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SHOP TALK: Pre-Spring Buying

Throughout my life, I have made a concerted effort to frequent as many locally owned boutiques wherever I go. There is something special and unique about the experience of walking into someone’s interpretation of fashion versus the fluorescent lighting and overloaded racks of a chain store in a shopping mall.

Being the manager of a locally owned luxury shoe store in Ottawa has allowed me to experience exactly what it is that gives boutiques their distinctive quality. So today, we’re going to talk shop–literally!

Earlier this week, we had a visit from an agency that supplies us with several lines of clothing and brands of shoes. The representatives from these agencies are always so impressed with all three stores that the owners have been able to create on Ottawa’s Sussex Drive; Schad, Schad Blu, and the store I manage; WOLF&Zed.

The representatives typically arrive after lunch (driving in from Toronto or Montreal) and the visit always begins with hugs, kisses, a volley of compliments from both parties; “amazing store!”, “cute shorts!”, then a little industry chatter and we’re on our way. Next thing you know, our new guests are pulling racks of clothing out of thin air and conjuring footwear from a suit case, a feat that I thought only Mary Poppins was capable of.

What comes next is a bit like shopping with an entourage of industry experts. We are given details on delivery dates, top sellers, fast movers from prior seasons, different colour choices of all the goods laid out in front of us, and lots of other things I simply cannot remember. Chantal, one of the owners, tries some pieces on – of course she is sample size – and we all analyze how it falls, if it’s easy to wear … Is it lined? Will clients find it itchy? Does it look just as good from the front as it does at a different angle? And same goes with the shoes; is the heel too high? Too low? Will a Canadian woman wear suede in February? (the answer to this, I’ve found is almost always a resounding NO) After trying on several outfits and touching and feeling everything on the rack and on the floor, a few pieces are set aside for final editing.

We chat more about what has done well, what is hot, have a few more last tries, and with some input from curious customers and other staff, we make our final decisions. Sizes are chosen, colours are confirmed and delivery terms are negotiated.

Chantal and one of our reps discussing footwear choices for pre-spring 2013
Chantal eyeing pieces from one of the clothing collections for pre-spring 2013

Throughout this entire time the question that constantly recurs in my head (and sometimes out loud) is: “is it too forward for Ottawa?” Thank goodness for us, it doesn’t seem to cross Chantal’s mind. And this is what makes boutiques so special. Because the pieces we pick up and admire have literally been hand picked by someone who isn’t afraid of being creative in their choices or forward-thinking in their mindset.

I’ve already learned a lot about the workings of a boutique, but it’s these intangible gems that are the most fun to experience and share. I hope you enjoyed the little glimpse into my world as much as I enjoyed writing about it!


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