The Boutique Hub was born out of necessity.  Ashley’s desire to find her favorite boutiques came from being in a remote North Dakota town – where her nearest shopping opportunity was over 300 miles away, she longed for a place online she could go to find and shop the boutiques she loved together in one place.  So she created it.
 
Listen in as JD and Ashley discuss rodeo, retail and the future of eCommerce!

Subscribe on your favorite listening app!

Ashley: John Wayne once said that opportunity is often missed because it’s dressed in overalls and it looks like work.

Announcer: The biggest names in eCommerce share tricks of the trade, from tools and software to strategies and growth hacks. Learn from the best and take your business to the next level.

JD: What are the actual tactical things that you’re doing to attract people?

Announcer: Now your host, JD Crouse.

JD: Hello, and welcome back to eCommerce in the Trenches. It’s JD Crouse and today I’m really excited to have Ashley Alderson with theboutiquehub.com joining me today. Welcome, Ashley.

Ashley: Hey, JD. Thanks so much for having me.

JD: Yeah. Absolutely. So where are you calling in from today?

Ashley: Well, it’s literally the tundra. I’m calling in from Wisconsin today.

JD: Nice. So you’re a cheese head these days?

Ashley: I was born and raised a cheese head, so Green Bay, the Packers, people in Wisconsin, we’re all about cheese, beer, and cheering for the Packers, so it doesn’t get much better than that.

JD: That’s right. That’s awesome. Well, we chatted briefly last week, or earlier this week. The days all run together. And come to find out, we have a common bond that we didn’t know about until we were talking for 20 or 30 minutes. And I’d love to just talk about that a little bit. In 2007, you were Miss Rodeo America.

Ashley: Yes. I was.

JD: That’s a big deal. That’s so cool.

Ashley: It is. It’s a really big deal. And it’s funny, just like in our conversation, I always wonder how many people are familiar with the sport or even know what that means. And I try to prepare myself like I’m going to have to explain what Miss Rodeo America is. And the fact that you were in that life right with me and you totally get it, that’s such a small world. So cool.

JD: Yeah. Yeah. And for those of you who don’t have a clue what Miss Rodeo America is, I’ll take stab at it and then you can fill any color commentary in. But Miss Rodeo America is, it’s really difficult to win. Every state that rodeo is pretty prominent, and it’s probably not all 50 you have competitors. How many have Miss Rodeo North Dakota, Miss Rodeo Nebraska? How many states send competitors?

Ashley: It varies a little bit each year, but it’s right around that 38 to 40 states.

JD: Right, so that’s a lot. And so it’s a typical pageant where people have to compete at the local level and then the state level and everything. And then Miss Rodeo America is really competitive. Kat, on our team was asking me. Well, do you have to compete in the rodeo? And I said, “No, not necessarily.” But from my understanding, you have to … Horsemanship, being a great horsewoman is a critical piece of it. And then of course, being able to present yourself well and speak well and actually carry on a conversation and make sense because you’re the ambassador for pro rodeo. And you’ve got to go all over. Talk to me about some of the places you got to go.

Ashley: Yeah. Well, first thing, let me back up. When I explain Miss Rodeo America to people, I tell them it’s just like Miss America, except rather than have a talent competition, we have horsemanship because it’s crucial. And there’s no swimsuit competition because you and I both know cowgirls wearing Wrangler jeans all day have extremely white legs, so it just doesn’t mesh well, if we had swimsuit.

JD: Right.

Ashley: But, yeah, I traveled over 320 days on the road that year, and I flew everywhere I went, representing professional rodeo, and just the Western way of life in general. And so everywhere I went, I had to be able to speak at schools and civic organizations and on the news early in the morning promoting whatever event was happening in that city that I was attending, and be able to get on some horse that I’d never seen before and be able to ride in the rodeo that night presenting sponsor flags and some of those different PR opportunities. So you had to know your stuff.

JD: Yeah. And I thought I was a good cowboy, but you probably rode hundreds of different horses, and some of those are supplied by stock contractors, and they’re not very nice horses. Let’s just be honest.

Ashley: No. They’re a little dicey. They’re a lot dicey. We’ll say that.

JD: Well, very cool. When I was reading about your Miss Rodeo America time, something that didn’t come out that I thought would be interesting for you to share is, when you were Miss Rodeo North Dakota and competing for Miss Rodeo America, you were actually diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I have a hard time saying that. Lymphoma. Talk to me about that. Like, you kept competing. How did you do that?

