Friday, May 30, 2014

Saying Goodbye: Q&A with Anna (Zoe's Intern)

Students from the Fashion Retail Management program at the Art Institute used Zoe Boutique in developing a case study and recommendations for enhancements to the store's marketing strategy in the Fall of 2011. Anna was one of the students in the class and later asked through her professor if she could complete her internship requirement at Zoe. A wonderful partnership (that is now a wonderful friendship) was born! Anna shares her thoughts on Zoe in today's Q&A.

Q. Why did you want to come work at Zoe?

I had first learned about Zoe while completing a project for my Public Relations class. When I first met Susan she I was so inviting and knowledgeable. I knew that I wanted to learn more from her than what could taught during that project. As my final quarter of school approached I knew I needed to complete an internship. Susan was the first person that came to mind! I knew she would be able to teach me so much more than I could learn in a classroom!

Q. What is your favorite piece the you've ever seen in the store (and why)?

That's a tough one! I would have to say the Issa Kate Middleton dress. Once I saw it on a customer I fell in love, even more than seeing it on the soon-to-be Duchess! Everyone who tried on the dress looked great in it! Unfortunately as a college student at the time, it never made it to my closet!

Q. What is your favorite Zoe piece in your closet (and why)?

Technically in my jewelry box! My favorite purchase from Zoe would have to be my John Wind initial necklace. I had always admired the necklace in store, and finally purchased it after my wedding last year. Like any bride I was excited to show off my new last name, so I purchased my new last initial!

Q. Craziest thing you ever had happen to you in the store?

Definitely every now and again crazy things would happen in the store! I would have to say my favorite crazy experience was the unexpected wedding photo shoot being done across the street! It was so fun to be able to stand in Zoe and watch the bride smiling from ear to ear! It was one of the few good (crazy) experiences!

Q. Favorite store event?

My favorite event was helping Susan at her first warehouse sale! The event itself was not only great, but the prep work leading up to the event, and after when we came back to the store to tally the sales! It was such a fun experience, but it was also an amazing to go to New York and visit a couple show rooms, and meet a few of the designers on a quick buying trip!

Q. What you love about Jim?

Although I didn't meet Jim many times during the internship he was always smiling and seemed very supportive of Susan!

Q. Favorite Susan quote?

It's hard to pick just one! Susan was always so encouraging with all of my endeavors!

Q. When I see Zoe pink, I think...

Happiness...and my favorite color! Every day when I would walk in to Zoe I was always overwhelmed (in a good way!) with a flood of happiness! Susan created such an amazing shopping experience for customers but also created a great environment for her employees! I often wear "Zoe pink" and can't help but smile!

Q. What you'll miss most about the store?

Susan has kept me updated on the store since finishing my internship two years ago. One of the things I think I will miss the most is hearing about the stores new adventures, and plans for the future. Now Susan will be able to update me on all her new adventures, outside of Zoe!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Making a Difference

As you might imagine, my mind has been pretty full lately. Lots of things to think about relating to my day job.  Lots of things to think about relating to closing Zoe. Lots of things to think about that need done at home.  And lots of things to think about in regard to what comes next and how to fill the void that Zoe has filled for me these past 4+ years. I’ve searched for words to describe it (it seems I’m always searching for words these days) and “being at a crossroads” seems to fit every aspect of my life.

I made a quick stop at Zoe early on Wednesday morning on my way to work.  I had a couple of administrative things to take care of and I wanted to grab any trash and boxes from the back.  As is usual, Tara had put the mail that had come in on my desk.  Advertisement.  Advertisement.  Personal Letter from California.  Wait.  Personal Letter from California?  What’s this?  I know people in California but this address didn’t look familiar.

I was in a hurry but, hey, we get so few personal letters these days it warranted my time to open it.  Inside was a beautiful handwritten note from a young lady who had stumbled on Zoe’s blog when working on opening a store in Southern California.  As I read her words, I remembered corresponding with her a few times early on in Zoe’s infancy.  She had been interested in opening a store and had been so excited to find a blog that was honest, upfront, and unabashed in the descriptions of the joys and pitfalls of opening a bricks and mortar store.

She now has a store of her own. She was saddened to hear that Zoe was closing and wanted to let me know how much I had helped her. I won’t lie – the tears started flowing and they did not stop for 20 minutes.  Because if I had to sum it up in just a few words what I want to be remembered for in life, it is making a difference for someone else. When I started Zoe, I looked at it as that chance to truly make a difference in this world. That note spelled it out for me in black and white – I had made a difference for someone, somewhere with Zoe.

