By  on April 19, 2007

Julie Shapiro never envisioned going into business with her best friend's father, Steve Simon, but the odd-couple pairing has proved a good match.

Shapiro and Simon own National Jean Co. in Newton, Mass., and plan to open two more stores in Massachusetts and one in West Hartford, Conn.

Shapiro, 26, is the low-key, analytical partner who buys the merchandise and manages the back office, while Simon, 54, is gregarious and outgoing, a natural at schmoozing customers on the sales floor. They got together after Simon approached Shapiro, who was producing her own handbag line, as a partner with retail and fashion experience.

Shapiro said people always try to guess if she is Simon's daughter or second wife. Instead, they are business partners operating a 4,000-square-foot store with revenues of more than $4 million. Sales are up 10 to 15 percent this year, Shapiro said.

The Newton store runs under an unusual partnership. Simon persuaded National Jean Co. owner Jimmy Gurrieri, who operates nine National Jean Co. units scattered from metropolitan New York to Columbus, Ohio, to let him open a store in 2003 after a friendship sprung up between the two men. Simon brought his daughters on shopping trips to New York several times a year and became a good customer.

In exchange for using the name and bundling some larger buys with National Jean, Gurrieri gets a small percentage of sales. The arrangement will continue with stores in Wellesley, Mass., opening in fall, and Dedham, Mass., launching in spring 2008. The unit in West Hartford, also opening in fall, will be Simon's alone.

The Newton shop caters to affluent teens, stay-at-home mothers, Baby Boomers and students from Boston College, which has its main campus in Newton, a couple of miles from the store.

Citizens of Humanity, Seven For All Mankind and True Religion are strong sellers, along with J Brand, Raven and Paige Premium Denim. A wide-leg style from Hudson has been among the top-reordered styles.

They hire sales staffers who have closets stocked with denim, and instruct them to educate the customer how and when she should wear skinny to cropped styles and the new wide-leg trouser jeans trend. Pictures of celebrities — a paparazzi snap of Jessica Simpson in True Religion, for example — are placed atop a stack of jeans on a table."When we write the line, we ask vendors to send pictures," Shapiro said. "Customers like to see them and it really helps sell the product."

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