Rural boutiques find small-town success through creative marketing, strong online presence
Some may have the misconception that rural Nebraska fashion means a new t-shirt and bib overalls. But, trendy clothing boutiques popping up in rural Nebraska communities are dispelling that myth and showing that fashion is a hot business for entrepreneurs willing to be creative, take a risk and follow their dreams.
Besides bringing unique fashions to women living in rural areas, the boutiques have attracted new customers to their small towns and have lured customers from around the world using the power of the internet and social media.
Hissy Fit Boutique, Minden
With seven years in the business, Hissy Fit Boutique in Minden is a leader in the rural boutique movement.
Minden native Natalie Janda majored in biology in college, but her real passion was to open a clothing boutique. Her inspiration came from shops she and her mom and two sisters would frequent when they visited relatives in Texas and Oklahoma as teen-agers.
“They always had the cutest little boutiques,” she said. “We always looked forward to shopping there, and that kind of inspired me.”
On Halloween 2009, she discovered the perfect building for rent in her hometown, where she lives with her husband and two sons. By Thanksgiving, she had remodeled, ordered accessories and opened for a Black Friday shopping extravaganza. After nearly selling out that day, she knew she was in business.
She later moved to her current location at 439 North Colorado in downtown Minden.
While Janda has advertised using traditional methods like newspaper and radio, social media and the internet have boosted sales the last few years. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and email marketing have all been effective ways to promote her clothing, shoes and accessories to women around the globe. While her boutique is located in a town with a population of 2,986, Hissy Fit has attracted more than 32,000 fans and potential customers on Facebook.
Creating an online store with the Shopify platform made it possible for those 32,000 fans to shop at Janda’s store. Now, half of her orders come from online shoppers in all 50 states, Brazil, Canada, Europe and Mexico. She sometimes travels to the Minden Post office twice a day with an SUV full of packages to be shipped across Nebraska and the world.
But whether her customers are in Mexico or Minden, Janda knows that no amount of marketing can replace the importance of listening to customers and providing quality products and service.
“We are always changing,” Janda said. She attends market five times a year and chooses clothing with customers in mind. She also chooses brands that work well with small retailers.
She has even created some of her own brands. She worked with a graphic artist to design the popular “Farmer Tee” that has become a hot item for customers around the country. She has sold at least 1,000 Farmer Tees each year since they were developed.
Last summer, Janda and four other rural boutiques teamed up in a “rural retail road trip” promotion to encourage women to take road trips to visit their boutiques.
It was organized by Lindsey Tederman and Misty Schlake, owners of the Charm Boutique in Gothenburg.
Charm Boutique, Gothenburg
Tederman and Schlake started the Charm Boutique in Gothenburg, population 3,558, in 2013.
Prior to opening the store, the women were acquaintances who were encouraged by a mutual friend to team up to pursue their shared vision of opening a clothing boutique in their town.
After a few years of research, they purchased an old electrician’s shop at 521 Ninth Street in downtown Gothenburg and transformed it into a modern, bright and welcoming boutique full of the latest colorful fashions for women.
“We really wanted to make it a place where you came in and felt good and you felt good leaving,” Tederman said. “We really wanted to make the women around here feel good about themselves as well as make them look good.”
Their unique brands, such as Lake Girl, and the clothing items of regional interest, such as shirts showing Gothenburg school spirit, make the boutique stand out from a franchise clothing store.
Tederman said she is grateful for the local support the store has received as well as for the regular customers from area towns, such as North Platte, Cozad, Arnold, Eustis and Farnam.
Last year, Charm also opened an online store – charmchix.com – to share its style with the world.
While conducting research prior to opening the store, the Gothenburg entrepreneurs visited Hissy Fit in Minden as well as other rural boutiques and decided that the rural retail road trip promotion could help everyone while creating fun for participants.
“We just thought it was an interesting trend that all these boutiques are popping up in these small towns,” Tederman said. “We are not really competitors, so we thought why not promote each other?”
Last summer’s road trip promotion included a $500 gift basket to one lucky woman who visited all five boutiques in the two-week time frame.
