A mentor made all the difference to Tammy Solomon’s fledgling business.
This story first appeared in the October 9, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As a little girl, Tammy Solomon loved to play store, devising play money, play credit cards and play packaging. So it’s no surprise that at age 32, Solomon realized a longstanding dream to open her own business, a women’s clothing and gift shop called Chloe Barker in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood.
Solomon, however, had a little help along the way. She said her friendship with another Chicago retailer, Kim Hiley, gave her the confidence to leave a career in real estate and branch out on her own.
“I don’t think I would have had the courage if I hadn’t had a mentor like that,” Solomon said of Hiley, who owns Lincoln Park’s Tribeca boutique.
When Hiley went on vacation, Solomon filled in for about two months. She loved the work, which motivated her further. When it came time for Solomon to scout potential locations, order clothes and crunch numbers for her store, Hiley was there.
“She took me on buying trips to New York,” Solomon remembered. “She helped me figure out what lines to carry.”
Hiley also counseled Solomon on which lines run large or small, and which companies have shipping problems.
“Otherwise, I would have learned the hard way,” Solomon said.
Still Solomon, who opened Chloe Barker in June, has had to pick up some things through trial and error.
“I find a lot of things are either hit or miss,” she said. “Some things sell like crazy or I have something I think is cute and it just sits there.”
Visitors to Chloe Barker encounter a multitude of items, ranging from $140 feather-embellished purses from Posy and $22 Votivo candles to tables containing chunky modern bracelets, popular ribbon necklaces and dainty vintage earrings.
“I like to have a little bit of everything,” Solomon said.
Clothing generally runs $34 to $134. Best-selling tops include a $44 Shu Shu acrylic cropped turtleneck in ivory or wineberry and a $98 Bette Paige black V-neck sweater with a white shirt collar and white French cuffs. The sweater, which gives the illusion of wearing a white shirt underneath, also comes in chocolate brown and red.
Customers, who mostly are in their 20s and 30s, also scoop up a variety of denim skirts from Billy Blue, including low-waisted knee-length denim skirts and a black corduroy skirt with a ruffled hem (both for $98).
Solomon sells a variety of pants, such as cropped black pants by From the Hip for $88 and chocolate brown poly/spandex pants with a thin faux leather tie belt for $98.
Other lines appearing in the 700-square-foot space that Solomon has decorated in soft shades of honeysuckle and periwinkle include Red Haute, Chaudry, Annie B, Storm, Isis, and Joseph A. The mix is rounded out by romantic dresses and skirts from Tessuto, such as a paisley print skirt with lace and ruffle detailing ($108). A solid black version sells for $88.
“I try to find things that have good price points and that are wearable and flattering,” she said. “Clothes are the biggest draw, but if they’re not someone’s style, hopefully they can find some jewelry or a gift.”
So far the strategy seems to be working. The store exceeded its sales goals for the first two months by 25 percent, Solomon said. She estimates annual sales at $400,000.
In the space of a half hour, Solomon sold a few pieces of jewelry, a skirt, and a frame and purse. She wrapped these in periwinkle tissue paper and placed them in a periwinkle box bearing the label “Chloe Barker Chicago” as Chloe the Chihuahua — the “barker” the boutique is named after — looked on from a floor pillow next to Solomon’s desk.
“People call and ask for Chloe; they think it’s me,” Solomon said.
Solomon originally thought of the store’s name as a play on the popular Chicago boutiques Jane Hamill and Celeste Turner.
“I thought, ‘there’s Jane Hamill, Celeste Turner and Chloe Barker,’ ha, ha,” she said. “Then my friends convinced me to use it.”