By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This story takes A nice look at a successful family boutique with women as leaders in business. Ariana Carps was in elementary school when she began folding jeans for pocket change at the family boutique “Rear Ends”. By the time she was 14 she was “officially”on the payroll and three years ago, she became an equity partner. We love to see young women groomed to take the lead!
Detroit Free Press
Ariana Carps, whose parents started a store with a funny name, Rear Ends — aims to expand the family enterprise as she gradually takes more ownership of it and considers outfitting it for a digital age.
Mark and Elaine Blumenfeld started the business — now two shops, one in West Bloomfield and one in Bloomfield Hills — before Carpi, 31, was born.
It sells jeans (as the name might suggest) and other casual and fashionable clothing to girls and women.
“We always say they start at 12 and end at about 85,” Carps said. “I just helped a woman get a pair of jeans on her 80th birthday. We sell to fit women who really care about their appearance, who want nice things, who want to be put together no matter what they are doing.”
But Carps said working in the business is really the only job she’s ever had — or wanted.
She started working at the shop when she was in elementary school: He parents would give her 50 cents for each stack of jeans she folded. She’d take that money and buy candy. At 14, they put her on the payroll. Over the years, she’s taken on increasing responsibility. Three years ago, she became an equity partner.
In an edited conversation, Carps talked about what it takes to run a successful business in a digital age — and offered tips on how to find the best fitting jeans and how to care for them.
QUESTION: What is the concept for the store?
ANSWER: We’re jeans and T-shirts. That’s how we started out. We’ve expanded from there over almost 38 years. The concept is: Upscale, casual women. We’re never too fancy. We try to delve into a little bit nicer here and there. But we’re a woman’s every day clothes. Everyday jeans — and maybe a great Saturday night outfit, but nothing for a black-tie wedding.
Q: The name is Rear Ends. Where did that come from?
A: It’s my dad’s sense of humor. He thought: We’re opening a jeans store. What will we be dealing with? Rear ends. It’s catching. It’s grabbing. People definitely don’t forget it. It was a good name for marketing purposes at the time. He thought it was funny. He went with it, and 38 years later, it’s still stamped over the store.
Q: It works?
A: It absolutely works. I take a lot of calls about auto bumpers, but then I try to direct them to the right place. In 1978, things were a little less politically correct. Maybe the name wouldn’t pass muster if we were opening the store in 2016, but it’s a great name, and we have a great history with it. So all the funny questions and giggles that come with it, I take it as a stamp of pride for a business well built.
Q: But, the name does raise a good concern: In a digital age, when people use Google search terms, do you have to use different marketing strategies now?
A: Yeah. We have to put in different key words for a search engine, but you can’t rebuild 38 years of history with a name. Stores that re-brand, it’s not good for the business. If you looked up “independent jeans stores in metro Detroit” it won’t come up. When you Google “Rear Ends Michigan” you get us mixed in with a bumper shop. We are trying to navigate these waters, and taking all the help we can get with public relations, with marketing, with digital strategists and trying to use experts in these fields to help us.
Q: You are mostly looking to get people in the door. Do you offer online sales?
A: No we don’t. We’re just looking for people to find us. We tried e-commerce. But we found it was really difficult with the brands we carry to get on even the second page of a Google search. It’s so hard to get our items to the front page. E-commerce isn’t something we would ever rule out. But, we’d need to work long and hard to figure out how to get our store higher because nobody ever goes to the second or third page of a Google search for an item like that.
Q: What is your best advice for other entrepreneurs?
A: My best advice is to talk to people in as many different fields as you can. Don’t think you know everything. Always be open to new things. You can get ideas from different people. Take my husband. He’s an engineer. He’s in meetings all the time. He tells me about how he always has an open issues book. That’s something I’ve done. I track what needs to be done, and not mentally, now. I keep a list and move through it. The fact is, my most important job is helping customers, but that can detract from something else I’m doing. So, I always want to know what I have to come back to and a timeline when it needs to be completed. The fact is, you don’t want to stay stationary. You always want to grow. But, you don’t know where that growth will come from if you are not willing to seek out other ideas.
Q: So where do you want to be?
A: It’s constantly changing. Right now, growing to a second store in our 37th year of business is amazing and feels like, what took us so long? Does that mean once I feel settled, and another year down the road, we’re going to look for a third location? Or does it mean we’re going to pursue e-commerce more aggressively? Maybe. I think, it’s being open to those ideas and figuring out where our change is coming from. I don’t know I can do a five-year plan or a two-year plan, until I can see where the second location takes me.
Q: What should folks look for in a pair of jeans?
A: Definitely not price. All the high-end designers make jeans that are more expensive than what I carry, and not as good quality. You have to touch it. If it feels too flimsy, it might not be a good jean. If it feels too stiff, then it probably hasn’t been washed enough.
Q: So I’ve heard you’re not supposed to wash jeans. Is that true?
A: I don’t wash my jeans. But, not everyone is OK with that. So my washing instructions is machine wash cold, inside-out. Throw in a cap-full of white vinegar. Let them hang dry, and when they are totally dry throw them in the dryer for five minutes to fluff them. That will help them last longer. The heat from the dryer can break down the Lycra and denim, and hot water in the washing machine will make them fade quicker no matter how much you spend.
Q: What about fit?
A: Sometimes I occasionally ask people when they say they are a hard fit: Tell me your fit issue. If you have no butt, I call that one-long-thigh. I look at that, and grab a jean that might be a little more square. It’s about making sure the pockets hit in the right place, the waist doesn’t fit too high or too low. Making sure the knee hits in the right spot — from there I go up to the tush …