Ashley: Yeah, so the first trip that I went on as Miss Rodeo North Dakota, it was quite a long trip. I was gone for about 30 days. And over that time while I was gone, I kept noticing that I was losing a lot of weight, but I was out-eating everyone at the table and just trying to keep my energy up. I thought it was strange, but of course, I didn’t act on it. I was a 20 year old girl at the time. Or, what was I? 21, something like that. And it wasn’t until I got home from that trip that I work up in the middle of the night with this pain in my chest. And so I went to the walk in clinic the next morning, had some X-rays done. I mean, 24 hours later, I’m sitting there hearing that I have cancer of the lymph nodes. And so I did, I went through six months of chemotherapy that year and still traveled and got ready for Miss Rodeo America.
I think the blessing in disguise in all of that is just the human nature and the will to live. When you have something to focus your mindset on and really work toward, it helps you have a vision and an outlook far beyond whatever negative thing you’re facing in your life at the time. And so I just kept focused on where I was trying to go. And God blessed us with good health and I came out of cancer after that chemo, and it really set me up to change the rest of my life. It gave me something to speak to people about. And it was the year that the entire Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign was launched in professional rodeo, which is as you know, a pretty big movement. And so it gave me an opportunity to speak to other women about early detection and just being a survivor in whatever you’re facing in your life.

JD: All right. Wow. That’s amazing. My mom lost a battle to cancer a little over a year ago, and my uncle passed away to cancer. And so to just hear victory around that awful disease in any form that it manifests itself is encouraging and something to celebrate for sure, so that’s awesome. Yeah. That’s awesome.

Ashley: Thank you.

JD: Well, let’s dive into what you do. You own theboutiquehub.com.

Ashley: Yeah.

JD: What is it and why does it exist?

Ashley: Absolutely, so we do two things in the boutique industry. We are both a consumer facing company and a B to B company. And really, it all got started because as I was traveling as Miss Rodeo America, and being from rural North Dakota, I wanted to create a place online where, selfishly, I could go and find great boutiques that I was discovering all over the world in one single place online and shop them from home. And so The Boutique Hub first started as an online shopping mall of boutiques. But really, what happened after that, our B to B platform, which we call Boutique Business, really started to grow and flourish, and that’s where my heart and my passion really lies, and that’s coaching other boutique owners and connecting them to resources and just putting them at the center of the industry. So the hub is really like a hub and spoke model, where we want to be the absolute center of the entire boutique industry, whether you are a boutique owner, a wholesale brand or designer, a service provider who’s offering marketing services or technology to the industry, or a fashion blogger.
And so when we started to pull boutiques together to help market them to consumers, that community and connection point just really flourished and took off. And today we’ve got several thousand members that are highly active on a daily basis and we provide them with all the tools and connections they need to grow their business.

JD: Who is your ideal boutique owner? What does their engagement look like? What does their business look like? What is the idea avatar customer for you as a boutique owner?

Ashley: Well, we primarily target women’s fashion boutiques, so a lot of apparel, accessories, shoes. We have a few décor stores as well, and children’s boutiques as well. But really, we range from both the store front brick and mortar boutique owner to an eCommerce powerhouse. Anyone doing anywhere from a $100,000 revenue a year to $15,000 to $20,000 in revenue a year. We try to make sure that if they fit within that women’s fashion boutique, still centrally owned business model, that we have resources for them.

JD: Now what would be the upper range of revenue per year?

Ashley: Upper range right now is probably that $15 to $20 million. We a couple that are on that end of the spectrum, but a lot, probably more of our customers are right from the $250,000 to a $1 million, right in that area.

JD: Right, which is a typical kind of single location, maybe online presence, kind of a “mom-and-pop store” where the owners are very active in the business and they just have one location. Is that correct?

Ashley: Yes. Yep.

