Station at around 4:25, I was on the run.  I barely had time to get downstairs before they called my train!  I wish I knew the name of the lovely woman who shared my cab with me - she was going a further distance than I was and refused to take my money for my portion of the fare.  She was such a bright spot in an otherwise slightly panicked time!
  • For my friend Renee, who always enjoys my Market fashion report, I decided to go with a Rebecca Taylor look this time.  I wore her adorable tan Runway Skirt from last Spring with this Spring's red Summer Blossom Blouse.  I wore tan open toe wedges (and my Cheater Blue jacket).  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The "Trunk" Show

This past weekend, I had my third trunk show since opening Zoe.  It is always fun to bring in a larger collection of merchandise for customers to shop than I can normally carry in the store.  Each trunk show is a little different and I've written about my previous ones with Alexandra Satine and ADMK Jewelry in earlier blog entries.

This past weekend's trunk show was done in conjunction with the beautiful silk line Alice and Trixie.  I started carrying their line at Zoe last Fall.  In brainstorming how we could grow a greater local affinity for the brand, my reps suggested a trunk show.  This would allow me to bring in a nice variety of pieces in different sizes to expose my customers to the varying styles and patterns available in the line.

In the previous two trunk shows, the designers themselves came to the store, set up the displays and were available to answer questions for customers.  In the case of the Alice & Trixie Trunk Show, one week prior to the show, I was provided with a list of available styles, prints, and sizes and was to select from this list for items to be shipped for the show.  I made my selections on April 30th and the items shipped out that very day from New York!

The agreement that I signed in order to conduct the trunk show was to allow my credit card to be charged for the items that were shipped to me for the trunk show.  Anything that I did not sell would be sent back to them immediately following the show and those items would be credited back to my account.  It was important the items be returned in the pristine condition they arrived in and be returned quickly (in case another store or customer wanted to order the item).

I was delighted with all of the colors in the trunk show - the picture below is just a sampling!

I sent the invitation out to my email list and also posted it on Facebook - the wheels were truly in motion!

Once I received the box on Wednesday, I quickly unpacked it and hung everything up.  Since each item needed to be returned just as I received it, I first took pictures of each individual item.  

Yes, I know.  Laugh all you want.  I didn't trust myself to be able to tie back the bag to the item.

Then, I had to figure out how to put price tags on the items without using my pricing gun.  Being married to and working around engineers for a good portion of my life has helped me come up with creative solutions to just about any task!  I printed tags as normal but then taped them to my jewelry tags, which attach via a string.  I looped the string around the inner label!  A great solution without a puncture in the garment tag!

The next challenge was how to best display the trunk show items.  I decided to put them all on one rack so that I could talk to people about the collection as a whole.  This caused a little bit of shuffling around the store but made a nice, colorful display that people would see when they first walked into the store.

Friday morning dawned with a quick run to Buzz Bakery for cupcakes and a stop for ice for the sparkling lemonade.  And the trunk show was ON!  Oh, and as I told the guys who used to work for me, the phrase "Trunk Show" is a misnomer.  The items arrived in a brown box via UPS.  But "Brown Box" show doesn't have quite as elegant a ring to it.

I was pleased with the results of the trunk show when it closed on Sunday evening.  I spent time getting everything back into the box in the right plastic covers and marking up the invoice to show what had sold and wouldn't be returned.  Since I was off to NY bright and early the next morning, I prepared the UPS label and had hubby Jim send it from work on Monday.  I'm already excited about the next trunk show.

Next up:  The May Market Trip (with special NY Taxicab adventures)

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Normandy Hotel Event

On Tuesday, May 1st, Zoe participated in a joint event with The Normandy Hotel and DC Magazine.  We have done some advertising with DC Magazine over the past several months as has The Normandy Hotel.  The DC Magazine sales and publicity team felt that it would be a great event to showcase the beauty of this intimate boutique hotel in Northwest DC along with Spring and Summer fashions from Zoe!

The first step was to get a good look at the venue so that I would know what would make sense as far as clothing and displays.  I took a trip to the hotel on Thursday morning, April 26th prior to Zoe opening for the day.  Although I have no issues with driving into DC, it is always something I dread, especially when I am confronted with rush hour traffic AND rain!  Fortunately, traffic was not unreasonable and I was able to park in the small hotel garage.

The hotel is in a residential area just north of Dupont Circle.  It has a beautiful lobby area, broken up into small rooms that remind one of a living room or a den.  The rooms are small but well appointed.  We determined that I would bring mannequins for 2 of the rooms and the hotel manager would provide one for one of the lobby area rooms used for the event.  I would also take my H-rack to show additional pieces of clothing.

