Nestled in amongst the East Vic park restaurants, cafes and gift shops, Ms Demeanour Boutique has been a secret shopping mecca for local stylesetter’s since 2010.
Independently-owned, women of all ages have frequented this treasure trove for the very latest in clothing trends, handbags, shoes, belts, scarves, jewellery, race wear and more.
A regular at Fashion Exposed, owner/operator, Beth McLoughlin starred as one of the faces of our Business in Fashion concept at the recent Melbourne event.
In this interview, we chat about her career in retail; what the biggest challenges have been so far; the impact of online; how they encourage customer engagement; and her VM tips.
How long have you been working in retail? When did you first open Ms Demeanour Boutique? Why? Tell us a little history.
Other than some casual work throughout my teens, I hadn’t really had any experience in retail. Prior to opening my store I had worked at Qantas Catering for ten years. During my maternity leave I worked in wholesale to try something different.
While working here and living in East Vic park I felt I could attempt to bring a bit of retail to an area I was passionate about. I opened two weeks before having my second son who is now four and a half.
What clothing do you specialise in?
We specialise in every day wear. We have recently introduced some evening/cocktail wear as our customers were asking for it. However an affordable price point is very important…or at least something affordable for each person.
From my experience in the previous years, often traveling with my mother to Fashion Exposed I found it was hard to shop together. It was either a shop for her or a shop for me. So a big part of my concept was to have ranges that suited several age groups or at least crossed over. So we pretty much cater for 25-60 really. We often hear our customers say I must bring my mother/daughter/granddaughter in here.
What’s the story behind the name?
The store name came from an evening of brain storming with a friend. I knew I wanted something that represented femininity, fashion and style. So a name that meant the way a woman carries herself was just perfect.
What have been some of the biggest changes in retail since you first started? And how have they impacted your business?
I opened during the middle of the GFC. This along with online shopping have probably been the biggest challenges and changes. There is a huge ‘convenience’ with online shopping. You don’t need to leave your house! Creating a store that makes people want to leave the house is very important.
Facebook has become a huge tool for us that keeps getting bigger and bigger. It brings people in and is a constant reminder that you are there when they need something.
We hear constant media reports of the `doom and gloom’ for Australian retailers, what’s it really like out there? How has online shopping impacted bricks and mortar retail?
I can’t speak for everyone but I feel a lot of new businesses are on the up and up. Personally this is how it is for me… touch wood!
I know of many businesses and wholesalers that have been operating for 15+ years that are closing down, as weve seen with some chain stores too.
I think small independent businesses need the support of our agents and their agents to keep their products off line. Everyone seems to want a piece of every pie but I believe customers like something they cannot find everywhere!
However when you can buy everything from clothing to car tyres for half the price including freight from places like the U.S, who knows what the future will hold for retailers across Australia.
Ultimately I believe it is up to the government to support Australian businesses and workers by applying the GST to goods under $1000 bought through overseas online stores.
Do you sell online? And do you social media to speak to your customers?
We don’t have a website. I feel there’s way too much competition and the time required to fill orders, answer queries and do returns for change of size etc. would be too time consuming. I would rather focus my time on the customer in front of me. They are here because they want to see it, feel it, try it on and get advice from us and/or their friends.
We do use FB a lot. We try to upload at least four pics a day. Customers can order through private messaging or calling the store.
What experience & insights from your retail career can you pass on to other retailers?
You have to move with the times. We may not understand it or even know how but if you don’t, you will be left behind. If things aren’t working find out why. It’s easy to take people’s word for it when you are just starting out. It’s about identifying if it’s good for you or if it’s bogging you down.
Has the clientele changed over the years? Ask your customers what they would like to see in your store. We find involving them and making them feel special brings loyalty. I also find liasing with local businesses and groups to promote your and their services is a powerful tool!
What are you doing in-store to attract new customers and establish relationships with existing clientele?
When I opened four and a half years ago there were a lot of places to eat and drink and then us. The strip I am on has taken a long time to develop compared to other areas I looked at at the same time. I have been lucky to stick it out and now some great places have opened and are opening near by. It makes it more of a destination, a place to spend an afternoon, rather than taking the trek to visit just one store.
