Mona Thompson and I have been commenting on each other's blogs for a few years now. I love her and her sister Talena's aesthetic and have always been intrigued by their business model.
They have a retail operation, offer design services, and don't have any employees other than themselves.
And this makes me wonder:
How are these two women able to maintain command of their Arkansas empire all by themselves?!
Don't you want to know, too?!
Mona Thompson explains...
"The early stages of Providence Design began about 12 years ago, during our very first buying trip...
Full of optimism and determination, we flew into Providence, Rhode Island - hence the name of our business - on the way to the Brimfield Antique Fair in Brimfield, Massachusetts. People from all over the country attended this HUGE event. In fact, because there were so many people who came, there weren't any places to stay within the city. But, because our level of excitement towards the event was through the roof, we decided we weren't going to let a 60-mile drive keep us away from the location we will always fondly remember as the birthplace of our business.
Our first small antique business was located within an antique mall in Little Rock, Arkansas.
After outgrowing our space there, we expanded into a second location in Little Rock, and also set up show at two additional locations in Memphis, Tennessee.
While managing to create some success for ourselves in the antique business, we would also help friends and family decorate their homes. Eventually, after realizing how much time we were spending designing and decorating, it became clear to us that we should add design services into the mix of our business.
Never in my life had I dreamed that I'd be so busy! Soon after our design services began gaining momentum, our shops in Memphis became a struggle to maintain, because the two hour drive over there was taking up too much of our time. So, ultimately, we decided to pull those shops and consolidate everything into the location we're located at today: Fabulous Finds Antique & Decorative Mall.
Not having our own brick and mortar store hasn't ever deterred the growth of the retail side of our business.
We've always sold our wares in malls and have managed to do great business. However, with that said, there's still a chance we'll open our very own store someday, but we're just not ready to take that step . . . yet. As long as our unique-found objects, European-style antiques and wonderful furnishings are selling well throughout our five large booths at Fabulous Finds, and our design business continues to grow, having keys to our own shop just doesn't make sense. All the maintenance that goes into a store's operations would cause us to lose so much of the freedom we now enjoy in our current setup.
Sure, space can sometimes be limited at our boothes, but - as evidenced by how many people visit Fabulous Finds only to see us - I believe we've done a good job at making the most out of the spaces we have. As long as our inventory is frequently rotated to keep our vignettes different and appealing, our displays are able to remain fresh and consistently attractive to our loyal customers.
Because we don't have our own brick and mortar shop, we operate much differently than most boutique-style businesses.
However, that doesn't mean we don't share many of the same philosophies traditional store owners have. So, no matter whether you're wanting to open a traditional brick and mortar store, or you're considering a less traditional approach (such as the one Providence Design has taken), any of the following advice should serve you well as you work towards making a success out of the store you've always dreamed to have.
TIP #1 | Experiment
Don't be afraid to experiment with lots of different ideas. Sure, some ideas will work and others will not, but you won't know until you try them.
TIP #2 | Be unique
Trying to copy someone else's approach doesn’t work. Trust me, we've tried. There was a time when a competitor was successfully selling something we weren't 100% in love with, yet we still tried to sell it ourselves.
The end result: Weak sales. Go figure.
We're not sure why things work out this way, but they do. So play it safe and just be you, because noone else will do.
After learning from our mistake, we now have a large warehouse to draw inventory from. And the constant search for unusual merchandise has not only helped our own design jobs become more interesting, but it has helped our designer clients -- who, by the way, make up 50% of our retail business -- keep their offerings fresh and unique, too.
(We are constantly searching for unique architecturals, wonderful iron and fabulous lighting for our new construction projects and other design jobs, because these items are very popular on the retail side of our business. We're also keep running shopping lists for clients and other designers as well. Only occasionally do we do the normal" Trade Market" to buy new merchandise. We search high and low for the unusual and different. and we love to work with artisans to create one of a kind pieces.
TIP #3 | Embrace social networking
It takes time and a lot of effort, but it works. We are convinced that social networking is responsible for the phenomenal growth of our business.
Thanks to maintaining a consistently updated blog and nurturing an ever-growing audience of Facebook Fans and Pinterest Followers, we've decided to take our online presence to the next level by developing a brand new website that will be much more social and easy to purchase from than the one we're working with now. We hope to have it launched by the end of the year.
TIP #4 | Find your niche
I know that sounds cliché, but it's true.
For instance: We have a great working relationship with Parkinson Building Group, a residential building firm in Little Rock, and they refer a lot of business to us. This has allowed us to specialize within the niche of new construction design work, and it now permeates every aspect of our business.
It's this "from the ground up" mentality that we have that's helped us become who we are and what we're known for. And it's very important that you are known for something specific. That's what get's people talking. That's what causes people to refer friends and family to you and your store.
TIP #5 | Love what you do!
You have to be willing to work 24-7 or your business will not succeed (at least not in today's economy). And you have to love what you do in order to make it through those long days that will inevitably come your way.
Thanks, Carla, for inviting me to share what I've learned throughout the development of our business. Hopefully something I've said will give someone in your audience the extra motivational boost they need to move forward with the development of their own boutique dreams ;-)
Thank you, Mona, for giving us some valuable insight into the development of your business. I find it truly inspiring to read about you and your sister's personal story of entrepreneurship and know my readers will have lots to learn and benefit from.
And.....I'm blown away by your pics here! Aren't these two gorgeous designing women????- Carla