Lilly, I hope you are still reading Zoe’s blog. Thank you for making my day. And for making a difference for me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Saying Goodbye: A Q&A With Janice

Susan and Janice became fast friends through their husbands, who share a love of vintage BMWs.  Janice has done everything at Zoe from helping Susan find the beautiful German antique cash wrap desk to assembling Zoe's fixtures prior to opening to designing Zoe's windows to working as an employee in the store. Janice gives us her take on Zoe today:

Q.Why did you want to come to work at Zoe?
I wanted to experience the growth of a wonderful, small boutique in Old Town.

Q. Favorite piece that you've ever seen in the store (and why)
There were so many pieces that I loved that it’s impossible to pick just one.

Q. Favorite Zoe piece in your closet (and why)
I love all my pieces from Zoe.  They all have such nice memories attached to them.  But, if I had to pick one, it would be my Alice and Trixie tunic top.  I love the bright colors and the versatility of the piece.  It can be worn as a dress, a cover up or a tunic top over capris or tights.  I recently brought it on my trip to Kauai as it folds down to nothing, doesn’t wrinkle and was a beautiful, light and airy piece to wear.

Q. Craziest thing you ever had happen to you in the store.
A customer had selected several items to purchase and then asked if she could use the restroom.  We do not typically allow people into the office space behind the store but she seemed as if it were urgent so I allowed her to do so.  She came back to the cash desk, looked in her purse and said "My credit card is in the car - let me run out to get it."  She never came back.  What really had me worried was that I realized that Susan had left the store check book on her desk when she had stopped by the store early that morning.  I was worried that perhaps the woman had stolen a check and I called Susan right away.  Fortunately, everything was accounted for but the woman never came back.

Q. Favorite store event
I loved all the events.  The trunk shows were interesting as it was great to meet the designers.  One of my favorite events was joining Susan on a buying trip to NYC.  It was eye opening to see all the work that goes into buying the beautiful clothing that ended up on Zoe’s racks.

Q. What I love about Jim.
What isn’t there to love about Jim?  I admire his support and encouragement for Zoe.  Also, he obviously adores and is immensely proud of his wife- what a wonderful quality.

Q. Favorite Susan quote.
I admire Susan’s wise and thoughtful approach to everything she says.

Q. When I see Zoe pink, I think...
...of the elegant beautiful store that is Zoe.

Q. What you’ll miss most about the store.

I will miss the Zoe girls and the fact that it’s no longer there.  It was nice having that connection to Old Town.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What I’ll Love

Owning a business is truly a labor of love. And while it has brought me much happiness, there are a few things I won’t miss once Zoe closes on June 8, 2014 (and some things I’ll get to enjoy!).

1) Black Friday – I will now be snug in my bed on the morning of Black Friday.  I will look forward to seeing all of your purchases on social media and hearing about your adventures.  I will not be at my store at 5 am ensuring that the electricity is on and the internet is up and I can process credit cards.  I won’t be fretting “Will anyone come?” (They always came but store owners always worry that no one is going to come to their event).    I won’t worry about how long Thanksgiving dinner is taking because I really need to go to bed early.  But I still believe that Alexandria does a fantastic job of providing a great Black Friday experience in a way that is a benefit for the stores and the customer.  So if Black Friday is something you enjoy, you should put Alexandria on your list.

2) Worrying about the Weather – I look at the 7 day forecast, the 3 day forecast, the 1 day forecast and the hourly forecast.  Ask me and I can usually tell you that thunderstorms are predicted to start at 4 pm or that we’ll have cooler weather on Sunday.  Because weather is often key for a small business.  Rain or snow, too hot or too cold often means a dip in business.  Now, I’ll look at the weather forecast to ensure I’m dressed appropriately for the day!

3) Holidays with my Family – As many of you know, my precious family lives in Georgia.  I don’t get to see them very often and am thankful for phone calls, email, and FaceTime.  With Black Friday and Christmastime being so important to the business, I haven’t traveled during those times.   And it has been challenging to even go for a weekend at other times of the year.  While they are also sad to see me leave Zoe, they are already excited for my visits!

4) Bad Practices by Vendors – I will say that, for the most part, the vendors I deal with are honest, thoughtful, and straight-forward.  But those that aren’t can really be problematic.  They are in every industry but those bad apples in the fashion industry seem to take the most laissez faire attitude toward things.  They will decide not to make something because they didn’t get enough orders for it or ended up having problems in manufacturing with the design or material.  But they don’t tell you that they aren’t going to ship it.  And if you ordered that piece to go with something else and one ships and one doesn’t, you are going to have an outlier in your store.  Rather than tell you and give you the opportunity to change your order, they ship what they did make and THEN tell you they cancelled the other piece.  And you have no leverage to make them make that skirt!

