By Hilary Danailova
Angelina Rodriguez Pata knows why women still go to boutiques to shop, instead of buying online. “The biggest thing people struggle with is styling a piece,” revealed the owner of Blackbird Fly Boutique in Cleveland, Ohio. “They’ll say: ‘I love that, but I don’t know how to wear that.’ ”
That’s where expert retailers like Rodriguez Pata come in. Whether it’s bell sleeves or a choker necklace, the boutique owner is ready with both personalized suggestions and a store full of coordinated outfits styled that inspire — and sell.
Rodriguez Pata is careful not to overwhelm clients who may be tentative, either about fashion or the budget. “I try not to overstyle it so people feel they can’t wear something unless they buy seven other pieces,” Rodriguez Pata said. “But maybe it’s a scarf or pants next to it that makes people say, ‘You know, I could wear this with more than just a pair of jeans.’”
That balance of service, knowledgeable advice and visual inspiration is a winning formula for sales, according to retailers.
Rodriguez Pata works hard on her displays, pairing unexpected pieces to tempt patrons into a purchase. “I may pair a wool coat with rustic booties, or with fresh, white sneakers,” she said.
Accessories — the finishing touches that can give an outfit that je ne sais quoi — are scattered strategically throughout the store. Rodriguez Pata displays belts prominently by the dressing room, inviting women to grab one and see how it pulls together an outfit (ka-ching!). Designer hairclips and pretty bamboo-accented sunglasses are next to the register for what Rodriguez Pata calls an “easily grabbable” impulse buy or a quick gift.
A similar strategy works for My Friend’s Place, a Bowling Green, Ky., boutique. “We’re trying to give the customer ideas,” said Owner Meredith Loafman. Customers are motivated to buy more, she explained, “when we merchandise overall looks.”
A retail veteran, Loafman opened the 1,800-square-foot store to serve a variety of local women, not just the youth crowd that dominates retail in this college town. “That’s why variety seems to work,” Loafman said.
At My Friend’s Place, new items go on flat tables; hanging displays, both two-ways and four-ways, create visual interest; and jewelry and handbags are coordinated with merchandise throughout the store. Loafman also showcases bags on a shelf display, so women hunting for a new bag can see their options.
Also in Bowling Green, Dixieland Boutique finds success by playing up local charm. Owner Brittany Blackerby has a special section highlighting Southern wares —handmade jewelry, T-shirts bearing the Kentucky logo, and candles scented with sweet tea and bluegrass. Regional, artisan items “are more of an added value; they’re unique,” Blackerby explained.
To draw in shoppers, Dixieland’s window displays feature seasonal outfits that appeal to diverse tastes. “We’ll have anywhere from two to four mannequins. One will be dressier, another more of a jeans outfit,” the retailer noted. So whether a woman is looking for a date-night outfit or something new to go with jeans, she’ll be likely to come in.
At Red Dress Boutique in Athens, Ga., Manager Audra Bradford’s team is ready to help shoppers put together a complete outfit. “We personal shop with the customer, and really emphasize service,” said Bradford, who credits that approach with winning over clients in this fashion-conscious college town.
Red Dress keeps them coming back with a regular mix of fresh items, Bradford said. “We switch up our displays twice a week so it’s always eye-catching,” she explained. “Luckily, our warehouse is close to our store, so we get new arrivals very frequently.”
Bradford recommended grouping apparel by color and accessorizing outfits on mannequins, so shoppers won’t have to wonder which necklaces goes with a sundress. Accessories with broad gift appeal, like scented candles, are placed strategically.
Accessibility and visual appeal are key for Jennifer D. Harris, who manages one of Adorn’s three Portland, Ore., boutiques. “What has worked for us, as a company, is having things very accessible to the customer — being able to touch it,” Harris explained.
It must be working: Adorn is planning to add a fourth store this spring, catering to a sophisticated, urban-casual look. Each store displays fully coordinated outfits that take the guesswork out of dressing. “We like to tell a color story, mix and match fabrics, and keep a certain vibe consistent on each rack,” Harris said.
But when working one-on-one to style a client, “we’ll pull from different racks,” Harris added. The bottom line: “We know our customers, and we know what they like.”