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The Unique in Boutique

Nov 01, 2016 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle

A boutique can be defined as a small shop that sells fashionable clothing or accessories, or a business serving a sophisticated or specialized clientele.

Today, when retail is so competitive, every customer is special and boutiques take the shopping experience a step further – and very unlike a large chain store. And while these types of shops can be labeled as more expensive, that’s not always the case. Additionally, they’re part of the “shop local” trend.

Smallbusinesstrends.com points to a report published by J. Walter Thompson (JWT) in which physical shopping destinations are described as the third space. “As eCommerce and mCommerce become more prevalent, brick-and-mortar retail will increasingly serve as a third space that’s only partly about transactions. It’s just as much – if not more – about the customer experience, customer service and a unique, engaging environment.”

It’s interesting to point out that 50 years ago major retailers were located in the heart of our cities’ downtowns – look at Cannon Village and downtown Concord. Personal attention in those sidewalk establishments then gave way to large shopping malls on the outskirts where consumers gather en masse. And that’s fine for those who prefer that type of shopping experience. After all, it provides a plethora of store options under one roof. Opposite of that, online shopping allows a solitary person to make purchases without ever encountering another human being.

As the third space, it appears that store shopping has come full-circle. There are consumers today that desire the one-on-one attention they get in a boutique environment, and, ironically, many of them are young – college-age and 20-somethings. They aren’t just the shoppers, either; they’re the owners.

Madison Weast is owner of Amanda Lee Boutique, located on Church Street in Concord. She is a full-time college student who hires part-time staff to run her small shop when her schedule doesn’t permit. Her enthusiasm exudes when she describes her business. “I have had the best time meeting all of my amazing customers and new customers on a daily basis,” she says.

Smallbusinesstrends.com identifies that attitude as vital. “Customers want in-person service they can’t get online. This is crucial to differentiating your store from the one-dimensional online shopping experience,” the site says. “Make sure your salespeople are well trained in customer service and empowered to make the customer experience outstanding. Hire for personality. You can teach someone to work a cash register, but you can’t teach ‘people skills.’”

“I opened the boutique in July of 2014 as an online boutique,” Weast continues. “Everyone thought I was crazy when I decided to start a boutique, since I was only 17 years old. I actually ran the boutique out of my house for over a year. October of 2015 was when we opened our first storefront in Concord. It’s always been a dream of mine to own a clothing store because I love fashion and I love talking to people!”

Amber Fadio falls into the same category. As owner of Love You Back Boutique in Harrisburg’s Town Center, she’s only 23, yet has been in business for four years. “I opened the store after having my now five-year-old daughter. After spending 18 months at home with her I decided it was time to rejoin the workforce,” she says.

“After some reflection, I knew opening a boutique where mothers such as myself, and young women, could shop for new in-style clothes without breaking the budget was what I wanted. Being a new mom, I wanted to do something that my daughter would be proud of me for; I wanted her and other girls and women to be empowered – not intimidated – by entrepreneurship.”

And Virginia Hawn, owner of VIVA Boutique on Union Street in Concord, saw her vision at an even younger age. “We were out shopping at Lenox Mall when I was four years old when I said to my

mom that she needed to shop in a particular store called Lille Rubin. It was an upscale, high-end store. I have been in retail all my life – over 30 years. Now that my kids are raised, I have the time to devote to a business. I wanted that vintage, old town, friendly feel instead of a department store chain look,” she says.

Entrepreneurship 2016 takes on different, non-traditional variables for these business owners. Unlike the retailer-developed advertisements and promotions of chain stores, social media plays a huge part in boutique advertising. Blogs and reviews on the part of other shoppers have taken on a life of their own.

Having an online presence also builds brand awareness. Boutiques – whether standalones or inside larger shopping centers – are smaller and more limited on what they have room to stock, but establishing an identity and offering depth in their signature product lines creates a loyal customer base.

That drives these businesses, according to smallbusiness.chron.com.

“A boutique is often a store that evolves out of a founder’s product passion. A broad-based retailer is often started by someone who desires to go into business to pursue entrepreneurial dreams. A boutique founder often crafts – or orders niche goods – and uses the boutique as an outlet to convert the passion into a profitable business.”

