Welcome to a new series on my blog called “This Woman’s Work,” which will focus on female entrepreneurs. I recently discovered bouchic boutique + lounge, a chic boutique with affordable luxuries that is located in the Glenwood section of East Atlanta Village in Atlanta, GA. After arranging a time to meet with them, I sat down with the owners on a beautiful Saturday morning to learn more about them, their partnership, and their thriving business. Bouchic Managing Partners, Demetria Acloque and Dominique E’lon Tate, met in graduate school at Clark Atlanta University in 2001. Their joint matriculation in the MBA program (with a concentration in Marketing) soon led to a friendship. In 2005, Dominique started a children’s t-shirt and onesies line that was mostly online. Occasionally, she would participate in events and even had her line in a store in Little Five Points. When one of her designs sold out, she realized that product moves faster when people can see and touch the product. She thought to herself, “I wonder if there is a space where independent designers can lease space?” After doing some research, she came across a concept in New York that was a combination of a boutique and bar. That concept inspired her to create a business that shared similar elements, but had a different twist. Knowing how difficult it is to run a business herself, she decided to reach out to someone who’s “about her business” to partner with her. Luckily, Demetria was onboard, as she had always wanted to own a women’s fashion boutique herself. Grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea to enjoy as you read the interview and learn about how Dominique and Demetria got started, what advice they would give to new entrepreneurs, and what trends are hot right now.
Kimberly Murray Photography (KMP): How did you get started?
bouchic boutique + lounge Owners, Demetria and Dominique (bouchic): We wrote up a plan, a business plan, for about a year, and we met with a small business association mentor at SCORE. He helped us think about other things that maybe we didn’t consider, like trying to open before Black Friday or before the holidays and thinking about how cyclical the business is. We also worked with a personal accountant…to make sure the numbers made sense. So, we put a lot of thought into the business plan that made us very comfortable to open and to feel like [the plan] was realistic and like we had thought about every aspect…because neither one of us had really worked retail full time. So, it was kind of a step out on faith; it was something that we both wanted to do, but we felt out of our elements a little bit.
KMP: So, how did you learn about how to really run a retail business?
bouchic: I think some of it is just our own business sense. We both have business backgrounds. So, we pulled on that knowledge. Also, we complement each other; I’m (Dominique) marketing/market research driven, and she’s (Demetria) very sales focused. And I’m more business minded, she’s more fashion minded. That was helpful as well. Also, something that we’ve learned is that if you don’t know (we don’t know), find someone who does. We don’t know everything; we don’t know how to go about everything. You just have to utilize your resources.
KMP: That’s very true.
bouchic: That’s something that we tell every small business person that asks for advice. You’ll never know how to do everything. So, we reached out to friends who might be stronger in finance or social media or web design or IT and things of that sort to help us pull those pieces together. They might not have done the work, but at least they could point us in the right direction.
KMP: You mentioned early on that you had the children’s t-shirts and onesies business, but that was more of an online business. Is bouchic boutique + lounge also online? Do you have an e-commerce part to the business or is it just a storefront?
bouchic: We’re currently working on that. We’re hoping to have that up before Black Friday of this year and definitely before the end of the year…in time for the holiday peak season. But, currently, we do have a website (www.bouchicatl.com). You can visit us online to find out about the store. We also post our new arrivals on Facebook. So, we do get calls or emails from people asking, “Can I order that?” We will take the orders and ship them, depending on where they are in the U.S.
KMP: So, how do you think people hear about bouchic boutique + lounge if they do not live in Atlanta?
bouchic: People look on Facebook. Some say, “A friend told me about your store.” Even at Shecky’s Girls Night Out over the past couple of days, people were like, “I’ve seen you online.” But, I think some people have just Googled boutiques or maybe looked on Yelp, and our boutique comes up. We also carry sizes from XS up to 3X, so if you Google “plus size,” it could come up for that as well. We try to have some pieces for every size woman. We’ll have people come in saying, “I heard you carry plus size stuff.” A lot of stores don’t; they just carry sizes up to XL or L. We didn’t start out that way. But, I think what is helpful for us is that we try to listen to what customers say when they come in. So, we implemented plus sizes probably a month or two after opening. It just felt uncomfortable having people come in who didn’t fit into the clothes…or maybe they came with a friend, and they were standing back or just had to look at jewelry or a purse or accessories or something. I didn’t like that feeling, so we wanted to incorporate some things in the store that complemented what we had. It’s still a work in progress. We’re trying to figure out the right mix.
KMP: So, how did you come up with the name for the boutique?
bouchic: We did try to sit down and have a brainstorming session. But, that never really works when you’re like, “O.k. Let’s think of a name.” We both wanted it to be simple. I think she wanted it to be one word. So, with the brainstorming session, at least we had an idea, but nothing really came up. Then, one day I was thinking, “I like the way the boutique is chic.” I liked the way that sounded. Then, it just came to me…”bouchic!” And I texted her and was like, “What about ‘bouchic?” And she said, “Yes. That’s it!” And we added the “boutique + lounge.”
KMP: What can customers expect when they come into bouchic boutique + lounge? What do you want them to experience?
Bouchic: We want them to come in and feel comfortable. We wanted to create an environment that is for young professionals (late-20s to mid-40s) with an affordable price point.
KMP: What is the price point?
bouchic: As low as $10 all the way up to $225. I would say the average is about $59. We like to consider them affordable luxuries. We get something new every week. They are kind of staple pieces. Some of them are trendy, but once you buy them, you can wear them from season to season. They are things you can have in your wardrobe for a while. We also have unique pieces, too, because we like to support up-and-coming, independent designers. We don’t want you to come in and see something that you can find at one of the large, mass retailers. We want you to feel like you got a good price for something that is unique, different, and affordable.
