By Rebecca Susmarski The Register-Mail, Galesburg, Ill.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Great Q&A with Stacey Browder, owner of clothing boutique, "Denim and Pearls." She took some time to talk with The Register-Mail about how she adapted to her customer base over time and some of her best-selling items.
When the original owners of the Galesburg boutique Denim and Pearls decided to sell the store, Stacey Browder seized the opportunity to fulfill her dream of owning her own clothing boutique.
Browder, a native of Chillicothe, always loved fashion and got her start by working as a store manager for 10 years at Charlotte Russe in Northwoods Mall in Peoria.
Taking over Denim & Pearls in 2015 from Erin Woodward and Kim Lakis, though, gave Browder much more creative freedom and managerial independence.
"Working for a corporation, there are so many things you see at eye level that would improve things, and you are not always able to apply them," Browder said. "I love being able to try new things and see where it takes me."
Browder, now 33, had the same vision for the boutique as Woodward and Lakis, and she kept most of their original product lines. Over time she also added new lines to offer more variety, and at lower price points.
While getting to know her customer base was tricky at first, Browder soon earned her customers' trust with her aptitude for helping them find the best clothes to suit their body type and personal style -- customer service that she always plans to continue at Denim & Pearls.
"What gets hard for people is there are certain styles that are not made for certain body types, so it can get frustrating when you try things on and nothing seems to work," Browder said. "You have to know what styles fit what body types, but with styles constantly changing it can be hard. There are ways to dress your outfit to match a current trend, even if the particular style is not made for your body type, and that is where I come in. Clothing shopping should never be stressful; it should be a fun experience, so we try to help with that here."
Browder runs the boutique with the help of three employees and her longtime boyfriend, Galesburg native Ryan Frakes, who helps manage the financial side of the business. The store offers about 15 name-brand lines with products ranging from jumpers to accessories.
The couple celebrated the business' anniversary this year by moving into a new location at 401 E. Main St., and Browder keeps things even fresher by frequently updating the store's interior and displays. She took some time to talk with The Register-Mail about how she adapted to her customer base over time, and some of her best-selling items.
Register-Mail: Ryan mentioned in a previous interview with The Register-Mail that it had always been your dream to open your own clothing store. Why was that?
Stacey Browder: It has always been a dream of mine since I can remember. I loved fashion and had worked in retail my entire life. My dream was to work a job that I didn't need a vacation from. I am living that dream every day because I love what I do.
RM: Denim & Pearls is billed as "a small town boutique with a big city heart." Why was Galesburg a good place to keep Denim & Pearls?
SB: Galesburg is a great community! It has lost a lot of places over the years as far as retail goes, so having a place for people to come and shop without having to drive about a hour away to buy something is great. I love being a part of trying to help this community grow. Yes, we do carry things that you would find in a bigger city. We are here so you don't have to drive far away to find that city fashion that you want.
RM: What are the advantages to running a small, downtown clothing boutique compared to a larger clothing store?
SB: The advantages are I get to connect with my customers one-on-one. I can spend time with them and actually help them find things that work for them.
RM: What's the most nontraditional clothing item or accessory you stock that's popular with customers?
SB: The Bra Lab was a new company starting out when I bought Denim & Pearls and (we) decided to pick the line up in our store and give it a try. It is basically a build-your-own bra. It is kind of hard to explain in writing, but once we show people what it is and does, it's instant love. All ages of women buy it, from young to old.
RM: What were some challenges you faced when you first took over the business?
SB: My biggest challenge was getting to know the customers and developing a relationship with them. They had Erin helping them for four years, so she knew them extremely well. So coming in it took some time to meet people and get to know their style. ... It's really all about getting to know and listening to your customer.
RM: What are Denim & Pearls' bestselling items or lines?
SB: Our No. 1 selling line is DEX. Our customers seem to love it for its great quality at a great price. It's not super expensive, but is still on top with all the current trends you see out there on TV and in magazines.
RM: Denim & Pearls got a new location this year. How has that been working out so far?
SB: We are loving this new location. We have more room in the store, so customers are able to see the merchandise better. Overall the feedback has been great. Everyone has loved the design and how much brighter and easier it is to see everything.
RM: What's your favorite part about running Denim & Pearls?
SB: I love being my own boss. I have the ability to do more with and for my customers that makes it fun to work here.
RM: What lessons did you learn at Charlotte Russe about selling clothing or running a business that you've applied to your own business over the years?
SB: The one thing I have always taken with me is that the customer always comes first!
RM: What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs looking to open their own business, particularly a fashion boutique?
SB: It's a lot of trial and error. Learning how to control inventory levels was the hardest for me. But don't be afraid to ask for help/advice. The Seminary Street Merchants were a huge help to me. They were always willing to give advice or answer any questions. Especially Phil from the Landmark and Mother Goosebumps. The support is there; you just have to be willing to reach out.