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A lifetime Jersey Shore resident, Jaimie Hardell wanted to open her own store since she began working at a beach store at age 16. After graduating from Coastal Carolina University with a degree in Business Management, Jaimie worked in retail management and managed sales and marketing for a prominent homebuilding company. When she learned that a local women’s clothing boutique was for sale, she jumped at the chance to fulfill her dream. JLynn’s Boutique opened on July 1, 2011 on Main Street in Belmar, across from Surf Taco. JLynn’s is known by both locals and seasonal visitors for its selection of trendy women’s apparel, jewelry and accessories, with new styles arriving every week.
Interview With Jaimie Hardell
Question: You recently celebrated your first anniversary. Looking back, what did you envision when you were planning to open JLynn’s Boutique?
It was a turnkey business. It was a boutique before I bought it and my plan was to keep it somewhat similar to what the previous owner had, with a lot of the same lines that she carried. But I still wanted to establish my own identity with a casual, contemporary style.
You usually can’t find the lines that I carry in department stores. You can only find these lines in boutiques. My main thing was that I wanted to try to make it a reasonably priced boutique. That’s why I was a little hesitant to even call it a boutique, because a lot of people, when they hear “boutique,” just assume it’s expensive. I try not to have anything over $100. The most expensive items I have right now are jeans for $99. I’ve had a lot of people comment about how the prices are really good, and they’re surprised about how inexpensive it is.
The age bracket of my customers varies quite a bit – from teens to 60s – and depends on the season. Right now, I get a lot of 20s and 30s, people from Hoboken and New York City who rent for the summer. In the offseason, it gets a little older with the locals who are here year round.
Question: What challenges have you faced as a new business, and what have you been able to do to overcome those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges is that you’re providing a product and you have to constantly bring in new merchandise, even though some stuff might not be selling as much. It’s not like being a service provider. That’s been a challenge, trying to be on top of that financially. Even if sales are weak one month, you still have to bring in something new to stay up to date or keep up with a change in season. That makes budgeting more difficult.
I wasn’t sure how the offseason was going to be, but it went pretty well. Spring was actually quieter than even the dead of winter, which was a little surprising. During the offseason, I try to focus more on hosting parties and doing “Girls Night Out” events. The hostess brings her girlfriends, I provide the wine and cheese, we close the store down to the public for a couple hours, and they just hang out and shop. Sometimes the event will be a fundraiser, and instead of giving the hostess free merchandise, we’ll donate a percentage of the sales to the organization of her choice. Before Christmas, I did a “Guys & Gifts” night, so the guys came to the store, I provided food and drinks, and they shopped for their wives and girlfriends. Those kinds of events definitely helped me get through the offseason.
Question: JLynn’s Boutique seems to do a lot of cross-promotion with other Belmar area businesses. How have you gotten involved with the local business community, and how has that helped your business?
I try to help other businesses by bringing more people into Belmar. I don’t really have any formal agreements with them, so we just try to help each other out. When they do well, I do well. I’ve met a lot of the local business owners since I’ve opened and they’ve all been really helpful. If they’re holding an event, I’ll promote it. If I’m holding an event, they’ll promote it.
Right now, I have a discount card that some local restaurants will give out to customers or put in the bill. When we all do that for each other, it makes a difference. I’ve joined the local chamber of commerce and a local community improvement group, and I get involved in as many local events as I can, whether it’s a restaurant tour, a fall festival or a car show.
Question: What types of marketing and promotions have been most successful for JLynn’s Boutique?
Facebook is huge for me. I’m very active and post at an item a day. New items come in each week, so this gives me a great way to introduce new merchandise. It’s been very successful and I’ve gotten orders from that. One time I posted something, and within five minutes, I got a call from a woman in New York City who said she follows us online, just saw what we posted, and asked if I could send her that item.
Sometimes, when I’m almost sold out of a particular item, I’ll post a photo and say that it’s the last one, and I’ve gotten a good response from that. I only order six of a particular item, so if a woman buys something from JLynn’s Boutique, she knows there won’t be 20 other women wearing the same thing.
I do have a store set up on Facebook, but most people will see something online and contact me directly to make the actual purchase, and I’m working on a more extensive online store that should be live in a couple weeks. I also do my own email blasts because I collect email addresses at the register and online, and I’m doing daily deals through LivingSocial, which are doing okay so far.
Question: Now that you’ve gotten over the first year hump, what advice would you offer to someone who is thinking about opening a store or starting a business?
Definitely go for it. It has its pros and cons and you’ll put in a lot of hours without much return at first, but you’re your own boss. It’s a risk, but I’m a risk-taker, and I totally believe in the quote, “the only things in life you regret are the risks you didn’t take.” Just go for it. When I wanted to buy this business, people said to me, “Why would you do it in this economy?” But at the same time, rent is lower. Merchandise costs less. The competition isn’t as active. If you can make it in a shaky economy, think about how well you’ll do in a strong economy. For me, it’s definitely been worth the risk and it’s been a lot of fun.