Retail 101: Retulled Boutique

Photos by Savannah Calhoun

Wedding season is upon us! If you’re in the mood to fall in love with the perfect wedding gown, Retulled Boutique is the perfect place to start. Retulled first opened in 2011 in Irvington when owner Amy Lee Bonham noticed a need for unique yet affordable occasion wear, particularly bridal gowns. Finding consignment to be a great way to achieve that niche, they opened the shop with 14 dresses and a mission to provide, “an ever-changing selection of one-of-a-kind finds priced to fit any budget.” Their collection of all types of formal attire grew quickly, and several years after they opened their doors they decided it was time to get back to their roots to focus mostly on wedding dresses. They moved their store to Cumberland in 2017 and now pride themselves on giving brides a personal, low-pressure dress shopping experience with plenty of style options. Read on for some of Amy’s expertise about starting and running a bridal boutique!

Name: Amy Lee Bonham
Store name: Retulled Boutique

When did you open the store?
December of 2011 in Irvington. We’ve been at this location just over two years.

Number of full-time employees?
Just one! Ariana manages me.

What do you sell in your store:
We do bridal gowns, evening gowns and mother of the bride dresses, formal wear, all on consignment. We also do tuxedo rentals.

Previous jobs/ventures?
How much time do you have? (Laughs) Right before I opened this store I was doing contract work painting houses, doing flooring and drywall. I also worked for a store on the north side called Stephen’s during prom season for a while. I worked in the night club and restaurant industry before that.

Why did you decide to open your own storefront?
We had a particular year at Stephen’s Prom that there were a lot of girls and parents who were struggling with the costs of prom. They couldn’t afford even the lowest priced dresses. It was alarming to me how many were struggling. I grew up that way too, my parents didn’t take us shopping for prom dresses. Consignment is a great option because there is a neverending supply and neverending demand. Somebody has already purchased [the dress]. Someone saw something that they liked enough to purchase it, and chances are that somebody else will like it too.

Do you have an online store as well?
No, we haven’t figured out how to sell dresses online, especially because they belong to other people. We can’t guarantee the care of the dress if they try it on and send it back. Until it sells it’s [the consigner’s] dress. But Facebook, our website, and Instagram are good touchpoints. If you’re visually geared you love being able to see the pictures. The Facebook page allows us to have more interactions and show people what is here. We like being able to interact that way. They can show us what they are looking for, THAT is our online store. Letting them see what we’ve got. Then we get a flood of people making appointments to try them on.

What skills/qualifications do you think are important to have before launching a storefront?
Probably the most important is a heart to serve people. And it’s not easy. People are not always easy to deal with, especially when they are stressed about the finances of a wedding, or they don’t like how they look, or they’re not comfortable in formal wear. But when I can make them feel good about how they look, at least while they’re here, that’s our big payoff.

What’s the most effective marketing tool that you’ve been using recently?
Our Instagram account has grown the fastest. And my Facebook fans have quickly surpassed my husbands! (Amy’s husband is a blues musician). It’s so easy for people to just follow our accounts. I’ve never spent a dime on advertising. I paid for a website to show photos and put up our information and had someone set it up, and he made the website look like us. That was good money spent, and it wasn’t much.

What’s more important when opening a storefront: Location, having a nice cash cushion or having a lot of retail experience? Why?
The location makes a huge difference. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a good location if you aren’t in a high-end part of town. It was important for me to put the store in a part of town with the demographic that it serves. A cash cushion is nice. I didn’t have one, I started a business with zero dollars. I had no money when I signed the lease. But I had a lot of people who believed in the business so I took a chance. If I didn’t have a husband who could handle the home bills, I might not have taken that chance. Retail experience…pushy salesmanship, building the bill and dangling carrots have never motivated me. What’s important with retail experience is understanding business math, just a little bit. That sales minus expenses equals profit.

How do you decide which vendors/products/brands you want to carry in your store?
We don’t! Our option is to take what people bring us. The vendors that we carry are the vendors that other people have already purchased. I like a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean that other people are going to like it too.

Do you work with vendors on a consignment basis?
Our consignors are our vendors. I have ordered jewelry and accessories from L.A. or New York to make it more of a one-stop shop since we don’t get enough of that in on consignment. That way, people don’t have to go out of their way to get a veil or a belt. As long as you see what people want and provide it- your business will stay open.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in running your business?
That’s changed in the last three years with the internet. When the internet can provide pictures of what people are looking for ridiculous prices, they just order it. Even though we have great prices they are still seeing an amazing dress online first. The tough thing is when they come back in because the dress they ordered online isn’t high quality and they have less of a budget to shop in here. They’ve eaten up some of their budget. Then we’re dealing with the emergency, it’s up to us to try and help fix something that is taboo to warn people against.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of opening their own storefront?
I would say to know your market. Make sure that you are serving a want or need of your customer base. I would guard against opening something that you just think would be fun to sell. If I can get ahold of it and provide it, they can probably order it on Amazon just as easily. They should be a person who is self-motivated and knows how not to overspend before making a profit. Give yourself a way out. I gave myself one year. I thought about closing several times, but we’ve had such a response from people who have bought and recommended us to their friends. You have to think, who do you hurt if you close? How do you continue to serve after you close?

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of opening their own storefront?
I would say to know your market. Make sure that you are serving a want or need of your customer base. I would guard against opening something that you just think would be fun to sell. If I can get a hold of it and provide it, they can probably order it on Amazon just as easily.

They should be a person who is self-motivated and knows how not to overspend before making a profit. Give yourself a way out. I gave myself one year. I thought about closing several times, but we’ve had such a response from people who have bought and recommended us to their friends. You have to think, who do you hurt if you close? How do you continue to serve after you close?

What advice would you give to an up-and-coming brand looking to build a strong relationship with a retailer?
We are approached a lot of times by brands that want to help us increase our business, but they don’t really know us. My advice to a brand would be to research that business. Call them and ask them some questions about what they do and who their customers are. You want to come blazing my door and tell me how you’re going to increase my business. But then I’m offended because I think, you don’t know anything about my business. I think that aggressiveness is what I don’t like about the [retail] business, so we don’t do it here. We don’t make promises about something we can’t do. I can tell you what my local demographic is wanting. The women who are shopping here are looking for a better deal. So I see if I can supply them with something that can help them.

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 check with Ariana! She knows my demographic because she is my demographic. I do check Pinterest and Instagram. The names and terms change, what they’re calling a sheath dress now is a little different than the 60s or 70s. By looking at Pinterest trends I can get a better view of what their eye is seeing. Asking, “Do you have anything on your Pinterest?” That is extremely helpful. That helps us make sense of those word descriptions.

Keep up with Retulled Boutique online or pay them a visit!

Store address: 11623 East Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46229

Store website: https://www.retulledboutique.com/ 

Store Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/retulledboutique/

 

Photos by Savannah Calhoun

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