KMP: If a new designer wanted to sell their product here, how would they do that? How do you select which lines you will carry?
bouchic: They can go to our website. Even if someone comes in, we always direct them to our website. There is a tab that says, “Join Us.” They need to submit a one-page application. It’s really a little bit about them and their goals and aspirations, and a few questions about their products. They have to attach pictures. Then, we review [the application.] If we decide we are interested, then we will invite them for a one-on-one interview because we like to meet everyone and look at their products in person.
KMP: You also mentioned that this is a “boutique + lounge.” So, where does the lounge part come in?
bouchic: During the day, the lounge serves as what we like to call the “man area.”
KMP: My husband would love that.
bouchic: We want guys to feel comfortable coming in here as well. So, we invite them to come in and sit down. “Do you want the remote?” we ask. They can turn on ESPN or whatever they want. In the evening, we rent out the store for private events. We also do shopping parties. We worked with a senior at SCAD to create the space; every piece of the store was brought to life by her. So, the dressing room acts as a stage; you can pull the curtains back and have a band set up there or a VIP. And the focal wall, it’s hard to see during the day, but there are different colors in the boxes that flash. So, in the evening, it’s like you are somewhere cool. We wanted something that was still a nighttime atmosphere, but you could still shop and see what you are purchasing.
KMP: You are nearing the one-year anniversary (Nov. 11) of the boutique’s opening. What was the biggest challenge you faced starting out? What’s the one piece of advice you would give new entrepreneurs?
bouchic: I would say financing because we had thought everything out. We had a good plan, and we were at the point where we were ready to approach banks for a loan. We approached 8 or so (small and large). We did our research and tried different angles, but they were all saying stuff like, “You need to be in business for at least 2 years.” “You need to be asking for at least $100,000.” But, we didn’t need $100,000, so we ran into a lot of obstacles. But, we had come too far. We had already worked on the plan for a year. We had already found the space that we wanted. We had to keep moving. We went to Clark Atlanta, where the motto is “Find a way or make one.” So, we just had to find a way to make it happen. We did eventually get financing, but it still wasn’t as much as we really wanted. So, we used personal savings as well as investor funds to get our doors open. Yeah…that was the challenge initially. Just making sure that it didn’t slow us down or stop us. But, as far as our revenues and that sort, we have come in where we planned as far as sales each month. So, we’ve met our goals. Hopefully at the 2-year mark, we can get additional financing, and it will be aligned with our plan.
KMP: What is one piece of advice you would give to new entrepreneurs or people who want to start a business?
bouchic: I would say, it is important to follow your dreams. But, it is also important to do your due diligence. Research. You know, a lot of people [think that you can have an idea, find a space, and start a business in 2 months.] Early on people were like, “You’re still working on that business plan?!” We told people, “We’re working on it. We’re working on it.” People don’t understand that a business plan is not just for your purposes. You have to have all of your ducks in a row because when you get up and you are presenting to an investor or a bank, you have to know what you are talking about. It needs to make sense. I think it also just makes you feel more comfortable when you plan. If something were to go wrong or just not go as expected, you are able to tweak it and understand why.
KMP: If you didn’t have a degree in marketing, and business, in general, do you think it would be possible to still be successful?
bouchic: I think you would just need to lean on your resources a little bit more and get more comfortable with a lot of things. A lot of designers that come to us are only thinking of the creative aspect; they aren’t really thinking of the business aspect. Some think, “I’m going to just sell it at ‘X’ amount.” I’m like, “It’s not going to move at that price.” And we encourage people to have hang tags to brand themselves. You’re never going to get brand recognition if it doesn’t have that. One of our main goals is to help promote independent designers. It’s not to help us. We could easily put a bouchic sticker on the item, but that’s not going to help you who made it.
KMP: Now that I know how you started the boutique, I can’t let you go without asking some fashion advice. What is one simple way that women can update their wardrobe this season?
bouchic: Bold, chunky pieces. Also, bright colors; color-blocking is really big this year…and faux-leather pieces or accents (like the trim on Demetria’s dress). Peplum dresses in either faux-leather or cloth are also big, as are liquid leggings, which look like leather.
KMP: Is there anything else you want my readers to know?
bouchic: Our store hours are Monday through Saturday from 11:00 AM until 7:00 PM and by appointment. People can also visit us online at www.bouchicatl.com or find us on Facebook. We are also available for events. We offer free gift wrapping and sell gift cards in any denomination. For the guys, we offer a personal concierge if they need help picking out something for the women in their lives.
KMP: Thank you, ladies, very much!
Are you inspired to stop by bouchic boutique + lounge to take a look around and pick up some unique, affordable luxuries? bouchic boutique + lounge has everything you need for a fun night on the town. From chic clothing to accessories to “hint mints” so you don’t offend bouchic boutique + lounge has you covered! Check them out at the location below!
I’m really excited about this new series on my blog! I hope you are, too! What did you think? What questions do you want me to ask future interviewees? Also, was the interview too short…too long…just right? Leave me a comment below with your feedback. Also, “Like” Kimberly Murray Photography on Facebook to get updates on future posts. Thanks! Bye for now!bouchic boutique + lounge 880 Glenwood Avenue SE, Suite B Atlanta, GA 30316 www.bouchicatl.com 678.831.CHIC email@example.com