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!