Kimberly Sloan Riley is the owner of Pillowtalk, a lingerie boutique near the Keystone mall. Prior to her career in retail, Riley worked in marketing for a commercial development company, was a project manager for a house flipping real estate firm, and was the national sales manager for an outdoor adventure company. Now, she teachers at the Art Institute of Indianapolis while running the boutique. The store opened in November 2007, and Riley purchased it from the original owner at the beginning of 2013. PATTERN talked with Riley to get some insights into running a successful apparel retail business in the Midwest.
What do you sell in your store? Lingerie, pajamas, loungewear, apparel, home goods, gifts, jewelry, and skincare. A little something for everyone 🙂
Why did you decide to have your own storefront? I have always loved shopping and fashion. I wanted to do something that used my creativity and people skills. I also saw a niche opportunity. There are not a ton of locally-owned lingerie stores in the Midwest.
Which came first: the online store or the bricks and mortar store? Bricks and mortar.
List five skills/qualifications that you think are important to have before launching a storefront.
– Passion for what you are selling
– Customer service skills
– Social media knowledge
– Office management skills
– Understanding of marketing principles
What’s the most effective marketing tool that you’ve been using recently? Instagram
What’s more important when opening a storefront: location, having a nice cash cushion, or having a lot of retail experience? Location, location, location.
How do you decide which vendors/products/brands you want to carry in your store? If I like the merchandise, if I think it will sell, if it feels good, if it’s interesting and unique. Another major deciding factor is how easy it is to order and reorder. If I have to fill out a lot of forms or do online worksheets, then no thanks. But if I can just call my rep or email her what I want, I will tend to order more from that vendor.
Photography by Aubrey Smith.
Do you work with vendors on a consignment basis? No, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it in special circumstances.
Do you carry any local vendors/brands? Yes. I love supporting our local makers! If the product fulfills my vendor criteria, then I will always buy local if I can.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in running your business? Staffing! Finding quality employees who will stick around for a while.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of opening their own storefront? Don’t do it for the money because some months are up and some are down. That’s just retail. If you tie your personal success to the bottom line of the store, it will take an emotional toll. You’ll be on a rollercoaster! But if you do it for personal fulfillment, creative outflow, and for the love of helping your customers, then you will always feel successful.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming brand looking to build a strong relationship with a retailer? Be available. Be organized and timely. Do whatever you can do to make it easy for the buyer to order. Do not, under any circumstances, show up to pitch your brand without an appointment. That is the worst. Show us your passion for your brand. If you are excited about it it’s easier to get customers excited about it.
Are there any online resources that you regularly visit to help you run your business better, or keep up with the latest industry trends? I follow a lot of lingerie and lifestyle bloggers. I’m pretty basic like that! Haha! But it is true that right now, bloggers and ‘insta celebs’ are major influencers. I also check in with NRF often. They always have a ton of good articles and available research on every aspect of retail.