Not wanting to try to cram everything into my car on Tuesday, I took the H-rack and a borrowed mannequin from Zoe's Aunt Karen to DC on Monday, the day before the event.  The hotel was kind enough to store these in a room for me.  I also met Zoe's DC Magazine sales rep at the store so that she could try on an outfit to wear to the event.

Tuesday came and I was busy selecting the clothing to take to the hotel.  Some items would be draped over the beds in the rooms that would be on display, some would go on the mannequins, and some would be displayed on the H-rack for perusal. Because I am always hyper-paranoid about being late for anything, I made plans to leave at 3 pm to give myself plenty of time to get ready for the event starting at 5.  Zoe's Aunt Janice came to take care of her while I was away.

I had no issues getting to the hotel and was once again able to park in the garage.  I took advantage of one of the luggage carts to unload my car and take everything upstairs.  My first stops were the rooms to be on display (on the 5th floor) to set up the mannequins and display the clothing on the beds.  I was very pleased with the look in the rooms.

I love this Rayon/Linen Blend Tracy Reese Dress!

Normandy Hotel Room with Velvet Maxi Dress on Bed

Then it was back downstairs to dress the final mannequin and set up the H-rack.  I found that the proportions of the mannequin that the hotel had provided were not in line with the items I wanted to show so I ended up hanging the item on the hanger over the mannequin.  It worked for what needed to be in place.  I finished with about 25 minutes to spare, much to my relief!

The Normandy had created lovely appetizers and had staff passing champagne and wine.  Just shortly after 5 pm, the guests started to arrive!

Yum - Delicious!

The guests were a mix of ages and professions with most being female.  Because it was a small gathering, I had the opportunity to speak with almost everyone there.  Some people initially thought that I was the designer of all of the clothing - I definitely could not take credit for that!

I did lead one of the tours to the rooms upstairs so that I could talk more about the clothing in those rooms and also have an opportunity to know some of the guests better.  The age range was from 20s - 60s, which is right in Zoe's sweet spot of customers.  I met PR people and a fashion blogger as well.  

I enjoyed meeting and talking with Simone Rathle of PR Firm simonesez.  

The evening passed quickly and I found that I had lots of business cards and follow-ups to do the next day!  The winner of Zoe's gift card (part of the Raffle for the evening) was delighted and had already selected something she liked from the sampling of items at the event.  Her fiance works in Alexandria so I'm sure she'll be shopping at Zoe soon!

I put the trusty luggage cart to use to gather everything together and take it all down to the garage in one trip.  Everyone was amazed that I was able to fit everything into my car!  Zoe's Aunt Janice met me at the store that evening to give me the keys and help me unload.  A long day but enjoyable and worthwhile.

Next up:  The "Trunk" Show

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Miscellaneous File

Every so often, interesting things happen that don't necessarily lend themselves to a full blog post.  But they are just too good not to share.  This is going to be one of those "Odds & Ends" posts.

1) In April, I had a shipment of a Zoe item to Japan!  That was my second international shipment (I had a shipment to Ireland last Fall).  I am always a nervous wreck when I'm shipping something overseas - I check the delivery status every day until I can see it has arrived safely.  I am probably more anxious because the postal clerk always seems so annoyed at having to deal with the customs forms (and I arrive with everything already filled out and ready to go) that I'm afraid he/she is just going to stomp on the package and throw it in a trash bin.

2) The Peace Lily that my landlord sent me last year on Zoe's opening day is still alive.  I personally find this impressive because I do not have a good history with plants.  When I proudly announced this achievement recently, someone reminded me that Peace Lilies are hard to kill.  Well, if anyone can kill a plant, I can.  So I take this as a small victory.  I do (usually) remember to water it and I occasionally even remove dead leaves.

3) In my continuing joy at living vicariously through my customers, I recently got to dress a woman going to the Kentucky Derby this weekend.

4) Thanks to friends Janice and Karen of Semper Stylish, I was able to add to my collection of hat boxes in the store.  I got the gorgeous Woodies hat box (pictured below) and a John Wannamaker's box (Philadelphia department store).

5) I have set up a Zoe Boutique page on Google+.   I can't say that I'm totally convinced that this is worth the time or energy to maintain but I'm finding that many of the brands I carry have Google+ pages so I thought I should jump in.  I'm currently in the process of trying to figure out how I might use it in different ways from the store's Facebook page.

Next up:  The Normandy Hotel Event