Local boutiques cater to customers with on-camera product updates,
personalized styling and private shopping sessions
When Washington state went on lockdown in mid-March, local boutique owner Victoria Zvoncheck-Ferro thought she might be telling her customers goodbye forever.
She shared a heartfelt message of gratitude to supporters of AUDREY’S BOUTIQUE in a Facebook Live video recorded inside the shop, quickly racking up more than 1,000 views.
“I was scared,” Zvoncheck-Ferro recalls. “As a small business owner, my whole financial life is in this store. It was like, ‘What am I going to do?’”
What she did was get back to work.
Unable to open the doors for shoppers, Zvoncheck-Ferro started by repainting display windows at the boutique which has been operating in Spokane for more than 50 years and is centrally located at 3131 N. Division St.
Next, she brought home piles of store merchandise and a credit card reader and began selling directly to customers from her dining room table.
“I was doing live videos from home. It was like Audrey’s home shopping network,” Zvoncheck-Ferro says, noting the boutique doesn’t yet have an online presence outside of its Facebook business page. An online store is something she’s now planning to add.
“I was mailing items to clients, and a few would do curbside pickup,” she says of those initial selling sessions.
“I’d have two to three dozen packages the next day waiting to go out. It wasn’t paying all the bills, but it was at least keeping us in front of people. That was the best way to describe it.”
Eventually, Audrey’s was allowed to reopen for limited in-person shopping under the governor’s essential business classification, since the boutique sells prosthetics for women who’ve had mastectomies, in addition to bras, formal wear and casual women’s clothing.
Today, months later, the boutique is open with slightly limited hours, and Zvoncheck-Ferro is still logging on for twice-weekly Facebook Live updates to show off the store’s newest inventory arrivals and latest markdowns.
She says after each video is shared, several customers usually call to place holds for items shown on camera. While in-store shopping is still Audrey’s focus, especially for personalized bra fittings (Zvoncheck-Ferro has, however, done a few virtual fittings this year), its owner plans to continue sharing live inventory updates even after the pandemic’s threat has waned.
The dedicated support of local shoppers, paired with creative marketing on social media and selling directly to clients, is also what’s kept CUES boutique going since the pandemic arrived.
The contemporary women’s shop, a fixture of downtown Spokane for 14 years, located at 108 N. Washington St., focuses its inventory on higher end denim brands and other more casual pieces — sweaters, blouses, jackets and more — that owner Trish Thoen says shoppers can’t find anywhere else in town.
“Just like everyone else, March 17 was our last day open so we had to quickly figure out what we were going to do,” Thoen recalls. “I went into the store by myself Monday through Friday and I did Instagram outfit posts, and texted my customers and offered curbside pickup and home delivery.”
“We did that for two and a half months,” she continues. “I was so grateful because I have a lot of loyal customers, and they were loyal through all that difficult time.”
Cues continues to offer curbside pickup and delivery since reopening for in-person shopping. Thoen and her team are also focusing more on putting together personalized recommendations for clients whose style preferences they’re familiar with, texting photos of new items directly to those women. Instagram remains a vital marketing tool to share in-store promotions and new inventory via styling posts, too, Thoen says, but she’s also since launched an online storefront for Cues (cuesclothing.com).
“Instagram was definitely an integral part of our business and it’s continuing to be because people are reaching for it and are really relying on it for shopping,” she says.
While shopping for everyday clothing easily transitions to an online format, one category of boutique retail that can’t make as seamless a leap to the virtual sphere is picking out the perfect wedding gown.
While the wedding industry has been beset with numerous challenges due to COVID-19, business during the pandemic hasn’t been so bad for one Spokane wedding gown boutique.
HONEST IN IVORY owner Cassie Cleary says her shop, which opened in east Spokane at 1003 E. Trent Ave. back in 2018, initially tried virtual styling sessions with brides-to-be, but quickly realized those online appointments weren’t a good fit for her customers.
“Brides want to see a dress on,” Cleary says. “Our brides were willing to wait until we could reopen because they want to see the dress on their body and feel the fabric and look at the lace in person.”
Fortunately, Honest in Ivory was able to hold out until Phase 2 allowed nonessential retailers to reopen. And even though there are limitations on how many people can be in the store at once, Cleary says a variety of options, including private, after-hours shopping sessions, have worked well to meet customers’ needs.
For brides who shop during regular store hours, only two additional guests are allowed to accompany them. Honest in Ivory offers two private shopping options for larger groups, one that allows up to five guests of the bride for a $100 fee, and another that allows up to 10 guests for $200.
Virtual appointments with a stylist also continue to be a popular option for out-of-town customers who want to see what’s available in the store before committing to making the trip to try on dresses in person, Cleary says.
And since so many of her brides aren’t able to bring along as many friends or family members for in-person gown fittings, Cleary purchased four iPads for the store so women can video chat with, say, an out-of-town grandmother who wasn’t able to be there for the occasion.
Another unexpectedly positive note Cleary didn’t expect during a global pandemic has been the booming success of her newly opened consignment bridal shop, Dearly. She says it’s been popular among women who, perhaps with their large-scale wedding plans on hold, have decided to elope instead and are thus seeking a more budget-friendly or less formal gown.
“Women look forward to their wedding day and don’t want to compromise, even during a pandemic,” Cleary reflects. “They might want to push it out or do it on a small scale in a unique way, and that’s how wedding dress shopping has been able to sustain through this.”