The promotion attracted a few new customers and is just one of the many creative ideas that rural boutique owners have implemented to promote their businesses. Besides Charm and Hissy Fit, the promotion also included The 308 Boutique in Holdrege and Farr and Few Between in Curtis.
The 308 Boutique, Holdrege
The owners of the 308 Boutique in downtown Holdrege, Janel Moore and Erin Sandy, are the queens of creative marketing techniques. In addition to traditional advertising in print and online media, texting and an active social media presence, The 308 entrepreneurs have taken marketing a step further with special events.
The 308’s spring and fall fashion shows have become fun social events for women and are a great way to generate interest in the store’s latest clothing trends. The events give The 308 a chance to share its fashions with between 100 to 120 women, who are then invited to the store for specials and refreshments after the event.
“It’s become a great thank you event for our current customers, while providing great exposure to our newbies,” Moore said.
With a focus on personalized customer service, they have made it easier to buy Valentine, birthday, Mother’s Day or Christmas gifts for women or teens through the Wish List promotions. They encourage shoppers to come into the store and make a list of the clothing and styles they like, and then the gift buyer can shop from the list.
“Our Wish Lists are very effective, and we utilize them all year long,” Moore said. “So, it’s not just for Christmas and Valentine’s Day any more, but also birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day and special events.”
They even hosted a beer and brats night before Christmas for men to enjoy a little social time and to make a purchase from their wives’ Wish Lists.
“We all know that (most) guys don’t like to shop, so we’ve been intent on catering to the men to make it an easy and enjoyable experience,” Sandy said.
Their marketing creativity and focus on customer service has yielded great results for The 308. During the store’s second anniversary celebration in May, they unveiled an expansion that extended their store at 320 West Avenue by 20 feet.
In addition to women’s clothing, The 308 also offers men’s clothing lines and girl’s clothing sizes beginning with 5/6.
The 308’s motto, which appears on its shopping bags, is “Pretty Things Inside.” It’s a core belief that drives the women to provide more than just clothing.
“This motto is a reminder to all women, both young and old, that we possess the prettiest of qualities on the inside,” Sandy said. “We are each ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ with amazing, unique traits and talents, and we need to not lose sight of how valuable that is.”
The 308 draws customers mainly from nearby towns, but they also attract regular customers from Kearney, Hastings, Grand Island, McCook and several Kansas towns. They hope to expand that customer base with a new online shopping platform coming soon.
Farr and Few Between, Curtis
Lindsey Farr of rural Maywood opened the Farr and Few Between Boutique in Curtis to share her lifelong love of fashion with others in her community and beyond.
When she’s not busy helping her husband, Dallas, on their cattle ranch or raising her four children, Farr enjoys selling her unique style of “country, city girl” clothing.
“This is my little piece of happiness on the ranch and farm,” she said.
Curtis has a population of just 922 people, but Farr has been able to sustain her business for five years now thanks to a supportive local community and the power of social media and creative marketing.
“Curtis is a very supportive community,” Farr said. And, it is home to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, which has about 400 students.
Farr knew going into her venture that she would need to gain customers outside of Curtis. She said 80 percent of her business comes from Facebook fans who call her store after seeing clothing modeled and posted on her Facebook page. She is also working on a web site to further enhance non-local shopping at her store.
Like The 308, Farr also has creatively marketed her business locally with fashion shows. She has partnered with local businesses to encourage shoppers visiting her store to stay and enjoy a local restaurant or bar with free drink vouchers.
Farr also takes her business on the road in a trailer her husband transformed into a mobile clothing store.
“It’s phenomenal,” Farr said of her sales on the road. “Everybody always wants clothes.”
And when she sets up at places such as car shows, county fairs or bridal expos, there’s plenty of shoppers.
Farr said she is grateful to her full-time employee Ky Heinzle for making the business work when Farr is busy with farm or family commitments, and to her friend, Nichole McConnell, for encouraging her to pursue this business idea.
“That’s success to me”
Despite the challenges of being a rural fashion entrepreneur, all the boutique owners agree the adventure has been fun, and they would echo the statement of Hissy Fit owner, Natalie Janda, “I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and as long as I can keep doing it, that’s success to me.”