ST. LOUIS — Mary Anne Sansone’s idea was simple — a day of shopping with her two daughters and three daughters-in-law, without kids or husbands or interruptions.
That’s not so easy when there are 30 children and six husbands involved, as well as diapers to change, meals to cook, homework assistance to provide and countless other professional and personal responsibilities.
Time is precious. Who to call for some retail therapy? Sansone hired the Shopping Co., which plans customized excursions — from the stretch limousine to lunch. For an average all-inclusive cost of $110 per person, the company helps connect shoppers with boutiques and specialty shops they might not otherwise find (malls are a no-no). There’s no stress for the clients and the merchants find new potential customers.
The Shopping Co. makes sure clients never have to look for a parking space or carry a package. Along with daily trips around St. Louis, the company does the legwork for excursions to New York, London and Scottsdale, Ariz., for prices that range from $2,100 to $3,900 per person, depending on the length of stay, the season and other factors.
“I work and I don’t get the chance to do this kind of thing…I will definitely come back to these shops,” said Deby Sansone Schlapprizzi, a mother of four who is office manager at her husband’s law firm.
It certainly helps to be chauffeured in a white stretch limo with company founder and owner Diane Ford as a tour guide. Ford sets the itinerary based on a client’s fashion tastes.
Sansone’s day began with — what else — a stop at Starbucks to pick up hazelnut lattes. Coffee in hand, the group headed to Clayton, a St. Louis suburb where high-end boutiques are sprinkled among law offices and banks. As the limo pulled up outside Lusso, which sells clothing and home goods, such as a $150 Laurie B sweater, a $215 Nanette Lepore skirt and $194 Paper Denim & Cloth jeans, shop employees were ready.
“We were fortunate to get involved with the Shopping Co. early,” said Lusso co-owner Kristen Zivic. “We knew Diana as a customer and she told us about the company she was starting. We’ve met new people and found new customers.”
The next stop was Queen Bee, a maternity and children’s boutique. Daughter-in-law Molly Sansone, who was weeks away from delivering her fifth baby, checked out the $175 Citizens of Humanity maternity jeans. Before hopping back into the limo, the women posed for a group picture with their shopping bags.
Ford, who worked for a travel company planning corporate trips, started the Shopping Co. in 2004 after her mother came up with the idea. Her clients are a varied group — she handles a range from corporations to bachelorette parties.
Of course, there are no guarantees that the shoppers will buy anything. But for the stores, this is almost a no-lose proposition.
“We don’t necessarily get a lot of sales as the groups come through,” said Jane Poss, owner of Femme, a women’s boutique in Maplewood, Mo., just over the St. Louis border. “They’re out with their friends having fun and they see so much during the day. But the repeat business is beneficial.”
Femme, with its chocolate brown and pink polkadot walls, sells familiar names such as Da-Nang and Free People along with local designers like Squasht by Les, which specializes in retro-style hats, hoodies, Ts and tanks. Molly Sansone bought a hip yet comfy outfit — a pair of $78 baby blue Miss Me embroidered sweatpants and a white Free People tank for $42. Her mother-in-law found a $180 three-tier gold circle necklace.
The Sansone women agreed that they would be back for more shopping. Mary Anne already has returned to Elizabeth House, a Maplewood boutique that offers furnishings, accessories, bath products and gifts, and has plans to visit Mavrik, a jewelry store in Clayton specializing in original, handmade jewelry from around the world.
The group managed to stop for lunch at Jimmy’s on the Park, nestled among coffee shops and antique stores in St. Louis’ DeMun neighborhood. When the women headed back to the limo, Ford handed each of them a bag full of treats — a manicure set, disposable camera and notepad.
After hitting six stores in seven hours and spending about $2,500, the adventure was over.
“We want to do it every year,” Mary Anne Sansone said. “It was a great way to spend quality time together.”