By Bryan Horwath American News, Aberdeen, S.D.
As a child, Devin Oland spent a lot of time at her mother's clothing store in Britton, playing video games, helping whenever she could or just snuggling up in a sleeping bag in the back on days when she was too sick to go to school.
"Devin kind of grew up in my store," said Lynn Oland, Devin's mother and the owner of Kay Lynn's, which was in business for 14 years from 1986 until 2000. "She was always excited to come in. I remember the day that I hung the 'going out of business sign,' Devin was sad. She had no idea I was going to do that. It was a big surprise."
Devin was 9 years old when her mother's store closed, and she remembers it representing a "big change" for her and her family.
"One of the reasons why I closed the stores was because I was really tied to them," said Lynn, who owned a handful of clothing stores in North Dakota and South Dakota. "I wanted to spend more time with (Devin) and have more freedom. It was a little surprising to me that she wanted to be at the store back then."
Carrying on the family tradition, Devin, 22, is now the point person for The Fuze, a new women's clothing boutique in Lakewood Mall, a venture the two women are tag-teaming. After opening its doors Aug. 11, The Fuze represents the first new store in the mall since Glik's opened there more than five years ago.
Devin said the store will carry a variety of women's clothing and accessories, from jeans to sunglasses to dresses and more. She said that she's had a lot of positive feedback so far from customers who have stopped in.
"Most what I get is people asking if we're open when they're walking by," Devin said. "People have told me that they're excited for the store and excited that there is new stuff coming in. I think people are ready for new stores in the mall and new things in Aberdeen. Our first week was fair week, so it was pretty busy. It's tough to judge so far because we have about half of the merchandise that we're going to have."
Hailing from an entrepreneurial family, Devin might be young, but she comes across as anything but overmatched.
After growing up around small-town retail stores, she also has experience working at Watertown Mall while in college and she seems to have that all-important sense of knowing what sells.
"Devin knows what people want," Lynn said. "She's going to bring a lot to the table with what she knows about young people and what the market here doesn't have. When we went to market in Las Vegas in February, Devin knew what to look for. She knew what students and teachers were looking for that they weren't finding in town."
Small-town shopping in a community like Britton is different than in a larger city like Aberdeen, Lynn said.
"My customer base was always big and I still have people that come up to me and ask me about my store in Britton," she said. "But that store was in a small community and I wouldn't have bought certain things for that store. In a small town, you'll get some of that 'well, I can't buy this piece of clothing because she has that.' You can do some different things in a more populated place."
Being an independent store, Lynn said The Fuze has some advantages that other chains in Aberdeen may not boast, including the ability to order what products and brands it desires and freedom to move to a different location if the mall doesn't work out.
"We'll see how this goes," Lynn said. "We can do whatever, we're independent. We're going to see how the mall goes. If this isn't a good situation, we can leave, but I think the mall will be a good situation. As far as shoppers, things seem to be good here."
Being in different age brackets and having different experiences, Devin said she and her mother, while both being a little strong-headed at times, complement each other well.
"I've only worked in a mall, so I know what mall traffic is like," Devin said. "My mom has never had a store in a mall, so she isn't used to casual browsers. She's used to having people come in to buy something, while I'm used to having more casual customers. I can already tell when a person walks in the door if a person is not coming in to buy something. Body language gives a lot away. A good salesperson can always change a customer's thoughts on something."
While explaining what a shopper can give away with just a seemingly simple gesture or movement, Devin started to illustrate a hypothetical sale before her mother jumped in.
"I never sell anybody anything," Lynn said. "I help the customer find what they're looking for."
To that, Devin came back with a daughterly "whatever" before both shared a laugh. In all seriousness, Devin said running a clothing store in northeast South Dakota with the last name Oland does come with some pressure.
"I can't go anywhere without somebody asking me about my mom's store and it's been closed for 14 years," Devin said. "There is some pressure. We pretty much kept the store a secret until about a month ago. People have asked me since then if The Fuze is going to be like my mom's old store and I say 'Well, yes, kind of, but it's also going to be my store and it will be a little different.' "
Lynn said there's a possibility that The Fuze could carry men's clothing in the future, while Devin added that the ability to purchase items online through the store's Facebook page is also on the horizon. For now, the women -- who both have, and plan to keep, jobs outside the store -- are concentrating on getting the operation off the ground.
Though her mother said she never expected Devin to run her own retail store, it seems to be a natural fit for the girl who grew up hiding and playing in the clothing racks at Kay Lynn's.
"I really like helping people find something that makes them feel good about the way they look," Devin said. "There's nothing more exciting than having a customer leave happy with something or having a customer come back with a picture of how good they looked in something they bought from you. It's really fun."