With 20-plus years of experience in the retail industry, including positions with Gucci, Chanel, and Burberry, Mariah Walton is more than qualified to write a book on how to build client relationships. And in fact, the owner of New Orleans, Louisiana-based West London Boutique is doing just that, in addition to running her Magazine Street shop and raising her daughter, Londyn. Here, Walton takes us through a typical day in her life, from taking time to feel gratitude to brainstorming local partnerships to merchandising her 500-square-foot retail space.
5:15 a.m.: I wake up, and while still in a twilight sleep, I reflect on how fortunate I am to do what I love today. I often remember 20 years’ worth of miserable days waking up to go to work, feeling uninspired and unmotivated. This gives me a caffeine-like boost, and I get out of bed to make my daughter breakfast before school.
5:30 a.m.: Breakfast is ready. During the week, I make something quick—usually cereal or oatmeal—then go wake Londyn for school. The school bus comes at a ghastly time (6:03 a.m.) since we live rather far from school, so we have to vroom! Uniform on, hair brushed, lunch packed, and off we go to the bus stop, with me still in my pajamas. Life as a mom in business.
“Now that the boutique is gaining notoriety, I brainstorm about what we can do next. How can we serve the community that has served us? How can I help others who are entrepreneurial? What can I do to help the retail community?”
6:15 a.m.: Now that it’s quiet, I begin working, long before my shop hours of 10 to 6. I’m basically a one-woman show, and have been for about two years now. And although it’s still in its infancy, now that the boutique is gaining notoriety, I brainstorm about what we can do next. How can we serve the community that has served us? How can I help others who are entrepreneurial? What can I do to help the retail community?
I begin to work on my book. I’m writing on retail (of course!), and how to succeed as a fashion and retail professional. In the book, I draw from over 22 years of experience in the retail industry, and sprinkle in my two-cents on business etiquette. My writing comes from my frustrations—frustrations with customer service not being as elevated as it used to be, and from experiencing firsthand a lackluster approach to client relationships from retail professionals. Instead of complaining about it, why not help fix it? I also write a step-by-step approach to selling in the book, and speak to managers about how to effectively lead. I wrote a curriculum a few years back that I’ve been teaching from at a few colleges, and am now expounding on key components as they arise, which in retail life, they do daily.
I also use this time to reach out to organizations and local groups to find ways that we can partner by offering to guest speak, donating to a silent auction, or by participating in a pop-up event. I started my business by solely being a pop-up vendor, so there’s a special place in my heart for that.
“Clients say they like our ‘vibe.’ Hey, with 500 square feet, there’s no room for error.”
10:00 a.m.: Showtime! The 500 square feet that is West London Boutique opens. I have half of a display window. Half! And we make it work. It shows (obviously) half of the mannequin’s outfit, so in the mornings when we open, we take the mannequin out to the porch. At first, I thought this was the tackiest idea ever. But a trusted source suggested that we do this “just until people know that this is a boutique”. Now it’s a must. Mary the Mannequin has brought us a fair amount of business from passers-by.
Years ago, when I dreamt up this place, I could hear the music and also smell the air, so I always have shop-appropriate music on and a nice candle lit. Almost every day we get compliments on the smell of the shop and our music. Clients say they like our “vibe.” Hey, with 500 square feet, there’s no room for error.
11:00 a.m.: I’m old-school. I never would’ve thought that social media could have such a huge impact on your business. Ohhh, but it does. I don’t stay on it all day, but around this opening time I will post photos of our new arrivals, what’s hot, what clients are digging, and I try to show a bit more of myself, my personality, my views, my family, and continue to establish a connection with our audience. Very often from our posts, an item will sell out online and in-store much quicker than it would solely on-the-floor. With that, it’s vital that we stay present and engaged on social media, but not obsessed.
That said, nothing comes before our clients! As soon as a client comes in, it’s all about them. The phone goes down, the computer closes, and I’m focused. The key is to do this in a way in which the client doesn’t feel like you’re about to pounce on them. All this I teach and share in my classes and in the book. This is how we’ve hung with the big dogs in town, being such a small (and fairly new) shop. This is how we stay afloat. It’s all about relationship building, and there’s a formula to this.
There are no company meetings during my days, no conference calls, no meetings with the partners (as of yet, anyway). For now, it’s just grassroots selling; the only thing I can say with confidence that I know how to do. Why? Because I’m passionate about dressing women, I’m a talker, and I like dealing with people. That’s probably Retail 101.
2:00 p.m.: I check in with all of the designers we carry in-house to find out what’s new. Many of these designers worked with me when the boutique was in my home office, and were only able to fill tiny orders. They too were growing in the business! Now we do amazing business together, having established relationships over the years.
I also use this time to special-order for clients, update the website, receive new merchandise, and re-merchandise the floor to keep it fresh and inviting. I was taught fashion merchandising at University and studied apparel and textiles in the UK and France. I often use techniques I learned there, along with career experiences and simply my gut feelings, in curating the store.
4:00 p.m. Time to switch to mom-mode! I call home to ensure homework is getting done while I prepare to close and head home for dinner with my family. This is when I like to tie up loose ends, as it’s quieter at the end of the business day. I respond to emails, post another photo on our social media (this is a great time of day for posts), but most importantly, I reach out to clients via postal mail.
“Yes, there are challenging days and ebbs and flows, as there are in life, but at the end of the day I can say that I have fueled my passion.”
5:00 p.m.: I grew up in retail, where it was all about the—here’s that phrase again—relationship building! We were taught at Gucci, Chanel, and Burberry to hand-write thank you notes. I can’t tell you how valuable this discipline has been to my business.
When our guests are in the store, I gather their information on what I call a Client Capture Card. On this card I jot down information that will help me remember that client’s style, size, and what I learned about them while they were in-store. During this wind-down time of day, I start going through my Client Capture Cards from the previous week and begin writing thank you notes that I’ll send out the next morning. I like to believe that this has been a key to our success. People love when you take the time out of your day to remember them, and who doesn’t like to get a fun and uplifting note in the mail amongst the bills?!
As I head home, the gratitude arises again. I’m grateful. Yes, there are challenging days and ebbs and flows, as there are in life, but at the end of the day I can say that I have fueled my passion. And I think to myself, “Now to work on my purpose.”
7:00 p.m.: I’m happy to report I’ve finally found a work/life balance. After dinner, checking homework, and family time together, I unwind with a glass of wine out in our garden. I take in the fresh, damp country air, which I initially did not care for, being an east coast girl! Now I couldn’t care less if my hair gets frizzy.
I try not to think about work. But of course, I end up re-merchandising the store in my mind. I close my eyes, enjoy the breeze, and relax. Our new nighttime regimen is evening yoga. What a gift! As we start this after my time in the garden, I prepare my mind to turn off. It’s the only way to get to sleep!
And now all is calm.
We don’t watch much television, and I love self-help books, so I snuggle up with a book I’m reading for the second time, putting my mind further away from the day’s priorities, and fall off to sleep. I say thanks again, as the journey to find days like this is finally complete.