Spotlight on Business: Lambs Ear Shoes

25 09 2009

LambsEarShoesStore2

Mentors. They’re really hard to find and when you finally gain one, hold on tight. Any mentor will tell you that it takes hard work to see the results. But it is sure nice to look back and realize how far you’ve come. So when I asked Angie Sorenson of Lambs Ear Shoes about the inspirations behind the opening of her store, it’s not surprising that she mentioned her mentor Becky Buford of Les Amis and Essenza in Fremont. And the more I hear about Becky, the more she resembles a retail savvy version Tom Douglas, unofficially noted for Tom Douglas University.

Thus after nine years as a manager and buyer for Les Amis, Angie was primed to jump start her long desire to open a store. Her goal was to stay in Fremont and build a fashion forward brand that would match the talent defining boutique retail in the neighborhood. And for a girl who shops for shoes and jewelry before all else, Lambs Ear Shoes was born.

Time, place…and a little grace.

Selecting a completely interior store space without any windows was certainly a daring move, but also an opportunity given the time and her opening budget. Angie hired Jason Thomas Faulkner of Society & Co., Michael Danielson, and Joe Bourmeister to complete her vision of something modern and clean. Jason believed that a good design would never age and continue to look fresh. And with these goals in mind, she completely entrusted the store’s design to Jason, provided that he stay within budget.

What came out on the other end was a cemrock sprayed concrete wall, black steel shelving that could be adjusted given inventory, a suspended metal screen ceiling, and sculptured poplar wood furniture. Jason even designed custom bags and tags, things that Angie hadn’t originally considered important for her brand, but she took the plunge anyway. Good thing she did because she now cherishes the moments when customers notice this custom touch.

Especially in this economy, Angie recognizes the need for superb customer service. Having worked in retail for so many years, it’s a no brainer for her and hugs are plentiful. And while taking her store online expanded her reach to new customers, it also created new challenges for establishing relationships with people she doesn’t meet in person. First and foremost, she makes sure that she responds to customer e-mails immediately. In her words, “everyone wants to feel important.” She also takes care in packing sold shoes to ship, wrapping boxes with care and tying each ribbon perfectly. Every once and a while, she’ll even wrap up a pair of socks in thanks for frequent buyers.

So far, marketing her store has been a community effort. Like many small business owners, supporting the surrounding community provides many benefits. Angie’s quick to mention how thankful she’s been for when the ladies at Les Amis and Essenza recommend her store to their customers. She has even printed a map between the stores on the back of her business card. She also displays the business cards of other stores a part of her community, notably Kimberly Baker and Juniper. Afterall, being in the dead center on the bottom floor of a building creates the need for creative marketing tactics – and what goes around, comes around.

With regard to incoming traffic to her online store, she’s noticed that her offering of unique, not often found, footwear and jewelry brands draws customers itself. Daily Candy e-mail publications have also been well appreciated – she was most recently recognized for selling Anntian clothing, a hand printed organic cotton line of one size fits all pieces. They also sent an e-mail about the line of Arielle de Pinto hand-crocheted sterling silver and vermeil jewelry that she sells.

Future plans, based on experience.

After being in business for three years, she has much to look forward to. Namely an above ground shop and “a bad ass online presence.” Blogging is a consideration, and maybe a foray into Twitter. Given the growth she’s seen from her online store, she’s keen to further develop her brand online.

However, growth comes after experience and streamlined business strategies. In particular, she’s learned a lot over the years about the amount of inventory she buys. Her number one piece of advice is to start small. Upon opening, she had too much inventory in both sizing and brands. Now she’s more calculated with buying and works to structure re-order opportunities instead of having to make initial bulk buys, which may include more inventory than her demand.

Figuring a budget plan and sticking to it is her other piece of advice. Initially, she hired someone to help create a business plan – a process she valued because it forced her to think of the financial aspects of running a store. She later discovered that a business plan itself does not guarantee a bank loan and had to seek other sources of funding. These sources did not rely on a sterling credit rating or include high interest rates, but they did require repayment on the principal. Thus, figuring out how to conduct business within her means was experience in and of itself. After all, she purposely went into business independently without the support of any partners for a reason.

In the end, when Angie looks forward, she sees a successful business that has retained the personal brand that she has worked so hard to build. Because she values her brand as having a relationship with her customers as well as the companies she buys from, building upon these relationships is important to her. This is certainly promising…and from where she sits, the only way forward is up, literally.

Photo courtesy of Seattle City Search.

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One response

25 09 2009
grechen

i love this article! (almost as much as i love angie & lamb’s ear shoes)
it’s great to read about the inner workings of a successful business – but i definitely think she should start blogging AND get on twitter. if you run an online business nowadays, you HAVE to be on twitter 🙂

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