JD: Wow. That’s super fun. So I think one of the interesting things to be visiting with you, as I’ve really been thinking about your business and the little bit that I know about it, is for an eCommerce like us, like Bolder Band or other, pretty much like the majority of listeners to eCommerce in the Trenches, where 98% or 99% of their sales, their revenue, is generated online, whether it be whatever marketplace, whether it’s Amazon, or Shopify, or BigCommerce, or whatever platform they’re on, to really try to look at the world through the eyes of a brick and mortar, primarily, retailer.
So what can you tell us about some of the opportunities, some of the brick and mortar boutique owners that you know that are crushing it? Some of the best practices, some of the things that are really working well today for them, because some of us that have our own brand, we’ve either considered or do have our own retail presence, or we’ve considered having a pop up shop in multiple different locations where we have a high concentration of customers that would love to come and shop and have a physical place to shop, to expanding our wholesale channel and building that out. What can you tell us would maybe be a couple three things from the eyes of the boutique owner, talking to, educating us eCommerce focused people? Is there anything?

Ashley: Yeah. It’s a great question, and it’s a big soap box that I feel like I’ve been on for a while. As we watch the media in the last 24 months really talk about the retail apocalypse and what was happening to big box stores, and feeling like maybe that was going to trickle down to boutique owners or eCommerce stores, I think what came out of that conversation was the evolution of retail. And that is that the consumer really wants to feel special. They want to have a unique experience. They want to feel like they have access to unique products and they want that customer service and they want an authentic relationship with the brand that they’re doing business with. And that’s what the boutique industry is all about.
That’s what that mom-and-pop brick and mortar store does best. And so the challenge is: How do they translate that same in store, personal, authentic experience online? And same for an eCommerce powerhouse, a brand like yours, how do you translate that personal one on one experience to your customers, even though you can’t touch and feel and meet them in person? And so for me it’s all about the live video. If we’re going to talk strategy, it’s all about live video. It’s all about personal relationship. It’s all about, within your automations, putting a face and a name behind the brand that you’re building so that customer feels like they really can know, like, and trust you on a whole nother level than they could before.

JD: I used to have a small marketing company. And I’m going to jump off in here just a little bit. There’s strategies and best practices, and obviously you’ve got some cutting edge ideas on how to engage with current, relevant media, live video, et cetera, et cetera. How many of your brick and mortar retailers actually do it? How many of them really, full are able to execute on suggestions?

Ashley: That’s a great question. I think in terms of just starting with live video, the ones that I know of in the hub, I would say at least 80% or more are executing live video because they see its value. They see its return.

JD: That’s awesome. That’s amazing. You’ve got a very unique tribe. Good for you. That is so cool.

Ashley: They are like hyperactive with one another and they’re so supportive. Our entire mantra at The Boutique Hub is community over competition. And so when they come into the community and something like live video is working for one of them, or we’re testing that strategy with a few of them, they are so open to share what’s working with one another. And so once we started talking about live video 18 months ago, more and more would try it. And now today, they are rocking and rolling. And a lot of them, they almost turn it into a weekly episode. Fashionably Late at Eight, or whatever they title it, and it’s their connection point to their consumer on a weekly basis.

JD: Well, and am I right in saying that the boutique owner that is really crushing it is somebody who is curating the latest styles, the latest designs, and buying them from cool brands. And they’re doing all the heavy lifting. Right? It’s a curation deal and they’re dragging that product and going through the brain damage of buying it and financing it and merchandising it. And then shooting live videos and sending out emails and doing whatever you’ve got to do to get your people back in the store so that you can show off what you found for them. I mean, that’s the deal. Right? That’s the people who are crushing it with boutiques.

Ashley: Absolutely, and they’re educating their customer. The reason boutiques became what they are today is because they’re attainable fashion for average women in every Main Street across America and beyond. When a woman isn’t sure how to wear something, but she needs an outfit she wants to feel confident and beautiful in, she goes to the local boutique and they teach her how to style products. And so when a boutique owner understands that methodology, whether they’re a brick and mortar store or they’re an eCommerce store, and they can translate that well to the customer and teach them how to style those products together to make that woman feel beautiful, like man, I can do this. Fashion’s okay. It’s not scary anymore. That’s when they start winning at the end of the day.

JD: So cool. As a brand that is wanting to place product in your community of boutique owners, what are the things that are important? What are the things that important to them, other than the obvious, which is being on trend and having a product line that actually serves their customer base? Margins, minimum order quantity, get into some nitty gritty on some things that these boutique owners … Because I have some experience, we’ve sold multiple six figures into our wholesale channel and I’ve got to tell you, it’s wrought with challenges. The wholesale channel is, it’s if you aren’t buckled up for that business model, that channel, especially when you get into big box and the Scheels and the Buckles, where they wanting EDI integration and all of that, that’s a whole nother monster. They want more margin. They want et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But for your boutique customer, your clients, what are they looking for?

