About 4 years ago I had a plan…well sort of. As you know (or maybe don’t know) I own and operate a large furniture store in a small town. This store is over 100,000 square feet and it’s our mission to draw people from all over (5 states) to visit us. That takes some work. We can’t just be the typical furniture store. We’ve worked really hard to become more than that. Actually, my parents originally WORKED REALLY HARD to make it special years ago. Now it’s my job to keep it that way.
Without boring you with too much “shop talk,” I’ll tell you briefly how the idea of putting a women’s fashion boutique in the middle of my furniture store came about. As mentioned before, our store is 100,000 square feet of showroom. As a retailer, those square feet need to WORK for me. Every square foot needs to make us dollars. We have a lot of people to employ, a lot of bills to pay and a lot of light bulbs to keep lit.
When I calculated “Dollars per Square Foot” awhile back I noticed that our once profitable “gift” department was flailing. Hmmmm….what can we replace the dated packaged food, trinkets, placemats and valances with? A BOUTIQUE! It was a very obvious choice for me. I mean c’mon! Women look at clothes at a gas station if they were hanging there. Our store’s demographics were women and I had those shopping with me already.
The problem was I had never shopped clothing before. I had a lot to learn. My devoted staff was so patient with me. Megan (our home decor manager) kept asking for my vision…ummmmm it was just sort of evolving in my head and that wasn’t helpful to her. But she hung in there.
While my (now retired) parents were on vacation, my staff and I worked our booties off to transform our once gift department into a shabby chic women’s boutique. We white washed the floors in 2 days, our warehouse guys constructed walls out of old windows I found in a barn, we bought some cute clothes sporadically and our boutique was born. I wanted to get it finished before my parents came home because 1.) I wanted to surprise them 2.) I didn’t really want any suggestions along the way. Sorry mom and dad.
There was certainly more to the process than this, purchasing clothes is a lot different than furniture but Megan and I learned along the way what worked and what didn’t. And more often than not, IT WORKED! Our little town needed this store. Women in this rural community NEEDED this store. Just because we’re in a tiny town didn’t mean ladies here didn’t deserve to or want to look good too! My friends became customers and customers became friends. The support we felt from people was overwhelming. They WANTED us to succeed!
The boutique shoppers were completely Facebook generated. Over time, we grew our Facebook fans to nearly 10,000, 1,000’s of followers on Instagram and a rapidly growing email VIP list…our boutique has flourished. I. AM. THANKFUL.
Fast forward to 2017. The boutique is booming. We’ve even hired more staff to assist. Our faithful little Steph (boutique, home decor, social media guru, banana bread making employee) hangs in there with Meg and I as we often “make it up as we go.” We can barely keep up with the boxes of clothing arriving, customer demand and shipping out online orders. It’s FUN and rewarding and a lot of work! By the way…we still run the furniture store!!
In August, our boutique was up with many others in the state to be named as THE BEST BOUTIQUE IN MINNESOTA by a boutique networking group called The Boutique Hub. This contest was completely generated by the public’s votes. Voters could vote once for their favorite boutique. There were over 400,000 votes cast nationwide. We were ECSTATIC to learn we were one of Minnesota’s top 5 finalists…never expecting anything more. A few weeks later WE WERE NAMED MINNESOTA’S BOUTIQUE OF THE YEAR!! Yep! Our little boutique in the middle of a furniture store DID IT! My team DID IT! Our customer’s DID IT!
I wanted to write this blog to give a little credence to Laney Lu’s Boutique origination and give the story of Minnesota’s Boutique of the Year a little valuable history nugget. Customers and friends…THANK YOU for having so much fun on this ride with us.
You are the reason we do what we do and have so much fun doing it! Steph and Meg…you rock. I couldn’t do it without you. Sniff. Sniff. To the rest of the A&W Furniture staff who complete our world of work…thank you! Love you all…thank you, thank you, thank you.
To small businesses around the nation….go kick bootie!!! Big retail is failing, little giants formerly known as “small retail” are SOARING! Thank you to all who helped me fulfill the vision!
Emily (Laney Lu’s mom)