5) Anonymity -  I have loved getting to know people through the store.  My customers, my employees, my fellow store owners and small business proprietors are precious to me.  But I didn’t realize how much people would want to know me.  I’m a pretty private person.  I don’t do much that is interesting or exciting.  I’ll admit it has sometimes been hard to put myself out there.  I’m looking forward to going back to a quieter life.

Ah, but the lessons I’ve learned….look forward to that post in the next week as well as continuing perspective on life at Zoe from those who have been part of the journey!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy Zoe Anniversary, Alexandra

Did you know that Alexandra is Zoe's longest tenured employee?  In honor of her two year anniversary (today!) read along as she shares an insiders view of Zoe.

Q.Why did you want to come to work at Zoe?

A. Honestly, I was a freshman in high school desperate to find anyone who would hire a minor. I had sent e-mails to many stores in the Old Town Boutique District and only one replied, Zoe Boutique. I knew it was one of the newer stores so I did my research and visited the store "undercover" (since Susan had not met me yet). I instantly fell in love. I loved Zoe's mission of creating beautiful and elegant empowered women through clothes. That really spoke to me. Also, the fact that more than half of the store was stocked with "Made in America" clothing was an added bonus.

 At first I was a little intimidated. I was still in the process of breaking out of my shell in high school and working in retail is 99% communication with customers. I knew the cliental would usually be older than me and I was worried. I did not want the customers to think I was incapable of helping them because of my age. My first couple months at Zoe I really tried to absorb the environment and grow. I do think my experience at Zoe allowed me to mature at a faster rate.

Susan was so nice and welcoming that I instantly felt at home. After my first weekend working at Zoe I knew that this was the place I needed to be and am so glad I decided to work there.

Q. Favorite piece that you’ve ever seen in the store (and why)

A. This is a hard one! I tend to lust over Rebecca Taylor, Chan Luu, Velvet, and Graham and Spencer. However my favorite piece would definitely be the Issa dress with the fern pattern. It is such a classic dress and can be worn so many different ways. I think about it all the time! Also, I love every single one of Rebecca Taylor's jackets. The tailoring is impeccable and I have promised myself that for my first corporate job I will treat myself to a Rebecca Taylor jacket. 

Q. Favorite Zoe piece in your closet (and why)

A. After working at Zoe for two years I have accumulated many pieces from the store. I can't pick just one favorite piece. It would probably be a tie between my white peplum Rebecca Taylor top and my Alice and Trixie patterned pants. Every time I wear either of these pieces I receive multiple compliments. I also must award an honorable mention to my navy Velvet jacket I purchased in the fall. I have gotten the most use out of that piece. 

Q. Craziest thing you ever had happen to you in the store.

A. Well I can honestly say that working in retail is very interesting in various respects and working at Zoe has NOT been boring. I have many interesting stories but two stand out among the others. 

My first is one time I had an interesting customer at the store and she was trying on the Kathlin Argiro wrap dresses. I had assumed that it was a given that they were dresses but appearently it wasn't. The women came out of the dressing room flashing her entire front to me with only the minimal undergarments. She had thought that the dresses were robes and she needed help brainstorming ideas on what to wear underneath. I was so stunned and am quite possibly scarred for life. 

My other story is the Professor. He is the nickname I have given to an older man who used to close to the store. In the summer he would patrol the corner near the Christmas Attic and supervise the traffic habits of the bicyclists, runners and cars.  Many times he had a hose in hand and would spray bicyclists who did not stop at the stop sign. He would frequently get in arguments over this and a couple times the bicyclists would circle back and squirt him with their water bottle. One time he even had an air horn that he would blow any time there was a traffic violation. I could watch him for hours and not get bored. 

Q. Favorite store event

A. My favorite event would be the Warehouse Sale. Even though it was VERY tiring I always enjoyed setting up the Friday before with Susan and Jim. It was cool to be there and see everything before everyone bombarded the booths the next morning. Also you get an unexplainable rush of adrenaline when you have one purchase after another and everyone is rushing around trying on clothes.

I also enjoyed any event that had cake pops (haha). I have been in love with them ever since Susan had introduced them to me (Alexandria Cake Pop has the best ones FYI). 

Q. What I love about Jim.

A. Jim is the best! He is always so funny without trying to be. All the stories Susan tells me about his take on things crack me up. 

Q. Favorite Susan quote.

A. MANY! I can't remember the exact words but one time she said "hip" in a sentence and it caught me so off guard, I thought it was hilarious. 