Ashley: Well, there’s so many different levels of wholesale, as you know. And I feel like that industry and that model is changing so fast, the way that business operates. So I think a couple of key terms, you know that margin at the end of the day is important to boutique owners. But I think you’re going to have a different conversation with a mom-and-pop shop than you are with a Scheels, or a multi location store. But just like a consumer who’s doing business with a boutique, a boutique doing business with a wholesaler, it’s all about trust and knowing that you’ve got their back. So if we’re talking about zip code protection or allowing them some testing in the market with a lower minimum order, I think that’s really important today because the level of entry to this business is so low. Anyone can get in and start a boutique. And so there has to be still a standard where that minimum is high enough to keep some people out, but it’s still attainable enough that a mom-and-pop can get into your brand.
But then building the relationship, I would say the next piece of that, knowing that they can trust you and come back and renegotiate, or test a new model, or whatever it is, that flexibility I think is important. So they want to know you all through the year, not just when they see you set up at market a few times a year, because the average boutique owners average trips they’re taking to market is decreasing significantly across the board, so they want to see you online 24/7. They want to see you inside of our groups at the Boutique Hub and be able to ask you questions, that sort of thing.

JD: Talk to me about market, the trips to market. Do you see … Because I think that this is something that we could dig into just a little bit as brand looking to sell wholesale to these boutiques. How do you get your product in front of them today? Obviously being a part of the Boutique Hub as a brand. But how is that changing because the model has been for years? Go to Dallas. Go to Vegas. Go to Atlanta. Go to Denver. Talk to me about that.

Ashley: Well, I think that model is still important and it still has its place. And we work very closely with all of those markets to try to continue to drive traffic because the consumer, the buyer, the retailer, still has to touch and feel your product. Right? But I think that has to be overlaid with a digital marketing strategy for brands too. You have to be an eCommerce marketer in terms of wholesale. You have to know how to generate those leads from Facebook ads and drive them to your wholesale website, or drive them to a Facebook group if you’re going to use that connection point, some place where they have a relationship with you first, so that conversion happens much quicker and much easier when you’re at market.

JD: So they already know, like, and trust you. When they see your booth or when they’re making their list of people that they want to make an appointment with, they’ll look at the line, then they already know who you are. It’s not brand new.

Ashley: Right. Their time is so limited when they’re at market. They’re running around to appointments they already have made. And so for them to take the time to check out a new brand like yours and actually go in and take the time to see the line, which we know takes time. You’re going to go sit in there for at least an hour. That’s the challenge, is getting them to commit that time to you when it’s so limited.

JD: So you got covered, written about in eCommerce Magazine, Seven Women Making Waves in eCommerce. What do you think about the future of eCommerce for a brick and mortar first retailer? We’re in Fredericksburg, Texas. I’ll give you just a for instance. And the retail per square foot rental rate is very similar to Scottsdale. It’s about, depending on where you are on Main Street in Fredericksburg, Texas, it’s between $20 and $35 a square foot. And so we have about … The city, the town is about 12,000 people, and on most weekends it will double in population. And big weekends, it will triple or quadruple. And so we have a very vibrant tourist, very active CVB, Convention Visitors Bureau, that are pulling people here. We’ve got 1100 bed and breakfasts. This is not, by the way, an ad. I’m not getting paid. As I’m talking I’m like, “Whoa. It sounds like an ad.” But it just gives you a little context. Right?

Ashley: Yeah.

JD: Retail is a big deal here, brick and mortar, big deal. And they actually have, which is interesting … I don’t know if it’s good or bad. There’s people on both sides, but there’s no chains on Main. So if there’s 10 or more locations nationwide, you can’t be on Main Street, which is kind of interesting. So they’re like super serving boutiques. Right?

Ashley: Yep.