Once in the store, customers find that we have quite an eclectic mix. We let all of our customers know that we have new stock almost daily, so if they don’t find something today, they may tomorrow. We also let them know about our loyalty card. Deep down everyone wants a discount. We are very child friendly and have some toys they can play with and a great lolly jar if they behave!
Having local suppliers we can offer to get other sizes and colours within two days. Customers love the quick service.
We have some regular customers where we automatically pick out items they would like and put them aside. It makes shopping more efficient for them and ensures they don’t miss out.
We hold regular Wine and Cheese private shopping nights which give ladies the chance to catch up, shop, drink and eat with the shop to themselves. They used to really help out in the first few years when we were establishing. Now it’s just an added bonus for the week. We hold these at a customers request for 10 or more ladies.
With so many changes to the way people shop, how have you innovated your retail store to keep up?
My boutique started out doing gift ware, children and adults clothing. We phased out the children’s wear after the first year and majority of the gift ware not long after.
As the years go on you add certain lines, you take some away. Funny enough we are now looking at expanding and adding gift ware again as it’s needed on this expanding strip.
We have kept our prices reasonable and we turn over stock quickly. We have staff aged between 18 to 63. Each bring a different flair and even merchandise differently. So it’s always fresh!
We’ve recently changed from hand written receipts to a POS system. We’ve also updated our fixtures and signage over the past couple of years.
How do you feel with the influx of overseas retailers (Zara, Topshop etc) setting up in Australia? Has it impacted your business? how?
I don’t know how long it is until these stores hit Perth. For me personally, the thought of queuing up sometimes 10 deep to purchase something that hundreds of other people have is very unappealing. So I guess that we have to rely on customers with a similar opinion, customers wanting the smaller, less commercialised labels that make them stand out in a crowd.
As much as they are infiltrating our shores I find the trend to shop local, support small business and have familiarity with staff and other locals is growing just as fast.
How often do you change your store’s visual merchandising? Why?
I am very fortunate to have Angela who does the majority of our visual merchandising at Ms Demeanour. These are her words on how often and why we change our VM.
“As new trends arrive and stock turns over we change and update our sections accordingly. We create new themes to according to the seasonal colour changes and also pattern trends. Telling a story about a particular trend though. VM is the key to increasing selling potential.
We update and change them approximately every two-three weeks. Customers need to know that stock is turning over and new styles are continually available. A change always creates this perception.’
It’s amazing how customers say, ‘oh I love this, has it just come in?’ when we’ve had it for weeks, we just moved it!”
Can you reveal some of your VM tips? What works well for your store?
A front table display invites customers in. We have a sale rack/small section at the back of the store to bring customers through. We also have a new arrival rack which is themed and and has a fast turnover. So promoting new styles correctly is very important.
Outfit building within sections is optimal along with all front displays showing and creating the overall theme. Colour and pattern must be evenly spread throughout the section so it’s appealing to the eye. The shop must always look full, neat and sorted.
Front windows are changed twice a week or sooner if styles run out. These windows remain themed.
You have been a regular visitor to Fashion Exposed over the years – why have you chosen this trade event to do your buying?
90% of my ordering is done through my suppliers in Perth. As with keeping small business alive, I believe it is important to support them rather than cutting them out to make an extra dollar.
Fsahion Exposed, for me, allows me to see the ranges that are coming to my supplier. Perth often receives the samples last so it keeps me ahead.
Often suppliers do not carry a whole range as it’s simply too big. So it’s a good chance to see an entire range and add to your order or suggest to your supplier to add it.
It’s a great time to see what new labels are out and the new things are happening in retail. It’s also a time to network with agents you usually only speak to over the phone. You can also catch up with other retailers you know but never have the time to chat to. You don’t have a lot of time off running your own business, so to make it worthwhile we take a few extra days off to make it work and pleasure.
Highlights include the free informative seminars that give you the next hot trends, merchandising tips and info on how to move forward in your business.
Mind you, we spent more time in the champagne lounge than doing orders last time lol.
Follow Ms Demeanour boutique on Facebook, facebook.com/MsDemeanourBtq
Discover more about Fashion Exposed, visit fashionexposed.com