The Berks-Mont News (http://www.berksmontnews.com)

Taking chances in business is paying off for French Creek Boutique


By Justin Finneran, Editor@TriCountyRecord.com, Journal Register News Service

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When the French Creek Boutique in Elverson opened in April of 2011, it was a boutique offering solely consignment items. Since opening those doors, however, owner Melynda Wagner has discovered that growth and success came through her willingness to adapt and try new things.
The boutique started by offering its customers consigned clothes for both men and women, adults and children, but as time went on Wagner made a change - phasing out men’s and children’s clothing, and shifting to women’s clothing. As the French Creek Boutique customer demographic continued to become more apparent (Wagner identifies French Creek Boutique clientele as chiefly being women aged 30-55) and customer’s tastes became more evident, Wagner decided that she would experiment with selling brand new items at well – handbags, scarves, and jewelry, to name a few – and even offering things such as home décor items, soaps, and candles. Soon that temporary experiment become the new way of business for Wagner and it has enhanced the French Creek Boutique shopping experience for patrons.
Then, this past December, Wagner took a risk (though she prefers to call it a “huge awesome opportunity”) on another product which has subsequently created quite a buzz for the French Creek Boutique: BooRoo Shoes. BooRoos are a product similar in appearance to the popular UGGs boots, yet there are important differences which Wagner said make the product superior to other popular brands of sheepskin boots, especially in our area’s climate.
“BooRoos are made in a socially responsible way – they are eco-friendly. The outside of the boots are made using cow suede, which is naturally waterproof, and the sole on BooRoos is thicker than that on the UGGs,” said Wagner. “With other similar boots the integrity of the boot wears out quickly– you often see people’s toes pop out of the top of other boots after owning them for a while. When you try a pair of BooRoos on you can feel that they are much sturdier.”
Wagner said that she discovered the BooRoos brand through a friend.
“It started when I needed a new pair of boots. When Christmas time came around I decided that I would treat myself. I liked the look of other sheepskin and wool boots, but I never liked the feel of them… … I literally, through social media, stumbled upon BooRoos (when) a Facebook a girlfriend of mine had posted about her BooRoos,” said Wagner.
BooRoo Shoes is headquartered out of Reading, and was founded by John Larkin. Larkin wanted to create a high quality and durable shoe which was made in socially and environmentally responsible way. Using the experience he had gained from working in the footwear industry, Larkin launched BooRoo Shoes as an online only company over a year ago.
“I contacted (John Larkin) and offered to have BooRoos sold at French Creek Boutique,” said Wagner. “He wanted to see how he could do in retail on a smaller scale and he loved our consultative approach to selling our merchandise. He loaded me up, and we sold 30 pairs in the three days before Christmas.”
Thus French Creek Boutique emerged as BooRoos’ first U.S. retail location, offering shoes for young girls starting at $54 and shoes for women ranging from $74-$85 in price.
“That price point allows us to attract a different audience than UGGs – which are twice as expensive,” Wagner said. “In BooRoos you get a quality shoe for under $100. Plus the wool used in BooRoos feels great on your feet – it has more ‘loft’ than other brands – and the way it molds to the shape of your foot… …it is like putting a glove on your foot.”
French Creek Boutique currently has six styles of BooRoos in stock, and can have other styles of BooRoos delivered to the store. It was a risk for French Creek Boutique to try out this particular style of shoe, which is more popular with younger women, but Wagner said that a lot of her patrons have taken to the BooRoos.
“We have had people coming in every day to check out the BooRoos, they say that they have been hearing about them ‘word of mouth’ or online from our webpage or Facebook posts,” she said.
French Creek Boutique Merchandising Manager Brenda Shirk personally witnessed the BooRoos pass a very tough and telling ‘litmus test’ by winning the approval of her daughter.
“My daughter, who is nineteen and very picky about the labels on her clothing, tried them out and she really likes them,” Shirk said. “I myself am newly converted to them too.”
With the BooRoos boost, Wagner watched December become French Creek Boutique’s most profitable month ever.
“Knowing ‘who our customers are’ is a very important thing,” said Wagner, “but we are learning that in business you cannot be afraid to change things up every once in a while. People want some of the same but with new things mixed in. I really believe that is what keeps our customers coming back.”
It is not just the French Creek Boutique which is experiencing change, however. In September of last year Wagner opened Digaro’s Exchange in Morgantown, the sister store to French Creek Boutique. Located at the intersection of Route 23 and Route 10, Digaro’s was to serve as a clothing ‘overflow’ outlet for French Creek Boutique, as well as a location where home décor goods were put more in the spotlight (thanks to two floors of space to house merchandise). Now Digaro’s is undergoing a rebranding based on the lessons learning from months in business and the valuable feedback provided from customers.
“It is amazing because (French Creek Boutique and Digaro’s) are just six miles apart, but they see completely different types of customers,” said Wagner. “When Brenda and I were thinking about the rebranding of Digaro’s we approached some of our regular customers and asked them to tell us the truth about what they thought about the store.”
“When we heard their input it really made sense, and now we are making changes based on what they had to say,” Shirk said. “We are having a Grand Reopening in February with three additional rooms opening up.”
The store is being renamed French Creek Boutique & Home, and all of the clothing is being removed from the store as Wagner prepares to go full steam ahead with consigned home décor inventory. The Grand Reopening will take place on Feb. 7 from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., and there will be an interior decorator on site to talk about design and home décor.
“It will be a totally different store than when it first opened,” Wagner said. “While French Creek Boutique is geared toward women, French Creek Boutique & Home is a place that men will like to shop at as well. We have art and other things which guys would like to have in their homes.”
“There are a lot of new consigners and they are bringing in some absolutely beautiful things for French Creek Boutique & Home,” Shirk said. “Usually Melynda and I need to resist the urge of buying things for ourselves!”
AS the changes come along, Wagner stressed that it is important that both the French Creek Boutique and French Creek Boutique & Home stores each have their own intimate character and personality.
“People do not want what you would get at the mall, where every store is copying off of the other. People want something different and unique and we feel like we are doing that at our stores. The fear is there when you try something new, but I have seen that risk can really pay off if you know your customers.”
Visit the home of French Creek Boutique and French Creek Boutique & Home online at www.frenchcreekboutique.com
To find out more about BooRoo Shoes, visit them online at www.boorooshoes.com
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