JD: But when I think about knowing what I know about acquisitions costs online, and I’m going to shut up and let you actually answer the question that I asked you originally. Sorry. I want to give you a real set up though. I know what it costs to acquire a customer today on Facebook, depending on how new your brand is and how sexy it is and how much traction there is, but it can cost anywhere from $15 to $40 to acquire a customer. And so when you’re spending 30 bucks a square foot on 3000 square feet or more, and you’ve got overhead and inventory and employees and all of this kind of stuff, it can be a bit daunting to think about: How do I do eCommerce? I don’t have time to keep the shelves stocked in my brick and mortar location, but there’s all of this money that exists out there in the cloud, in the ether, and people would love me. They would love my curation, my style, my store, my story. How do I do it all? And there’s only so much time and only so much money. What is your answer for that?

Ashley: It’s a great question, but the answer is, I think you still have to do it. I think that brick and mortar, yes, customers want experience, and it’s great that you have the foot traffic. The overhead is significant, but I still think that there’s opportunity to be had, even if you’re just capitalizing off of that tourist traffic that’s coming in, and they go home and want to continue to have that relationship with you, and they share you with 10 of their friends. I think that you still have to make the time or have another member of your staff that can help you make the time to have a successful eCommerce business.
And I think it’s important, though, that retailers remember. How do you eat an elephant? It’s one bite at a time. You have to start small, whether that’s in a Facebook group or doing giveaways on customers that have already been into your space, if they aren’t yet familiar with diving into Facebook ads, because that is a little daunting for some of them. But I think they have to start small and they have to set up a Shopify store and they have to start acquiring that customer outside of Fredericksburg if they’re going to be relevant in the next five to 10 years.

JD: Well, and to your point, I was talking to a gal that I’m on a visioning committee with here, and she has very successful store. And I was just telling her. Are you getting email addresses? Are you doing a giveaway in just a simple fish bowl? Or when you have a buyer, are you getting their email address so that you can re market to them. You can sent a thank you email. There’s days that she does … I think one day, I think Black Friday she did over 1000 transactions in store, maybe 1500 transactions.

Ashley: Wow.

JD: And I’m like, “I bet that day was a little bit crazy.” I know there’s some times, but when you do have a good retail business, a good brick and mortar business, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit. Right? Where you can just do a good job of figuring out how to engage with people. How do you get them on messenger, on Facebook messenger, or like we said, get their email address? Can I text you a receipt? Do you mind if I send you promotions from time to time? Those kinds of things, huh?

Ashley: And the opportunity is right now. When business is a little bit slower in the J months, here’s your opportunity to really build the core and build for the future. So set up some simple email automations. Make sure your staff is trying to get every single email address or phone number possible. Set up any of the popular apps and technologies that are out there to help you maximize Facebook messenger, because that’s where it’s all going to go next. But you have to take that opportunity when time is slow to lay the foundation for the future. And then once you start automating, those things start to turn pretty significantly on their own, but you have to take the first step.

JD: Yeah. Very good. If you had to condense your life experiences, your business experiences, into one statement that would be kind of your mantra, do you have something? And this is total out of left field. I didn’t give you this question ahead of time. What would you say would be the key to success, both in life and in business?

Ashley: Wow. Well, let’s go back to our Western roots for a minute, and John Wayne once said that opportunity is often missed because it’s dressed in overalls and it looks like work. To me, that is the core. And I think a lot of people, whether it’s life or business, when things take a downturn, they’re very quick to give up. And I think if you can ride the low points and see it through on the other end, there’s always opportunity on the other side if you train your eyes to see it.

JD: Yeah. That is so true. That is so good. I love that. That is so great. Well, if there’s a brand that wants to connect with the hub, where would you like for people to go to connect with you?

Ashley: Yeah. Send me a personal email. I love to get to know people who are coming into our community. You can reach me at ashley@thebouqtiquehub.com or simply head to theboutiquehub.com/join and that outlines how our community works and the different membership options that we have for boutiques, for brands, for services providers, and for influencers in the industry.

JD: Great. Well Ashley, thank you so much. It’s been great to look at the eyes of retail, a brick and mortar retail operation today through your eyes, and seeing what you see working with brick and mortar retailers every day. And I look forward to seeing what The Boutique Hub is able to do and how you grow and expand and change in the future. It’s going to be fun.

Ashley: Yeah. Thank you so much, JD. I appreciate it.

JD: You bet. We’ll talk soon. Okay?

Ashley: Yep.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to eCommerce in the Trenches, brought to you by Unific. Visit unific.com to start turning your receipts into revenue through highly segmented order confirmation campaigns and more.