“I offer very unique clothing in the boutique,” Weast says. “I try to please all of my customers by carrying many different styles and brands. Boutiques offer a much more inviting atmosphere and we strive to provide amazing customer service. I feel that smaller stores have the opportunity to get to know their customers and see them as who they are – not just another shopper.”

Fadio adds, “At Love You Back, I want women of all ages, shapes and sizes to be comfortable to come shop with us. In the past, I felt unwanted because I would have to shop with my child, and I definitely want mothers to have a ‘trendy’ place to shop as well! I have found that some women can dread shopping! So when people come to our store, we greet everyone and try to assist anyone to find what makes them feel beautiful. Whether you’re 16 or 60, we want everyone to leave feeling happy and beautiful.”

“My main goal is to help women determine their own look and style,” Hawn says. “I love to educate my clients on the kind of fabric, what kind of company makes it, and how it will wash and wear over time. I look at clothing as an investment, not as something to throw away.

“What boutiques have to offer, hands down, is great customer service. I love my customers! I work one-on-one with them to tailor-make a look just for them. The look that they take with them will last them for a long time because it is something that makes them feel beautiful and special. When I go to Market, I have my clients in mind.”

Marcell Nager and Sammi Wykle, co-owners of MIXED Boutique, located on Edison Square Drive,

off Harris Road in Concord, echo this sentiment. Having been open just since last June, they cater to the 30 to 60 crowd and say, “MIXED customers enjoy a warm welcome and one-on-one shopping experience. We assist with any fashion needs they may have. In addition, we love to offer our customers a complimentary drink while they shop!”

With such amenities, boutique shopping becomes a sensory experience, with each shop creating its own unique atmosphere. Attention to décor, comfortable seating, what type of music is playing, even smell play a part.

“Reasons drive choices, but feelings drive fondness,” deloite.com says. “Our findings suggest that this tendency also helps consumers choose one retailer over another. Consumers may choose a retailer for practical reasons, but the reason someone comes to prefer a particular retailer has more to do with emotion.”

On the other side of the coin, the site adds, “Consumers choose retailers that make it easy. Location, familiarity, in-store experience and myriad other factors are entrenched on retailers’ radar, suggesting that customers crave convenience. Some efficiency aspects can be experienced with a single retailer interaction, such as signage, layout, the time it takes to locate a sales associate or the checkout-line length. However, with repeat patronage, consumers can come to expect greater efficiency.”

But what about the clothes and accessories themselves?

“MIXED offers personalized styling, customized orders and a unique collection of international brands not found in chain stores,” Nager and Wykle say. “We hand select international designers as well as brands from major U.S. cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami. We love to carry

unique brands, whether it is a one-of-a-kind handbag or a beautiful cashmere sweater. Highlighted brands we love are Mother Denim, Brodie Cashmere, Objects Without Meaning and handbags personally crafted by an L.A. designer. Our price range is $50 to $200.”

Weast says, “Our clothing comes from many different vendors; we have items that come to us from all over the United States. We love PIKO, Lily and Laura, Diff Eyewear and so many more! Prices range from $5 to about $75, depending on the item. Typically, our clothing ranges from $14 to $35. As a boutique owner, I strive to carry all high-quality products while keeping our prices affordable.”

Fadio agrees. “I purchase all our looks from the L.A. Fashion District and take great time and care in picking out the most up-to-date styles that will fit the everyday woman. We keep our looks at $45 or under with very few exceptions.”

“We hand pick our fashions from around the world,” Hawn says. “Most of our jewelry are unique handmade pieces. We only have the smaller lines that you cannot get anywhere else.

“The clothes that I carry are similar to designer clothes without the high price tags. I carry the small boutique lines, such as Pretty Angle, All for Color and Jag Jeans. The designer lines I carry are Joseph Ribbcoff and a small Italian line called Blu Ice.”

These smaller retailers also fit well into the “shop local” effort endorsed by Cabarrus County and other communities nationwide. Shops get to know their business neighbors, promote each other by word-of-mouth, share a “good for us” mentality and support – and are supported by – chambers of commerce and community organizations.

The number of boutiques in Cabarrus County is growing, and those that market themselves effectively are enjoying the fruits of their labors of love. They invite the consumers out there truly looking for a little pampering, a little less hassle and some great, trendy clothes and accessories to stop on by.

Article By: Kim Cassel

Photos Courtesy: Michael A. Anderson Photography

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