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Boutique Industry

How I became an entrepreneur. It all started with a shop.

Some of you are coming to this site from the indie retail world, where maybe you’re a brick and mortar specialty shop owner, an online boutique owner, a designer or artist who sells your work to shops, or someone who dreams of doing any of the above.

If this describes you, you might know me from my pre-Voice Bureau, pre-Abby Kerr Ink life as Creator and Proprietor of THE BLISSFUL, the funky French lifestyle boutique I started in late 2005 and closed in early 2010.

Me + retail shop = one wild ride of a 4-year relationship.

One of the reasons I closed my shop was because I found through four years of amazing shopkeeping experiences that I love entrepreneurship, being self-employed, and the revelatory work of branding and marketing, but brick and mortar retail and I were not a great fit for the long term. {It was a torrid, life-changing, incredible learning experience of an affair.}

Boutique industry friends, I know you get that.

How a non-shopper like me created a “Retail Star” boutique.

“peaceful adventures in a youthful, modern, Parisian-esque shop”

THE BLISSFUL began as my dream of a luxe, eclectic, slightly funky venue overflowing with quality Euro-styled goods. See the quote in bold above? That’s a virtual testimonial about the store that I wrote for an ad and it became one of our signature lines of copy. It captured the feel and the vibe I was going for when we created THE BLISSFUL.

I knew from the very beginning, and somehow more so every day, what experience I wanted to give my customers. That’s what drove me into the business, that’s what kept me going, and when my own love for the daily work of it flagged, I knew that I had to get out because, well, Proprietor burnout was not part of the experience I wanted my customers to have.

I was an unlikely shop owner to begin with, having thrown myself headlong into high end specialty retail — one of the toughest and highest overhead business models ever — on a mix of opportunity and instinct but with virtually no retail experience.

We opened in early 2006 in the loft of a refurbished barn-cum-retail-space. It was French-y and funky and luxe yet casual. Seven months later, we expanded into a double-the-size storefront in a young, upwardly mobile suburban community and soon after that, re-branded and launched a full-fledged website with e-commerce. The store was twice its previous size, even more chock full of earthy, fantastical goods, and had a lot more overhead. And that was when the adventure really began.

Things really got interesting.

In the space of four years — just twelve retail seasons — we were lucky to have a batch of career-defining experiences.

We hired a staff. We shipped our goods all over the U.S. and internationally. We won a national retail industry award. I was invited to join the Retail Advisory Board of a respected retail trade magazine and helped to contribute timely ideas to the editors. We scored a magazine article with a six-page full-color photo spread of the store in a popular home decorating and lifestyle inspiration magazine.
We also found ourselves mentioned on the widely read cooking-and-entertaining site Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn. I blogged publicly about our trips to Market, the behind-the-scenes flurry of activity leading up to a seasonal unveiling, and how much I missed the time in my life when I could take a Saturday and hang out in a café, writing my own stuff and engaging with other writers’ stuff. I launched a private blog for brick and mortar retailers. We threw some pretty great events.

And throughout a good part of these wouldn’t-trade-’em-for-the-world experiences, I felt guilty that I wasn’t loving every minute of it. And trapped behind a facade of very well-branded wonderment. Because of course, on the surface, I had to play the role and act as if I just reveled in what I did every day. I was the hostess everyday for hundreds of customers. I felt like Alice who had fallen down the rabbits’ hole. When I woke up, I hardly recognized my life and often, myself.

It was time to shift.

So after lots of thought and soul-searching, in January 2010, we announced that THE BLISSFUL would be closing.
In short, I’d had enough. I loved what I’d built, but I was tired of trading time for dollars, and dollars for dollars. I was feeling drained by the stuff. I didn’t want to be a peddler. I couldn’t see a substantive way to redefine my role without paying staff to cover the shop every hour it was open so I could waaay recede into the background and start to reclaim the parts of myself and my life I’d lost among the unpacking of boxes, the greeting of customers, and the twirling for store events. And the fact that I wanted to recede was proof enough for me: my ride on the retail ferris wheel had come to an end. Satisfyingly, happily, and just at the right time. But not without lots of bumps, bruises, and lessons learned along the way.

And while I can’t say that I have no regrets, I’m fully aware that every moment of that experience was leading up to this. This moment right here, right now, as I’m writing to you from my new life.

I get indie retail.

I respect indie retailers the way I respect teachers. Teachers are the unsung heroes of generations of citizens, just as I believe indie retailers in all types of businesses are the unsung heroes of any nation’s economy. They’ve got one of the toughest jobs in the neighborhood. Just trying to woo people to occasionally pass up Target and visit their well-curated little shops is hard enough, nevermind all of the other stuff that the average customer doesn’t even realize goes on behind the scenes, and within the infrastructure of this challenging business model.

This carefully constructed facade is part of the magic and romance of shopkeeping. (It’s part of what draws newbie shop owners into the biz in the first place, and what most customers mean when they say they’d “love to do something like this some day.”) More importantly, it’s part of creating a seamless and relaxing shopping experience for the customer. If you’re a passionate, committed retailer, I know you care about this.

At this point, I no longer offer 1:1 retail-specific consulting for retailers, however, my retail experiences infuse the brand voice development work and copywriting work we do across the board at the Voice Bureau.

If you’re a shop owner interested in working with us, check out our services here.