Plus Size boutique is great choice for fashion maven who found a flawless fit.
By Chuck Green
You might say that Lydia Hamilton-Monnie was looking for the best fit.“I always knew I wanted to work for myself; it was just a matter of figuring out what my business was going to be,” said Hamilton-Monnie, owner of Boutique Larrieux, an upscale boutique offering an extensive selection of contemporary designer apparel and accessories for women ranging from sizes 12-24. “I went through quite a few ideas before I arrived at the boutique.”
She said the idea of the boutique resonated with her because, for one thing, she’s her own target customer. “I’m a plus-size woman and there was a gap in the Milwaukee market. I was tired of always having to travel somewhere else, or order online to find the kind of styles I was looking for. And it’s something I’m passionate about. I can identify with customers coming through the door and what they desire. And they know someone is in their shoes.”
Prior to the boutique, Hamilton-Monnie had a small interior decorating business. But all the while, she maintained her corporate job as she tried to hone in on something permanent. For a number of years, she was a project manager for GE Healthcare, where most of her responsibilities revolved around process improvement and management. It paid off when she started her own business. “I’m very regimented and introduced that into my own practices at the boutique and my expectations of my employees. I’d say just the overall work ethic that I cultivated working at GE has carried over.”
Hamilton-Monnie, who said she anticipates sales of $350,000-$500,000, found her first retail space by driving around, looking at vacant spots. She also attended a meeting of a local networking group, where she met with an individual who helped her identify the right location for her store. “She actually was a boutique owner at that time herself and was able to help me find a space that was large enough, but not too big. It would have relatively good traffic,” said Hamilton-Monnie, who was there for about a year and a half.
However, it was exclusively a destination location and more of a dining and nightlife area. “There were only one or two other retail businesses there and none of them (specialized in) apparel.” Consequently, Hamilton-Monnie believed it was best to relocate someplace more apparel/retail focused. “I knew, specifically, what I was looking for and knew the exact area I wanted to target. I suppose the stars kind of aligned because there was another apparel retailer that was going to be closing, which I found out about before it was posted on the market. I was able to jump on it right away.”
She preferred the second spot, her current location, better, primarily because it was situated in more of a retail and shopping area. “Knowing what I know now and being located where I am now, I realize it’s really important to be in a location that has a lot of walk-by traffic. Even though, to some degree, I’m a destination business, the majority of the women who shop with us specifically seek us out. We pick up quite a bit of business just with women walking by. There’s a national retailer next door to us, and there are three other, what we call, straight-size boutiques that all carry sizes 12 and below. Quite often, women who come into their stores can’t fit into their clothes, so when those stores aren’t able to offer them something, we are, so the location we’re at now is good fit for us.”
To help further optimize business, Hamilton-Monnie says she does some other traditional forms of advertising, including a couple of local morning shows, as well as print and radio advertising. In addition to being active on twitter, she also does social media and has a large audience on Facebook. Ultimately, however, the two biggest drivers of business are referrals and walk-bys, she noted.
A big lesson she learned early was inventory mix and learning how to buy. “Before, I was buying just off of my own knowledge as a consumer.” To help improve the process, she brought a retail analyst on board from a company that helps retailers set up shop, based on various requirements, such as their purchasing needs and spending. “They also provide sales targets and inventory turnover targets. It got me more focused on the numbers side of the business,” she said.
She said she secures merchandise from all over. Hamilton-Monnie primarily targets three trade shows in the U.S., including Las Vegas, Chicago and New York. Additionally, she has more than 30 designers on the floor, both domestically and internationally.
While she did some self-funding, Hamilton-Monnie said she tried to go the traditional bank route, but lenders weren’t interested in lending to an unproven startup business. “After getting a couple of no’s, I stumbled upon peer-to-peer lending groups. The process is so transparent and fast. I was able to get $25,000 from two sites through investors. That made up the last portion we needed.”
Boutique Larrieux At-A-Glance
Located at 315 N. Broadway in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Boutique Larrieux is an upscale boutique offering an extensive selection of contemporary designer apparel and accessories for women ranging from sizes 12-24.
Product/service: Plus-size women’s apparel and accessories
Year founded: July 2009
Sales from last year/ anticipated this year: $350,000-$500,000
According to business owner, Lydia Hamilton-Monnie, “Essentially I am my own target customer. I noticed a gap in the Milwaukee market for stylish plus-size women’s apparel and decided to open a specialty boutique catering specifically to that audience.”