Q. When I see Zoe pink, I think...

A. I think of Susan! To me she embodies the fun, vibrant color of Zoe pink. 

Q. What you’ll miss most about the store.

A. My Zoe family. I have met so many great people while working at Zoe. I will miss all our customers who I truly care for and always enjoy talking to. I will miss telling Susan to "Say Hi to Jim for me!" every night before leaving the store after closing. I will also miss working with my Tara every weekend and telling her everything that is going on in my life (she has basically been my therapist this whole time haha ). I will also miss Susan since she has given me one of the greatest opportunities of my life.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What I'll Miss

When Zoe was turning one in 2012, I wrote a series of three blog posts on What I Miss, What I Love and What I've Learned.  I recently enjoyed reading those posts and reflecting on them.  As Zoe prepares for her transition, I thought it might be interesting to answer those same questions again.

Not surprising, many of the things I loved after that first year are the things that I am going to miss today.  

1) I'll miss my customers.  Without a doubt, my customers have been the most delightful, fulfilling part of owning the store. I often think about what my life would have been like had it not been enriched by you.  It is likely that the majority of us may never have crossed paths without Zoe to introduce us.  I'm so grateful that you have allowed me and Zoe to become part of your lives.

2) I'll miss being part of a community.  Alexandria is a great place to do business (once you get through all the nonsense of all the permitting red tape).  With vibrant, active groups like the Old Town Boutique District, the Old Town Business & Professional Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, there are so many opportunities to promote your business and to network with others who believe in all that Alexandria has to offer.  

3) I'll miss the clothes.  I'm already feeling the withdrawal of not going to Market since January.  Shopping for the store (and, as an extension, for my customers) allowed me to see and consider so many beautiful things.  I've never approached shopping as a drudgery.  Even before Zoe, it was always about the look, the feel, the style, the message, the story.  Imagine how that felt for me to get to apply those feelings on a large scale and not just for my own closet.  And I truly did learn to love and appreciate everything that goes into the design and sourcing of a dress, a pair of denim, and a bracelet.  (Jim is worried about the effect this is going to have on my closet)

4) I'll miss the creativity.  If there is one primary lesson I've learned, it is that my soul is at peace when I have the opportunity to create something.  From putting together outfits for customers to writing for Alexandria Stylebook to planning our store events, I am energized by the creative process.  While I have many ideas of things to come once my schedule allows, I know that, no matter what, I must still make time to create.

5) I'll miss my fantastic staff.  You'll be hearing more from them over the next few weeks.  But they have made me a better person and Zoe a better place to be.  While some were friends before Zoe opened, I know all of them will be forever friends.

6) I'll miss having the one thing in this world that I built from scratch.  From the tiniest seed that Jim planted in my mind one warm May evening in 2005 through to today, everything at Zoe is representative of me and my vision.  If you've read this whole blog "cover to cover", you know that starting a business is no small thing.  Keeping it going is no small thing either. But the feeling of looking around in the quiet of an early morning and seeing your handiwork isn't something you can really explain to someone who hasn't done it.   And once you've done it, you want to do it again.  

Now, I have to save some of the juiciest stories for my future best-seller but look forward next week to my summary of the things I'm going to love!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Journey

I'm not often at a loss for words, especially the written word.  While I may wordsmith something over and over again until it sounds just as I want it to, I feel comfortable expressing myself in writing.  But last Monday night as I worked on the email to publicly announce Zoe's closing, I struggled.  I had been thinking about it for several days and nothing seemed right.  I am not dramatic by nature and wanted my words to be simple, heart-felt, and honest.

I thought back to a quote from Ernest Hemingway that a high school friend of mine had posted on Facebook a few weeks ago.  It had touched me at the time and spoke loudly to me now.  "It is good to have an end to journey toward: but it is the journey that matters, in the end."  Zoe has always been a journey for me.  An amazing, life-changing one at that.

What I didn't realize when I used that quote was that I had used the word "journey" in reference to Zoe in my very first blog post on this site.  I wasn't sure what the future held 4 years ago when I started out but I knew I would learn and experience a great deal along the way.

In the next month as Zoe's current journey nears its end, we'll take a (mostly) upbeat look at the road I've traveled and include some feedback from some people who've taken the journey with me.  

Please don't get me wrong - as much as I am at complete peace with God's Will in this decision, I'm human.  I'm grieving.  The tears I've shed (including a big cry when I wrote the email on Monday night) aren't the last.  On Sunday, a woman came into the store and asked me why we were closing.  When I explained to her my reasons why, she said "Oh, you couldn't get someone to take it over for you?"  I told her that I had not ever considered that option as Zoe was too personal to me.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  It's OK.  I don't expect everyone to understand.  And even more importantly, I don't need them to understand.  The people that I care about understand and that's all that matters to me.  

So continue on the road with us - I promise it will be a fun one!